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 the section below, 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.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Panasonic GH4 versus Panasonic GH3 at Base ISO

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 200
Panasonic GH3 at ISO 200

Given that both the GH4 and GH3 have similar 16.1-megapixel sensors, it's no surprise that their images are nearly identical here at base ISO. The fine detail in the mosaic crop looks similar as do the fabric swatches, apart from perhaps a minor difference in exposure. Default noise reduction seems stronger in the GH4, though, as you can see in the first crop comparison, with shadowy areas looking a bit smoother than the GH3. (In fact, some of the texture in our background is treated as noise and actually smoothed away.)

Panasonic GH4 versus Canon 70D at Base ISO

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 200
Canon 70D at ISO 100

Despite the smaller sensor, the GH4 wins with sharper fine detail in both the mosaic and fabric crop comparisons, although the 70D is definitely not a bad performer with more accurate colors and higher contrast. However the 70D also produces more obvious sharpening haloes.

Panasonic GH4 versus Nikon D7100 at Base ISO

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 200
Nikon D7100 at ISO 100

Unlike the previous comparison, the APS-C Nikon D7100 with its 24MP AA-filterless sensor is able to out-resolve the 16MP Four Thirds Panasonic GH4, especially in the fabric crops comparison, and we prefer the Nikon's color. Even though there's a noticeable difference in resolution, the GH4 is able to produce a nice, high level of fine detail in the mosaic crops, however.

Panasonic GH4 versus Olympus E-M1 at Base ISO

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 200
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 200

These two flagship Micro Four Thirds cameras are fairly evenly matched here at ISO 200, with both cameras producing lots of fine detail. The GH4's rendering looks slightly more natural while the E-M1's is a bit crisper with higher sharpening and contrast. Both do well with the fabric swatches, as well as with the mosaic, although there is a slight color cast difference.

Panasonic GH4 versus Sony A6000 at Base ISO

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 200
Sony A6000 at ISO 100

Both cameras do an excellent job with crisp, fine detail at base ISO. Other than the noticeable difference in resolution, both cameras display excellent detail in the mosaic crop. The GH4 in fact appears to edge out the A6000 with the red fabric with a cleaner, crisper look to the leaf pattern, while the A6000 handles the pink fabric noticeably better.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Panasonic GH4 versus Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 1600
Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600

Again, like the base ISO comparison, the GH4 and GH3 are pretty evenly matched here at ISO 1600. Interestingly, there are some noticeable chroma noise "splotches" in the GH4 bottle crop that aren't seen in the GH3 crop, though the GH3 shows slightly higher luminance noise and sharpening artifacts. In terms of fine detail, they are quite similar in the mosaic crop, but the GH3 gets the nod in the red and pink fabric swatches.

Panasonic GH4 versus Canon 70D at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 1600
Canon 70D at ISO 1600

The GH4 does much better than the 70D at reducing luminance noise grain at ISO 1600, though it does leave green and red chroma noise splotches in the shadows. Fine detail in the mosaic is similar, but the GH4 tips the scale with a more natural look to the tiled pattern. The 70D does a bit better in the red fabric, while the GH4 wins with the pink one though it's a bit too magenta.

Panasonic GH4 versus Nikon D7100 at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 1600
Nikon D7100 at ISO 1600

Despite the larger, much-higher-res sensor, the GH4 generally does better at reducing high ISO luminance noise at default settings. Interestingly, even though the D7100 is quite effective at reducing chroma noise, it continues to do much better with the red fabric. Fine detail in the higher contrast mosaic crops actually looks fairly similar barring the differences in resolution and default sharpening, but again, the Nikon produces more accurate colors.

Panasonic GH4 versus Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 1600

Both cameras here do well at reducing noise, but the effect of the E-M1's noise reduction looks stronger. Fine detail looks better on the GH4 however, as the E-M1's noise reduction processing produces a somewhat muddled, distorted appearance to the mosaic crop. However, on the red fabric, things are quite evenly matched, though the GH4 does better with the pink fabric.

Panasonic GH4 versus Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 1600
Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

Again, another big difference in resolution, 16 vs 24, but the GH4 does surprisingly well against the A6000. Noise reduction is much stronger on the A6000, and while it does well at removing noise, it muddles up the mosaic detail and the fabric swatches, especially the pink fabric. The GH4, on the other hand, maintains a nice level of fairly clean, fine detail.

Today's ISO 3200 is yesterday's ISO 1600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3200.

Panasonic GH4 versus Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 3200
Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, the GH4 shows better noise reduction processing, as the GH3's NR looks a little too strong with artifacts more visible in the bottle crop, for instance. The level of fine detail on the mosaic crop looks similar, although NR processing is a little more evident from the GH3. The GH3 does ever-so-slightly better at the fabric crops over the GH4 (both struggle quite a bit though with the red fabric).

Panasonic GH4 versus Canon 70D at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 3200
Canon 70D at ISO 3200

It's a similar comparison here as the one we saw at ISO 1600, as the GH4 processes out high ISO noise and grain much better than the 70D at ISO 3200. Fine detail in the mosaic is better from the GH4, and while the 70D does a bit better in the red fabric, again, the GH4 wins handily with the pink one.

Panasonic GH4 versus Nikon D7100 at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 3200
Nikon D7100 at ISO 3200

Again, like the ISO 1600 comparison, the GH4 shows less noise thanks to its noise reduction processing, while still showing good fine detail. However, despite the noise, the D7100 also does well with fine detail, especially when comparing the fabric swatches, with which the GH4 struggles.

Panasonic GH4 versus Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-M1 at ISO 3200

Very similar comparison again in terms of noise reduction, and while the GH4 shows a nice amount of fine detail in the mosaic crop, the E-M1's NR processing distorts the mosaic tile crop detail quite a bit. Both cameras struggle similarly with the red fabric, though the GH4 still does better with the pink one.

Panasonic GH4 versus Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH4 at ISO 3200
Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, the GH4 and A6000 compare quite similarly, especially in the bottle and mosaic crops, but with an obvious difference in image resolution. Both show relatively low levels of noise and fine detail, though the A6000 looks a bit more "processed." However, things change with the fabric crops, where the A6000 show a better attempt at resolving the red leaf pattern.


Detail: Panasonic GH4 vs. Panasonic GH3, Canon 70D, Nikon D7100, Olympus E-M1 and Sony A6000


ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. For fine, high-contrast detail, these letters allow us to really "read between the lines" so to speak. All cameras here do well at base ISO with lots of crisp, fine detail in the lettering, with the 70D, E-M1 and A6000 showing a bit more contrast by default across the board. It's a similar story at ISO 3200 as well, although the 70D and D7100 falter a bit with a lack of crispness compared to the others. The GH4 does well at all ISOs, even ISO 6400 and compared to cameras with larger sensors like the 70D and D7100. Compared to the GH3, the GH4 looks quite similar in terms of levels of crisp, fine detail and low noise at the higher ISOs.


Panasonic GH4 Review -- Print Quality

Overall, very good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISOs 100 and 200; ISO 1600 capable of a nice 13 x 19; ISO 6400 prints a good 5 x 7.

ISO 100 and 200 images are excellent at 24 x 36 inches, with nice detail. Colors are generally accurate, but yellows are desaturated and shifted a bit toward green. Despite the extended ISO of 100, prints at both 100 and 200 look practically identical. Even though the GH4 has "only" a 16MP sensor, up to 36 x 48 inch prints are easily suitable for wall display purposes.

ISO 400 prints look quite good at 20 x 30 inches, with wall display prints possible up to 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 800 yields a nice 16 x 20 inch print. 20 x 30s are fine for less critical applications, but there is some minor luminance noise in the shadow areas. Colors still look accurate, and the camera still has the ability to resolve fine detail.

ISO 1600 is capable of a good 13 x 19 inch print, with 11 x 14s looking even better. Typical troublesome areas like the red swatch in our test target still looks great at this ISO.

ISO 3200 prints are good at 11 x 14 inches, with some minor grain in the shadows. Also, the red fabric swatch is starting to lose detail. Colors are beginning to be slightly muted as well, but enough saturation is preserved for good prints.

ISO 6400 produces a nice 5 x 7, with 8 x 10s being suitable for less critical applications. Noise is starting to show up more, but is still mostly concentrated in shadowy areas.

ISO 12,800 prints are acceptable at 4 x 6, although colors look slightly muted, but enough color is preserved for decent prints. Noise is quite high here, preventing us from calling any larger size acceptable.

ISO 25,600 does not print a usable 4 x 6 and is best avoided.

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.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)


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