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Let’s not beat about the bush here. There is no other camera on the market like the Panasonic Lumix GH4. No other model that’s designed on a still camera platform has quite the video capabilities of the GH4. In this regard, it challenges the dedicated video cameras from Black Magic, Canon and even the Red series, but Panasonic has also thrown compactness and affordability into the mix. The GH3 threatened to be the hybrid camera cat thrown among the video pigeons, but the GH4 is a veritable feral feline ready to consume anything that gets in its way.

Of course, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Panasonic knows a thing or two about building pro-level video cameras, but the GH4 goes far beyond anything anybody anticipated in this category. If you’re a still photographer who likes what the GH4 has to offer – and, make no mistake, it’s hugely accomplished here too – be prepared to get on the end of a long line of videographers with their credit cards at the ready.

As we noted with its predecessor, while the GH4 is technically a compact system camera, it’s not really all that compact, especially compared to the likes of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 or Fujifilm’s X-T1, but alongside its main competition in the video world, it’s very small indeed.

You can read all about its video features in the ‘Making Movies’ panel, but it’s worth summing up the key capabilities here. For starters, the GH4 can record 4K video, either at the Ultra HD resolution of 3840x2160 pixels at 25 fps or the Cinema 4K resolution of 4096x2160 pixels at the cinematic speed of 24 fps. Both the 4K resolution settings are recorded at a bit rate of 100 Mbps using the IPB compression regime which is double the standard set for broadcast quality (and, by the way, represents a massive data-crunching exercise). Furthermore, when the GH4 records at the Full HD resolution, there’s the option of using a bit rate of 200 Mbps (with All-Intra compression) which enhances the picture quality by a significant margin. The GH4 is the world’s first mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera with 4K video recording, and it also records this resolution simultaneously to its memory card rather than just to an external recorder via the HDMI output (more details in the video panel).

Given 3D pretty well flopped (again), 4K is the next big thing in video and the Ultra HD TVs are already coming thick and fast, but there’s not a lot to show on them beyond what you can record on 4K cameras like the Lumix GH4. The 4K image quality is discernibly better than Full HD – even when downsampled to FHD – so there is some justification for upgrading if you’re a video enthusiast, but if you’re quite satisfied with your 2K display, you may need more convincing. Nevertheless, right now it looks like 4K will become a major part of the video-making landscape, especially as the GH4 takes it out of the professional realm and actually makes it more accessible to enthusiast-level shooters. In fact, here Panasonic has been very clever because the GH4 can be easily integrated into a professional video production workflow via the optional DMW-YAGH Interface Unit (also confusingly called the AG-YAGHG, but it looks like the former designation is being used in this market as that’s how it’s described on the Panasonic Australia Website) which has the industry-standard BNC-type connectors for the video output (4K or HD) and balanced XLR-type connectors for the audio inputs, the latter with phantom power for condenser-type microphones. Even though this is quite an expensive component – and probably not required if you’re only dabbling with video – the combined cost with the GH4 body is still well below what you’d pay for a semi-pro HDV camcorder.

Tough Stuff
Externally, the GH4 doesn’t look hugely different in either styling or size to its predecessor and its magnesium alloy bodyshell is again fully weather sealed. However, both the OLED-type EVF and the external monitor screen step up in resolution; the former to 2.36 megadots and the latter to 1.036 megadots. The monitor screen is adjustable for both swing and tilt, and has capacitive touch controls.

The control layout is centred around a main mode dial (now lockable) on the top deck with front and rear input wheels, a selection of function buttons (for direct access to key items such as ISO, white balance and exposure compensation), and a combined navigator keypad and control ring on the rear panel. As before, there are five multi-function hard keys, but this number is now matched with the ‘Fn’ soft keys that are tabbed in the monitor screen, giving a total of ten user-assignable controls. A total of 54 functions are available for each of the hard keys and 50 for each of the soft keys so the scope for customisation is extensive. There’s also the ‘Quick Menu’ control screen which can be operated using touch control or more conventionally via the navigator and the input wheels. Alternatively, everything is still included in the standard menus so Panasonic has covered all the bases in terms how the GH4 might be flown – from traditional D-SLR style to touch operations which include autofocusing and shutter release. The live view screen can be configured in a variety of displays, including a dual-axes electronic level, an exposure meter (with aperture and shutter speed scales), a real-time histogram, guide grids (selected from a choice of three) and a centre marker (particularly useful when shooting video). The histogram can be moved around – by simply dragging it – and positioned as desired while one of the grid displays allows for the grid lines to be moved around by touch as well.

The image review screens number five and can include a highlight warning, a full set of histograms and a detailed info set. The playback functions include thumbnail pages of 12 or 30 images, a calendar thumbnail display, zooming up to 16x and a slide show with a choice of transition effects. The touch controls here include a swipe action for browsing and the pinch action to enlarge or reduce the image size.


Inner Enlightenment
On the inside, the GH4 is quite different from the GH3 because just about everything has been either up-graded or tweaked – sensor, processor, shutter, AF system, metering, the WiFi module and more.

The sensor is again a 4:3 LiveMOS device with a total pixel count of 17.2 million and an effective count of 16.05 million, but it’s actually a new imager with an extended dynamic range, increased sensitivity range (equivalent to ISO 200 to 25,600) and a faster read-out speed of up to 200 MB/second. It’s supported by a new quad-core processor – called the ‘Venus Engine 9 AHD’ which is really the star of the show given it’s got some heavy-lifting to do, not just in the video department, but also with the GH4’s up-rated stills capabilities. The maximum continuous shooting speed increases to a rapid-fire 12 fps (with the AF/AE locked to the first frame) and a still handy 7.0 fps with continuous AF adjustment. The burst length with RAW capture increases to 40 frames and 100 frames for maximum quality JPEGs.

The new processor is also behind the GH4’s autofocusing system which still relies solely on contrast-detection measurement, but gets a new control element called ‘Depth From Defocus’ or DFD. This works on data stored in the camera for all the Lumix G lenses, enabling their out-of-focus characteristics – derived from grabbing two frames in quick succession as the lens is focusing – to be used to determine the subject distance and this calculation is then referenced to the contrast-detection AF’s measurement. The lens is then driven pretty well directly to the focusing distance with just minor fine-tuning at the end just as happens with phase-difference detection AF. This increases both the speed and the reliability of the system so it’s particularly beneficial to the continuous AF and focus tracking operations. When a new model of lens becomes available, its out-of-focus characteristics will be automatically uploaded to the GH4 body when it’s first fitted. Additionally, the number of focusing points increases from 23 to 49 – in a 7x7 pattern – which gives a much wider coverage, and the low light sensitivity extends down to -4.0 EV (at ISO 100). A single zone can be adjusted to any desired size to determine selectivity or, alternatively, clusters of nine zones can be selected, but more usefully, there’s a ‘Custom Multi’ mode which allows the number of points and how they’re shaped to be freely adjusted to suit the subject. Manual focusing is assisted by a magnified image section (which is easily moved around the frame), a simple distance scale and now the much-demanded focus peaking display (selected from two levels and three colours, but yellow and high is particularly effective).

As on the GH3, the GH4 has both a conventional focal plane shutter and a sensor-based shutter which is referred to as an ‘electronic shutter’, although the former is still electronically controlled. Its top shutter speed is lifted to 1/8000 second and the maximum flash sync speed to 1/250 second. Additionally, Panasonic now rates the shutter assembly at 200,000 cycles. The sensor shutter offers the advantages of completely silent operation and no lag so it enables a continuous shooting speed of 40 fps with JPEG capture.

The GH4’s built-in flash is supplemented by both a hotshoe and PC terminal, but as on the GH3, it’s a pretty capable unit in its own right. In addition to the standard modes of auto, fill-in, red-eye reduction, slow speed sync and second curtain sync, it also allows for manual control (down to 1/128 power) and can served as the commander for a wireless TTL flash set-up. Flash compensation is available over a range of up to +/-3.0 EV, and the angle of coverage matches the 12mm focal length in the Micro Four Thirds format (effectively 24mm). Incidentally, all exposure settings can be adjusted in either one-third or full stop increments.

Light And Shade
The GH4 gets Panasonic’s latest 1728-zone multi-pattern metering system and the alternative metering methods are centre-weighted average and spot.
The standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure modes are supplemented by program shift, an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV of compensation (applied in 1/3 EV increments) and auto bracketing. But the GH4 goes without any manually selectable subject/scene programs – which makes sense on a camera of this calibre – although the ‘iAuto’ modes have automatic scene selection which choose from ten possible scenarios. The other ‘iAuto’ components include backlight compensation, dynamic range expansion processing, sensitivity adjustment, focus tracking, face detection and recognition, red-eye removal and ‘Shading Compensation’ which corrects for lens vignetting. There’s also an ‘i.Auto+’ mode which provides limited manual adjustments for depth-of-field, brightness level (i.e. exposure compensation) and colour balance. These are done via touch control using on-screen sliders.

The key ‘i.Auto’ processing functions are also available for use with the ‘PASM’ modes, including dynamic range expansion processing – called ‘Intelligent Dynamic’ – long exposure noise reduction and ‘Intelligent Resolution’ processing. ‘Intelligent Resolution’ can be set to Low, Standard or High, and it detects outlines, textures and areas of soft gradations, subsequently enhances the edges to increase the definition and the appearance of sharpness. Interestingly, the GH4 inherits the Highlight/Shadow adjustment control from the Olympus OM-D cameras, but with some added capabilities such as being able to save three adjustments as well as access a number of presets. It works in the same way as on the Olympus cameras – i.e. like a simplified version of Photoshop’s Curves – with adjustments applied to a tone curve displayed in the monitor screen. The front wheel tweaks the highlights while the rear dial works on the shadow.
Still on managing exposure and contrast, there’s a multi-shot HDR capture mode with the choice of an Auto setting or three manual settings for exposure adjustments of +/-1.0 EV, +/-2.0 EV and +/-3.0 EV. There’s also an auto align function.

The choice of ‘Creative Control’ special effects increases to a dizzying 22, but the choice of ‘Photo Style’ picture presets remains at six. The five colour presets have adjustable parameters for contrast, sharpness, colour saturation, hue and noise reduction. The Monochrome preset has a colour tone adjustment (from sepia to cyanotype) and a set of contrast filters (i.e. yellow, orange, red and green). One customised ‘Photo Style’ can be created.

The white balance control options are the same as those provided on the GH3 and comprise auto correction supplemented by five presets and four custom measurements (increased from two) plus manual colour temperature setting from 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Fine-tuning is available along either the blue-to-amber or green-to-magenta ranges with auto bracketing in one or the other performed over a sequence of three frames.


Speed And Performance
Panasonic supplied one of its new Gold-series Speed Class 3 SDHC cards so we could record 4K video with the GH4, but for our speed tests for still capture we reverted to our reference 64 GB Lexar Professional SDXC card which is a UHS-I device (but Speed Class 1 just to confuse things).

With continuous AF/AE operating, the GH4 fired off 75 JPEG/large/fine frames in 10.71 seconds which represents a shooting speed of 7.0 fps. We just chose 75 frames as an arbitrary number, the camera would happily have motored on a full speed to the buffer’s maximum of 100 frames. With the AF fixed to the first frame, a burst of 80 frames was rattled off – and that’s what it sounds like – in 6.625 seconds so the shooting speed was 12.07 fps. While these numbers are impressive in themselves, just when you’d need bursts of 75 or 80 frames is debatable, but then not much is going to get away from 12 fps!

While much of the hoopla surrounding the GH4 has been about its remarkable capabilities as a video camera – and they are undoubtedly remarkable – it’s also a very fine stills camera too. Both Olympus and Panasonic have conclusively proved the naysayers wrong with the image quality that they’re now extracting from Micro Four Thirds size sensors. Certainly with the Lumix GX7 and both the OM-D E-M1 and E-M10 models we’ve seen performances that at least match that of comparable ‘APS-C’ CSCs or even do better in some areas… including, interestingly, sharpness. The GH4’s maximum quality JPEGs are a joy to behold – beautifully detailed, richly coloured and with a surprisingly wide dynamic range (without resorting to any form of expansion processing). Good detailing is held in both the deeper shadows and the brighter highlights. Colour reproduction is accurate across the spectrum and the camera handles both subtle shades and fully saturated tones with equal aplomb.

Noise just isn’t an issue up to ISO 1600 – very good for an MFT camera – and only starts to become noticeable at ISO 3200 as the reduction processing starts to diminish definition. You can still shoot at ISO 3200, but the higher sensitivities become increasingly restrictive in terms of just how large these images can be reproduced. The ISO 25,600 is probably a last resort, assuming there is just no other way of getting more light into the camera.

The new AF system is so fast the image simply snaps into focus in the EVF or on the monitor screen and we didn’t encounter any situation where it wasn’t absolutely reliable. Whichever way you decide to operate the GH4, it’s fast and efficient, but the touch screen controls are particularly well presented. However, having the WB, ISO and exposure compensation buttons situated close to the shutter release makes them easy to access in a hurry. The WiFi functionality is significantly enhanced by the provision of NFC which makes for a fast hook-up with mobile devices and the remote control capabilities facilitated through the Image App could be particularly useful when the camera is in a video rig.

The Verdict
There’s really nothing for it but to give Panasonic a loud round of applause for the Lumix GH4. It’s a masterpiece and it will undoubtedly have rivals banging on the doors of their product planning departments, demanding action. On the video side, the GH4 is a stroke of genius, even if you take the 4K recording out of the equation (but at least it’s ready and willing). The combination of capabilities, compact size and sheer affordability is unmatched anywhere else in the video world. Even throwing the bulky Interface Unit into the mix – which essentially turns the GH4 into a fully-fledged pro video camera – doesn’t alter the equation in terms of capabilities-versus-mobility. As a still camera, the GH4 is equally accomplished, although perhaps not as precociously talented here as its video alter-ego. Nevertheless, the combination of capabilities, usability and performance is a highly desirable one. And even if you’re resisting video’s siren song right now, if 4K really takes off you won’t be able to resist and then you’ll be thankful for Panasonic’s foresight. Ironically though, while the GH4 may be the most advanced hybrid CSC on the market, it also has one of the most traditional of control layouts so it still looks, feels and works like a D-SLR.

So, just about any way you look at it, the GH4 is the answer.