Panasonic GH5 First Impressions

By Dale Baskin

Panasonic’s GH series has consistently pushed our expectations for what a still camera can do when it comes to video. The GH5 kicks this up a notch, making a no-holds-barred statement that the GH series once again means to be the reference against which other cameras are measured.

Like its predecessors, the Panasonic GH5 promises to push the limits of video capabilities in a hybrid stills/video camera.

Impressive specifications

When shooting 4K video, the GH5 doesn’t fall back on the easy trick of using a 4K crop from the center of its sensor. Instead, it uses the full width of the sensor to capture video, then down samples to 4K in-camera. It’s not the first camera to do this, but when we combine this with a couple other specs things get more interesting.

Resolution and detail are only half the story. What matters just as much is the data behind the detail. For the past few years, cameras in this class have been limited to recording 4:2:0 color and 8-bit files internally. In contrast, the GH5 can record 4:2:2 color, which captures twice as much color information. This should result in more detail, provide improved performance for applications like chroma keying that depend on edge detail, and stand up better to color grading.

The GH5 can also shoot 10-bit video in most, though not all, modes. Raw video isn’t yet an option on this class of camera, so those extra bits are really important, since it means you’re collecting 64 times as much color depth as with 8-bit video. The resulting files should provide much more flexibility during post processing, especially if you’re using Log footage.

These numbers probably don’t matter to someone shooting cat videos for YouTube, but for a camera aimed at enthusiasts and pros they're a big deal.

Pro features

The GH5 is a powerhouse on the spec sheet, but Panasonic has also included a number of pro video features to allow users to take advantage of those impressive specs.

For example, the GH5 includes waveforms and vector scopes. Without the benefit of Raw capture, getting things like exposure and white balance correct straight out of camera is critical when shooting video. These tools make it easier to evaluate things such as brightness within a scene or whether skin tones are being recorded correctly.

Advanced video tools like vectorscope displays allow one to judge the distribution and accuracy of color in a shot. This vectorscope is showing our studio test scene in Final Cut Pro X.

The camera also includes tools to support Log video. Log video is becoming more common on cameras, but the GH5 allows users to upload LUTs (lookup tables) onto the camera. LUTs can be used while shooting to provide an approximation of what final, graded footage will look like, even while capturing Log video.

Then there’s audio, which is consistently a weak spot on still cameras. While this is technically true of the GH5 as well, Panasonic has introduced the optional DMW-XLR1 microphone adapter with proper XLR inputs and sound controls, and which should make a video pro will feel right at home.

There are other examples as well, including hybrid Log gamma, the new Focus Transition function, 5-axis dual image stabilization, and HD frame rates up to 180 fps, but you get the idea. Of course, all these features aren’t exclusive to the GH5, but a number of them are, and it’s the complete package of video tools which makes the camera compelling.

It takes pictures too!

With all the focus on video, it's easy to forget that the Panasonic GH5 promises to be a great stills camera as well.

Let’s be honest, most people who buy a GH5 are probably doing so for its video features. That said, let’s not forget that this is camera takes stills too. In fact, Panasonic appears to have put a lot of effort into improving still image performance on this model, promising improved detail in photos as well as richer, more natural colors.

We won’t know just how good image quality is until we’ve have a chance to fully test the camera, but from our limited experience it looks like the GH5 has made some tangible improvements in this area. Also, thanks to a much improved Depth from Defocus autofocus system and 6K Photo mode, it should prove to be a very flexible tool.

First Impressions

I’ve had limited time with the GH5 to this point, but from what I’ve seen I’m enthusiastic. Panasonic has clearly listened to users, and the GH5 provides real usability and performance improvements. Additionally, Panasonic doesn’t seem to be afraid to blur the line between its still camera and pro video product lines, borrowing features where needed to create a well-balanced tool.

When the GH4 came out over two years ago it quickly became a reference standard within its class for video. Other cameras have since caught up with it, and in some respects surpassed it, but it’s an achievement that the GH4 is still very relevant over two years into its lifecycle, and remains one of our go-to cameras for video.

I think the GH5 has the potential to repeat this performance. There are other cameras that match its video features here and there, but it’s the total package that's really impressive. If history is any indication, the GH5 will push other manufacturers to innovate and improve video features on their cameras as well.

Current GH4 users, as well as anyone looking to get into serious video, will probably want to consider the GH5. In fact, for GH4 users, this isn’t just a camera that does everything your current camera can do, plus a bunch of other things. This is a camera that does everything your current camera can do, but better… plus a bunch of other things. Kudos to Panasonic for pushing the market forward.