I was lucky enough to be one of the first to get the new Lumix GH4 when they were officially released last week, and it’s been a fun few days messing around with the camera. Below is a video review of the GH4 that also heavily focuses on how it compares to the GH3, since so many GH3 shooters are considering the upgrade. Check out the video for the full rundown, or if you can’t view the video I have also summarized my thoughts below.
Nothing has changed as far as the physical build of this camera. It is identical to the GH3 in every way except for the GH4 badge, which is good news for GH3 shooters that have extra batteries, cages, or other accessories as they can use all of their GH3 gear on the new camera. As I also mentioned in the video, I’m happy they kept the body as is and didn’t opt to make it larger, because the small footprint of the camera is one of the reasons I like it so much – it’s easy to travel with or get low-key guerrilla shots with, but it still feels somewhat rugged and is weather sealed.
The LCD and specifically the EVF on the GH3 were really sub par considering how great the rest of the feature set was on that camera. Panasonic has clearly taken feedback from the GH3 shooters as the new GH4 LCD and LVF are both hugely improved, with double the pixel count of their GH3 counterparts. This will make focusing way easier, especially in exterior daytime situations where you need to rely on the EVF.
The image quality has undeniably been improved in every area with the GH4. The bit rate can go up to 200mbps in 1080p mode, or 100mbps in 4K mode which is a huge leap ahead of the GH3 which peaked at 72mbps. There isn’t a gigantic difference in quality when comparing the 1080p modes of the GH3 and GH4, but the 4K mode (more on it below) really gives the GH4 an edge, especially when downscaling that image to 1080p.
There are two different 4K modes you can shoot in: True 4K (4096 x 2160) and Ultra HD (3840 x 2160). The true 4K mode shoots at a 1.85 aspect ratio, while the UHD mode shoots at 16:9. Both modes are great to have, although I will personally shoot at 4096 x 2160 more often since it is designed to have a cinema aspect ratio as opposed to television, and most of what I will shoot with this camera will be narrative material. It’s also worth noting that when shooting in 4K there is a slightly bigger crop factor (2.3x) than when shooting in 1080 (2x).
The slow motion on this camera is amazing to have, and I’ve actually got some pretty great results with it in daylight. It’s important to remember though, that the bitrate is pretty low in variable frame rate mode (100mbps) which means when you’re shooting at 96fps the data rate is being stretched pretty thin. If you nail the exposure and white balance in camera, this won’t be an issue at all, but just be more careful when shooting in this mode since there is less room in post to grade the footage. And also remember that you’ll need a lot of light, or very fast lenses to shoot at 96fps for any night shots since you definitely don’t want to have to shoot at a high ISO in VFR mode.
Generally the DR has been improved across the board on this camera. The difference as compared to the GH3 isn’t huge, but it is definitely noticeable. I would put it at about one stop above the GH3 (12 stops or so), which isn’t bad at all considering the relative performance of other cameras in this price range. It’s not going to give you the DR performance of a Blackmagic Cinema Camera or RED Epic of course, but considering the price point the GH4 it does really well in this regard and should be more manageable in high contrast situations when compared to the GH3.
Overall the low light ability of this camera is much better than the GH3. I’ve been a bit spoiled by the amazing low light capability of my C100 (which is one of the best low light cameras out there in my opinion), so I wasn’t as ecstatic about this improvement as I would have been if I was coming off of a GH3 as my primary camera. Even so, the difference is welcomed and a big change from the GH3 which struggled to even get usable results at 3200. I am confident that I will get clean footage at 3200 on the GH4 and even comfortable shooting at 6400 if I need to, knowing that I can de-noise it in post. This still isn’t a “low-light camera”, but it can definitely be used in low light situations if need be.
Other Video Features
There are loads of other video based features that have been added to the camera which make shooting so much easier – Focus peaking being the one I am most excited about. There are also customizable zebras, color bars, timecode, S-curve based shadow/highlight settings (for helping to get more dynamic range), and lots more.
One of the biggest areas of improvement seems to be the stills quality of the GH4. I always had trouble shooting stills on my GH3, because it just didn’t perform well in a lot of shooting conditions. The GH4 still delivers 16MP stills, but the overall quality seems to be better all around. The images are sharper and more dynamic, giving me confidence in using this camera for stills. This is purely based on my feeling when shooting with the camera, as I haven’t taken still photo test shots from the GH3/GH4 and put them next to each other, but even based on my eye alone there is a big difference which makes this camera so much more versatile.
The GH4 is an incredible camera from front to back. The fact that you can shoot 4K and 96fps slow motion inside of a body this small is groundbreaking, and the additional video features that have been added go a long way in making this a viable option for high quality 4K production. All of the issues that I had with the GH3 have largely been resolved with this new camera, most notably the terrible LCD and LVF that desperately needed updating. Overall I definitely recommend this camera if you’re doing any sort of narrative, documentary, or small broadcast project that requires an extremely high quality image with a small footprint, not to mention the fact that you can also get some incredible stills on this camera makes it even more versatile as well.
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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!