I’ve been waiting since 2008 for a camera that I actually like. Finally, that wait is over.
The Panasonic GH5 is the first camera I’ve been excited about since the Canon 5D Mark II. The 5D2 opened up a world of possibilities to low-budget photo + video shooters, and no camera since then delivered that kind of groundbreaking feature set. The Sony A7 series – with its phenomenal low-light capability – came close, but the fact that Sony makes buyers choose between a great video camera that takes okay stills (the A7Sii) or a great stills camera that takes okay video (the A7Rii) was a deal-breaker for me. If I wanted a dedicated video camera, I’d use my Blackmagic Production 4K Camera (or, before that, my Panasonic AF100). I’ve been waiting for a camera that truly does it all, and I haven’t seen it.
As soon as I read the spec sheet for the GH5, I pre-ordered it. Consequently, mine was in the first batch shipped out on its official release date (March 30). I got it in my hot little hands yesterday, and I have to say it absolutely exceeds my expectations. Here are five things I already love about the Panasonic GH5.
1. High Quality Photos
It seems strange to be excited that a DSLR takes decent pictures, but a lot of video-oriented DSLRs only take photos in the 12 megapixel range. Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it for professional work. Not only does the GH5 generate generous 20 megapixel images (smaller than the 42MP images from the Sony A7Rii, but comparable to what I’ve been delivering with my 5D2), but – and this is great for vision-impaired people like me – it will fire the hotshoe while the electronic viewfinder is on. That may be normal for mirrorless cameras, but for years, I’ve been using the expanded focus EVF on the 5D2 to get critical focus, then turning Live View off to take the picture because the 5D2 won’t fire the hotshoe with Live View on. Even worse, on combination video + photo shoots, I’ve had to carry two cameras around. Now, I can do everything with one camera!
2. 4K Video At Variable Framerates
I bought the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera when it first came out because I wanted 4K (okay, actually UHD) capability and a sharp image. Unfortunately, the BMPC doesn’t do framerates over 30p. For all those times I wanted a dramatic slow-motion shot, I just had to deal with the fact that I couldn’t have it. Most other cameras in the sub-$4K price range offered variable framerates at the cost of sensor cropping or reduced resolution. Not the GH5! The GH5 will record 4K video at up to 60p. I can finally have my slow-mo shots, at full 4K resolution!
3. Crazy Custom White Balances
I’ve never seen anything like the custom white balance setting on the GH5. It’s more like a color-grading interface than a conventional white balance. But, if that’s too much, the camera can pull a balance off a neutral surface, or you have the option of the classic “cloudy day or sunny day” menu of options.
4. Burly Build Quality
In 1967, Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate” was told that one word would define the future: “plastic.” Sadly, that prediction was correct. We are surrounded by flimsy, plastic products that look and feel insubstantial. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Panasonic bucked that trend by building the GH5 with a hefty, metal body with beefy grips and buttons. BUT, thanks to the compact form factor, the camera is still light enough to put on a stabilizer and carry around all day.
Oh, autofocus, how I’ve missed you! Back in film school, we were taught that autofocus was for amateurs. That prejudice continued in the professional world. Autofocus (and, of course, auto-iris) was for HandyCams; real shooters used manual focus, and to ensure that they did, many cameras didn’t even offer the option of autofocus. While DSLR cameras tended to offer autofocus capability for stills, that functionality usually didn’t extend to video mode. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. While the GH5 is not the only camera to offer sophisticated focus tracking while recording video, the fact that it offers a variety of ways to accomplish something that I’ve been struggling with for years on other cameras makes me very happy!
I wanted to have a list of 5 things because it’s the GH5. But there’s so much to love about this camera! Here are three more critical features I’m excited about.
Low Light Capability
When you’re still using a 9-year old camera for evening shots because your new one can’t handle anything other than well-lit scenes, you know you’re in trouble. That’s the situation I’ve been in as I struggled with my Blackmagic 4K Production Camera for the last couple of years. Essentially limited to ISO 400, I spent a LOT of time trying to brighten up footage captured on-the-run in factories and other environments where bringing in lighting was not an option. For night shots, I would just give up and use my venerable 5D2. Now, FINALLY, I have a camera with some kind of modern low-light sensitivity. It may not be as much of a beast as the Sony A7S, but it’s a helluva lot better than anything I’ve used before.
I’ve been around long enough to remember when the first HD video cameras came out. They were $100,000. There was no way for regular people to capture footage at professional quality. Now, for $2,000 I can have a feature-set that would have been inconceivable at that time, and that allows me to shoot video that’s as good as anything, anywhere. There are no more excuses. The only barriers to quality production are creativity and skill.
Batteries & Media
Have I bad-mouthed my Blackmagic 4K Production Camera enough? Because I really hate those expensive, bulky SSD cards and overpriced, heavy V-mount batteries with the stupid adapters. Thank you, Panasonic, for letting me get back to using reasonably-priced batteries and SD cards!
And Much, Much More!
Oh, and don’t forget the waveform/histogram, the custom timecode, the digital level, the expanded focus, the uber-customizable menus, the touch-screen … It goes on and on.
But What About The Sensor?
When I first started talking to people about the GH5, the most common question I got was, “What about the smaller sensor?” Yes, the GH5’s Micro 4/3 sensor is smaller than the full-frame sensor on the Canon 5D series, or the Super 35 sensor on the Blackmagic Production Camera. But guess what … Those sensors are smaller than the 40mm medium-format sensor on the Hasselblad H6D. All those sensors are dwarfed by 70mm Panavision film cameras. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, it’s just different. With a fast lens (like the Lumix 12-35mm 2.8) and a little understanding of how depth of field works, I can get nice, blurred-background images with an M4/3 camera, while still enjoying the benefits of lighter, less-expensive equipment.
Whatever industry you work in, as long as you’re dealing with a limited budget, every piece of equipment is going to be a compromise in some way. The key is finding tools that give you everything you need with MOST of what you want. Would I like a full-frame sensor? Sure. But I don’t need it. I need 4K video at variable framerates, high-res stills, and the ability to get decent footage with available light. Add a few extras like autofocus and full-time EVF, all at a price that I can afford, and I’m a happy guy.
Let me put it this way. I very, very enthusiastically recommend the Panasonic GH5!