Panasonic’s GH4: video test and review

4K cameras

Conclusions and verdict

GH4 front left
The GH4 is still, a year after it was announced, a remarkable and unusual package.

There are, so far, few cameras that can compete with it on video specifications at this price. Other options include the under-rated, but excellent, Nikon D5300, which is cheaper, or else costlier, full-frame options such as the Canon 5DmkIII, the Nikon D800 (and the new D750) or the Canon A7s.

When it comes to camcorders, the GH4’s pricing puts it in the territory of a consumer model, such as the CX900, or perhaps, now prices have dropped, the Super35mm FS-100 from Sony.

But these are all HD only. When it comes to 4K, the only real rivals are Sony’s consumer AX100 camcorder, or the upcoming FDR-AXP33. Sony’s pro-spec PXW-X70 costs more, and needs a paid-for upgrade for 4K. Beyond that, for 4K, it’s a Sony A7s again, with an external Convergent Design Odyssey or Atomos Shogun recorder, or Panasonic’s HC-X1000 semi-pro model.

Step up from there, and it is a Sony FS-700 (again with external recorder for 4K, the Blackmagic Production Camera, the URSA, or the PXW-Z100 we reviewed recently. All these cost more than a fully-loaded GH4, and are far bulkier too.

Don’t, though, be taken in by the entry-level price of the GH4, as that is by no means the full picture. Unless you’re upgrading from a GH2 or GH3 – of course, man y GH4 buyers will be – you will need lenses.

The Metabones and other adapters do a great job, but it is hard to resist the temptation of native glass, especially for image stabilisation, and for those who use it, AF.

Then there is the question of sound: at the very least, the GH4 needs a top mic, either one of Panasonic’s or the Røde Video Mic Go. Add in a sound recorder for XLR mics, and the total cost is closer to £2500 than the £1200 or so street price of a bare bones GH4. Add the YAGH dock, and the cost is around £3,500 – or not so far from that of a Canon EOS C100 or a Sony FS-700 with a lens.

But, neither of those cameras does internal 4K, neither take stills, and neither are as portable as the GH4, although they do offer larger sensors. This leaves the GH4, once again, in a class of its own.

So, would we recommend buying the GH4?

The answer is an unqualified yes. Its capabilities, its low entry cost – due in part to its modular nature – and the future proofing brought by 4K makes it a must buy for any production company. If nothing else, the GH4 is a great way to test out 4K film making.

For individual freelancers and self-shooters, the question is a little more nuanced.

If you want to buy just one video camera, then a C100 – perhaps with an external recorder – might be the better option; for those who work as stills photographers too, full frame is still attractive. But the GH4 is versatile and can be accessorised to compete with larger cameras. If your budget stretches to a GH4 but not, say, a C100, then the GH4 will stand you in good stead.

For multi-camera and live production, the GH4 is a more complicated proposition, as it has a distinctive look, and it is not as easy as it could be to match footage between cameras.

The fact that the GH4 can receive, but not generate, timecode via the YAGH makes it less than easy to use several GH4s on a shoot – a pity, as this would be a very interesting shooting option.

Finally, should GH2 and GH3 users upgrade? Again, the answer is yes. GH3 users in particular can use batteries and even the battery grip from the GH3. The GH4 is the best option for video, of all Micro Four Thirds cameras – at least until, or if, Panasonic announces a 4K replacement for the AF100/AF101.

Review pictures kindly provided by Zoltán Mészáros and are © ens: media.