When the Panasonic Lumix GH5S was launched, some people were puzzled. Jon Devo unpicks the differences between this new model and the GH5
Jon Devo field tests the Panasonic lumix gh5S
There are some things we need to make clear about the Lumix GH5S. Firstly, it’s not an update of or replacement for the GH5. There are some distinct differences between the internal functions and features of the two bodies, but they share a lot in common on a superficial level.
With the ability to record professional standard Cinema 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 video at up to 400Mbps, variable frame rate video for dramatic slow-motion footage, flat V-log and HLG modes, both the Lumix GH5 and GH5S are designed to appeal to those who shoot video. However, the GH5 sports a highsensitivity 20.3-megapixel Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor with a pixel pitch of 3.34 microns, 12fps continuous shooting, 6K-photo mode and IBIS, making it a superb all-rounder for photographers with video as a secondary interest. But responding to feedback from professional videographers and production companies, Panasonic decided to tilt the balance of the GH5S significantly more in favour of video-focused users.
Optimised for video pros
The GH5S has a slightly larger than Micro Four Thirds 12.5MP multi-aspect sensor, with a pixel pitch of 4.51 microns, which offers 10.2MP crops within the standard Micro Four Thirds imaging circle. The advantage of this is that the field of view is not cropped when recording native 17:9 ratio DCI and UHD 4K video, with the additional benefit of improved image quality and low-light video performance.
The camera’s low-light capabilities are further bolstered during video recording due to its advanced circuitry, allowing for Dual Native ISO or ‘Dual Gain’ in pro-video jargon. This dual- ISO technology is borrowed from Panasonic’s professional Varicam cameras and helps to minimise noise generation by using two sets of circuits to optimise the imaging signal before gain processing. The practical advantage is that the GH5S has a maximum ISO of 51,200 and can be switched manually between LOW (ISO 160-800/Native 400) or HIGH (ISO 800-51200/Native 2500). The GH5S can also autofocus in low-light conditions as dark as -5EV with Live View Boost to improve visibility electronically during composition.
The most controversial difference between the two cameras is the omission of Panasonic’s celebrated in-body image stabilisation from the GH5S. But it was left out for good reason. Leaving out IBIS not only makes
the GH5S lighter by 65g without making any changes to the physical dimensions of the body, it also allowed Panasonic to use the additional space to install the larger sensor. The main reason for removing IBIS was that most high- end and professional productions use external stabilisation and need the sensor inside the camera completely locked down to avoid unwanted movement.
Suitability for photographers
So with all of that said, the question remains, is the Panasonic Lumix GH5S a camera that is worth consideration for stills photographers?
Built to withstand regular daily use in a wide variety of environments, the GH5S has a magnesium-alloy full diecast front and rear construction, with comprehensive sealing to protect it against dust and splashes. In addition, it’s freezeproof down to -10°C. Having used and enjoyed every Lumix GH-series camera since the DMC- GH3, the GH5S is ergonomically superb for the most part, albeit a little chunkier than most other mirrorless cameras. DSLR users will find that the size of the GH5 body alleviates concerns about mirrorless cameras being too small and fiddly.
The body is awash with buttons, including five customisable function buttons, dedicated buttons for white balance, ISO and exposure compensation, as well as separate drive and mode dials. Such a comprehensive number of controls is welcome, especially for those who don’t enjoy sifting through menus to continuously make changes. But it’s not perfect. While the camera’s rubberised control knob is perfectly placed for moving the focusing area while composing your shots, the camera’s anodised red metal record button is awkward to access when holding the camera to one’s face. Of course, if your focus is taking pictures, this won’t be as much of an issue as I found it. I often shoot both stills and video with the same camera, which is one of the reasons why I particularly enjoy the fact that the GH5S offers two UHS- II SD card slots. I can set one to capture my video content and one to capture the stills.
During my time with the GH5S, I tried to restrict myself to using it solely for taking pictures. I set it up for stills, mapping all of my preferred settings to its Fn buttons. I also set Custom 1 on the mode dial to 240fps Full HD video, because it produces fantastic slowmotion footage. Having used the GH5, I found the GH5S a touch slower when autofocusing in good light, although it did surpass its stablemate in lower light. As expected, the
GH5S hunts less when shooting stills in low-light conditions. Most photographers will rue the exclusion of image stabilisation from the GH5S, but this is negated slightly by the fact that many of Panasonic’s Lumix lenses offer Power OIS for optical stabilisation. Power OIS offers two axes of stabilisation, counteracting up and down movement when panning, and general left/right camera shake. When using Power OIS- enabled lenses, I was able to handhold shots right down to one second with usable results from still subjects. Without Lumix stabilised lenses I wouldn’t get anything shareable lower than 1/10sec. However, I do have particularly steady hands.
With slightly larger pixels compared to its cousin and a more advanced signal path, the GH5S does offer an extended range and performs better at higher ISO sensitivities. However, from ISO 6400 and up, still images become painterly and lose their detail as the camera battles noise. There is noticeably less noise than I’d have expected from a Micro Four Thirds camera, but the noise reduction becomes so heavy-handed that I don’t enjoy the results at anything above ISO 6400. Even at ISO 6400, I think the noise reduction is still a little too strong and may only look good in a live music/concert setting, as increasing the contrast to get the ‘gig look’ tends to mask poor detail reproduction.
It was particularly in low-light shooting conditions that I expected to see a marked difference in performance from the GH5S. But while it is decent, I can’t say it was significantly better than the GH5. And that camera offers the comprehensive combination of five-axis in-body stabilisation and Dual IS when combined with Lumix Power OIS lenses.
The million-pixel Achilles heel
Carrying an oversized Micro Four Thirds sensor, the GH5S has a lower 10.2MP resolution compared to the GH5. This allows it to have larger pixels, with greater pixel-level dynamic range. That’s the reason the GH5S offers 14-bit raw files vs the GH5’s 12-bit file. The trade- off is that the GH5S is slower when shooting a continuous burst of full-res images, offering 7fps with AF vs 9fps from the GH5. But it can be switched to 12-bit raw mode, in which case you can get 8fps from the GH5S with continuous AF.
I often tell aspiring photographers that megapixels don’t make the masterpiece, and for the most part, I stick by that advice. My first digital camera, the Sony DSC- R1, offered 10.3MP back in 2005. I propelled my transition from film to digital, and subsequently my career, with that camera. But the world has moved on rapidly in the past 13 years. Even mid-tier smartphones offer resolutions upwards of 12 megapixels as standard now. And while I restate, megapixels are not everything, it is in resolution where I feel the GH5S is exposed. Its picture quality isn’t noticeably better than the GH5 at higher ISO sensitivities, when images from both cameras are displayed at the same size.
Ultimately, while I would highly recommend the Panasonic GH5S for video-focused creatives, it simply doesn’t make sense as an option for those for whom photography is their primary pursuit. When the camera was announced, less than a year after the GH5, many wondered if it was worth upgrading to. The answer is a simple one when you consider that this camera isn’t an update or upgrade to the GH5; it’s a variant. If Panasonic had been in a position to release these two cameras simultaneously, the picture would have been much clearer. They are concurrent camera bodies; one is a great all- rounder for creatives who shoot both stills and video. The other is a highly specified compact camera system model for video enthusiasts and professionals who capture stills as a secondary endeavour.
‘When using Power OIS-enabled lenses, I was able to handhold shots down to one second with usable results’
The GH5S captures low-light scenes with faithful colours Leica DG Macro Elmarit 45mm f/2.8, 1/100sec at f/2.8, ISO 800
A portrait in high-contrast light shows attractive natural skin tones and good detail Leica DG Macro Elmarit 45mm f/2.8, 1/400sec at f/2.8, ISO 400
With its low-resolution sensor, the GH5S is said to give improved image quality at high ISOs Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH OIS, 1/40sec at f/2.8, ISO 2500
Tracking a skier at 1/30sec without in-body image stabilisation is tricky, but Lumix OIS lenses counteract up-anddown movement when panning Leica DG Macro Elmarit 45mm f/2.8, 1/30sec at f/20, ISO 160
Jon Devo puts the GH5S through its paces