Disclaimer. The images here are casual shots from this afternoon's walk around town. They are not meant to be definitive samples from the absolute cutting edge of the GH6's performance envelope. Nor are they destined for the portfolio. They were shot solely for the fun of photographing and also to have content with which to check out how well the raw files work with the new Adobe Camera Raw converter. If you don't like the images I suggest you ignore them and just read the text...
And just like that, all of a sudden, I'm back into the micro four thirds fan club. I bought a GH5ii to use as a "B" camera for video with the Panasonic S5 and liked it so much I just had to grab the GH6 when it came out. And, yeah, a few lenses as well. My intention was to make good use of the smaller sensor system for video jobs but I couldn't resist the implicit challenge so when a nice, multi-day assignment for a fun high tech company rolled around on the calendar I packed the two GHx cameras along with the S5 and drove off to a Hyatt resort property to ply my trade.
I am blessed to have wonderful clients. The event director for this particular client is a person I have worked with now for at least two decades. She gives me a vague brief and an agenda, and a lot of leeway, and I more or less shoot according to a pattern we established many years ago while photographing for Motorola. If it's interesting to me I photograph it. If it's not interesting to me and I don't think the client will really use the image I pass it by.
While the resort hosting the two day conference is just 22 miles from my front door the client arranged for a nice hotel room at the resort for my convenience. It beats having to drive home in the evening and then fight rush hour traffic to get back the next morning. And the Hyatt did a very nice job with this particular property.
There was nothing during the course of the job that was rushed or anxiety provoking and if I missed a shot of a speaker or presenter I had plenty of opportunities to get a better photograph moments later. The nature of a job like this is to do a very nice documentation of each speaker, get plenty of images of audience response, cover the social aspects like dinners and happy hours and snap away during team building exercises. The event covered sensitive internal information and since I was working with an NDA in place I can't discuss the content or the name of the company. "I will neither confirm nor deny the identity of my temporary benefactor..."
I came to the job prepared to test cameras as a pastime and an exercise in sessions where the same speaker was on stage for an hour or so at a time. It's pretty easy to get a good range of speaker photos in the first 20 minutes or so of a presentation, easy enough to get a good and diverse range of audience reaction shots in the next 20 minutes so it seems efficient and reasonable to spend the rest of the time checking in to see just how good the higher ISO settings are on the GH6, how well it handles color in mixed light, how good the image stabilization is with and without dual stabilized lenses, how the new camera compares with the GH5ii and how those two cameras compare with the Panasonic S5. Right? Otherwise there's just the temptation to graze the pastries and the coffee bar...
But before we hop into any details I should let you know that the raw file converter in the Adobe imaging programs is now fully working with the GH6 raw files. Hooray. Nice. I missed that window (being able to shoot and process raw) for the event but I was pretty much planning to shoot Jpegs anyway. I shot all of these images in this blog post in raw and played around with them in Lightroom Classic. I pushed, I pulled, I tried to "break" the files but the conversions are pretty solid and I can't see any big gotchas. Granted, I haven't tried the converter with the HHHR settings (hand held high res) yet so this isn't the deepest dive but if you shoot like a normal photographer I think you'll be happy with your results.
The first half of the first day on the job was spent in a medium sized ball room. Big enough to comfortably hold about 90 people and equipped with a custom designed stage set. I thought I'd be fine with the 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 Leica zoom for the GH6 but I misjudged. I guess my brain was rusty from a couple years of not shooting in-person events... Sure, most of the stuff I was shooting fit into that focal range but more than once I wanted to be a lot tighter on the speaker on the stage but without walking right up to the front of the house. Normally, I'm comfortable with something like a 70-200mm on a full frame camera. But I didn't even bring one of those along for the S5. I was too optimistic about the elasticity of the long, normal zooms. The longest lens I brought for the S5 was the Panasonic 24-105.
When I really, really wanted to get tighter I made use of the incorporated "teleconverter" setting in each of the cameras. It required dropping the resolution of the cameras to 12.5 megapixels but I like that better than having to labor over cropping each image in post production.
I tried to lean heavily on the GH6 because it was the newest toy. I photographed at ISOs as high as 6400 but tried valiantly not to go higher than ISO 4,000 if I could. The files looked great. I stayed above 1/125th of second for my shutter speed and had no concerns about using any of the lenses (except one) wide open. So, ISO 4000 is totally usable and ISO 3200 is surprisingly clean. And happily the noise reduction isn't making a mess of the details in the process. Eyelashes and fabric weave were sharp and detailed. The finder in the GH6 is bright and clean and matches the rear screen for exposure appearance which is a nice plus.
When I used the 12-60mm lens I was able to take advantage of the dual image stabilization feature of the Panasonic cameras. Same with the 24-105mm lens on the S5. With both of these combos you can basically do away with having to use a tripod. This is probably the first time in, well, forever that I did not even pack a tripod for the job. Left them all at home. The problem with depending on either a tripod or great image stabilization when shooting action on a stage is that the real problem is never camera shake. The real problem is subject motion and that isn't fixed by better and better image stabilization or a good tripod but is only cured by raising the shutter speed past a threshold where you are able to freeze human motion.
I am declaring right now that I am a new convert to the use of one customized function button but it's pretty specific to this job and I was pushed to pursue this option because I had too much hubris to bring the long lens I really needed. There is a function button I can reach on the front of the cameras, just to the right of the lens, with with right hand. I dedicated that button to switching the digital teleconverter on or off. In order to make it all work you have to make sure to switch the resolution at the same time. If you have the res set to 24 megapixels you always end up with the full frame. If you remember to set the res to 12.5 megapixels you get a nice 1.5X crop. It helps you dig in and get a tighter frame when you want one.
The GH6 is very much aimed at videographers and that's why there is a built-in fan. You can turn it off when photographing but I never bothered to change the "auto" setting in the menu. But even when we were outside on Tuesday afternoon, wallowing around in the 94° direct sun, I was never able to hear the fan and it didn't seem to have much effect on the battery life either.
1500 to 2000 frames is just about enough to start getting conversant with a new camera. I kind of cheated this time by preemptively picking up the GH5ii a couple months in advance. They share about 90% of the menu and neither of their menus are much different from that of the S5. The menus are logical and well laid out and if you are hazy on what a menu item does you can always push the "disp" button to see a little window with a terse explanation. Nice.
With all the cameras set manually for white balance and exposure, as well as the same color profile settings, all of the Jpeg files were obviously of the same color family. No bad surprises there. If you just have to rank the cameras in terms of absolute quality you'll find that the S5 is the best for high ISO noise, followed at about a stop and a half behind by the GH6, followed at about a stop behind by the GH5ii. In terms of my latest metric: "Joy of camera handling" I found the GH6 to be perfect, the GH5ii to be perfect minus three percent and the S5 to be perfect minus 5.5%. The real surprise is something that shouldn't surprise anyone who reads the specs but the EVF in the GH6 is just much nicer than the lower resolution finder in the S5. I don't really see much difference in finder quality between the two GHx cameras but if you are one of those people who needs a more perfect finder you might find yourself trading off the lure of full frame for the actual performance of the GH6's finder image.
Since all of the GH6 files were shot at or above ISO 800 (indoors) the vaunted dynamic range boost should have been automatically activated. But I have to say that all three of the cameras have good, long ranging Jpeg files at default. I didn't notice much difference but I did find that I could push the GH6 Jpeg files much more than I was ever able to with the GH5 cameras. At least when it comes to effective and non-intrusive use of the shadow slider in post production.
There were two lenses that I brought along for the m4:3 systems that I didn't think I would get much use out of but which turned out to be my favorites of the two days of shooting. One was the Leica Summilux 25mm f1.4 ii and the other was the cheap, fun, solid, sharp, wacky TTArtisan 50mm f1.2. I used the 25mm for all the quick paced social photography at our happy hours and extended meals. It locked focus quickly and let me work the crowd with a small package and good results.
The 50mm TTartisan isn't a lens I'd pick for close, fast work but when people are in their seats in their conference mode and I can take my time to finesse the focus I found shooting the 50mm TTartisan lens to be addictive. I used it mostly at f1.4 to f2.5 and almost always for loose head and shoulders candids such as when people would pick up a table microphone to ask a question or to respond to a query. Used within a five or six foot range at the wider apertures gets you a very nice and mellow out of focus background with a high degree of apparent sharpness at the plane of accurate focus. It's nice. It's kind of old school but nice. And keep in mind that this effect is with a "cropped" frame camera system.
My keeper rate with that lens was somewhere around 60% but as I mentioned before if I didn't get it on the first frame I had all the time in the world to correct and try again. It's a darn narrow slice of in focus real estate.
If you've worked with a GH5 you'll find the battery life in the GH5ii and GH6 is about the same. I tended to keep the cameras switched on and I chimped a lot on the 50mm shots so I was only able to get through about half a day with the first battery and found myself reaching for the battery in my pocket when I still had two bars left on the little battery symbol. I brought a big Anker battery bank along as well as a couple of chargers so when I wasn't using a camera I could either pull the battery and put it on the charger or just plug the USB 3.1 plug between the Anker bank and the camera's USB 3.1 plug and charge the battery in camera. Nice to have PD (power delivery) in the big batteries. I'd circle back to the charging camera an hour later to find its battery nearly topped up.
The obvious benefit of the smaller format system is in the smaller size and lower weight of the lenses. I think the GH6 actually weighs more than the S5 but when it comes to lenses it's at least a 2X or more difference...and not in the favor of the full frame camera system. Another lesser benefit is the increased depth of field for a given angle of view. A little safety margin for the sloppy photographer...
I found the image quality of the GH6 to be a big leap forward in overall image quality from my previous use of GHx cameras. The G9 seems to be the bridge between the two generations and I find the color and quality from that camera to be nearly as good. Where the G9 gives up a bit of ground is in the high ISO/noise realm but really, it's not a big leap. Even between a G9 and a full framer. If you have to have nose bleed high ISO performance you'll need to go full frame but for so much every day photography the three way gap between formats, ISOs and the final targeted use is much less obvious than most people think. If you are aiming at the web and you have good technical skills you can probably make images from any of the systems that are indistinguishable from each other.
I just realized that the real allure of the GH6 is fun. Just good, plain fun.
Speaking of fun... We are celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary this week. I'm so lucky to have found someone who is much smarter and nicer than me. Thankfully she has a blind spot where I am concerned and seems oblivious to my many faults. My only advice to the young and unmarried... "Always marry someone smarter than yourself." You'll thank yourself for it in the long run.
Now planning which cameras and lenses to bring along for my banker conference in Santa Fe in a couple of weeks. I'm on pins and needles to see what I pick out for that adventure. We'll see.