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Panasonic Lumix GH4 First Impressions Review

Discussion in 'Micro 4/3 News and Rumors' started by napilopez, May 9, 2014.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Panasonic Lumix GH4 First Impressions Review


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    I was never particularly interested in the GH3.

    I don't do much video, the body was bigger than I prefer, the lack of internal image stabilization was troublesome for my usual shooting, and the overall feel just didn't really jive with me. On paper, the new GH4 seems like it shouldn't be much better. Its headline feature is 4k, which for my own purposes I'm neither incredibly interested in nor capable of working with thanks to meager computer specs.

    So imagine my surprise when I've found myself absolutely loving the camera after just two days of using it.

    The GH4 is loaded with features and options, and it will take me a while to try them all out. I'm scheduled to have quite the busy May, too, so I wanted to get some impressions out before I am overcome with shoots. As such I'm keeping my thoughts a bit briefer than I normally would for a camera review. Expect the full review to be thorough.

    (Edit: This is what I call brief, apparently...)

    All images are processed from JPEGs through Lightroom 5 and Exposure 5, as there is no Adobe RAW support for it yet.

    Build and Design

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    Build quality is good. The camera is extremely similar to the GH3, with the main visible difference being the E-M1-like clicking mode dial. It's not the most solid-feeling body I've ever used--the E-M1 feels more tightly put together--but there isn't anything to make me worry either. And as every camera should be, it's weather sealed.

    The viewfinder is much improved from the GH3. I noticed no significant issue with viewing into its corners like I did when testing out its predecessor, and the eyecup itself is comfortable. Colors are accurate and they blissfully actually match the rear LCD. Lag is kept very low. I do wish it were a bit higher magnification, as pretty much every other flagship mirrorless camera is--the E-M1 is 0.74x and the X-T1 is 0.77x, whereas the GH4 is 0.67x--and the body certainly seems large enough to accommodate it. Still, it's plenty large and sharp, and certainly larger than you'll find on any APS-C DSLR.

    I still personally prefer Olympus' control layout, as the GH4's large size makes one-handed operation difficult for my relatively small T-Rex-like hands, but I'm sure for many the GH4 will feel perfect, especially if you're coming from a DSLR.

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    Performance

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    Image Credit: Laila Sultana


    This camera is FAST, and not just in focusing (more on that later). The menus and touch screen are both possibly the most responsive I've used. Almost every menu change, button press, or touch on the screen reacts instantly. In playback mode, scrolling through photos and zooming in and out happens with no delay whatsoever. If you just hold left or right on the control dial, pictures scroll by so fast it almost looks more like video than a collection of images. These may sound like small things, but they make you feel like a photographic ninja in the field, and I'm sure I'll appreciate it during my shoots in the coming weeks. Going back to my E-M5 felt like riding a crippled tortoise by comparison. Well, maybe not that bad, but it made me realize the slight delay in some parts of the E-M5's interface. And mind you, I'm only using a pretty run-of-the-mill 45Mbps UHS Class 1 SD card rather than the UHS Class 3 ones this camera supports.

    Of course, the camera also has a super fast burst rate at 12 FPS with focus locked, 7 FPS with C-AF. The buffer is plenty for my uses even on said average SD card, and clears relatively quickly. One caveat: sometimes after shooting a very large burst, if you go into playback mode, the camera will lock up a bit. This doesn't happen unless you're shooting a huge burst (and I was shooting RAW+JPEG), and it only happens if you try to view your images after said large burst. Normally the camera goes straight into playback mode with no issue.

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    A brief note on image quality: there's no Adobe RAW support at the moment, not even any beta builds of Lightroom, so I don't want to work with RAW files quite yet (even using the GH3 EXIF workaround). That said, it's great to see how far Panasonic's JPEGs have come since the days of my old G3. I've found the images from this camera to be consistently pleasing and accurate, even in the overcast weather I've have to use it a lot with. White balance has been a nice surprise too, with the camera handling mixed lighting well, and rendering proper colors with incandescent lighting. I've kept most of my editing here light where it isn't obvious, and I'd say the colors are all around pleasant.

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    But back to focusing...

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    Image Credit: Laila Sultana


    This thing is a beast. Seriously. With my 25mm F1.4 and 45mm f1.8 I don't notice a huge difference in focusing speed between the GH4 and my E-M5 (although the GH4 still always won), but with the 35-100 differences seem to be much more pronounced. It also is extremely accurate; I don't think I've missed focus at all in the past couple of days. Also, it focuses better than any camera I've used in extremely low light.

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    Still, that shouldn't be too surprising given most photographers know CDAF systems can focus with speed and accuracy, and improve every generation; their inherent issue is tracking movement, particularly towards or away from the camera. So that being said, I am very happy to say the GH4 has performed excellently. This whole DFD (Depth from Defocus) thing is--thank goodness--not just a fancy marketing term, but actually the real deal. With some quick test shots using C-AF + Tracking on joggers, cyclists, and cars, or with me running towards the subject myself, the GH4 consistently provided sharp shots; I'm talking 75-100% hit rates. When objects pass in front of the camera or you lose your subject for a bit, it will lock right back onto it as soon as possible. It also has an advantage over DSLRs and cameras like the X-T1 and E-M1 in that you can use the entire frame with continuous autofocus.

    Here are three images from an 11-shot burst showcasing both how the system handles obstructions and subjects moving towards the edge of the frame. I used the 35-100mm F2.8. There's some motion blur because my shutter speed was set too low, but you can tell the car is always in acceptable focus:


    And another, simpler, 4-shot burst:


    You can see the full sequences at my test-shot Flickr account. You'll also find a particularly tricky 14-shot burst where I pan the camera slightly to follow a cyclist from afar. I didn't nail the initial tracking point either--I focused on the bicycle rather than the man--but the camera still does an acceptable job of tracking him throughout the 14 pictures.

    From very preliminary testing it seems to track more accurately than the A6000 I'm also reviewing does, even when matched for burst rates (the A6000 has a maximum 11FPS C-AF burst). Take that with a very small grain of salt, as the variables to control here are significant, but the fact that they're comparable at all shows how far contrast-detect autofocus has come. And it seems to handily out-do the PDAF-enabled NX30 I reviewed a month ago.

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    Perhaps an even better surprise is that C-AF even seems to work well with Olympus lenses, which DFD isn't supposed to support. Take this with a grain of salt as well, as I have yet to try my Oly lenses in the same sort variety of settings as my Panasonic ones. Still, I expected it to perform like it would on any other CDAF only camera, but testing the camera's tracking by moving towards or away from various objects around my house, I found the 45mm +GH4 combo to consistently lock onto its target, although the burst rate would slow down a bit to ensure accuracy.

    Kudos to Panasonic for finding a way to track subjects accurately without abandoning contrast detect AF. I need to do testing with more erratic subjects like animals or sports, but with the subjects I've tried so far, it tracks as well as any DSLR set-up I've used.

    Other notes:

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    -The Wi-Fi control works like a charm. I never tried it on the GH3, so I can't compare, but there is surprisingly little lag between the camera movements and the view on my phone. It also provides a huge amount of control, even allowing you to use manual focus right from your phone (assuming you're using a fly-by-wire lens).

    -As expected, 4K video doesn't work with my measly UHS Class 1 card, you need a fancy new UHS Class 3 one.

    -Battery life is very good for a mirrorless camera, better than any other I've used.

    -Panasonic has perhaps surpassed Olympus in levels of customization; there are about 40 different assignments for the Fn buttons (many of them video related).

    -All the buttons feel sensibly placed and appropriately clicky.

    -The ability to use the touch screen to control focus points while looking through the EVFis tremendously useful, and far superior to any other method of selecting a focus point while using a viewfinder.

    -When tracking can't perform the initial lock on, a quick half-press of the shutter will temporarily revert the camera into S-AF mode, which is a nice touch for not missing your shot altogether.

    -I've yet to try C-AF only; I've only tried continuous autofocus coupled with tracking.

    -I'm finding low light noise texture to be surprisingly pleasant, even with JPEGs, but IBIS is sorely missed with my 25mm F1.4. I lose 3+ stops of low light performance for static subjects, and I can't just ignore that. But then again, at least the GH4 actually focuses in ridiculously low light...

    Early Thoughts

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    Image Credit: Laila Sultana

    I've said before that we're lucky to live in a time where there are rarely "bad" cameras, just good ones and really good ones. From all I've seen so far, the GH4 is easily towards the better end of the scale. There are few cameras I've used where I just feel like everything "just works" right away like this. Focus tracking works. The viewfinder works. The layout works, The white balance works. The JPEGs work. The menus work. Yadda yadda, etc.

    In every sense, the GH4 is a workhorse camera. It seems we're finally past the days of making important compromises for our small system cameras versus DSLRs. No, it's not going to best your 1DX at tracking Usain Bolt or your hyper puppies, but neither does the D800. This is a camera that's meant to be used in a professional setting, and it's one of the closest cameras I've ever felt to truly being a no-compromise product. Yes, it's not that different from a GH3, but everything comes together so well, that to me it feels like a completely different camera.

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    The only things I feel I can complain about are more preferential than objective. I still really dislike the modern DSLR-like design (yes, I know looks don't matter, but if a camera can look good while performing well, why not?). Seems like a waste of the design flexibility mirrorless cameras give you; something akin to the G6 would have been nicer. The size is also bigger than I like, but then again it makes no difference for storage in my ONA Bowery camera bag. And the lack of IBIS is major sore spot for me, but if you're primarily a daytime shooter (and aren't up taking photos and writing reviews at 4AM like a certain person) or use a fancy device called a tripod, you should be fine.

    I realize these are pretty definitive-sounding conclusions for someone who's only had a camera for a couple of days, but the truth is the GH4 and I became best friends immediately. I have much shooting to do with it in the coming weeks, but I get the feeling my impressions won't change much. For quite possibly the first time, I'm more excited than apprehensive about using a mirrorless camera that's not my E-M5 or an E-M1 for my professional shoots.

    If you have specific things you'd like me to test, feel free to let me know in the replies below, and I'll try to get to them.

    The GH4 is available for $1,698. Please note that the product links in this post are affiliate links, and we get a small commission when you buy something through them. It's appreciated, and your price remains the same.

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    Image Credit: Laila Sultana
     
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  2. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    Thanks for the review. Seems like a balanced and objective review, and I'm really pleased to hear that DFD seems to work with Olympus lenses. Keep us posted as you get more data and experience on that point.
     
  3. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Yeah, I don't think its actually DFD doing the work for Olympus lenses, but rather just that the camera uses C-AF effectively. I still need to do extensive outdoors testing with my 45, but so far I've been quite happy.
     
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  4. val

    val Mu-43 Top Veteran

    548
    Dec 19, 2013
    Australia
    William
    great first impressions. I don't have anything to add except I look forward to your full review.
     
  5. taz98spin

    taz98spin Mu-43 Top Veteran

    843
    May 13, 2011
    NYC
    Thanks for the write up!!

    I can't wait to see one and play with one in person!
     
  6. tomO2013

    tomO2013 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    799
    Oct 28, 2013
    The GH4 has an extremely beefy quad core processor on-board to handle all that 4k video goodness. The number of processors really is irrelevant as it is more marketing speak than anything...however, given the high bit-rate support that it provides for 4k, we can make a fairly well educated assumption that it is considerably more beefy than anything else out there that does not handle 4k video, never mind other devices that do actually handle 4k but with lower bit rate.
    I suspect Panasonic are using this additional horse power for general CDAF that does not benefit from DFD. Panasonic could in theory also use this horse power to provide some level of software stabilisation in camera... as a thought. It's also a good way for them to get around noise at higher ISO's.
    I was at the Dublin Photographic show and speaking with the Panasonic rep , the processor in this thing is a couple of generations leap over what is out there.
     
  7. tomO2013

    tomO2013 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    799
    Oct 28, 2013
    Edit : I should have said from the start - thanks for taking the time out to review this. You did a great job and lovely pictures :)
     
  8. mjw

    mjw Mu-43 Veteran

    220
    Sep 23, 2013
    Seattle, WA
    Matt
    What does a lens need to do in order to support DFD?
     
  9. tomO2013

    tomO2013 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    799
    Oct 28, 2013
    It needs to be profiled by Panasonic. So far they are only profiling their own lenses... but that could change...


     
  10. wreckless

    wreckless Mu-43 Regular

    102
    Jan 15, 2011
    Michigan
    Mike
    Great review, Napier!

    Would it be possible in your continued reviewing process to see how the camera handles tracking a subject that is coming toward or going away from you, as you zoom in or out to keep the subject the same(ish) size? I shoot a lot of races (rally, especially) and this would be one ability that would be a boon for my shooting style in these circumstances.

    Thanks again for your review!

    Mike
     
  11. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Yeah, I'd imagine it needs to have a powerful processor on board. I've been playing around with an X-T1 today as well, and that's an amazing camera too... but from my initial impressions, I wouldn't quite trust it for professional work the same way I would a GH4 at the moment; Not that the X-T1 is slow; it's faster than my E-M5 in many respects. But everything on the GH4 happens immediately.

    As mentioned, Panasonic uses profiles on its lenses to determine which way to move focus; the issue with CDAF is normally that it can't really tell whether it has to move back or forward without confirming focus many times. By looking at a lens' bokeh quality, Panasonic can direct its lenses the proper way. There are some websites saying Panasonic does this for all Micro Four Thirds lenses, but as far as I know, they're only doing it for their own.

    Will try!
     
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  12. hoodlum

    hoodlum Mu-43 Veteran

    214
    Jul 16, 2012
    Toronto Canada
    Thanks for your initial thoughts. I am glad you are looking at the GH4 from a non-video viewpoint as that is what interests me about the GH4. It would be great if you could compare the GH4 and E-M1 for AF-C and tracking. I would be interested to hear how the on-sensor solution compares with the DFD solution.
     
  13. orfeo

    orfeo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    673
    Sep 27, 2013
    FR
    Hello Napilopez, thanks for doing this review from a still shooter POV. Could you please enlighten us about the language setting on the GH4? I Wonder if you can set it to japanese language because I want to know if it is zoned but I don't have the information anywhere. Having the option for japanese would be a great hint. I know all the previous cam were zoned to either japanese market or international. But what gives me hope is that the GH4 is the first cam to be able to switch between various NTSC/PAL constrains. Thanks in advance mate.
     
  14. kenyee

    kenyee Mu-43 Rookie

    13
    Oct 13, 2013
    I'm curious about the low light performance, both for stills and video...please try to look at these in the full review...
     
  15. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Replying to some questions as well as adding a lottt of test notes...

    I don't have an E-M1 on me, but I'll try my best. That's said, it's still beating the X-T1 and A6000 in my usage, but lots more testing in more equivalent settings with more equivalent lenses needs to be done; more on that below.

    Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an option for Japanese; I only see English and Spanish. As you said though, you can switch between NTSC and PAL mode, as well as a 24FPS cinema mode. This is under the "system frequency" section, which im not totally clear about.


    For video: I haven't done much video yet; need to get a 4K capable SD card, but look at blunty's and the Camera Store's video reviews. I don't know how clean the footage will be in 1080p mode yet, but according to all ive read and seen so far, if you shoot and edit in 4K, then downsample to 1080 on export, it seems low light noise performance rivals FF systems. I'd bet you can apply some noise reduction in post too and have the GH4 emerge the clear victor.

    For stills: Also can't provide the best opinion on this, as I normally shoot RAW and am I'm waiting for Adobe RAW/Lightroom support. I'm aware of the trick where you change the EXIF info to say it's a GH3, but given the GH4 seems to have the same sensor but different circuitry, and that JPEG performance seems clearly improved, I'd like to wait till official support before making any claims. That said, high ISO JPEGs have been surprisingly good (I have NR set to -3), probably the best I've seen from a M4/3 camera. It has a nice, organic grain pattern.

    ----------------

    Several other test notes since my original review have come up, so I'll list some here before the final review. The camera is quite easy to use from the get-go, but there are definitely some quirks and idiosyncrasies you can learn to get the most out of it. Might just end up righting a still shooter guide. Some of these may be carried over from the GH3, which I have relatively little experience with, but nevertheless:

    --I believe this was the case on the GH3 as well, but you might not initially find a way to magnify an image in stills mode with an AF lens without activating MF assist. To do this, simply half press the shutter button then press the Fn3 button twice. With MF lenses you don't have to half press the shutter.

    --On a related note, the camera defaults to using the picture in picture magnify mode. This is normally fine and dandy, but costs the camera more processing power, so your live view image will be laggier. If you want the magnified view to be less laggy and take up the whole screen, you either need to use the rear circular scroll wheel (the other two dials adjust magnification amounts in different degrees), or use the touch screen to press an option button that shows up.

    --The camera shows you how many shots are remaining in your buffer in the lower right corner when shooting bursts--a really nice touch.

    --Also, the issue I mentioned in the first impressions with the camera locking up temporarily if you go into playback mode while the buffer is clearing seems to only happen if you completely fill your buffer. In most cases, you can continue to operate the camera normally while the buffer is clearing, even going into Playback mode.

    --Face detection is quite good, providing nearest eye focus, and even displaying a crosshairs to show focus on the eye. Unfortunately, face detection is considered a different AF mode, rather than just being integrated into the other ones. You can, however, still designate an AF point if you wish while using face detection. I'd still say Olympus does it best, but not too shabby.

    --Camera doesn't display focal lengths in either shooting nor playback mode--annoying.

    --You should definitely turn on the Menu Information option in the wrench menu of the camera; provides useful info without compromising the display.

    --I think I prefer white balance on this camera than on my E-M5, especially in low light.

    Some more interesting/peculiar C-AF/Tracking notes:

    --One important quirk/design oversight: The GH4 is capable of providing live view at its full 7FPS maximum C-AF frame rate, but in order to do this, you need to set the camera to Medium burst rate. Even though Panasonic slows down the High burst rate mode from 12fps to 7FPS max when using C-AF, the engineers seem to have overlooked applying live view to this mode. In other words, in all of my tests I never found a difference between the High and Medium speeds when using C-AF, but the medium setting will provide you with live view. This is very important to note, as it means you can pan the camera and track your moving subjects much much more easily; basically the same exact way a DSLR would. It also seems to improve C-AF accuracy, probably simply because you can follow your subject better.

    -If set to medium mode, the camera also shows you where the focus point is as you track your subjects. It changes from green to yellow if it thinks it might have lost focus (although it generally is still in focus anyway).

    --Even if you have the camera set to shutter release priority in the menus (as opposed to focus priority), the camera will slow down the burst and prioritize focus in C-AF mode. It seems shutter release priority only applies to the initial focus acquisition or AF-S mode.

    --Using AF-F (autofocus flexible, basically AF-S that can compensate for slight subject movements) causes the camera's burst to behave as if it were in C-AF mode. In other words, if you want to get the maximum 12fps, you need to strictly be using AF-S.

    --There are some peculiarities with lens choice too, which seem to be related to the lens' DoF capabilities and focus motor speed. Remember how I mentioned that the camera slowed down its C-AF burst rate for the 45mm F1.8 (to about 3-4 FPS)? Well, much to my surprise, turns out it doesn't do this with the Olympus 12-50mm! The burst hits at a similar speed to the 35-100 F2.8, around 6-7 fps, with good accuracy. I don't think it's as accurate as the 35-100 is, but still reliably good so far.

    --In fact, the 12-50mm is faster to focus and provides a better burst rate than Panasonic's own 25mm F1.4, which slows the burst to about 3fps. Even the 45mm F1.8 provides a slightly quicker burst. But in all cases, the GH4 is quicker to focus than the E-M5, and accuracy always remains good.

    --Still showing the GH4 to be preferably in C-AF than the A6000 and X-T1. Unless there's something major I'm missing, the X-T1 can't actually track subjects around the frame; it can do C-AF only limited to 9 fixed focus points that take up about 1/9th of the frame. It has some fancy predictive stuff going on behind the scenes, but I don't know how well this works if your subject leaves the central portion of the frame. The A6000, which I've only tested with the included 16-50 so far, has been good, but less reliable than either camera. It does, however, track around the entire frame.

    --The X-T1 does seem to have a slighttt advantage when it comes to objects coming straight at you, and in a straight line (again, it doesn't seem to track), at least when comparing the 18-55 XF lens to the Panasonic 35-100 when it to approximately equal focal length. Still the flexibility of the GH4 that allows it to track across the entire frame, use face detection, move the focus point with the touch screen while using the EVF, and actually have live view during C-AF, as well as the overall speed of its buffer and operation, make it the superior action choice in my book so far. With the 56mm F1.2, the X-T1 can have trouble with initial C-AF focus, although once that's done it performs well.

    -Tracking performance decreases in low light, as is to be expected, but usually more so with getting the initial lock on than the actual continuous focus part of it. Basically, it's pickier about what it can track. C-AF still seems good regardless.

    --Shot a very small wedding ceremony this weekend, with both the GH4 and the X-T1 and I started off only using AF-C+Tracking for none crucial shots, as I didn't want to risk missing shots due to poor performance. But by halfway through it I was shooting almost exclusively with tracking. It was reliable enough that I felt I wasn't missing any significant number of shots, and ultimately that's all you want from a camera.

    --Battery life is easily better than the X-T1, A6000, or E-M5 (used the viewfinder most of the time with all).

    --Overall, still no real performance/feature complaints other than the lack of IBIS, particularly when using my primes. I still think E-M1's 2x2 system and button arrangement is the absolute best there is for any camera of any creed out there, but the GH4 is still one of the most beautifully handling cameras I've used, especially if you use the touch screen a lot. And I still hate the looks, (seriously, the G6 looks so much better for having a modern DSLR-like form factor) but when it's a matter of what gets the job done, who cares?
     
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  16. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    I don't think the GH4 has the Sony sensor from the GH3. I read it was a brand new sensor.
     
  17. Cruzan80

    Cruzan80 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    Denver, Co
    Sean Rastsmith
    Is this wide open, or at a comparable aperture?


    Sent from my LG-P769 using Mu-43 mobile app
     
  18. taz98spin

    taz98spin Mu-43 Top Veteran

    843
    May 13, 2011
    NYC
    Most likely a comparable aperture?
    I've had success wide open, even with ND filters attached with C-AF focus.

    Here's a link that might help demonstrate the X-T1's tracking ability

    http://danbaileyphoto.com/blog/the-fuji-x-t1-af-tracking-performance-how-good-is-it/

    Here's an update to the original post as well

    http://danbaileyphoto.com/blog/more-fuji-x-t1-af-predictive-af-tracking-tests/

    As long as I have Pre-AF on and High Performance mode on and stay within the center of the frame, I'm good to go!

    I'm actually in the market to get the GH4, so I'm really thankful for this review!
     
  19. tomO2013

    tomO2013 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    799
    Oct 28, 2013
    Nice update on your review.

    As far as I know the differences with the GH3 extend beyond just the surrounding circuitry, processor and actually incorporates a ground up sensor itself. I reckon that it must be a clean design for Panasonic in order to keep heat down and allow for the high quality 4k.
    It would also explain why it is the cleanest high iso micro four thirds camera so far - the camera store did an updated review here :
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX56Mo8WPM0 the high ISO video they shot at up to ISO6400 and got great results.
    Designing for video would have the added knock on effect for stills of better heat characteristics on the sensor itself - lending itself better for cleaner high ISO stills.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  20. val

    val Mu-43 Top Veteran

    548
    Dec 19, 2013
    Australia
    William
    I definitely agree that Panasonic have improved their JPEG engine in the GH4. I do hope they release a firmware update for the GX7 in that regard.