In 2008, the world market welcomed the Nikon D90, noted as the first DSLR with the option of shooting videos. That’s how a new era was ushered in – an era of visual identity of the devices that are capable of recording videos. Even today many people have difficulties to grasp that cameras with quite large dimensions record videos, but on the other hand, there are many of those who use cameras with interchangeable lenses and who greatly appreciate this option. Serious sensors and serious lenses made it possible that serious cameramen make serious video material, with less serious amounts of money. Panasonic found some room in the paint, and scored easily for two, if I may describe its progress in terms of basketball. It didn’t feature an APS-C sensor, let alone full-frame, but it used its Micro Four Thirds sensor in the best possible way. First, the guys from Panasonic didn’t have to join the crazy race with the number of megapixels, and the AF system turned out equal with a smaller sensor. Lenses of various focal lengths, particularly with apertures from f/0.95 to f/1.2, and soft manual focus were the most desirable. Before long, the world was flooded with commercials, videos, and series of favorite Panasonic GH cameras. Being lightweight, they were perfect for shooting from the air, which was profusely used by crew from the Top Gear series. Nowadays, Panasonic has strengthened its position in that field, by moving its GH series one step ahead – by offering 4K video.
DESIGN AND ERGONOMICS
The Panasonic GH4 is very similar to DSLRs visually and concerning its dimensions; it’s even made of magnesium alloy. We’re here talking about a superbly defined camera in the ergonomic aspect, which weighs 560g, bearing in mind its dimensions (133 x 93 x 84 mm), and as such, it slightly differs from its predecessor, the GH3. The body is sealed, so what you need is an appropriate, also sealed lens so that the story would be complete. The Panasonic GH4 features 5 physically present programmable buttons, and as many on its touch screen. The list of possible combinations that can be set with these 5+5 programmable buttons is impressive. There are two mode selectors on the upper platform, a hot shoe, and a pop-up flash. The thumb and the index finger are honored with control dials, which, along with a multitude of buttons, makes this camera comparable with upper mid-range DSLRs as far as ergonomics is concerned. The electronic viewfinder, with its dimensions, dominates the camera, which also heightens the overall impression.
UNDER THE 'HOOD'
The GH4 brings a 16MP CMOS Four Thirds (17.3 x 13 mm) in combination with a Venus Engine IX processor. The ISO range is 200-25,000, and what’s interesting is that in the M mode it’s not possible to activate the Auto option. The maximum shutter speed is 1/8000s, while the flash sync speed is 1/250s; the declared number of shots is 200,000 actuations. The continuous shooting rate goes up to 12 fps. The CDAF AF features 49 AF points, in comparison to 23 featured by the GH3. With this model, Panasonic introduced a new AF algorithm under the name of DFD – Depth From Defocus – which brings the CDAF one step closer to the results achieved by the traditional PDAF, which can be found in DSLRs. This in practice means that the process of focus ‘roaming’ was drastically cut down, since the new algorithm calculates the distance of the subject by assessing two images of different sharpness, harmonizing them with optical characteristics of the lens. However, the DFD works only with Lumix G lenses, because the AF algorithm requires the so-called bokeh database to be formed. Luckily, this doesn’t have to do with the firmware inside the camera, yet the bokeh profile will be written in the internal memory of each following lens. Moreover, the declared AF speed – Ultra-Fast 0.07 seconds – is limited to the Single Auto Focus option, and that’s the case with both lenses - Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH POWER O.I.S. and Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH.
Although it doesn’t feature the smallest flange focal distance in the mirrorless world, with its 19.25mm, it still makes it possible that any lens is mounted on the camera, which particularly suits videographers. Focus peaking is present, and is definitely a must-have option for all those who use lenses with manual focus. Why do I mention old manual lenses from the analog era when we’ve got exceptional contemporary lenses that feature autofocus? For the simple reason that videographers have got different priorities, while autofocus in some aspects limits them seriously. Let’s get this straight – this isn’t about the flaws of the AF system as such, but simply... manual controls give greater freedom in work. Lenses of the older generation feature a liquid focus ring, while the list of today’s lenses with the fly by wire ring is considerably short. Of course, the story isn’t complete if I don’t list several options for this camera: Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 , (or Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8, which is expected to hit the shops soon), Olympus 12mm f/2.0, Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8, Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8, Panasonic 15mm f/1.7, Olympus 17mm f/1.8, or Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95, which is only a portion of the lenses suitable for this system. The use of adapters for newer lenses makes this list much longer, so the lenses Rokinon Cine 16mm T2.2 or Rokinon Cine 12mm T2.2 can also be taken into consideration.
According to its dimensions, the viewfinder is really identical to those we find on DSLRs in the form of OVF. However, here we have an electronic viewfinder, and quite an excellent one with 2,359,000 dots. The view is really magnificent, and although it’s clear right from the start that this isn’t an optical viewfinder, this really doesn’t reduce the quality of the view. Panasonic has considerably improved in this field as far as its offer is concerned, since the difference between the 2,359,000 and 1,440,000 dots that Sony uses e.g. in its Sony a6000 is quite noticeable. The view in the viewfinder is sharp and smooth, which is contributed to by refreshment. The amount of contrast in the viewfinder can be decreased and increased, and the monochrome display option is available, too, which will provide you with the said view. Moreover, this is one of rare viewfinders that enables setting parameters of photo and video shooting, without a need to move the camera away from your eye. For more fun, there is the option of focus magnification, focus peaking, or zebra in the viewfinder, which is unthinkable for the optical viewfinder. In addition to the diopter, there is a sensor that detects the eye on the viewfinder, and automatically turns off the LCD screen.
The camera features my favorite type of an articulated screen, the so-called Fully articulated 3” OLED LCD. This 1,036,000-dot touch screen offers tremendous view. Since this camera’s got tendencies to become a serious tool for videographers, it’s perfectly possible that this superb LCD screen will be a stumbling block to shooting videos in bright sunshine. Luckily, for those more demanding there’s a solution – buying a Zacuto GH3/GH4 Z-Finder Pro Optical Viewfinder, or a more affordable and universal QV-1 M LCD Viewfinder.
In accordance with the dimensions and looks, modeled on DSLR cameras, the Panasonic GH4 features satisfactory battery autonomy, too. The battery is lithium-ion – DMW-BLF19 – and according to the CIPA standards, it’s declared at 500 shots. For those more demanding, there is LUMIX DMW-YAGH Professional 4K Audio-Video Interface Unit in stock, priced at $2000, and for those with standard needs, there is a standard grip, far more affordable, compatible also with the GH3.
Absolutely dominant, 4K video is the most prominent feature of this camera. Panasonic did its best to outstrip its rivals in this aspect, both with this model and with other models belonging to different classes. The models such as the Panasonic FZ1000 and the Panasonic LX100 also feature 4K video, but in contrast to them, the GH4 is aimed more at videographers both with its ergonomics and additional functions. Furthermore, one of its great advantages is the ability to extract images from videos the size of 8MP. Paradoxically, the paragraph dedicated to the video mode perhaps has the least to write down, apart from brutally listing the formats and resolution of the video. At this point we realize the sensor isn’t the one that makes the video the most important part of the camera, but it needs to be entirely oriented towards that direction as a system.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT MEMORY CARD
With its capabilities, the GH4 puts many cards to the test, and the least you want is to fail while capturing videos. So, the GH4 can record 200mbps, 100mbps, and 50 mbps. 200mbps (All-I) is the highest bitrate, intended only for 1080P. What does that mean? For example, if we know that 1 byte = 8 bit, then we need to do some math. 200mbps is actually 25MB/s since 200 : 8 = 25, which means you need a card whose writing speed is 25MB/s minimum. With this calculation we get to the following point – the safest option for you is to buy a UHS Speed Class 3 (U3) card with 30MB/s (240mbps) writing speed. More precisely, there are three options: Transcend 64GB U3 SDXC, SanDisk Extreme 64GB U3 SDXC, and SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB U3 SDXC. Logically, the bitrate lower than 100mbps (IPB) intended for 4K, 1080, and less is not a problematic point on those cards, nor is the bitrate lower than 50 mbps (IPB) either. Precisely in this segment I noticed one flaw. The camera features only one memory card slot.
When it comes to digital cameras, video capabilities have always been the number two priority. Panasonic managed to begin the whole story, so it’s difficult to avoid the impression that here we’ve got a video camera in front of us, which… also happens to have extraordinary features for shooting photos. When it comes to photos, the output isn’t questionable at all, but we must admit once again that this camera will be bought primarily by those for who the top priority is video capabilities. For a moderate amount of money, you get a serious system comparable to and measurable with Red Epic or Canon 1DC models. Practice has shown that the Panasonic GH4 isn’t a sheer alternative, but a rather usable and serious solution.
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