10.03.2017

A review of the GH5 camera after 15,000 exposures under all kinds of light, and a few hours of video thrown in as well.


I'm slowing winnowing my way toward minimalist gear status, when it comes to camera equipment. Rightly or wrongly I'm making the assumption that we're moving away from the "precious item" concept of photography to a different understanding of photography altogether. A period in which the photographic and video content and style are much more important than the ultimate qualities of traditional presentation. Now, whenever I say this a big swath of people get their panties in a bunch and tell me that they practice making beautiful and majestic prints as their art and don't give a rat's ass which way the trends bend. I try to gently remind them that my blog is not entitled, "The Leisure Photographic Life of Retired and Semi-retired Old Guys from Other Professions" rather it is called the Visual Science Lab and it's very clearly about the styles, times and trends that impact current commercial image making and multi-media. If you love making 20 x 30 inch prints, with inexhaustible detail and grandeur, of the "found objects" that catch your eye then that's what you should do but, unless you are the indefatigable Peter Lik,  I can pretty much assume you won't be making a living selling them....

My kid has one more year of college that I'm paying for so I make business decisions based on trying my best to read the hieroglyphics on the internet walls and adapt my business posture to at least sustain profits. 

In my latest shift (hopefully shifting with the market) I've purchased two GH5 cameras and a smattering of really good Olympus Pro series lenses (and Panasonic/Leica lenses) and have started using this system for pretty much everything that comes into the job queue. 

I never really feel comfortable writing about cameras until I've put in at least my first 10,000 shots so I've been relatively quiet here on the blog about making GH5 pronouncements. But looking at the image count across my two cameras over the last month and a half shows me that we're closing in on the 20,000 frame mark, and that doesn't include the work
I've done with the cameras in the video realm.  This work includes a couple of three day long corporate events/conferences, documentations of dress rehearsals at the theatre, portraits and video interviews. The most recent job was a mix of event photography and b-roll documentation in almost equal parts.

Why the GH5? The answer is pretty simple: It provides the best 4K video quality of any camera currently on the market for less than around $8,000 and does so with a full complement of very professional features, which include: 4K at 60 fps. 10 bit, 4:2:2 in camera at 4K up to 30 fps, the new firmware provides a much wanted selection of ALL-I file format choices, there is a waveform meter, there is a vector scope, there is a cost effective audio input and control solution, the camera has the second best image stabilization system in the photo universe, it has a full size HDMI connector and, for the all those who love em --- it has dual memory card slots. It also has batteries with bountiful capacity.  When I shoot video with this camera, if I've done my lighting correctly, it produces absolutely beautiful motion files. They are a step (or two) above the files from the Sony cameras I had been shooting. 

When I look through my billing to clients for the last 10 months the trajectory is pretty obvious, the jobs with the biggest payout are either all video or a combination of video and still photography, intermixed. This makes the video performance of my cameras very important to my continuing financial success, such as it is....

But doesn't the GH5 absolutely suck as a still photography camera? No. It's a very good still photography camera with lots of control and lots of control points. At the center of the technical assemblage is a 20 megapixel, micro four-thirds sensor that delivers very good performance. No, it is not as good at capturing low light images as the 42 megapixel sensor in the A7Rii and it might not be able to match that camera's long dynamic range but it is still a very competent sensor. In fact, it has a couple of performance points that, for some operators, deliver a different but equally compelling set of use features. 

The smaller sensor allows for faster readout which improves operational performance (9 frames per second with full AF and 12 fps with focus locked) and the lower resolution makes the files more manageable. The sensor size goes a long way towards enabling high performance image stabilization and is a key component in allowing higher imaging performance (more robust and weighty codecs) in the video space. But the same processing capability that provides top line video also delivers a higher degree of computational firepower for generating and optimizing still images. If the iPhone X is any indication computational photography goes a long way toward supplying an equalizer for competing with larger sensor size...

Every camera format is a compromise. A camera with a full frame sensor requires much bigger lenses in order to cover the sensor. The bigger lenses are heavier and harder to manufacture at very high tolerances. The bigger sensors require a smaller f-stop in order to match an m4:3rd sensor's depth of field at the same camera to focus distance. This requires either more light, a higher ISO, or a slower shutter speed to get the same kind of image. While very shallow depth of field is easier to achieve with FF cameras it is certainly not impossible for the smaller sensor cameras; it just requires faster lenses; which are easier to make for smaller chip geometries. 

The GH5 imaging sensor offers very good color and a high quality image, when used with good lenses. I am happy with every aspect of the camera's photographic performance when I use it correctly at ISOs up to 800 for normal work and am more than happy with any trade offs when used up to 1600 ISO for low light/available light capture. Faster ISO settings are possible but the ISO range above is where I am most comfortable. 

At the camera's base ISO of 200 I am satisfied by the wide range of photographic applications the camera can cover. 



But there is so much more to consider beyond just whether or not you'll be able to get eyes in focus but not noses and ears. Or whether you will be able to shoot in the dark...

While my most important considerations for a camera are its image quality and its video quality overall handling comes in a close third place. I find the GH5 to be almost exactly the right size for my hands. I have medium size hands and the camera might not be the first choice for photographers with enormous hands to fill. Conversely, it's a bit large for my wife's hands. The camera's layout is comfortable and convenient for people who have been plying the trade for a while. Almost everything falls right into place in actual use.

The camera is rounded and conventionally shaped and that's probably a good thing. While Sony cameras are an interesting design tangent there is probably a lot of common sense and good, time tested evolution that's led to a certain camera configuration (rounded corners, buttons in the right places)  that's most natural for the human hand. 

Some ding the GH5 for not being smaller overall but there seems to be an optimum size and shape that fits the most people most comfortably. Additionally, a bigger camera body allows for a bigger battery, a bigger, better EVF and enough internal space to allow for efficient, ongoing heat dissipation. Indeed, it's one of the few cameras on the market that can actually do 4K (and 5K!) video at high bit rates, for extended periods of time without a hint of overheating. A camera that runs cooler generates less image noise and is more reliable over time.


What is required for successful outcomes with this smaller format camera? I was speaking to a friend this morning and we were discussing how one could possibly prefer the smaller sensor GH5 over the sheer image quality of the Nikon D850 or Sony A7Rii. My reply was that when used correctly the difference, in so many final media destinations, is totally obscured by the actual deficiencies of the medium on which they are presented. If one used each camera correctly any small distinctions would be rendered more or less invisible. The number one and two parameters that one must absolutely get right with the smaller sensor camera are to nail the correct exposure while hitting perfect focus. 

If you get these two things right, and throw in correct white balance as well, you will go a very long way toward making cross format competitive files. A camera with a higher pixel count will usually deliver a more detailed file but there are so many variables that effect final quality, such as lens quality and accuracy of focus. Not to mention good handholding technique. In this regard the GH5 can be coupled with mediocre kit lenses and deliver mediocre performance or it can be coupled with top quality lenses and deliver stunning results. Any review that depends on the 12-60mm kit lens as part of the imaging evaluation chain (while it is a very decent lens for the price...) will come up with a lukewarm conclusion about the camera's performance just as using a kit lens on a Nikon D850 is almost insurance against that camera ever being able to show even half the resolution of which its sensor is capable.

For my image quality tests with the GH5 I used the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 lens. Images shot at ISO 200, using this lens at f4.0, are near perfect. With ample dynamic range. I expect I'd find similarly superior results with lenses such as the  Panasonic 42.5 Leica Nocticron and the Olympus 75mm 1.8 lens. As more and more superb lenses become available for this format the prowess of the complete imaging system comes more clearly in focus.


Still Photography. Here's what the GH5 does really well: I've been using several lenses over and over again. The Panasonic 42.5 f1.7 is one of my new favorites. It features in lens I.S. and also works in conjunction with the I.S. in the camera body. The kit lens, the 12-60mm f3.5-5.6 is also a "dual I.S." lens. When a lens with dual I.S. capability is used with the GH5 the image stabilization is extremely good. While the Olympus EM-1.2 is better the performance of the Panasonic, in a dual I.S. configuration, is not far behind. With practice I am able to routinely hold the camera rock steady for 10 seconds while shooting video clips. When taking photographs I am able to hand hold captures of non-moving objects as low as 1/4 of second with good sharpness. 

When using the Olympus Pro series lenses with I.S. I am getting equally good stabilization performance. At some point I will probably acquire an EM-1.2 body for those times when the combination of a Pro lens and that body together would give me enough stability to forgo a tripod in some tricky shooting situations. 

The GH5 has several settings for the shutter. You can select from: Auto, Mechanical, Electronic front curtain, and Fully Electronic. There are benefits and detractions with all. The mechanical shutter will get you the least amount of movement, or "rolling shutter" in an exposure. While a robust and reliable way of shooting this setting limits the highest shutter speed to 1/8,000th of a second and limits the frame rate to 9 fps (with full metering). It also has the most noise. 

The EFC (electronic front curtain) shutter eliminates a bit of the noise, all of any potential "shutter shock" and allows for a 1/16,000th shutter speed. The trade-off is that the scanning exposure exacerbates banding caused by non-continuous light sources, like some LEDs and nearly all fluorescent sources. I saw this very clearly in both this camera and the Sony A7Rii when photographing stage shows at Zach Theatre. Sometimes the lighting designers use banks of theatrical LEDs to light large areas, panels and backgrounds. When using fully electronic shutters both cameras will (predictably) give me horizontal banding on anything lit by these sources when shooting at shutter speeds at 1/125th of a second for higher. The problem with banding, at least in those situations, can be fixed by switching to the mechanical shutter. I have to stress that this is not a "problem" that happens with just these two cameras but is endemic to any camera using an electronic, "scanning" type of shutter.

The benefit that the GH5 delivers is the freedom to choose between the three options in order to best match your shooting situation. 

When shooting at an event with the GH5 I've come to appreciate the physical controls on the camera. The mode dial is straightforward as is the operational mode dial on the other side of the viewfinder hump. What I like best are the three buttons located just behind the shutter button and control wheel for aperture settings. These three buttons are in a row and each has a different feel so I can discriminate between them just by touch. The leftmost button actuates the WB menu and has a rounded design to it. The middle button brings up the ISO menu and the button itself has two raised points on it to identify it by touch. The button on the right is the EV compensation button and it is flat, making it easy to distinguish from its mates.

The Toggle. The GH5 has a good touchscreen but it also has a toggle control just below the MF/AF lock/hold button. I find it easier to move the focusing sensor points around with the toggle when the camera is up to my eye. If you'd rather use the toggle for a different function it can be re-programmed.

Speaking of re-programming buttons for different functions.... I find the typical menu driven button assignment on other cameras to be a pain in the butt, and the concept seems based on the idea that I already have a fixed vision for every function button on the camera and will sit down in one long session to program them. But nothing could be less logical. In my world the need to change a button assignment comes from a realization that occurs during actual operation; not while sitting in my pajamas in front of my computer. I'll realize that life would be easier if that button just beyond my shutter finger could be set to toggle peaking on or off. So, in the moment, I want to reset that function. With lesser cameras I would have to stop what I'm doing and hit the menu. With the GH5 I can just hold down the function button I've decided to change and in seconds the menu will appear with all my possible function choices for those buttons. Nice. Logical. Quick to apply. Even the toggle control can be changed this way.

Constant Preview versus Studio Flash. As I prep my Sony cameras for a portrait sessions, using flash in the studio, I have to remember to go into the menu and find the control for "Constant Preview" and turn off constant preview. If I use one camera it's on one page of the menu. If I use a different camera the setting is on a different page of the menu. When I'm in a rush it seem to disappear from the menu altogether. Not so on the GH5. When I put a remote trigger or a flash into the hotshoe it automatically turns off constant preview and gives me a bright finder image with which to compose. It's one less thing I have to think about and change as I'm doing my work. And I am certain that I am no different from most photographers when I admit that I've forgotten to turn the constant preview back on and wondered what the hell was going on with my finder image versus exposure. ...

Speaking of finder images... I've used most mirrorless cameras. My current blind spot is with Fuji but I've tested or shot with most Sonys, Olympus cameras and Panasonics. The EVF in this camera uses a 3680K-dot OLED screen. It's probably the best EVF I've ever used. It's the closest to an optical finder but it also offers a larger screen magnification than most DSLRs. In conjunction with things like zebras and focus peaking it is the most effective visualization and setting tool I can imagine. The rear screen is a 1.6K-dot OLED screen and it's perfectly fine for most purposes, such as setting menus. I suppose some could even be happy using it for composition, but I'll stick with the eye level viewing option.

In use shooting available light for events. I've had the good fortune to be able to shoot two different three day corporate events with the GH5 system in the last month. I had a three day shoot for AmeriCatalyst at the Omni/Barton Creek Conference Center in the first week of September and an event last week for WP Engine at the W Hotel in downtown Austin. Most of the photography falls into three categories: Shoot available light photos of the presenters on a lit stage (close ups, medium shots and wide shots), Shoot available light, candid images of attendees networking together during breaks, meals and social events and flash photography at evening events. I worked the first show with just the two GH5s and most typically with the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 on one camera and the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 on the other camera. 

I'm shooting from the audience toward the stage but in both cases the ballrooms were set up with round tables seating eight each. I could also shoot from the sides or the back of the room. I elected to use the EFC shutter setting because I could position myself in spots where the small amount of noise was not noticeable and I didn't have to deal with the possible banding that might have been caused by the interaction of the silent (electronic) shutter and the LED stage accent lights. I liked using the 40/150mm for as many people shots as possible because I could get close for almost head and shoulders crops but then back out for wider shots and two to three person shots. The 12-100mm was great for candids in crowded rooms where I needed to shoot wide sometimes and then, seconds later, shoot an interesting expression from across the room. 

When I shoot these kinds of business conferences I have to take into considerations what shutter speed I'll need in order to mostly stop subject motion in the frames. I want faces sharp and usually I want hands and gestures sharp but there is almost always a compromise between how much leeway your have and people with wildly kinetic hands. I've settled on 1/160th of a second for most people and, if the light levels are too low I can usually shoot at 1/125th while anticipating the moments in which people become static or reach the apex of their movement. This sets one corner of the exposure matrix. If I'm shooting at 1/160th handheld I can use either of these two lenses at their widest apertures and still be relatively certain to get sharp, contrasty images. If I'm at f2.8 then the only other controllable parameter is the ISO. If the light is good it's possible that I'll be able to ratchet down the ISO to 640. Usually, with stage lighting from my favorite staging company, I'll be in the general vicinity of ISO 800-1600. It's a very usable range and the noise is not at all disturbing. If it's a lesser production company and they are poor at stage lighting I sometimes need to go to the ISO 2000-3200 range, which makes me nervous but can be made to work. 

The secret is in the profile settings. And the metering (which we'll assume you are doing correctly). If I'm shooting at ISO 800 or below I tend to use the Standard profile and turn the sharpening down by one notch. I trust the noise reduction at these settings, I just want to take the edge off the sharpening and sharpening is, by far, the easiest thing to put back in post. When I start edging up the ISO past 800 I turn the sharpening down one more notch and then turn down the noise reduction one or two notches as well. The camera can be a little too aggressive with NR and tends to start plasticizing flesh tones. I'd rather see uniform, monochromatic noise than plastic wrap finishes. If needed I'll add back a bit of careful noise reduction in post. 

Both hotel properties had low light in the areas reserved for the breaks where many networking shots needed to be taken. I switched out lenses in both situations. I used the Panasonic 25mm f1.8 on one body and the Panasonic 42.5 f1.7 on the other body. I used both of the lenses wide open in order to limit depth of field. 

In nearly all situations the cameras and lenses performed well. The only issues I experienced were scenes where I had inadvertently under-exposed and ending up with files that needed to be boosted in post by more than one stop. In those situations the noise in the shadows became more obvious.

I have both cameras set up with custom focusing points. I use a tight grouping of four squares surrounding the central square in the finder. This mimics the way I have always worked with cameras and does away with inadvertent focus point changes inspired by my nose touching the rear screen.

Between the two shows I delivered nearly 3200 images across the two clients. All of the images started life as RAW files and were converted to Jpegs in Lightroom. Most just required small color tweaks or exposure adjustments, and there were a handful that benefitted from leveling.  In terms of images ruined by misfocus these two shows were new milestones of success. I've never had as few images ruined by the camera choosing to focus on something other than what I wanted to focus on. I don't generally use C-AF so I can't speak to any controversies about "disappointments" with continuous focusing. If C-AF is vital to your work then you should certainly audition the camera in person before purchasing.

Using the camera for still photography in studio settings. 
I've had several assignments for Zach Theatre since I bought the two cameras. One was for the "Singing in the Rain" postcards and posters and the second was for "Tuna Christmas." Both were shot against a white background using electronic flash. In both cases I set up flashes the way I usually do when shooting full length against white and used a flash trigger in the hot shoe of the GH5 to fire the flashes. In both instances I used the Olympus Pro 12-100mm f4.0 because it is beastly sharp at f5.6 and it's quick and easy to zoom out in case a pose requires two people with arms extended, and it's quick and easy to push in for fast, quirky headshots. 

I selected the same, tight focusing array and moved it, via the toggle, to put the AF marks in the area of the frame in which the actor's faces were situated. Since we had all the flash power I could want I was able to shoot everything at ISO 200, f5.6, and to shoot in raw. I color balanced via my Lastolite gray target and used the same target to set exposure. The result was a series of files that needed no exposure or color correction and which were essentially noise free. 

The focus was quick and accurate and the camera was highly responsive. I was never aware of hitting the RAW buffer while shooting either of the two studio assignments. Be aware though that I was using the new V60 cards which have very fast write times!

I would have no hesitation to use these cameras for any kind of studio work. Including the usual portraits.

Location Portraits. But speaking of portraits I was also called upon to do a portrait of a new partner at a law firm. We were carrying on the style I'd set for their portraits over a year ago. This calls for finding architecturally interesting backgrounds and photographing the subjects with a shallow enough depth of field so that all of the backgrounds go very much out of focus. The backgrounds become and impressionist blur. A cinch to do with the Sony A7Rii and the 135mm f2.0 but a little dicier this time around. For two reasons. 

First, there is the physics involved with the smaller sensor, but the biggest factor was that because the law firm was so busy within the timeframe we had allowed for the portrait work that we were relegated to a much smaller space than I'd used in the past. A real double whammy for someone actively trying for narrow DOF.  You want your subject close to the camera (well as close as a short telephoto will allow...) and the background as far away as you can get it...

I couldn't use the 12-100mm f4.0 because even wide open the short camera-to-subject and subject-to -background distances meant that too much was in focus. I switched to the 40-150mm f2.8 and wound up at 40mm and f2.8. Looking at the test shots I was a bit deflated and thought that the image was still a bit too crisp in the background. I considered separating the subject from the background in Photoshop and then blurring the background but I hate having to fake stuff I was easily able to do with my other system. I had a few minutes before the client was to walk into the session so I went and looked into my equipment bag to see if I could find more inspiration. And there it was....


My trusty, old, battered Olympus 40mm f1.4 lens for the original Pen FT film cameras! With Pen-to-m4:3 adapter!! I changed out lenses and set the aperture to f2.0. I asked a stand-in to, well...stand in and I started smiling. This was exactly the look I wanted. The shoot was a success and the ancient lens saved me from at least a half hour of retouching and re-compositing. As far as sharpness goes, that old lens stands up very well. 

I used a different variety of lenses, with the GH5, to work on another full day assignment of photographing unposed images of people in a populous insurance office. While I got some good use out of the two Olympus zooms I leaned more heavily on the two Panasonic primes I've been carrying; the 25mm and the 42.5mm. Both are centrally sharp wide open. This made them perfect for most of the assignment. I was able to catch people at their desks and, with narrow depth of field, drop out clutter in the backgrounds. 


Connectivity: I've always been a curmudgeon about instant delivery of camera files but that was back when I was invested in the last century idea of the photograph as one shining object of perfection rather than a series of informational frames. My most recent event client requested images of main tent speakers as quickly as possible after presentations. We talked about doing file "dumps" at the main breaks in the morning and afternoon, and then again at the end of the day. My angst came from a history of shooting raw and doing post processing before sending off files as Jpegs to clients. I hated giving up control and it takes time to transfer, edit and do even rudimentary post. 

My solution came in two ways. First, I found I was able to use the second card slot in the GH5 to accept smaller, compressed Jpeg files while shooting my usual RAWs to the first card slot. I could shoot for half a season, make sure to get good expressions and variations, shoot some video b-roll and then head to the temporary H.Q. where I would pull my memory card and upload all the small Jpegs directly to a Smugmug gallery where my client's social media director could review, select and upload images to Twitter, Instagram, etc. 

On the last day I also experimented with the Wi-Fi in the camera and found that I could have a continuous feed to my phone, or, better yet, to an iPad. The client could pull images as they came in, caption them and send them along to Smugmug. I could even create a watched folder and have the files automatically upload to the folder on Smugmug. You still want to have someone doing curation but it's an easy way to share while an event is in progress. 

The amazing thing to me is how simple and straightforward it was to set up a direct Wi-Fi network and connect. The software is easy to understand and set. It opens up a new idea of providing images for event clients. 

To wrap up my look at the GH5 as a still camera I'd have to say that it focuses quickly under nearly every scenario I can think of. It's easy to work with and the controls have a time-honored logic to them that I don't necessarily find with the Sony cameras. The build quality is exceptional. While I found myself babying the Sony A7Rii I intuitively felt that the GH5 would be rock solid for the long term. The images are not as high a resolution as my A7 cameras but I find it really doesn't matter at all for the bulk of my still imaging work. The files at 20 megapixels are quite capable of creating printed double-truck spreads and the color accuracy and dynamic range are perfectly suitable for 98% of commercial work. What if I need super high resolution? I'll rent a medium format digital camera and play around with it (billing the rental to the client, of course). 

The smaller system foot print is always welcome as the cameras and core lens system will fit nicely into my Amazon Basics Large Photo Backpack. The same backpack I used with much success on my working trip to Toronto earlier this year. The lenses that I've chosen so far seem flawless. I haven't written much about the 8-18mm Panasonic/Leica zoom but that's only because I'm not much of a wide angle user. I did spend an entire day with it on Sunday and loved the images I got from it. (much more below)>


See a few examples below:














click any of the above to see larger.

But my intention was never to buy the two GH5's, and thousands of dollars worth of lenses with the intention of just shooting photographs! No, in my estimation the reason to own the system is to gracefully and fluidly switch back and forth between photographs and video. Because that's what my clients are asking me to do more and more often. 

My three current uses for video with commercial clients: I'm not making movies over here. If I was I'd be trying to justify much more expensive gear to my CFO. Giant cameras with lots of knobs and meters and places to plug big stuff in.... But in reality I'd say I could probably do a decent job shooting an independent film with a couple of these GH5 cameras. But what do I really do with them, as far as motion pictures are concerned???

We recently did work for an advertising agency that wanted me to create video of a talent operating a medical information device for virtual reality in front of a green screen. Up until this point it seemed like many consumer cameras with HD and 4K were quite usable for some small scale commercial work but green screen and compositing requires a more persnickety level of technical perfection than most of the videos that we've done that are destined mostly for web distribution. The basic parameter the agency wanted was capture in 4K 10-bit, 4:2:2 and delivery as ProRes 422 files. Sadly, even with the Atomos Ninja Flame as a recorder non of my Sony cameras could deliver the goods. The only camera I had on hand at the time that, in conjunction with the Atomos, could deliver the real stuff was my lowly Panasonic FZ2500. It worked but I knew if I was going to do this kind of work on a routine basis that I'd want the performance I'd been reading about re: the GH5. 

The GH5 provides the technical performance outlined above while shooting internally. The bigger sensor gets me more DOF control while all of the tools that come in the camera make providing great footage easier than ever. The secret sauce is, of course, the much faster processors and their ability to create really wonderful video files at higher fps. More processing power means more computational correction and file enhancement.

Interviews: My favorite part of video (so far) is doing interviews. I love it. I've shot a number of interviews for my healthcare clients in locations as far away as Toronto, and Oklahoma City, and in most cases I am doing the production solo. With an occasional hand from the client or a friend of the VSL blog. The deluxe cases are when Ben is in town between semesters and I get to work with him.

Since I do a lot of solo interviews I have to be able to set up the camera quickly, light my scenes and get my audio situated. Having a camera with rich, clean video files is a big plus. I don't ever want to but if I get a little sloppy with my exposure/color technique a very robust codec can be a lifesaver in post production. 

I typically set up the camera on a tripod, light the scene and then hang a good microphone at the end of a boom pole, about 18 inches above and in front of the interviewee. I have them sit in position and we get the composition just right. Since I am shooting mostly in 4k I compose loosely so can crop and trim in post production. With my main light to my left and my camera on the right I know I'll get good "short" lighting that will be flattering for most of my subjects. Once that's all locked down I put on headphones and ask a few questions in order to set my audio levels. I've been using the GH5 with the audio set all the way down at -12 and having the microphone running into a Saramonic SmartRig+ to provide pre-amplification and phantom power. I'd buy the Panasonic audio attachment for the hotshoe but I'm getting such good audio with my $100 Saramonic Rig that I am loathe to change. 

I keep one ear covered with the headphones, just to listen for glitches and hums and keep the other ear open in order to be in the same aural space as my interviewee. It seems to work. They look at me instead of the camera and...voila.... we have video. 

Recently I got to work with my friend and associate, Nicole Shiro, on a project and I asked her to work as the interviewer. She was just as conversant about the subject and the questions we wanted to ask. This freed me up to actually handhold the camera and to operate with both ears covered by headphones (a luxury). The GH5+Olympus lens image stabilization were miraculous. I worked, shoulder mounted, for about five minutes and all of the footage is very usable. It's nice to have a less static camera look. 

All of my interviews are lit. Mostly with Aputure LightStorm LED panels and diffusion frame. This means I nearly always have the luxury of working at ISO 640 or below. Prime ISO levels for low noise, high quality footage from the GH5. 

Most of my interview work goes to the web but occasionally we use some of the footage for PSAs on TV. Because of this I've standardized on shooting at 29.97 fps. I'm not sold on using Log files for interior, lit footage so instead I generally use the camera's very nice Cinelike D profile, knocking down the sharpness just a bit and sometimes also using the highlight/shadow feature of the camera to boost the shadows and pull down the highlights. I use the lowest setting possible in the highlight/shadow feature.

In addition to the fact that the GH5 has some of the most detailed and beautifully rendered image files available in a consumer/pro-sumer camera it also has many features that endear it to budget filmmakers. These include zebras that you can set at many different levels in order to show overexposure or highlight burnout. There's killer focus peaking that actually works! And there's a waveform meter that allows pretty exacting exposure setting for moving pictures. The camera can generate color bars and offers a standard 1K audio tone so you can calibrate your camera recording to your pre-amp settings. 

There are so many other nice touches such as a full size HDMI plug for attaching the camera to an Atomos recorder/monitor, a headphone jack and a 3.5mm microphone jack that sits above the swiveling screen, allowing you to use the mic jack while self-indulgently selfie-ing. 

Event B-roll: This last week my conference clients needed the usual photographs but they were also looking for new additions to their in-house video library that would show conference attendees interacting and sharing, using informational kiosks, enjoying main tent sessions and asking questions of the panelists in breakout sessions. For this work I used a shoulder mount with the GH5, put on the 12-100mm and stuck a small microphone in the hot shoe. With the combination of the the shoulder mount, the density of the camera and lens, and the in-camera image stabilization I was able to shoot in HD comfortably and good results. Panning is an acquired skill and though I started out a bit choppy by the end of the second hour of intermittent videography I was getting the hang of smooth, continuous pans. 

The microphone was not intended to capture clean interview style audio but only to add a bit of audio texture and ambiance to the video. 

I shot the b-roll sequences in ten second to twenty second clips, strung them all together and delivered a 38 minute timeline of content in ProRes 422, but in HD. 

A Magic Conversion with Firmware 2.0: I've been reading and looking at samples from the early recipients of the firmware 2.0 update from Panasonic for the GH5. While the GH5 was already a very, very able camera 2.0 adds an amazing amount of very desirable features. Still photographers will appreciate that it makes C-AF faster and surer, tweaks the image quality a bit more and allows the camera to work with Lumix tether software.  But for video people the camera seems almost brand new. 

First, the geek stuff! Using the anamorphic setting (but without an anamorphic lens) you can shoot in real 5K video. The full frame. The entire 4:3 format. It is amazingly detailed. And there are very few cameras, other than Reds, Arris and big $$$$$ Sonys that can offer this. Yes, it requires big, fast V90 cards but you knew there was no such thing as a free ride....

Next up we now have a full menu of ALL-I codecs. Most consumer video cameras use a compression system wherein one frame contains all the information and subsequent frames just supply information that changes from what's in the master frame. The camera uses a lot of processing power interpolating just what should be in those partial frames. And your computer uses a lot of processing power filling in those blanks. If you hit a buffer and drops some frames it makes a nice glitch in your content. ALL-I means that every frame is written as a complete and freestanding frame. The two big benefits are the way ALL-I handles motion (without interpolation) which can vastly improve the "cadence" of motion in your material but it's also actually easier on your CPU even though the files are bigger. There's less to process.

What it all means is that this $2,000 is edging closer and closer to the performance and technical specs of cameras costing ten times and more. And it's not marketing gimmickry it's real features that add real quality and flexibility to your work and your workflow. 

What it all boils down to is how does this stuff look once you get it on the screen? While all of my experience in video is pre- firmware 2.0 I still have to say that the GH5 is a beautiful camera to shoot with. Flesh tones are rendered very attractively and the large 4K files are exquisitely detailed. 

More money will buy you bigger and bigger and less compressed files but the real question is will your audience be able to see a difference. 

For the work we do right now this camera is good enough for me to call it overkill. With a few more big projects under my belt and we'll catch up with it. In a year we'll hopefully have mastered the camera. But for the money it's pretty much the best compromise for people evenly split between making photographs and making video. It's good at both. Competent at both. But exemplary, at this price point, for video alone. Bargain. 


My advice to photographers who want to shoot with the GH5: Buy the best lenses you can and use them at their best apertures. You'll see a difference. Smaller pixels need higher resolution lenses and that's where lenses designed and made for the format earn their keep. 

Get to know the sharpness settings in the profiles and how they affect the look you want to achieve. Too much sharpness makes the cameras look less "deep" and detailed. Too little sharpness makes the files look mushy. Experiment to find the settings that work with the ISOs you use. If you have to err do it on the side of just a little less than you think and you can fix that in post. Sharpness settings make a remarkable difference in the look when using smaller sensor cameras. I learned this when getting used to the Sony RX series of cameras....

Smaller sensor cameras benefit from good technique and the right knowledge about your lens's optimum apertures. Learn which f-stops work best with which focal lengths and try to use them as much as possible. You'll be rewarded with more detail. The optimum aperture changes with focal length...

Try to stay at ISO 800 and below. The files just look better and have more dynamic range in that region. That's not to say you can't use the GH5 at higher ISOs, just don't expect it to make files that look like A7Sii files at 25,000 ISO. If you like to shoot in low light you'll want to look at the newer fast lenses on the market for the m4:3 format. I'm so close to picking up a Voightlander 42.5 f.95.....


My advice to videographers who want to shoot with the GH5: Buy the best lenses you can afford and try getting the fastest ones that are still sharp at the widest settings. If you want control over depth of field you'll be happier with f1.2 and f1.4 lenses than with f2.8 or slower, variable aperture lenses. 

If you like to shoot handheld consider getting a good shoulder mount. Even some of the cheap ones are much better than trying to hold the camera out in front of yourself with both hands. A good shoulder mount, in conjunction with the in body stabilization, will go a long way toward making your video more watchable. And everyone should have a decent tripod. Some stuff just begs to be locked down tight....

Consider getting either a pre-amp/recorder of some sort to enhance your audio experience or pony up the $400 for the Panasonic hot shoe audio device. They will always beat running your microphone straight into the 3.5mm socket and depending solely on the camera's internal pre-amplifier.

If you want to use the biggest ALL-I settings be sure to buy a big, reliable V90 memory card that's on the "approved" list from Panasonic. That or run your video into an Atomos Shogun Flame to get high density, ALL-I, 4K files at up to 60 fps. That stack of Sandisk, Lexar and Transcend SDXC cards hanging around on top of your desk? Not going to cut it like an SSD in the Atomos. Sorry. 

If you feel like you have to shoot Log then test, test, test and bone up on your color grading. In my estimation, unless you are shooting under full sun you have more time left in your life if you shoot your files the way you want to see them. Indoors and with lighting I'd never even consider messing with Log files. 

In conclusion I'd tell anyone who wants to shoot in m4:3 that they have two good choices. If they hate video and wish it wasn't even installed on their cameras they should ignore the GH5 and go straight to the Olympus EM-1.2. It's a marginally better stills only camera and the I.S. is unbeatable. The Pro lenses are incredible as well. 

If, on the other hand, you want to do more video, need to do more video, would make money doing video, be fulfilled doing video ---- and still want to do very good photographs then head over to the Panasonic camp and throw down your cash for a GH5. Sure, sure; if you are a Canon, Nikon or Fuji shooter who wants video you'll probably get something as good as the GH5 is right now but you'll no doubt be waiting a long time for it to hit the shelves. If you want to work right now, and you want the images to move, it's just time to change systems. 

Once you use a camera with a superb EVF and all the trim you'll never go back. 


The GH5 with Oly 40-150mm for AmeriCatalyst.
From a tech rehearsal of "Singing in the Rain." 



👍

23 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. So much useful information for working photo/videographers.

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  2. Great write up Kirk, I have to agree with pretty much everything, and I have the 42.5mm f0.95 and the 17.5mm f0.95 for those shallow DoF shots when I need them, however my most used lenses are the 12-40 and 40-150, then the 15mm f1.7 (that is a gem of a little lens).

    To support your point on larger files and formats. I recently shot an add on series of pans for All Clad, their team in the US had shot a few, and I had to produce some for Canada. The US photographer was using the 5dm4 and I was shooting with the EM5.2 Which shot is the first image you see on All-clad.ca? Not the FF image, but the lowly EM5.2 image. Does the client know or care? Nope.

    The ecosystem in m43rds is so well developed, I choose to use the Olympus products as I am very comfortable with their menus, handling colour etc. So while I am getting into video my primary focus is on the capture being as good as I can get it out of the box. Maybe one day I will benefit from the GH5 and up level, for now I am just using what I know :) however, when the day comes (if it comes) and can pick up a GH5 or Black Magic and continue to develop.

    Thanks for the info and the enjoyable read.

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  3. Brilliant, but I am sitting back with a beer and some popcorn waiting for the Full Frame Flamers to arrive and preach the gospel.

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  4. You've often mentioned your belief that getting the colour balance correct at capture is superior to fixing it in post.
    Do you use any particular tools or methods to establish the correct colour balance befor each capture?
    Thanks,
    AaronL.

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    1. Just set your white balance off of a gray card.

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  5. Hi AaronL, I'm a big believer in using white targets or Lastolite gray targets in conjunction with custom white balance for most things in interior spaces. I'll come into a room and pull out a target, make a custom WB and assign it. If I'm working all day long in two or three interiors I'll do a CWB for each space and assign it in camera, switching WB as I switch rooms.

    When I shoot outdoors I prefer to set a specific balance from the menu instead of AWB. If I'm shooting in direct sun the color changes less from shot to shot if I chose the little sun icon than with AWB. That means a lot less work later in post. If I'm in open shade I set the icon for that. I use the raw capability just to fine tune where needed.

    You can save four different custom white balances in your camera. For me, at events, it's one for the dominant stage lighting, one for the audience area, one for the breakout rooms and one for grins. It's so easy to white balance, and the WB affects exposure so why not do one?

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  6. Kirk
    This is by far the most comprehensive and knowledgeable camera review I have ever read. Most internet columnist leave me with little useful information, however reading your work is like advanced studies in photography. Thanks
    Dan

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  7. A tour de force of an article, Kirk. To be printed and referenced whenever needed.

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  8. What a wonderfully detailed review of not only the camera and lenses but the background information on producing videos and photographs. As someone who never worked as a professional photographer, this is a fascinating look at some of work and knowledge it takes to be a successful photographer in today’s business world. Thank you for sharing.

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  9. Thanks! I really appreciate the feedback.

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  10. Kirk: Thanks for the terrific review! I handled a GH5 today and liked it very much. Can you comment on the GH5 vs. the G85 as stills cameras? Handling? Image quality? Dynamic range? Thanks!

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  11. I'm with Daniel Walker. ...... ever read. Fantastic. After reading this I realize you are a photographer and I am a retired picture taker. I still enjoy it but I'm no where near your level. With that established, would the G85 be close in stills assuming I used better lenses?

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  12. Even a Thoroughly Retired Old Guy like me can appreciate the work that went into that one, as well as the experience and diligence which went into your appraisal of the GH5. Can't afford one, don't need one...but it sure does sound attractive.

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  13. Great article. I'm going to link to it in a video learners' thread for another camera (FF, but 4K using the super 35 part of the frame) where the community is still imaging folks, mostly amateur, starting to take video more seriously. I have E-M1.2, backed up with some M5.2s and the zooms that you like, plus the wonderful 75/1.8 that came out when the OM-D's first appeared and the very small PanaLeica 25/1.4. Haven't seen the need to go to the later, slightly faster and much heavier 25 or 45s. I find the M43 world doesn't have great wide angle offerings. That's where APS-C/Super35/FF comes through. But you're shooting interviews and stage, not skateboards and ski aerials...

    You've got me thinking that rather than getting a second E-M1.2, a GH5 at about the same cost, sharing the same set of Olympus lenses, would make sense. How crazy does it make you to shift from one camera with all of its buttons, to the other.?

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  14. "My reply was that when used correctly the difference, in so many final media destinations, is totally obscured by the actual deficiencies of the medium on which they are presented."

    Yes, exactly

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  15. Thanks for all the info Kirk. As an actual real working photographer who takes pictures of, generally, people for money I have been reluctant to spend more money and time moving too far into the smaller cameras. After all, I suffered creatively for many years and experienced money leakage when it had to be digital and not film because digital was cool or something.

    The biggest factor for me was the steadily improving high ISO made by the Big Companies. After all, shooting, literally, in a barn where I could get a clean ISO 6400, augmented with a little LED or weak pop of off camera flash was magic for me and the client as we moved from setup to setup. Cash flow improved as I was able to offer "library days" where we'd shoot lots instead of obsessing over a single tight comp.

    And I've been reluctant to jump into simple video as the DSLR hoops seemed manifold to me.

    It seems like things are really close now. It would be nice to shed some of the weight and be able to be in the front rows photographing the conference speaker as I have dreamed of doing for years (instead of using my manly sports glass from the back of the room).

    So if I can find a way to have close-to the high ISO capability I now have and good control of off camera flash (TTL need not apply, been happy with the Chinese system for about 5 years now) the grip Brand N has had on me since 1981 might just break.

    The real world thoroughness of your information is appreciated.

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  16. Wait. Let me get this straight. You didn't just handle the camera for a few hours at a company sponsored event and then bang out a review? You actually used the camera for real work? For real clients? You'll never get rich blogging like that.

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  17. Hi Kirk,
    Let me join in and agree with every one else that this is a great and thorough review. It gave me insight into my own needs and wants. Before and after I got my G-85 I wondered if I should get a GH-5 instead. Since I am not a professional, nor do I play one on TV (currently), I think after reading your review that my G-85 will do what needs to be done. It will take a while before I get to the top of the learning curve at which point I hope to see what the next step will be.
    Thanks,
    Fred

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  18. Kirk, this is easily one of the most thoughtful and useful review of a camera I’ve ever read. Thank you.

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  19. Nice article, Kirk! I appreciate your flexibility and being current with the demands of your profession and applying it to gear, art, and delivering for your clients. In general, we can't tell what you use. Your images are excellent, and photography and videography skills show through.

    GH5 and EM1.2 have reached a new level. I also made the jump back to M43. I started with the original G1 and made my way through several bodies and lenses. Then I spent 5 years with Canon FF. And now I'm back again.

    Interestingly, one of the reasons why I switched back is when I made a 18x24 print from a Canon G9x point and shoot (one inch sensor). The image printed well for a highly detailed landscape from a smaller-than-m43 sensor and a so-so lens in front of it. And then I rented an EM1.2 and a 25/1.2. That did it.

    A lens you ought to try, given your photographic style and subject matter, is the Olympus 25/1.2. It's really special, and I love the rendering, sharpness, and contrast even at f1.2.

    Cheers!

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  20. Thanks Kirk - it's nice to read a review by a "real" photographer! I'm most definitely an amateur but I've been doing photography for over 40 years, starting back in my early teens.

    I've shot a lot of systems over that time including 35mm and MF film, and in the digital era with Canon FF, Sony A7 FF and now m43. There is very little that I can't achieve with m43 compared to any of the systems I've used before but there are lots of things that m43 does for me that make photography so much more enjoyable. My main camera now is the E-M1.2 and it's without doubt the best camera I've ever owned. Paired with the Oly Pro lenses it delivers superb results.

    I have friends with Nikon and Canon FF who stare at their ISO 3200 images at 100% in LR and just can't get their heads around why I'd use such an inferior format where they can see noise doing the same thing. But that's not how anyone in the real-world makes or views photographs. The fact that your clients are completely happy with the results from your m43 kit speaks volumes.

    Some m43 users think it should remain a "small system" and believe the GH5 and the Pro lenses are a step in the wrong direction, but I don't agree. One of the great things about the system is that you chose a body/lens combo for practically anything you desire. The latest bodies from Panasonic & Olympus and the fast glass now available might be bigger than when the system was in its infancy but they are superb bits of kit that are still significantly smaller and lighter than any FF equivalent.

    So, keep up the evangelism and enthusiasm for your craft and thanks again for the writing!

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  21. Love that Olympus 12-100 f/4. It's an outstanding lens and stays on my GH5 most of the time. I really love the 75mm f/1.8 as well, but it's use is more limited for my subjects.

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