- Feb 21, 2012
- NYC Area
- Real Name
- Napier Lopez
Panasonic Lumix GH4 First Impressions Review
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
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.
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.
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.
But back to focusing...
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.
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.
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.
-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...
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.
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.