I’ve been a huge fan of Panasonic’s GH cameras for years now, having owned the GH2, GH3 & GH4 at one point or another. Each iteration in the GH lineup has been more impressive than the last, but it was the GH4 that allowed Panasonic to make a real dent in the market. That said, over the last year a slew of competitive products have come out (Specifically Sony’s A7 line), that has left Panasonic with some stiff competition.
The GH5 is going to be a critical release for Panasonic and may be the product that solodifies their place in the market for years to come… But in order to that, Panny will need to step up their game in a number of areas.
For a while it seemed that Panasonic was perfectly positioned to take Canon’s spot as the dominant force in the low-budget video market… But then Sony came along with their A7S, and many Canon shooters who were looking to switch (and hadn’t already moved over to Panny), jumped ship to Sony. For some, the full frame advantage of the A7S combined with it’s incredible low-light performance made it a no-brainer. Ultimately it left a large segment of the DSLR video market undecided as to which camera to invest in.
In recent months Sony has aggrssively stepped up their game across their entire camera lineup. The A7R II in particular is truly a marvel, and in many ways is the camera to beat at the moment. Now it’s up to Panasonic to give us an answer to Sony and show us what they can really do.
I can only speculate as to which updates Panasonic may be including (or not) in their GH5, but in my opinion the features and specs listed below are crucial in order for the GH5 to remain a viable contender in the DSLR/mirrorless market.
Higher frame rates at 4K
The GH4 already is able to capture some really beautiful slow motion in 1080p – especially when the camera is kept to 60fps or lower. But in 4K mode you have no real ability to overcrank, much like Sony’s A7R II. If the GH5 is able to deliver 48fps or perhaps even 60fps at 4K, they would clearly have Sony beat in that department.
That said, accomplishing higher frame rates is easier said than done, especially at such high resolution. I’m by no means an expert on camera hardware, but I do know that capturing 60fps at 4K requires a lot of internal processing to be done, and ultimately the physical design of the camera can dictate whether that type of performance is possible. If Panasonic is actually able to deliver us 4K/60p, there’s a good chance the camera will also be re-designed slightly to handle the increased sensor heat more effectively, and might even need to record to a different format.
Most GH4 owners have been on pins and needles waiting for Panasonic to release a firmware update that will incorporate a V-Log color profile, which will allow for more dynamic range and increased flexibility in post. At this point, I’m not sure if we’ll ever see V-Log made available for the GH4 via firmware, but it’s pretty much a given that it will be made available on the GH5.
V-Log in itself would be reason enough for many GH4 shooters to upgrade to the GH5, which may be why it hasn’t been released yet for the GH4. I’ve seen some great test footage floating around the internet, and even played with some GH4’s at NAB that had V-Log on board, so I’m not quite sure what the holdup has been in releasing it. Either way, Sony’s A7 cameras can already shoot in a Log color space and Panasonic definitely need to answer to that.
Better Low Light
Let’s face it – it’s extremely unlikely that the GH5 will have low light performance that matches (or even comes close) to Sony’s A7 cameras. That said though, Panasonic has a lot of room to improve the low-light capabilities on the GH4, and really need to focus on doing so in order to stay competitive.
Personally speaking, I don’t typically choose to shoot at crazy high ISOs (such as 25,000) as I find the look of ultra high ISO footage pretty synthetic and flat… Even if it’s noise free. So it really doesn’t matter to me if the GH5 can’t shoot as cleanly as the competition above a certain point. That said, the current GH4 is only useable up to 800 (based on my standards at least), and there are definitely situations when I could use the ability to bump up to 6400 and still shoot cleanly.
If Panasonic can get the GH5 to capture clean images in the ISO 6400 ballpark, that will go a long way. The camera may never be the best low-light camera on the market – but then again, it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be sensitive enough for filmmakers working with limited lighting gear to still get great results.
Probably the biggest draw of the A7R II to me is it’s internal 5 axis stabilization. I absolutely love the fact that you can slap on a fully manual lens and still be able to stabilize it effectively without a rig. That functionality allows me to shoot the way I want to shoot with a DSLR, keeping my setup to a minimum. If I really needed a bigger camera setup for any given production, I would probably rent a RED or Alexa if the budget could afford it. One of the biggest benefits of shooting on DSLRs is the small size of the camera, and having true in body stabilization allows the footprint of the camera to stay small, while eliminating the need for a rig in some instances.
One way or another, Panasonic needs to integrate some sort of internal stabilization system into their GH5. Not only to serve their video customers, but their photography customers too. At the moment their biggest competition (on the photography side) is probably Olympus, who have already figured out how to implement 5 axis stabilization onto some of their MFT cameras. So I would imagine there’s a considerable amount of pressure on the Lumix team to solve that problem for both their video and stills shooters.
The Wow Factor
Everything I’ve listed above is absolutely necessary to make the GH5 a relevant and competitive tool in 2016, at least in my opinion. That said, none of the features/updates we’ve discussed so far are revolutionary. They are simply welcomed additions to an already great camera, that may make it more capable than the competition in certain regards. But there needs to be more…
To really grab everyone’s attention, Panasonic needs to have a trick up their sleeves. Something totally original or different that the competition doesn’t see coming. Something like the ability to record compressed RAW onto the SD cards, much like the Blackmagic Pocket Camera does. Or a radical new design that is ergonomically superior to the current version. I can’t pretend to know the answer to what this change should be, but I know that Panasonic really needs to go above and beyond incremental updates in order to really win over the market. They shouldn’t just be playing catchup with Sony – they should be creating something that makes the competition think: Why didn’t we think of that?
Will Panasonic Stick With Micro Four Thirds?
People have been wondering for years if Panasonic will eventually give one of their GH cameras a Super 35mm or full frame sized sensor. Personally, I don’t see that ever happening. Maybe in the future they will release a bigger brother to the GH line that has a larger sensor, but Panasonic have so much invested in the MFT format (including loads of great glass) that I really can’t see them pulling the rug out from their customers like that.
Sony’s A7 cameras will always have the upper hand for shooters that are looking for a full frame solution. But not all shooters want (or need) full frame, and there are some big advantages to shooting MFT as well. Micro Four Thirds glass is more compact and less expensive, for starters… Not to mention, certain types of productions (documentaries, events, run and gun narrative) might prefer a deeper DOF in order to make focus pulling easier. There are pros and cons to both, and I really don’t see the MFT sensor size as a disadvantage, just a different option for shooters with different needs. I am confident that Panasonic is committed to the format and don’t see them jumping ship any time soon.
In the past, Panasonic has been really great about listening to their users and being innovative with their camera technology. The GH4 single handedly raised the bar for the competition when it was first released, and is still an incredible camera to this day. That said, now that the competition has caught up to Panasonic, they will need to do some heavy lifting in order to maintain their current customer-base, and continue winning over new users.
What do you think Panasonic needs to do to compete with the Sony A7R II? Comment below.
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!