Panasonic GH5s Camera Review
When the Panasonic GH5 camera was introduced into the market, it was a game changer for the industry with such capabilities as being able to shoot slow motion up to 60 frames per second in 4k. The feature of the new camera extended to 10-bit 4:2:2 recording capabilities topping all other compact size and DSLR cameras in the market. Behemoths of the DSLR market with such cameras as Canon 1DX II which can only record at 8-bit “4:2:2 video” could be trumped by this sensibly priced camera.
One of the obvious challenges of video capture is the elevated noise levels for which the camera manufacturers basically left the choice of take-it-or-leave-it option for the consumers. Panasonic’s GH5 camera was not immune to this inherent issue plaguing the images from high ISO levels, and the market demanded an alternative at any cost.
Enter Panasonic GH5s
Panasonic responded with larger pixels and a lower 10.2-megapixel count Panasonic GH5s camera that is designed specifically to capture video. The new low light capable camera could deliver identical DCI and UHD 4K footage at relatively noise-free higher ISO settings. This meant that the new Panasonic GH5s camera could provide higher quality video without the limitations of dynamic range issues of low light exposure.
A Word about Dynamic Range
To better understand this phenomenon, let’s look at the dynamic range of a professional grade film camera like RED Weapon which has about 16.5 stops of dynamic range. This results in a multitude of tones in shadows more or less equaling human eyesight. The beauty of using a 16.5 dynamic range is a right balance of shadow and highlights can reveal the ideal visuals. Panasonic GH5s, a prosumer camera yields about 12 stops of dynamic range, but its ability to capture visuals at higher ISO levels without pronounced noise levels results in better image quality. In another word, the low light performance of the Panasonic GH5s camera helps to recover shadow details gained by higher ISO settings of the new camera.
Panasonic GH5s camera is similar to its predecessors in that it can’t shoot raw internally. The next best option is to capture images in the highest bit rate which is set at 10 bit yielding a much better tonal range than similar cameras like Sony A7s ii which only captures at footage at 8 bit. What this means is this, an 8-bit camera outputs pictures, where the RGB values are quantized to one of 256 levels, on a 10-bit camera, quantizes to one of 1024 levels. Since there are three color channels, an 8-bit camera 24 bits per pixel and can represent any of 16,777,216 discrete colors whereas a 10-bit camera can represent any of 1,073,741,824 colors, that’s over a billion.
The importance of bit depth can’t be emphasized enough here when it comes to grading raw or raw-like footage which is why Panasonic would like you to use V-log as your codec in the recording. What V-Log allows the user to achieve is better highlight and shadow information resulting in higher flexibility in grading.
Initially, the V-Log footage will look very low-contrast and grey which is an indication that the footage you have captured with Panasonic GH5s is a flat profile. The magic of 10-bit 400Mb data compression is then displayed with appropriate LUT profiles to give it color and depth.
There is an apparent trade-off in functionality as well, for example, the Panasonic GH5s camera omitted image stabilization found in Panasonic GH5 but included a more useful feature of shooting DCI 4K at up to 60p with no crop. Higher frame rate which results in slow motion for those otherwise dull videos is the key feature of the new Panasonic GH5s along with the larger pixels and ‘Dual Native ISO’ sensor that renders higher quality images in low light situations.
Here are some key features of the new Panasonic GH5s camera.
- Oversized ‘Multi Aspect’ sensor with a dual gain design
- A 10.2MP maximum usable area from at around 12.5MP total
- DCI or UHD 4K at up to 60p
- 10-bit 4:2:2 internal capture at up to 30p
- 8-bit 4:2:0 internal 60p or 10-bit 4:2:2 output over HDMI
- 1080 footage at up to 240p (with additional crop above 200p)
- Hybrid Log Gamma mode
- ISO 160 – 51,200 (80 – 204,800 extended)
- AF rated down to –5EV (with F2 lens)
- 3.68M-dot (1280 x 960 pixel) OLED viewfinder with 0.76x magnification
- 1.62M-dot (900 x 600 pixel) fully articulated LCD
- 14-bit Raw stills
- 11 fps (7 with AFC) or 1 fps faster in 12-bit mode
- USB 3.1 with Type C connector
GH5 vs. GH5s
The question of which is the better camera of the two has been raised many times by users and the reviewers of these cameras. The answer is not a simple one because they both offer specific advantages to their users, for example, if a wedding videographer is also taking photographers then Panasonic GH5 camera is an obvious choice over the Panasonic GH5s.
To better understand the differences let’s examine the fundamental differences between the cameras.
GH5s vs. GH5
- “10.2” megapixel oversized sensor (vs. 20.2MP Four-Thirds sized sensor)
- Dual-gain sensor design with two read-out circuits
- Fixed sensor (no internal stabilization) for use with pro stabilization systems
- DCI 4K available in 59.94, 50, 29.97 and 25p (GH5 is 23.98 / 24p only)
- 1080 mode
- AF rated to work in lower light (–5EV vs. –4EV)
- 14-bit Raw available in stills shooting
- VLog-L enabled out-of-the-box
- Timecode in/out
- ‘Like709’ and ‘V-LogL’ color profiles available in stills shooting
- Mic socket offers Phantom Power and Line-level In options
- LUT-corrected display available in playback as well as capture
- 120fps viewfinder mode
On the surface, both cameras have similar specs and design, but deep down we can see that the video function of the camera enhances most of the features with Panasonic GH5s camera. One obvious feature is the V-Log inclusion in the new camera which basically is Panasonic’s statement that you are going to need to shoot a very flat profile visuals to provide maximum flexibility in the post. Let’s face it; if any videographer is attempting to achieve those visuals mimicking higher-end film cameras’ looks, then heavy post-processing is needed.
A Better Sensor
What has really changed in the new Panasonic GH5s camera is the use of a sensor that yields native DCI or UHD 4K using one pixel on the sensor to produce each pixel in the image. This means a larger pixel size for the amount of available light entering the camera through the lens resulting in better image quality.
Panasonic GH5s camera can shoot 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or in DCI 4K which is roughly 17:9 aspect ratio aligning closely to 16:9 format used in most TV screens, Youtube and Vimeo content presentation. Hence, the camera yields almost a perfect match for proper size for uploading content.
What About the Competition?
Those die-hard, solicitous Sony A7s ii users who are patiently waiting for the launching of the Sony A7s iii should not hold their breaths for now, besides there is Blackmagic Pocket Camera 4K that will also be shipping out soon. All this means is that Panasonic GH5s camera is the only player in the market for the ultimate quality and price combination.
To quench the thirst of those who might assume Sony A7r III to be a worthy opponent the S-Log 2 or S-Log 3 makes no essential improvements in image quality as the camera is limited to 8-bit data capture. Hence, the dynamic range is lost before the tonal range can be best expressed.
Dual Native ISO
Panasonic GH5s camera is said to have ‘Dual Native ISO,’ which is nothing new in the market, first championed by Nikon then Canon is now a standard video terminology for a dual gain sensor design. In practice, the camera can adapt to different read-outs depending on the gain set by the user which is a way to minimize noise levels when less than ideal lighting conditions exist.
In essence, the sensor adopts a different setting each time a Native ISO setting is changed which just does not do enough to drop noise levels if the user had chosen to alter the in-camera settings to suit lighting conditions and applied a touch of noise reduction at the post. Panasonic claims the Native ISO is 400 and 2500 respectively.
Lower pixel count
Larger the pixels the better the light gathering performance is the engineering explanation for having a 10.2-megapixel sensor for the Panasonic GH5s camera. The logic dictates the larger pixels can receive more light when all other conditions remain the same, hence, the improved low light performance of the new camera.
What Panasonic has done with the Panasonic GH5s is to make a camera that is built for video. The processor can manage to read this data for better image quality less rolling shutter and higher frame rates. An additional benefit of having a lower pixel count is to include an anti-aliasing filter which reduces moiré issues. The read and write speed of Panasonic GH5s processor still has a lot of room for improvement as the raw files can potentially be pushed to 14-bit through external recording yielding results similar to film dynamic range. This, however, will not happen as Panasonic would not want to cannibalize on their higher price range film cameras.
A Camera sans Stabilization
The videographers were all agog about having built-in camera stabilizations. This means they could do handheld shots of their friends doing flips with their skateboards or mistakenly shoot wedding videos for a couple of hundred dollars to build their “portfolios.” Thankfully, this feature is omitted from the new Panasonic GH5s camera for all the right reasons.
Let me elaborate on this, how a built-in camera stabilization works is that sensor-shift IS systems ‘floats’ the sensor using a series of electromagnets. Thus, the “floating” sensor is never “fixed” and always attempting to compensate for “movement.” This means that when the sensor floats around the image has to be cropped-in to provide room to pan and scan around the sensor.
When the sensor is fixed as in Panasonic GH5s camera, the crop-in effect does not to be engaged resulting in larger sensor area ideal for low light situations. The basic understanding here is if you need to go hand-held use a gimbal. The trade-off is that Panasonic GH5s offers better video capture options DCI 4K format (4096 x 2160 pixels) aspect ration.
The external recording is still the best option for capturing higher quality video with Panasonic GH5s camera. Internally the camera can record a 4:2:2 10-bit signal while shooting at up to 30p. For the ultimate quality 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI out is a must.
VLog L View Assist Function
If you are not recording to an external monitor like the Atomos Shogun Inferno in which you can apply your custom LUTs for the perfect exposure and monitoring while simultaneously recording flat V-Log profile, the alternative is to load your LUTs for monitoring on the back panel of the Panasonic GH5 and Panasonic GH5s camera.
Panasonic GH5s camera continues on this path by offering the user the ability to load up to four LUTs into the camera for adjusting the settings for post work. These LUTs can be viewed in real time to determine the best exposure settings for the graded look intended as the final result.
Alternatively, the latest firmware for the Panasonic GH5 camera offers industry-standard Hybrid Log Gamma profile to be baked-in to the final footage without the need for grading.
Helping the Videographer
While most videographers are inclined to use their Panasonic GH5s camera as plug-n-play recording devices, there are a few features that can help a videographer achieve better results than professionals. For one, vectorscope is a great tool to evaluate the color information of the image from hue to saturation to achieve better results.
The second important feature is the waveform which can help with luminance or exposure as it is commonly referred to in the industry. Luminance value just means brightness values. The luminance values are invaluable.
Focus peaking is another handy tool for those who want to nail perfect focus especially when the camera display is set to a very flat profile. The camera also features two user-configurable zebras presets that can be set from 50% to 105% in 5% increments. Zebra “presets” are excellent tools when it comes to checking against a preset target value for ideal skin and highlight exposure.
When the autofocus function was incorporated into the prosumer cameras, Panasonic GH5s camera was not far behind in offering this function. Autofocus is still a troubling issue for the Panasonic camera users since many reviewers have already reported problems with autofocus not working as it should.
The time it takes for a camera to rack focus from one focus point to the next can be abrupt or too long depending on the circumstances or racking focus from one point to the next can be a hit or miss attempt. To aid in this regard, Panasonic offers ‘Focus Transition’ function with Panasonic GH5s camera as a continuation from the Panasonic GH5 model in which the user can define three focus depths prior to recording and then selectively switch between them.
In essence, a Panasonic GH5s camera user can block a scene with the appropriate focus marks and switch between these points by tapping on the screen, and the result is a natural, smooth transition without needing a focus puller. This feature, however, smart it may seem on paper is best suited for stationary subjects like product videos, etc. For better results when shooting moving subjects, it is best to rely on touch-to-focus function.
Most Panasonic GH5s photos feature the optional Panasonic DMW-XLR1 accessory mic unit. This is an excellent tool for those run-n-gun type scenarios where the videographer must capture video without the assistance of a sound technician. The Panasonic GH5s camera has sophisticated noise canceling for internal audio capture to work in conjunction with the suggested DMW-XLR1 unit. If you are aiming to do wedding videos or shoot your friends doing bike tricks, this is your ideal friend to capture sound.
Most users will not aspire to match, but Panasonic GH5s camera does have its own time code generator without the possibility of synching another directly via a connection. Panasonic GH5s comes with a flash sync to BNC adaptor cable in the box which can be used via camera’s flash sync socket as the T/C in/out connector to sync timecode.
Let’s face it; slow motion is the holy grail for the videographers today. The slower, the better, dramatizing to the point that dropping salt on a plate of food can look like a shot from the high-end cooking shows. For this, Panasonic GH5s camera offers up to 240 fps at 1080p rivaling Red cameras at least in frame rate.
The wanna-be filmmakers’ dream of shooting anamorphic format is never over until they do and for this Panasonic GH5s camera comes to the rescue. The alternative is an 80,000 dollar, Arri camera which is the only valid alternative to capturing anamorphic in 4:3 sensor size. The end result is a 6K image after de-squeeze when Panasonic GH5s has done its work. Pretty nifty isn’t it?
All this is great, except a real anamorphic lens is about 30,000 dollars not counting cheap Chinese knock-offs alluding to anamorphic quality. If you have some Zeiss Anamorphic lenses stored in pelican cases, why not, shoot to your heart’s content.
Let’s define what Panasonic GH5s camera is; it is a prosumer low light camera that can capture 4K video at 10-bit compression using dual Native ISO settings for optimum performance. This means that it can outperform just about all other cameras in its market segment with a caveat.
Sony A7s II although not as capable as Panasonic GH5s with its 8-bit 4:2:0 capture has a much larger sensor area for low light performance. In this regard, a larger sensor size becomes an important factor in reducing noise for which Sony A7s II does a particularly good job. But Panasonic GH5s camera beats out its competitor by a wide margin due to better built-in noise reduction software coupled with higher bit rate recording.
Panasonic GH5s camera also has more features that can aid a videographer to capture better video. The apparent differences between Panasonic GH5s and all other cameras in its market segment make this camera an all-around video camera that is ready for high-quality video capture. Multi-aspect sensor design that allows larger sensor area and preservation of angle-of-view along with a video-optimized sensor that features fewer pixels resulting in less rolling shutter and incorporation of aliasing filter are just some of these key features that make Panasonic GH5s camera a winner.
Panasonic GH5s is hands down the best prosumer video camera currently in the market. It is off the charts video capture quality surpasses its nearest competitor by a wide margin. In the hands of a capable user, Panasonic GH5s camera can deliver results that are equal to or better than much higher priced cameras in the market.
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