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Review Panasonic GH4 (micro-43)

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If you want to make a video of film quality, then until recently you needed a professional budge for a Canon 1D C, Canon C500, or a Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. Until recently. In January 2014, the Panasonic GH4 was announced, and is now available. With a suggested retail price of 1,500 euros, the Panasonic GH4 brings 4K, or "Ultra HD", with resolution twice as high (4 times as many pixels) as full HD, within the reach of many.

What perhaps threatens to get lost with all the fuss over 4K and the unique video quality of the Panasonic GH4 is that this is a compact, versatile mirrorless system camera: professional construction quality, image quality, and ease of use.

PanasonicGH4detail

ButterflyPanasonic GH4 + Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8 @ 100mm, f/4, 200 ISO, 1/1000 sec

Panasonic GH, G, GF, GM or GX?

All Panasonic G cameras offer a high video quality. The greatest capacity for video you have with the high-end cameras from the Panasonic GH series, with the H standing for hybrid. The Panasonic Lumix GH4 is a mirrorless system camera, or DSLM (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless), as Panasonic calls it. With the introduction of this camera segment years ago, there was in design and production primarily emphasis placed on the compactness of the camera body. Anno 2014, there is still for starters and amateurs a category of system cameras ("Stylish compact": Panasonic GF en "Premium Compact": Panasonic GM1) that approaches the size and weight of a compact camera. But for the benefit of balance with larger lenses and better ergonomics, there is for the advanced and professional photographer a group of system cameras on the way that in design and operation are comparable with either the dated viewfinder models ("Premium Compact": Panasonic GX7) or the proven SLRs ("All-round": Panasonic G, "High End Hybride": Panasonic GH).

An SLR, with better grip and less weight

With the GH4, Panasonic proves that a compact and light camera can still fit well in the hand: even for those who are accustomed to an SLR camera.

The Panasonic GH4 belongs to the latter group, and is at first glance barely distinguishable from an SLR camera, such as a Canon EOS 700D. Height, width, and weight are nearly identical.

If you look more closely, then you see that a mirrorless camera has a lower viewfinder and especially that because of the lack of a mirror, it's not as deep. The lens mount also sits a centimeter closer to the sensor than with a DSLR. The smaller depth has two advantages. First, the grip is just a bit nicer – and especially steadier – than with a DSLR. You have a deep grip for the fingers, and you can close your hand really quite well. If you walk around with the GH4 without a neck strap, you never have the idea that the camera is about to slip out of your hand. That also has to do with the second advantage, and that is that the lenses on a mirrorless camera have a smaller cross-section and are thus more compact and lighter. In particular with mirrorless models with the relatively small microFourThird sensor (18 x 13.5 mm), like the Panasonic GH4, the lenses are smaller than for cameras with an APS-C (24 x 16 mm) or full-frame (36 x 24 mm) sensor. If you compare the weight of the three sensor systems with lenses of comparable brightness, then the GH4 is obviously lighter, and you notice that at the end of a long day photographing:

  • Panasonic GH4 with Leica 42,5mm 1.2: 980 gram
  • Canon EOS 70D with EF 50mm 1.2L: 1350 gram
  • Canon EOS 5D mark III with EF 85mm 1.2L II: 1950 gram

PanasonicGH4samplePanasonic GH4 + Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8 @ 100mm, f/2.8, 250 ISO, 1/2500 sec

Panasonic GH4 versus Panasonic GH3

  • 4K video (GH4) vs full HD (2K) video (GH3)
  • GH4 has higher video quality and more connection capabilities for video
  • GH4 has faster continuous SF with 49 AF points (23 for GH3) and faster shutter speed (1/8000 vs1/4000), lower ISO (100 instead of 125 ISO)
  • 6 bps (GH3) vs 12 bps (mechanical shutter) / 20 bps (electronic shutter) for the GH4
  • GH4 has a higher resolution screen and viewfinder
  • Number of shots on a GH3 battery is about 10% higher

FlyPanasonic GH4 + Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8 @ 100mm, f/2.8, 200 ISO, 1/2000 sec

Design

On the relatively small camera body, Panasonic has placed a lot of buttons. The layout of the buttons is such that they cannot be accidentally pressed, but some of the buttons should be placed just a bit differently or could be omitted. Thus, the button for lighting compensation is a bit too close to the release button, and you don't get enough feedback from most of the buttons to tell whether they've been pressed or not. The DISP button is the clearest example of this. You sometimes have to look to see if your finger is in the right place. That is at the cost of attention for the subject. Because the ergonomics of the GH4 are very good and because there are five personalizable buttons, all the settings are always close at hand. GH4 back

It might be difficult for some people to get used to having so many buttons and settings available, but the learning curve is short. For specific combinations of settings, three sets can be registered that are then activated with the program choice button. That way you can switch quickly from a macro subject in RAW with auto release to JPEG and motor drive for action photography.

If you couple the completely silent electronic shutter with the ease of a tiltable and swivelable screen, then you can make photos at ceremonies, concerts and on the street that are impossible with another system.

The menus of the Panasonic GH4 are clearly divided, but the number of submenus goes up to nine and you may have to search for a certain option. Navigating through the menu structure, thanks to the touchscreen, is nice and fast. Be careful that while photographing you don't activate an undesired option or focus point via the touchscreen.

Makers of professional SLR cameras claim that they don't have turnable and tiltable LCD screens because it's difficult to make them dust- and water-resistant. Panasonic proves with the GH4 (and the GH3) that it is possible. With the material choice and the sealing of seams and buttons, this camera is ultimately suited for professional work, in which the tiltable and turnable LCD screen with high resolution and touchscreen functionality make creative perspectives during photography and video possible in a simple way. The ambition of Panasonic toward professional photographers is also apparent in the guaranteed lifespan of the shutter: with at least 200,000 shots, that is twice as long as the shutter of the GH3, and more than the guaranteed lifespan of the shutter of many SLR cameras.

During the test period, we chose to show the status of the camera on the LCD screen, and not to use the LCD screen as a viewfinder, in order to get a comparable photography experience to using an SLR. You then move the camera less frequently away from your eye (not even for review), so that you always react more alertly, frame better, and focus faster. You also stand steadier, meaning that the chance of motion blur is significantly smaller. That saves about two stops over framing via the LCD screen with a bent arm.

PASM

Screen and viewfinder

High-end (primarily professional) SLR cameras have an LCD screen on the top. For some professional photographers, the lack of a status screen on top of the camera will be missed. You always have to use the LCD screen on the back of the camera or use the viewfinder to see the current settings of the camera.

If you choose the largest image in the electronic viewfinder, then information (shutter speed, ISO, etc.) about the viewfinder image are shown. You can also choose a smaller viewfinder image, so that the information is shown outside the viewfinder image.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is of high quality, and the viewfinder image is just as large as that of a professional SLR camera. Resolution and refreshing ensure that you get the subject sharp and in real time.

GH4 back 2

If EVF is implemented as with the Panasonic GH4, then this is – along with the completely silent operation with an electronic shutter and more compact lenses – the big plus point of a mirrorless system.

Even in dim conditions, you can see the subject quite well without much noise. You also notice no slowing of movement in the viewfinder. We did see some flickering when there as a 50 Hz artificial light in the frame. That's not really very distracting. In principle, the camer switches automatically between EVF and LCD, which is controlled by the EVF sensor. If this is set to a high sensitivity, then the LCD screen can unexpectedly turn black when you're operating the touchscreen with your fingers. By setting the sensitivity lower, you can prevent this. In the EVF, a great deal of information is shown, and you see the lighting, focal depth and white balance immediately. Overexposure is visualized by a so-called 'Zebra' pattern. With manual focusing, the focal point is enlarged, meaning that thanks to Focus peaking, the focal region is shown.

AF

GH4sampleNocticronFantastic image quality @ f/1.2: Panasonic GH4 + Panasonic 42.5 mm f/1.2 Nocticron @ f/1.2, 200 ISO, 1/6400 sec

Contrast AF with DFD technology for fast C-AF

The Panasonic GH4 uses the bokeh character of Panasonic lenses, which is stored in the camera to enhance continuous contrast AF (C-AF). The Panasonic GH4 calculates, using two images (far and near focus), at what distance the subject is approximately located and subsequently focuses very fast. This is called DFD ( "Depth from defocus " ) .

A critical test for the C-AF when following a subject, is when something else comes into vieuw. What will happen? Will the AF jump to another topic? Does the AF return to the original subject (fast enough)?
The animation on the right shows you test images we made with C - AF at 12 frames per second. It's not a video, but they are 24 photos in an animated GIF.  Looking at the individual images, we noticed that in an intermediate series of 4 shots , the Panasonic GH4 in the first image focused on the car (left image in filmstrip below) , the two intermediate images were focused on the passing moped (middle picture) and then the car is sharp again (third image in the filmstrip below).
Very good performance!

videotest

700pix35mmstrip

The camera seldom makes you wait. To the contrary, turning it on, focusing, and continuous shooting go faster in many cases than that of a DSLR.

The precision of the autofocus is high, but the Panasonic GH4 does have difficulty in separating a small subject from a short distance from a background with a lot of detail. The camera picks up the background, even if a focal point on the foreground is chosen. As far as the responsiveness and speed are concerned, there is nothing to notice about the GH4 that indicates you're working with a mirrorless system. A 'motor drive' of 12 images per second at full resolution of 16 Mp can only be found on professional (heavy and expensive) reflex cameras. Because the AF system is significantly improved in comparison with its predecessors, the GH4 can also follow moving subjects very well, and it is thus also more suited for sport and action photography. Read about this in our earlier article about the continuous AF of the Panasonic GH4. It's still no D4s from Nikon or EOS 1D X from Canon, but it's in the neighborhood.

Resolution and image quality

On the point of image quality, the Panasonic GH4 performs very well. In order to be able to compare our resolution measurements from the micro-43 cameras (with an aspect ratio of 4:3) with the resolution of SLR cameras (aspect ratio 3:2), we set the aspect ratio of the Panasonic GH4 to 3:2. The measured resolution at a 4:3 aspect ratio is about 10% higher than the value that we use for the calculation of the score for resolution.

Despite the relatively small sensor (microFourThird) and the limited resolution (16 Mp), the camera registers a lot of detail, and the amount of noise at higher ISOs is less than with many APS-C cameras.

Resolutie

The Panasonic GH4 has a different sensor than the Panasonic GH3. The design of a new sensor was necessary because the data transfer of 4K places heavy demands on the sensor and creates a lot of heat in the sensor. In terms of resolution, the Panasonic GH3, Olympus OM-D E-M1, and the Panasonic GH4 are about equal. The most profit from the new sensor in comparison to the GH3 is the output speed of the sensor, due to which, for example, it's possible with the Panasonic GH4 to make many more images per second.

Dynamic range

Normally, we analyze the dynamic range of RAW files that are converted in Lightroom into tiff files. Because during the test the RAW files of the Panasonic GH4 could not yet be read in Photoshop or Lightroom, we used the included SilkyPix for the conversion of RAW files. From our Imatest measurements, it appears that the total dynamic range of the Panasonic GH4 (10.8 stops at 100 ISO) is equivalent to that of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (10.6 stops at 100 ISO), better than the dynamic range of the Canon 7D (9.8 stops at 100 ISO) and lower than the total dynamic range of the Nikon D7100 (12.3 stops at 100 ISO). The dynamic range of 6.4 stops at higher ISO values is also impressive. That is exactly like our measurement results for the dynamic range of the Canon 7D, which has a larger APS-C sensor.

The dynamic range of jpg files is dependent on the camera settings that you choose for the saving of the jpg files in the camera. The jpg files that we used for the measurement of dynamic range of the Panasonic GH4 were taken in the Intelligent Dynamic Auto setting. The total dynamic range of the Panasonic GH4 jpg files compares with the total dynamic range of the Panasonic GH3.

GH4dynamicRange

Color reproduction

Kleur

The color reproduction of the Panasonic GH4 is very good. With the color reproduction of modern cameras in daylight under studio conditions, then all the results are very similar to each other. Under unfavorable lighting conditions (artificial light, mixed light, shadow), the differences are larger. From our Imatest results, it appears that the automatic white balance of the Panasonic GH4 did very well in artificial light. During the practice test, we sometimes saw differences in choices for the automatic white balance under identical lighting conditions. The AWB sensor is easily 'misled' by a small change in the color of the subject in the same light. In RAW, that's no problem, but with jpg, it can be something to pay attention to.

GH4 colorerror Daylight 100ISOmini
color reproduction in daylight

GH4 colorerror Tungsten 100ISOmini
color reproduction in artificial light

Noise

Here too the GH4 performs very well, certainly with jpg files. In terms of noise, the results of the Panasonic GH4 compare with the Olympus OMD EM1 and the Panasonic GH3. You can photograph with confidence at an ISO setting up 3200, as far as noise is concerned. At the highest ISO settings (25,600), noise suppression comes at the cost of resolution, but you see that with many cameras.

Picture style, filters, WiFi and NFC, but no GPS.

For all the capabilities and functionality of the GH3, we gladly direct you to the specifications of the Panasonic, because this camera is a real 'centipede', with various unique functions, including many attractive for professional video shooting. We name here a number of options that should be interesting for all photographers: iHDR and HDR montage (only jpg), multiple lighting (also RAW), timelapse and stop motion, WiFi with NFC and Image app, 40 fps (S-JPEG: 2336 x 1752 px), touch exposure, touch shutter, EVF preview DOF and movement, proprietary tone curves and internal RAW conversion. Only GPS is missing, but for that Panasonic offers the ability to synchronize with GPS data from your mobile phone. It's a bit more troublesome, but it works well. The Panasonic GH4 is operable by remote via a free app:
image-appWiFi

Micro-43 or full frame? Bokeh or focal depth?

One aspect that doesn't have so much to do with image quality or the performance of the sensor is the focal depth of shots with the microFourThird system. That is with comparable distance from the subject, focal length and aperture twice as high as with a full frame camera such as the Canon EOS 6D or the Nikon D610. That has pros and cons. If you need a high focal depth (product, macro, landscape, architecture, reporting), then you get with the GH4 at, for example, f/8 the same focal depth as at f/16 on a full-frame camera. Thus, you can use a shorter shutter speed (less need for a tripod) or apply lower ISOs (less noise).

If you really want to separate the subject from the background (portrait, nature), then with a mFT system you have to use very bright lenses (f/1.4), while with a full-frame camera you get the same background blur at f/2.8, so with a f/1.4 they can be even more 'blurred'.

bokeh
  

GH4 back slant YAGH700

Video

The Panasonic GH4 has all useable connection capabilities for video. This includes headphones and microphone, although the last connection is placed a bit clumsily. Real videographers will attach the specially developed video box to the bottom of the camera, which makes a comprehensive set of professional video connections available. As we said, we primarily focused in this test on the photographic qualities of the Panasonic GH4. It's possible that we'll later go more comprehensively into video. It's possible to save 4K video directly in the camera, but then you do need a faster UHS-3 SD card. At 4K there are extremely heavy demands placed on the data storage. Saving 4K recordings at the very highest quality costs so much power that the battery runs out too quickly. The camera also becomes too hot. For professional videographers, the Panasonic therefore has released an extra module with which recordings can be saved at an even higher quality. On this extra module, you also have extra capabilities, such as sound regulation for the adjustment of sound during recording. The list price of this module is higher than the list price of the camera. For a video professional, that's still dirt cheap; for an ambitious amateur, it's still a savings.

Conclusion Panasonic GH4 test

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Look in our list of tested cameras for specifications and for a comparison of this performance with that of other cameras.

Pro
Year:2014
Overall score:7.3
Resolution:7.0
Dynamic Range:7.4
Noise:7.5
Color:8.3
Whitebalance:6.5
Megapixels:16
Sensor:M43
Sensor magn.:0.67
fps:12
Weight (gram):480
MSRP NL (Euro):1499

Advantages

  • Very fast single AF with 20 (RAW + jpg in full resolution) to 40 bps (lower resolution jpg)
  • Very fast: continuous AF: 12 bps (mechanical shutter: RAW + jpg) to 20 bps (electronic shutter: RAW + jpg)
  • Fastest shutter speed of 1/8000 and 100 ISO expansion for micro-43 bokeh enthusiasts
  • Very high image quality of video and photos
  • Ultra HD ("4K") video: also ideal for photographers: shoot noiseless 30 bps (8 megapixel)
  • Special module for high-end video
  • Unique: 4K possible without external recorder

Disadvantages

  • No built-in GPS
  • Purchase of a UHS-3 SF card for 4K video necessary

The Panasonic GH4 is, in terms of ease of use, construction quality and image quality, a professional camera for video and photo – given the speed of the contrast AF – also for action and sports. A couple years ago, this was thought impossible. That is a top performance from Panasonic.

Panasonic makes a lot of the very high expectations true with the GH4. While no camera is perfect, the Panasonic GH4 is a huge step forward in the right direction. During a session of wedding photography or a long photography hike in nature, you're more lightly loaded with the Panasonic GH4 than with a comparable DSLR system, without making concessions in image quality or ease of use. With this compact mirrorless system camera, any bodily complaints caused by the weight of camera and lenses are a thing of the past. In addition, with the Lumix GH4, you have a great video camera with which – with help from available accessories – you can record professional films, even in 4K. It's possible to save 4K video directly in the camera, but you do need faster UHS-3 SD card, and those are scarce. If you don't do much video or action photography, then the Panasonic GX7 or the Panasonic GH3 are cheaper and qualitatively comparable alternatives.

GS-award2014If you love action or video, if you need high focal depth in combination with high image quality, then as far as we're concerned, you can't do better than this little go-getter. If you use bright lenses with it, such as the LEICA DG NOCTICRON 42.5mm/F1.2 ASPH. /POWER O.I.S., then photography (and video) becomes fantastic – including the bokeh – and versatile.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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Comments (5)

  1. TJ

Just got the GH4, and I'm blown away. As a prior 5D MarkII owner, I'm amazed what this little gem can do. <br /><br />I love doing time lapses, and having a built-in intervalometer that will compile your stills in a movie automatically is cool....

Just got the GH4, and I'm blown away. As a prior 5D MarkII owner, I'm amazed what this little gem can do. <br /><br />I love doing time lapses, and having a built-in intervalometer that will compile your stills in a movie automatically is cool. Once you're done taking stills, it asks if you want to make a time lapse movie, and it lets you choose the movie resolution & compression settings first. It does it pretty quick. You review it on your screen when it's done. Astounding!<br /><br />I love being able to see everything through the electronic view finder (EVF). When it's too bright outside to see the screen, I can just look through the EVF to review photos, check focus & color, adjust all settings, review shots, it's just WOW!<br /><br />The sensor quality is astounding. Stills are gorgeous, and video is very film-like.

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  1. test    TJ

Hi TJ,<br /><br />Due to a lot of spam I wasn't able to react earlier. We first had to eliminate thes spam robots before U could post a reply.<br /><br />Thanks a lot for all your comments!<br /><br />Regards,<br /><br />Ivo<br /><br />PS "Just...

Hi TJ,<br /><br />Due to a lot of spam I wasn't able to react earlier. We first had to eliminate thes spam robots before U could post a reply.<br /><br />Thanks a lot for all your comments!<br /><br />Regards,<br /><br />Ivo<br /><br />PS "Just got the GH4"? Lucky you!

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  1. TJ

This is a very advanced piece of gear, which means there's a pretty steep learning curve to figure it all out. There are a lot of "exceptions". Can't shoot with your flash, for example, if you are shooting in silent mode or using electronic...

This is a very advanced piece of gear, which means there's a pretty steep learning curve to figure it all out. There are a lot of "exceptions". Can't shoot with your flash, for example, if you are shooting in silent mode or using electronic shutter. <br /><br />Why? I don't know, but I've fallen in LOVE with silent mode. Being able to take pictures without the camera making a beep or shutter sound is amazing, I can sneak up on birds & animals, all the while shooting photos, and they don't hear anything. It's dead silent. <br /><br />You can't film in 4k from the video button on the back of the camera, you have to turn the right dial to the "creative movie" setting, which enables 4k. <br /><br />There are so many options for video size, aspect, and compression that it really gives you a lot of freedom, but also takes some getting used to flipping through all the settings to find the one you want. Some of the menus are eternally long, like one menu has a good dozen pages you have to scroll through. But I'm not complaining, all of the functions are useful, like I said, it's just got a bit of a learning curve.<br /><br />The articulated screen is incredibly sharp and the colors are amazing. The display text & graphics are crisp and legible. But I've always photographed with my right eye to the view finder, and with the screen flipped out, that puts your nose right in your screen and leaves nice marks all over it. So I'm trying to learn to shoot with my left eye, which puts my nose over the video button. Not enough to push the button with my nose, but enough to make starting a video more difficult. I could quickly close the screen before using the EVF, but sometimes I just want to check focus real quick.<br /><br />Focus peaking is great on this camera, really makes manual focus easy.

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  1. Bob    TJ

Hi TJ,<br /><br />You could see it this way: When you're using Silent mode, the camera assumes a 'stealth' behavior and therefore also disables the flash.<br /><br />But technically, it doesn't make much sense to synchronise an electronic shutter...

Hi TJ,<br /><br />You could see it this way: When you're using Silent mode, the camera assumes a 'stealth' behavior and therefore also disables the flash.<br /><br />But technically, it doesn't make much sense to synchronise an electronic shutter with a flash (remeber rolling shutter?).<br /><br />Bob

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  1. TJ

This is my first GH series camera, and I love the button layout, which is saying a lot.<br /><br />Rolling shutter is definitely an issue, whip-pans are a no-no, but also close-up action can distort characters. GH5 request: Global Shutter! <br...

This is my first GH series camera, and I love the button layout, which is saying a lot.<br /><br />Rolling shutter is definitely an issue, whip-pans are a no-no, but also close-up action can distort characters. GH5 request: Global Shutter! <br /><br />I know, probably not gonna happen, but I can dream, right?<br /><br />The most difficult decision for me was choosing lenses. Lots of choices with lots of overlap. In addition to a collection of Primes (14mm, 20mm, 25mm, 45mm) There are four "paths" you can take for lenses. <br /><br />1. Cheap Entry Level Lenses <br /> (14-42 A&B, and 45-200)<br />2. PowerZoom Lenses for video work <br /> (14-42 & 45-175)<br />3. Universal Walk-Around Lens <br /> (14-140)<br />4. Pro-Level Dust & Waterproof Lenses<br /> (12-35 & 35-100 at fixed f2.8)<br /><br />There's only one long telephoto zoom in the Panasonic line, the 100-300, which can be added to any of those paths for the longest reach.<br /><br />I plan on doing a lot of video, so I figured I'd try the medium priced PowerZoom lenses first. If the variable aperture doesn't work well, then I'll move up to the pro line with fixed aperture.

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