Panasonic Lumix GH4 Review – The GH4 the first mirrorless camera to shoot 4K video, while offering a wide range of stills shooting features
The Olympus OM-D EM-1, the Fujifilm X-T1, the Sony Alpha 6000 – all these great cameras rival DSLRs for image quality, and each provides a unique and satisfying experience for the user.
Into this battleground wades the DSLR-styled Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, which made its debut at CES this year as the first mirrorless camera to shoot 4K video.
Given its great videography pedigree – its predecessor the GH3 was well regarded among video-shooters – you’d naturally expect video to be the GH4’s chief selling point, but there’s in fact a lot more under the bonnet here, not least of which is a reworked 16.05MP Live MOS sensor.
Once you start looking, there’s plenty more to find. For instance the new quad-core Venus Engine processor pairs with the new sensor to give the GH4 significant improvements over its predecessor in a lot of different areas, including ISO sensitivity and noise handling.
Let’s delve a little deeper and see if the GH4 can hold up against its CSC competition.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Review – Features
The GH4 eclipses the Lumix DMC-GX7 as the most comprehensive and feature-packed CSC in Panasonic’s range.
As mentioned, the new sensor/processor combination pushes up the GH4’s ISO sensitivity, bestowing it with a native range of 200-25,600 (100 is available in an extended setting).
Noise handling capabilities have also been improved, resulting in a camera that’s significantly more confident and self-assured in low light than any of its predecessors.
The processing power has also made the GH4 nice and fast. It can burst-shoot with continuous AF at 7.4 frames per second, and this can be pushed up to 12 in AF-S mode.
This complements the lightning-fast AF rather nicely, and makes the GH4 an especially good camera for freezing fast-moving subjects. The GH4 also has a truly professional grade shutter, rated to 200,000 actuations.
Using Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology, the GH4 is capable of achieving focus faster than ever before.
If you’re in the right conditions, the GH4 can achieve focus in around 0.07 seconds. This is a shade faster than the Fujifilm X-T1, though it’s not the kind of shade that the human brain is capable of noticing (we’re talking hundredths of a second).
DFD technology works by using two out-of-focus areas – one in the foreground and one in the back – to get the correct focus as fast as possible. Be aware that it’s only available with compatible Lumix lenses, though.
On the subject of autofocus, the GH4 also boasts forty-nine contrast-detect AF points, which can be selected in customisable groups, and also has the new and welcome addition of focus peaking, which the GH3 notably lacked.
Panasonic Lumix GH4 Review – Design
In terms of build, the GH4 is essentially a chunkier and heavier version of the GH3. It feels more solid in the hand, and a lot of this is to do with the metallic chassis.
It’s a pleasing effect on the whole – at 560g the camera’s weight isn’t exactly wrist breaking, and the result is a machine that has reassuring solidity to it.
This is augmented by the fact that Panasonic has carefully sealed every button and potential place of ingress on the GH4, making a camera that is durably splash proof.
This provides some much-welcomed peace of mind when taking the camera out shooting – you needn’t have any fear of whipping out the GH4 in a wet environment, or of shooting without one eye on the gathering clouds overhead.
Also worth mentioning is the speckled finish on the frame. It may be only cosmetic, but it really adds to how the camera feels.
You could say in fact that camera’s feel is probably one of the most important aspects of the GH4’s design – not for nothing does it so closely resemble a DSLR in looks and style.
The rubberised grip contributes to this. It’s a perfect size for most medium or large sized hands, sitting neatly in the palm and allowing easy, quick access to the vast majority of the vital controls.
The GH4 is equipped with five customisable function buttons. One could argue that this is maybe a couple too many, likely to be intimidating to the novice user, a view borne out by the fact that some of them aren’t particularly well placed. Fn1, on the camera’s top plate feels too far inset, and Fn4 is just uncomfortable.
One suspects that no-one really would have minded if Panasonic had taken a more prescriptive approach with the GH4’s controls – not everyone minds being guided in how to operate a camera, and too much choice can be paralysing.
Did we really need so many customisable buttons when every function that’s going to see regular use (ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, etc.) has its own dedicated button, switch or dial? Maybe not.
Panasonic Lumix GH4 Review – Performance
If you’re going to talk about the Panasonic GH4, you’ve of course got to talk about 4K video. The GH series is a real favourite among those who like to dabble in both stills and video, and the GH4’s capacity to shoot ultra high definition 4K video should only increase this profile.
It borrows plenty of technology from Panasonic’s professional video cameras – focus peaking, zebra patterning, bit rate and resolution options, to name just a few.
The GH4 can record 4K video (4096×2160 pixels) at 24p with a bitrate of 100Mbps, and 1080p full HD video with a maximum bit rate of 200Mbps. When you compare this to the GH3’s 73Mbps and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III’s 91Mbps, it illustrates how much of a leap forward this is.
Honestly though, if you’re like most of the country you likely don’t have any means of displaying 4K video, at least not yet.
This doesn’t make the function useless to you though – 4K footage’s quadrupled pixel count compared to HD means that it’s still punchier and higher in dynamic range even when down-converted. It’s also possible to crop into 4K footage as much as 200% to recompose a shot.
Still, as we said, there’s more to the GH4 than 4K video. Quite a bit more, not the least of which is its seriously impressive autofocus.
The DFD autofocus is, as mentioned, lightning fast, able to latch onto its target in 0.07secs. The 49 AF areas provide good, comprehensive coverage, and the face and eye detection is pleasingly effective.
What is especially interesting is how customisable the AF is. The size of individual AF areas can be adjusted via the wheel or the touchscreen, and AF area groups can be freely set around the frame, with the option to store up to four custom grids.
The autofocus only starts to lag a little with Tracking AF, in which the GH4 has a tendency to drop focus. It’s quick enough to pick up again, but it still happens more often than it should.
Brand new to the GH4 is the 2.36million-dot OLED live viewfinder. Boasting 1.34x magnification and a 100% field of view, the EVF is beautiful to look through, one of the closest equivalents to an optical viewfinder we’ve seen, with a snappy refresh rate that results in minuscule, near-imperceptible levels of lag.
There’s plenty of welcome additional information around the edges of the viewfinder, and it makes the job of focusing easier with manual focus assist.
The EVF joins a 3in 1.04-million-dot vari-angle touchscreen on the camera’s rear. The screen can be rotated 180º and 270º, allowing for a great deal of flexibility, and having it be able to fold inwards (so the plastic back faces outwards) is a nice touch. Like the viewfinder, the screen is bright and responsive.
Panasonic Lumix GH4 Review – Image Quality
Colour and white balance
Unlike the controls, white balance on the GH4 is kept simple. There are just five white balance presets available on the camera, in addition to four custom settings. It’s worth using these to adjust the camera to the conditions in which you’re shooting; the GH4 tends to give shots a little bit of a blue cast when left to its own devices on auto.
The colours the GH4 produces are generally decent, though lack a little punch in the standard settings. If you favour a natural and faithful approach to colour reproduction it should suit you fine, but if you like a little more oomph then it’s worth adding some saturation – a simple process. There are also some creative filters such as sepia and dynamic monochrome, some of which can also be accessed in move record mode.
The 1,728-zone multi-pattern metering system has been carried over from the Lumix DMC-GX7, and it puts in an exemplary performance on the GH4 as well. Its exposures are consistently well balanced, with only a slight tendency to underexpose in overcast conditions.
The GH4 also delivers impressive dynamic range despite its relatively small sensor compared to current DSLRs. Worth noting is the iDynamic option in the settings menu, which automatically make adjustments to the exposure settings in order to maximise the detail in shadows and highlights.
The resolving power of the GH4 comes not only from the 16.05MP sensor, which is very similar to the one we saw on the GX7, but also from the new algorithms and general reworking that the camera has gone under. The results are impressive. At ISO 100, available in an extended setting, the GH4 can capture 28 lines per mm on our test chart.
The GH4 acquits itself well even when shooting at higher ISOs. Jpegs are richly detailed straight out of the camera, with very little noise to speak of all the way up to ISO 3200. Beyond that some colour noise does start to creep in, and at ISO 6400 smoothing starts to smudge the details in darker areas.
Panasonic Lumix GH4 Review – Verdict
The Lumix GH4 probably could have turned up just with 4K video and still gotten people talking, so it’s to Panasonic’s credit that a clear and conscious effort has been made to create a camera with more to it than that.
This camera is a solid attempt at a jack of all trades, with not only pro-level video but also stunning, rich images delivered with snappy autofocus. There’s enough to tempt photographers, videographers, and especially those who may have a foot in both those camps.
This isn’t to say that it does everything right. A higher resolution sensor than 16.05MP would have been welcome, and the control scheme could definitely have done with being streamlined and simplified. It feels like a victim of Panasonic’s obvious desire to do make the GH4 a camera for all purposes.
It’s mostly good news though. The GH4 is an audacious and versatile camera, and the shrewd addition of 4K video – a technology still arguably yet to have its day in the sun – could make it a sharp investment for the future.
Panasonic Lumix GH4 Review – Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of images captured with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4. For a wider range of images head on over to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 sample image gallery.
Panasonic Lumix GH4 Review – First Look
The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is the successor to the GH3, and comes sporting a brand new sensor. While its 16.05MP resolution is identical to that of its excellent predecessor, Panasonic informs us that the new sensor has new semi-conductor protection technology in other areas designed to reduce image noise and improve dynamic range. Also helping improve performance is a new quad-core image processing system in Panasonic’s Venus Engine, which provides an increase in max ISO to 25,600 and burst shooting of up to 12fps, or 7.5fps with continuous focusing.
Of course, the big news everyone will be talking about with the GH4 is video, specifically its ability to shoot 4K video at a resolution of 4096×2160 pixels and a maximum frame rate of 96fps. The level of quality the GH4 can achieve is phenomenal – the video it captures can have a bit rate of up to 200Mbps, far exceeding the 73Mbps bit rate captured by the GH3. It’s good enough that it could be used by 4K television broadcasters.
The GH4 can be augmented with an optional Interface Unit, which is designed for professional videographers. The unit provides two XLR microphone sockets, four SDI terminals, a Micro HDMI output, a colour bar signal and an audio reference signal.
It also adds an external time control that allows for multiple cameras to synchronise time codes for simultaneous recording. In order to keep up with the demands of 4K recording, the GH4 uses the new UHS I class III SD card format, and indeed is the first camera to do so.
Autofocus on the GH4 has received one of the more intriguing upgrades. A new system on the GH4 named DFD (Depth From Defocusing) uses a database of all existing Panasonic lenses to estimate how out of focus a lens is and compensate accordingly, fine tuning the focus with contrast detection.
Panasonic claims this will all be able to happen within 0.07 seconds – edging out Fuji’s 0.08sec AF acquirement on its X-series cameras. The GH4 also now has 49 AF points, compared to the GH3’s 23.
Pricing and availability information for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 are yet to be announced.
The GH4 may not be a radical departure from the GH3 in many ways, but it’s got a lot to like. The increased shooting rate is very welcome, as is the much-improved AF. I especially liked the build of the camera – the magnesium alloy body very similar to the GH3, but Panasonic has got the grip just right. It fits beautifully in the hand and feels just about perfect. The weather and dust resistance is a nice touch as well.
For videographers, the GH4 is currently peerless. The speed of 4K capture is hugely impressive, but the four thirds sensor means the camera remains relatively light and suitable for travel, as do its lenses. It’s a fantastic all-in-one package for photography and video recording.
I can definitely see it being useful for photojournalists and reportage photographers who might want to switch between still images and video at a moment’s notice, and be comfortable with how well they can capture both.
We were using a pre-production version of the GH4 for a hands-on, and didn’t get a chance to properly assess how far the image quality has been improved by the new sensor technology, which is really going to be the deciding factor as to whether it’s worth upgrading from the GH3.
The images we saw did look impressive, however we’ll have to wait until we get hold of a final version of the camera before we can say for sure.
Some may be surprised that there’s been no increase in resolution from the GH3, and 16MP does perhaps feel a little on the low side. In my opinion, however, the sensor improvements should more than compensate.