Panasonic GH4 Review

The GH4 is powerful 4k camera in a small package.

4hourcourse

Chapter Markers (45 minute review)

  • 1:26 No Zacuto Viewfinder Required
  • 2:39 Skin tones
  • 3:05 Slow Motion
  • 3:45 4K Detail
  • 6:09 GH4 vs Red Epic
  • 7:33 Everything not in focus at f/16?
  • 8:19 Sensor Size
  • 16:43 ISO Tests
  • 18:42 CineLikeD
  • 19:48 Dynamic Range
  • 20:40 Pushing the Grade
  • 22:05 Motion Blur
  • 22:50 Aliasing
  • 23:41 Rolling Shutter
  • 25:09 Focus
  • 26:22 Time Lapse
  • 26:37 Construction
  • 27:18 4K Pan/Scan
  • 28:06 Stills
  • 30:14 4k Advantages
  • 31:59 Things I Don’t Like
  • 36:14 Magic Lantern Raw?
  • 36:51 Sony A7S?
  • 38:07 C100?
  • 39:19 Conclusion – why I am leaving Canon

Download Review

GH4 Video

Headline is the Panasonic GH4 is 4k on the cheap and in a small priced right package.

First up I have to show you some footage. The detail is impressive! Published in 1080 because I don’t have a 4k monitor yet, and I am comparing a lot of 5D footage that is only 1080.  Won’t see the resolution benefit of 4k watching this review on an iPhone.

It is the nicest DSLR I have ever shot video with, even if it is not a DSLR, it’s actually a mirrorless camera.

Gh4 Detailed Wide Shot

Best detailed image quality in this price range, I can say that because I’ve not used the Sony a7s yet. Canon & Nikon have nothing in this price range that can do 4k. And as we will see later it can even keep up with the Red Epic in terms of detail.

Great features like zebras, I am finding I am consistently getting better exposures now than with my Canon 5D Mark III.

GH4 Still From Video File

No attachable screen viewfinder to slow me down when I am outside. Can’t tell you how many times I didn’t put my view finder on because I thought I didn’t need it and later regretted it because the focus was soft or the exposure was off. Love seeing just how the image will come out in the Evf for color. Switch around WB in real time in a nice sealed isolated environment.  However I do miss optical VF in low light because of all the noise in low light. After I gave the gh4 back I held my 5D up to my eye and video mode and got very frustrated.

Skin tones are just as nice as 5d.

The slow motion at 1080 is wonderful. Since I have fast moving kids and I shoot handheld, I must say I use it a lot, perhaps 20% of the time, it just makes everything look wonderful. My daughter will have a gymnastics exercise and I can help her figure out what is going on by slowing it down.

The GH4 makes my 5D3 look so soft!  Can’t tell you how many times I have looked at the GH4 image and said wow, wow that is so nice!

So many times I wonder if I got the 5d in focus and then redo the test. The 5d has always been soft and many say it’s never truly been a 1080 camera.

But detail is not everything that is why I am excited for the Sony A7s because it might have the dynamic range and match the detail of the GH4 at 1080.

All this detail is great for compositing, like adding text to this 4k image was so easy because you can zoom right in and see all the great detail for finding the right motion tracking point.

For slow motion I will either shoot at 96fps when there is not a ton of textures in the image because it is a bit softer, and use 60fps when I want more detail.

GH4 vs Red Epic

My friend James Drake asked me to test his Red Epic against the Gh4, he was interested in some tests to see if he could use it along side his Epic.

Before some of you get all upset about this test because it is not apples to apples, James wanted to do this test to ask the question, “Is this a good B-camera for the Red?” After we finished the test we went to a coffee shop and James said, “the GH4 can really step in as a nice sub-$2000 addition to a Red users kit, under a few conditions.”

This next shot I took early on in my review blew me away, it really changed my thinking. You might be saying Dave it is just a shot of a ball. Not sure if you can see it but look at the top of the frame, I shot this both at f16! The full frame 5D is out of focus just a short distance from the ball, where the Gh4 is in focus! I thought that at f16 everything was in focus!

Sensor Size M43 Super 35mm APS-C Full frame at 16x9 ratio

At this point I need to say that the Gh4 is a m43 sensor, if you don’t know what that means, full-frame (35mm) sensor is FOUR TIMES the area of m4/3 sensor, but when you compare it to what most modern day movies are shot on super 35 it is not that bad, don’t be confused as I was, ‘super’ doesn’t mean it is bigger than a full frame stills camera, it is much smaller. And when you compare it to APS-C it is not that far off.

Check out this example, I shot this with both cameras at the same time at f3.2, first up is the 5D, check how it is out of focus until the dismount, while the Gh4 the whole balance beam at f3.2 is in focus. You might be saying, “Dave just jack up the f-stop and ISO on the 5D”, but as I demoed before with the flowers it is not that easy on a full frame.

Now some of you might be saying that the Gh4 does not look like film, you might be right, I have no idea since I have never shot on a film movie camera so I really don’t know what it is like to work with that, all I have ever known is video.

So why is this a big deal for me, because sometime I don’t want to be constantly adjusting focus, I can’t tell you how many shots have been ruined by my full frame camera and my lack of experience as a professional focus puller!

I am not saying full frames are bad for video, I like the look of super shallow DOF, but perhaps I don’t need it all the time, even at f16. That got me thinking about super 35mm and why all large scale movies today are shot on super 35.

Super 35mm=movies 35mm=pics.
Red Epic, Scarlet  (25.9 x 14.5)
Canon C300 C100 C500  (24.6 x13.8mm)
Arri Alexa (23.8 x 13.4mm)
Sony F65/F3, FS100, FS700  (23.6 x13.3)
Sony F55 F5 (22.6 x12.7mm) M43 17 x 13mm

GH4 vs Canon 5D3 camera bag comparison

At this point let’s talk about lenses for m43 as you can see they are a lot smaller than FF lenses, just check out my camera bag, the two cases pretty much match in terms of focal range zooms. Don’t worry we will get back to DOF in a moment because lenses tie in to the DOF equation.

I love the smaller lenses on M43!  People less camera shy. Smaller means I’ll take it more places. Carry all day on a vacation without feeling it. Easier to fly on gimble, drone or Movi. PTA sees a big camera they think your a pro and want to volunteer, the GH4 you are low on the radar. Not intimidating: if I point this at you which one feels more intimidating?  I love how small it is!  I love my 70-200 but I don’t use it much because it is a tank. 35-100 I have been using a ton, my style has changed!  Use it for vacations, hikes, all day shooting. Put it in your pockets like at the show.

GH4 w/Speedbooster vs Canon 5D Mark III Same Distance

OK getting back to DOF, I want to show you some bokeh balls tests with my girls  dolls.

The Gh4 has a crop factor of 2, so this 12-35mm lens on a gh4 is going to behave like this Tamron 24-70mm on a FF. The Panasonic lens also behaves similar when comes to stabilization and constant aperture. But where it does not behave the same is dof. I just want to make sure people buying a GH4 and this 24-70 equivalent lens that they will NOT be getting the same level of blurry backgrounds you will get with a full frame camera. When you’ve shot with a ff for a long time you know what f2.8 will look like at 70mm. You will be quickly disappointed with this lens if that is what you are used to. I know this might sound obvious to some but I want to say that again in a different way. Both of these lenses behave the same way for field of view but don’t think just because they both have f2.8 written on them that the Panasonic lens is going to give you the same shallow DOF as shown here in this example. Shooting at f2.8 on the GH4 is like shooting at f5.6 on a FF.

If I wanted to match the bokeh balls with the Gh4 I would need the longer lens and backed up three times the distance, but I wouldn’t have the same compression as you can see. Sometimes moving 3 times the distance for an interview is just not going to happen.  If you want to stay the same distance in an interview you would have to use fast glass like this Sigma f1.4 lens with a speedbooster wide open, now you get almost the same look and you can stay the same distance to your subject. If you want to even out the balls you need to close down the speedbooster slightly. The look is pretty close but you will still notice that the dolls eyebrows are actually more out of focus than the Gh4 version, the full frame can’t be hard to keep in focus.

Camera Sensor

So full frame is hard to focus, what about this super 35mm sensor that many movies are shot on, how does that compare to the gh4 with a speedbooster. This time we are using the same focal length and the same aperture lens of 1.4 to the Red Epic. I want you to study the out of focus areas here, not the dynamic range or color, etc. I think they are pretty close, I think the Epic is a little better, but it is close.

Without the speedbooster here are some shots with just Panasonic lenses, and yes you can get some nice shallow DOF.

I ran a lot of low light high ISO tests, it is no surprise that the full frame Canon did a lot better than the M43, it seemed like ISO 1600 on the Gh4 was like ISO 6400 on the 5D3.

But the real surprise was at ISO 200 as you can see here the GH4 4k footage down scaled to 1080, I think it blows the doors off the Canon 5D.

One of the things I hear people complain about m43 is shooting wide. I was using the Panasonic 7-14 and it worked pretty well, I think it behaved similar to my Tokina 16-28mm ultra wide lens in terms of focal range and distortion.

Before I show you my dynamic range tests we need to talk about profile settings because they can effect the perceived dynamic range. I first started out using the CineLikeD, but after a few days of shooting and trying to grade the image I gave up. Not sure about really flat picture styles when using an 8-bit codec for color, plus the GH4 liked the color orange too much for my tastes, I just couldn’t get the skin tones right. So I did a ton of tests on natural and found the sweet spot for me, I will list all the setting below. When I have time I will go back and learn more about that profile.

Dynamic Range better? iDynamic range adds a ton of noise to the shadows even at lowest ISO, so I do use it, it does lift the shadows however. GH4 is slightly better, not by a lot, A7S will be interesting, should do very well. I am seeing more dynamic range in 4k than 1080.

Don’t want to review the brick right now, so when I am testing how far I can push the footage in post I am only referring to the internal 8-bit recording.

Sometimes when you add too much contrast or saturation to a blue sky gradient you can get banding like you see her with my iphone.

Using the same pushed settings from the Iphone I wanted to see how the gh4 and 5D could handle the abuse.

Bit Rate comparison (8bit):  GH4 in 4k does not break apart as quickly as the 5D (not by much  it’s close), also you get slight banding with the 5D but none on the GH4. If you don’t punish it, they both look good no banding. Comparing 200Mbps vs 100Mbps with heavy contrast and saturation, 96fps looked the cleanest, I’m sure it has to do with the codec used.

Also in terms of the codec I was trying to find compression issues with a lot of motion in the frame, but it looked good to me. I also did some green screen work. Since you have more resolution the edge where you are most concerned about should be easier to get a nice clean edge but I didn’t see that much difference, but I only know enough to be dangerous here.

I wanted to look at motion blur, both on the display and in the EVF. Motion blur looked similar to the 5D but different than Epic, the Epic had less for some reason. James and Luke Neumann both noticed this.

I couldn’t find any aliasing or moire at 4K, I found it at 1080, but no where to be found at 4k, so nice to have a clean image! And if you think the 5D doesn’t have any, it does here is a green screen shot I did and look at his shirt!

So I went on the road to find some rolling shutter.  Rolling shutter at 4k is similar to the 5D in this type of test. However don’t want to quickly pan or bump the camera when shooting at 100mm. Compared to the Epic it is not as good. Electronic shutter great for totally silent mode, but watch out for massive angles on the stills side.

Focus tracking, I wanted to try it out with Weather Channel personality Halley O’Brien walking towards the camera. Nice to have when you don’t have an operator and shooting at f2.8. As you can see it got pretty confused.

Focus peaking, this is even more important with the detail in 4K because you will see it out of focus more.  Works well, as you can see here I was not doing a very good job at first using peaking because no peaking marks on the swimmer but they were there on the lane lines, but as you can see I got better with practice.  Other features it has a built in timer so creating a time lapse is easy to do. Not a big deal, but I’ll take it since Canon would never give us this.

Construction on par with 5d. Rain. Wish record button was raise like 5d. Camera shake each start and stop on 70-200.

You can pan and scan within the 4k image when publishing to 1080, I am really getting used to that already and not sure I can go back. Remember that monster computer build video I did a year ago, the reason for that build was I knew that I would be editing 4k footage some day, and it totally rocks the footage no problem.

Stills on the GH4

  • Focus speed is insane using the Panasonic glass.  I’m not a sports photographer but it seems just as fast as my 5d. Turn off focus assist and it keeps up with my 5d in low light.
  • FPS for sports is insane. “12 fps in single autofocus mode using the mechanical shutter, 7.5 fps in continuous AF mode.  When using the electronic shutter, you can shoot in bursts up to 40 fps.”
  • WiFi for my real estate photos, instead of expensive CamRanger. Or just sending something to Facebook or attaching GPS info.
  • JPG:  The Gh4 just looks brittle or over sharpened or digital noise reduction, I think it is the noise reduction is too much, but raw is much nicer

4k Advantages over 1080 on GH4

Besides shooting slow motion I can’t really figure out why you won’t always shoot in 4K. So many advantages to shooting in 4K:

  • More detail!
  • You get a lot less noise when you take the 4k image and downscale to 1080!
  • You don’t have to worry about aliasing and moire.
  • Slightly more dynamic range
  • It’s weird, you would think that the 4K file would be 4 times the size of my 5D All-i, but they are not, about the same size!
  • You have so many creative things you can do in post, pan and scan, rotate, punch in for a one camera interview.

Audio on the GH4

  • It has a slight noise issue with the Rode Videomic Pro, I’ve been talking with Rode and Panasonic and it sounds like they are working on a solution. No issue with Panasonic’s DMW-MS2 shotgun mic.

Things I Don’t Like About the GH4

  • Zebras can be slow to react.
  • Zebras go away when setting iso.
  • Peaking: Sometimes there’s too much focus peaking blue and I can’t see what I’m doing.
  • Histogram is too small to find the middle when setting exposure with gray card.
  • Can’t auto bracket on a 2 second self timer. Use app or cable release.
  • Can’t change the aperture while zoomed in like you can with 5D.
  • Don’t like charger. Cable and green led.
  • Crashed 3 times. Card, perhaps not.
  • In terms of punching in and focusing, I was a little disappointed with the Gh4 will comparing to my 5D at the same time, it was not as fast to get manual focus punched in on the GH4.

Can I Live Without Magic Lantern Raw?

  • I hardly ever use ML raw because the pain in post. For those of you that have tried it know how hard it is, but sometimes I would use it on really high dynamic range shots.
  • Raw is great for passion project where you have tons of time in post, it is not good for a quick turn around.

What about the Sony A7S?

  • The Sony A7s should have really good Dynamic Range which I am interested in, it also can see in the dark. But it doesn’t have internal 4k recording
  • If I get the A7s I don’t need a Speedbooster which saves me $400.
  • Better codec than Gh4
  • No native FE mount fast zooms yet. Guess you have to go with many fast primes instead, but they are smaller and compact.
  • I do like small and light, but the Sony is not lighter, not when you add the full frame lenses.
  • Big question: will the a7s have the close enough detail at 1080 as the gh4 at 4k? Will the a7s line skip at 1080?
  • So many questions that I will have to test it too.

What About a C100?

  • What about a C100? I think Canon is doing great things with their Cinema line because clearly they are putting all their innovation with that line, but they are too expensive when starting $5,500 and the size and weight are going the wrong way, I want smaller and lighter.  Ryan Connolly and many others have graduated up to a c100 which works for them, built-in ND’s and awesome in low light with the super 35mm sensor.  C100 has a 4K sensor that scales down to HD in camera, so you don’t have to in post. The Gh4 vs C100 tests I have seen, it looked like the Gh4 held it’s own very well in terms of image quality.
  • The 1DC: it will do 4k in a small form factor which is great, but at $10k.
  • Direct correlation of small size to amount of usage, which means since the gh4 is so small I will shoot more.

Conclusions

  • For those that skipped ahead, here are the conclusions. The image detail is over the top compared to my 5D, it’s small and lightweight which means I will take it more places, dynamic range is slightly better depending how you set it up, super clean image with no aliasing in 4k, cleaner image at iso200, file sizes that are comparable to my 5D, features not found in Canon camera like focus peaking, and zebras that are getting me better images.
  • This is by far the best run and gun stealth shooting machine out, and it is less than $2,000, I think it is better than the BMPCC for those that are not great at grading. Also I think indy film makers can produce stunning work with the camera as long as they add just a little bit of light.
  • To quote another reviewer Jonathan Yi, “Time to get excited… because this camera is awesome!”
  • Not a game changer, it’s a Canon Brand changer, I know several people that are changing from Canon like Caleb Pike.
  • Philosophy – Canon: “Highly unlikely we will bring feature down from the C line like focus peaking, unless the market demands it.” When I asked about their philosophy for the next Canon 5D Mark IV.
  • I need two camera bodies for interviews/backup reasons: nice to have a FF and a crop sensor.  After this summer I plan to sell my 5D3 and T3i. GH4 A-Cam because it’s lightweight and great for my run and gun style, and the Sony A7s B-Cam for when I need low light and want beautiful wide open lens shots.
  • Will I miss full frame. Yes I think I will. Perhaps cameras are like girl friends when I was in my 20’s, after a relationship ended the next one you look for tended to fill a void from the last one. 5d girlfriend was a bit soft so I’m looking for one that’s a lot sharper.  But after being in the new relationship you think about how good the last friend was, like in low light. So yes I might miss it but right now I want some detail. So the sad thing is I will probably get both the Gh4 and A7s.
  • I’m I saying everyone should leave Canon, no they still make good cameras, and with my luck the Canon 7D Mark II will come out with all the features we want for video with a super 35mm sensor for less than $2k just after I sell all my Canon glass!
  • Who is the GH4 for: run and gun, stealthy shooter, event coverage where you can’t miss on focus, sports where you can’t miss on stills actions, vacation camera light weight matters, no tripods allowed you can shoot in 4k and warp stabilize it like a lock off shot. If you have the money and it is your first camera, this one would be awesome.
  • Light weight and fast, which matches my style
  • Special thanks to Mathew Frazer James Drake Andrew Reid Caleb Pike  Halley O’Brien Ian Chisholm, Caleb Kohl.

My Notes That Didn’t Make it in the video

  • Make sure you get a good lens to shoot at f2.8 with a good ND filter, you will be shooting wide open a lot.
  • If you place 4k footage on a 1080 timeline you can add a vignette and it plays smooth, however if you put 4k footage into a 4k timeline and add a vignette it is very choppy.
  • You are better off working in a 1080 timeline. Both 4k footage on a 1080 and 4k timeline look similar, however you will be sharpening them differently
  • Stabilizer works great on handheld 4K footage.
  • You can zoom in on video files after you shoot! Wow.
  • You lose AF in variable frame rate mode, but you can get it back with another 1080 setting.
  • The dials are really intuitive to use, especially the ‘front’ dial for aperture – thank you! Canon: you have aperture on the mail dial, but you lose it in video mode, which can make muscle memory very hard!
  • Battery life is insanely good.
  • Auto wb does well. Better than Nikon
  • Span clips at 6:57 and creates new clip using 4k. Could not find that it missed any frames between clips which is good.
  • 400 iso on the GH zoomed in looks noisier than the 5D Mark III at ISO 1600 zoomed.
  • Perhaps the GORILLA $750 would work with a GH4 and pancake? GH4 at 560 g + 55 g (14mm) pancake = 625 g is less than the 400-800 g limit.

Camera Picture Profile Setup Used in this Review

  • Profile: Natural
  • Contrast: Like the -3 or -4 contrast
  • Saturation at 0. Saturation; only time I turned down is if the camera presents one color too much, canon does this with the reds easier in post to not key it out. But not finding that on the gh4 and I want all the color info I can get and not throw away because of the compression. However the gh4 looks really saturated compared to 5d3.
  • Sharpness: -3
  • Noise Reduction: not tested
  • Shadows: +2. no skin tones in scene you can do shadow +5, highlight -1 on natural, easy to grade.
  • Highlights: 0, Can’t seem to fix them in post. Safe for all lighting situations. Won’t get nasty skin textures.
  • Luminance Level: more range with 0-255
  • Master Pedestal: is for lifting the black level to match other cameras like canon clog or red.
  • Monitor Luminance: *2
  • Monitor Brightness: -1
  • Monitor Saturation: -1

GH4 Review Coming Soon