1 September 2017
(Updated review) I have been putting off buying one of these despite the many rave reviews because of the sheer complexity of menus and reported difficulty of editing 4k.video. I have three GH2's which I have used for some years for multi camera shooting and editing on an Avid Media Composer, but by all accounts getting files from a GH5 into the Avid is problematic, especially if you want to take advantage of 10-bit files. Could I perhaps shoot in 4k but edit in HD and still get benefits over the GH2? It t seems I can, and the resulting HD, upscaled in my OPPO BDP-103 and viewed on my 65" Samsung 4k television, is stunning - the best I have ever seen, even on the best Blu rays, and a massive improvement over the HD from my GH2's. So I have a neat solution - shoot in 4k 8-bit and edit to HD with the posibilitty of editing in 4k later. Shooting in 10-bit is more problematic though; If I select MOV file format, which is necessary to allow 25p 10-bit video, then I can neither play them on the TV (which is not HDR - I will try on an LG OLED later.) nor edit them in my existing system. It seems that at present the only way to get 4k 10-bit from the GH4 into Avid (or I think Premier) is to transcode it first into an edit-friendly format (like DNxHR for Avid), so I will await developments in editing before going to 10-bit.
I didn't expect to be able to use the 4k files directly in my Avid without transcoding, but was surprised to find that I can just drag and drop 4k 8-bit files into an Avid bin and they convert immediately even though the Avid is V5.5 which is a few years out of date. The process does take about 8min per minute of video, about twice what HD takes, and it probably works because it uses quicktime codecs to convert and finds the codec even though I have not updated the Avid for 4k working.. The resulting HD edited video is the best I have ever seen - as good as the best blu ray video. Aliasing is at a very low level - the normal trade-off between detailed resolution and aliasing inherent in the use of an optical 'phase plate' anti-aliasing filter is gone since this camera dispenses with optical filtering and digitally filters instead from the high resolution sensor. No more gaps in guitar strings as was so evident on video shot on the Cannon 5D MkII !
The advantages of shooting in 4k 8-bit on the GH5 over shooting with the GH2 are enormous. Image quality is hugely better, and the in-camera stabiiiser works fantastically well on all my manual lenses. Where previously I stuck to ISO 320, and started to just see noise on higher settings, I can now use ISO 800 or higher routinely, and today I used higher ISO settings in an experiment shooting ants with extension tubes on a 35mm manual lens set to F/16 (needed for depth of focus in macro photography) with great results (each Jet-Black ant half fills the screen)..
The viewfinder on the GH5 is superb; the clarity took me by surprise, and even with glasses on (which I prefer to adjusting the eyepiece as I am more comfortable being able to view the scene directly too) I can easily see the full image with no distortion; whereas on the GH2 the field of view was restricted and moving the eye position led to image distortion in the eyepiece. I do find that I keep accidentally pressing a button under my thumb which changes the viewfinder between brief, full info, and a horizontal line sort of spirit level check, which caused me confusion at first. (This may be because I am double jointed and my thumb joint presses against the camera when I hold it.) I have a lot of MFT lenses, and I have just tried my Voigtlander Nokton F0.95 25mm which I love for shallow focus effect. It works great, with the in-camera stabilisation working well, despite this being a manual lens, and the focus is made easy by the super viewfinder and focus peaking aid which comes into operation automatically (unless you turn it off) as soon as you use manual focus.. I have set the 'focal length' in the menu to 25mm and note that when I remove the lens and put another in a message appears saying 'focal length 25mm, do you want to change this?'
I'm pleased to find that there is a menu setting for audio gain (adjustable in 1dB steps) which I have set to -12dB to avoid overloading and for audio limiting (which I have turned off as I hate it). I recommend this setting for normal use - sensitivity is still adequate for normal levels.I have now measured the audio performance with a view to designing a Lindos line-level interface to use with professional line-level audio feeds such as from a professional mic pre-amp. Lindos Electronics sells a range of adaptors designed by me for various top cameras such as the GH2, Cannon 5DMkll etc.which provide line level input with passive bass compensation for each camera, allowing excellent results to be achieved with simple in-camera recording. This is easier to edit than when using separate audio recording, though I sometimes do this too, with a line level feed to the camera from a mixer or Tascam 8-track recorder output via the adaptor. A professional audio adaptor with XLR connectors and phantom power is available of course for the GH5, but this might be overkill for some users, and adds to the bulk.
The tests reveal that the basic in-camera audio is significantly better than on the GH2. Gone is the annoying 2.5mm mic jack, replaced by a 3.5mm one as on most cameras, and gone is the HF processor noise which tended to get into the mic lead through some sort of ground problem. The noise sounds pure white, without trace of processor beating, though it is at a level some 10dB above best 16-bit performance (such as CD quality). Automatic gain reductions still seems to kick in above max level, as it did in the GH4 (independently of the fact that the limiter is off), but whereas on the GH2 it kicked in below full scale on the meter, it now only operates to keep the level constant above full scale, giving an extras 6dB or more of usable dynamic range. Take a look at the online Lindos Electronics demo videos to see what surprisingly good sound is possible on the GH2 when properly done from good mics; on the GH5 we can expect even better.
I'm one of those people who would like video cameras to be simpler - many of the menu options and facilities are gimmicks as far as I am concerned and like most users of professional video cameras I often just want manual focus, and manual shutter and aperture settings without all the fancy things that just add to the risk of the camera getting accidentally put into a confusing state prior to shooting. However, I do value auto-focus on single-shot mode when using an auto lens, as it can be difficult to achieve precise focus to 4k standards manually and am pleased to see that when in AFS mode it is possible to use single shot auto-focus while shooting without stopping the recording. This works reliably on static scenes, but less reliably when there is fast motion, and this has been the main criticism of this camera by other reviewers (I note that the firmware upgrade now available for purchase claims to improve autofocus). In manual mode two thumbwheels function to change aperture (back thumbwheel by default) and shutter speed (top thumbwhelel by default) which is very convenient on the auto lenses - I love it.
I recommend the Panasonic 12 - 35mm F/2.8 zoom for general use (and it's longer partner), if you want a really good lens that can be used for shallow focus effects. The cheaper zooms reduce aperture from 3.5 to 5.6 as you zoom which is a nuisance for video. The Leica zooms may attract some people because of the name, but it seems they are no longer German made, and Panasonic may have overtaken them with their own lens production facilities. Micro Four Thirds lenses need to be ground to greater precision than bigger lenses, because the resolution required at the sensor is greater; so they are specialist items made to finer limits than many bigger professional lenses. Just because they are lighter (which is great) and have less glass doesn't make them cheaper! One niggle with the Panasonic zoom is that manual focus is too fine, with 'slippage'; in other words, if you turn the lens back from optimum focus to check then you may have to turn it twice as far the other way to get back to optimum focus - and there can be no calibrated distances around the lens. I also have a pair of Tamron (Nikon fit with adapter) zooms that I have adapted by wedging the aperture lever to fully open (f2.8 fixed), and these have proper manual focus without slippage, although the fixed aperture is not ideal.
All in all, an absolutely amazing camera. I sat three feet away from my new LG OLED65C6V 4k 65 inch screen (arguably the best screen available) last night, looking at the 4k 8-bit video I had shot, and decided I could not fault it, the sharpness left nothing to be desired even with such close viewing. I have been using three GH2's for several years for studio shooting of things like music videos, with quad-split editing in the Avid. I find it useful to keep one of them in my Steadycam Merlin, balanced and ready for use (otherwise once you take the camera off and put it back it takes a while to balance properly). I've just bought another GH5 to keep in the Steadycam, and may end up getting a third!
I've yet to even try stills, but expect to be able to do indoor shots much more easily for two reasons. Not only can I use higher ISO without running into noise, making higher shutter speeds possible, but the in-camera stabilisation should make camera movement a lot less important for a given shutter speed. I like to take stills from video, as a way of capturing the perfect expression rather than clicking and hoping; but with HD such stills were always a bit limited in sharpness. With 4k we get the possibility of extracting much better stills from video (with 8Mpixel resolution instead of 2Mpx). If 8k video becomes common (32Mpix frames) then stills and video will merge, at pretty much the highest resolution attainable from the best 'normal' cameras and lenses; an interesting thought.