The privilege of having an early preproduction GH4 camera falling on my lap when only a few in the world barely had the opportunity to see it from behind glass was the most obvious sign to start this blog… So here it is… my first article will be a GH4 Camera review. In this review I was mainly focusing on the video features of the camera, which IMHO outshines its photographic capabilities, not that they’re poor, but because the video features are beyond AWESOME!
But before I start, here’s a little disclaimer:
1- This review is based on a preproduction camera with an early firmware 0.5, the final release might have some improvements to many of the points I have mentioned in my review.
2- All opinions mentioned here are purely subjective as they reflect my personal experience with the camera. This review is not affected by any official or none official affiliation or sponsorship from Panasonic or any other commercial entity.
OUT OF THE BOX
My First impressions…
When stripped down from the battery and lens, the first thought that went through my head was:
“How could this piece of plastic shoot 4K??!!!”
IN MY HAND
Compared to the GH3
It didn’t feel different at all from the GH3. The first thing to notice is the lock button that was added to the shooting modes dial.
The Viewfinder rubber piece is slightly bigger and more streamline with your eye, which prevents light leaks more efficiently.
Additional to a couple of unnoticeable cosmetic differences and the number 4 next to the GH.
I was disappointed to see that it still had the GH3 problem of a hard to use menu dial due to the rubber piece that prevents your thumb to rotate it properly.
Also the position of the headphone and HDMI inputs was not improved. As when cables are connected, they would block the screen from tilting.
IN THE FIELD:
I heard rumors that the GH4 was flooding us with improvements, cool features and customization tools. After taking the camera on many test rides; it seems that those rumors were all true!! I noticed impressive improvements in the image quality over the GH3. It offered a lot more flexibility; tons of customizations and the creative freedom to cook the image final look the way I like. Unlike my experience with canon DSLRs when I felt like I’m constantly working around the camera’s limitations, the GH4 gave me the feeling it’s working with me.
There’s no doubt that the main highlight of the GH4 is 4K and UHD capabilities.
The keyword here is DETAILS, it’s not only about the sharpness that Panasonic is spoiling us with. The only drawback is the additional 1.3X crop factor which will result of a total of 2.3X crop factor on the M4/3 sensor.
4K will let you look at the world differently; you won’t need to squint your eyes trying to decipher what’s hiding in those mushy details in the background. The amount of details in 4K will ruin your Full HD experience; it’ll make you look at 1080 with disgust for the rest of your life, believe me. So be prepared!
4K = FHD 4:4:4 10 bit!!!
Now here’s the great news! It seems that if you convert 4K to FHD, you get FHD 4:4:4 10 bit ProRes based on this article by Andrew Reid. Thank you Andrew for being the genius you are.
Which will make UHD and 4K my mode of choice as long as I’m shooting 24/25/30P and if the 2.3X Crop factor from the 4K is not an issue as well as the time spent in the conversion workflow is taken into consideration.
Generally speaking, the GH4 is more responsive than the GH3. Yet there is still this annoying Short delay of almost 1 second when you press record and 2.5 seconds when you cut.
Resolution: GH4 squeezed 42% more pixels in its new screen!!! It’s like the GH4 became the “Retina” version of the GH3. Now I can use my 2.5X viewfinder that used to make the GH3’s screen look 2.5X worse than it already was!
Responsiveness: The touch experience is more responsive and organic. Similar to how the iPhone feels.
Magnification: The feature has a decimal option of X0.1 factor. Not sure how useful is that, but why not?
Resolution: Almost 25% more pixels compared to the GH3. The older viewfinder was already good… but this one is GREAT. Which raised the question, why don’t they have this ultra high resolution on the screen instead of the viewfinder? Especially that 95% of the time we use the screen, or is it only me?
Eye cushion Slightly more streamline with the eye, which prevents light to leak in.
Focus peaking is one of the most important additions to the GH4. With 2 different sensitivity levels and customizable colors, now you can avoid using an external monitor in guerrilla situations.
Night Vision Focus! I was VERY impressed with the way the camera can actually focus effortlessly in extreme dark conditions. It managed to grab focus in situations when I can barely recognize what I was looking at, especially without the focus assist light. By far it outperformed my 5D MKIII. I’m curious to see if it beats the 70D’s dual pixel technology in those dark conditions.
Speed: Panasonic claims it’s 0.2 Seconds faster than the GH3, I personally haven’t felt any speed improvement at all. I guess 0.2 sec is unnoticeable to any human. Superman might notice it though.
AF override in manual mode: Another extremely practical new feature is that even when on manual focus, you can still use a touch screen AF button or double tap to auto focus without switching the physical AF dial. The GH3 made me suffer while shooting and switching the AF back and forth for snappy focuses in documentary situations. Which was causing camera shakes as well as the sound of the AF dial would be picked up by the internal mic.
Another professional feature is the Zebras, we get 2 customizable zebra patterns that lets you set their respective luminance sensitivity values from 50% to 100%.
Cinema Picture Profile
The GH3 suffered from the lack of the flat Picture Profile that we desperately needed for grading in post. Panasonic seems to have made it up for us through:
Cine D is a very welcomed addition to the camera’s picture profiles that offers a flat look similar to the Cinstyle in the canon or Protune in the GoPro. Cine D offers 13stops Dynamic range as claimed by Panasonic. Similar to other color profiles, you can further tweak the values of Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Noise reduction and the new addition of Hue control. They also offered the Cine V, which doesn’t seem to have any relation to flatness based on my test above as it delivers a very “cooked” image look with crushed blacks and high contrasts. Maybe it’s aimed for Broadcast. Let me know your thoughts.
MP is an option that controls the black levels in the camera to bring back the details in the dark areas by lifting or crushing them. The only problem I noticed in this is when you increase the black value to the maximum (+15), it will introduce a torrent of unwanted localized noise. So use it with care.
Highlights and Shadows… AKA “Curves”:
Similar to Master Pedestal, you can control the levels of Shadows and highlights to virtually increase the overall dynamic range of the camera. They have a couple of useful presets and you can also save your own custom presets. This can virtually improve your dynamic range as well when you set it to its maximum to make an inverted S curve (highlights -5, Shadows +5). The final effect introduces less noise in the shadows compared to the Master Pedestal.
WiFi… or shall I call it WOW-FI?
Finally Panasonic did it, they developed a new smart device app (Image app) that enables you to have a live feed while recording as well as stop recording. As much as what I’m saying sounds the most basic camera control functions, but believe it or not, the GH3 didn’t have that. It only enabled you to start recording…annnd… that’s all!
The only problem with WiFi is that it suffers from a very short range, the communication becomes unreliable at 3-4 meters and the camera loses signal at almost 4-5 meters.
4:2:2 10Bit output
HDMI finally outputs a 4:2:2 10 bit output! Paired with the new Atomos Shogun you get match made in 4K heaven.
GH4 has a total of 10 shortcut function buttons (5 Physical+5 touch). As opposed to GH3 that has 7 (5 Physical+2 touch)
As much as these 3 extra buttons are good news, but the camera is spoiling us with a dozen of extra great and essential features that you still end up feeling the lack of function buttons.
I believe the real problem lays in the very poorly designed menu system, which with some minor improvements, I wouldn’t feel the need for all those customisable buttons.
NTSC and PAL are friends again
Finally the camera is frequency switchable. Not only that feature is practical from an international user point of view, but it also enables you to crank the high speed of the camera from the usual 50FPS of PAL to the 60FPS of NTSC even when shooting in a PAL environment thanks to the “Synchro Scan” option that enables you to fine tune your shutter Speed/angle settings to avoid any artificial light flickering, including the TV’s.
Since the GH4 is already offering all its outputs at Full HD, let’s all agree that Full HD should be the industry standard for any slo-mo clip, 720 is not acceptable anymore to be the ONLY size offered by a professional grade camera. I hope the 5D MKIII lovers would stop living in denial and start accepting this fact.
Unlike the GH3 shooting high speed meant sacrificing the bitrate by dropping it from 72Mbps down to 50Mbps. Sacrifice no more! The GH4 can shoot 50/60Fps at QUADRUPLE the bitrate of the GH3! Yes that means 200Mbps!!
96FPS… comes with a price
There’s a price to pay to crank the speed beyond 60FPS:
1- You lose the audio, but who needs slo-mo audio anyway?
2- You will drop the bitrate to 100 Mbps, still double the GH3’s.
3- The image quality is slightly reduced and the image becomes softer, that was a bit of a bummer for me after getting used to that awesome new quality.
4- This option is NOT with a touch of a button; it’s a very convoluted process to reach it. I mean how would I know that “VFR” meant “Slo-Mo”?! When you figure it out you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
The cool thing about it is that you can preview the footage in Slo-Mo on camera. Pretty neat, but not sure at which frame rate it’s played on (24-25-30)?.Suggestion to Panasonic: How feasible is it for the GH4 to offer us the option to reduce the frame size to gain higher frame rates at full quality, like 720 at 120FPS while retaining the 200Mbps quality? It feels logically possible to me. Not a bad idea I believe, especially that most of us come from the Canon 5D world where your only option for high speed was 50FPS at 720P, and we didn’t mind it! Not to mention that on the other hand my iPhone shoots at 120FPS! Common Panasonic, you can do it… you proved to be great listeners.
Coming from a DSLR photography background, I never bothered to understand the “Shutter Angle” concept, till I tried it on the GH4. I find it to be very practical, here’s why: When you’re shooting a sequence and switching frequently between frame rates probably for slo-mo effects, set your shutter angle to 180D and it’ll set the perfect Shutter Speed for you to achieve the cinematic look without too much fiddling. It’s even more accurate than doing it manually with the Shutter Speed as doubling the frame rate number to set the SS is not perfectly accurate in 24FPS or 60FPS scenarios, as we only have 50 and 125 SS respectively, not 48 or 120.
Of course there’s more advantages to it, but that’s good enough for a start.
Bye bye 29:59 limit!
Finally the camera broke the barrier of the 30min, and I managed to record one clip for a full hour and 12 seconds. Check the screen grab below. Great news for broadcasters I guess!
Battery life: It’s like the Energizer bunny!
Despite of the much higher data rates introduced, the GH4 seems to roughly consume 10-15% more battery over the GH3. My short film (to be released soon) was shot over 7 intense hours, and I only changed the battery on the 6th hour before it even turned red!
It’s an impressive overall performance compared to pretty much all cameras out there, even the none 4K ones.
Do you need a U3 SD card?
No! You just need a card that can guarantee you a minimum of 25MB/s write speed.
My good old 22$ 32GB 30MB/s U1 Sandisk recorded smoothly and continuously for 1 hour and 12 Seconds at FHD 60FPS 200Mbps. Which is tentatively measured by Panasonic at 25MB/s as the highest recording speed the GH4 can record. Higher than the 4K rated at 12.5 MB/s.
It has become a standard in professional cameras nowadays. That was particularly beneficial for me as one time I was shooting timelapse when it started raining. All i cared about was protecting the lens from raindrops with my hand, the camera was pretty much exposed to the elements. Also my short film was shot in an abandoned location that was the dustiest place I’ve been to in my life. Yet the camera performed perfectly without any leaks. I wish I took shots of the how the camera turned grey from dust, but the Panasonic guys would’ve panicked as that was their only functioning piece in the whole of Middle East.
Stop motion Animation
A cool feature yet stripped from all its basic features control. I can’t even switch Onion Skinning on or off; or control the amount of overlaid images or their respective transparencies. Which could be frustrating in some cases.
At its current state I would say it’s a feature for fun rather than for professional use. Possibly useful for more advanced Hyperlapse users. I hope firmware updates will offer us more controls.
Menus… I mean “Mess”
Menus are still a frustrating experience similar to the GH3. Their layout is probably the only major downside of the GH4 in my opinion.
Maybe it’s just me, but I constantly loose track trying to find the commonly used options and controls any filmmaker would need to have at his/her fingertips. The main problem is how they mashed up both Pro and Amateur options in the same menu.Another suggestion to Panasonic Split the menus into: Advanced and Basic. Probably switchable from the shooting mode Dial. For ex: the Advanced options would be automatically accessible once the Manual mode is set. Also they need to be grouped in a more logical way. For ex: Have a dedicated menu for Audio (Mic gain level-speaker volume-meters-silent mode-etc…); another one for Color profile controls (Picture profile-highlights/shadows-master Pedestal, etc…). Also let similar options nest into 1 screen, not split them into 2 or more pages.
ON MY SCREEN
My experience in post:
Overall image quality
After enjoying the GH3’s codec and image quality for a year over my 5D MKIII’s mushy videos, the GH4 not only re-introduced its signature great quality in the new glorious 4K size but it also improved the FHD quality to triple and in some cases quadruple its bitrate.
The main concern I had is that the GH4 seems to be slightly grainy, even at low ISO and in bright daylight. Maybe that’s due to the flat image profile, or possibly because it’s a preproduction camera. So I will not stress on that till I test the final production model.
GH4 has the most amazing picture quality I’ve seen so far coming from any DSLR/M. Thanks to the new CineD Flat Picture Profile combined with the 200Mbps, the GH4 will offer you an unprecedented latitude in grading.
The breaking point of the footage is way beyond the GH3’s and strides away from my 5DMKIII. Not to mention the 4K converted to 10 bit 4:4:4 will let you swim in ProRes grading heaven.
I would say that probably it’s the best performing codec out there to deliver such an awesome H.264 format for that price. I really would love to see a comparison between this one and the C300 to really understand the true potential we’re talking about. Philip Bloom, as a loyal user of the C300, would you be kind enough and shoot a small comparison for us? Thanks Phil 😉
Low light = high noise
1600 ISO is where it breaks apart in my opinion. I had very high hopes when Panasonic promised an improved performance in low light with the new GH4 sensor. But I haven’t seen much improvement, which is somewhat not surprising for the camera’s relatively small sensor. Similar to the Gh3, noise seems to be very prominent beyond 1600 ISO, yet the good news is that it is more monochromatic unlike the colored noise of the GH3, which makes it look more like “grain” rather than “noise”. Check this video along with it’s full write up to have a better idea about my opinion.
The bad news is that it’s probably identical to moiré in the GH3.
The good news is that we have a solution… switch to 4K and POOF!
According to Panasonic they improved it by 50%, but it’s still visible. To my eyes, 4K doesn’t perform as well as FHD. I wasn’t expecting any of the lower end cameras to get rid of it at all in my opinion, and I hate how people stress so much about it especially that you have some solutions in post that can solve some of its issues. Yes it’s unpractical, but the inconvenience of rolling shutter is very overrated in my opinion. Unless you’re always shooting fast moving subjects. So for perfectionists and global shutter seekers, enjoy the 50% improvement, just keep it at FHD if you have too many horizontally fast moving subjects.
THE GOOD… THE BAD… and THE WISHFUL
- The lightest, most affordable and smallest professional 4K camera out there.
- UHD at 24/25/30FPS and Cinema 4K at 24FPS.
- 4K converts to FHD at 4:4:4 10bit.
- External recording at 4:2:2 10 bit.
- Flat Log like color profile Cine D with tons of customizations.
- High-resolution very responsive touch screen.
- Wifi recording with full control and real-time monitoring.
- Zebra patterns with customizable luma sensitivities.
- Focus Peaking with 2 sensitivity levels and customizable colors.
- Bit rates up to 200MBPS constant at all frame rates.
- PAL and NTSC.
- Impressive Battery life, especially being a 4K camera.
- Slo-mo at 96FPS.
- Synchro scan to reduce flicker at odd shutter speeds.
- Continuous recording beyond the 29:59 Minutes limit.
- Noisy image in low light beyond 1600ISO.
- Very poorly designed menu system.
- Bad placement for the HDMI and headphone outlets as they get blocked by the flipped screen.
- Very short Wifi range.
Things I WISH the GH4 had…
- Introduce higher frame rates at lower resolutions, such as 200FPS at 720P.
- Add and extra SD Card Slot.
- Make High Speed 96FPS more accessible from within the Rec Quality Menu like all other frame rate modes.
- Having FHD at 4:4:4 10Bit natively at 24/25/30FPS, instead of doing it in Post by converting the 4K (since it was a proven concept).
- Switch between PAL and NTSC without the need to restart the camera.
- The 4K options would be reachable from within the PAL and NTC. Not from the third “Cinema” Frequency which requires to restart the camera.
- More control over the Stop motion overlay opacity and amount of onionskins.
Thoughts about the DMW-YAGH…AKA “The BRICK”
I haven’t tested the BRICK at all, that’s why these are only “thoughts”, so please take them with a grain of salt.
But judging from the feature set Vs the value for money and practicality; I believe the Brick is already obsolete before it even shipped. It doesn’t really solve any problem or improve much of what cannot be improved in different and more practical and more affordable ways.
What it should’ve been
In my humble opinion, what Panasonic should’ve done is be the first to create an HDMI recorder.
I’m sure the geniuses that created the smallest most affordable 4K camera could’ve slapped an HDMI port to one of their existing recorders, shrink them, add a screen to them and sell both the recorder and the camera as a bundle. But instead they created an expensive, oversized HDMI to SDI converter with XLR inputs that needs to be plugged to a power outlet. They have the means and the technology of recorders… but I guess they consumed all their creativity to create their marvel of cinematography, the GH4.
I know it’s easier said than done, but look at ATOMOS, they made history with their “Shogun” 4K recorder to be the first HDMI recorder to sell for less than 2K$.
What about XLR?
Assuming the YAGH is targeting industry professionals, those guys are already recording off camera with proper audio equipments as it’s the industry standard and has never been of any inconvenience to them. Especially with NLEs such as Final Cut Pro X as well as third party softwares such as Plural Eyes that syncs audio effortlessly in post that almost cancelled the need for clappers. So why need an XLR input? Which leads to my next point…
A more logical choice?
The combination of GH4+YAGH offer 10 bit 4:2:2 “OUTPUT ONLY” for 3300$. Meaning that you still need a SDI recorder such as the Odyssey 7Q priced at 2,300$ for a total of 5,600$
While you can get 10 bit 4:2:2 “RECORDED FOOTAGE” with GH4+Atomos Shogun for a total of 3700$, not just that… the Atomos also has SDI.
Value for money?
If heavy grading is your main concern, then maybe Blackmagic 4K would be your choice considering value for money, it’ll cost 3000$ for 4K RAW and probably add a zoom H6 recorder with a shotgun mic attachment to get affordable great quality audio for an extra 530$… for a total of 3,530$
So I guess the Shogun was the BRICK’s grave digger in my opinion, even if HDMI recorders didn’t exist (which was the case when the BRICK was first announced), I would still be very hesitant to buy it considering the value for money… the image quality coming out of the internal SD is already great, is it worth it to pay more than triple the camera’s price to get the 4:2:2 10 bit and internal XLR? I still need to test it… but I personally don’t think so.
WHO WILL ENJOY THE GH4 THE MOST?
Experienced DSLR DPs
Apart from the obvious 4K ultra portable capabilities, functions such as customizable Cinema Picture Profiles and variable Shutter speeds and Bitrates will let an experienced DSLR DP enjoy creating his custom profiles that match his taste. Other DPs used to bigger camera formats might feel confused using such a tiny camera I guess, I’d say they will become very defensive about their big guns and reducible the GH4. In both cases DSLR DPs are the lucky ones, they’re used to such small factor and they know how to use that to their utmost advantage.
They will fall in love with this camera. GH4 is the lightest camera that records 4K internally you can find. Paired with the Atomos Ninja Star you get FHD ProRes 4:2:2 10Bit in the air!
Let’s not forget that the GH4 is initially a photography camera with AWESOME video features. Not to mention that the LUMIX’s slogan is “Changing Photography”. Yet with a 16 Megapixel micro 4/3 sensor you can’t really change much in photography. I (as a professional photographer) wouldn’t call it a Pro Photographers’ camera, but rather a Hybrid Videographer camera. Pro Photographers would find 16 megapixels very limiting, also most advanced menu options are addressing videographers. It’d be ideal for a videographer who wants to possibly take snapshots for his film poster artwork while shooting the film, or possibly BTS shots, or maybe Time Lapse…
I’m NOT saying that GH4 has bad photo quality, but i know for a fact that photographers need more megapixels and full frame or bigger sensors
Similar to the GH3, the built-in intervelometer enables you to capture any timelapse on the go to deliver 4,6K videos. The electronic shutter is another great feature as it lets you shoot a million shots and avoid exhausting your shutter mechanism, not to mention that it’s a silent shutter. You get less dynamic range though, but shooting in RAW can easily solve that. The great new feature I’m excited about is the ability to render your shots into a video using the frame rate you desire from within the camera. Yet I would only use it for previewing my session, but not for final delivery, especially for commissioned jobs.
Travelers and Adventurers
Not long ago quality used to compromise portability and size, yet now cameras are getting smaller and more powerful. I can’t really see anyone carrying the 5D anymore with it’s bazooka zoom lens 70-200mm while hanging off a cliff to shoot some birds’ nest. A GH4 with full kit of zooms of all ranges will fit in a small lightweight camera backpack. With it’s 4K capabilities and 96FPS high speed, wide angle landscapes and birds flapping their wings will look more stunning than ever. Not to mention timelapse holly grails using the built in features and the 100% silent shutter.
I’m not into broadcast at all, but Panasonic seem to have implemented features that are useful for broadcasting such as timecode, broadcast safe luminance levels, colour bars with 1kHz tone and continuous recording.
A heavyweight champion in a featherweight shell
For a guerrilla filmmaker, the GH4 is a dream come true! I feel lucky to get into filmmaking in such amazing fast paced filmmaking era.
This is not only the first DSLM that shoots 4K at below 2K$, it’s the smallest camera that can internally shoot 4K with amazing quality and control!
4K seems to have offered much more than just amazing details… it offers FHD 4:4:4 10bit footage after conversion as well as eliminates any moiré problems.
This camera could be the first step into catapulting Guerrilla filmmaking into new heights. The GH4 is an undisputed heavyweight champion wrapped in a featherweight shell.
In several occasions security guards stopped me for shooting in public places. Yet I always got away with it by simply showing them how tiny and amateurish the GH4 looks! The thing looks like a toy!! Little they know is that under that tiny plastic hood sits a 4K beast. Just wait till you see the quality it delivers.
Small size on the other hand will become a challenge to convince clients that such a small piece of plastic is rivalling with cinema cameras, here’s the first proof. I know they’re expecting an ALEXA type of cameras, but that will change in time, marketing bugets will shrink and new talents will emerge to push competition even further and harder for DPs who use their big A$$ cameras as their selling proposition. After all it’s not about the camera, it all about who’s behind it.
A Development Leap
The camera is pretty much a perfect example of how companies should develop their products between generations. I can say this one was pretty much a leap from GH3. With such unprecedented image quality, the only logical step up is for the future GH5 to shoot ProRes… Possibly RAW!
I hope other camera manufacturers can learn from that… Some giants seem to be snoozing on top of jack’s beanstalk, unaware of what’s happening on the ground.
In this modern affordable cinema gear market that is emerging now which was first stirred by the Magic lantern guys in terms of software and the appearance of the BMCC in terms of hardware, followed by all the open source cameras delivering promising quality under 10K$, this camera is by far the best value for money you can get for 1699$.
Following the first wave unleashed in 2008 with the 5D MKII, the GH4 will be the new tool that will unleash the second major wave of indie filmmakers.