Is The Panasonic GH4 Your Dream Camera?

Is The Panasonic GH4 Your Dream Camera? By filmmaker Michael Head

The future of production for the foreseeable future is 4K.

This is true even if the majority of distribution will remain at 1080P and 2K for a while. But each day we get closer and closer to wide stream 4K distribution, be it through Netflix or even YouTube.

That leaves camera manufacturers in a very precarious situation.

The majority of consumer users are still not ready for 4K, but clients will soon demand 4K video (even though they might not really know why) and professional video producers can use the extra resolution to make their lower resolution projects look better.

Enter the Panasonic GH4, a camera which has already generated a lot of buzz.

Panasonic GH4

The Panasonic GH4

The Panasonic GH4, is a Micro 4/3 mount DSLR (ok, mirrorless) form factor camera that shoots up to 4K and Ultra HD video, and it already has a lot going for it.

Panasonic has a great pedigree of DSLR (mirrorless) video.

Keep in mind that the GH2 and GH3 are both good video cameras, and that was before users hacked the software and increased data rate and therein the detail saved in the video file.

If you need an example of the hacked GH2 on set, check out Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color – The second feature from the imaginative director, and the choice of camera was unique, but well made.

The Panasonic GH4 caters to video producers and photographers in a very unique way.

Where Canon loaded out two similar DSLR cameras which individually focus on photography (1D) and cinema (1D C), the Panasonic GH4 took novel approach to the divide – Produce a separate unit that focuses on what video producers need, that photographers do not need.

Enter the DMW-YAGH Interface Unit – a separate device that attaches to the underside of the Panasonic GH4 and includes XLR inputs, audio meters, and SDI output for professional external recording and monitoring.

The advantage of making a separate unit is that the photographers who don’t need it can skip it and videographers who might not be able to afford it at the start can use the camera without it and pick up the interface unit later.

I think that is a brilliant move on Panasonic’s part and shows a thoughtfulness and consideration of their broad client base that some manufacturers (*cough*Canon*cough) are missing out on (and PS, I’m a fan of Canon – my first camera was a 60D).

The Panasonic GH4 is not perfect – the camera features an 8-bit recording, which is somewhat limiting. And 4:2:0 cool subsampling in internal recording limits you a bit in post. But the Panasonic GH4 can output 8-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI and full 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video over SDI with the interface unit.


The Good Stuff
– 4k and Ultra HD resolution (4K – 4096 and UHD – 3840 selectable)
– 1080P at up to 60 (59.94) FPS
– MOV, MP4 (4k/UHD) and AVCHD (1080p) recording formats
– High Data rate – 200 MBPS at 1080, 100 MBPS at 4K
– Interface Unit with XLR inputs including phantom power and SDI output
– No 30 minute time cap on video
– NTSC and PAL selectable
– Highly adaptable M4/3 lens mount
– 10-bit 4:2:2 output over SDI, 8-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI

The Not So Good Stuff
– Separate Interface Unit (yes, I think it’s a good and bad thing because it ups the cost)
– 8-Bit 4:2:0 internal recording
– Internal recording to 4k requires class U3 SDHC cards (a new standard)

Questions About The Panasonic GH4:
– My number one question is this: What’s the dynamic range?

Final Thoughts On The Panasonic GH4:
As I get more and more experience with video, I am more and more convinced that dynamic range is vitally important to achieving the fabled “film look”. Panasonic’s choice to produce a special interface unit initially struck me as odd, and it does add to the cost of shooting for the professional videographer. But it also lets users choose their level of need and investment, and gives them a goal to aim for for increasing their possible output.

A while back, I was looking for a DSLR for video, and after extensive research, I had narrowed the choices down to the Canon 60D and the GH2. I went with the Canon for a variety of reasons including wider array of lenses and no overheating problems. But, if I knew then what I know now, the choice might have been different.

There has been a plethora of M4/3 mount cameras, and while camera bodies change rather rapidly, good glass can last for decades, and investment in dependable glass that can go across camera bodies is a large consideration these days. Good cameras like the GH4 are great, but don’t forget… The first thing your images pass through is your glass.

Comments

  1. Andrew L. says

    So after much experience using the GH4, do you feel the separate interface unit is necessary to achieve the fabled “film look?” I’ve seen quite a few footages that looked absolutely mindblowing in terms of “movie” or “film” like clips. I feel with the right glass and proper lighting/color grading, the “film look” can easily be achieved. Thank you for your review and below is a link to my favorite clip of the GH4.

    http://vimeo.com/107694556

  2. Renato S. says

    It films 1080p up to 96fps.

    Some people that tested it say that it seems to have about 12 stops of DR and that’s also about what one of Panasonic’s representatives also said in his interview with Zacuto – and this is probably the only still camera tha can actually capture all its DR in video the same way it does on stills.

    And it seems that even at 8-bit 4:2:0, the codec holds pretty well when grading because the video is actually processed from a 10-bit 4:2:2 and then converter to 8-bit 4:2:0 to save space – but of course, if you want to push further, use the 10-bit 4:2:2. This is basically the opposite process that a lot of manufacturers do, when even the HDMI output is not directly from the sensor but a post-processed output, it’s a 4:2:0 disguised as 4:2:0, and it affects even more what you can do – or can’t do – in the post production.

    I hardly think that the YAGH interface can be something negative, it does add cost but GH4’s owners don’t lose anything by not having it, nobody actually need to buy it in order to use the camera. It’s an extra feat, it would only be negative if it was something that everybody would need and they would require to pay extra for it, just like you need someextra unit in order to turn the FS700 into a fully capable camera, which is NOT the case. It just gives you the option, how can that be something negative?

    The only way it could had been a negative point is if you delusionally thought that it should had come with all of the things the YAGH brings within the sub-$2K price right off the bat in the GH4, which is simply not possible.

  3. Joseph Moore says

    FYI,
    10 bit 4:2:2 can be output via the HDMI port. You do not need the YAGH interface unit unless you require XLR, SDI or timecode.

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