Panasonic GH4 Review
Overview, Walkaround and Shooter's Report by William Brawley
Tech Insights by Dave Etchells
Hands-on Preview: 02/06/2014
Review finalized: 08/14/2014
03/10/2014: Added pricing and availability
04/21/2014: Image Quality Comparison and Print Quality Analysis
05/30/2014: Shooter's Report Part I: High Performance, High Resolution, High Functionality
08/04/2014: Shooter's Report Part II: Video Recording and that's a wrap!
08/14/2014: Conclusion posted and review finalized!
Panasonic takes their flagship GH camera to the next level with the new Panasonic GH4. As one might expect, given the sneak-peek of its prototype shown at CES this year, the "4" in the name will surely come to represent "4K." The Panasonic GH4 is the world's first mirrorless camera with 4K video recording capabilities.
Indeed, 4K video recording is making its way into the hands of mere mortals with the Panasonic GH4 after spending much of its time solely in the realm of high-end, professional cinema cameras. Cameras like the Canon 1D C HD-DSLR and dedicated video cameras such as the Canon C500 and Blackmagic Production Camera 4K are all aimed at professionals with professional budgets. Now, with the Panasonic GH4, high-resolution 4K video is within reach of a large number people from advanced enthusiasts and serious hobbyists, as well as being ready to tackle serious professional-level cinema and video productions.
Going down the specs list for the Panasonic GH4, nearly all aspects of the camera have received an update or improvement compared to the GH3. The GH4's imaging sensor has received some polishing, and while it keeps the same 16.05-megapixel resolution, this new Digital Live MOS sensor features wider dynamic range with an expanded ISO 100 option (GH3 went as low as ISO 125) and allows for a 60 minute bulb shutter.
Panasonic has also said the new sensor delivers twice the readout speed compared to the GH3, which clocked in at around 100 milliseconds. The new GH4 sensor is said to have a high-speed readout of under 50 milliseconds. What does this all mean? The GH4 should be significantly better at handling rolling shutter in both stills (when using the electronic shutter) and video with Full HD 60 frames per second readout.
Speed and Focusing
Coupled with this new sensor is a new quad-core imaging processor, the Venus Engine 9AHD. The new horsepower provides better sensitivity with a standard ISO range of 200-25,600 (expandable down to ISO 100), and boasts new burst shooting performance at 12fps (in AF-S mode) for up to 40 RAW images or 100 JPEGs. The GH4 also provides a big improvement over the GH3 with continuous AF burst shooting at 7fps (up from just 4.2fps).
Panasonic also claims that the new processor helps produce better image resolution, dynamic range and more accurate colors, as well as doing hefty number crunching for 4K video encoding and giving a boost to the GH4's AF speed.
The new GH4 utilizes Panasonic's fast contrast-detect AF combined with a new technology call "Depth From Defocus" (DFD), which uses the lens information (when using Lumix lenses) to calculate the subject distance using the out-of-focus areas of the two pictures (one near and one far). This data is then combined with contrast AF for final fine-tuning, all within 0.07 seconds for very high-speed AF performance, helping not only with sheer AF speed, but also with increased AF tracking performance and continuous AF burst shooting.
IR publisher Dave Etchells goes in-depth with the new DFD technology here.
The GH4 also features improvements to continuous AF in both stills and video with better accuracy thanks to finer wobbling (presumably meaning subtler back-and-forth adjustments as it continuously maintains focus). According to Panasonic, since there is no need for on-chip phase-detect pixels, thanks to DFD, the full sensor is devoted to image quality (no missing pixels being used for AF).
The Panasonic GH4 features many other focusing improvement seen on other recent Panasonic cameras like the GX7 and GM1 including Pinpoint AF and higher AF performance in low-light conditions (-4EV). The GH4 also introduces some new features for the GH line including a 49-area AF grid (up from 23 on the GH3) with the ability to manually select custom AF area groupings. There's also a freely re-sizable 1-area AF mode as well as face and eye detection AF.
While the Panasonic GH4 undoubtedly features a lot of improvements for still photography, Panasonic themselves have said the image quality is a slight improvement over the GX7, but the main focus was drastically increasing the video recording features, performance and image quality.
The big story with the GH4, like with the GH3 before it, is video recording. The GH3 blew us away with its high quality video recording features, and now the new GH4 provides not only much higher resolution video, with both Cinema 4K (4,096 x 2,160) and 4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160), but also drastically increased video bitrates practically across the board compared to the GH3.
Both 4K resolution video formats are recorded with a bitrate of 100Mbps in IPB compression, and Full HD video can be cranked up to a whopping 200Mbps bitrate with ALL-Intra compression for some seriously high quality HD footage. Of course you can also tone it down to 100Mbps IPB or a humble 50Mbps IPB. The GH4 can also record in AVCHD with a same array of video resolutions and bitrates as the GH3.
Be sure to check out Dave Etchells' in-depth video features rundown for all the details!
With all that horsepower in such a small body, Panasonic did some serious engineering work and created a heat-dispersing design that allows for unlimited continuous video recording, even in 4K. Yes, that also means that the strange dual-model setup of the GH3, with one version for NTSC countries and another for PAL, differing only by how long you could continuously record video, is no more. The GH4 is a single model, with user-selectable NTSC or PAL recording frame rates.
Speaking of frame rates, as the "cinema" naming in Cinema 4K suggests, C4K video is captured at the film-standard 24.00fps (not 23.97), while 4K Ultra HD resolution provides some options with 29.97p, 23.98p, and cinema 24p (there's also 25p for PAL countries).
For the professional shooter, Panasonic really goes all-out to make the GH4 a serious option for high-end video productions. Apart from the high-resolution and high-bitrate video, the GH4 has full 1080p HD clean HDMI out with 4:2:2 10-bit (or 8-bit) output, giving you not only the ability to use an external HD monitor while recording video but also use HD capture recorders like the ATOMOS Ninja and Blackmagic HyperDesk Studio. The GH4 is, furthermore, able to output full 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video via HDMI for use with 4K recorders or monitors.
The GH4 with DMW-YAGH Interface Unit. (Note: Camera images shown here without the GH4 logo are of a pre-production model we handled that was not cosmetically final.)
For serious professional workflows, Panasonic also created alongside the GH4 an attachable interface unit, the AG-YAGH (or DMW-YAGH for the US), shown above, providing 4K HD-SDI output with timecode, XLR audio, and DC power. This gives the Panasonic GH4 the ability to integrate very well with professional cinema and high-end video production workflows with industry-standard connections and interfaces.
The all new Panasonic GH4 provides not only 4K high-res video and very high bitrates for stunning image quality, but also a number of improvements for still photographers all at a relatively affordable price point; one that's far below other professional flagship stills cameras and pro 4K cinema cameras alike. The Panasonic GH4 body has been available since April 2014 for a list price of US$1,699.99. The DMW-YAGH interface unit is listed at US$1,999.99, and when purchased together, the body plus interface unit go for about US$3,300.
With super fast AF and burst shooting, improved dynamic range and high ISO performance as well as super high-resolution 4K and HD video, all packaged inside a rugged weather-resistant magnesium body with a durable 200K-rated shutter life, Panasonic is clearly taking aim at the Olympus E-M1 as the perfect professional field camera that's not only a very well-rounded stills shooter, but also perfectly at home as a professional video camera, thus making it, as Panasonic puts it, "the ultimate photo/video hybrid interchangeable lens camera."
The design of the Panasonic GH4 is strikingly similar to the GH3, so much so, that if there wasn't a "GH4" logo stamped on the front you probably would have trouble telling the two apart unless you knew what subtle changes to look for.
By the numbers, the GH4 is nearly identical to the GH3 (just 1.9mm deeper), measuring in at 132.9 x 93.4 x 83.9mm (5.23 x 3.68 x 3.30 in.) and weighing just a bit more than its predecessor at 569g (versus 555g) with SD card and battery. The body construction itself is also nearly identical with rugged magnesium alloy body that's sealed to be splash- and dust-proof.
Along the front, you have the same minimal buttons aside from the lens mount release button and flash sync terminal. Like the GH3 before it, the hand grip and left-most front surface are coated in a nice, rubberized grip for a secure hold.
Moving to the top of the camera, you'll see the one main difference in the GH4 -- the mode dial. The biggest change is the new locking mechanism. Functioning just like the locking mode dial of the Olympus E-M1, press the button to lock the dial in place, and press it again to unlock -- very useful to prevent accidentally changing modes.
The other change is that Panasonic has removed the Scene Mode option on the dial. The GH4 does still include a range of creative effects modes and picture styles for fun and creative photos and video, though.
Along the top of the handgrip, the GH4 includes a trio of quick access buttons for White Balance, ISO and Exposure Compensation, just like the GH3. In front of those buttons, sits the top control dial for making adjustments to exposure settings such as aperture. Below this trio, is the first of five customizable function buttons. There is also an indicator light for Wi-Fi connectivity. The GH4 also includes NFC connectivity for quick and easy pairing with a smart device for image sharing and remote control with Panasonic's Image App.
In the center, the GH4 has a standard hot shoe for mounting various accessories like the Panasonic DMW-MS2 Stereo/Shotgun mic, which thanks to the new processor and software in the GH4 is now able to zoom and adjust the balance between stereo and shotgun recording angles. The hot shoe is also compatible is flash units such as the new Panasonic Wireless Flash DMW-FL580L. Flanked on either side of the hot shoe sit left and right mics for stereo audio recording.
The GH4 also includes a pop-up flash unit, that's activated by a soft button along the left side of the EVF.
Lastly off to the leftmost side of the top panel sits and the smaller drive mode dial, featuring options such as Single, Continuous, Exposure Bracketing, Self-Timer, and a new Interval option.
Moving down to the back of the camera, the layout of buttons and dials are, again, identical to the GH3. However, there are big changes for the 3" monitor and EVF. The 3.0-inch, vari-angle, touchscreen OLED monitor sports a big resolution increase from a 610K dots to 1036K dots with a 10,000:1 contrast ratio. The EVF also gets a resolution boost with 2360K dots over the 1744K dots of the GH3. The EVF of the GH4 provides a 100% field of view with a 0.7x magnification.
As far as buttons go the layout is fairly standard, with a second control dial right next to the mode dial for exposure adjustments like shutter speed or scrolling through menus. On the right side of the EVF, placed comfortably near the thumb-rest is the AF mode dial, which surrounds the AF/AE Lock button. The recessed video recording start/stop button is also placed next to the thumb-rest. The button is easy to press when you want, but the recessed design helps prevent accidental presses.
Further down in the bottom right region, sits the large main 4-way control dial for navigating through various menus and settings. We also have a section of Function buttons (#2-4) that are programmable, but have default functions as well, which are printed below each button, and the display button for toggling through various on-screen information overlays.
Lastly, up on the top left corner of the rear of the camera sits the playback button and the fifth programmable Function button, which also doubles as the LVF/EVF toggle button.
Moving around to the sides of the GH4, we have the SD card door and 2.5mm remote terminal on the right side (as viewed from the rear), and the 3.5mm mic jack input, 3.5mm headphone jack, Micro HDMI (Type-D) and USB/AV out ports on the left.
Lastly, along the bottom, the GH4 features a standard 1/4-20 thread tripod socket, connections for the DMW-BGGH3 battery grip accessory and new DMW-YAGH interface unit, and the locking lithium-ion battery compartment. The battery life on the GH4 with the included Lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack is CIPA-rated to 500 shots per charge, and can be doubled with a second battery installed in the optional battery grip.
Tech Insight: Panasonic's all-new AF approach
The Panasonic GH4's DFD promises to match or beat PDAF
With the GH4, Panasonic has introduced an all-new autofocus algorithm that eliminates many of the drawbacks of contrast-detect autofocus, and delivers AF speeds approaching those of traditional SLRs. DFD stands for "Depth From Defocus," and to understand what this is all about and why it's such an impressive innovation, let's first take a quick look at how camera AF systems work.
In traditional SLRs, the mirror system diverts a small portion of the incoming light to a separate autofocus sensor, typically located in the bottom of the mirror box. A prism there splits the light coming from opposite sides of the lens and directs it to paired groups of sensor pixels, forming each AF point. Depending on the focus of the lens, the light falling on the paired groups of pixels will either line up (focused) or be shifted one way or the other relative to each other (front-focused or back-focused). Phase-detect AF thus not only knows whether the subject is in focus or not, but if out of focus, it knows in what direction and how much out of focus the image is. This means the camera can command the lens to move directly to the correct focus setting, without having to "hunt" along the way.
Can Panasonic's all-new DFD AF match or even exceed phase-detect performance?
Panasonic GH4 Video Capabilities
Panasonic GH4 redefines Mirrorless video
The earlier GH3 was already one of the leading interchangeable-lens video platforms, but the Panasonic GH4 takes its video capabilities to a whole new level, with full 4K video, both IPB and All-I recording in a range of container formats, data rates as high as 200 Mbps(!), clean HDMI output at either 8 or 10 bits, and a super-high full HD frame rate of 96fps for 1/4x slow-motion when played back at 24fps. There's a whole host of other features, so many that we're going to just hit them briefly here. It's safe to say, though, that the Panasonic GH4 is going to be a dream machine for both professional and high-end amateur videographers.
4K recording. Around the office, we've been joking that 4K is this year's 3D, given the massive focus on it at this year's CES show. TV manufacturers are clearly hoping that 4K will revive TV sales, by getting consumers to upgrade their current sets, just as they did with 3D. While 3D was an unmitigated flop with consumers, 4K does in fact bring noticeable improvements in image quality. Whether the improvements will be enough to make consumers reach for their wallets isn't clear, but 4K is potentially useful for many filmmakers, looking to integrate video with conventional film. Depending on the software involved, it's also quite possible that downsampled 4K video will result in better-looking HD than you'd get shooting directly in HD in the first place.
Read how the Panasonic GH4 has redefined video capabilities for mirrorless cameras
Panasonic GH4 Shooter's Report Part I
High Performance, High Resolution, High Functionality
Despite 4K video recording as the hallmark feature of the new Panasonic GH4, Panasonic's new flagship mirrorless camera is still a top-notch camera for still photography. I had a couple of weeks to spend some quality time shooting with the GH4 -- out on the streets of New Orleans and along South Carolina's coast -- and right off the bat, I was very impressed with both the image quality and performance of this new mirrorless camera.
In the hand. On the physical side of things, if you're familiar with the GH3, then the GH4 has practically no learning curve in terms of handling and ergonomics. Despite the drastic weight- and space-saving benefits that come with the average mirrorless camera compared to the typical DSLR, the GH4 is certainly on the larger end of the spectrum with a more traditional DSLR design.
Compared to smaller to mid-sized DSLRs, such as the Pentax K-5 or Nikon D7100, the Panasonic GH4 looks practically the same size, with a nice solid heft -- although with a much more comfortable, contoured handgrip in my opinion. If you want a small and lightweight interchangeable lens camera to slip into your bag, the GH4 is not for you.
However, even with the slightly larger body, you still reap the benefits of the large selection of Micro Four Thirds lenses, which are inherently smaller than their DSLR counterparts. I was able to carry around a bright f/2.8 wide-angle zoom and a super-telephoto zoom lens with the 35mm-eq. FOV of 600mm with no sweat and hardly much space used up in my bag. Try that with a DSLR!
Read our first Panasonic GH4 Shooter's Report installment!
Panasonic GH4 Shooter's Report Part II
Video Recording and that's a wrap!
Whether you're a still photographer who's just dipping his or her toes into the ocean that is video production or you're a hardcore, seasoned professional videographer, the Panasonic GH4 is like the "Swiss Army knife" of video -- boatloads of file formats, bitrates, framerates, clean HDMI output, headphone jack, full-time AF...you name it, the GH4 probably has it.
The GH3 garnered heavy praise from us for its impressive video quality and pro-level feature set -- and doing so at a very "un-pro-like" price point -- and the new GH4 has upped the ante with not only 4K video recording, but also with even higher quality 1080p video bitrates (with a total of 26 different video resolution/frame rates options), cinema-like picture styles and advanced production features like zebra pattern, focus peaking and clean HDMI output at 4:2:2 8- or 10-bit quality. And still, the GH4 maintains a relatively low price for a pro-level camera at around $1,700, which is impressive considering it's: A) Panasonic's flagship photo-oriented interchangeable lens camera (the AF100 being a professional Micro Four Thirds camcorder) and B) a camera with video features and image quality that meet or surpass professional cinema cameras that can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars.
While I certainly don't consider myself a professional videographer, I've had a fair share of experience in video production, and after spending some quality time with Panasonic's new top-of-the-line Micro Four Thirds camera, I'm ready to discuss my thoughts on the video recording features of the GH4, as well as wrap-up my GH4 Shooter's Report with my final summary of Panasonic's new flagship mirrorless camera.
Read our second and final Panasonic GH4 Shooter's Report installment!
Panasonic GH4 Image Quality Comparison
A video powerhouse, but a great stills shooter, too
The Panasonic GH4 aims to take the enthusiast and professional video market by storm, but let's not forget it's also a mighty stills camera first and foremost (given that its ergonomics still resemble that classic DSLR-like shape). The Panasonic GH4's got a host of upgrades including a newly designed 16MP Live MOS sensor and a new quad-core Venus Engine 9AHD image processor, to create images with improved dynamic range, high ISO performance and better, more accurate color rendition.
In this section, we compare the Panasonic GH4's still-image quality against that of the earlier Panasonic GH3, as well as the hot new Sony A6000, the Nikon D7100, and the Olympus E-M1 as well as the video powerhouse Canon 70D.
Can the Panasonic GH4 beat cameras with APS-C sensors? You be the judge...
Panasonic GH4 Print Quality
How does the GH4 look on paper?
Print quality and image quality are similar but not identical, because what you see on a print isn't always the same as what you see on the screen. Our print quality analysis answers the important question: "Just how big can I print my photos at higher ISOs?"
While the Panasonic GH4 certainly brings lots of upgrades in terms of video capabilities, it's not altogether much different from the GH3 in terms of still image quality. Housing a similar 16MP sensor, the GH4 yields high quality 24 x 36 inch prints at extended ISO 100 and base ISO 200. This quality is maintained nicely at ISO 800 with relatively large prints for its Four Thirds sensor size, and allows for good 11 x 14 prints up to ISO 3200. The default level of noise reduction does well at these relatively high ISOs to keep noise under control while maintaining a lot of fine detail. At very high ISO levels, however, prints sizes can only go so large before noise takes its toll on fine detail and color.
Get the full scoop on the GH4's print quality.
Panasonic GH4 Conclusion
A GH3 on steroids with 4K, high bitrate HD, 12fps burst and faster AF!
The Panasonic GH3 is already an excellent camera and one of the best Micro Four Thirds models out there, yet Panasonic has somehow managed to make it even better with the GH4. From the exterior, the Panasonic GH4 might not look all that much different than just a GH3 with a new badge, but the interior has undergone some serious revamping. The sensor, while keeping the same 16 megapixel resolution, has slightly improved dynamic range, and a new extended ISO of 100 is available. But above ISO 200, it's pretty much neck-and-neck compared to its predecessor, with only minor improvements seen in JPEGs at some higher ISOs. The sensor readout has also been given a boost, which, as we found, also helps reduce rolling shutter.
Other areas received a nice performance boost as well. Autofocus performance is excellent, especially when using Panasonic lenses, as the camera incorporates Panasonic's new DFD technology, and the GH4 now gets a 49-area AF grid (up from 23 on the GH3). We found AF speed in good lighting to be near instantaneous with most subjects, though small and low contrast subjects can cause issues.
Thanks in part to its new quad-core image processor, burst shooting and buffer performance is impressive. While burst shooting with continuous AF takes a hit in speed, the GH4 still manages a very respectable 7fps. The eye-opener is with burst shooting without continuous AF: 12fps. Coupled with a bigger buffer that's able to handle more than 100 JPEGs or up to 40 RAW images (RAW buffer clearing is a on the slow side, though), the GH4 is a worthy camera for capturing fast-moving subjects, so long as continuous AF tracking is not a priority.
Read our Panasonic GH4 Conclusion for our final verdict!
In the Box
The Panasonic GH4 retail package (as reviewed) contains the following items:
- Panasonic DMC-GH4 body
- 7.2V 1860mAh Lithium-ion battery pack
- Battery charger with AC cable
- Body cap
- Hot shoe cover
- USB cable
- Shoulder strap
- DVD with:
- PHOTOfunSTUDIO 9.5 PE (Windows)
- SILKYPIX® Developer Studio 4.1 SE (Windows & Mac)
- LoiLoScope (Trial Version, Windows)
- PDF Owner's manual
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. If you're recording 4K or high bitrate Full HD video, a UHS Speed Class 3 (U3) card is required.
- Extra battery pack DMW-BLF19 (~US$80)
- Battery grip DMW-BGGH3 (~US$300)
- DMW-YAGH interface unit (~US$3,000)
- AC adapter kit ACK-E6 (~US$120)
- Panasonic VW-LED1 Video LED Light (~US$170)
- Panasonic DMW-FL580L External Flash (~US$600)
- Small to medium DSLR/mirrorless bag