Panasonic GH5 Review: the first full hands-on report

Written by Simon Wyndham

Panasonic/RedShark NewsThe Panasonic GH5: The wait has been worth it.

Since it was announced last year, the Panasonic GH5 has been making waves throughout the industry. RedShark has got its hands on one of the first production models released and, in our comprehensive hands-on review below, you can find out exactly what all the fuss is about. This is a game-changer.

The Panasonic GH5 has some pretty big boots to fill. The GH4 really shifted things towards the notion that a stills camera didn’t necessarily have to be something that you used while holding your nose for shooting video. It was genuinely capable, giving as it did full 4K video at a price that mortals could afford, and even had an optional dedicated XLR audio input stage to avoid the need for cumbersome, off-camera recording solutions.

Now we have the GH5, and on paper at least it looks like causing a bit of an earthquake, particularly at its $2000 price point. Among the many aspects to look forward to include, 10-bit colour precision, 4K internal recording to SD cards, V log gamma, 1080p VFR recording up to 180fps, 6K continuous stills at up to 30fps, full weather sealing, and 5-axis stabilisation.

The body

On first picking up the GH5, it feels high quality. The body is solid, and classy looking. It has a nice weight to it without being too heavy. It doesn’t have the “built like a tank” feel of, say, the very top end DSLRs, but it has a classy look and feel to it.

As a clue to the type of person the GH5 is aimed at, it has no inbuilt flash: a nod to the fact that this is not a camera that is primarily aimed at casual shooters or photographers. A flash trigger port is mounted on the top front of the body, and the camera also provides for flash compatibility via the hot shoe mount.

Control-wise, there are the usual dials close to hand for adjusting aperture and shutter speed, as well as to navigate menus. Many of the buttons are assignable to your desired functionality. A nice addition is a second rotary dial for selecting timelapse, rack focus, and photo burst modes. Most controls can also be accessed via the flip-out touchscreen monitor on the back of the camera as well.

Rubber covers on the left side conceal a full size HDMI port, headphone socket, and USB connectivity. Panasonic has also supplied a cable lock/support to minimise the chance of port damage from such cables being accidentally knocked during use. On the right-hand side is a door that conceals the two (yes, two) SD card slots.

Powering up the GH5

Once the ‘on’ switch has been flicked, the GH5 powers up instantly, with no waiting. The camera that was sent for review came with a Leica 12-60mm f2.8/f4.0 lens. This was surprisingly well made for a kit lens, with extremely smooth manual focus action and zoom ring. It felt high quality, with none of the control play that often plagues such glass. It certainly felt from first impressions that this would be a nice lens to work with for video.

Testing autofocus proved to be very fast and accurate. There was virtually no delay as the picture snapped into focus pretty much instantly. There are a few focus modes to choose from. Eye and face tracking for instance would appear to work very well indeed, with the GH5 picking up pretty quickly on the presence of a human face. Focus tracking mode allows an object to be locked onto and followed, although I found it slightly slow to respond. 225 grid mode allows the camera to determine the best place of focus, while ‘One Area’ allows you to choose a single point for the camera to lock onto. There is also a custom multi-area that enables the user to select a region for the camera to take account of during auto focus operation.

As per any auto focus mode on any camera ever made so far, these autofocus modes are not foolproof. But some of them come close! The GH5 seems to be a very able performer in this area.

In the firmware that was on the test camera, autofocus for video only functioned with 4K video modes, while 1080 modes were manual focus only. Of course, most of us will be using manual focus anyway, and this is ably assisted by both focus peaking indication, as well as the option of magnifying the picture. In manual modes an unmarked distance gauge appears, too.

Comprehensive menus

The GH5 menu system is comprehensive, but it is also easy to navigate. There are a multitude of options here, which vary depending on whether you are in stills or video mode. One notable feature is the ability to choose your luminance range. For instance the camera defaults, in 10-bit 4K mode, to 64-1023. However if you are shooting for the web for instance, you can choose to shoot with a range of 0-1023. The ability to set this does depend on which picture profile you are using, however. If you use the optional V-Log gamma, you will be locked to a range of 0-1023.

Other useful settings include being able to tune the detail level and noise reduction aggressiveness, as well as variable framerate in 1080p modes, allowing speeds up to 180 fps to be chosen.

There are far too many options to cover in detail here, suffice to say that when it comes to the camera setup, you wont find yourself wanting.


What’s it like in use?

Using the GH5 is, of course, very similar to using other video capable stills cameras. The form factor isn’t, as a result, totally conducive to shooting video. However because Panasonic have designed the GH5 as a very video focussed camera, the control, and options on offer are very convenient. Unlike other stills cameras, I didn’t feel like I was fighting with the GH5 to work with it.

Manual focus with the supplied kit lens was smooth, with a nice amount of rotation required. This is in contrast to most stills lenses which often have a very short rotational distance. The focus ring was of the infinite rotating kind, so I suspect (but cannot confirm) that it is servo driven. If it is, it doesn’t act or feel like it, with the response being instantaneous no matter how fast I turned it.

The two SD card slots proved very useful. If you are on a mixed shoot you can select to have one card record video, and the other to store stills. Or you can run one slot as a direct backup, or use the second card for longer record times. It’s up to you, but is it a great feature to have.

The camera allows a few options to help shooting with the optional V-log profile. The GH5 can display a LUT (for which there are four custom slots to store different LUT files) to either the main camera display, or just to an output monitor, vice versa, or both.

The picture quality from the 10-bit 4K modes at 150mbps is very good indeed, and rich in detail. Colours from graded V-log footage would appear to be accurate. Skin tones may just be erring a smidgen to the side of red, but overall they are very pleasing reproduced. My understanding is that the GH5 does not have an OLPF filter, and so things are tack sharp, even with the detail dialled right down. In 4K modes at least, aliasing would also appear to be pretty well controlled despite this.

In high framerate 1080p modes there are a couple of things to be aware of. Aliasing at these resolutions is more of an issue, and with the detail enhancement dialled down to a minimum the picture does go a little soft. So if you are shooting 1080p, you may need some experimentation to get the best result. This is a pretty minor issue, however, as the GH5 really does shine in 4K. With 400Mbps intraframe modes becoming available via a firmware update in April, the results this camera will be capable of should be pretty stunning.

The sensitivity of the camera is very high, and low light shooting at higher ISO settings produces perfectly usable results. If you go to the maximum of ISO 12800, the video will be noisy, yes, but it is still perfectly usable if you had to go to those extremes. The GH5 won’t beat the A7SII in the low light stakes, but it is certainly no slouch, either.

Lastly, the stabilisation is excellent. In video modes you can be using three different stabilisation systems. The one in the lens, the one in the camera body, and an additional electronic one if you so desire. If you are using non stabilised primes, you can still use the in-body stabilisation and you can tell the camera what focal length you are using so that it performs accurately.

More on that 6K mode

One of the talking points about the GH5 is its 6K continuous shooting mode. This isn’t a video mode, but one from which stills can be extracted. It works as follows. Once the 6K (or 4K) continuous mode is selected, you simply hold down the shutter release button for as long as you want to shoot for. The camera then takes stills at 30 frames per second until you let go of the button.

You then go through the sequence and select the frames that you wish to save as an individual photograph. The system works extremely well, and for action shots it will be fantastic. Could you make a video from it? That’s debatable. To do so you would have to go through each frame and export each one one-by-one. Therefore you could conceivably do it, but it is doubtful whether it would be worth the effort. But what this mode does mean is that in a sequence of high intensity action you will pretty much be guaranteed to capture the part of the movement that you wanted.

The sequence itself is apparently stored as an MPEG-4 file, so the photos taken in this mode cannot be raw files.

Other useful functions

The GH5 has a number of other very clever functions, some of which will be relevant to video, and others that are more stills-focussed, but I’ll talk about them anyway because they are pretty useful.

Timelapse is a function that is on most cameras these days. But the GH5 adds some functionality in that once all the stills have been taken and saved, the camera will then ask you if you want to create a movie file from them. This is incredibly useful because it allows you to take an extremely high resolution set of timelapse stills, and then get a preview of the final sequence right there in the field.

Rack focus is another good function that takes the guess work out of pulling focus. Set the start and end focus points, and let the camera do the rest. The speed of the focus change can also be tuned to your requirements.

Embedded timecode is provided for, again showing how video focussed this camera is. Timecode can also be set to time of day or rec run, and can be adjusted in the latter. Useful for adjusting to account for card numbers.

Lastly, and this is for stills, is the ability to take a rapid fire number of photos, each with a different focus point. This allows you either to select your ideal focus as a post process. Or you can get the camera to stack the images and merge them into one. You can choose to merge all of them, or select a focus range. Why do this? Well, for close up work, and macro photography focus can be extremely tricky, and often photos need to be stacked during post processing, which is usually a bit of a laborious job. So the ability to handle this process in camera is really rather spiffing.

Panasonic GH5 Review: The Conclusions

The GH5 is a very comprehensive bit of kit. To cover all of its functionality would take all day, and is certainly far more than we have the space to publish here. However, if you have been a long-time user of the GH4, the new model will give you features that you will have been craving, such as a drastically improved picture, and major firmware updates in the near future to improve things even further.

It is well built, and not too bulky, which will make it ideal for travelling. Frankly, if you can’t make a good picture with the GH5, you won’t be able to do it with any camera. It has been thought out very well with some truly useful functionality.

It isn’t often that I get particularly excited for a camera. But I really, really like the GH5. Panasonic is onto a winner with this one. The GH5 retails for £1699 for the body only, or £2199 for the model reviewed here with the 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 lens.

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