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.
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.