As many of you already know, this week Panasonic made big news with the announcement of new camera – The Lumix GH5S. Rumors about this new camera have been swirling around online for weeks, and are now confirmed thanks to the official launch at CES.
I did not have early access to this camera, so I’ll hold off on doing a full review of the GH5S until I am able to spend some real time with it. That said, I do still want to share some first impressions of the it here today, as I’ve had a number of readers asking me for my thoughts based on the camera’s specs and pricing.
But first, a little background on my history with the GHx line for some context –
My first Lumix camera was the GH2, which I absolutely loved. It was my also first DSLR-style camera, and after putting it to the test on many projects I became a big advocate for it. Many of my earliest blog posts were centered around my experiences with the GH2, as well as the GH3 and GH4 in later years. Of the three GH-cameras that I owned, the GH2 was actually my favorite, largely based on it’s color science and motion cadence. The GH3 and GH4 both offered incredible upgrades in many respects, but there was a certain X factor that the GH2 offered that just look more filmic, at least to my eye.
By the time the GH5 rolled around, I decided not to invest in one. Not because it wasn’t (and isn’t) an amazing camera – in fact I think it’s probably the best option for the vast majority filmmakers looking for a mirrorless camera – but simply because my needs had changed. I was still doing a lot of smaller/DIY projects, but had mainly been using cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro on those, and for my larger jobs I was often renting REDs or Alexas as needed.
Even still, I continued to have a need for a DSLR/mirrorless camera for some projects, but no longer needed a swiss-army style camera like the GH5 that could do it all. I didn’t need all the bells and whistles. What I did need though, and what I sought out, was the best color science possible which is ultimately why I switched to the Fuji X-T2.
I mention all this just to give anyone reading context for my opinions on the GH5S. As you might be able to tell, I have a pretty unique set of criteria that are important to me when I invest in a camera. So please take anything I say with a grain of salt. My opinions are completely biased and highly subjective to my personal experience with the GHx line and my unique preferences as a filmmaker… Not to mention in this case my impressions are also speculative since the camera was just announced.
Keeping that in mind, below are my thoughts on the GH5S as things stand now –
Let’s kick things off by discussing what this camera is not – a GH5 replacement. This is not the GH6. It’s a GH5S, an alternative to the GH5.
This might sound obvious, but I’ve already had a number of people ask me for a recommendation on whether or not they should “upgrade” to the GH5S. And I don’t blame them for wondering, as on first glance the GH5S would appear to be the higher end model. After all, it’s brand new, more expensive, and has loads of new professional features.
Here are just some of the specs –
- 10.28MP Multi Aspect Ratio MOS Sensor
- DCI 4K60p and Full HD 1080/240p Video
- Internal 4:2:2 10-Bit Long GOP
- V-Log L Gamma and HDR Hybrid Log Gamma
- 0.76x 3.68m-Dot OLED Viewfinder
- 3.2″ 1.62m-Dot Free-Angle Touchscreen
- Dual Native ISO 400 and ISO 2500
- Dual UHS-II SD Slots; Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
- Advanced DFD AF System
- 12 fps Cont. Shooting and 4K PHOTO Modes
- Dedicated Timecode Input
- Price: $2497
Notably, the GH5S has a lower megapixel (but multi-aspect) sensor that offers a dual native ISO setting of either 400 or 2500, which will function similarly to the Varicam LT or other Panasonic cameras that offer this capability. Being able to shoot with a base ISO of 2500 on a sensor with much larger pixels will obviously mean this camera will be far superior to the GH5 in terms of low light ability. This is going to be huge for a lot of shooters, especially those that are doing documentary or event work and need to work primarily with minimal/available light.
Other highlights include the ability to record up to 240fps in full HD, built in V-Log, and the ability to jam sync timecode using the TC input on the front of the body.
What all of this tells me is that Panasonic really seem care about the needs of their professional users, and are clearly making an effort to not only deliver great image quality, but also tremendous functionality. I’m a big believer in investing in cameras and camera brands that truly seem to “get it”, as it tells me that over the long term a company like Panasonic will have it’s customers best interests in mind.
But as I was alluding to above, as impressive as all of these features are, and as much as I commend Panasonic for making this camera, for some people the GH5 would still be the better choice… And I would be one of those people.
The main reason is the lack of image stabilization on the GH5S, which will undoubtably be the biggest drawback for filmmakers who are on the fence between the two models. While features like dual native ISO and 1080/240fps are incredible to have, they aren’t as essential to most filmmakers as built in image stabilization.
This may sound funny coming from me, as I own an X-T2 (which doesn’t have built in IS), but I also tend to shoot with my heavier cameras when I need a more stabilized handheld look, so it’s not necessarily a deal breaker for me.
However, I suspect it will in fact be a deal breaker for many others, since the internal stabilization on the GH5 is just so good, and many filmmakers (especially those shooting a lot of run and gun/guerilla projects) rely on it day to day.
In many ways, I think 5 axis stabilization is one of the primary reasons mirrorless cameras are still thriving, despite competition from the Blackmagic’s of the world… Lots of cameras can produce beautiful images, but few will allow filmmakers to remain truly inconspicuous.
So if I were looking to invest in a new camera, and didn’t already own other cameras that covered my needs in that regard, I would probably go for the GH5 over the GH5S based purely on sensor stabilization. It’s such an important feature to have if you shoot guerrilla style or run and gun – which I do – and a worthwhile tradeoff for the other features the GH5S offers.
For instance, the dual native ISO on the GH5S is clearly a technical achievement – but it’s not a feature I would particularly use all that often. In the past, even when I’ve owned cameras like the Canon C100 or Sony A7S that could shoot at incredibly high ISOs, I would rarely shoot above 800 or 1600. It’s a personal/aesthetic preference, but I tend not to love to look of high ISO footage, no matter how clean it may be. This is partly due me being a big believer in lighting purposefully (even with natural light) as a means to craft a more traditional look. But it’s also that I don’t like what happens to colors and overall IQ when working at really high ISOs on virtually any camera.
So even though ISO 2500 on the GH5S will likely deliver some really clean ultra low light footage, it’s just not a feature that I would personally make use of all that often. Certainly not as much as I would with internal stabilization.
Even the ability to shoot at 240fps in full HD isn’t really a draw for me personally. It’s a cool option to have, but I can only think of one project where I’ve ever had to shoot at that high of a frame rate, and 99% of what I shoot is at 24p. I also don’t know how clean/artifact-free the 240fps shots would look, and will be really curious to see some test footage shot internally at those frame rates.
Again though, this is all subjective based on my particular needs. Many of your needs will be different!
In summary, I want to re-iterate that I truly applaud Panasonic for what they’ve done here with the GH5S. It’s a major technical achievement, a sign that they really care about their professional customer base, and an excellent alternative to the GH5 for filmmakers that need increased low light sensitivity and higher frame rates.
It also ups the ante for the competition, and I can’t wait to see how Sony, Canon, Fuji, and others attempt to step up their game as a means to compete with Panasonic. There’s no question in my mind that the competitors are taking note right now, and with NAB just a few months away, I bet we’ll be in for a good year!
In the future I’ll aim to do a more thorough review of the GH5S once I have a chance to get hands on with it, so be sure to stay tuned for that…
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!