on trial – Pana­sonic Lu­mix DMC-GH4

Pana­sonic Lu­mix Dmc-GH4

ProPhoto - - CONTENTS -

It’s the lit­tle cam­era cur­rently mak­ing a big im­pact in both the pho­tog­ra­phy and video worlds. Pana­sonic’s new Lu­mix G mir­ror­less flag­ship rep­re­sents a true hy­brid still/video cam­era and it’s set some lofty stan­dards for any po­ten­tial com­peti­tor to achieve.

Pana­sonic ap­plies all its ex­per­tise at build­ing pro-level video cam­eras to its Lu­mix mir­ror­less flag­ship with the re­sult that the GH4 sets new stan­dards for com­pact­ness and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Re­port by Paul Bur­rows.

The shal­low depth-of-field ob­tain­able with full-35mm size sen­sors has been one of the rea­sons video-mak­ers have em­braced the D-SLR. Size and af­ford­abil­ity – com­pared to pro-level cam­corders – have also been key fac­tors, but now Pana­sonic is tak­ing things a step fur­ther with the GH4. It’s the new flag­ship of the Lu­mix G mir­ror­less in­ter­change­able lens cam­era sys­tem so it’s a still cam­era in form fac­tor, but it has video record­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties that en­able it to chal­lenge not only the best HDV D-SLRs, but also the semi-pro video cam­corders.

Of course, the GH4 is based on the Mi­cro Four Thirds sen­sor for­mat which Pana­sonic also uses in a num­ber of high-end cam­corders and oth­ers, such as Black Magic, have adopted for ded­i­cated video cam­eras. MFT is smaller than 35mm – in fact, it’s more like Su­per 16mm in movie for­mat terms – so there isn’t quite the same in­her­ently shal­low depth-of-field, but it’s still a sen­sor size that’s be­ing quite widely used in a num­ber of ar­eas, in­clud­ing news gath­er­ing, doc­u­men­taries and in­de­pen­dent film-mak­ing. How­ever, com­pared to the small for­mat video cam­corder, MFT still has greater scope for se­lec­tive fo­cus while also al­low­ing for a phys­i­cally smaller cam­era.

The GH3 hinted at the way Pana­sonic might be think­ing in re­gard to a hy­brid still/video cam­era, but the GH4 has gone a lot fur­ther than any­body ex­pected. In fact, it almost de­mands re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion as a video cam­era that also hap­pens to be a very ac­com­plished still cam­era. Con­se­quently, it goes beyond any­thing seen on a mir­ror­less cam­era to date and its clos­est ri­val in the D-SLR world is prob­a­bly Canon’s EOS-1D C which, of course, is pri­mar­ily de­signed as a video cam­era.

As we noted with its pre­de­ces­sor, while the GH4 is tech­ni­cally a com­pact sys­tem cam­era, it’s not re­ally all that com­pact, es­pe­cially com­pared to the likes of the Olym­pus OM-D E-M1 or Fu­ji­film’s X-T1, but along­side its main com­pe­ti­tion in the video world, it’s very small in­deed. It’s also much smaller than the EOS-1D C or even the 5D Mark III, like­wise Nikon’s D4S and D810.

Like the EOS-1D C, the GH4 can record 4K video, ei­ther at the Ul­tra HD res­o­lu­tion of 3840x2160 pix­els at 25 fps or the Cin­ema 4K res­o­lu­tion of 4096x2160 pix­els at the cin­e­matic speed of 24 fps. Both the 4K res­o­lu­tion set­tings are recorded at a bit rate of 100 Mbps (us­ing the IPB com­pres­sion regime) which is dou­ble the stan­dard mostly set for broad­cast qual­ity (and, by the way, rep­re­sents a mas­sive data-crunch­ing ex­er­cise). Fur­ther­more, when the GH4 records at the Full HD res­o­lu­tion, there’s the op­tion of us­ing a bit rate of 200 Mbps (with All-In­tra com­pres­sion) which en­hances the pic­ture qual­ity by a sig­nif­i­cant mar­gin. The GH4 is the world’s first mir­ror­less in­ter­change­able-lens cam­era with 4K video record­ing and, im­por­tantly, it also records this res­o­lu­tion simultaneously to its mem­ory card rather than just to an ex­ter­nal recorder via the HDMI out­put.

Given 3D has pretty well flopped (again), 4K is the next big thing in video and the Ul­tra HD TVs are start­ing to come thick and fast, but there’s not a lot to show on them beyond what you can record on 4K cam­eras like the Lu­mix GH4. The 4K im­age qual­ity is dis­cernibly bet­ter than Full HD – even when down­sam­pled to FHD – so there is jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for up­grad­ing even at this early stage. Given the EOS-1D C ar­rived back in 2012, 4K has been a slow burn up to now, but the mo­men­tum is gath­er­ing and it looks like it will be­come a ma­jor part of the video-mak­ing land­scape, es­pe­cially as the GH4 it makes it more ac­ces­si­ble to both enthusiast-level and pro­fes­sional shoot­ers. In fact, here Pana­sonic has been very clever be­cause the GH4 can be eas­ily in­te­grated

“The GH4 is the world’s first mir­ror­less in­ter­change­able­lens cam­era with 4K video record­ing and, im­por­tantly, it also records this res­o­lu­tion simultaneously to its mem­ory card rather than just to an ex­ter­nal recorder.”

into a pro­fes­sional video pro­duc­tion work­flow via the op­tional DMW-YAGH In­ter­face Unit (also con­fus­ingly called the AG-YAGHG, but it looks like the for­mer des­ig­na­tion is be­ing used in this mar­ket as that’s how it’s de­scribed on the Pana­sonic Aus­tralia Web­site) which has the in­dus­try-stan­dard BNC-type con­nec­tors for the video out­put (4K or HD) and bal­anced XLR-type con­nec­tors for the audio in­puts, the lat­ter with phan­tom power for con­denser-type mi­cro­phones. Even though this is quite an ex­pen­sive com­po­nent, the com­bined cost with the GH4 body is still well be­low what you’d pay for a com­pa­ra­ble semi-pro HDV cam­corder such as, for ex­am­ple, Canon’s Cin­ema EOS C100.

Tough Stuff

Ex­ter­nally, the GH4 doesn’t look hugely dif­fer­ent in ei­ther styling or size to its pre­de­ces­sor and its mag­ne­sium al­loy bodyshell is again fully weather sealed. How­ever, both the OLED-type EVF and the ex­ter­nal mon­i­tor screen step up in res­o­lu­tion; the for­mer to 2.36 megadots and the lat­ter to 1.036 megadots. The mon­i­tor screen is ad­justable for both swing and tilt, and has ca­pac­i­tive touch con­trols.

The con­trol lay­out is cen­tred around a main mode dial (now lock­able) on the top deck with front and rear in­put wheels, a se­lec­tion of func­tion but­tons (for di­rect ac­cess to key items such as ISO, white bal­ance and ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion), and a com­bined nav­i­ga­tor key­pad and con­trol ring on the rear panel. As be­fore, there are five mul­ti­func­tion hard keys, but this num­ber is now matched with the ‘Fn’ soft keys that are tabbed in the mon­i­tor screen, giv­ing a to­tal of ten user-as­sign­a­ble con­trols. A to­tal of 54 func­tions are avail­able for each of the hard keys and 50 for each of the soft keys so the scope for cus­tomi­sa­tion is ex­ten­sive. There’s also the ‘Quick Menu’ con­trol screen which can be op­er­ated us­ing touch con­trol or more con­ven­tion­ally via the nav­i­ga­tor and the in­put wheels. Al­ter­na­tively, ev­ery­thing is still in­cluded in the stan­dard menus so Pana­sonic has cov­ered all the bases in terms of how the GH4 might be flown – from tra­di­tional D-SLR style to touch op­er­a­tions which in­clude aut­o­fo­cus­ing and shut­ter re­lease.

The live view screen can be con­fig­ured in a va­ri­ety of dis­plays, in­clud­ing a dual-axis elec­tronic level, an ex­po­sure me­ter (with aper­ture and shut­ter speed scales), a real-time his­togram, guide grids (se­lected from a choice of three) and a cen­tre marker (par­tic­u­larly use­ful when shoot­ing video). The his­togram can be moved around – by sim­ply drag­ging it – and po­si­tioned as de­sired while one of the grid dis­plays al­lows for the grid lines to be moved around by touch as well.

The im­age re­view screens num­ber five and can in­clude a high­light warn­ing, a full set of his­tograms and a de­tailed info set. The play­back func­tions in­clude thumb­nail pages of 12 or 30 images, a cal­en­dar thumb­nail dis­play, zoom­ing up to 16x and a slide show with a choice of tran­si­tion ef­fects. The touch con­trols here in­clude a swipe ac­tion for brows­ing and the pinch ac­tion to en­large or re­duce the im­age size.

In­ner En­light­en­ment

On the inside, the GH4 is quite dif­fer­ent from the GH3 be­cause just about ev­ery­thing has been ei­ther up-graded or tweaked – sen­sor, pro­ces­sor, shut­ter, AF sys­tem, me­ter­ing, the WiFi mod­ule and more.

The sen­sor is again a 4:3 ‘LiveMOS’ de­vice with a to­tal pixel count of 17.2 mil­lion and an ef­fec­tive count of 16.05 mil­lion, but it’s ac­tu­ally a new im­ager with an ex­tended dy­namic range, in­creased sen­si­tiv­ity range (equiv­a­lent to ISO 200 to 25,600) and a faster read-out speed of up to 200 MB/sec­ond. It’s sup­ported by a new quad-core pro­ces­sor – called the ‘Venus En­gine 9 AHD’ which is re­ally the star of the show given it’s got some heavy-lifting to do, not

just in the video depart­ment, but also with the GH4’s up-rated stills ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The max­i­mum con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed in­creases to a rapid-fire 12 fps (with the AF/AE locked to the first frame) and a still handy 7.0 fps with con­tin­u­ous AF adjustment. The burst length with RAW cap­ture in­creases to 40 frames and 100 frames for max­i­mum qual­ity JPEGs.

The new pro­ces­sor is also be­hind the GH4’s aut­o­fo­cus­ing sys­tem which still re­lies solely on con­trast-de­tec­tion mea­sure­ment, but gets a new con­trol el­e­ment called ‘Depth From De­fo­cus’ or DFD. This works on data stored in the cam­era for all the Lu­mix G lenses, en­abling their out-of-fo­cus char­ac­ter­is­tics – de­rived from grab­bing two frames in quick suc­ces­sion as the lens is fo­cus­ing – to be used to de­ter­mine the sub­ject dis­tance and this cal­cu­la­tion is then ref­er­enced to the con­trast­de­tec­tion AF’s mea­sure­ment. The lens is then driven pretty well di­rectly to the fo­cus­ing dis­tance with only mi­nor fine-tun­ing at the end just as hap­pens with phase-dif­fer­ence de­tec­tion AF. This in­creases both the speed and the re­li­a­bil­ity of the sys­tem so it’s par­tic­u­larly ben­e­fi­cial to the con­tin­u­ous AF and fo­cus track­ing op­er­a­tions. When a new model of lens be­comes avail­able, its out-of-fo­cus char­ac­ter­is­tics will be au­to­mat­i­cally up­loaded to the GH4 body when it’s first fit­ted. Ad­di­tion­ally, the num­ber of fo­cus­ing points in­creases from 23 to 49 – ar­ranged in a 7x7 pat­tern – which gives a much wider cov­er­age, and the low light sen­si­tiv­ity ex­tends down to -4.0 EV (at ISO 100). A sin­gle zone can be ad­justed to any de­sired size to de­ter­mine se­lec­tiv­ity or, al­ter­na­tively, clus­ters of nine zones can be se­lected, but more use­fully, there’s a ‘Cus­tom Multi’ mode which al­lows the num­ber of points and how they’re shaped to be freely ad­justed to suit the sub­ject. Man­ual fo­cus­ing

“Which­ever way you de­cide to op­er­ate the GH4, it’s fast and ef­fi­cient, but the touch screen con­trols are par­tic­u­larly well pre­sented.”

is as­sisted by a mag­ni­fied im­age sec­tion (which is eas­ily moved around the frame), a sim­ple dis­tance scale and now the much-de­manded fo­cus peak­ing dis­play (se­lected from two lev­els and three colours, but yel­low and high is par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive).

As on the GH3, the GH4 has both a con­ven­tional fo­cal plane shut­ter and a sen­sor-based shut­ter which is re­ferred to as an ‘elec­tronic shut­ter’, although the for­mer is still elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled. Its top shut­ter speed is lifted to 1/8000 sec­ond and the max­i­mum flash sync speed to 1/250 sec­ond. Ad­di­tion­ally, Pana­sonic now rates the shut­ter assem­bly at 200,000 cy­cles. The sen­sor shut­ter of­fers the ad­van­tages of com­pletely silent op­er­a­tion and no lag so it en­ables a con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed of 40 fps with JPEG cap­ture.

The GH4’s built-in flash is sup­ple­mented by both a hot­shoe and PC ter­mi­nal, but as on the GH3, it’s a pretty ca­pa­ble unit in its own right. In ad­di­tion to the stan­dard modes of auto, fill-in, red-eye re­duc­tion, slow speed sync and sec­ond cur­tain sync, it also al­lows for man­ual con­trol (down to 1/128 power) and can served as the com­man­der for a wire­less TTL flash set-up. Flash com­pen­sa­tion is avail­able over a range of up to +/-3.0 EV, and the an­gle of cov­er­age matches the 12mm fo­cal length in the Mi­cro Four Thirds for­mat (ef­fec­tively 24mm). In­ci­den­tally, all ex­po­sure set­tings can be ad­justed in ei­ther one-third or full stop in­cre­ments.

Light And Shade

The GH4 gets Pana­sonic’s lat­est 1728-zone multi-pat­tern me­ter­ing sys­tem and the al­ter­na­tive mea­sur­ing meth­ods are cen­tre-weighted av­er­age and spot.

The stan­dard set of ‘PASM’ ex­po­sure modes are sup­ple­mented by pro­gram shift, an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV of com­pen­sa­tion (ap­plied in 1/3 EV in­cre­ments) and auto brack­et­ing. But the GH4 goes with­out any man­u­ally se­lectable sub­ject/scene pro­grams – which makes sense on a cam­era of this cal­i­bre – although the ‘iAuto’ modes have au­to­matic scene se­lec­tion which chooses from ten pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios. The other ‘iAuto’ com­po­nents in­clude back­light com­pen­sa­tion, dy­namic range ex­pan­sion pro­cess­ing, sen­si­tiv­ity adjustment, fo­cus track­ing,

face de­tec­tion and recog­ni­tion, red-eye re­moval and ‘Shad­ing Com­pen­sa­tion’ which cor­rects for lens vignetting. There’s also an ‘i.Auto+’ mode which pro­vides limited man­ual ad­just­ments for depthof-field, bright­ness level (i.e. ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion) and colour bal­ance. Th­ese are done via touch con­trol us­ing on-screen slid­ers.

The key ‘i.Auto’ pro­cess­ing func­tions are also avail­able for use with the ‘PASM’ modes, in­clud­ing dy­namic range ex­pan­sion pro­cess­ing – called ‘In­tel­li­gent Dy­namic’ – long ex­po­sure noise re­duc­tion and ‘In­tel­li­gent Res­o­lu­tion’ pro­cess­ing. ‘In­tel­li­gent Res­o­lu­tion’ can be set to Low, Stan­dard or High, and it de­tects out­lines, tex­tures and ar­eas of soft gra­da­tions, sub­se­quently en­hances the edges to in­crease the def­i­ni­tion and the ap­pear­ance of sharp­ness. In­ter­est­ingly, the GH4 in­her­its the High­light/Shadow adjustment con­trol from the Olym­pus OM-D cam­eras, but with some added ca­pa­bil­i­ties such as be­ing able to save three ad­just­ments as well as ac­cess a num­ber of pre­sets. It works in the same way as on the Olym­pus cam­eras – i.e. like a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of Pho­to­shop’s Curves – with ad­just­ments ap­plied to a tone curve dis­played in the mon­i­tor screen. The front wheel tweaks the high­lights while the rear dial works on the shadow. Still on man­ag­ing ex­po­sure and con­trast, there’s a multi-shot HDR cap­ture mode with the choice of an Auto set­ting or three man­ual set­tings for ex­po­sure ad­just­ments of +/-1.0 EV, +/-2.0 EV and +/-3.0 EV. There’s also an auto align func­tion. The choice of ‘Cre­ative Con­trol’ spe­cial ef­fects in­creases to a dizzy­ing 22, but the choice of ‘Photo Style’ pic­ture pre­sets re­mains at six. The five colour pre­sets have ad­justable pa­ram­e­ters for con­trast, sharp­ness, colour sat­u­ra­tion, hue and noise re­duc­tion. The Mono­chrome pre­set has a colour tone adjustment (from sepia to cyan­otype) and a set of con­trast fil­ters (i.e. yel­low, orange, red and green). One cus­tomised ‘Photo Style’ can be cre­ated. The white bal­ance con­trol op­tions are the same as those pro­vided on the GH3 and com­prise auto cor­rec­tion sup­ple­mented by five pre­sets and four cus­tom mea­sure­ments (in­creased from two) plus man­ual colour tem­per­a­ture set­ting from 2500 to 10,000 de­grees Kelvin. Fine-tun­ing is avail­able along ei­ther the blue-to-am­ber or green-to-ma­genta ranges with auto brack­et­ing in one or the other per­formed over a se­quence of three frames.

Mak­ing Movies

As noted at the start of this re­view, the GH4 can record in the ul­tra-high 4K res­o­lu­tion – ei­ther Ul­tra HD at 3840x2160 pix­els and ei­ther 25 fps (PAL TV stan­dard) or 24 fps; or Cin­ema 4K at 4096x2160 pix­els and 24 fps (which ac­tu­ally is a true 24 fps). With IPB com­pres­sion, the bit rate is an im­pres­sive 100 Mbps, de­liv­er­ing a huge amount of pic­ture qual­ity. Here there’s the choice of us­ing the MOV or MP4 for­mats, but this is re­ally just the start. For Full HD cap­ture there’s also the AVCHD Pro­gres­sive and AVCHD for­mats on the ta­ble, plus the choice of the IPB or All-In­tra com­pres­sion regimes. So, for ex­am­ple, you can record at the Full HD res­o­lu­tion in ei­ther MOV or MP4 (at 50, 25 or 24 fps) with All-In­tra com­pres­sion, giv­ing a mas­sive bit rate of 200 Mbps; or choose be­tween 50 and 100 Mbps us­ing IPB com­pres­sion. ALL-I com­pres­sion is per­formed frame-by frame (rather than in mul­ti­ple frames as hap­pened with IPB) so it al­lows for much eas­ier edit­ing, but the file sizes are com­par­a­tively large. The bit rates with AVCHD are ob­vi­ously lower, but the best is still 28 Mbps (at 1080/50p). In­ci­den­tally, un­like the GH3 which was re­gion-spe­cific in terms of tele­vi­sion stan­dards, the GH4 al­lows for the se­lec­tion of ei­ther NTSC or PAL frame rates (plus the 24 Hz cin­ema mode) which is done in the Set Up menu. For those delv­ing deeper into video per­for­mance, the GH4 de­liv­ers a ‘clean’ un­com­pressed feed (4:2:2 colour space at 8-bit or 10-bit) to its HDMI con­nec­tion for record­ing to an ex­ter­nal de­vice. Of course, firstly you’ll need to find a recorder that han­dles 4K video at 10-bit 4:2:2. More im­por­tantly, the data is also simultaneously recorded to the mem­ory card to pro­vide a backup (al­beit at 4:2:0 and 8-bit). Per­haps the big­gest sur­prise here is that the GH4 only has one mem­ory card slot rather than two, but it does support the new ‘Speed Class 3’ (U3) SDHC and SDXC cards which are op­ti­mised for 4K video, hav­ing a min­i­mum write speed of 30 MB/per sec­ond.

While the GH3 had a few pro-level video cam­era fea­tures such as time code support and a choice of frame rates for cre­at­ing fast or slow mo­tion HD footage, the GH4 gets pretty much the full suite. There isn’t space here for full ex­pla­na­tions of each, but the im­por­tant ones are a ze­bra pat­tern gen­er­a­tor (in­di­cates over­ex­posed ar­eas), master pedestal (sets the black level as a ref­er­ence for sub­se­quent bright­ness ad­just­ments), ‘CineLike Gamma’ (two set­tings – Cine D and Cine V – giv­ing dif­fer­ent tonal­i­ties, a bit like colour pre­sets), colour bars and a 1.0 kHz test tone (for bench­mark­ing the colour and sound re­spec­tively), and lu­mi­nance level (sets tonal range, based on his­togram bright­ness lev­els – i.e. 0-255).

The GH4 of­fers a big choice of vari­able frame rates (VFR), rang­ing from just 2.0 fps up to 96 fps which, when record­ing at 24 fps, gives a quar­ter speed slow-mo. The se­lec­tion of set­tings varies ac­cord­ing to the record­ing for­mat. Time-lapse and stop mo­tion an­i­ma­tion modes are also avail­able.

On the audio side, the GH4 has built-in stereo mi­cro­phones with ad­justable lev­els (-12 dB to +6 dB), a level lim­iter (or at­ten­u­a­tor) and a wind-cut fil­ter. It has both a stereo audio in­put and an out­put – both stan­dard 3.5 mm mini­jack ter­mi­nals – while in ei­ther the MOV or MP4 video modes, sound­tracks can be recorded in the higher res­o­lu­tion LPCM (Lin­ear Pulse Code Mod­u­la­tion) for­mat.

The fea­tures avail­able when shoot­ing video in­clude the full set of ‘PASM’ ex­po­sure con­trol modes, con­tin­u­ous aut­o­fo­cus­ing with track­ing and face de­tec­tion, the ‘Photo Style’ pre­sets and the key ‘i.Auto’ cor­rec­tions of i.Dy­namic and i.Res­o­lu­tion plus the High­light/Shadow ad­juster.

A po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of 4K video is that it’s pos­si­ble to ex­tract still images sized at a use­ful 8.3 megapix­els. A firmware up­date for the GH4 adds the new ‘4K Photo’ mode Pana­sonic has in­tro­duced on two sub­se­quent Lu­mix mod­els. Press­ing the ‘Fn1’ but­ton dur­ing record­ing tags a frame which can sub­se­quently be ex­tracted as a JPEG im­age with a res­o­lu­tion of 3840x2160 pix­els. This up­grade also adds 4K video record­ing at 24 fps in the MP4 for­mat. By the time this ar­ti­cle is pub­lished, the up­grade will be avail­able at http://pana­sonic.jp/ support/global/cs/dsc.

Speed And Per­for­mance

Pana­sonic sup­plied one of its new Gold-se­ries Speed Class 3 SDHC cards so we could record 4K video with the GH4, but for our speed tests for still cap­ture we re­verted to our ref­er­ence 64 GB Lexar Pro­fes­sional SDXC card which is a UHS-I de­vice (but Speed Class 1 just to con­fuse things). With con­tin­u­ous AF/AE op­er­at­ing, the GH4 fired off 75 JPEG/large/ fine frames in 10.71 seconds which rep­re­sents a shoot­ing speed of 7.0 fps. We just chose 75 frames as an ar­bi­trary num­ber, the cam­era would hap­pily have mo­tored on at full speed to the buf­fer’s max­i­mum of 100 frames. With the AF fixed to the first frame, a burst of 80 frames was rat­tled off – and that’s what it sounds – like in 6.625 seconds so the shoot­ing speed was 12.07 fps. While th­ese num­bers are im­pres­sive in them­selves, just when you’d need bursts of 75 or 80 frames is de­bat­able, but then not much is go­ing to get away from 12 fps! While much of the hoopla sur­round­ing the GH4 has been about its re­mark­able ca­pa­bil­i­ties as a video cam­era – and

they are un­doubt­edly re­mark­able – it’s a very fine still cam­era too. Both Olym­pus and Pana­sonic have con­clu­sively proved the naysay­ers wrong with the im­age qual­ity that they’re now ex­tract­ing from Mi­cro Four Thirds size sen­sors. Cer­tainly with the Lu­mix GX7 and both the OM-D E-M1 and E-M10 mod­els we’ve seen per­for­mances that at least match that of com­pa­ra­ble ‘APS-C’ CSCs or even do bet­ter in some ar­eas… in­clud­ing, in­ter­est­ingly, sharp­ness. The GH4’s max­i­mum qual­ity JPEGs are a joy to be­hold – beau­ti­fully de­tailed, richly coloured and with a sur­pris­ingly wide dy­namic range (with­out re­sort­ing to any form of ex­pan­sion pro­cess­ing). Good de­tail­ing is held in both the deeper shad­ows and the brighter

“On the inside, the GH4 is quite dif­fer­ent from the GH3 be­cause just about ev­ery­thing has been ei­ther up­graded or tweaked – sen­sor, pro­ces­sor, shut­ter, AF sys­tem, me­ter­ing, the WiFi mod­ule and more.”

high­lights. Colour re­pro­duc­tion is ac­cu­rate across the spec­trum and the cam­era han­dles both sub­tle shades and fully sat­u­rated tones with equal aplomb. Noise just isn’t an is­sue up to ISO 1600 – very good for an MFT cam­era – and only starts to be­come no­tice­able at ISO 3200 as the re­duc­tion pro­cess­ing starts to di­min­ish def­i­ni­tion. You can still shoot at ISO 3200, but the higher sen­si­tiv­i­ties be­come re­stric­tive in terms of how large th­ese images can be re­pro­duced. The ISO 25,600 set­ting is prob­a­bly a last re­sort, as­sum­ing there is just no other way of get­ting more light into the cam­era.

The new AF sys­tem is so fast the im­age sim­ply snaps into fo­cus in the EVF or on the mon­i­tor screen and we didn’t en­counter any sit­u­a­tion where it wasn’t ab­so­lutely re­li­able. Which­ever way you de­cide to op­er­ate the GH4, it’s fast and ef­fi­cient, but the touch screen con­trols are par­tic­u­larly well pre­sented. How­ever, hav­ing the WB, ISO and ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion but­tons sit­u­ated close to the shut­ter re­lease makes them easy to ac­cess in a hurry. The WiFi func­tion­al­ity is en­hanced by the pro­vi­sion of NFC which makes for a fast hook-up with mo­bile de­vices and the re­mote con­trol ca­pa­bil­i­ties fa­cil­i­tated through the Im­age App could be par­tic­u­larly use­ful when the cam­era is in a video rig. Right now eval­u­at­ing 4K video isn’t ex­actly straight­for­ward – although this will change as more dis­plays be­come avail­able – so we shot some Ul­tra HD footage and then had a look at it in Fi­nal Cut Pro X which sub­se­quently down­sam­ples it to Full HD. Shoot­ing in 4K pro­vides scope for both crop­ping or en­large­ment with­out sac­ri­fic­ing qual­ity, and the down­sam­pled 1080p footage ex­hibits clar­ity, colour and con­trast that are noth­ing short of stun­ning and, worse, ad­dic­tive. Pre­pare to up­grade! The still frames pulled from 4K footage are also re­mark­able – well, they’re around 8.0 megapix­els – and you’d have to think there are go­ing to be im­pli­ca­tions here in the fu­ture.

The Ver­dict

In a nutshell, the Lu­mix GH4 is a master­piece and it will un­doubt­edly have ri­vals bang­ing on the doors of their prod­uct plan­ning de­part­ments, de­mand­ing ac­tion. On the video side, it’s noth­ing short of bril­liant even if you take the 4K record­ing out of the equa­tion (but it’s ready and will­ing). The com­bi­na­tion of ca­pa­bil­i­ties, com­pact size and sheer af­ford­abil­ity is un­matched any­where else in the video world. Even throw­ing the com­par­a­tively bulky In­ter­face Unit into the mix – which turns the GH4 into a fully-fledged pro video cam­era – doesn’t al­ter the equa­tion in terms of ca­pa­bil­i­ties-ver­sus-mo­bil­ity.

As a still cam­era, the GH4 is equally ac­com­plished, although per­haps not as pre­co­ciously tal­ented here as its video al­ter-ego. Nev­er­the­less, the com­bi­na­tion of ca­pa­bil­i­ties, us­abil­ity and per­for­mance is a highly de­sir­able one. And even if you’re re­sist­ing video’s siren song right now, if 4K re­ally takes off you won’t be able to any­more, and then you’ll be thank­ful for Pana­sonic’s fore­sight. Iron­i­cally though, while the GH4 may be the most ad­vanced hy­brid mir­ror­less cam­era on the mar­ket, it also has one of the most tra­di­tional of con­trol lay­outs so it still han­dles and works like a D-SLR.

So, just about any way you look at it, the GH4 is the an­swer.

On the inside the GH4 has a new sen­sor and pro­ces­sor, a faster shut­ter, and up­grades to its AF and me­ter­ing sys­tems.

Main mode dial pro­vides di­rect ac­cess to the GH4’s ‘Cre­ative Con­trol’ spe­cial ef­fects which now num­ber 22.

Bodyshell is mag­ne­sium al­loy and fully sealed against the in­tru­sion of dust and mois­ture. Styling and size lit­tle changed from those of the GH3.

Old-style dial sets drive modes, auto brack­et­ing and self- timer. With the AF/AE locked to the first frame, the GH4 can achieve a shoot­ing speed of 12 fps.

The GH4 is com­pat­i­ble with the new breed of su­per-fast ‘Speed Class 3’ SDHC and SDXC mem­ory cards to en­able the record­ing of 4K video. There’s still only one slot though.

Built-in stereo mi­cro­phones are ad­justable for record­ing level and have a wind-cut fil­ter.

The OLED-type elec­tronic viewfinder up­grades to a higher res­o­lu­tion of 2.359 megadots and is one of the best EVFs around right now. But­tons for di­rect ac­cess to white bal­ance, ISO and ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion very hand­ily placed

just astern of the hand­grip.

Live view screens show­ing (from left) a du­alaxis level dis­play, real-time his­togram (which can be moved around) and an ex­po­sure me­ter.

Test images cap­tured as JPEG/large/ fine frames with the Lu­mix G X Vario 12-35mm f2.8 ASPH zoom lens. Def­i­ni­tion, colour, tonal gra­da­tion and dy­namic range are all ex­cel­lent and noise isn’t an is­sue un­til ISO 3200.

‘Quick Menu’ con­trol screen in live view al­lows di­rect ac­cess to a wide se­lec­tion of cap­ture func­tions.

The mon­i­tor con­trol screen can be used with touch con­trol or nav­i­gated con­ven­tion­ally.

Re­play screens show­ing ba­sic cap­ture info (left) and a set of LRGB his­tograms (right).

The GH4 menus are log­i­cally ar­ranged and easy to nav­i­gate.

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