30 November 2015
I originally scored this low as the price was high compared to elsewhere. That has changed. This is the finest video camera on the market, at the moment, in the price range, by some margin. It is best on the market for video and strong player for stills too. Why?
First, you wouldn't buy this camera as a pro or semi-pro first choice for stills, but it is an excellent stills camera with near instant focusing, great lenses and good res. In this category and technology, the quality of the lenses is more important than almost anything else and the range is great. Being mirrorless costs out weight, complexity and possible aberration. That's really all I am going to say about stills. You get a good camera thrown in that sits well in the hand and is much smaller and lighter than the monsters Canon/Nikon offer, especially with zoom lenses.
Next, this is a new model (November/December2015) so we need to differentiate from the former version without the R (the DMC-GH4), which has been around for getting on two years, is cheaper and still available. It was already the best in the market and remains so apart from this with one vital difference (in Europe).. The R has some embedded microcode that otherwise you have to buy separately (currently £79). It offers V-Log. If you want to do full cinema quality and easier sophisticated grading (roughy what photographers call toning), you will need this. If not, don't worry. (The R will also have the latest firmware that with the non-R you might have to add, reflecting upgrades over the last year or two in addition to tV-log.)
The crucial difference relates to a silly rule to do with European import tax. If the camera can take continuous video for 30 minutes or longer, then it is reclassified as a video recorder, and this has a tax imposed for no obvious reason. The R version bites the bullet, pays the tax (6-9%, topped up for good measure, ha!) and charges us extra. The DMC-GH4 does not. It too can record continuously for hours but is artificially slugged. It stops in Europe at 29 minutes 59 seconds. Still, if you don't need to make videos of over 30 minutes then the DMC-GH4 is fine.
Then to the camera itself. It takes beautiful 4k film with a great variety of other options. It has a host of features and potential accessories that turn it into a true professsional workhorse. The micro four-thirds system is mirrorless; that cuts size and heat - with video heat is the big problem. There are a host of lenses, not just Panasonic but also Olympus.Leica and others. Watch out - Panasonic add antismoke into the lens, Olympus into the camera body (saving cost on every lens). Olympus is fine if you are using a tripod or can hold steady, but with a Panasonic/Olympus combo you don't have antishake.
The lenses will be much smaller than Canon and Nokon. Thats a mercy. But if you want with the Speedbooster accessory you can add a numerous other lenses including ancient pre-electronic manuals. So if you are a Canon user say with a bag full of lenses you can still use them. Or old Leicas. You can also add other units including Metabones production unit for sound, external recording and other professional gear. That's more than the camera but means that the professional gets top kit for a fraction (say 10-20%) of the cost of the existing (cinema grade) professional gear. Some of the top names in independent movie making have extolled the kit at length.
Focusing is excellent, extremely fast, with a continuous focus ability for moving video. and there are lenses that allow fixed focus for filming repeatedly to fixed focus schedules. Additional video features include focus peaking, time code support, and cine-like gamma options. For unique expressions, VBR (Variable Frame Rate), time lapse, and stop motion animation videos can be recording internally without the need for additional post-production processing.
No kit is perfect and if you have some highly specialist problem - you want to mainly shoot in very low light conditions, under water, super-secretly, or you want to build your muscles, then look further. But Panasonic already have a tradition of microcode enhancements and with the success of this camera they can afford to keep improving. The GH5 will be a while away. Enjoy what's hot.
And a few practicals. Make sure you buy fast grade in-camera cards. Video and photos are recorded to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. But for high bit-rate 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps formats, SDHC/SDXC UHS-I Speed Class 3 (U3) cards are needed. Video recorded to SD cards is 4:2:0 8-bit. If you want real-time 4:2:2 8-bit and 4:2:2 10-bit video, this can be sent to an external monitor or recorder with an optional micro HDMI cable. The GH4 comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, battery charger with AC cable, body cap, hot shoe cover, USB cable, shoulder strap, and DVD with supplied software.