Panasonic GH5: Two Months Later (with samples)
Some thoughts after using the GH5…I know, I know…it’s not even full frame.
Why the GH5?
Roughly two months ago (from the time I wrote this article) I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade from the Panasonic GH4 to the GH5. I didn’t preorder it, even though I was tempted. I read a bunch of previews, reviews, rumors…anything I could find out about the camera before considering the $2000 investment. I also looked at other options which were at a similar price point. I waited (impatiently) for the camera to be released and started watching a ton of videos to get a better understanding of its capabilities.
The other contenders were the Olympus OM‑D E‑M1 Mark II and the Sony A6500. The Olympus showed real promise. A beautiful 4K image, awesome in-camera stabilization, solid low light performance, superior stills quality. The Sony was also tempting with it’s larger sensor, superior low light shooting, greater dynamic range and all in a significantly cheaper package (excluding of course the cost of new lenses).
In the end, it was a relatively easy decision. The GH4 was good to me. Sure, it wasn’t perfect but what camera is? Noisy low-light footage, shaky handheld footage, strange color casts, sub-standard dynamic range…but it did a lot of things right. Important things which are easy to take for granted. Things like battery life, ergonomics, size, weight and overall reliability. As a Panasonic newbie, there was a definite learning curve. My first few months with the GH4 were frustrating. Everything I shot looked like garbage. After many months of practice, reading, learning and coming to terms with the fact that I really knew nothing about creating an aesthetically pleasing image, things finally started to make sense. If used correctly I realized that the GH4 could produce a beautiful image.
If the GH5 was more or less a GH4 with IBIS and improved low-light… then for me, that alone was a compelling reason to stick with Panasonic.
Like many others, I had my concerns about the GH5. Especially after that appalling Cinema 5D analysis of the 10-bit footage which described the 10Bit files as unusable…In fairness, they pulled the article once the community and other websites explained how 10-Bit works (showing how wrong they were).
Sure, low-light was improved. That’s great!…but it’s still a m4/3 sensor. Us m4/3 users can be sensitive about this subject but we shouldn’t be. We can’t argue with physics! More light entering a larger sensor will mean less noise at higher ISO’s and a cleaner image. Ok, so the GH5 will have better low-light compared to the GH4 but so what? That isn’t saying much.
At $2000 you could just about afford the full frame Sony A7S (today you can!), the camera that redefined the whole concept of a ‘low light camera’. Also there’s the 14+ stops of dynamic range that comes with it. As someone who loves the “cinematic” look and really tries to squeeze every drop of dynamic range out of their image, this was definitely a compelling option.
I guess my biggest concern was that I’d feel regret! The dreaded ‘buyer’s remorse’. For most of us, $2000 is a lot of money. I had a vision of myself sitting for hours on end, comparing my measly, blown-out, noise-filled GH5 footage to the clean, dynamic, nocturnal shots coming from Sony FF users.
“I imagined 24-hour pixel-peeping benders, eventually smashing my head through my monitor, dropping to my knees and begging the camera Gods to forgive my foolishness.”
Thankfully, after two months of using the GH5 I can honestly say I have no regrets.
Enough talk. Is it any good?
The Short Answer…
Yes. It’s very good. So far, it seems to have checked all the boxes. For me, the excellent image quality, paired with an unparalleled set of video features (in it’s price range), IBIS and awesome ergonomics make it a worthy successor to the GH4 and a strong reason to stay with Panasonic.
The Long Answer…
How is IBIS?
The GH5’s IBIS (In body image stabilization) is a true lifesaver. Everybody seems to say that, I know. For me, it solves a big issue with my style of filmmaking. I like to shoot handheld. Rigs add weight and draw attention. Tripods are bulky and slow things down. With the GH4 I had the best results with a modified monopod. IBIS changes things. It’s definitely one of my favorite features in the GH5 and also, the first to be completely forgotten about. Which is a good thing. It feels totally natural to forget it exists. Stabilization is one of those frustrating obstacles that just gets in the way of us taking great photos and video. Imagine a world where stabilization just isn’t really an issue…. boom, it happened. Just like that.
Now obviously for any shot choice that requires a locked off camera you’ll still probably want to use a tripod. (Stabilization in post is possible but not recommended) But from my experience, in most cases, IBIS allows me to leave the tripod at home and shoot handheld.
How about image quality?
The GH5 produces a beautiful, crisp image. From what I can tell colors are much improved over the GH4. Whether you’re shooting Natural, Cinelike or Vlog, I’ve found that you can get some seriously impressive results. 10-Bit 4:2:2 makes a big difference too. It’s a lot of fun to color grade with much less banding. Improved low-light means less noise. There’s definitely still noise but it’s much less of an issue.
My background is in Visual Effects. I’ve had a good bit of experience working with RED footage and footage from other cinema cameras. I don’t necessarily want an image with too much personality. I prefer a crisp, clean plate with enough quality color information, detail and dynamic range to play with and build upon. I can always soften the image, stretch DR and color grade to my liking in post production. The GH5 is great for this purpose.
What about getting that cinematic look?
There’s a lot of discussion and opinions about the best camera for a cinematic image… and indeed the definition of ‘cinematic’ and what it really means. For me, it means creating video that looks like the stuff we see in a cinema. Real motion pictures or music videos. Films made by professionals, often with big budgets and lots of talented people.
In short, YES! In my opinion you can absolutely produce cinematic images which were shot using the GH5... but as many have already pointed out, a cinematic image is just a glossy term we’re using to describe the result of several, very intentional creative decisions. Things like framing, lighting, color-grading, depth of field, production design, costume, makeup, VFX and many other things.
Whether you‘re using an Iphone or an Arri Alexa, there’s no guarantees that something will look “cinematic”.
I admit, I was pretty pissed about paying another $99 to unlock Vlog. I’ve heard Panasonic’s reasoning and it sounds pretty weak to me.
With the GH4, I never upgraded to VLOG. Instead I shot with Cinelike V which apparently has around 10 stops of dynamic range. These days that isn’t an awful lot but for me it was enough to get by.
Panasonic have stated that the GH5 has more or less the same dynamic range as the GH4, but from what I can tell it seems to have increased…and I think I know a little more about the GH5 than Panasonic :)
Kidding…I’m an idiot. Seriously though, after two months with the GH5 it really feels like there’s more DR. Maybe this is because of better noise reduction, particularly in the shadows which allows more options in grading. Maybe it has something to do with the higher data rates..or color depth…new sensor wizardry… I really don’t know. It just feels like there’s more! Maybe it’s just that there’s more usable DR.
For me the proof is in the pudding. See those stills above? Yeah the ones with the dog. That’s Yams the puppy. Those shots were all taken using Cinelike V, 10-bit 422. Click here for a full quality .png
I don’t remember being able to get that kind of shot using the GH4. Often times when I’d shoot against the sun I’d need to completely blow out the sky in order to make the rest of the shot usable. Or if I exposed for the sky, the rest of the scene crumbles into a colorless, noisy, dark mess which you can’t do much with.
So even without upgrading to Vlog, the GH5 appears to have improved dynamic range. (This is without doing any scientific tests, I’m just going on what I’ve seen and experienced as a GH4/GH5 owner).
Vlog is definitely fun though. Upgrading to Vlog means that I have to do less work in-camera to get the exposure I need. I can expose for the sky and then comfortably lift the shadows in post. Personally, I avoid blowing out highlights whenever possible. If I can, I’d rather keep the sky and let the foreground subject succumb to darkness, even if it means losing color and adding some noise.
Besides, silhouettes are awesome! Great way to add drama to a scene. Vlog gives me extra breathing room to experiment in post. Panasonic say it’s about 12 stops.
Vlog isn’t going to suddenly make your footage look more cinematic but it does make it easier for you to give your footage a cinematic look.
Honestly I didn’t really have much appreciation or understanding of what 10-Bit 4:2:2 meant when it was first announced to be included in the GH5. “Oh that’s cool…2 more bits! or something” was probably my first thought. Since the announcement I’ve had go back to color school and bring myself up to speed.
Having had some time to play with the 10Bit files I can finally see the tangible benefits of 10-Bit over 8-Bit. The benefits are big.
Grading 10-Bit files is a joy. You can push and pull the colors all over the place without the image falling apart. Banding is practically nonexistent. At least compared to 8-Bit files. Unless you really ramp up saturation and contrast, intentionally trying to break the footage! Colors are much richer and you can push contrast and saturation much higher than I’d feel comfortable doing with 8-Bit files. This makes sense if you remind yourself that 2 more Bits translates to a jump from 16 million colors to over a Billion colors. That’s right…..TURBO COLOR.
It’s worth noting that in order to truly benefit from 10-Bit you’ll need to put in some extra effort, ensuring that you export your final files with as much color depth as possible. I do my grading inside after effects using a 16-Bit project. Here’s some screenshots which hopefully help illustrate the benefits of 10-Bit.
Note: Please send me a message if you any advice for what export settings to use!
Let’s just get this out of the way. The GH5 is not an A7S. If you want to go out at 3am and shoot bats inside caves with no lights, this is not the camera for you. But if you’re like me and love shooting at dawn or dusk/magic hour then this cameras low light capabilities are good enough. Sure you can shoot at night-time but you’ll need light!
Based on my tests, without some kind of post-process noise reduction, I can’t recommend shooting at anything above ISO 1600 in low light situations.
Is that an issue? No, not unless you make it an issue. In the future I might look at purchasing some kind of de-noising software/ plugin that may enable me to shoot at 3200..but for me, today I really don’t need to. Noisy low-light footage is only an issue if I fail to light the scene correctly or push the footage too much in grading. That’s something the GH5 has in common with many other cameras… BlackMagic Cinema Camera, Red Epic…etc.
When it comes to low light, I’ve recently reevaluated my requirements. Rather than obsess over ISOs and noise I think about the end result. What kind of shot do I really want? What does the script call for? What’s the right mood, tone for this piece?
For my taste and style, I don’t have any low-light demands that the GH5 can’t meet. Aesthetically, I’ll almost always want some detail in the sky.
Here’s some low(ish) light samples:
I don’t use autofocus. I shoot manual. I tested autofocus once and it seemed ok.
After two months I feel like I’m starting to get an understanding of what this camera is capable of. Would I be comfortable shooting a short film, documentary or music video with the GH5? Yes, yes and yes. I only know about what I’ve experienced. I’ve never owned a Blackmagic Cinema camera, a Sony A7Sii, Red Epic or an Arri Alexa but I’ve seen that they can all produce great images in the right hands. I do, however, own a Panasonic GH5 and that too can produce great images.
I’m looking forward to seeing what 400mbps All-I will mean for image quality. Maybe not so much? Or maybe there’s even more exciting things coming with future firmware updates? The GH5 has a lot of horsepower and may have a few surprises in store for us. We’ll see what the wizards at Panasonic come up with.
The GH5 may not have the best low-light capabilities, dynamic range, autofocus yadda yadda yadda. What matters is that it has enough of what’s required to create gorgeous cinematic moving pictures, all in a reliable, ergonomically sound and robust body. It’s a combination of things that come together to form this unique package. Sure, we can isolate one of these features and criticize it but that often doesn’t result in a fair assessment of the whole.
After two months of use I can comfortably recommend the GH5. Thank you Panasonic for listening to filmmakers and photographers.
Disclaimer: I’m still pretty new to shooting (Started with the GH4 about 2 years ago) so there’s a lot I don’t know but am eager to learn. Any tips? Constructive criticism? Questions? Send me a message!
Check out my vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/michaellathrop