Yes, it’s time for another five word review, and this time I’m looking at one of the most-hyped cameras in years, the Panasonic Lumix GH5. As I’ve been shooting with its baby brother, the Lumix G7, for a while now, it’s certainly been a camera that piqued my interest. After a torturous wait, I’ve got it in my hands and have had a chance to check it out. The five words are:
When you first handle the GH5 after handling smaller cameras, the first thing you’ll feel is the weight (around 725g + lens). It’s a noticeable jump from the G7, but it’s significantly less than some competing cameras from Sony and Canon. The weight increase doesn’t feel wasted, but instead brings a feeling of solidity — the tolerances are tighter and the grip is more comfortable. Higher-end hardware requirements like dual SD slots and weather sealing are included, along with mic and headphone jacks, full-size HDMI, and even a cable management attachment is included in the box.
On the body itself, Panasonic have included many custom buttons, and their different heights, indentations and body locations make them easy to use by touch alone. There are also two spinning dials on the rear and one on the top, two function dials (one lockable) and a joystick for focus point selection or to use as an additional four custom buttons. It’s overwhelming at first, and you’ll need to spend some time picking the features that you need quick access to. In a nice touch, you can simply hold down a custom button for longer than usual to remap it.
For me, the custom buttons are best used for Histogram, Zebra, Silent Mode and Ex Tele Conv (more on that later) but of course there are plenty of other good choices. Should you run out of buttons, you could remap some of the labeled buttons, or add specific menu items to “My Menu”, to give quick access to as many additional menu items as you wish. On a camera with this many features, that’s very useful indeed. In fact, the user interface has been tweaked from the G7 and GH4 menus to fit a greater number of menu options on each screen, and it’ll be a few days of use before you know where most of the important options are. If you’re feeling lost, just add the most important options to My Menu and ignore the rest.
Once you’re really comfortable with the camera and you’ve got your settings sorted, you can save all your current settings (including all menu choices) to one of five custom configurations (C1, C2, C3-1, C3-2 and C3-3) accessible by the main mode dial. For a video-focused workflow, you could put 4K25 on C1, 4K50 on C2, and a variety of faster HD frame rates on the C3 settings to enable quick format switching, or you could change settings completely to allow for handheld vs tripod-based settings. You aren’t short on options with this camera.
The extensive GH5 spec list was the first thing that had people excited, and it pretty much lives up to its promises. 4K at 60fps? 10-bit? Slow-mo at 180fps? Yes, to all of those. But there are many smaller niceties that impress, from unlimited recording time to improved wireless connectivity and better (if not perfect) autofocus.
The Dual IS 2 stabilization is excellent, eliminating minor and major jitters from handheld footage. There’s sensor, lens and electronic stabilization available, and though you’ll need a new(ish) lens for the full effect, the in-body and electronic stabilization can assist even a manual lens. Electronic stabilization does crop in a small amount, so you’ll want to disable it to get the widest angle possible.
An unexpected bonus hidden in the menus is Ex Tele Conv, which lets you punch in on any subject with minimal quality loss. The sensor has 5184 dots across, and normally it reads the whole sensor image, then scales it down to record 4K video. However, if you activate Ex Tele Conv, the image is taken from the center of the sensor, giving an instant crop without using digital zoom. Skipping the normal downscaling process has the potential to increase noise, but compared to zooming in post it’s the better option by far, and gives you extra reach on every lens — at least in 4K video. When shooting full-resolution stills, this option does nothing.
Another unique feature is the Focus Transition feature, where you can set up to 3 focus points (distances, not areas of the frame) and then smoothly move between them while recording. In use it’s a little confusing (activate the feature, set up your points, start recording, then gently tap to refocus), but I can see it giving some great results. Focus pulling with modern lenses isn’t nearly as much fun as it is with vintage lenses, but getting the camera to do it for you should mean quick and reliable results.
Though the wi-fi connectivity in the G7 was good, the GH5 adds low-energy Bluetooth, letting your phone add GPS tagging to your shots. You’ll need to launch Panasonic’s iOS “Image App” on your phone each time you turn your camera on to activate GPS, but that’s all; refreshingly, the camera and app will talk to one another and do the rest for you.
While the G7 already offered great 4K video quality, the GH5’s files are slightly sharper and cleaner — for me, usable to ISO 3200. Slow-motion quality at 50 or 60fps is great too, looking very nearly as good as the normal frame rates. The data rate goes up from 100Mbps at 25/30fps to 150Mbps at 50/60fps, which compensates pretty well for the increased data load.
While 60fps is the best you can do in 4K, if you can live with 1080p you can shoot at up to 180fps in VFR mode. You’ll lose a little quality when you do so, but the image quality of even the highest frame rate here is massively improved over the pixelated 96fps of the GH4. You can also reduce the frame rate to as little as 2fps for a quick time-lapse, though the already excellent dedicated time-lapse support (and mode dial) from the G7 is present here too.
Most cameras can only record 8-bit color information, but the GH5 offers 10-bit at 4K resolutions up to 30fps, as well as full “Cinema 4K”, a little wider than the more common Ultra HD. It all works, and is of value if you like to push your image during colour grading, especially if you want to maximise dynamic range with the optional V-Log picture profile. Right now though, software support for 10-bit is limited, and more about that later.
While my G7 has been used almost solely for video, I use a Canon EOS M3 for stills. Or at least I did; the GH5 might be the first hybrid to offer video and stills that are both good enough. I’ve pixel-peeped RAW shots from the two cameras, and the GH5 can produce photos with great sharpness and good dynamic range. The EOS M3 (and other modern cameras) can capture more detail, but for most people, the GH5 offers enough.
Resolution is the first roadblock hurdled: at 20MP (in 4:3 ratio) its stills are just wide enough (5184px) to fill my 27” iMac screen (5120px), and that’s an important (if admittedly arbitrary) measure for me. Sensor aspect ratio makes a difference here; Canon’s sensors are 3:2, and Panasonic uses 4:3, arguably wasting more of the sensor if you prefer to shoot widescreen, as I do. Compounding the issue, modern Canon cameras use a 24MP sensor, so why sacrifice the detail?
Simply: it’s a better camera. The niceties of using a “pro” camera mean that I’m more likely to capture the perfect shot in imperfect shooting conditions. On a good day, the Canon might do better, but on a not-so-good day, the GH5’s stabilisation, better focus, dual slots and so on will produce more winners.
Focusing on the GH5 in stills mode is really excellent, improved over the GH4 with a 225-point mode, even if focusing during recording is not its strength. Manual focus assist is unchanged from the G7, with very useful peaking and punch-in support to help you make sure your shot is sharp. The improved viewfinder resolution of 3.7MP is appreciated here, as is the totally silent electronic shutter mode.
The dual-card support is vital for critical video shoots, as it can be set to record the same files to both cards at once, but it’s also handy for hybrid shooters. If you wish, you can record video to one card while putting stills on the other — very convenient if you want to process them separately.
Motor drive is very impressive indeed, shooting 12 full-resolution frames per second at its highest speed. Time-lapse control, as mentioned, is excellent, with built-in intervalometer that manages the whole process and can spit out a completed movie at the end. Add to that the 6K/4K Photo and Post Focus options that record a very high resolution movie then let you choose the best frame, you’ve got the tools to never miss a shot. If you’re a wedding photographer who needs the perfectly focused shot of the cake/ring/bride, this feature means you can’t mess it up, and you won’t sacrifice (much) resolution either.
So far, so good, but not everything’s perfect. The menus can be convoluted and could be better organised. Custom buttons don’t work consistently with every feature either — sometimes you can press the button again to turn that feature on, while other times you’ll need to press sideways, or the feature simply won’t work at all. For example, Variable Frame Rate seems a perfect fit for a custom button, but assigning it to a custom key only lets you change the shooting frame rate if the feature is already active — it doesn’t turn it on.
Speaking of variable frame rate, that feature has the infuriating restriction that it disables both audio and autofocus, not just during recording, but completely. If you want the camera to focus, you have to disable VFR, autofocus, lock focus, then re-enable VFR. Maddening and unfathomable. And yes, you can shoot at exactly double your frame rate using the normal audio-and-autofocus-friendly modes, but if I’m using the PAL system frequency of 25fps, that means I need VFR to use 60fps in 4K. I’d really like to see the restrictions opened up here, because switching system frequency requires a camera restart.
While film-makers have been very much looking forward to the 10-bit recording modes, at the time of writing, they’re not very compatible. FCP X can read the files, but stutters when trying to play them back. Transcoding to ProRes 422 makes the problem go away, but the equivalent 4K 8-bit files play back fine without transcoding. The data rate isn’t the problem, as 4K 8-bit 50/60fps files use the same 150Mbps data rate as the 10-bit files, and never falter. And FCP X does better than most other apps. Premiere crashes when re-reading projects using these files, QuickTime Player and Quick Look refuse to open them, Finder won’t show a preview icon, and even Resolve doesn’t want to work with them unless you have the expensive Studio edition. Hopefully this will change with future updates on one side or the other, but right now, 10-bit is a headache.
RAW for stills is similarly light on support — par for the course for a new camera. Photoshop has support, as does Luminar, and Affinity Photo works but doesn’t look quite right yet. Worse, the latest macOS (10.12.4) doesn’t support the GH5’s new RAW files at all, so Finder and Photos are out in the cold. And JPEG? While shooting JPEG can often be OK on Canon, on the GH5 I find that its aggressive noise reduction can smear fine details in JPEGs, and I’d recommend it only in an emergency. Finally, that 6K photo mode offers less than 5K. I don’t know who allowed that bit of spin, but it’s not appreciated.
Finally, focusing for video is capable, but complex. Even after disabling continuous autofocus, the camera will still refocus between takes in several modes, and that can be frustrating if it’s not what you were expecting. You can absolutely lock focus though, and you can also use a single tap to refocus during recording, so it’s definitely very useful, but more difficult than I think it needs to be. Focusing during recording is also far from perfect. Though there are many options to tweak, if the camera doesn’t know where the subject is before it refocuses — and it doesn’t — then it’s going to hunt for focus and potentially ruin the shot. The Focus Transition feature means it’s an improvement, but not fault-free.
I’ve gone on enough, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s a great camera, with a few shortcomings. There’s a posted schedule for updates, with more recording options and HDR recording coming this year. As it stands, this camera is excellent, producing sharp, stable video with high-speed and 10-bit color options in a pro-friendly package. Absolutely worth a serious look, and my new primary video camera.
Price: £1699 / $2000 body only
Pros: Sharp, stable, lots of options, heavy customisability, high quality video
Cons: 6K is really 5K, complex settings, no autofocus with VFR active, JPEGs not very good and RAW support not there yet
Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.