I was supposed to buy the Panasonic GH5S as a video camera but several assignments.and some personal work say otherwise.

The Pecan Street Festival. Austin, Texas.

My intention in buying a Panasonic GH5S was to take advantage of its video capabilities to make my work in motion art easier and of greater quality. I have to be quick to acknowledge that it is a great little video camera. It make video files that are transcendent when compared to all the hybrid constructions of  photography cameras that also offer video features. Equal parts of its magic are its relatively unique sensor and the camera's color science (a phrase that gets bandied about a lot these days but to me means that the makers got the tonal rendition and the way the camera handles color just right). When I make video with the camera I am consistently amazed at how lifelike; or photographic, the video looks when  I edit it on a nice monitor. 

But I have found that the same image painting qualities that make it a superb (even subversively good) video camera also extend to its ability to make photographs that have their own unique look and feel. This in spite of the camera's general dismissal by the hordes, throngs and mobs of literal minded photographers who can't seem to get beyond the fact that the sensor captures a mere 10 megapixels of information and also bucks the crutchy trend of having image stabilization at the ready in all situations.

I spent my afternoon yesterday getting more acquainted with the camera as a street shooting device after having shot two different assignments at the theater, in which it's low resolution and conversely good high ISO noise performance made the output a near perfect blend. I've bent the rules of compulsory photographic reliance on in camera image stabilization by pairing the camera during low light photography with a fine lens that features its own image stabilization. This allows me to disregard the obsession with one feature among many in order to concentrate on the actual visual performance of the camera. In a word, it's wonderful. 

Many are quick to disregard the GH5S as a still imaging device because, in light of today's plethora of ever higher resolution models that compete with it, the GH5S is seen as being hampered by a "low" pixel count. I find this funny in an age where so much photographic work is only seen on the screens of telephones; and then only for the briefest moment. As a demographic photographers are hobbled by only seeming to appreciate specifications that have numbers and scales attached. The subjectivity of color and the lack of language effectively describing the ideas of tonality mean that useful things such as the holistic look and feel of an image are lost in the compulsion to measure and compare things that really do have much less of an effect on the success or failure of a photograph. 

I remember so vividly, growing up, when the sole measure of a car's worth was its horsepower specification; no matter that one car might have a few thousand pounds less weight to drag around or that some cars with less horsepower were engineered to be a much better and more exhilarating driving experience. I'm finding more and more often that cameras suffer the same myopic fixation with single measurement glorification. The thing that makes a camera like the Nikon D 850 a very good image maker has much less to do with its overall resolution than the perspective about color and tone that Nikon's engineers bring to the mix. But the making of digital cameras is really still in its toddler-hood so I guess we can't expect a more mature assessment just yet. When we look back in a decade I assume I'll experience a sense of deja vu similar to that which I experience now when I look back at the files I used to routinely get from a Kodak D760; that the quality of the images belied its meager specifications and instead depended upon the interconnection and the judicious blend of all its specifications. 

Just ask any Fuji or Olympus camera owner and they'll tell you the same truth...

So, here's what I like about the GH5S as a video camera: The image, especially when shot in 4K and edited as 1080p, is extremely good. Even wildly good. Its ability to nail white balance is easily as good as any camera I've seen, and the controls are straightforward and well laid out in the menus. Add to this a great battery life and a well thought out audio accessory and you've got a perfect video camera for a one person crew.

So, here's what I like about the GH5S as a photography camera: The color palette is canned automatic fin art. I don't mean that in a perjorative way it's just that most files that I pull out of the camera are beautiful as visual simulated objects. Just sweet and nicely natural. The camera can be slow to respond when I use it in the raw format and I suspect it's because the files are 14 bit and much larger than I expected them to be. But, on the other hand, the autofocus is faster and surer than I thought it would be, even more so since I'm not using it (typically) with DFD lenses. I also like to use it with manual focus, legacy lenses because the focus peaking feature has proven to be so accurate. 

I find myself using it more and more if I know the client's target is screen oriented. But even as I type that I have done several larger (12 by 18 inch) prints that have turned out well. 

I bought the camera to use as a video camera but am now pressing it into service for my personal work and many assignments. It's smaller Jpeg files are a boon to a super-fast workflow in events and newsy assignments. Finally, the camera is beautifully sized and constructed, making it feel just right in my hands. 

I must give credit to the Nikon D700 for showing me the light. The "light" being the realization that there is so much more to good images than the race for higher resolution. That, and the fact that lower resolution cameras with bigger pixels have a look all their own. A look that usually resonates well with my style of photographing. 


Len Metcalf said...

Yes... why should we pushed into a race that marketers have chosen as an easy sell. I must admit I am tempted.

My dream camera, a ten meg monochrome sensor in my EM1 body.

I am sure you are the first person I have read describing the beautiful still files this camera produces... thank you...

Anthony Bridges said...

I have Canon, Fuji and Olympus cameras. The camera that has the best white balance for my tastes is the Olympus OMD EM5II. I rarely have to do color correction in post with that camera. My Canon 5DIII requires more work to get the colors right.