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Panasonic Lumix GH4: first impressions
What is the Panasonic Lumix GH4?Targeted both at professionals and enthusiasts, the Lumix GH4 is a 16.05-megapixel micro four thirds camera whose standout feature is the ability to shoot 4K video footage. However, it has much to offer still photographers too. The GH-range has long been the pinnacle of Panasonic’s camera range and updates don’t come often, so the GH4 comes with a great deal of expectation. We’ll have to wait for it to go on sale to see if it delivers, but the GH4 makes a very good first impression.
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Panasonic Lumix GH4: FeaturesThe GH4 may have the same resolution as its predecessor – the Lumix GH3 – but it carries a brand-new sensor, improved through the introduction of new semi-conductor production technology. The result, Panasonic claims, is less image noise and a wider dynamic range, which should compensate for a resolution that’s a fair bit lower than the 20 million or so pixels found on many APS-C sensors. In any case, 16.05 million pixels are easily enough for producing prints as large as A3.
Another aid for improving image quality – and, of course, to facilitate that 4K video footage – is a new quad-core processor. It’s part of the GH4’s Venus engine image–processing system and, as such, permits a 1EV increase in sensitivity, up from ISO 12,800 in the GH3 to ISO 25,600. Faster processing enables faster shooting – the GH4 can capture 12fps bursts and, with continuous focusing, 7 frames per second.
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Regarding autofocus, Face detection is present and Panasonic has added ‘eye-detection AF’ to aid portraiture. However, there’s another new feature carried by the GH4 called DFD. The acronym stands for Depth from Defocus and it is a database of all existing Panasonic lenses written into the GH4’s firmware. It is meant to enable the camera to estimate how out of focus the particular lens in use is and then refocus accordingly. Contrast detection then fine-tunes focusing until it is precise – and all at a maximum speed of 0.07 seconds.
The number of focus areas has been increased and there’s now a 49-area system instead of the 23-area system on the GH3.
Panasonic Lumix GH4: DesignThe Panasonic Lumix GH4 bears a very strong resemblance to the GH3, especially as it too has a magnesium-alloy body. However, despite the use of magnesium alloy the camera is lightweight, and very comfortable to hold thanks to an emphasis placed on ergonomics.
Two main dials are located on the top and back and the mode dial can be locked. There are dedicated buttons for adjusting exposure compensation, white balance and ISO. And, of course, extra settings can be assigned to the GH4’s ten function buttons. This should be music to the ears of any videographers and photographers as there’s plenty of fine control within easy reach, rather than tucked away in menus as on Panasonic’s more general consumer cameras.
Likewise, Panasonic reckons the GH4 is ideal for professional levels of ‘heavy work out in the field’. It’s both dustproof and sealed against the elements.
Panasonic Lumix GH4: VideoFor all its photography credentials the true lure of the GH4 is its video predigree. The Panasonic Lumix GH4 can capture high-definition 4K video, at a resolution of 4096x2160 pixels in frame rates of up to 96fps. There’s not enough room in this first look to fully analyse the video capabilities, but the key points concern the quality of footage.
Aside from the 4K resolution, the bit rate can be either 100Mbps or 200Mbps – that’s a big improvement over top bit rate of the GH3, which was a mere 75Mbps. In fact, so high is its quality (better even than the standard of TV companies) that there would be no surprise in finding footage from the GH4 used in actual broadcasts.
On that score, there is an optional ‘Interface Unit’ – in other words an extra large grip that fits to the bottom of the GH4. When it’s attached the camera is provided with two XLR microphone sockets, along with phantom power for microphones, microphone level control and sound level monitors. As well as that, four SDI terminals will be made available along with a Micro HDMI output, a colour bar signal and an audio reference signal. Finally, it will enable external time control so several cameras can be linked and synchronised.
4K video support also necessitates one further upgrade as the GH4 is the first camera to use the new UHS I class III SD card format. These can save data at a rate of 30MB/s, around 240Mbps, ensuring it won’t bump into any issues when recording 4K video.
First ImpressionsOf course, as the strength and ‘selling point’ of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is supposed to be the professional standard of its video capture, that is where most of the ‘effort’ has been put in. So, initially there might appear to be little new for the enthusiast stills photographer to justify stepping up from the GH3. Faster shooting rates and improved AF are there, as is DFD, but the proof of the pudding will be in the image quality produced by the final version of the camera.
Panasonic is still working on the final firmware, so only when we do a full test will we tell how the new semi-conductor production technology has improved the image sensor. Initial sample shots looked impressive, however, making the GH4 one of the more interesting cameras we’ve seen this year and one definitely worth waiting for if video is a high priority for you.
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