Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Review

5.0
April 24, 2014 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is the first compact system camera to offer 4K video shooting. The exciting GH4 also features a 16 megapixel sensor, 12fps burst shooting, 3 inch swivelling touchscreen, electronic viewfinder, built-in wi-fi and NFC connectivity, a weather-proof body, and an extensive ISO range of 100-25600. Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 review complete with with sample photos, test shots, videos and more...

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is the world’s first compact system camera to feature 4K video shooting. It can record video in the MOV, MP4, AVCHD Progressive and AVCHD formats, with 4K recording in MOV/MP4 and Full HD video with ultra-high bitrate at 200 Mbps (ALL-Intra) or 100 Mbps (IPB), plus VFR (Variable Frame Rate) video such as 96 FPS or 4x speed. Successor to the DMC-GH3 model, the splashproof and dustproof GH4 features an improved 16.05-megapixel Live MOS sensor and Venus Engine processor, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, enhanced 0.07 second contrast-detect autofocus system with 49 focus points, 1/8000th top shutter speed, 1/250th second flash sync speed, 1,728-zone metering system, 2,359K-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, 3-inch 1,040K-dot swivelling and tilting OLED screen, touchscreen control system with touch-based functions like Touch AF/AE and Touch Shutter, Optical Image Stabilisation to help combat camera-shake, ISO range of 100-25600, completely silent electronic shutter, faster 12fps burst shooting and a Supersonic Wave Filter to remove unwanted dust. Panasonic is also introducing a specialist Interface Unit, DMW-YAGH, exclusively for professional/industrial workflow with the GH4 that enables more powerful video transmission. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is available in black and costs £1299.99 / $1699.99 body only, £1749.99 in a kit with the 14-140mm lens, or £2499.99 / $3,299.99 body only with the DMW-YAGHE interface unit.

Ease of Use

In terms of its external design, the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is virtually unchanged from the previous GH3 model, the main changes being a new lockable shooting mode dial and the addition of a time-lapse mode to the continuous shooting dial. Measuring 132.9 x 93.4 x 83.9mm and weighing 480g body only, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is marginally larger and heavier than the GH3, again using a magnesium alloy frame. The Panasonic GH4 goes against the trend of making cameras ever smaller, instead being big enough to make it easier to handle for those with average to large sized hands.

On the front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, lens release button, metal lens mount, flash sync socket and a sculpted, rubberised hand-grip. The majority of the GH4's exterior is matt black plastic, with the right-hand and left-hand edges helpfully finished in a more tactile rubberised coating. The DMC-GH4 continues the usual Panasonic approach of being extremely well-built, with a high quality metal chassis, lens mount and tripod socket that's in-line with the centre of the lens mount, plus an extended shutter release life of 200,000 shots.

The GH4 ships either body only or with the 14-140mm kit lens, which we reviewed it with. We'd also like to see a kit with the faster 12-35mm lens. While the body of the GH4 is comparable in size and weight to mid-range DSLR cameras, the lenses are where Panasonic have really shrunk the overall system. Given the 10x focal length on offer, the 14-140mm optic is relatively small and light, although it is almost as heavy as the GH4. The optional DMW-BGGH4 battery grip allows the Panasonic DMC-GH4 to shoot in excess of 1000 shots. There are three dedicated buttons for exposure, ISO and WB on the top of the camera, plus the shutter release button and dual front / rear control dials. The battery grip shares the same splash / dustproof design as the GH4 body.

The 14-140mm kit lens does extend a long way when zoomed to its maximum telephoto setting, making it a little conspicuous, but that's a small price to pay for such an overall compact package. The real downside from a specification point of view are the relatively slow maximum apertures of f/3.5-5.6, which limits the GH4's use in low-light conditions and makes it more difficult to effectively blur the background to help emphasise the main subject. If money is less of an issue, we'd probably opt for the excellent Lumix G X 12-35mm f/2.8 lens instead, although the 14-140mm is very well suited to video work if you want an all-in-one lens.

Unlike a conventional DSLR camera which uses a phase detection auto-focus system, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 employs a 49-point Contrast AF system, similar to that commonly used by compact cameras. The GH4 still has one of the fastest AF systems of any interchangeable lens camera, though, be that a compact system camera or a DSLR, with a claimed speed of just 0.07 seconds when used with certain lenses thanks to the inclusion of DFD (Depth from Defocus) technology, which further shortens the time to set focus. This is incredibly quick, and there were also almost no occasions when the GH4 failed to lock onto the subject, especially when using the centre AF point, resulting in a very quick and importantly reliable AF system. There are a wide range of AF modes on offer, including multiple-area AF with up to 49 focus areas, 1-area AF with a selectable focus area, Face/Eye Detection, AF Tracking, Custom Multi and Pinpoint AF. As it's name suggests, the new Custom Multi mode allows you to configure the AF points from a wide range of options and patterns, and you can even save up to three customised choices. The GH4 also has a useful Quick AF function that begins focusing as soon as you point the camera.

As with all Panasonic compact system cameras, optical image stabilisation is supplied via the lens, rather than being built-in to the camera body. On the 14-140mm lens it can be turned on and off via the Power O.I.S switch on the lens barrel, with two different modes accessible through the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4's menu system. When enabled, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held. Mode 1 is on all the time including during image composition, while Mode 2 only compensates for up and down movements, which in turn allows you to pan the camera.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 has a multi-aspect 17.20 megapixel sensor that provides 16.05 effective megapixels. This is both to accommodate the movie recording functionality, and also to offer four different aspect ratios for still photos (4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 and 1:1 square modes) without affecting the angle-of-view by cropping or interpolation.

Found on top of the Panasonic DMC-GH4 are the burst mode/bracketing/self-timer/time-lapse dial, external flash hotshoe, stereo microphones, built-in pop-up flash, lockable shooting mode dial surrounded by the on/off switch, shutter release button, front control dial, white balance, ISO and exposure compensation buttons, and a customisable Fn1 button. There's also a tiny LED to indicate if wi-fi is on or off. The GH4 has both a traditional mechanical shutter and a silent electronic shutter, which as well as not spooking your subject ensures that your subject is completely sharp by avoiding pixel shifting. The Delay Shutter option helps to remove the effect of hand-shake by releasing the shutter after a specified time (8, 4, 2 or 1 seconds).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4
Front

Rear

The traditional shooting mode dial lets you choose from the different exposure modes. The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for the more experienced photographers. The more beginner-friendly Scene modes are also accessed via this dial. Additionally there are 3 custom modes, marked C1, C2 and C3, which allow you to configure your favourite settings and quickly access them, Intelligent Auto and a range of Scene modes for less experienced users, and the Creative Movie mode which provides access to all of the camera's extensive range of video options. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4's Creative Controls, denoted by an artist's palette on the shooting mode dial, now offers 22 different options. There are also some 6 different customisable Photo Styles in the Main Menu which still allow full control of the camera's settings.

The clever Intelligent Auto mode tries to make things as easy as possible for the complete beginner, allowing them to point and shoot the camera without having to worry about choosing the right scene mode or settings. Intelligent Auto Mode automatically determines a number of key criteria when taking a picture, including selecting the most appropriate scene mode (from 5 commonly used presets) and ISO speed, and turning face detection (up to 15 faces), image stabilization and quick auto-focus on.

The Intelligent Auto Plus Mode also includes Intelligent Exposure, which increases exposure only in the under-exposed areas of the image, Digital Red-eye, which automatically detects and removes red-eye, and AF Tracking, which continually tracks a moving subject and keeps it in focus, without you having to hold the shutter button halfway down as on most other cameras. Intelligent D-range continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows, while Intelligent Resolution mode makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one.

In practice the Intelligent Auto Mode system works very well, with the GH4 seamlessly choosing the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. The 5 available scene modes are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Night Scenery, so obviously not all situations are covered by Intelligent Auto Mode, but it does work for the majority of the time. It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera.

The Fn1 button, which as with the other four Function buttons on the rear of the camera and the two soft Function buttons on the touchscreen, can be configured to activate one of 38 settings, allowing the camera to truly be customised to suit your way of working (there are "only" 10 options available for the Fn4 button). The row of white balance, ISO and exposure compensation buttons make it extremely easy to access the camera's key exposure controls, while the dual control dials makes it easy to use the fully Manual shooting mode.

The red Motion Picture button on the rear, as you'd expect, allows you to start recording a movie with a single push of a button and then stop recording by pressing the same button, regardless of which shooting mode is currently selected. This is a lot more intuitive than having to select the movie mode then press the shutter button, as on some cameras, although you can still start/stop movie recording via the GH4's shutter button if you wish.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 has a plethora of movie options ranging from 4K to VGA, making it the most full-featured interchangeable lens camera on the market in terms of video. Take a look at the Specifications page for the full range of options. It principally offers 4,096 x 2,160/25p/24p, 3,840 x 2,160/30p/25p/24p @ 100Mbps (IPB), and 1080/60p/50p @ 200 Mbps (All I) options, with MP4 (AAC), MP4 (LPCM), MOV and AVCHD formats supported. The GH4 is one of the few cameras that isn't geographically limited, as you can choose from both NTSC and PAL settings, so you get the full range of frame rates regardless of where you bought the camera. It's capable of recording continuously for an unlimited time or for 29 min 59 sec in PAL mode. The SMPTE-compliant Time Code makes it easy to synchronize multiple video footage or sound source in your post-production workflow.

The Variable Frame Rate option allows you to set the video frame rate from 2fps to 96fps or 4x speed while recording Full HD video. Available for both JPEG photos and movies, the EX Tele Conversion option extends the zoom by 2x for still images and 2.4x / 3.6x / 4.8x in video recording. This extends the 14-140mm lens from 10x to 24x for 1080p movies, 10x to 36x for 720p, and 10x to 48x for VGA. The DMC-GH4 can also take a 12 megapixel photo in the 16:9 ratio whilst recording a movie, and you can save a specific frame of a movie as a still image during playback.

The Creative Movie shooting mode, accessed via the mode dial on top of the GH4, allows you to set the shutter speed, aperture or both settings manually during recording (a Program option is also available). Changing the shutter speed is especially suitable for shooting fast-moving subjects, whilst the ability to control the aperture is convenient when there are several subjects at different distances. In practice this system works well, allowing some really creative effects, but there are a couple of drawbacks. Firstly the operating sound of the control dials is very audible in the movie, so you'll need to edit the soundtrack later to remove it or use the Silent Operation mode which operates the zoom, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity and mic level adjustments via the touch-screen. Secondly, you can't set the shutter speed to below 1/25th second, ruling out more creative slow shutter-speed effects.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4
Front Vari-angle LCD Screen

The Panasonic GH4's Intelligent Auto mode also works in movies as well as for still photos. Simply select the iA icon on the mode dial and press the movie record button on the rear. The Intelligent Scene Selector automatically determines the most suitable Scene mode from five options - Portrait, Scenery, Low Light and Close-up or Normal modes. Face Detection automatically detects a face in the frame and adjusts the focus, exposure, contrast, and skin complexion. Intelligent Exposure continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows. The Optical Image Stabilizer helps prevent blurring from hand-shake when using a compatible lens.

Dolby-quality stereo sound is recorded during video capture via the internal mics on top of the camera, which is a big improvement on the rather muffled noises recorded by most digital cameras, helped by the wind cut function which blocks out most of the noise from background wind. You can also add an optional external stereo microphone (DMW-MS2) to enhance the sound further. In MP4 and MOV formats, high quality sound can be recorded in LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) or AAC, and you can select system frequencies between 59.94Hz (23.98Hz) / 50.00Hz / 24.00Hz. The HDMI port allows you to connect the GH4 to a high-def TV set or external recorder during video recording and pass through an uncompressed feed.

The Wi-Fi function lets you use your smartphone to change the camera settings (focus setting, exposure compensation, ISO, WB and Photo Styles) and even fire the shutter button remotely (including interval video recordings), while the auto transfer function automatically backs up your photos onto a tablet. You can also use GPS data from your smartphone to record the shooting location onto your images. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 also has a time lapse function in which you can set the time interval and the number of images to take (now selectable via the continuous shooting dial), plus a multi-exposure option that lets you combine up to four exposures in a single frame. The DMC-GH4 is also one of a growing number of compact system cameras to feature NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect it to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC-enabled camera by simply tapping them together.

The rear of the Lumix DMC-GH4 is dominated by the large 3 inch OLED screen with 100% scene coverage. The rotating, free-angle monitor, which is hinged on the left side of the camera (looking from the rear), can be flipped out and twisted through 270 degrees. You can use the screen as a waist-level viewfinder, holding the camera overhead, and even for turning the GH4 on yourself for arm-length self-portraits. There's also the added benefit of folding the screen away against the camera body to protect it when stored in a camera bag, preventing it from becoming marked or scratched.

The 1036K pixel, high-resolution screen coped admirably with the majority of lighting conditions, even being nice to use in low-light. The Auto Power LCD function automatically detects the current lighting conditions and boosts the LCD backlighting by up to 40% when shooting outdoors in bright sunshine, helping to keep the screen visible. The handy level gauge indicates the two directions of horizontal lean and front/rear tilt. The high-res, free-angle OLED screen is much more than just a novelty - it's a lot more versatile than the usual combination of optical viewfinder and fixed LCD, providing new angles of view and enhancing your overall creativity.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 inherits the GH3's clever touchscreen interface. Panasonic have wisely restricted the amount of things that you can do by interacting with the screen, and indeed you can still operate everything on the camera without having to push and prod the LCD at all. You would be missing out on a lot of genuinely useful functionality, though, which really improves the overall shooting experience. A clever feature called Touchpad AF allows you to move the focus point area with your finger on the LCD while you're looking through the EVF.

The most immediately noticeable function is the ability to use the 1-area AF mode to focus on your main subject simply by touching it on the LCD. If the subject then moves, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 cleverly follows it around the screen using the the AF tracking function. If the subject exits the frame entirely, simply recompose and tap it again to start focusing. Impressive stuff that makes focusing on off-center subjects fast and intuitive. It is a little too easy to accidentally press the screen and set the focus point to the wrong area for the current subject, but a simple tap in the middle of the LCD will center the AF point (or you can turn this feature off altogether). The size of the AF point itself can also be changed via an interactive onscreen slider.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4
Top Side

When Intelligent Auto is switched on, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 changes the scene mode used when you touch the subject, for example selecting portrait mode if you touch a face and macro mode if you touch a close-up flower. If you prefer to manually focus rather than use the snappy AF, you can magnify any part of the subject by 1x, 5x or 10x by simply dragging the image around the screen. The final touchscreen ability from an image composition point of view is the ability to release the shutter, with a small icon on the right hand screen enabling this functionality, and then a single on-screen tap all that's required to take the picture.

All of the menu options can now be changed via the touchscreen interface, including the Main menu system. You can also control image playback by touching the screen, with the ability to tap a thumbnail to see the full-size version, scroll through your images by dragging them from side to side, and magnifying them up to 16x.

Instead of the bulky optical viewfinder of a conventional DSLR, the Panasonic DMC-GH4 has a smaller electronic viewfinder. The improved OLED unit has a large 1.34x (0.67x on 35mm equiv.) magnification, 100% field of view, 1000:1 contrast ratio and 2,359K dot equivalent resolution, resulting in a very usable display that won't leave you cursing. The EVF (and also the main LCD screen) operates at a native rate of 60fps, twice the usual speed, which helps make it flicker-free.

As the EVF is reading the same signal from the image sensor as the rear LCD screen, it can also display similar information - for example, you can view and operate the GH4's Quick Menu, giving quick access to all the key camera settings while it's held up to your eye. The icing on the viewing cake is the clever built-in eye sensor, which automatically switches on the viewfinder when you look into it, then switches it off and turns on the LCD monitor when you look away. The electronic viewfinder on the GH4 is the equal of and in many areas better than a DSLR's optical viewfinder, particularly those found on entry-level models which are typically dim and offer limited scene coverage. The truest testament to the GH4 is that we mostly used it by holding it up to eye-level, something that we wouldn't do unless the EVF was of sufficient quality.

On the rear of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, from left to right, is a Playback button, an LVF button for manually switching between the two viewing methods (useful if you turn the eye sensor off) which can also be configured as the Fn5 button, conveniently located AF/AE Lock button which is surrounded by the AF Type switch, the one-touch Movie record button and the rear control dial. This is used for, amongst other things, changing the aperture and shutter speed by turning from left to right and back again.

underneath are the Quick Menu/Fn2, Fn3/AF Mode and Display buttons. In shooting mode, the Display button alternates between turning the display off, the main camera settings as icons, no settings at all, and an Info Display which shows the current key settings in a clear graphical format. You can additionally press the Q.Menu button and then use the navigation pad to move between the onscreen options. The Q.Menu button provides quick access to most of the principal controls, including ISO speed, image size, image quality and white balance (there are 16 settings in total, depending upon the shooting mode selected). You can still access all of these options from the main menu system too.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 has a traditional 4-way navigation pad system with a circular scroll wheel and Menu/Set button in the centre. Unlike other G-series cameras, the four directions on the d-pad don't have a specific function, other than to move through and select options, playback images etc. The circular scroll wheel can also accomplish many of the same things, although we found it a little too soft and recessed into the camera body to be used precisely.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The Delete button underneath the navigation pad intriguingly has a second function - it doubles up as the Preview button. This cleverly toggles between showing a live preview of the effects of the current aperture (effectively a digital version of Depth of Field Preview) and the current shutter speed. The latter will prove especially useful for beginners, providing a visible way of checking how different shutter speeds will affect the capture of different subjects - running water is a good example.

The main menu system on the DMC-GH4 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the middle of the navigation pad. There are five main menus, Record, Motion Picture, Custom, Setup, and Playback. Most of the camera's main options, such as white balance, image quality, auto-focus mode and ISO speed, are accessed here, so the Record menu has 32 options spread over 7 screens, the Motion Picture menu has 29 options over 6 screens, and the Setup menu has 32 options over 6 screens. As an indication of how configurable the GH4 is, the Custom menu has 41 different options, allowing you fine-tune this camera to suit your way of working.

The Panasonic Lumix GH4's Intelligent Resolution mode makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one by processing the contour areas, texture areas and smooth areas individually. There are three available strengths - low, standard and high - and an Extended option which increase the zoom range. Despite all the clever behind-the-scenes processing, it's fairly easy to tell which image was taken with Intelligent Resolution turned on and which one with it turned off due to unwanted artifacts appearing, particularly if viewing onscreen at 100% magnification. While the difference isn't quite so apparent on a print up to A3 in size, we're not convinced enough to recommend regularly using it.

Intelligent Dynamic adjusts the exposure setting to record more detail in the highlights and shadows, with three strengths available - low, standard and high. It's actually very effective for high-contrast scenes when the camera tends to blow-out the highlights and block-up the shadows. The HDR feature achieves the still fashionable high dynamic range look, although there's only an On or Off setting with no scope to tone down the effect. You can see some examples for the Intelligent Resolution, Intelligent Dynamic and HDR modes on the Image Quality page.

The start-up time from turning the Lumix DMC-GH4 on to being ready to take a photo is impressively quick at around 1 second. It takes about 1 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a barely perceptible LCD blackout between each image. Storing a single RAW image takes around 2 seconds, but thankfully it doesn't lock up the camera in any way - you can use the menu system or shoot another image while the first file is being written to memory. The Panasonic Lumix GH4 has an excellent Burst mode which enables you to take 12 frames per second with the focus and exposure locked at the first frame or 7.5fps with AF tracking for up to 100 JPEG images at the highest image quality or 40 RAW files. There's also faster 40fps and 20fps modes which take advantage of the camera's electronic shutter, but only record 4-megapixel JPEG images.

Once you have captured a photo, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 30 onscreen at the same time and in a Calendar view), zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows, delete, protect, trim, resize, copy and rotate an image. You can also select favourite images, change an image's aspect ratio, add a sound clip to an image, delete Face Recognition data, and set the print order. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small brightness histogram available during shooting and RGBY histogram during playback.

On the bottom of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is a metal tripod socket, importantly in-line with the middle of the lens barrel, and the battery compartment, and on the right side is the Remote port and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot. On the left is the Remote/Mic socket for use with the optional remote shutter release or 3.5mm external microphone, and three connection ports, including a port for external headphones (again 3.5mm in size), HDMI port for connecting the GH4 to a HD television or monitor and an AV Out/Digital port.

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