REVIEW Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4 A Game Changer

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Written by David Hague     22/04/2014 | 10:28 | Category name i.e.REVIEWS

Every once in a while, a camera comes along that is a game changer. The Minolta SRT-101, the Canon 1D, the very first Nikon Coolpix and the Pentax KX all make the list. And being added to it now is the new Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4.

Rather than any one thing in particular, a number of features make the DMC-GH4 a standout, but not the least is the fact that it has 4K video shooting capability. This is the first camera of its type at this time (other 4K cameras on the market are pure video cameras essentially) and in conjunction with its still shooting functionality, interchangeable lens ability and physical size, nothing is around with which to directly compare the DMC-GH4 to.


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The Basics

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4 is a digital single lens mirrorless camera built from the ground up as a brand new beast in the Micro Four Thirds genre co-developed by Panasonic. The body is composed of a magnesium alloy full die cast front / rear frame. Weather proofing is achieved by a splash / dustproof construction with sealing on every joint, dial, and button. The shutter unit is designed for long life and durability said to deliver approximately 200,000 release times which is double the life of many cameras in this class.

The Micro Four Thirds format means that out of the box, there are 22 LUMIX specific G digital interchangeable lenses immediately available, and Panasonic say that if third party lenses are brought into the equation, then this increases to a total of nearly 70 at release date.

Other accessories include an optional external flash unit (the GN58) and a stereo shotgun microphone.

Technical

The 'engine room' of the DMC-GH4 is a brand new 16.05 megapixel Digital Live MOS Sensor coupled with a Venus processing system. The bane of all of these sensor types, the rolling shutter effect, has been effectively supressed.

4K video recording (4092 x 2160 resolution at 24 frames per second) is achieved using an ultra-high 100 Mbps bit rate; HD recording is at 200 Mbps. Whilst to the layman these may just be numbers, in reality they mean a great deal as the more data can be attained per frame, the higher the picture quality. In simple terms, the data 'explains' the composition of the image to the sensor, so more is better. By way of comparison, Panasonic's flagship consumer HD camcorder is rated at a maximum of 24 Mbps at 1920 x 1080 resolution.


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Photo: Bence Mate
Other recording formats are also available including MOV, MP4, AVCHD Progressive and standard AVCHD at a variety of frame rates according to usage. In shooting for global markets, system frequency is selectable from 59.95Hz / 23.98Hz and 50Hz / 24Hz.

For video monitoring, connectivity to external monitors via HDMI is standard with resolution at 4:2:2/10 bit.

Of interest to the professional, global frame rate availability in the DMC-GH4 allows for shooting for overseas markets without any resampling of images (and subsequent potential quality loss), plus variable frame rate functionality allows slow and fast frame rate recording up to 96 frames per second in HD.

For the broadcast professional, an optional interface unit allows connectivity to external monitors and records, with the SDI industry standard available. Also included assisting in professional level results are zebra patterning showing over-exposed areas, Cinelike Gamma, a 1KkHz test Tone and SMTP/EBU/ARIB Standard Colour Bars.


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Imaging performance is enhanced during still photography with high speed burst shooting of 12 frames per second at full resolution, which is supported by a 40 shot buffer for RAW images and 100 shots for non-RAW.

Fast and accurate focusing at 0.07 second is achieved with 'Depth From Defocus' technology and high speed action can be captured with a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second. For framing, both the vision finder and swing out and tiltable monitor are based on high resolution OLED technology for the best possible precision. The OLED for the LVF has a super high contrast ratio of 10,000:1, giving excellent colour reproduction and visibility.

When shooting in the professional preferred RAW format (so that all meta data is retained), images can be processed in-camera. As well as colour space setting, in-camera functions on RAW images that can be performed include white balance, exposure compensation, contrast, highlight/shadow saturation, noise reduction, sharpness and hue. Photo Style, Intelligent D-Range Control and Intelligent Resolution can also be applied.  Other items on the professional wish list included as standard are Focus Peaking, Low Light Auto Focus and up from 29 in the GH3, 49 area AF.

As well as Face Recognition Auto Focus, the DMC-GH4 incorporates Eye Detection Auto Focus; the user's eye to be focussed on can be selected. When auto focussing, a freely resizable 1 area AF mode provides complete control over the size of the area.

Ergonomics

Despite having so much functionality compared to 'traditional' DSLR cameras, the DMC-GH4 is small easily fitting in the palm of your hand. Ergonomics have not been sacrificed however.


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The sign of a well thought out system in a camera is the ability to pick up the camera previously sight unseen, and immediately operate it without any necessity to read a manual up front. All controls, menu functions and so on need to be accessible and understandable, and the DMC-GH4 has achieved this superbly.

Shooting stills or HD and 4K video was equally easy to understand the basics for, and experimenting with different options was being undertaken after only a short period of time. Indeed, the only drawback found was that in the video mode, using a 'silver' standard 16GB SD card was giving error messages due to not having a fast enough transfer speed. This would be the reason one suspects that simultaneously with the release of the LUMIX DMC-GH4, Panasonic also announced the availability of 'Gold Series' SDUC cards from 16GB to 64GB. These are due in May 2014.

Pricing

Panasonic has priced the DMC-GH4 very keenly indeed; the body only is RRP $1999. A single kit with a 12mm~35mm F2.8 lens will retail for $2999. The optional interface unit with SDI connectivity etc as a standalone unit is $2649 or if purchased with body only, is RRP $3999.

Conclusion

Finally, there will be conjecture no doubt about why one would purchase a camera with 4K capability when 4K viewing has not as yet had a major uptake (via sales of 4K TVs for example).

There are three basic counters to this with the first being that by going this route, you are simply future proofing yourself. Footage can be shot in 4K resolution and down-sampled to HD say (where it still outclasses 'standard' HD on decent TV screens) and the original footage filed for future use. Second, anyone saying that 4K will not have a widespread take up and suffer as say, 3D did, is deluding themselves. It is has been also been that the means to create a format has to precede the ways to view it, and the time is not too distant that a 4K TV will be a standard buy due to manufacturers' economies of scale.

The LUMIX DMC-GH4 is eminently suited to take its place in that area to create 4K footage. Its flexibility, image quality, portability and low comparable pricing will make it a 'must look at' camera for professionals entering this area of the market. In the still photography market, the GH4s credentials put it squarely against the established models and brands currently being used. The fact that adaptors allow the use of legacy lenses on the DMC-GH4 from other manufacturers ends any final inhibition to that.

 

 

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Pros & Cons

Pros:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Image quality 
  3. Interchangeable lenses
  4. Price

Cons:

  1. Has to use Gold Class SD cards
  2. Interface option expensive in comparison