Camera Review: Hands-on with Panasonic’s GH5
August 10, 2017
In the February 2016 issue of PDN, we documented how some filmmakers are being lured away from DSLRs and mirrorless cameras into lower-cost cinema cameras from the likes of Blackmagic, Canon, Sony and Panasonic.
This migration hasn’t stopped some of the leading mirrorless vendors from continuing to add sophisticated video features to their cameras with an eye toward pleasing the hybrid shooter who bounces between still and video projects. Panasonic’s GH5 is the apex of this effort—a camera that packs about as many video features as still features.
We teamed with N.J. photographer and director David Patiño to see how this jack-of-all-trades fared in the real world.
The GH5 features a 20-megapixel sensor with no low-pass filter. Like all recent Panasonic models, the GH5 offers a dual image stabilization that combines in-body stabilization with lens stabilization on select Panasonic lenses to deliver improved shake reduction. You can enjoy up to 5 stops of correction when the GH5 is paired with compatible lenses.
The focusing system has been upgraded from the GH4 as well. Panasonic’s depth from defocus technology—which creates a depth map of the scene—has been bumped from 220 fps to 440 fps, enabling faster and more precise depth mapping and thus better autofocusing. There are 225 contrast detect AF points and you can assign them to either the touch screen or the joystick that sits near the viewfinder.
The GH5 represents a new high-water mark for video quality in a mirrorless camera. It can record 4K video (4096 x 2160) at 60p internally (8-bit, 4:2:0) or 4K video at 30p at 10-bit (4:2:2) quality. Full HD can be recorded at up to 180 fps. There are dozens of other resolution and frame rate options—far too many to list here. What’s more, this 10-bit footage can be saved to SD cards, not the more expensive CFast cards used by high-end DSLRs and cinema cameras.
Beyond the video quality options, the GH5 packs a host of cinema-friendly tools like a vectorscope display, time code, color bars, adjustable luminance levels and picture profiles such as CineD, CineV and (with an $99 software license) VLog.
Ergonomically, the GH5 is more of a kindred spirit to a DSLR. “It doesn’t feel like a mirrorless camera,” Patiño tells us. Its pronounced hand grip is comfortable but with the Leica 12-60mm f/2.8 lens attached you’ll have more heft than with rivals like the Olympus E-M1 Mark II or Fuji XT2. The body of the GH5 alone weighs in at 1.6 pounds, whereas the E-M1 Mark II weighs in at 1.3 pounds and Fuji’s X-T2 is a lean 1.1 pounds. If you’ve been turned off by mirrorless cameras that lack a firm grip or a bit of weight to them, the GH5 won’t disappoint.
Patiño liked that the GH5 offers a full-size HDMI output. “This way you have more cables to work with,” he says. The camera also deserves props for using a future-proof USB Type C (3.1) connection for faster data transfers to PCs. The pair of SD card slots is also nice.
We are big fans of joysticks (thanks, Atari) and the joystick-driven AF selection on the GH5 is excellent. We wish more camera makers would embrace this design touch. The camera has five programmable function buttons on the exterior and two custom slots on the mode dial, making it easy to tailor the camera’s exterior controls to your liking.
Color reproduction in the GH5 was consistently excellent if a bit on the over-saturated side for still images. The camera did have a tendency to over-saturate blues in particular. When we knocked down the exposure in an over-exposed image, our sky quickly went to a dark, slightly unnatural aqua. Skin tones, however, were flawless.
For the GH5, Panasonic has updated its 4K Photo mode—which isolates an 8-megapixel still image from a short 4K video recording—to a 6K Photo mode. Here, you’ll be shooting a short clip of H.265 video and can pluck an 18-megapixel still image from the file. The 6K mode uses a faster shutter speed than what you’d set for video, but we still had difficulty finding frames that were sharply in focus with no motion blur—at least indoors.
Patiño used the GH5 as a b-camera on a music video, blending footage with Sony’s a7R II and a Canon 5D Mark III. He says at 4K/60p, the footage looked more camcorder-esque than cinematic, but was also better at handling higher ISOs (in this case ISO 1600) than the Sony. Patiño says even after white balancing all the cameras on the shoot, the GH5 footage was warmer than the rest. On balance, he said the video quality of the GH5 was excellent and blended well with footage from his other cameras.
The GH5 can focus on objects in low light down to -4EV and in still photo mode does a nice job in lower-light environments. The camera does have several AF tweaks, including the ability to adjust AF sensitivity, AF Area Switching sensitivity and moving object prediction. AF performance shooting video, however, wasn’t as consistent as on the still side. When it was set to continuous AF, we’d occasionally lose subjects and experience some hunting. The performance lagged the smoother, more accurate focus changes in Canon cameras with Dual Pixel CMOS AF.
The camera can hit 9 fps with AF engaged and was admirably consistent in delivering in-focus frames, including when tracking moving objects. It’s not the fastest camera in its class—that honor goes to the Olympus E-M1 Mark II—but it’s zippy enough.
Image stabilization was also excellent. We were able to shoot handheld down to 1/20 and even 1/15 sec. with crisp results.
The GH5 offers a CIPA-rated battery life of 410 shots per charge, a bit behind the E-M1 Mark II but ahead of the X-T2’s 340 frames. For video, Patiño said the GH5 easily outlasted his Sony a7R IIs, which required one battery change during his shoot while the GH5 was able to endure without requiring a battery swap.
For hybrid shooters who switch between stills and video, the GH5 offers a compelling promise. You can internally record footage that other cameras in this price range require an external recorder for. While the 20-megapixel cropped image sensor may give still photographers pause, the lack of a low-pass filter and the GH5’s image processing does deliver first rate image quality.
PROS: Weather-sealed; excellent video quality; dual SD card slots; consistent still photo autofocusing; customizable exterior, USB-C connection.
CONS: Heavy for a mirrorless camera; EVF can be difficult to see during continuous shooting; some AF inconsistency during video recording.