Pho­tog­ra­phy

Computer Shopper - - CONTENTS - Ben Pitt

Film­mak­ing is the forte of Pana­sonic’s Lu­mix GH5, a pre­mium CSC with ex­cel­lent video cap­ture ca­pa­bil­i­ties

VERDICT

Packed with pro­fes­sional fea­tures, the GH5 is the new stan­dard bearer for film­mak­ers

PANA­SONIC’S GH SE­RIES of com­pact sys­tem cam­eras (CSCs) have been hugely pop­u­lar with am­a­teur and in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ers ever since the GH1 burst on to the scene in 2009. The GH4 made the leap to 4K in 2014, and with its out­stand­ing pic­ture qual­ity, sub­lime er­gonomics and a bumper set of fea­tures for both video and stills, there still hasn’t been much to chal­lenge it – at least not at this price.

The GH5 ups the ante yet again. It of­fers 4K (3,840x2,160) video at frame rates up to 60fps, ei­ther for high frame-rate footage or for slow-mo­tion play­back at 24, 25 or 30fps. Mean­while, 1080p cap­ture is at frame rates up to 180fps, al­low­ing 7.5x slow mo­tion at 24fps.

There’s an op­tion to record in 10-bit colour, pro­vid­ing four times as many colour gra­da­tions per RGB chan­nel com­pared to the usual 8-bit files. 4K video is cap­tured us­ing the full width of the frame rather than a 3,840x2,160-pixel crop, which de­liv­ers shorter ef­fec­tive fo­cal lengths and should boost qual­ity a lit­tle. There’s now a full-size HDMI socket, which is much stur­dier than the Mi­cro HDMI socket on the GH4.

STILL STANDING

This isn’t just a video cam­era, though; there are im­prove­ments for pho­tog­ra­phers, too. The new 20-megapixel sen­sor in­cor­po­rates im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion when your lens doesn’t in­clude it, and de­liv­ers a dual sta­bil­i­sa­tion sys­tem for lenses that do. The elec­tronic viewfinder is big­ger and sharper, with a mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of 0.76x and a 3.7-mil­lion-dot res­o­lu­tion – that’s among the high­est avail­able.

One fea­ture that has dis­ap­peared is the in­te­grated flash, which has been dropped to make way for bet­ter place­ment of the in­ter­nal mi­cro­phone. This sug­gests that Pana­sonic is keep­ing videog­ra­phers’ needs at the fore­front.

Still, ev­ery­one will be able to ap­pre­ci­ate the larger 3.2in, 1.6-mil­lion-dot LCD screen and the dual SDXC slots. There’s a mini joy­stick that’s ded­i­cated to mov­ing the aut­o­fo­cus point, al­though we found it eas­ier to use the touch­screen, which can con­trol aut­o­fo­cus points even when com­pos­ing shots with the viewfinder; you can even use pinch-to­zoom to ad­just the size of the aut­o­fo­cus area.

Pana­sonic is unique among CSC man­u­fac­tur­ers in not in­cor­po­rat­ing phasede­tect aut­o­fo­cus points on its sen­sors, but the GH5’s per­for­mance isn’t held back; it typ­i­cally takes only 0.1s from press­ing the shut­ter but­ton to cap­tur­ing a photo, and the new Depth From De­fo­cus (DFD) tech­nol­ogy does seem to im­prove aut­o­fo­cus speed. DFD works by the mea­sur­ing the amount of blur to es­ti­mate the fo­cus­ing ad­just­ment re­quired, so it can jump to the cor­rect fo­cus po­si­tion rather than hunt through the scene. Also new is the abil­ity to cus­tomise the sub­ject-track­ing per­for­mance in con­tin­u­ous aut­o­fo­cus mode, like on high-end SLRs.

STAY ON TAR­GET

When it comes to video, aut­o­fo­cus speed isn’t as im­por­tant as re­li­a­bil­ity and smooth­ness – los­ing fo­cus on a mov­ing sub­ject can re­ally spoil a clip. The GH5’s video aut­o­fo­cus op­tions in­clude two new con­trols for speed and sen­si­tiv­ity, which ef­fec­tively let you choose be­tween a smooth but slow re­sponse or a re­spon­sive but jit­tery one. Nei­ther sounds ideal, but we found that some­where to­wards the lat­ter end gave the best re­sults for au­to­matic sub­ject track­ing.

Of­ten the safest way to en­sure ac­cu­rate fo­cus for video is to set it man­u­ally. This is vastly im­proved through the in­tro­duc­tion of a Fo­cus Tran­si­tion func­tion, which al­lows three fo­cus po­si­tions to be saved for re­call while record­ing. There’s also a choice of five tran­si­tion speeds, rang­ing from al­most in­stant to 15 sec­onds. A cus­tom op­tion in sec­onds would have been even bet­ter, but it’s great to be able to per­form pre­cise, smooth, pre­de­ter­mined fo­cus pulling.

It’s a shame that this can’t be con­trolled from the An­droid or iOS app, as this would avoid any risk of shak­ing the cam­era when touch­ing the screen. Re­mote con­trol from the app is oth­er­wise com­pre­hen­sive, in­clud­ing touch­screen-con­trolled spot fo­cus and me­ter­ing and man­ual ex­po­sure ad­just­ment. How­ever, en­abling Fo­cus Tran­si­tion on the cam­era locks the app com­pletely, and we also had trou­ble main­tain­ing a re­li­able Blue­tooth con­nec­tion be­tween the cam­era and our phone, which was never a prob­lem on pre­vi­ous Lu­mix mod­els.

CALL­ING THE SHOTS

Cap­tur­ing and en­cod­ing 4K video at 60fps re­quires a fast pro­ces­sor and lots of me­mory, and this hard­ware is good news for stills as well. We recorded con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing at 10fps, and it lasted for 111 JPEGs or 65 Raw frames be­fore slow­ing. That’s bet­ter than the Nikon D500 (Shop­per 346), an SLR that’s built for speed. Burst shoot­ing with con­tin­u­ous aut­o­fo­cus rat­tled along at 7.5fps, slow­ing slightly when fo­cus needed to be up­dated. If that’s still not fast enough, you can turn to the 6K Photo mode. This is an up­graded ver­sion of the 4K Photo mode that has ap­peared on re­cent Pana­sonic cam­eras, which cap­tures a 4K video at 30fps and lets you pick in­di­vid­ual 8-megapixel frames to save as JPEGs after cap­ture. Cap­ture con­tin­ues un­til the card is full, and there’s an op­tion to buf­fer footage and save frames from be­fore the shut­ter but­ton was pressed.

On the GH5 there’s a choice of 4K cap­ture at 60fps or 6K (for 18-megapixel stills) at 30fps. The 10fps Raw cap­ture is more use­ful in most cases, but the 4K and 6K Photo modes are handy for very fast ac­tion such as golf swings or div­ing king­fish­ers.

The Pana­sonic GH5’s video mode is the star of the show, and its 60fps 4K cap­ture and 10-bit en­cod­ing set it apart from any­thing else at this price. En­cod­ing at these set­tings is at 150Mbit/s, which strikes a sen­si­ble bal­ance of im­age in­for­ma­tion against file size. The 10-bit mode also uses 4:2:2 chroma sub­sam­pling, which means higher-res­o­lu­tion colour in­for­ma­tion com­pared to the usual 4:2:0. The 10-bit and 4:2:2 are only avail­able at 4K at 24/25/30fps and Cinema 4K at 24fps, but that cov­ers most peo­ple’s needs. Pana­sonic also of­fers a colour pro­file called V-Log L, which records flat colours akin to shoot­ing Raw pho­tos, and ups the dy­namic range of footage from 10 to 12 stops. The catch is that it’s a paid-for up­grade, cost­ing £81 for a soft­ware key, though we imag­ine it will be an es­sen­tial pur­chase for any­one se­ri­ously in­ter­ested in 10-bit record­ing.

Soft­ware com­pat­i­bil­ity for 10-bit files is cur­rently lim­ited, but we could work with them in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017. Direct com­par­isons with 8-bit footage showed a sub­tle im­prove­ment after ap­ply­ing heavy colour cor­rec­tion to footage. Pop­u­lar dis­tri­bu­tion plat­forms such as Blu-ray and YouTube all use 8-bit, 4:2:0 colour, so the ben­e­fit will only be felt dur­ing the edit­ing process, par­tic­u­larly for ag­gres­sive colour cor­rec­tion and green-screen mask­ing. Whether these ben­e­fits are worth the draw­backs in terms of soft­ware com­pat­i­bil­ity and pro­cess­ing over­head will de­pend on the user, but it’s great to have the op­tion.

The V-Log L colour pro­file pro­vided more ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits, re­veal­ing ex­tra de­tails in high­lights and shad­ows and re­duc­ing pos­ter­i­sa­tion arte­facts after colour cor­rec­tion much more ef­fec­tively than the stan­dard Cine­like D pro­file. The abil­ity to use Look-up ta­bles (LUTs) to ap­ply colour pro­file pre­sets gave an edit­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that was closer to work­ing with Raw files than JPEGs.

How­ever, work­ing with LUTs and 10-bit footage slowed down Adobe Premiere Pro CC sig­nif­i­cantly, and since V-Log L pushes the base ISO speed up from 200 to 400, there’s a bit of noise vis­i­ble in darker parts of the frame – al­though colour cor­rec­tion can help hide this.

SET IN MO­TION

Un­like the GH4, the GH5 al­ways uses the full width of its 20-megapixel sen­sor, so its 5,184x2,916 frames are re­sized to 3,840x2,160 for 4K out­put. This puts more strain on the cam­era’s pro­ces­sor, but de­tails are slightly sharper as a re­sult, and also means lenses have the same equiv­a­lent fo­cal length re­gard­less of which record­ing mode you’re in. The GH4’s sub­tle grain of noise in 4K out­put and ISO 200 has also dis­ap­peared on the GH5.

The faster pro­ces­sor al­lows 1080p cap­ture at frame rates up to 180fps, de­liv­er­ing 7.5x slow mo­tion at 24fps play­back. Dis­ap­point­ingly, the anti-alias­ing al­go­rithm is lower qual­ity for slow-mo­tion 1080p cap­ture com­pared with nor­mal-speed cap­ture, lead­ing to slightly blocky de­tails. The GH4 had this as well and it’s shame it hasn’t been fixed, but it prob­a­bly won’t bother most peo­ple.

Other video-re­lated niceties in­clude the in­tro­duc­tion of in-cam­era wave and vec­tor scopes. It’s now pos­si­ble to set the shut­ter speed and aper­ture man­u­ally (to con­trol mo­tion blur and depth of field re­spec­tively) but leave the ISO speed on Auto for au­to­matic ex­po­sure con­trol. Pana­sonic has also promised a fu­ture up­date to add All-In­tra record­ing at 400Mbit/s, which vir­tu­ally elim­i­nates com­pres­sion arte­facts at the cost of much larger file sizes.

The move from 16 to 20 megapix­els is wel­come, clos­ing the gap for de­tail lev­els com­pared with ri­vals such as the 24-megapixel Fu­ji­film X-T2 (Shop­per 352) and 20-megapixel Nikon D500. This new sen­sor lacks an op­ti­cal low-pass fil­ter (OLPF), which in the­ory boosts de­tail lev­els but at an in­creased risk of arte­facts. Sharp di­ag­o­nal lines did look a lit­tle pixel­lated at times, and the X-T2’s stills are sharper over­all, but it’s only a tiny dif­fer­ence be­tween the two.

Noise lev­els at fast ISO speeds were more var­ied, with the GH5’s smaller Mi­cro Four Thirds sen­sor putting it at a slight dis­ad­van­tage com­pared with its APS-C ri­vals. APS-C sen­sors are 67% big­ger by sur­face area, and this was borne out in noise lev­els, with the GH5’s ISO 6400 out­put be­ing closer to the Fu­ji­film X-T2 at ISO 12800. The Pana­sonic GH5 ex­hib­ited slightly less noise than the GH4, though, de­spite the in­creased res­o­lu­tion.

Taken on its own terms, the GH5 de­liv­ered re­li­ably at­trac­tive pho­tos through­out the vast ma­jor­ity of our tests, only be­com­ing un­stuck when tack­ling sub­tle tex­tures such as skin and hair at ISO 3200 and above.

MOVIES AND SHAKERS

At £1,700 body-only, the GH5 is the most ex­pen­sive Lu­mix cam­era to date, and it gets even more pro­hib­i­tive when hav­ing to stump up for V-Log L – not to men­tion the cost of com­pat­i­ble soft­ware and a pow­er­ful PC.

Nonethe­less, pro­fes­sional users should have no qualms about spend­ing this much, and the Pana­sonic GH5 will suit them down to the ground. The im­prove­ments will prob­a­bly jus­tify an up­grade, so am­a­teur film­mak­ers can look for­ward to a healthy mar­ket of sec­ond-hand GH4s.

The GH5 raises the bar for pho­tog­ra­phy, too, with its higher-res­o­lu­tion sen­sor, su­perb viewfinder and in-body sta­bil­i­sa­tion. The GH5 isn’t worth it if your only in­ter­est is stills pho­tog­ra­phy, but as a hy­brid stills and video cam­era it’s way ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion.

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