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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 DSLR

If you already shoot with a DSLR, then you know what to expect. If you come from using a traditional professional camcorder, and the GH4 is the camera making you switch, then there are some workarounds you need to expect.

First and foremost, there are no XLR inputs or audio adjustment knobs on the camera. For basic audio, the in-camera stereo mics do quite well. You can easily add an on-camera stereo or short shotgun mic and jack it directly into the camera.

But choosing a DSLR as your main camera is usually accompanied by the accessories that interface with everything else we typically work with. There's the XLR adapter or outboard mixer--if you want to record internally. Or you can add one of many dedicated external audio recorders and shoot "dual system" like they do with motion pictures.

With the GH4 comes Panasonic's first dedicated accessory for audio, the YAGH. This blocky "grip" ataches to the bottom of the camera and interfaces both with pins that touch the bottom of the camera, and with a short pigtail cable that plugs into the camera's HDMI out.

The YAGH does four key things:

      1. It provides XLR audio--and adjustment knob--for audio in to the camera.
      2. It provides HDMI-to-SDI conversion.
      3. It acts as a video distribution amp, providing 4 SDI outputs and one full-side HDMI out.
      4. Finally, it provides a Time Code interface to the camera.

The one thing it doesn't do is power itself. It has a 4-pin XLR power jack that powers both the YAGH and the camera.

The need to add a bigger screen for critical image assessment is mitigated by the improved OLED tilt-swivel screen and the OLED viewfinder on the GH4. But many will still want to see scopes, or punch in 1:1 for critical focus while shooting. For features like that, you need accessories because the camera can't do it. There are no waveforms and you can't punch in to focus while recording, only while stopped.

You can add almost whatever lens you want, as the Micro 4/3 format has been adapted to take almost any glass available, including Canon and Nikon. There are even "speed Booster" adapters that take the light from full-frame Canon and Nikon glass and concentrate it down onto the smaller Micro 4/3 sensor. This gives you quite nearly the same filed of view as you'd have with the FF lens, and also gives you an extra stop, or more, of light.

There are also adapters for cinema lenses with the PL mount, and for old Super 16mm lenses with C-mounts. I have written about utilizing ENG lenses with the B4 mount on Micro 4/3 cameras for Streaming Media Producer. I'm happy to report that I've already tested the GH4 and they continue to deliver very usable results (Figure 4, below). The B4 lenses can be externally powered and they become parfocal, fixed aperture, long zoom (15x anyone?), fully manual, geared lenses that also have a powered zoom grip. These lenses can be had for under $1000.

Figure 4. B4 lens image results with the GH4. Click the image to see it at full size.

For comparison, at NAB 2014 Canon announced a servo cine lens for their cinema cameras that costs $30,000. Fujinon has two "Cabrio" lenses that cost over $40,000. While a standard-definition B4 ENG lens from 10-20 years ago won't deliver as high image quality--and no one should expect it to--it does deliver capabilities that can't be had any other way, at a price point that cannot be beat. 4K ENG in your hand.

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