Panasonic's GH4 has exceeded all expectations. It's a 4K professional video camera in the guise of a still camera. It has stuff never before seen on a still imager. Here's our in-depth look at this stunning new camera
By Richard Payne
Since the arrival of the Canon 5D mark II, those of us trained on ‘proper’ cameras have always been happy to sneer at the DSLR: ‘nice depth of field, shame about the audio’ or ‘great colours, shame it’s out of focus’ and don’t start me on talking about aliasing and moiré. With the GH4, we’re going to have to come up with a new book of excuses. Frankly, if I had been given a new, purely video, camera with the same feature set I would have been more than impressed. The fact that it also takes up to 12 stills (which look better than my expensive DSLR) every second elevates the GH4 to a new place in my affections
So what makes it so ground breaking? It's not just the headline features of 4K recording and a 200 Mbit/s iFrame only HD recording at both 25 and 50p, it's the combination of this and a host of other tools lurking in the menus and the rather surprising optional extra called the YAGHE which can be firmly mounted to the bottom of the camera. I've decided to call it a ‘Yargie’ by the way. The YAGHE gives the camera not only balanced XLR inputs with phantom power, audio level controls and LED level meters, but also Quad 1.5G SDI Output, or 3G, both at 10 bit 4:2:2. They throw in a full size HDMI too which also outputs 10bit 4:2:2 simultaneously and a timecode input on BNC.
Let's look at the headline features in more detail. The GH4’s 4K recording is onto very fast SD cards (I've been using a SanDisk extreme pro 64 GB card which will cope with the 100 M/bs of the 4k modes as well as the 200 M/bs iFrame HD modes as well).
4K + UHD
The GH4 can record and output 4096 x 2160 at a cinematic (DCI) 24p as well as the more TV flavoured 3840 x 2160 UHD at 24, 25 and 30 fps. It can record in MP4, MP4 with LPCM audio and MOV wrappers, and can even record 50i and 50p in AVCHD format. Without any hacking the GH4 can record 1080 50p and 1080 25p at 200 M/bs iFrame H264 and in 24, 25 and 30 fps 100 Mbit/s mode it can record variable frame rates up to 96 fps for super smooth slow motion that can be played back straight from the camera or on an NLE timeline.
A weather sealed body protects the brand new 16MP sensor from the elements and I’ve yet to run one battery down when using the camera on a normal day.
The GH4 can shoot 4K and then output 8MP jpegs which you select from the video straight onto the SD card. It has a totally silent mode for shooting close ups of sleeping tigers or sneaky shots in a press conference.
YAGHE base unit being attached to the GH4. There is also a side connecter. Attaching it is a bit fiddly, but once it's in place, it's very secure.
GH4 attached to the YAGHE base unit. You can see the Audio XLR sockets and the quad HD SDI outpu
Focus on focus.
The GH4 has an exceedingly fast and accurate new auto focus system called Depth from Defocus. With Lumix lenses the camera works out approximate distance by seeing how blurred the image is, then uses the more traditional contrast detection for the fine tuning. Continuous auto focus is available in video mode and a number of modes can be selected. This system is incredibly fast, a Bond like 0.07 seconds! Face and eye detection lets you select either eye of your main subject. Accurate tracking of a selected area is possible, a 49 point autofocus and a unique (to me anyway) free selection mode that allows a user to select which pattern of the 49 autofocus areas are used. Focus peaking and expanded focus on the OLED touch screen and viewfinder can confirm the autofocus accuracy or allow manual focus.