19 May 2017
Ask any self-respecting videographer what they think of the existing Panasonic Lumix GH4 and, on the whole, you’ll receive glowing reviews. From the handy form factor to its 4K resolution, the GH4 can be considered a resounding success. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that its successor, the Panasonic Lumix GH5, is also highly rated by video shooters. But what about those of us who primarily shoot stills?
Thankfully, the GH4’s video success doesn’t mean that Panasonic has forgotten those who prefer their images somewhat more static when it comes to the GH5. Granted, the headline feature of 4K 60p/50p 4:2:2 10-bit video recording is a prominent one (albeit using an external recorder - 25/30p internal), but there are plenty of features that, as a stills photographer, should also grab your eye. There’s the 20.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor and the Venus Engine 10 image processor to whet your appetite. How about the 12fps burst mode, and fast 225-point autofocus with improved Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology for those capturing fast action? If that doesn’t grab you then the GH5’s 6K Photo mode will accommodate your trigger finger to the tune of up to 30fps, or the in-camera retouching, WiFi, Bluetooth and Picture Styles might tempt those with a need for connectivity and instant uploading. Failing all of the above there’s always the GH5’s in-body 5-axis Dual IS II shake reduction system, which allows up to five stops of shake reduction. On paper all very impressive indeed, but what’s the Lumix GH5 actually like to use, out in the real world?
Anyone au fait with the GH4 should feel immediately at home with the GH5. The basic layout of the buttons and dials is familiar, although the GH5 is slightly bigger, and noticeably heavier at 725g, body only, as opposed to the GH4’s svelt 560g. For anyone coming to the GH5 from a digital SLR, this extra bulk is somewhat reassuring (backed up by the camera’s splash- and dust-sealing), although if your reasons for sizing down are to lighten the load then the GH5 probably isn’t the best candidate. For comparison, it weighs about the same as a Canon EOS 80D or Nikon D7500.
The camera’s top plate houses two control dials; a drive selector and mode dial, the latter of which is locked and unlocked with a press of a button in the dial’s centre. Alongside the mode selector, the exposure compensation, White Balance and ISO buttons are all ergonomically placed for quick adjustment, with two scroll wheels – top and back – adjusting the settings. The video record button also lives up top now, having moved from the camera’s rear.
At the back, the large 3.2-inch vari-angle LCD touchscreen occupies prime real estate – more on this to come. There’s a new thumbstick control next to the autofocus selector, allowing for fast and easy AF point adjustment, and the large rotation dial surrounding the menu button is well-positioned for ease of use. No less than three rear- and one top-mounted function buttons are present too, so those who wish to configure the GH5 for their own devices are catered for.
Ergonomically, I found using the GH5 quite refreshing. There are typically two types of digital camera – those that are described as ‘retro-styled’ which offer plenty of physical dials and switches, and those that are more ‘modern’ in design, but keep the controls hidden away within digital menus. The GH5 bucks the trend in that it’s a sturdy, modern-looking camera with an abundance of tactile controls. Somehow it manages this without looking or feeling cluttered too. Bravo Panasonic, bravo.
Should you prefer to use the touchscreen display to control the GH5, you can, and it’s reasonably intuitive – there are the usual swipe, pinch and zoom controls. You can also tap to select and position the focus point (AF mode dependant), which I found sped up the process when shooting from a tripod (conversely, with the camera to your eye the control stick is the easier option). The articulating mount makes it handy for shooting at all angles, too. Its 1,620k-dot resolution is impressively detailed and renders colours brilliantly. In fact, it’s only overshadowed in the performance department by the 0.76x magnification 3,680k-dot OLED viewfinder above, which is very responsive, and a joy to use.
Autofocus is traditionally one area in which the performance gap between mirrorless models and their single lens reflex counterparts expands. There’s a contrast-detect system within, but the GH5’s improved Depth From Defocus technology helps to boost AF speeds of up to 0.05 seconds. That sounds pretty fast to me, and in practice, I didn’t find the GH5 lacking – only in bright backlighting, or when caught out by sudden extreme highlights did it falter. When using the single-point AF mode, the touch-to-place feature on the LCD touchscreen is very good, with a smaller zoomed display helping you position the AF point exactly. With 225 AF points, there’s a good spread across the whole of the sensor, too.
As mentioned earlier, one of the GH5’s stand out features for handheld shooting is the in-body five-axis stabilisation. It sounds good – and it is. The new system offers two levels of stabilisation – a hybrid system that uses both the in-body five-axis IS and in-lens dual-axis IS together (with compatible lenses), or the standalone five-axis in-body system with any other lens. Haphazardly straying from the reciprocal rule is no longer a gamble in sharpness – you can consistently shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds with GH5, especially at longer focal lengths.
So, what’s the performance actually like? The 20.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor can capture up to 12fps stills in AFS mode, or 9fps in AFC mode, which is on par with the high-end digital SLRs of today. If you’re pixel peeping, then the GH5’s smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor does lose out slightly to the competition in terms of image cleanliness, although the Venus Engine 10 processor does help the smaller sensor to deliver great quality images, with good colour rendition and detail – the lack of anti-aliasing filter contributing to the latter, no doubt. Dynamic range is good too, with detail recoverable from areas of heavy shadow, providing you shoot in Raw, of course.
The GH5 also features a 6K Photo mode, which records bursts of 18-megapixel equivalent images at 30fps, allowing you to pick out the perfect moments from each burst. This must be done in-camera, however, with the GH5 saving the chosen frames as JPEGS. It’s a nice feature for amateurs wanting to ensure they record an exact moment – a kid’s sports day, for example – but I can’t see enthusiasts and pros using this feature as much simply because of the lack of Raw support.
The ISO sensitivity scales from 200 up to 25600 for stills. For landscape work, from a tripod, it’d be nice if the ISO went lower, and you’ll find yourself reaching for the filters, or stopping down further than you’d like to record long exposures in anything approaching daylight. Image quality at ISO 800 is still perfectly acceptable, although noise has crept in by ISO 1600, and you’re looking at a mild snowstorm by ISO 12800 and an artist’s impression of a heavy snowstorm by ISO 25600.
All considered, there’s a lot to like about the Panasonic Lumix GH5. For GH4 users it will feel more like an evolution than a revolution – Panasonic haven’t reinvented the wheel here, but they have built upon an existing concept that works and added some really nice touches along the way. For video, it remains one of the best 4K-equipped small form factor options on the market. As a stills camera alone, it’s not perfect, but if you’re a video shooter who wants to capture stills too, or a stills photographer moving into the big, scary world of video then there are few better options out there.