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Hands-on with the Panasonic DMC-GH4 4K DSLR

A strong contender for the most affordable 4K camera on the market today, Panasonic's DMC-GH4 adds both UltraHD and pixel-for-pixel Cinema4K to the feature set that made its GH3 predecessor great, and joins a rapidly growing Micro 4/3 marketplace.

The Panasonic GH4 is one of the most affordable true 4K video cameras on the market today, if not the single most affordable 4K model available. It shoots both UltraHD (UHD) and Cinema4K, as well as US and EU frame rate variants, including in-camera slow motion in HD. There's very little this little DSLR can't do when it comes to video. Plus it's also an excellent still camera as well, and the Micro 4/3 format is growing.

At NAB 2014, Blackmagic Design introduced its Studio Camera, which, coupled with the company's Cinema Camera, and Pocket Cinema Camera, means that more than half of their entire camera line can have a Micro 4/3 mount on it.

Panasonic showed two forthcoming new Varicam cameras, one a B4 mount, the other a Micro 4/3 mount. JVC also showed some new cameras with the Micro 4/3 mount at NAB. Plus, Olympus continues to produce very high quality Micro 4/3 still cameras and lenses.

So anyone concerned that Micro 4/3 is not a Canon EF mount can rest easy that the Micro 4/3 format is strong and growing. I believe the GH4 will be a pillar of this format because it is such a versatile tool.

The Hardware

The GH4 is nearly identical to the GH3 that came before it, but there are some subtle differences that you won't necessarily notice unless you need those features. Thse include an extra set of contacts on the bottom that communicate with the YAGH optional adapter that provides SDI output, timecode input, and XLR audio in to the camera. There;s a lock on the mode wheel to keep it from getting bumped to a different setting, and so forth.

Everything that made the GH3 a feature-full and great-to-use camera is maintained. The added bonus with keeping a nearly identical form factor is that various accessories, such as housings and cages, that you might already have for the GH3, will pretty much all fit the GH4 without issue.

If you're considering the GH4 coming form a different full-size DSLR, then I suggest you consider getting the battery grip (Figure 1, below). This is because the Micro 4/3 format is small, and the GH4's vertical height is not near a full-frame 35mm still camera's height. The bottom of your right hand, and the last finger or two, will constantly beg for something to grip.

Figure 1. The GH4 with battery grip. Click the image to see it at full size.

Add the battery grip and the still-diminutive GH4, which is considerably bigger than the GH1 or GH2 (Figure 2, below), will instantly feel much better in the hand, and give you fewer hand cramps over long shooting days.

Figure 2. The GH4 (left) compared with the consideably smaller GH2 (riht). Click the image to see it at full size.

Video-Centric

Numerous changes and significant advancements Panasonic put in the GH3 continue in the GH4. If you recall Zacuto's Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout in 2012, several high-end motion picture cameras were pitted against one another. Zacuto included a Panasonic GH2 in the mix with the RED Epic, Sony F65, Arri Alexa. They released the comparison video and didn't say what camera was which. Viewers were left to assess on their own.

When the results were revealed, several hundred voters on NoFilmSchool.com had picked the GH2 as #1, over the high-end cameras. Frances Ford Coppola even singled the GH2 out as a stellar performer. Since then, the GH series has only improved in capability and performance. The GH3 added high bitrates that were achievable on the GH2 only with hacked software. It also delivered on the hardware front with full 3.5mm mic and headphone jacks. Panasonic also added wireless control.

Now the GH4 continues to improve. It delivers 4K. True, pixel-for-pixel 4K. Not just on QuadHD/UHD 3840x2160, but also Digital Cinema/DCI 4096x2160 (Figure 3, below). It delivers 50p European and 60p US frame rates. It will shoot HD with LongGOP codecs, or all-I-Frame codecs. It shoots HD at 200/100/50 Mbps. It can shoot AVCHD, or MP4, or MP4 with LPCM audio, or MOV. It will even shoot HD at 96fps and interpolate it down to 20p for true, in-camera slow motion. It even spits out 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video via the HDMI output. It is an amazing feature set for less than $2,000.

Figure 3. Recording Quality options on the GH4. Click the image to see it at full size.

Related Articles
The time for idle speculation about 4K production has passed. 4K is here, and it's arrived in mainstream cameras at various price points with some surprisingly modest data rates. Do you need all-new, cutting-edge hardware to handle it? Probably not. Delve deeper into the specifics of your production chain, and do a little math to find out what your needs really are, and what you find might surprise you.
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.