The G95 is being promoted as a video and stills camera, yet its video is more heavily cropped than the G85's was.

Thanks to its groundbreaking GH series of cameras, Panasonic has developed a reputation for being one of the strongest brands for consumer video. But the release of the Lumix DC-G95 (known as the G90 outside North America) just draws attention to the fact that brand perception doesn't necessarily convey those qualities across the lineup.

We've got used to Panasonic cameras delivering 4K capture from crops of their sensors but it's beginning to look especially egregious on the G95 for a number of reasons. For a start, we know that Panasonic can do better: the G9 proves that the company is able to provide full-width video. Secondly, Panasonic is explicitly pitching this camera for video as well as stills (the addition of headphone socket and V-LogL speak just as loudly as the press release, in this respect).

But, most pressingly, the standard of the competition has risen: the Fujifilm X-T30 can shoot 4K/30p from a much larger sensor region with no crop (and none of the rolling shutter that holds back Sony's offering in the class).

The challenges/balances of 4K video

This isn't easy, of course. Every manufacturer faces a series of challenges (mainly in terms of processing power, battery consumption, heat generation and rolling shutter), and there are various solutions to this problem.

We've tried to summarize the trade-offs that each possible solution brings:

Detail level Noise performance Angle of view Processing demand
Full-width Oversampling High High Minimal crop Highest
Pixel Binning Moderate High Minimal crop Moderate
Line Skipping Low (risks moiré) Low Minimal crop Low
Cropped Oversampling High Moderate Some crop High
1:1 Capture Moderate Low Some crop Low

The G95 essentially takes the fifth option here: using a central chunk of its sensor to capture roughly the number of pixels required to produce its 3840 x 2160 video. This isn't very demanding in terms of processing, so its rolling shutter performance is good and you'll very rarely need to worry about overheating. But there are significant drawbacks, too.

The G95 / G90 already has a sensor that's smaller than its APS-C peers, using less than half of it in 4K video mode (area indicated in blue) puts it at a further disadvantage.

The first is angle of view. The roughly 4100 x 2300 pixel region of its 20MP sensor that is used for 4K is pretty small: imposing a significant 1.25x crop. This means that the 12mm 'wide' end of the kit zoom ends up giving an angle of view closer to a 30mm lens on full frame, rather than the usefully wide 24mm equiv. it'll give you in stills mode. That's likely to be a major creative restriction.

Worse still is the effect on image quality and noise performance. Only using a crop of a sensor is, in essence, the same as using a smaller-sensored camera. The G95 uses a sensor region nearer that of a 1"-type sensor, which means you get noise performance comparable to a smaller (and probably cheaper) camera.

Reality ≠ reputation

Panasonic is far from alone in offering cameras with disappointing video, despite being well thought-of in this regard. Canon built a reputation for video with its EOS 5D II, but appears to have struggled to live up to it (in its consumer cameras at least). Even Sony, which was first to provide video features such as Log capture seems stuck with 8-bit capture at a time when other brands are providing 10-bit and is still introducing cameras with significant rolling shutter. And, though Fujifilm is beginning to build a reputation for great video, it's still happy to promote some models as having '4K' when they can only shoot a pitiful 15 frame per second.

Why is this suddenly a big deal?

There are still plenty of people who are adamant that they don't want video, and perhaps there's something inherently unfair about expecting every aspect of a new model to exceed the best performance we've seen in its class (rather than just showing strengths and weaknesses relative to each specific rival). But to our eyes, the increased crop of the G95's video doesn't fit with our expectations of a contemporary camera being pitched as a stills / video tool. Especially not compared to a camera it nominally sits above, and from a company that trades to a degree on its video expertise.