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