REVIEW Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4 A Game Changer

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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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