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Panasonic Lumix GH4 Review

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The Panasonic GH3 is widely regarded as a great compact system camera for shooting video, but its stills capability has been rather overlooked. Even though its headline specification is its ability to shoot 4K video, Panasonic is hoping that the GH4 will gain a greater respect for its ability as a stills camera.

The company has invested a lot of time and effort in improving on the GH3 for the GH4, and the new range-topping camera has an extensive list of new or enhanced features. However, some may be surprised to learn that the sensor’s pixel count has stayed the same, 16.05 million, even though the sensor is completely new.

Specifications

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Panasonic Lumix-DMC GH3
Sensor specifications 16MP Four Thirds 16MP Four Thirds
Continuous shoot rate (with C-AF) 12fps (7.5fps) 6fps (4fps)
Metering system 1728-zone 144-zone
Max video Res (Internal) Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) Full HD (1920 x 1080)
Max video res (with an external recorder) Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160), 4:2:2 10-bit Full HD (1920 x 1080) 4:2:0 8bit
Maximum bit rate (1080p/24) 200Mbps 72Mbps
Focus Peaking 3 colours, 2 intensities No
Zebra Highlight Warnings 2 Presents (Adjustable 105-50%) No
Time Code Yes Yes
Luminance level control 0-255, 16-235, 16-255 No
4K Photo Mode Yes No
Electronic viewfinder resolution 2.36m dots (1024 x 768px) 1.74m dots (1024 x 576px)
Rear LCD resolution 1.04m dots (720 x 480px) 0.61m dots (640 x 480px)
Battery Life (CIPA) 500 shots 540 shots
Dimensions 133 x 93 x 84mm 133 x 93 x 82mm
Weight 560g 550g

Features

Panasonic has coupled the new 16.05-million-pixel Digital Live MOS sensor with the Venus Engine IX processor. This is a new processing engine, as the Panasonic GX7 has the Venus Motor VIII and the GH3 gets the VII version. According to Panasonic, this enables the GH4 to produce the best images quality of any G-series camera. As it has four times as many pixels in every frame than Full HD recording, 4K video is very demanding on processing power. Consequently, the Venus Engine IX is a quad-core processor. Also, the sensor offers twice the readout speed of the GH3, reaching 200Mb/s. Following Panasonic’s Michiharu Uematsu, this sensor and processor chip combination enables the GH4 to create very slightly better quality images than the GX7, which was previously claimed to produce the best quality images of any G-series camera.

The company is confident of the GH4’s noise control, as sensitivity may be set in the native range of ISO 200-25,600, with ISO 100 as an expansion set. In comparison, the GH3 has a range of ISO200-12800, with ISO125 and ISO 12,800-25,600 being available as expansion settings.

In single-AF mode the GH4 can shoot continuously at up to 12 fps (frames per second) with a UHS-III SD format card installed. This rate drops to 7.5fps in continuous autofocus mode. Panasonic will introduce a UHS-III card when the GH4 comes to market. One of the challenges for compact system camera manufacturers has been to improve the speed of their autofocusing because they use the traditionally slower contrast-detection program. Panasonic has introduced a new approach for the GH4, which uses its novel DFD (Depth from Defocus) technology.

This system looks at the contrast of the scene at two different defocused points to help it calculate the correct focus point more quickly. Panasonic claims that this allows the GH4 to achieve a focus time of 0.07 sec whereas the GH3 achieved 0.09 sec. The faster processing engine, quicker sensor read-out and the cleaner signal should enable the camera to focus its lens in poorer light, and Uematsu says that the GH4 can focus down to -4EV. Uematsu is also keen to emphasise that all the improvements required to allow 4K recording have a positive knock-on effect for still pictures.

Furthermore, the camera has a 49-area AF system (the GH3 has 23 areas) and the selection method could be set to Face/Eye Detection, Tracking, 49-Area, 1-Area, Pinpoint or the brand new Custom Multi mode. In the latter setting the active AF points can be limited to a row or column of points, or two a group (or two) or pattern defined by the user. The row or column option could be especially useful when panning with a moving subject and wanting to keep one plane sharp.

Focus peaking was high on the list of demands for the GH3, but it never arrived in a firmware update. Happily, the GH4 provides focus peaking to greatly help with manual focusing and video recording by highlighting the areas of highest contrast. This is accompanied by the picture-in-picture view first seen with the GX7 to allow the whole scene to be seen while an enlarged view is visible.

Also, there’s now a Zebra view which indicates bright areas in the picture that are in danger of burning out.

Panasonic has improved both the electronic viewfinder and the three-inch vari-angle screen since the GH3, giving the two devices in the GH4 higher resolutions of 2,359,000-dots and 1,036,000-dots respectively. As before, both are OLED units and the main screen is touch-sensitive. The GH4 is capable of shooting a movie at a range of resolutions, including Full HD, in addition to 4K, and there are options to shoot in MOV, MP4, AVCHD Progressive (4K could be shot in MOV and MP4) formats at a variety of frame rates.

To maintain the very best image possible Panasonic crops the GH4’s image to create the 4K rectangle. As a result the focal length of the lens effectively lengthens by approximately 17%.

Cropping the picture produces better high-quality footage than using zooming or interpolation technology. Those who want the very best video quality, however, will need to invest in the optional Interface Unit that bolts onto the bottom of the digital camera. This enables clean, uncompressed 4K footage to be recorded to an external device. It also has two XLR microphone ports, a phantom power supply for mics and four SD video-out sockets. This unit also adds audio monitoring and control capability, as well as the ability to use an exterior timecode to synchronise several cameras.

Panasonic will distribute the GH4’s Interface Device through its professional video and channel, as it will appeal to expert videographers who plan to use the GH4 as part of a rig with an external monitor, recording facility and so on.

Like the GH3, the GH4 has Wi-Fi connectivity built-in, but this is joined by an NFC chip to enable quick connection to other NFC devices such as Android phones and tablets. As before, the GH4 can be controlled remotely making use of Panasonic’s free smartphone app via a Wi-Fi connection.

Since it sits at the top of Panasonic’s camera line-up, the GH4 is aimed at experienced photographers and, naturally, it has the usual program, aperture priority, shutter priority and guide exposure modes. However, additionally, there is Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto (iA) mode to help less experienced photographers and the Creative Control choices that apply digital filter effects (Rough Monochrome and so forth) to JPEG images.

As a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera, the GH4 is compatible with a wide range of optics from Panasonic and Olympus, as well as a handful from Sigma, Tokina and Voigtlander.

Because the sensor is smaller than full-frame, there’s a 2x focal length multiplication factor. Consequently, the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 Asph lens, for example, includes a focal size range equivalent to a 24-70mm optic on a 35mm camera when shooting stills. Meanwhile, the 14-140mm zoom lens, which is obtainable as a kit with the GH4, gives an angle of seeing similar to a 28-280mm optic.

Performace

As a general rule, the GH4 produces great-looking images with good exposure, pleasing contrast, natural colours and good detail.

Zooming into 100% on-screen reveals that some JPEG pictures don’t have quite the fine detail or micro-contrast that we see from other cameras, but at sensible viewing sizes they look great. As is often the case, simultaneously captured raw files have more detail. At higher sensitivity settings they also have more noise, but this can be dealt with on an image-by-image basis to produce a good result.

Noise is controlled well throughout the sensitivity range, but fine detail isn’t maintained quite as well as by the Fuji X-T1, for example, in higher sensitivity settings. At 100% on-display JPEGs look good up to around ISO 3200. Above this figure softening becomes more apparent. Raw documents have chroma sound visible at 100% from around ISO 800, but it’s within acceptable limits, and as mentioned before, can be subjected to reduction as required.

By ISO 12,800, however, raw files need more careful editing to conceal noise and preserve detail. The highest value (ISO 25,600) produces respectable results, but as is often the case, it’s best kept for emergencies.

Panasonic claims that the GH4’s AF system can operate down to an incredible -4EV and our testing indicates that with the right lens it is quite a bit better in low-light than previous G-series cameras. We were impressed by how quickly it was able to focus with the new Leica DG Notricon 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH O.I.S inside very dim conditions, but this is a super-fast lens with a high price to match.

The 12-35mm f/2.8 lens, which gives a focal length range equivalent to the popular 24-70mm on a full-frame camera, also delivers sharp subjects quickly, but we found the brand new 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens a little more variable – especially at the telephoto end. In good light, the AF system is generally very fast and it can keep pace with moving topics when the AF point is in the correct location. Tracking AF mode has also improved, but it can’t be relied upon to follow a fast-moving subject around the frame. The autofocus system changes speed when movies are being recorded and a touch of the screen to change focus point sees the concentrate shift smoothly and (comparatively) slowly, creating a professional-looking result.

Panasonic’s metering and white balance systems are good performers in the past, producing well-exposed, natural-looking images. The GH4 doesn’t disappoint as it’s automatic whitened balance program produces natural-looking outcomes in a wide range of lighting problems. In natural light, the results when shooting using the automatic settings are often indistinguishable from those taken utilizing the daylight setting.

Although the GH4 has the usual trio of metering modes (Multiple, Centre-weighted and Spot) we found that the general-purpose 1,728-zone multi-pattern metering delivers great results in most situations. There were relatively few times when we had to use the exposure compensation facility to adjust exposure.

As usual, the GH4 is supplied with Silkypix software for editing images and converting raw files. In reality, few users are likely to use this software, preferring Adobe’s even more refined and better-specified options: Photoshop CC, Lightroom 5 or Elements 12. Silkypix has most of the controls that you need nonetheless it isn’t specifically intuitive or pleasant to utilize and prospective GH4 owners will be looking forward to the Camera Raw update that makes raw file processing possible with Photoshop.

We haven’t been able to test the GH4’s video capability extensively, but it’s clear that it produces high-quality footage. As with still images, exposure, white balance and colour are good and there’s plenty of detail visible.

Check Out: Best Lenses For Panasonic Lumix GH4

Verdict

The Lumix GH4 is Panasonic’s flagship mirrorless camera and the first of its kind to offer 4k video recording. A new 16 Megapixel sensor delivers 4k (UHD or Cinema) up to 30fps or 1080p at around 96fps, both high bit rates. The GH4 also becomes Panasonic’s most powerful stills camera: like the GH3, it’s weather-sealed and features a fully-articulated screen, large EVF, mic and headphone jacks, 1/8000 shutter, 12fps continuous shooting and built-in Wifi now with NFC.

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