Let's talk about the Panasonic GH5. A blast from the recent past.

Day of the Dead mural on East 5th Street.
Raise your hand if your hybrid camera can shoot 60 frames per second and record 10 bit, 4:2:2 from the full width of your camera's sensor. Now raise your hand if your state-of-the-art camera can record in an ALL-I format. Now raise your hand if your camera provides both a vector scope and a waveform. Now raise your hand if your camera can shoot as long as the battery lasts without ever, ever overheating. Now raise your hand if the combination of your camera and your favorite lens is light enough to use on an affordable gimbal. Raise your hand if your camera has highly competitive image stabilization. How about an audio interface that will give you two phantom powered, XLR inputs. And can it do all this while writing to the two UHS-II internal memory cards?

Exercise complete? Now imagine that this camera is available right now and only costs $1295. Oh, and it also takes really great photographs and works with an enormous range of dedicated and adaptable lenses. 

If you don't own a Panasonic GH5 your hand has probably been down by your side for a while now. 

Random office buildings and blue sky.

So, while everyone seems to have been chasing higher and higher resolution sensors, paying a bundle for nearly unusable 8K video, learned to warm their chilly hands by the glow of their flaming hot cameras, the users of the three year old Panasonic Lumix GH5 have been holding fast and making great video and are still waiting for someone else not to exceed the features and performance of this little camera but just to match them.

If you never shoot video and you love the look of full frame sensors for your photographic work you can probably just click over to something on YouTube and ignore this particular blog but, if you take your video work very seriously, in spite of having a less amazing budget, you might want to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with the GH5. A camera I consider to be highly competitive today and so affordable that everyone with m4:3 lenses who likes to shoot motion/video should rush out and buy one today. But, of course, with my luck the minute I give out this advice, and you act on it, Panasonic will rush out a GH6 just to taunt me. Think it won't happen? I bought a Lumix S1H for $4,000 the DAY BEFORE Panasonic announced the feature-gorged S5 for a bit less than $2,000. 

Let's look at the GH5 and I'll tell you why I added one back into my inventory this week. Hint: I learned a lot about working on gimbals in the last month...

The GH5 is a monster. It uses the same 20 megapixel sensor as the G9. It uses the same battery as the G9 and with the latest firmware version (2.6, introduced three years after the camera's initial launch) it's got nearly equivalent auto focus capabilities and wonderful color. I thought the G9 was a great replacement for the video-centric GH5 so I "upgraded" a couple of years ago. But what I didn't really understand at the time was just how revolutionary the GH5 was/is for hardcore video production in the hands of a one man crew. 

Mural on East 5th St. 

I say all this after having used both the S1H and the G9 during my various video productions last month.

If I could only have one camera to shoot video with for all kinds of projects I might seriously consider that camera being the GH5, even over the Panasonic video flagship, the S1H. Here's why: 

The sensor in the GH5 is smaller which means it runs cooler and is much easier to control during image stabilization. These two things mean that even though the GH5 battery has less capacity than the one in the S1H it can run the camera for a much longer time. And it also means that there is less heat generated (not that it matters with a fan-cooled camera like the S1H). The sensor, being smaller also has a faster readout time than the majority of 24 megapixel, full frame sensors which means you can actually shoot 4K at 60 fps without having to crop the frame at all. The faster readout also means that rolling shutter is much better controlled than that from bigger, slower readout sensors. Less "Jello-cam" is always a good thing!

The trade-off with the smaller sensor is more noise as the ISO goes up. ISO 1600 on a GH5 looks somewhat similar to well exposed ISO 6400 on an S1 or S1H. But keep in mind that's only two stops and you could use a lens with a two stop faster aperture to compensate. With equivalent angles of view you'd get pretty much the same depth of field...

While the GH5 was well regarded on its launch I think people tried it at the time, put it into a niche and then, when shinier stuff came along they stopped updating their understanding of the camera even though  it was being constantly improved via firmware. For example, in its original form the continuous AF was poor by today's standards. If you shot video with the camera using the C-AF feature you were likely to get a lot of hunting and a retreat to focusing on the background compared to phase detect AF enabled cameras at the time. This limited its use to situations in which manual focus was the best option. Brave people would also use it in C-AF for subjects that filled the frame and had limited movements.

That's just how it was three years ago with firmware version 1.0. Updates to firmware can have enormous impacts. With (current) firmware 2.6 the camera's AF is vastly improved. How do I know? I owned two of the GH5 cameras back in the era when they were first introduced. I used them in manual focusing mode almost all the time for video. When I bought a new copy recently and updated the firmware to the latest build I was amazed at the difference. Night and day. The camera is at least as proficient as the G9 and I was able to use the G9 on a constantly moving gimbal as I wended my way between actors and dealt with inky black backgrounds. It worked 90% of the time.

The biggest fix is probably how quickly the camera locks on to subjects and how gracefully it moves from one subject to another. The second biggest fix is that the camera no longer defaults to just switching focus to the background when it does get confused. 

It's amazing to me how much Panasonic improves their older cameras (for free) over their lifespans. When Panasonic gifted G9 users with 2.0 it took a really good still photography camera and boosted it past the video capability of much more expensive cameras in the market. The new firmware moved the camera from being an 8 bit, all around, nice guy camera with low data rate, m4p files to a 10 bit, 4:2:2, 4K powerhouse (up to 30 fps, in camera) and also gave it the ability to shoot at 60 fps in the full frame (but only with 8 bit 4:2:0 color). With a clean HDMI output the camera is capable of providing the full 60 fps AND the higher quality 10 bit, 4:2:2 color if recording into something like an Atomos Ninja V recorder. Pretty heady stuff for what is now a sub-$1,000 camera. And yes, it offers both a 3.5mm microphone jack and a headphone jack, but no waveform monitor or vector scope. 

With firmware 2.6 in the GH5 the camera has effectively been updated to match or exceed the current state of art for video in hybrid cameras (excepting a few high speed specs in the Sony A7SIII). In addition to everything in the G9 the GH5 also offers the benefit of an All-I codec. While the data files in All-I are 2.6 times bigger than comparable L-Gop files there are benefits in both editing and in greater freedom from motion artifacts in videos of fast moving subjects. 

Many professional applications and production companies require All-I files from shooters on larger projects so the GH5 opens doors to more commercial jobs as well as being an easy to edit and very stable file type. 

Another differentiator between the GH5 and the G9 is the ability of the GH5 to make use of the DMW-XLR audio interface originally designed and produced for the GH5 (but also usable on the S1 series of full frame cameras...). At a stroke one gets the benefit of being able to plug in and use two XLR balanced microphones. The unit provides great physical controls of audio levels as well as phantom power for microphones that require it and does so in a nice and compact package that sits in the hot shoe of the camera. I've used the DMW-XLR on three different Panasonic cmaeras, the S1H, the GH5 and the GH5S and it's a game changer for using professional microphones on hybrid cameras. The pre-amps are low noise and the unit is powered by the battery in the camera. It's quite an elegant solution. 

So, why my renewed interest in GH5 cameras? It started when I did my deep dive into video production back around the first of August this year. I'd done video for years before but it was mostly just workmanlike stuff; talking head interviews and simple moves on a dolly. And the times I undertook video represented a small percentage of my business and my time. Not enough commitment on my part for really jumping in and understanding, in my use cases, the features and benefits of all the different combinations of the physical and file properties of the cameras.

With the steady drumbeat of the web and the millions of videos about new cameras weighing on my good judgement I started to follow the herd into the corral of video fans who salivated at the idea of shooting video with full frame cameras. Like that's the holy grail of making video. I like shallow depth of field as much as anyone else in photography so I presumed it would be equally valuable in video work. By the time Panasonic came out with the S1 series of cameras I'd already experimented with shooting video in the 35mm, full frame format on a Nikon D810 (low data rate but nice looking files), the Sony A7Rii (incredible range of codecs and settings but nothing better than medium data rate 8 bit .Mov files, as XVAC), the amazing Sony RX10iii (with the same limitations as its "big brother"), and a big sampling of the Fuji cameras (nice files but ultra crappy audio interfaces). I threw down hard for the Panasonic FF stuff and it's been good. 

My recent addition of the S1H was even better. It's a powerhouse. But.....It's big and cumbersome for some work and God, it's pricy!!!

In early August I started experimenting using video cameras on gimbals. It's something I'd never done before. I started by working with an S1 and the 24-105mm on a Zhiyun Crane but the camera was slower to focus, harder to balance and not as facile as something like the G9. My left biceps protested the weight. Once I put the G9 on a gimbal it all just felt right. Then I re-discovered a real benefit to a video shooter working on a gimbal out in the real world --- the increased depth of field at equivalent angles of view gave me nearly 2 stops more depth of field. I could use the camera in a manual focus mode in bright sunlight, set f5.6 on a wide lens, then set a hyperfocal distance on the lens and basically never have to worry about the system not being in focus. It was a life saver. 

It's a funny thing that as a still photographer I love the look of a single frame with very shallow depth of field but as a videographer I favor the look of most of my foreground subjects being in sharp focus when the camera is moving. With a still image the selective focus of a fast aperture lens used close-in can be addictive. With a moving frame the ability to see the subject with heightened clarity makes it more impactful. 

If you are a video shooter only I think a lot of choices are easier to make. If you are a Sony fan and you only shoot video the A7Siii is an obvious choice. You stumble more when you want both super high resolution AND great video. The same paradigm exists in Canon-World; if you only want to shoot video the C70 seems like the obvious choice but if you want great video and the highest resolution in one camera body get ready for a sloppy bucket full of compromise. Panasonic makes it very clear that one buys an S1H if they are super serious about video, one buys an S1 if they want really good video and really nice photo files, and one buys an S1R if you only care about making the best high resolution photographic images you can make. Of course, if you are like me and bounce around from one niche to another you might end up buying all three...

In context the GH5 gets a lot of stuff just right. For the price and size the video is exceptional. But even when you use the camera only as a photography camera it performs very, very well. When you want to work with gimbals the lower weight of really good m4:3 lenses, coupled with a body that features current, state of the art video files,  the G9 is a great choice and, with ALL-I files and lots of extra video tools,  the GH5 is an even better choice.

After my experiences handling cameras on two different gimbals I knew that I wanted to expand my video resources to reflect two different uses. The full frame S1 series cameras are perfect for traditional, camera on "sticks" scenarios where you want total control over....everything. With an S1H and an Atomos Ninja V I can shoot long takes in ProRes Raw and have the benefit of incredible dynamic range and exposure latitude along with nearly "unbreakable" files for extensive color grading. I can put on super fast lenses and drop the focus on background and foreground objects to the most luxuriant blur you can imagine. I can run the S1H for hours, or until I fill up all my 1 terrabyte SSD drives on the Atomos. But when it comes to gimbal work, for me, it's time to admit that I want a separate system that's more kindly to my arms, shoulder, back, etc. 

For me that's the G and GH Panasonic cameras. If you don't need ALL-I, a vector scope, a waveform meter, shutter angle settings, and a 400 m/bs data rate you'll be very happy to use the G9. If you want all the video gingerbread and a camera that's nice to hold you might be sold on the GH5. With a handful of great lenses it's the perfect small and light system and it costs a fraction of the price of the S1 series to get into. 

Put either of these cameras on any current, mid-sized or larger gimbal (Zhiyun Crane V2, Ronin-S in my studio) and you'll have a package you can hold (depending on your overall fitness) for long periods of time throughout the working day. I'd use either the G9 or the GH5 in continuous AF in scenarios with good lighting and then depend on depth of field and MF for lower light.

I've put together a nice, small and compact system for shooting video on the micro four thirds cameras: A GH5 and a G9. The 12mm, 25mm, and 100mm Meike cinema lenses. The 12-60mm f2.8 - f4.0 Panasonic Leica lens as a standard zoom, and the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 Summilux and the Sigma 16mm f1.4 lenses when I've got a need for speed. There's also still a nice collection of Pen-F lenses in the drawer for those times when I want to go old school. 

I'd been building the smaller system around the G9 camera while using a GX8 as a back-up but when a very clean, used GH5 came into my favorite store I hopped in the car and went up to the store to check it out. The body looked mostly unused and, buying confidence bolstered by Precision Camera's generous return policy I decided to snag it. I also picked up a lens I'd owned a while back, during the period when I worked extensively with the GH4 cameras. It's the Leica/Panasonic 25mm Summilux. It's fast, sharp and tiny (relatively speaking). 

It's interesting to become aware of the "empty calories" marketing delivers when it inveigles you to shift from cameras that work well to newer cameras by dangling the promise that new features or different sensor configurations will pay off in your work. Sometimes it's true but most of the time the camera companies are offering features or new technology that, when viewed in the rearview mirror of actual experience, really add nothing to the quality of your work or the pleasure of your working experience. 

Am I considering buying an S5? I'm not. I've read all the stuff about the camera and the primary advantage when compared to my existing S1 series cameras is potentially faster and better C-AF. That's all good and well but Panasonic have clearly stated that the same AF capabilities will be added to my existing camera bodies in a soon-to-come firmware upgrade. So, mostly I'd be stepping down to a lesser EVF and having to add a fourth battery type to my Panasonic collection. The GX8, the GH5/G9 and the S1 variants already take three different types of batteries and I'm just not up for adding a fourth.

While the smaller size and lower weight look like a good idea it's really the lenses that are the choke point for the overall mass and weight of the system. I think I'd do better, if travel, etc. was my goal, to buy newer, smaller lenses as they come out instead. 

Is the Sony A7SIII a better choice for video? Honestly, if you need the best AF you can get your hands on in the moment I'd say that's the camera you might need. But if I was going to start fresh and get into a new system just for video I'm afraid the Canon C70 just popped Sony's balloon. I think, from my reading and the feedback I've heard from two people who used a prototype, that Canon's decision to ignore photography with the new camera yields a better overall video solution. But we'll have to wait and see how it turns out in actual practice. I'm pretty sure it's one camera from Canon that's not going to overheat. 

If I knew everything I do today back a couple of years ago would I still have moved away from the GH5 and the smaller system? Probably not, if video was my primary concern. The GH5 is an amazingly powerful and brilliantly thought out product. It just works. All the time. And with the generous firmware updates it's a camera that's as relevant to filmmakers, production companies and wedding videographers now as it was three years ago. I think it's a better video solution for almost any one-man-crew application and the files look great. Couple that with a price drop from nearly $2,000 at introduction to $1295 brand new today and you might as well just buy two bodies and a careful selection of lenses and microphones and be done with it. 

But, since I do a lot of traditional photography and love the big, new evfs and the big sensors for still imaging I think I would have bought into the S1 cameras anyway. They are pretty amazing tools. 

The bottom line is that there's no single perfect camera for everything you might want to do. Most of us can shoehorn a range of cameras into making our work possible but we'll be cutting corners here and there if we try to do everything with one camera model. If you can afford it there is a certain efficiency and effectiveness in matching tools to specific jobs. But these are mostly considerations for people who are trying to do a range of jobs for clients and also trying to make money. 

When I retire I'll sell the whole mess of cameras and buy whatever the current Leica full frame camera is, along with the 50mm Apo Summicron and just be done with it. But we're a few years away from that. 

Just some thoughts about cameras. That's all. 

"Thoughts and Prayers" to the Prez.


Michael Matthews said...

I can appreciate the need for all possible data...the ALL-I advantage...but have yet to find anything lacking in your G9 Zach video.

Perhaps I don't know what to look for or lack a screen on which it would be obvious. (My 27-inch iMac is an earlier non-Retina model).

The kind of thing I would expect to see, lacking ALL-I, would be that weird effect where pixels in a relatively large area of uniform color and texture seem to lag behind, then catch up and reassemble when motion in the scene stops.

Are there examples you see in the Zach video sequences? Something which shows were the G9 video falls short?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

It's hard to point to anything in particular. What I see is just a difference in the cadence of the frames. The L-Gop is just a bit sloppier. But it's a tiny difference and I doubt most will see it unless we got back and re-master everything in the original 4K and put it on a good monitor. Still, we have clients that would do that and nit-pick every frame.

Eric Rose said...

I bought the GH5 some time ago based on your recommendation and have never regretted it. Sure there are better still cameras out there but my main focus is video these days. I don't see anything making a strong enough business case to change. The GH5 is a solid performer, feature rich and produces the end product I need.

If something better is required for the odd client (highly unlikely) I will rent. To tie up capital in quickly depreciating hardware for only a small percentage of real actual client needs is just poor business imho.

The GH5 will do me just fine until I fully leave this game. Since most of my "clients" are non-profits that I volunteer for and who have been shut down due to Covid-19 the GH5 may not get much video use for the next year.

In the meantime the GH5 is doing an excellent job as a still camera using both Panasonic and Leica lens from my M cameras.

Glad you are giving the old girl another spin around the dance floor.


Yoram Nevo said...

A question - If the editing guy requires an all-I file, why can't you download the long-gop file and then decode it and re-encode it as All-I offline ?

Stephen Greszczyszyn said...

I just plugged back into your blog on the day you said you were going to stop writing, and then realised what I had missed! Your series on shooting video for theatre is fantastic, and something I might need to do in the future. I've recently sold my GH5/PL12-60 for the Olympus E-M5iii. The Olympus 4k and colours are fantastic out of camera and the PDAF C-AF is accurate and smooth. I mostly shoot outdoors community documentary events and projects and the 12-100/4 IS + Olympus IBIS is magically gimbal-like. (not my video but see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa6H7cttFos&t=3m27s). That with the PL25/1.4 for interviews and a small drone + Osmo pocket + Instamics (to avoid wired lavs and to easily mic kids) is all I really need.

So far I've resisted the lure of any full-frame or APSC camera systems to stay light/minimal but I'm not sure if my micro4/3 stuff will hold up for lower-light theatre. I might consider the GH5s with the dual-native ISO, although unfortunately that camera doesn't have IBIS so would need to use on tripod/gimbal.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kirk.
Good stuff as always! I'm with you on the smaller format system for video. At least insofar as maintaining mobility - and mitigating arm fatigue. For mobile shots I typically mount a Fuji X-T3 with an 18mm prime to a Weebil S gimbal and have a very nice video package. At a comparatively wide angle (27mm), anything beyond 3 or 4 feet is basically within the infinite focus range, and the Fuji's have pretty capable AF capabilities these days anyway. For stationary shots I'll use two X-T3's with the 16-55 2.8 and 50-140 2.8 lenses, and have never wanted for more. Absolutely beautiful files, but then I've rarely had to shoot video at an ISO setting beyond 1000. But even then, the higher ISO files look clean and detailed, which is one of the reasons I like the APS-C sensor for video. It's not as forgiving as a FF sensor, obviously, but is a much more nimble and forgiving package. This is especially true when I need to remain mobile, and be kind to my forearm - and gimbal. When I need to record audio to the gimbal-mounted camera, I mount a Sennheiser G4 wireless mic system, rebalance, and we're good to go. It all balances perfectly on the gimbal, and I can run all day on one set of gimbal batteries with plenty of charge to spare. So yes, there are so many advantages to running the smaller format cameras when mobility is paramount in 'getting the shot'. I've not had any issues with the audio interface of the Fuji's. In fact, I've programmed monitoring and settings into the back dial for quick access and adjustments. I even find the pre-amps to be more than capable. But then my needs are much less demanding than yours. And, I've not compared the Fuji's to the S1 system, so .........
On that note, I recently acquired an S1 while B&H had them on sale for $2,000. Being a FF sensor with no AA filter, I find the images absolutely fantastic! So far I've used this for landscape and urban photos only, and haven't dabbled with the video side of things. I'm curious, but for now will retain the Fuji's for the video work. Your experiences with the S1 system does keep me interested, though. And yes, if I'd known the S5 was coming I probably would have waited. For shooting stills like I do, the S5 is more than capable for my needs. But like you, I am very pleased to hear Panasonic will give us the AF upgrades included in the S5. I've not had any issues with the AF abilities when shooting landscape or portraits but, if I ever do venture into video with the S1, the improvements to AF-C might be welcome. I'm looking forward to hearing of your experience with the new firmware.
- Ron

Bob said...

Olympus. You're thoughts?

David said...

Well you were close the BGH1 was released after you got a GH5. Looks like it would be perfect for your gimbal work.
Maybe by next year we will see 2 in your hands.
Video seems to be the future.