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First Impressions and Hands-On with Lumix GH5

Lumix’s new GH5 is the most talked-about new camera this season, and for good reason. It’s a complete redesign of the popular GH4 and it offers loads of new features. Since I’m an ambassador for Lumix, I’ve had some time with a pre-production unit and I’d like to share with you some first impressions. Now, I’m an ambassador but not an employee of Lumix. They are not paying for this article, and I am not representing their views in any way. I’ll tell you my honest impressions. (Spoilers: it’s awesome).

Excellent for Photographers and Videographers

Lumix is the photography brand of Panasonic, one of the foremost video camera producers in the world, and the GH5 is greatly anticipated by the filmmaking community for many of its new features, and I’ll talk a bit about those. While I enjoy filmmaking and am doing more and more of it for my clients, I’m a still photographer first and foremost, and the GH5 is an excellent stills camera.

Handling and Appearance

This is a brand new camera body. The older GH3 and GH4 shared a similar chassis and even shared the same battery grip. These were sized similar to the smallest DSLRS cameras but were well designed so that even my long fingers were comfortable navigating the controls and keeping a good grip. The GH5 is significantly larger. Combined with its all-metal construction, picking it up is more like handling a professional Nikon body, like a D500. A solid finger recess on the right side provides a positive and secure grip. The buttons are well laid out and may be slightly larger than on the GH4, while the new joystick is a well-placed and welcomed addition. There’s also a new function button near the lens mount that is well placed and less likely to be accidentally pressed than on the GH4. The top dials are well appointed, and the locking right mode dial is a genius design. As always on Lumix cameras, the On/Off switch is on the right side and can be operated without using the left hand so it is ready for candid or split second shooting.

Super IBIS

Lumix has many image stabilized lenses that counteract the small movements your body makes when holding a camera, but their latest cameras also utilize In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS). That means that the sensor itself moves around to counter your movement. But even better, the GH5 combines the IBIS with the lens’s stabilization for enhanced performance of at least five stops of stabilization. That means you can hand hold the camera in much less light than normal and still make a sharp picture, and I find that it works remarkably well. It is optimized for certain lenses that also have stabilization built-in, but the IBIS works with any lens mounted to the camera.

Viewfinder and Rear Screen

Both The viewfinder and rear screen are new and impressive. The viewfinder, which is very high resolution (3,860K-dot), is remarkably sharp and colorful. One huge advantage to working with mirrorless cameras is that in low-light the viewfinder provides more view than you can see with the naked eye. This viewfinder also represents blacks very nicely.

Its fast refresh means you’ll never even notice that you’re not looking at the real world through the lens, and using Constant Preview mode shows you exactly what your picture exposure will look like before you even press the shutter.

The rear screen monitor is also exceptionally sharp (1,620K-dot) and using it is like using the best smartphone or tablet screen. The pictures are clear and bright, even in sunlight. It’s a touch screen and all the camera functions and menu items are touch-responsive. It’s intuitive to use and makes making pictures a breeze. The touch screen not only allows you to navigate menus, it also allows you to focus the lens, and it allows you to do it while looking through the viewfinder. It’s like using a Wacom tablet for your camera, and it’s amazing. You can also use the new joystick to move the focus, but touch is still the way to go for me.

On top of all that, the screen is fully articulating, up, down, sideways, and even front ways. Once you’ve used this style of monitor you’ll never pick up an old style camera again. You can shoot low to the ground or overhead and not crane your neck trying to see the viewfinder, and you’ll never have to lay in the dirt to frame up a shot again.

Picture Quality

The micro four thirds sensor produces 20.3-megapixel photographs. It’s a smaller sensor than a full frame camera, just about 1/4 the size, but you wouldn’t guess it from the picture quality. Remember, the Canon 5D MkII is about the same pixel count; the GH4 was about 16 megapixels. I’ve got a similar 20.3-megapixel sensor in my Lumix GX8, which makes wonderful pictures. Two differences with the GH5 are that this sensor lacks an anti-aliasing filter so it produces sharper pictures, and it’s coupled with a new Venus 10 processor. While the sensor is where the picture is recorded, the processor is largely responsible for the quality of noise in the pictures.

High ISO photographs with other cameras I’ve used often have a hard time showing reds well and it shows in a lack of gradient in the color. The GH5, however, seems to reproduce colors very well at high ISO, which also makes pictures appear less grainy. Noise is also pleasantly random so it’s not distracting. The max ISO is 25,600. Here are several pictures made at over 3200 ISO.

Durability and Shutter

This camera makes no compromises about durability. It is all metal, magnesium alloy, and its sealed against water and dust. Interestingly, it’s one of the only cameras available that is both weather sealed and has a fully articulating screen (Lumix’s GX8 and G85 also boast these features). Coupled with a weather sealed lens, of which there are many, you can shoot in a downpour in Portland or a dust storm in Riyadh and not worry about your camera failing (thought you should clean and dry the camera thoroughly after such events).

The shutter is rated for a beefy 200,000 actuations, but I don’t think that includes shooting on silent mode, which doesn’t use the shutter and is absolutely silent. The specs say the shutter sync speed is “less than 1/250”. In my experience, depending on the flash and triggers used, I can sync as fast 1/320 and expose the entire frame with the flash. Also, the fastest shutter speed is 1/8000 of a second, and in silent mode, it shoots as fast as 1/16,000 of a second, which is really remarkable.

Dual SD Cards and Battery Life

This is the first Lumix to feature dual SD card slots, and they both utilize the fastest new UHS-II SD cards. Unlike other cameras that have two card slots but of different kinds, the GH5 uses the same cards in both slots. You can choose to record RAW to one, JPEG to the other, pictures to one, video to the other, use it as a backup with two copies of each file, or overflow so one fills up then the other. This is terrific for stills shooters, but for filmmakers, you could shoot continuously and swap cards as they fill up–as long as the battery remains, that is.

The GH4 battery performed really well, and Lumix are using the same battery for the GH5. With the proper settings in the camera, the GH5 is rated for more than 1,000 photographs, and I’ve made several thousand on a single charge with my GH4. If that’s not enough, or if video is your primary work, there’s a new battery grip that carries two batteries. If that still not enough power for you, then Tether Tools’ Case Relay will work with the GH5 and offers continuous power through an external battery and USB connector.

In addition to more battery power, the grip also gives you a shutter release button when working in portrait orientation. Having this button on any camera makes it much easier to make vertical pictures, and I always end up making more of them when I have it. The grip also adds some mass for large hands to grip.

My Favorite Video Features

As I said, I’m not a full-time videographer, but I appreciate how powerful this camera is. It’s the first to record 4K/30p 4:2:2:10 bit in the camera without an external recorder, and with a recorder it’ll do 4K/60p. If you’re not a video person, that stuff means it records color and tone better than ever, and better than any other camera in a similar class.

It also has variable frame rates. Normally, video is shot at 30fps (for perspective, stills shooters, that’s 30 pictures every second). The VFR allows the camera to shoot faster or slower, which changes the appearance of speed, motion, and time when you play it back. The GH4 had a maximum rate of 96fps, but the GH5 shoots up to 180fps. That’s some super slow motion. Here are a couple of raw samples at 180fps (180 frames per second).

I’m sure you can imagine some very fun applications for this kind of slow motion shooting.

Additionally, GH5 has a full-size HDMI type-A outlet. Filmmakers will use this to output to a recorder or large monitor, but I use it for live view and tethered-like shooting. You can plug a regular HDMI cord into the camera and into a TV and view your pictures or your composition on the very large screen, which is terrific.

WiFi and Bluetooth

Lumix’s smartphone app has always been very powerful and allows the cameras to transfer pictures on-site. I love this function and use it daily. The GH5 now utilizes Bluetooth with the wifi to conserve battery power and maintain a constant connection. This is good innovation, and I am glad for it.

Autofocus

The GH5 uses contrast detection autofocus and their Depth from Defocus system. It includes the wonderful face-detection setting, and it works flawlessly for portraits and even tracking talking heads during video recording. The GH4 had 49 autofocus points, and the GH5 steps that up to 225. In my use, it’s good and it’s fast. I’ll be interested to see how much better it is for action and tracking.

Conclusion

Though I’ve only used it for a few days, the GH5 performed well, and the picture quality is very good. Adobe have just released an update to Camera RAW and Lightroom so that the RAW files are now supported, and best of all they’ve included camera profiles for the GH5 so the RAW’s look just like the jpegs with a single click. I’ll be digging into those more, but as it stands, I like this camera and I’m excited about it. If you’re a DSLR shooter who has been thinking about a mirrorless system, this is probably the perfect camera for you.

Check the price and more details here.

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