Panasonic's Lumix GH5 is a very thorough and exciting upgrade from the wildly popular GH4 micro 4/3rds camera. A prosumer-grade video rig in disguise as a stills shooter, it takes some of the most stunning and detailed video footage we've ever worked with, and packs in a dizzying array of features.
The GH5 is a jarring reminder of how little Canon has done to support the video capabilities of its EOS series cameras, which were among the first consumer-grade machines to shoot truly compelling video footage. They still don't shoot 4K, or handle audio competently, or give you any of the kind of features that might eat into the market share of Canon's dedicated video machines.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
Panasonic, on the other hand, has bent over backwards to make the GH5 the best filmmaking tool it can be. Not only does this thing shoot truly, powerfully gorgeous 4K/60fps video, it can also take 4K footage at a cinematic 24fps using a richer, 4:2:2 10-bit color space that responds well to grading in post production. The list of frame rate, resolution and bitrate options available is genuinely intimidating.
Run and gun documentary style shooting is vastly easier thanks to dual image stabilization – in both the lens and the body. Our test rig came with the Leica-built 12-60 f/2.8-4.0 DG Vario-Elmart lens, and we got plenty of solid, usable footage hand-held thanks to the excellent built-in stabilizers, including shots where we were walking as we shot. By far the best such system we've ever seen and a credit to Panasonic's engineers.
The upgraded in-built microphone is a pleasant surprise too, with a wind noise reduction algorithm applied to take the low-frequency woof of wind blast out. That, coupled with the image stabilization and face-detect autofocus, makes the GH5 a pretty stunning hand-held video selfie rig for vlogging, even if you don't upgrade the mic with a boom or lavalier alternative.
Autofocus is hit and miss. When it works it's very impressive (it's best when shooting wide). But the ridiculously high image resolution makes it easy to spot when it starts hunting for focus, and we did find ourselves losing a lot of shots as it grabbed focus on backgrounds instead of subjects. We suspect spending significant time getting to know the autofocus menus and modes better would make a big difference.
On the other hand, manual focusing is handled very well, with bright blue focus peaking very easy to use while shooting, and a focus assist zoom window popping up on both the beautiful, articulating back touchscreen and the outstanding electronic viewfinder as you work the focus ring.
If you're working with shots you can set up a bit better, there's the ability to automatically transition between pre-set focus points, which works beautifully. There's also in-camera variable frame rate control that lets you shoot timelapses down to 2 fps, or 1080p slow motion at an awesome 180 fps, which equates to slowing things down by 7.5 times. It looks amazing, we found it an inspiring tool.
One odd thing we discovered was that the focus ring doesn't seem to operate in a linear fashion; it seems to speed up the further you turn it. Weird, but not a huge problem. We did find it confusing that both the zoom and focus rings turned backwards compared to most of our gear, but that's surely not the sort of thing that takes much adjusting to.
As a stills camera, we were impressed with the quality of images from the GH5. It doesn't handle low light or deliver dynamic range as well as the full frame cameras – particularly from Sony/Nikon. But images are tack-sharp and beautifully clear, and this Leica lens is as technically impressive as you'd expect.
Full size RAW images can be shot at a fairly quick 12 frames per second. But if you don't mind dropping the output size, you can switch that up for 6K-resolution images at a stunning 60 frames per second – effectively shooting a video, then picking out the perfect frame for a still.
This kind of business also allows you to take beautifully done in-camera post focus shots, where the camera chooses all possible focus points, shoots them all at high speed, and then intelligently stitches these shots together to give you an impossibly wide depth of field in your final image. It works brilliantly with simpler shots, but the auto-stitching can fall to bits with more complex images.
Panasonic GH5: In-camera focus stitching. I guess my keyboard really is that filthy. Sorry. (Credit: Loz Blain/New Atlas)
One thing that didn't work at all for us was wireless connectivity; in the 20 minutes we gave to the task, we couldn't get the Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connections up and running well enough to transfer images or control the camera. It simply failed to connect with my Pixel phone or the New Atlas WiFi system, without explanation.
Wired connectivity, on the other hand, is next-level. The GH5 uses a USB-C connector that fires data from the dual SD cards to your PC quicker than our best card reader can manage. Impressive.
We never got fully comfortable with the layout of the vast number of buttons, dials, thumbsticks and scroll wheels that festoon the GH5. Five of them are programmable function buttons you can set to do a range of different jobs, but the playback button in particular is in a silly spot that means you almost always have to change your grip to get your thumb onto it.
Likewise the menu system is flexible and effective, but not particularly intuitive, and it uses a bunch of jargon and acronyms that could really do with some explaining. We had to reach for the manual more than usual to figure this thing out; a set of pop-up tool tips would make a lot of lives easier.
At AU$2,999 in Australia (US$1999 in the USA) for the body and AU$1,199 (or US$999) for this 12-60mm lens (which equates to a 24-120mm lens on a 35mm sensor), it's well into the prosumer price range. But the stunning image quality and video production features make this just about a no-brainer for low-budget filmmaking.
It's far from perfect, but more than good enough to blow us away. And we barely feel like we've scratched the surface of the GH5's capabilities in our short time with it. A creatively inspiring piece of equipment that runs very deep, but is also very accessible for new users. We're going to struggle to give this one back.
Here's some sample video:
There's a bunch of sample photos in the gallery.
More information: Panasonic GH5View gallery - 29 images