Video star

When the Pana­sonic Lu­mix GH5S was launched, some peo­ple were puz­zled. Jon Devo un­picks the dif­fer­ences be­tween this new model and the GH5

Amateur Photographer - - 7 Days -

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.

The de­cider

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

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