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The Panasonic GH4 review - 4k for 1.8K

 

4k, 4k, 4k, OK fine it's pretty. But is this early 4k m43 dslr ready for action? 

The Gh4 looks the same as the GH3, smells the same, acts the same. The main change really is the 4k. But they also gave some very interesting additions. 

This review will be focusing mostly on the video aspect of this photo/video camera.

The elephant in the room

Let's get this add-on unit out of the way, because i did not get a chance to test it, and don't see myself ever doing so. That being said, the size turns me off, that it has no battery compartment and needs power turns me off, and that it costs more than the camera turns me off. Oh yes i'm turned off by it, BUT, i still see it as a huge bonus, because if you find yourself in need of XLR/proper levels/4k outputs/etc... than you have a well integrated option for it. If you just need XLR however, there are quite a few other breakout boxes to choose from at a far smaller cost. 

4K, yes it's detailed

You have the option of 3840, or 4096, not a big difference either way. Some prefer the lower because it's exactly twice 1920 for scaling. Sharpness wise it looks like the GH4 resolves most if not all that detail (sorry, no test chart to confirm this)

Although you can shoot 1080 at a whopping 200mbit, shooting 4k and downsampling seems to result in a more detailed image (with arguably/technically more color information as well)

Speaking of bits, 4k you get at 100mbit, which is a pretty good number and it holds up quite nicely. Scenes with moderate to low movement are crisp, and high motion scenes don't have too much breakup.

Low light

My least favorite part. It's by no mean blind, but it appears weaker than much of the competition in the noise department. Underexposing is of course inadvisable on any camera, especially compressed ones, but the gh4 seems even a bit more sensitive to muddying up underexposed scenes. I was shooting a dark alley and estimating exposure for the lighting bolt i was expecting, and the dark portions were very muddy, even at iso 200. I feel the blame is at least in part due to using cine D with most options dialed down, and pulling a reverse S curve for shadow/highlight. This proved to be too much, i later dialed in settings which i felt got overall better results, including the low light/noise department which we'll get into next.

When exposing a scene overall properly, things look plenty good up to iso1600, higher can be usable, but depends on the scene/exposure/settings and of course your personal preference.

Picture Profiling, Sink included.

Aside from 4k, this is the biggest addition to the camera: the ability to mess with the image to your heart's content. But it's also a potential problem.

Let's list out the options:

-Base profile, with the usual options plus a Cine V(graded look), and Cine D (flat look)
-i.dynamic which gives you several levels of additional control
-i.resolution is a sort of selective sharpening
-Shadow/highlights allows you to make a custom curve with 10 steps for both
-And to boot you also have a master petal control.

What this adds up to is fantastic control for someone who knows how to use it, but a disaster for someone who may be used to other DSLRS and figures to dial down everything to get the flattest possible image.

Take the typical dslr which gives you a neutral/natural profile and a contrast adjustment, to get flat you'd dial it all the way down, not much issue. With the GH4, if you dial everything to flattest, it will turn very silly. Yes there is such a thing as too flat, and the gh4 is capable of blowing past that point. In particular, Cine D is the flat profile, and i saw many folks dialing the contrast within that profile all the way down, and i tried that for a time as well. Now i shoot cine D with at most -1 contrast. If you just compare the original Cine D and V, you can see that D is already very flat compared to V. Also keep in mind non of this amounts to a true log profile, but i've heard rumours of panny updating with one.

When trying to tune in the settings, my methodology isn't scientific, i point the camera at scene of varied contrast, and try to get something that looks natural to my eye, a tad flatter than vision, and try out each of the settings to see what is effective in keeping highlights in check.

Starting with the i.dynamic, i was very skeptical of the idea at first, but have started using it on standard, as it does seem to have an appreciable affect. Should you leave it on all the time? I haven't spent enough time with it to see if it would negatively affect any particular type of scene. But in general, if you already have a low contrast scene, It likely isn't necessary.

The highlight/shadow curves is something never seen in this level of camera, and is pretty great in theory. In playing around with it, i was looking to see just how much highlight can be brought back. I found that anything more than -2 was diminishing in returns. Shadow wise, the other settings already get the darks up plenty, and i either leave it at 0 or +1.

Master pedestal lets you dial your darks up or down. Bringing them up means lower contrast. I like it around 8, but it can go up to 16.

In all, the settings i've come to like for an overall flat profile, YMMV:

-Cine D, -1/-3/0/-2/0
-Curves: H-2, S+1
-i.dynamic: standard. i.resolution: low
-Master pedestal: +8

-0-255

Monitoring

The EVF is nice and crisp, but needs a better eyecup to get rid of extraneous light(par for the course). The swivel LCD is also pretty nice, but is not very big. I was pleased with it's visibility in daylight, it wasn't perfect, but it was usable. The full swivel is something that should be on every camera, it's far too useful not to have. 

You have some of the usual video tools: Zebras, Peaking, Histogram. They aren't perfect however. Peaking for some reason doesn't have red as a color option, and even on the high setting, i felt some situations needed stronger. The histogram is almost comical in how tiny it is, but hey, a tiny histo is better than no histo. 

Timelapse

The GH4 makes it very easy and convenient, no timer remote necessary. Now, timelapse isn't really video at all, and you could have produced '4k' timelapses over a decade ago with a digital camera. It's just easier now. With the GH4 you just set the interval, and how many total shots to take. You can even give it a time of day to start/stop. It can even make the video out of the stills, but not in RAW mode. And if you want far more flexibility in post, do it in RAW.

I ran into a glitch which boggled me for some time: If i set the interval to 1 frame per second, it would only record 1 frame every other second. The starting number would be correct, but the countdown of frames didn't match what was actually being recorded. After much tinkering, i figured out that it was a feature that i had enabled called shutter delay. This just delays taking the picture after you've pressed the button so that you can avoid camera shake from pressing the button. Smart feature, and i had it set to 1 second. What doesn't make sense is why it's applying that 1 second delay to timelapse, since i'm only pressing the button once. 

Lenses and Speedbooster

The m43 format has had many people for and against it. It came out when many were clamoring that full frame was the jesus christ of sensor sizes and that anything smaller was the antichrist, I on the otherhand really like the m43 format, as it has several advantages. 

For one, you can adapt a huge array of lenses to it. It's main disadvantage when it first came to market was a lack of fast wide lenses. Now there are many options, and on top of that we have the Speedbooster. If you're not familiar, the speedbooster is a focal reducer, which when used with a aps-c/fullframe lens on m43, shrinks the image to better fit the smaller sensor size, effectively giving a wider/proper field of view for that lens. And it has a great side effect: you get about a stop more light. 

One of my favorite advantages is super telephoto. I enjoy wildlife photography and getting in close is huge. Throw a 300mm full frame lens on m43 and it's now a 600mm equivalent. Macro? Even better: I caught flies in the act, and while watching flies f**k is like watching flies f**k, it's quite a bit more interesting in 4k macro.

Rolling Shutter

Yep, it's got that, unfortunately. Fortunately, it's fairly well controlled. I wouldn't peg it as good as the canon C cameras, but it's by no means down there with the early DSLRS, It's just somewhere in the middle, and i believe it will be perfectly good for most typical situations. Of course if you're a fan of shaky-cam, you should try it to see if it meets your needs.

Sum it up

If you're in the market for 4k, your choices are still fairly limited in 2014, especially so in the sub $2000 range. Sony A7s is fantastic at $2500, but needs an external recorder which at the moment the atomos shogun will set you back another $2000. If you want cheaper/simpler, the panny fz1000 is similar to an RX10 but with 4k recording (but no 24p). The Samsung NX1 was just announced, which is interesting with its h.265 codec, but uses its own lens mount which isn't quite as versitle and certainly not nearly as widespread and accepted as m43.

So that leaves the GH4 relatively unchallenged in its price range, and being that it's a capable performer, it's no surprise that it's selling very well. Yes the one thing that's holding me back from it is the low light, which i'll have to say again is not bad, but for my wants/needs/uses/etc... desire a stop or more improvement. But as i always say, it's up to your particular wants/needs/desires/etc..., so get to your local camera store or rental house and give it a feel for yourself.

Added on 2014-09-23 by
Darren Levine

Darren Levine

Stimulus Video

DP/Videographer, Video/Film Editor
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by Panasonic
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