November 15, 2014

Panasonic GH4 Review

After nearly 6 months use, does the Panasonic GH4 still excite me? Yes!

Post updated July 2021: Once the "honeymoon period" is over after investing in a new camera, sometimes you can feel a little flat when using that kit. Especially if you are one of those people that expect the camera to do all the work for you!

Here is my Panasonic GH4 Review.

Panasonic GH4 Firmware

Product Rating Summary 

90% Overall

This is the Micro Four Thirds camera that really got me into video. Packing so much into a small camera like this got me hooked. 4K video, slow motion, teleconverter and so much more. The GH4 is still an amazing camera and you can pick them up for a steal right now! Great starter.

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Panasonic GH4 Review

The Panasonic DMC-GH4 DSLM (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless), for me, has kept my interest piqued. This is despite having it for more than 6 months now. Maybe it is because I see my kit as work items more than toys these days and as long as they can produce the goods, I still love using them. Much like the "ancient" 5D Mark II's.

Please note that the review video below is 32 minutes long so maybe put the kettle on ; )

If you are looking to invest in the Panasonic GH4, you may well find this useful to you. Because I go through the good and bad points of this camera after using it for a few months professionally and personally. Otherwise, just read the full review below the video where we also include various other clips.

It takes a lot for me to part with my cash these days when it comes to camera equipment. Call me old fashioned but I still LOVE the images that my 5D Mark II's produce. I don't feel the need to update my stills camera right now for the stuff I shoot (properties, weddings, stock etc).

If I was a sports shooter, it may be a different case but for now...I'm happy. However, walk around, family stills cameras and more importantly for me, video, is a different thing altogether.

As you may know, I love Go Pro's and when The Go Pro HD Hero 3 came out with 4K, I was blown away by the possibilities. Now I have the Go Pro HD Hero 4 and 5 with 4k at faster frames rates, well...

I currently have for video (as at 2014):

  • 2 Canon EOS 5D Mark II's
  • Sony PMW EX1 Broadcast quality, HD Handycam
  • Sony HDR SR1 (aging but still good) HD Handycam
  • 4 Go Pro's (HD Hero 1, 2, 3 and 4)
  • Panasonic Lumix FZ38 bridge camera

Update 2021: I currently have for video:

Please note that the links on each camera below go to my reviews of each and not Amazon or anything : )

Did I really need another video/stills camera (in 2014)? Yes and no.

No because to be honest, in most cases I can get away with all of the above for most of my work. However, yes because to do well in the imaging business, you need to keep one step ahead of your competition.

The Panasonic Lumix GH4 allows me to do this in a variety of ways

  1. 1
    Perfect size and features for using on a UAV (drone)
  2. 2
    4k at sensible and highly usable frame rates
  3. 3
    Small and discreet (especially in silent mode)
  4. 4
    Too many features to put in this list

I must say at this point that I really wanted to like and buy the Canon 5D Mark III when it came out. However, the stills didn't really better the Mark II as far as I could see and the video was really not much of a step up either. I really wanted to see higher frame rates at 1080p for nice slow motion footage as well as a few other things.

So, after using the Panasonic GH4 for a few months, how do I feel about it?

First impressions

  • Feels great in the hand
  • Love the articulated, touch screen
  • Lockable mode dial (cool)
  • Well laid out buttons
  • Plenty of customisable function buttons
  • Tons of features

First impressions were without a doubt that this was money very well spent. I have had so much fun with this camera, every time I take it out I think of a new thing to try whether it is:

  • Shooting slow motion footage
  • Testing 4k filming
  • Time lapse shooting (it's so simple with this camera)
  • Shooting at much slower frame rates such as 10 frames per second for that speeded up look (all processing done in camera)
  • Creative photography using all my Canon L glass
  • ...and so on

Now to get into the real GH4. What can it offer in terms of image quality with stills and video and what features does it have that can improve my work.

Panasonic GH4 Specifications

  • 16.05 MP Digital Live MOS Sensor
  • DCI 4K 4096×2160 at 24p
  • UHD 4K 3840×2160 at 30p/24p
  • Full HD up to 60p
  • 3.0" 1,036k-Dot OLED Touchscreen Monitor
  • 2,359K-Dot OLED Live View Finder
  • Support for 59.94p, 23.98p, 50p, & 24p
  • 4:2:2 8-Bit or 10-Bit HDMI Output
  • High-Speed 49-Point Autofocus
  • Magnesium Alloy and Weather Sealed Body

Things I like so far

  1. 1
    You can use virtually any lens with this camera, with the right adapter!
  2. 2
    Extended teleconverter...genius. This gives your lenses a huge boost without losing any resolution or image quality.
  3. 3
    Built in Wi-Fi allowing me to be in complete control of all the cameras functions from my tablet or smartphone...brilliant.
  4. 4
    4K Video (benefits are cropping when editing, 4K is the future for now, larger pixel count means the digital zoom above works really well, you can downscale 4K to 1080p for much sharper HD footage, you can pull stills from 4K footage that are good enough for large prints, stabilise footage when downscaling and lose no resolution.
  5. 5
    Ability to use all my Canon (or Nikon etc) L lenses with the incredible Metabones Speedbooster adapter
  6. 6
    Menu structure (heavy going as there is a LOT in this camera but you soon get used to it)
  7. 7
    Ability to set flat recording styles using dynamic range controls, custom curves, setting pedestal levels and so on. This all helps users to create their own look in post-processing using a flat template. My 5D Mark II’s tend to be quite contrasty unless using custom picture styles
  8. 8
    Lens image stabilisation (with certain lenses, NOT in the body itself)
  9. 9
    Can use Canon 580EX II flash in manual mode really effectively
  10. 10
    Touch screen great for reviewing images, making selections, changing modes, deleting, focus pulling etc
  11. 11
    Mic input for any 3.5mm microphone (or anything else with adapter)
  12. 12
    Headphone jack
  13. 13
    HDMI out (mini HDMI type D)
  14. 14
    Mic levels show on screen
  15. 15
    Focus peaking particularly for video is brilliant in a camera this size
  16. 16
    Zebra patterns for measuring highlights
  17. 17
    Variable frame rates from 2fps to 96fps for fast and cool slow motion footage
  18. 18
    NTSC, PAL and Cinema mode (24fps for film look)
  19. 19
    Built in time lapse (makes movie for you in camera) and stop motion features
  20. 20
    HDR, multi-exposures, electronic shutter, silent operation...
  21. 21
    Variable burst rates for full resolution images of 2x, 7.5x, 12x using mechanical shutter and 40x at 4mp with electronic shutter)
  22. 22
    Feature modes for stills such as star-burst filter, sepia, B & W etc and many for video too
  23. 23
    Outstanding image quality from video, especially when downsizing 4k to 1080p!
  24. 24
    Battery life very good indeed!

Basically this camera has as many, in fact, many more features than most high end DSLR's. This is what makes it such a fun camera to have around!

Things I dislike (but not much) so far

  • Ergonomics for stills is spot on but for video, the DSLR shape still takes some getting used to unless you are using a tripod, stabiliser or rig of some sort
  • Stills image quality, after being spoiled by the Canon 5D range, can be disappointing but still very good for a sensor this small. However, I think the stills are good enough for stock or some web commercial work
  • Dynamic range in M43 sensors lacks that of higher end DSLR's although shooting RAW improves this a fair bit
  • In camera slow motion footage seems to be a little soft…less clear and sharp than if you were to shoot at 120fps and slow it down in post. Light needed.

Ok, so here we go with some of the features that I think most people would be interested in. For fun as well as professional shooting.

Photography Features

On the main dial of the camera, you have the usual suspects:

  • M (Manual)
  • S (Shutter Priority)
  • A (Aperture Priority)
  • P (Program)
  • C1, C2, C3 (Custom modes)

You also have the creative video mode (which I recommend you use most of the time for filming). Plus a couple of creative stills mode (Intelligent Auto/Intelligent Auto Plus and a bunch of effects...think starburst, sepia etc).

I am not going to go too far into the stills features of this camera because there are simply too many. Some noticeable and useable ones are:

Stills Features

  • Many customisable photo styles (contrast, sharpening etc)
  • Shooting in JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW
  • Various autofocus modes (with compatible lenses
  • Various burst rates (up to 40fps at 4mp)
  • A range of auto bracketing options and self timer features
  • HDR, multi exposures and electronic shutter
  • Red eye removal, face recognition…

The list goes on but believe me, there is enough in there to keep anyone happy!

Still Image Quality

As I mentioned before, I have been spoilt with full frame images from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Therefore I wasn't expecting much from the smaller Panasonic MOS sensor.

In saying that, it is worth noting that shooting RAW as opposed to JPEG's adds a fair amount of quality to the images including dynamic range.

Maybe you are just looking for a camera that will produce great family images or even to use as a second shooter. For things like weddings, the quality in my opinion is just about good enough...but I am a perfectionist.

Panasonic (in conjunction with Leica) now produce some exceptional lenses. However, I found that when I added the Metabones Speedbooster and my Canon L lenses, the image quality rose significantly.

Check out the images below. Some of these were shot as JPEGs and some of which are JPEGs processed from a RAW image. Some with the standard Panasonic 14-140 lens and some with Canon's 50mm 1.4, 16-35L 2.8, 24-70L 2.8, and 70-200L 2.8.

Click on each image to expand and see metadata. Please note, the image quality is slightly degraded during the upload to the site, the originals are a fair bit better. For example, the noise in one sunrise image does not appear nearly as bad in the original. Also, some moire showing in brickwork is also not present in the original (I may upload the originals for download)…

Panasonic GH4 4K Video

The 4K footage from the Panasonic GH4 is incredibly crisp, clear and sharp. It really requires top quality glass to make the most of it. As I mentioned above, there are a few benefits to shooting 4K even if you will still only output to 1080p.

I suspect that most people reading this will have, at best and like me, a 1080 HD monitor. 4K monitors are still very new and in my opinion, not as good as they will be.

You may be lucky enough to have something like the SONY BRAVIA KD65X9005BBU Smart 3D 4k Ultra HD 65" LED TV in which case I am incredibly jealous. What an amazing experience watching 4K on that (I got a quick preview in the local PC World store recently). Wow!

In which case, all the footage in the video below was shot at 4K and then rendered out to 1080p. This should give you an idea of quality and yes, I did play about a bit in post processing.

Extended Teleconverter

What a great feature. By using just the pixels in the centre of the sensor, this allows a further 2.6x crop and still allows you to output full 1080p resolution when shooting video!

Using this "in camera" function, the kit 14-140 lens becomes a cool 36-360 lens. When you take into account the 2x crop factor (2.3x if shooting 4K video), the lens effectively becomes a lot longer. Approx 72-720mm 35mm equivalent.

Check out the quick video below to see this in real time:

Time Lapse

Time lapse photography is a cinch with the Panasonic GH4. You can set the shooting interval for anything from 1 second to 99 minutes 59 seconds (just under 1 hour and 40 minutes between shots).

You can shoot anywhere between 1 photo (durr, that is just a photo : ) and 9,999 images. Once the time lapse is complete, you are asked to input the output data up to a full 4K clip. This is great if you want to further edit your time lapse to include zooms and pans

Shooting 9,999 images with a delay of one second will take 2 hours and 47 minutes according to my camera. It gives you the exact time that the time lapse will finish, assuming you have set the time correctly on your camera.

That will also give you around 5 and a half minutes of time lapse video (I think)…more than enough! Here are some quick samples I shot when I first got the camera, I want to try some night lapses soon.


Something I always look out for in a camera like this is the sound input. If you have to rely on the on-board microphones with no ability to add external mics, I am not interested.

Luckily the Panasonic GH4 has a 3.5mm mic input meaning I can use mics such as the Rode Video Pro Mic for "run and gun" filming. Or the excellent Sony lavaliere radio mics which produce amazing sound.

Check out the short video below and hear the difference between:

  • The built in mic
  • The Rode Video Mic Pro
  • The Sony Lavalier mic

Slow Motion Footage

I love slow motion. In fact I love anything that detracts footage away from the "home video" look that most consumer video cameras throw out as standard.

With the Panasonic GH4, you have a wide set of variable frame rates to play with:

In frames per second: 2, 15, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 45, 60, 75, 90 and 96.

Footage shot at 96fps will render out slowed down 4 times if shooting at 24p (96 divided by 24) and it does look sweet! However, I am a little miffed that the Go Pro HD Hero 4 can shoot 1080p at 120fps meaning you can slow this footage down 5 times. Amazing for such a small, and cheap, camera.

On the other hand, if you were to shoot at say 2fps, the footage would be speeded up considerably. Almost akin to time lapse photography.

A mid range speed such as 20fps is what is used for action and fight scenes in the movies by slightly speeding up the action. However, as you can see above, this isn't possible with the GH4 (yet).

Panasonic GH4 In Camera Rendering

Whether you choose slow or fast rates for shooting, once you stop filming, the GH4 will render the footage for you. So. no messing in editing suites to get the desired effects. Just download the ready-made footage from your card!

Here are some sample slow motion clips…

All that plus 5 customisable function buttons, a host of stills and video features not even mentioned. Amazing battery time, huge range of lenses and accessories and you have a really, really cool camera that will do just about anything you want.

I have had so much fun with this camera but I have yet to do anything of a professional nature. Anything where I really take my time and use it properly. I have used it on a commercial job in Lanzarote and it produced some of the finest footage I have seen and the client couldn't believe it came from such a small camera.

Who is it for?

All in all, I would say this is a great addition to any bag. Whether a newbie looking for the most fun way to learn photography and videography through to a seasoned professional looking for a very handy backup camera. Or a b-camera. Even to compliment to existing kit...this camera is cool.

To answer my initial question as to whether this camera still excites me…yes it does. When i take it with me, I always try to think of new ways to be creative with it and as I said, the possibilities are endless!

Note: We get a small kickback from Amazon for people using the above link to purchase their camera. Please support this site to help us keep making review and giving away free tips and advice. Thanks.

Firmware Update 01.10.14

Check out the latest DMC-GH4 firmware 2.0 update from October 1st 2014. I have installed it and will test later. This new firmware also installs a new feature called 4K Photo Mode.

4K Photo Mode (Firmware update 01.10.14)

From Panasonic:

The 4K Photo is a new way of photography that Panasonic is proposing. It encourages users to capture the spur-of-the-moment in high resolution 4K photo by cropping out a designated frame out of the 4K video. With the new firmware, it is easier to get a 4K photo by using the 4K Photo Mode. Once selecting the 4K Photo Mode, recording format / picture quality setting / brightness level are automatically set to the optimum parameters for photo shooting. Users can record high quality video either in 4:3, 3:2 or even 1:1 aspect ratios in addition to 16:9 – all can provide a still image with 8-megapixel equivalent resolution.

Each JPEG image cropped out of the video footage complies with EXIF just as a normal still picture. While recording the 4K video in 4K Photo Mode, it is possible to mark the designated portion by just pressing the [Fn1] button. This can reduce post production work for searching the spur-of-the-moment worth cropping out. Moreover, 4K video can be recorded continuously with Loop Rec function which keeps saving the 5 newest 2-minute video files. Users can patiently wait for the perfect photo opportunity to come as long as they want keep the camera recording without worrying about the capacity of the SDXC/SDHC Memory Card*1.

More 4K Updates

There are more functional upgrades such as the addition of 4K video recording in 23.98p (MP4, AAC) and enhancement of controllability over ISO setting or the amount of flash emission. Also, the DMC-GH4 now expands its connectivity with external equipment. For example, the PC software “USB Tether*2” enables remote camera control (shooting, setting or image data transfer) by PC via USB.

The PHOTOfunSTUDIO 9.5PE and Panasonic Image App for iOS/Android will also be updated to support these functional upgrades.

The new firmware program is scheduled to be released with more information in detail at the Panasonic LUMIX Support Site at in the beginning of October, 2014.

Standard photo mode means the camera will set optimised stills shooting parameters and allows 4K capture in a variety of aspect ratios…3:2, 16:9, 4:3 and 1:1 (square). By pressing fn.1 during shooting, you can "mark" points where you think the best stills will be pulled from saving time during post processing.

Footage in Sony Vegas Pro

In a quick practice, when I loaded said footage into Sony Vegas, when you play the footage it simply jumps from still to still like a slideshow but when you render it out, you get 4K video…cool!

What I also like about this update is the tethered shooting and looping mode. Looping mode is similar to Go Pro and many security cameras used for driving in that it will loop record five 2-minute clips and then over-write them meaning you will never run out of memory using this feature. You simply wait until you have the shots you need and then stop…regardless of how long it takes.

Other changes include adjustable flash output and greater control over ISO.

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