Panasonic GH5 Field Test Part I
Panasonic GH5 Field Test Part I
The new Lumix flagship addresses almost every consumer quibble in the GH4
By Jaron Schneider | Posted: 03/08/2017
Panasonic was clearly listening to its user base when it was developing the GH5, as the camera's body design and features answer just about every single issue -- both large and small -- that anyone seems to have ever brought up against the already-outstanding GH4. The Panasonic GH5 is one of the most shining examples of “we heard you” in any product I’ve ever encountered, and it’s so rare to see this that the overwhelming sense of joy I have when I look at this camera is truly refreshing. When competitors are holding back features in flagship products, Panasonic took the road far less traveled and gave us everything we could possibly want, plus more.
A tour of the Panasonic GH5's updated body
Looking specifically at camera build, design and functionality, let’s dive into how the GH5 evolved the GH4 into a camera that gets so very much right.
Comparing the body designs of the GH5 to the GH4, the latest camera from Panasonic is bulkier, heavier and more robust than its predecessor due to some added buttons and a beefier frame. (It's also thanks to requirements set in place to allow for the upgraded recording specifications of the camera). That weight is not extreme however, and the camera still feels light compared to other competitor options capable of offering the same or similar features. The added bulk to the grip actually feels good, giving those with larger hands more to hold onto than with the GH4. The actual depth of the grip did not change, but the thickness of the body it is connected to makes just a slight difference in how the camera feels in hand.
Looking specifically at the grip on the right side of the camera first, Panasonic kept the buttons on the top largely the same, save for moving them around a bit to make room for one which has transitioned from the back of the camera and doubled in size: the dedicated recording button. With the GH4, you could use the small record button found on the back of the camera or activate recording by clicking the shutter button. Because of the location and size of the dedicated record button, I found myself using the shutter to initiate recording 99% of the time. I can’t have been the only one, as Panasonic has made the dedicated control much larger and moved it into position near the shutter release. I like this change, as it keeps the record button near where I am used to reaching it, but separates the “video record” aspect of the camera from the “take a picture” one.
The settings dial, Wi-Fi/Wireless connectivity LED indicator, and the on/off switch are basically unchanged from the GH4 layout. The shutter button and aperture dial are pretty much exactly where they were before as well.
On the back of the Panasonic GH5, the biggest difference is the aforementioned relocation of the record button, which left Panasonic the space to add a multi-directional toggle joystick. This is one of three different ways you now have to navigate menus and on-screen options:
The scroll wheel/dial, which was the primary way I navigated menus on the GH4.
The touch screen.
The multi-directional toggle joystick.
It’s rare to have so many ways to do the same thing, but that’s one of the reasons Photoshop is so versatile, and I love the addition of a new toggle. I will probably use it primarily for menu navigation once I break the habit of using the less-precise scroll wheel. Next to that toggle is the AF/AE lock and switch, which is in basically the same position as it was on the GH4, but has been rotated slightly to make room for the new joystick.
The GH5 also lacks a pop-up flash like the one found on the GH4. I will personally not miss it one bit. Because of this change, they were able to move the audio microphone forward, away from the diopter adjustment where it was on the GH4, and up onto the top of the camera where the pop-up flash used to be. This will allow for more forward-facing audio capture, with less interference from anything coming from behind the camera (a direction from which you will rarely ever want to record audio). Though most experienced videographers will be using dedicated microphones, moving the receivers up was a nice gesture on Panasonic’s part.
Beyond those changes, every other button on the Panasonic GH5 is identically placed to those found on the GH4. That makes the newer camera feel immediately familiar, which is a very good thing. It takes no time to get up and start shooting with the GH5 because it operates so similarly to its predecessor. Panasonic perfectly balanced the need to upgrade its camera with the desire to overhaul buttons, settings and features. It only made changes where it had to in order to accommodate more options, resisting the urge to move other things around willy-nilly.
The Panasonic GH5 sports impressive image stabilization
One of the most exciting new features to hit the Panasonic Lumix GH5 is its in-body image stabilization, which brings five-axis sensor shift image stabilization to the camera. One complaint I often had with my GH4 was that the body would notice every little jump and jitter in motion, and that would lead to visible “shocks” in footage. It also meant that the body was pretty unforgiving if dragging the shutter when taking photos unless your lens offered great optical stabilization.
From testing thus far, the effect of the five-axis stabilization is very noticeable, and even allows for pretty steady shots without using a gimbal or tripod. I will delve deeper into this feature in my upcoming video section, but it’s worth mentioning that this addition to the body is helpful, and a very welcome upgrade.
I mentioned that the body of the camera has been “beefed up,” and though we gain a bit in weight, we also gain the ability to expand on ports, which Panasonic did with gusto. Instead of the heinously fragile and universally-hated mini HDMI port found on the GH4, Panasonic has given Lumix GH5 shooters access to a full-sized HDMI port, which means we can ditch adapters and use the far more secure HDMI cable when hitching monitors to our cameras.
The port doors on the left side of the camera have also been improved, now featuring actual hinges instead of bending rubber joints. There is now no longer an AV OUT/Digital port, since the full-sized HDMI is so much larger, but I don’t imagine this will be missed by many, especially when you consider what Panasonic has done on the audio interface front.
With the GH4, Panasonic sold an audio interface unit that doubled as a battery grip, but it was cumbersome, and wasn’t a great choice if all you wanted was a battery grip, thanks to its large size, poor ergonomics and the high cost caused by its expanded audio functionality. It confused many fans of the GH4, because it overly complicated a camera they wanted mainly due to its simplicity, and appealed to only a small number of audiophiles who enjoyed the expanded features the interface unit provided. Though, yes, you could acquire the GH3 battery grip and use it with the GH4, it wasn’t a highly-touted launch item like the interface unit.
Panasonic has learned from its mistake, and now offers a new, true battery grip and a much more compact audio interface unit which instead of being under-mounted, now utilizes the hot shoe mount.
Let’s take a look at the Panasonic GH5's optional battery grip. Adding a sizeable yet modestly-weighted chunk to the bottom of the camera, the grip features one toggle stick like that found on the body of the camera. It also provides a shutter button, aperture/shutter dials, and white balance, sensitivity, exposure and AF/AE lock controls, plus a function button.
Unlike battery grips you find for larger DSLRs from other companies, the grip can be screwed on and off at will without interfering with the battery and compartment on the body of the camera. Instead of using the contact points inside the camera body, the battery grip uses a 22-pin square that docks directly with connectors found on the bottom of the GH5. I find this to be a vastly superior way to use a camera grip over what is typical on the market because it doesn’t force me to decide to either always use a battery grip, or never. The process for connecting many grips requires removing the battery door, and I rarely carry that door around for fear of losing it. With this setup, you can strap a new battery to the GH5 quickly and on a whim, expanding its usability.
Though it does effectively double battery life, the grip will cater mostly to those using the GH5 as a photo camera thanks to its profusion of duplicate controls. Unfortunately, it offers little for the video shooter. Videographers will probably use it to get extended shooting time, but it’s clearly an accessory made with the photographer in mind.
It is worth noting that the GH5 battery grip will not work with the GH4 or GH3, as the pin system it employs is a different arrangement than that found on earlier cameras.
For those who loved the audio interface unit for the GH4, you can still get all those features, but now in a more compact and redesigned XLR microphone adapter. The hot-shoe-mounted adapter features a full sized pair of XLR inputs as well as full audio controls on the left side of the device. Every part of the adapter feels well made, and the controls are nice, stiff and hard to accidently knock in any way. If you enjoy these features on a full-sized camcorder, they are well-adapted to the GH5 with this accessory. Note that the XLR microphone adapter uses phantom power and does not have a battery of its own.
As an added bonus, there is a cold shoe on the top of the adapter which you can use to hold other accessories, such as a wireless lav receiver or microphone (if you don’t mind the totem pole effect).
Dividing its audio interface unit into these two separate accessories was a smart decision from Panasonic. Given the wide range of users that will pick up a GH5, either the battery grip, the XLR adapter or both will appeal to that full range, which is a vast improvement over its last solution that appealed to very few users.
Evaluating the Panasonic GH5’s still-shooting capabilities
The GH4 was heralded as a fantastic video camera, but its photography capabilities left something to be desired. I felt that the images weren’t super crisp, perhaps in part due to a lower sensor resolution than most APS-C rivals, or the fact that it had an optical low-pass filter while much of the competition has dropped OLPFs. The color rendition also lacked “oomph”, and high-sensitivity noise levels left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, raw files from the Panasonic GH5 are not yet supported in most software as it this writing, so I'll have hold my verdict on dynamic range until I can properly test this and other aspects of post production at a later date.
130mm-equivalent, 1/250 sec. @ f/4, ISO 320
The Panasonic GH5 has definitely made big strides here, though, with photos that look clean, while they also gained a nice punch to the color. Taking images in either movie mode (which captures a lower-resolution file, but with a more visually-appealing cinema crop) or in normal photo mode results in photos where colors pop and images look satisfyingly good. All photos shown here were taken in Panasonic’s “Standard” photo mode.
Despite the small sensor, the Panasonic GH5 is able to throw backgrounds out of focus relatively easily, allowing you to bring attention to foreground elements and draw the eye as you see fit.
In my opinion, greens look the best out of all the colors you can capture with the GH5, with the varying tones and levels coming together to create a lush, perfectly saturated look straight out of camera.
That isn’t to say other colors don’t shine, as the GH5 does a very good job with matching what your eyes see to what it captures. This is an area where the GH4 also did well, and both Panasonic cameras are a good choice for those who want to preserve the realism of environments (which works especially well in documentary filmmaking).
The high-sensitivity performance is probably the biggest area that needed improvement from the GH4, but this was mostly a complaint in video capture. For still photos, images were usable on the GH4 through ISO 6400. When Panasonic did not change the sensitivity options or range on the GH5, I was hopeful that noise levels (and the effects of noise reduction) would at least improve.
Unfortunately, I personally don't think that this was the case. In side-by-side comparisons, the GH5 and GH4 appeared to have little noticeable change in image quality at the same sensitivities through the range, at least to my eye. Though colors are better on the GH5, any high ISO improvement is negligible, at least in still photos viewed at 100%.
Editor's Note: Do keep in mind the boost in resolution from 16 to 20 megapixels, so it's actually nice that noise did not increase as a result of the smaller photosites. And in addition to capturing more detail, the larger images should result in lower visible noise than the GH4 when printed at the same size. The GH5 has also dropped the optical low-pass filter, so per-pixel sharpness from the sensor has improved over the GH4 as well, though at the risk of increased moiré and false colors artifacts. See our Image Quality Comparison and Print Quality Analysis for another take on the GH5's image quality in the lab.
When looking at the high-sensitivity performance at each additional ISO stop offered by the camera, you only notice a strong degradation in quality at ISO 12,800 and of course at the highest sensitivity offered, ISO 25,600. This is the same immediate dropoff in performance we saw in the GH4. For comparison purposes, you can see here how the GH4 performed in the same lighting situation:
120mm-equivalent, 1 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200
120mm-equivalent, 0.4 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 400
120mm-equivalent, 1/5 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800
120mm-equivalent, 1/10 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 1600
120mm-equivalent, 1/20 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 3200
120mm-equivalent, 1/40 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 6400
120mm-equivalent, 1/80 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 12,800
120mm-equivalent, 1/160 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 25,600
When you look at these images side by side, it’s really challenging to see any difference at all, save for slightly more contrast in the shadows, and a more robust green in the foliage as captured by the GH5. Panasonic did something to differentiate the two cameras, as the photos don’t look totally identical, but anything they did had little to no effect on the high-sensitivity performance in photos.
That is not to say that the photos that are produced with this camera aren’t pretty, it’s just that for stills you can’t take the GH5 into darker environments than you did with the GH4 and expect to get noticeably superior images in my opinion.
The new five-axis stabilization system means you’ll be able to drag the shutter more when shooting without a tripod in lower-light conditions, but the actual performance out of the sensor is about par for the course.
The GH5 is in no way a major low-light performer for still photography, but it does a good job given the size of the sensor and the resolution options available, especially when you consider what the camera can do in video capture. That said, there are other Micro Four Thirds cameras that are better at being a still shooter’s camera.
The GH5 is, first and foremost, a camera aimed predominantly at video shooters. Now that we’ve discussed its performance with still photos, in my next Field Test we’ll be taking a deep dive into the camera’s video capabilities which are, on paper, considerable. We will also take a look at the 4K and 6K photo modes, an area in which Panasonic has put much emphasis in the past few years!