Back to the future
Panasonic has shaken up the industry before, especially with its Varicam and with its GH2, mirrorless camera. The GH2 challenged both conventional video cameras and DSLRs, with its image quality and low cost. GH2 footage has found its way into award-winning films, and network television.
The GH2, though, was squarely a consumer camera. The GH4 shares that camera’s consumer heritage – it is made by Panasonic’s consumer imaging arm – but it makes more than a nod to pro use.
Fitting microphone and headphone sockets should now be standard at this price point. Equipping cameras with broadcast-ready codecs and bitrates, unfortunately is not. Panasonic, though, has done this.
Clean HDMI out should be standard too; this is becoming more common, but it is still not universal. There will always be a market for external recorders, not just for reasons of bypassing in-camera compression but also for workflow. For events or long interviews, recording to SSDs in ProRes is a much more attractive option than wrangling a pile of SD cards.
Adding 4K, again, is becoming more common, but most consumer cameras – and some pro ones – support only the lower-res UHD, not Cinema 4K. Panasonic has scored here too by including Cinema 4K in camera, out of the box. It is only 24fps, which is not ideal for Europe (and the rest of the PAL world) and higher framerates would have been good, but it is still Cinema 4K.
Panasonic have also taken a different approach to capturing an image off the sensor than many other cameras. In 4K it uses a direct sampling method, avoiding pixel binning. This does mean a greater crop – especially in Cinema 4K – than in HD. The Cinema HD crop is 2.3 against 2x for HD.
But most film makers would readily trade that for an image that, hopefully, is free of moire and false colour. The only other mainstream camera that has that uses that feature, for now, is Sony’s upcoming a7S. The Nikon D4s and the Canon 1DC have similar modes (Super35mm on the Canon). But the Nikon, for example, delivers that with a 2.7x crop, and it is also a £5000 camera.
The other sign of Panasonic’s intent with the GH4, though, is its YAGH accessory. This is a combined power, audio, timecode and SDI interface adapter or docking station. Slightly larger than a battery grip, it transforms the GH4 into something close to a regular broadcast or studio camera.
The YAGH will never win prizes for its looks, but the ability to use industry-standard power and audio inputs is already a benefit. Timecode in, at this level, is essential. Full, uncompressed, 4K SDI out makes the GH4 a viable production camera. Yes, the YAGH is bulky. Yes, it is expensive (£1500 on its own, £1000 bundled with the camera body). But it gives you a 4K TV camera body for just over £2000.