Operation and controls

The GH4 carries on most of the GH3's controls but gives them an additional generational polish, which is no bad thing. The GH3 was a well-designed stills camera, with a substantial grip, twin dials and the level of direct control that you'd expect to encounter on a mid-level DSLR. White balance, ISO and Exposure compensation buttons are arranged across the top of the camera, while drive and autofocus modes both get dedicated controls.

Sadly, despite having a dedicated Exposure Comp button, the GH4 doesn't allow its use when using Auto ISO in Manual exposure mode. This means that, while it is possible to manually set shutter speed and aperture and let the camera select an appropriate ISO setting, you can't have any control over image brightness. This minor shortcoming in terms of stills shooting - the majority of cameras still don't get this right and most shooters don't mind - but it represents a much greater missed opportunity when shooting movies.

For the most part, though, the GH4 is a very pleasant camera to shoot with. A combination of touchscreen AF point selection and some fairly interesting custom point selection modes give plenty of options to help ensure the camera focuses on the correct subject. The company's innovative DFD technology that estimates the distance to an out-of-focus object based on an understanding of each lens's optical characteristics does a good job of improving continuous AF performance.

Functions that can be applied to the GH4's function buttons
 • Wi-Fi
 • Q/Menu
 • LVF/Monitor Switch
 • AF/AE Lock
 • AF-On
 • Preview
 • One Push AE
 • Touch AE
 • Level Gauge
 • Focus Area Set
 • Zoom Control
 • 1 Shot Raw + JPEG
 • 1 Shot Spot Metering
 • Cursor Button Lock
 • Photo Style
 • Aspect Ratio
 • Picture Size
 • Quality
 • AFS/AFF
 • Metering Mode
 • Burst Rate
 • Auto Bracket
 • Self Timer
 • Highlight Shadow
 • i.Dynamic
 • i.Resolution
 • HDR
 • Electronic Shutter
 • Flash Mode
 • Flash Adjust
 • Ex. Tele Conv.
 • Digital Zoom
 • Stabilizer
 • Motion Pic. Rec Format
 • Motion Pic. Rec Quality
 • Variable Frame Rate
 • Picture Mode
 • Synchro Scan
 • Time Code Display
 • Mic. Directivity Adjust
 • Color Bars
 • Silent Mode
 • Peaking
 • Histogram
 • Guide Line
 • Zebra Pattern
 • Monochrome Live View
 • Rec Area
 • Video-Priority Display
 • Step Zoom
 • Zoom Speed
 • Touch Screen
 • AF Mode/MF
 • Restore to Default

The GH4's five physical customizable buttons, combined with an additional five touchscreen positions make it possible to gain easy access to all the shooting options you might want. For instance, if you prefer to use the four-way controller to position the AF point when your eye is to the viewfinder, you can set one button to be 'Focus Area Set' to avoid the multiple button presses of the 'AF Mode/MF' option (The default setting for Fn 3).

The GH4 also has one of the smartest combinations of touchscreen and viewfinder we've seen. The option exists to allow you to continue to use the touchscreen to position the AF point while looking through the viewfinder. More importantly, you get to choose whether touching the screen makes the AF point jump to the corresponding position in the viewfinder (Exact mode) or whether it merely moves from its current position, based on the direction you swipe your finger (Offset mode).

Q.Menu

The default Q.Menu ranges 13 options along the top and bottom of the screen.

Some of us found the way the four-way controller operates this menu can make it slightly fiddly.

The default Panasonic Q.Menu isn't the prettiest system - ranging 13 settings along the top and bottom of the screen. More awkwardly, pressing left and right scrolls through them, meaning you constantly jump between options at the top of the screen (which you need to press 'down' to adjust) and the bottom (where you need to push the 'up' direction), which can be oddly disorientating if you're trying to operate the camera quickly.

Changing the Q.Menu setting in the Custom menu (Page 7, Option 2), from Preset to Custom gives a customizable menu.

This custom version offers two pages, each with five positions into which your chosen settings can be placed. Pressing the 'Q' button at the bottom left allows you to change them.
• Photo Style
• Picture Setting
• Quality
• AFS/AFF
• Metering Mode
• Burst Rate
• Auto Bracket
• Self Timer
• i.Dynamic
• i.Resolution
• HDR
• Electronic Shutter
• Flash Mode
• Flash Adjust
• Ex. Tele Conv.
• Digital Zoom
• Stabilizer
• Motion Pic. Rec Format
• Motion Pic. Rec Quality
• Variable Frame Rate
• Picture Mode (Movies/Stills)
• Synchro Scan
• Time Code Display
• Silent Mode
• Peaking
• Histogram
• Guide Line
• Zebra Pattern
• Monochrome Live View
• Rec Area
• Video-Priority Display
• Step Zoom
• Zoom Speed
• Touch Screen
• AD Mode

Thankfully there's also a menu setting that instead gives you a customizable Q.Menu. This lets you drag-and-drop settings into two pages of five on-screen buttons. This instance of the Q.Menu always re-opens on the previously-used page, so it can be useful to set one page up for stills options and the other for movies.

A third means of changing settings is the camera's 'Recording information' mode, which sets out most of the camera's current parameters on the screen.

On this display mode, settings can be chosen by pressing the Q.Menu button or by tapping on the relevant setting using the touchscreen.

Video

Where the GH4's ergonomics shine, though, is on the video side of things. It's clear Panasonic has spent considerable time thinking about camera operation by videographers, which makes a pleasant change from those models that simply have a red [REC] button and the option to turn on a wind-cut filter.

While on some cameras the ability to assign functions to a touchscreen menu can make it feel like the camera hasn't got enough hard buttons, on the GH4 it feels like a more conscious choice. The use of the touchscreen can be made an integral part of the camera's shooting experience. Engage the camera's 'Silent Operation' mode in the video mode and a tab is added to the touchscreen controls that allows swiped control of settings such as gain, exposure comp and mic level.

We were a little disappointed to find you can't set Auto ISO when shooting manual exposure video. We suspect many first-time videographers would like to be able to specify the shutter speed and aperture and let the camera adjust sensitivity (ideally with exposure comp to be able to control brightness). Instead you have no choice but to continue to manually adjust ISO throughout a shoot, or switch to either S or A mode and lose control over either depth-of-field or the way motion is represented.