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Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 Review

The Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 is the fifth in the company's industry-changing video and stills 'hybrid' lineup. With its 20MP Four Thirds sensor and deep video-centric feature set, it looks likely to pick up where the GH4 left off as a favorite of indie filmmakers and photographers whose interests venture into the realm of motion picture work.

Review of Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5

The Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5s feature set moves on suitably far from its predecessor that the company says the GH4 will remain in its lineup as a lower-cost option for users who don't need the additional capability that the GH5 brings.

For many users, the addition of in-body stabilization and 4K video without cropping might be enough to make the camera a worthwhile upgrade, but Panasonic has revised and improved almost every aspect of the camera's behavior and performance.

Key Features

  • 20MP Four Thirds sensor (no OLPF)
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization system with 'Dual IS 2' support
  • All 4K footage taken using full width of sensor (oversampled from 5.1K footage)
  • Internal 4K/30p 10-bit 4:2:2 video capture
  • 4K/59.94p and 50p shooting with 10-bit 4:2:2 output or 8-bit, 4:2:0 internal recording
  • 1080 video at up to 180p, enabling 7.5x slow-motion
  • 9 fps shooting with continuous autofocus
  • Advanced DFD autofocus
  • Dual UHS II card slots (V60 ready)
  • Autofocus point joystick
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth
  • Pre-configurable rack focus mode
  • Waveform and vectorscope monitors
  • Paid upgrade to enable V-LogL video capture with LUT-based preview display
  • Two pre-announced firmware updates

It's worth noting that Panasonic already has two firmware updates planned for the camera, one expected around April, which will bring 10-bit 4:2:2 1080p capture, and a second at some point during the summer.

The summer firmware update promises some very big improvements, including DCI/UHD 4K 4:2:2 10-bit recording at 400Mbps, and 1080/60p 4:2:2 10-bit recording at 200Mbps, both using All-Intra compression. Support for anamorphic 4K capture will also be added at that point.

With attachments such as the DMW-XLR1 accessory microphone unit, the GH5 promises to be a great tool for video enthusiasts and pros.
4K 60p video

The eye-catching feature on the GH5 is its ability to shoot 4K footage at up to 59.94p and 48p (or 50p if you're shooting for PAL). Footage is oversampled from 5.1K, thanks to full sensor readout, meaning sharp footage that takes advantage of the full size of the sensor. Internal recording will be limited to 8-bit 4:2:0 IPB encoding at up to 150Mbps but with higher quality available if an external recorder is used. 4K video is shot using the full width of the sensor and has no time restrictions.

At lower frame rates, the camera can capture 10-bit, 4:2:2 footage internally: the kind of quality you needed an external recorder to capture from the GH4.

To understand the distinction (and much of what is significant about the GH5), read our basic explanation of video capture terminology.

Advanced DFD

The GH5 features the latest iteration of Panasonic's Depth From Defocus autofocus system, which uses pairs of images and an understanding of a lens's out-of-focus rendering to create a depth map of the scene, to speed up focusing. The latest version samples the scene more often and builds up a higher-resolution depth map, for faster, more decisive focus.

The GH5 also gains a more advanced algorithm for interpreting movement within the scene, to reduce the risk of the camera getting confused by movement as it builds its depth map. This, combined with faster sensor readout, should mean faster and more accurate autofocus. Further to this, Panasonic has added more AF configuration options to help the camera understand subject movement and the correct response to it.

Still image processing

Panasonic is keen to stress the GH5 is intended for stills as well as video. The greater processing power of the GH5 allows the camera to consider a wider area of the image when calculating the color values from each pixel. Panasonic says this makes it possible to extract greater JPEG resolution from the captured image.

The GH5's greater processing power also allows more sophisticated sharpening, promising reduced over-shoot that can cause unnatural-looking 'halos' on high-contrast edges.

Updated noise reduction is also supposed to be better at distinguishing between noise and detail, meaning that detail is better preserved during the noise reduction process.

'6K' Photo and advanced video-derived shooting modes

Also on the stills side of things, the GH5 offers higher resolution versions of its video-derived stills features such as 4K Photo, Post Focus and Focus Stacking. The GH5 uses its higher pixel count sensor and more powerful processor to add '6K Photo' modes at up to 30 fps, in addition to 4K Photo at up to 60 fps. As before, there are various ways of triggering the mode to ensure you have a short video clip from which you can extract exactly the moment you wanted to capture.

However, don't go assuming that '6K Photo' mode is taking images from an area of the sensor 6000 pixels across: it isn't. Instead it's capturing images with the roughly the same number of pixels as a very widescreen 6000 x 3000 video clip would have. It's not the most misleading marketing statement we've ever seen, but be aware that 6K may not mean quite what you might expect.

Features

Customizable AF system

As part of the reworking of its autofocus system, Panasonic has added extra control over what the camera attempts to track. The answer it's arrived at is very similar to the approach taken by both Canon and Fujifilm: a series of presets built from parameters that define the movement of the subject being shot.

Like those other brands, Panasonic has created presets that combine three parameters. The first, 'AF Sensitivity', informs the camera about how rapidly it might have to respond to a sudden change in depth (essentially whether it should or shouldn't jump the focus to something crossing between the original subject and the camera). 'AF Area Switching Sensitivity' tells the camera the degree to which it should expect to have to follow the subject around the frame. And, finally, 'Moving object prediction' tells the camera how predictable and consistent the subject's movement is.

It's interesting to note that these three parameters are broadly the same three that most manufacturers appear to be settling on, in terms of fine-tuning the AF behavior to match the photographer's intentions for shooting different types of subject.

Reworked menus

The GH5 is also the first Panasonic to receive an updated, 'cleaner' menu system. Part of the change is aesthetic; the menus' visual design is stripped back and attractive, but there are structural changes, too.


In the updated menu system, the Custom Setup tab has been split into five themed sub-sections for more straightforward navigation.
The more streamlined pages include eight menu options per page, reducing the number of pages in each tab of the menu, which should make them easier to recognize and remember. The Custom Setup tab of the menu has been broken down into five named sub-sections (Exposure, Focus / Release Shutter, Operation, Monitor / Display and Lens / Other), which should make it quicker to find a specific setting.

In addition to these refinements, the GH5 gains a customizable 'My Menu' tab that can have up to 23 menu options added and ordered as you see fit. We've not spent enough time with the GH5 to know how well these changes work but in principle they bring the camera's behavior into line with the best of its peers.

802.11ac Wi-Fi with Bluetooth LE

While nearly all cameras have Wi-Fi these days, the GH5 is one of the first to support 802.11ac, which runs on the 5GHz band and is capable of much faster transfer rates than what has been offered previously. 802.11ac is backward compatible with the old b/g/n standards, as well.

The GH5 gains Bluetooth LE capability that enables it to stay connected to any smart device it's been paired with. This should mean that it's much faster and simpler to re-establish a Wi-Fi connection, even with Apple devices (which don't allow use of the NFC technology that the GH4 used).

The 'Low Energy' subset of the Bluetooth standard has very limited bandwidth but, in return, demands very little battery power to maintain a connection, which should be beneficial for both the camera and any connected device.

The camera's Wi-Fi system can be set to automatically transfer images to a smartphone or can auto-wake from a smartphone when remote shooting is activated on the phone. Furthermore, Panasonic says that the smartphone app will be one of the ways in which the camera's settings can be copied from camera to camera, enabling quick setup when switching between GH5s.

Frame-to-frame processing

As well as the increased capture rate and resolution, the GH5's 4K and 6K photo modes gain more sophisticated processing that takes information from surrounding frames to improve the image quality.

By comparing multiple frames, the camera is able to apply noise reduction to unchanged areas of the image. Multiple shots of the same detail can be combined as if they were part of a single, longer exposure: resulting in an increase in captured signal and a decrease in the proportion of noise.

The camera can also use frame-to-frame comparison to reduce the appearance of rolling shutter in grabs from video. Comparing frames allows the camera to detect which elements of the scene are being distorted by capture delay, which can then be compensated for.

Overall Conclusion

Let's stipulate up front that video is what's driving most of the interest in the GH5.It's packed with video features, several of which we've never seen on a stills camera before. But don't assume the GH5 is only about video. Panasonic has done a lot of work to improve it as a photography tool as well.

The GH5 hits some numbers which are important to serious videographers: 4:2:2 color and 10-bit video, recorded internally. This means the GH5 can capture twice as much color data, in 64 times as much color depth, as cameras shooting 4:2:0 8-bit video.

Equally important are tools for shooting video, such as VLog gamma, built-in LUT display, and waveform and vectorscope monitors. With the GH5, Panasonic has blurred the line between its pro video and still cameras to create a product that appropriately meets the needs of its users. As video becomes more important, we'd love to see more companies follow this path.

One issue that will be controversial is the $99 upgrade to enable VLog gamma. While Panasonic says this will limit its use to those who actually understand how to use it, we feel it's the wrong approach. The GH5 is not only the flagship in Panasonic's Lumix line, but a camera that will likely become a reference against which others are measured. Omitting a key video feature just isn't consistent with its keystone position in the market. We're not opposed to Panasonic having a deliberate process to enable the feature, but if there's any camera that should have Log video built into the price, the GH5 is it.

In terms of stills, the updated 20MP sensor in the GH5 offers higher resolution than the GH4 without significantly impacting noise levels, default JPEG output has been improved in some respects, and the new autofocus system makes it more capable for sports and action than you might expect.

But wait, there's more! Panasonic has already announced two firmware updates that will land in 2017, which will significantly improve the camera's video capabilities, adding 4:2:2 10-bit support for 1080p, and a 400Mbps All-Intra codec for 4K shooting. But make no mistake – this is a very capable camera today. The firmware updates will simply make it better.

Handling

The GH5 is the largest Micro Four Thirds camera we've seen to date. This may seem counterintuitive on a system for which compact size is a major selling point, but on the GH5 the size feels reasonable. When shooting video, ergonomics and easy access to buttons are important. The magnesium alloy body is splash proof, dust proof, and freeze proof (down to -10C, 14F), and it feels like a pro tool in your hand.


The GH5 is large for a Micro Four Thirds camera, but on the GH5 the size feels reasonable, providing very good ergonomics for both still and video shooting.
The camera has a sophisticated image stabilization system, which includes in-body stabilization, Panasonic's 'Dual IS 2' (which combines in-body with in-lens stabilization when used with its own lenses), and electronic stabilization in video mode. Electronic stabilization results in a 1.1x crop factor, but it doesn't seem to significantly affect image quality. Between all these systems, it's possible to take very stable, hand-held video and stills.

The big, bright, high-resolution electronic viewfinder is one of the best we've seen and is a joy to use under most circumstances. It's not field sequential, so there's no color tearing, and it's so high-resolution that individual pixels aren't noticeable. Unfortunately, if you enable the highest burst shooting rates, you'll notice the resolution drop so far as to make it impossible to see what's even in focus. But, if you're primarily shooting video, or use the lower burst rates or shoot single frames, you'll find the viewfinder is beyond reproach.

Stills Image Quality and Autofocus

The GH5 gains a new 20MP Four Thirds-type sensor with no optical low-pass filter. This new sensor offers improved resolution without any noise penalty relative to the older 16MP chip (even showing some advantage at ISO 3200 and above), and offers good dynamic range performance for its size.

Panasonic has been hard at work tweaking its JPEG engine in the GH5. Overall, JPEG output shows more pleasingly saturated colors, and yellows in particular skew much less toward green than previous Panasonic cameras. JPEG sharpening has also been improved, but it's still lacking in sophistication compared to other systems, leaving behind occasional stair-stepping and sharpening artifacts.

To go along with 9fps burst shooting, Panasonic has revamped the autofocus system on the GH5, allowing for fine-tuning of AF-C behavior. Our testing under controlled circumstances showed these parameters have a fairly minor effect on our 'hit rate,' until you reach the extremes. However, the more discussion we had Panasonic, the less confident we became in our ability to configure the camera to any given shooting situation. We hope the camera descriptions, user manual or presets are updated at some point to make this easier.

A revamped AF system and 9fps burst shooting make it the best GH camera yet for shooting action.

The AF joystick is a great addition if you use zone focusing or single points to follow the action yourself. If you enable Tracking AF (which puts up overall good performance in both our controlled tests and 'real world' use), you can only initiate tracking from the center of your frame and the AF joystick only serves as a 'cancellation' for tracking; we wish this cancellation was automatically done upon release of the shutter button.

Video Quality and Autofocus

The GH5 uses the full width of its sensor to capture 4K video, resulting in oversampled footage that is extremely sharp and in the same league as other cameras using this technique, including the Sony a6300 and Fujifilm X-T2. 1080p footage is impressive as well and, in terms of resolution, gives the class leading Sony a7S II a run for its money.

Rolling shutter is very well behaved, and improved from the GH4. This is impressive given that the GH5 needs to scan the full width of the sensor to read each frame. Unless you're shooting extremely fast moving subjects or doing rapid pans, you're unlikely to notice it much in everyday shooting.

Panasonic has made significant advances in temporal noise reduction as well. Even at low ISO the camera exhibits noticeably less temporal noise than the GH4, at both 4K and 1080p resolutions.

Between full sensor capture and improved noise reduction, low light performance in 4K has been significantly improved. Even at ISO 6400, low light video still looks remarkably good, though the GH5's Micro Four Thirds sensor still won't be a match in low light compared to cameras with larger sensors, such as the a7S II.


About the only place where quality takes a hit is when using Variable Frame Rate mode to shoot high frame rates in 1080p (up to 180fps). The tradeoff is that you have the option to shoot 180fps.

One thing that fell outside the scope of this review is a detailed analysis of the camera's 8-bit vs. 10-bit video. Our anecdotal experience working on this review has shown us that 10-bit video looks beautiful and grades very well. We're planning a separate article to explore this subject in-depth.

Manual focus while shooting video is fairly easy thanks to the GH5's effective focus peaking. Unfortunately, although it's possible to magnify live view to assist with focusing, it's still not possible to do so once you start recording.

Despite improvements, autofocus in video is still hampered by reliance on a contrast detect autofocus system. There's less focus hunting than on the GH4, but it still exists, and is often visible as a fine wobble when the AF system tries to make minor adjustments. On the plus side, Tracking AF is very sticky and effective, and face detection works well, though it loses subjects more easily, and keeps less consistent focus, than a more sophisticated system such as the Canon 5D IV's dual pixel autofocus.

The new Focus Transition Function, which lets you specify focus distances in the manner of a focus puller, can be a very useful tool if you shoot blocked scenes, such as in narrative filmmaking or product videos.

The Final Word

Panasonic's GH cameras have consistently been at the vanguard of convergence between the still and video worlds, and the GH5 arguably represents the biggest single leap in the history of the series. It adds features typically associated with more expensive, pro video equipment, though Panasonic is quick to remind you that it's a still camera too.

The importance of internal 4:2:2 color and 10-bit video cannot be overstated, and has an impact on what you can do with footage in post processing. The addition of 4K/60p video also makes it possible to insert slow motion 4K into a project without sacrificing resolution.

Panasonic has also provided the tools needed to leverage the camera's advanced features, including waveform, vectorscope, Log gamma, and built-in LUT display. Log gamma is becoming more common on cameras, but less so the ability to apply a LUT in-camera. Uploading custom LUTs is unique to the GH5 in this class.

If you're primarily a stills shooter, the GH5 would make a fine choice if you're looking at the Four Thirds ecosystem, but there are arguably better options out there for the money. That said, the tweaks to the JPEG engine and the 9fps burst shooting with reliable autofocus make the GH5 an excellent all-around proposition for hybrid video and stills photographers.

If you're serious about video, it's hard to go wrong. This camera can probably deliver the goods unless you have very specialized needs, and if you're just learning, it's a camera you can grow with. But what if you're already a GH4 user? Think of it like this: the GH5 isn't just a camera that does everything your current camera can do, plus a bunch of other things. This is a camera that does everything your current camera can do, but better (often by a wide margin)… plus a bunch of other things. So yes, it's probably worth it.

Because of all that, the Panasonic GH5 wins our Gold Award. Let's make that a Gold Award with its subtle, sparkling tones described in 4:2:2 10-bit color.

This review is from sections of the full review posted by DPReview, read the full review here: https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/panasonic-lumix-dc-gh5 

 

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