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First Look: Panasonic Lumix GH5

The new Panasonic Lumix GH5, introduced at CES, looks like an improved GH4, but each of improvements addresses user requests, complaints, and issues with the GH4—as well as what Panasonic sees going on with the competition. Put them all together, and the GH5 appears to be a very solid piece of kit that can't be found in any competitor's portfolio.
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At CES, Panasonic introduced the long-awaited successor to the venerable GH4, which has been shooting 4K of all variants (as well as HD, and slow-motion video) for several years now. As the owner of multiple GH4 user groups, I've held polls on what users wanted for firmware upgrades to the GH4 and, of course, they didn't hold back. The results might as well been feature requests for the GH5.

Flashback to the introduction of the GH4--this $1,700 DSLR was one of the first to shoot 4K in May 2014. If you had $12,000 to burn you could have used Canon's EOS-1D C which came out in 2012. Sony DSLRs, such as the A7s ($2,500), touted 4K in April 2014, but that was output over HDMI only. You had to shell out another grand for an external HDMI 4K recorder. It took another year until Sony managed to get their DSLRs to record 4K internally, and then the overheating issues meant that you couldn't do it for very long.

Meanwhile, the GH4 could record 4K UHD 24p, 25p, or 30p, or 4K DCI 24p—basically, both the cinema and consumer standards for 4K--in US and International frame rates. It would record for as long as you had space on your card (some EU countries were limited to 29 minutes to avoid a tariff on "camcorders.") The batteries would last for hours. There was no overheating. My GH4 has been a workhorse for me.

Not too much later, the GH4 was augmented with anamorphic recording capability. Then it was given a 4K photo mode. Then it was given the availability of an optional log recording capability. All this is on top of the ability to utilize any Nikon or Canon full-frame glass, optically squeeze the image area down to the smaller Micro4/3 sensor, and get an extra stop of light, or more, out of the lens.

The list of photo and video features in the GH5 is extensive. I'm going to focus on those related to professional video. I have not had a hands-on with the camera yet, and I have no connection with Panasonic in any way. These are my personal and professional assessments of the GH5 specifications and capabilities.

Improvements

Moderating two GH4 groups with over 13,000 people from around the world for the past two years has given me a unique perspective to what GH4 users want. Unfortunately, what they want is not always what's delivered by firmware updates. But the GH5 shows that Panasonic has indeed been listening.

4Kp60 recording. In-camera. Forever.

No overheating, not time limits, anywhere in the world. This delivers 4K slow motion for those projects delivered in 24 and 30p. Previously, to get slow motion, the GH4 could shoot only 1080p96. And then, if you went over 1080p60, it looked distinctly not as good as p60. The GH5 records up to 180 fps in HD and also 4Kp50 internationally. I hold hope that there's no quality drop going up to the higher frame rates.

"Forever" is facilitated by the addition of a second SD card slot (Figure 1, below), so you can enable relay-recording and swap out full cards with empty ones to just keep recording. And both slots are now UHS-II, meaning the camera can take advantage of the highest-speed SD cards out there--useful if you opt to record video at 400 Mbps. And they can offload video at hundreds of MB/sec.

Figure 1. The GH5 is outfitted with dual SD card slots. Click the image to see it at full size.

Lastly, but of no less importance, the GH5 rectifies the GH4's limitation on lower frames per second. If you wanted to speed something up and shoot less than 24 fps to compress time, the GH4 simply couldn't do it in 4K. The GH5 can, down to 2 fps. This is a welcome feature.

Lose the crop

The GH4 crops in on the 16 MP sensor to record the exact pixels needed to deliver 4K UHD or DCI. This simplified the math and made it easier to process and deliver in such a small camera without overheating. Two years later, following the example of Panasonic's DVX200 Camcorder, the GH5 uses the full 20 MP sensor, all the time. The processor scales all the pixels to whatever the delivery format is.

This is important because the 4K crop made every lens less wide. So if you needed a wide shot in 4K, your 12mm lens became a 14mm. (24mm becomes a 28mm in full-frame 35mm terms) With the GH5, this goes away. And that's a very good thing if they can deliver the same great image quality the DVX200 did.

IBIS

Other cameras stabilize the sensor. This had been a real differentiating feature for the Panasonic product line. Then other Panasonic cameras offered it, and it was expected that the flagship GH5 might--and it does. Moreover, it works with the optically stabilized lenses to offer a touted 5-stop advantage. More importantly, non-Panasonic prime lenses are now stabilized in camera.

Now, you can't do this with a manual zoom, because the stabilizer needs to know the focal length of the lens. You use a menu to enter that info into the camera, which you can't do while you're recording. I have tried this with the IBIS in Olympus M43 cameras and, once I zoom a manual lens away from the focal length I told the camera, the camera's attempt to stabilize the image actually makes it worse. So stick to primes.

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As a longtime user of the Panasonic GH4 DSLR, and the founder/moderator of the now-10,000+ member GH4 Technical Group on Facebook, I know there has been plenty of talk about making the GH4 into a successor to Panasonic's AF100 Micro 4/3 Camcorder. When Panasonic announced the DVX200, the bar was set quite high. Reportedly, based on the GH4, the DVX200 is all that, and a lot more, but what did it give up to get there?