The Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S is not the successor of the GH5, but a special version of it. The “regular” GH5 is one of the best hybrid cameras on the market. You can both take great photos and videos with it. The GH5S is even more focused on the enthusiastic videographers among us. And thanks to its larger pixels, it delivers even better image quality in low light .
Video beAst: Panasonic Lumix GH5S
The GH series from Panasonic shows you how to build an excellent hybrid camera. First of all, it is of course mirrorless, so you can use the viewfinder for both photography and video. In addition, a good hybrid camera has image stabilization and good autofocus that is suitable for photography and video and a sensor with which you can take beautiful photos and shoot sharp videos. And to top it off, the camera not only gives you a good interface for photography, but also advanced video features such as log profiles, focus peaking, zebras and, as a cherry on top, a wave-form display. That is exactly what the 5th generation of the GH series has. And more. The competition, however, has not been idle, and it is mainly Sony, with the A7 series, that has lit a fire under Panasonic's butt. In the area of specifications and capabilities, the GH5 is still unsurpassed, but the larger sensor of the Sonys meant that the GH5 in low light still lagged a bit behind the Sony A7 cameras. Panasonic's answer is the GH5S. This is a camera with a sensor that is slightly larger than the Micro Four Thirds format, so that you can use the maximum surface area with every image ratio, 4:3 to 16:9. Furthermore, the number of pixels has been reduced. As a result, the size of the pixels could increase so that they can each capture more light. This should improve the image quality in low light.
Panasonic cameras only use contrast detection for autofocus and not phase detection.
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The Panasonic GH5S comes alongside the GH5 and is a model that is mainly aimed at videographers. You can clearly see that when you compare the differences. The sensor effectively has 10.2 megapixels. That is much less than the more than 20 that the GH5 has. But it is just the right number for filming in 4K without having to calculate anything on the pixels. Every pixel in the image is therefore exactly one pixel in the output. The GH5S has no image stabilization. According to Panasonic, that's because this is better for the target group, videographers. They often use a tripod or other stabilization systems. Widescreen video in the DCI format is also available in 60 (59.94), 30 (29.97) and 25 frames per second, where the GH5 only has 24 frames per second. The GH5S already has Vlog-L as standard, where this is an upgrade option for the GH5, and there is a Timecode in/out option. For photographers, it is interesting that RAWS can now be shot in 14 bits and that you can shoot photos in Vlog-L, for example, so that you can easily add them later in a movie.
A notable difference between the Panasonic GH5s and the Panasonic GH5 is the lack of in-camera image stabilization on the GH5s. This may have to do with the properties of the new sensor of the GH5s. The larger sensor and associated shutter take up more space, while the body has not grown. Possibly there was no room for stabilization or Panasonic considered the costs of developing a larger stabilization system too high for this one model. Panasonic itself prefers to emphasize the fact that the lack of stabilization fits better with the target group: The GH5s is more than the GH5 aimed at professional videographers, who often use a tripod, gimbal or drone. And then the lack of stabilization is not a problem or - in the case of a gimbal - is even an advantage. On a gimbal, you turn the stabilization off to prevent one system from influencing the other. But even with the stabilization off, there is, according to Panasonic, the chance that the sensor can move a bit. And that can be detrimental to a perfect video recording. Those who mainly buy the camera for photography, however, will be better off with the regular GH5, if only due to the lack of image stabilization.
Panasonic GH5S versus Sony A7S II AND A7R III
The only other cameras that offer (nearly) as many video options as the GH5/GH5S are the Sony A7 models. The A7R III is an excellent hybrid camera with which you can film well in both 4K and full HD, but which, thanks to its 42-megapixel sensor, can deliver a much higher image quality when it comes to photography. In terms of video, the Sony lacks the advanced capabilities of the Panasonic and the ability to film internally in 10 bit 4:2:2. On the other hand, the autofocus is just a fraction better in tracking faces and eyes than Panasonic. The Sony A7R III is a lot more expensive than the GH5S. It is more obvious to compare the GH5S with the A7S II from Sony. The A7S II is closer in price to the GH5S and has fewer pixels than its stablemates, just like the GH5S. The Sony A7S II has only 12 megapixels. They are, though, on a sensor that is about 3.5 times bigger than that of the GH5S. If you shoot with very little light with both cameras, the Sony beats the Panasonic with ease. For filming, that is a bit different, because the Sony can only film in 8 bits and only has 4:2:2 if you send the signal via HDMI to an external recorder. The bitrate for the Panasonic is much higher. Depending on the amount of details in the subject, this may work in favor of the Panasonic. The more detailed the subject and the more things move in the picture, the more difficult it is for the Sony to display everything perfectly in low light. In those circumstances, the difference between the two cameras is much smaller. You can also look at it in another way. The GH5S has twice the depth of field at the same aperture. If you want little depth of field, you can fully exploit the extra sensitivity of the A7S II. But if you want a bit more depth of field, then you will have to stop down the Sony because of its bigger sensor. In other words, if you get a subject well in frame with the GH5S at f/2.8, then you need f/5.6 on the Sony. And at the same shutter time, since you're filming, that means that you also have to go up two stops in the ISO values for the same exposure. And then you give up all the quality benefits of the bigger sensor, and then some.
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The Panasonic GH5S is, as the name says, a GH5 with something extra. The body is therefore almost entirely identical to that of the GH5, which we tested before (link). Fortunately, you can easily tell them apart because the dial on the left of the viewfinder on the GH5S has a red ring. It is a body with fine dimensions. A lot bigger than most Micro Four Thirds cameras and also bigger than you would expect if you only looked at the size of the sensor. It is also a lot smaller than a full-frame SLR. It will be just right for many users. The body is sturdy and weather resistant. The electronic viewfinder is big, bright and detailed. The screen turns, tilts and is touch-sensitive. That screen is one of the things that Panasonic has done very well. Both the selection of the focus points and scrolling through the menus or viewing shots are quick and easy via the screen. The camera also has a joystick for selecting the correct focus point. In practice, however, the screen works better.
The multi-aspect sensor is not an entirely new development for Panasonic. The GH1 and GH2 also had such a unique sensor. The idea behind it is as simple as it is brilliant: make the sensor a bit bigger so that you can use the right part at every aspect ratio and you always have about the same number of pixels. With a normal sensor, you have the maximum number of pixels for one aspect ratio. With most systems, that is when you photograph in 3:2. If you want something more square or more elongated, you achieve that by cropping the image and thus throwing away pixels. You have no problems with a multi-aspect sensor. It does mean that the sensor and the shutter require a little more space in the body. Of course, the costs for a bigger sensor are of course a bit higher, but that won't be all that much these days. With a multi-aspect sensor, you always use only a part of the total sensor. This section is delimited by the screen diagonal of the lenses. The sensor has a total of 12.5 megapixels, but you always use only about 10 Mp. For photos in the 4:3 ratio, you use the full height of the sensor, but less in the width: at 2:3, you use slightly more width and a little less of the height, and in 16:9, you use almost the full width and the least of the height. The only format that is really cropped is square, 1:1. Here you can see how many pixels you have in height and width for each format:
The Panasonic GH5S has approximately 12.5 megapixels on its oversized sensor. Because a part is not used in every aspect ratio either in height or in width, you effectively have about 10 megapixels of that. That is about half the number of pixels that the regular GH5 has. On the other hand, each pixel is bigger than those of the GH5. The sharpness is therefore very good at pixel level. Do not enlarge too much, say to about A4, then you can make beautiful prints with the GH5S. If you are going to print much larger or crop a lot, then you will of course see that the camera does not have a lot of pixels. On the other hand, it's not that long ago that Nikon had a very popular 12-megapixel camera, and Sony's A7S, with 12 megapixels, only has a bit more than the GH5S. In video, it's a different story. Because the GH5S does not have to calculate anything about the pixels - every pixel in the camera is a pixel in the file - the image is just sharper and better than that of the GH5. And that means something, because the GH5 is already a very good camera. It is not without reason that the GH5S is approved for broadcast recordings.
The dynamic range of the GH5S is a fraction better than that of the regular GH5. It's not very much, and because of the larger pixels, you would actually expect the difference to be bigger. We also see the same, however, with the Sony models. For Sony, the A7R II and A7R III score highest in the area of dynamic range, while they have the smallest pixels of all full-frame Sony models. Bigger pixels do not immediately translate into a better dynamic range. Differences, however, are caused by the underlying architecture of the sensor, which of course is slightly newer on the GH5S than on the GH5.
As with the G9, we also see that the GH5S has a slightly better color reproduction than older models. Colors are a bit clearer with less tinging, and some shades are just a bit fuller and more saturated. The color reproduction of the Panasonic cameras is now at such a high level that, objectively, there is nothing to criticize about it. However, color remains a matter of taste and familiarity. And if you switch from a different brand, it may be that you have to get used to it. For people who per se want the files from the GH5S to look like what they had with a different brand or who simply want to put their own stamp on the color reproduction, Panasonic has offered extensive options for adjusting the image styles in the camera for years. And of course, you can also work in RAW.
Due to the big pixels, we expect nothing other than an excellent result at high ISO values. And the GH5S does indeed score better than the GH5 in low light and at high sensitivities. You will also see this difference in video. Where the GH5 cannot go higher than ISO 12,800, the GH5S can also record in 25,600, 51,200 and 102,400 ISO. The latter two are actually no longer really usable, but 25,600 still is. And that is quite an achievement for a Micro Four Thirds sensor. For video, the difference in sensitivity is definitely one stop. For photography, the difference is slightly less, because then the noise partly disappears in the files on the GH5 when you convert them to the pixel numbers of the GH5S.
The Panasonic GH5S is a real video beast. It offers an incredible number of possibilities and excellent image quality. The sharpness of the image is even better than with the regular GH5, and you can also crank up the sensitivity one to two stops without sacrificing much quality. Thanks to the Dual Native sensor, the image quality in video gets a big boost at higher sensitivities. The new multi-aspect sensor can film in regular 4K (3840x2160 pixels) and Cinema 4K (4096x2160 pixels) in 60p and in 10 bits and 4:2:2. The latter option is new for Panasonic. Thanks to the Timecode option, you can easily assemble images from multiple cameras in the post-processing, and the vectorscope and waveform displays offer advanced videographers a lot of control over the image quality.
Panasonic cameras only use contrast detection for autofocus and not phase detection. The autofocus cannot go directly to a pre-calculated point, but almost always has to make some small corrections to achieve the optimum sharpness. This is not a problem for photographic use, because this usually goes so fast that it will not bother you in practice. Only with fast series shots can you sometimes have a few shots that are not quite sharp. That is different for video. There, in continuous auto focus, you often see the focus search a bit. It's not much, but it is distracting, and for critical videographers, that's unacceptable. If you use cine-lenses, you will have to focus everything manually anyway, and then it's not a problem. And if you use single autofocus, then the focus is also fast and accurate, and everything works perfectly. But what if you do want to use the autofocus for a focus pull? You can, with a detour. You can namely pre-set set two points in advance via the Focus Transition and have the camera shift the focus from one point to the other. This works beautifully. It's a bit more cumbersome than, for example, Canon's Dual Pixel AF, where you simply shifted the focus by tapping on a different point on the touchscreen, but the end result is comparable.
A unique function that the GH5S shares with the GH5 is HLG. That stands for Hybrid Log Gamma. This allows you to shoot 4K that you can perfectly display on the latest HDR displays with 1000 nits. The GH5S also has no limit on the recording duration. So, unlike many other system cameras, the GH5S does not stop filming after 29 minutes and 29 seconds. The GH5S does not suffer from overheating, otherwise you would obviously have no benefit from it.
The Panasonic GH5S is one of the best system cameras when it comes to video. And that is not just because of the fantastic picture quality. The options this camera offers when it comes to filming cannot be found with any other brand. Waveform and vectorscope view, V-log and Timecode - the GH5S offers almost every conceivable option. You can even use the camera effortlessly next to Panasonic's professional Varicam systems. If you are looking for a real hybrid camera with which you can film and photograph in high quality, you may want to opt for the GH5. But if video is the most important, then choose the 'S'
Jan Paul Mioulet is zelfstandig fotograaf sinds 1994. Hij heeft zich beziggehouden met veel vormen van fotografie, van portret tot sport, van bruidsfotografie tot reclamewerk. Inmiddels is hij al bijna vijftien jaar gespecialiseerd in architectuurfotografie. Hij is een van de oprichters van DAPh, de Dutch Architectural Photographers, een collectief van een aantal van de beste Nederlandse architectuurfotografen. Van 2010 tot 2014 was hij hoofdredacteur van PF, Professionele Fotografie, het magazine voor de Nederlandse en Vlaamse vakfotograaf. Naast zijn fotografie schrijft hij voor PF en CameraStuffReview over techniek en allerlei bijzondere wetenswaardigheden rondom fotografie en camera’s.