I get asked a lot of questions about the GH4, but perhaps the most common question recently has been “What does the 4K mode on the GH4 do?”, and I finally wanted to address that here today. Throughout this post, I’m going to outline exactly what the 4K Photo mode is intended to do, and how it may open up some new possibilities for filmmakers in the future.
There has been a trend over the past few years in which stills and motion cameras have been crossing over into each others territories. We all know that the Canon 5D Mark II essentially started the DSLR revolution by offering high quality video recording in a DSLR, but more recently video cameras have been offering stills functionality to a large degree of success. Cameras like the Red Epic or Dragon that can shoot 5K/6K offer the unique ability to capture both video and stills simultaneously, which opens up many options for DPs and photographers alike.
Although most cinema cameras (including the Epic/Dragon) are technically only capturing video, the quality of that video is so high and the resolution is so substantial that stills can easily be extracted from the footage. This is why Red has named their camera system DSMC (or Digital Stills and Motion Camera) and have been pushing the stills capabilities of their cameras pretty heavily.While the concept of this initially sounded gimmicky to some, it has actually been implemented on many high end photo shoots, including cover shoots for Vogue, GQ, W, Time, Vanity Fair, and many more.
Shooting video with the intention of extracting stills opens up a very wide range of possibilities and benefits for certain types of photography. One of the most obvious and simple ways to illustrate this is by considering the fact that at best, most DSLR cameras will shoot photos at 10 frames per second in burst mode. Video on the other hand can obviously be shot at many times that rate (as is the case 24fps, 30fps, 60fps and beyond). This gives the photographer many more shots to choose from per second of shooting, which can be exceptionally helpful when shooting fast moving subjects (such as animals or other wildlife), or for capturing micro expressions in a human face that may otherwise be missed in between shots on a traditional stills camera.
Panasonic clearly understands that photography and video are converging to a certain extent, and wanted to make the most of this trend on their GH4 by adding a 4K photo mode. The idea with this feature is quite simple – to allow photographers to step into a mode on the camera that will allow them to capture the most amount of frames per second. Despite what the name might suggest, the camera does not record an image sequence or a stream of still images in 4K resolution for that matter… Rather it shoots a regular video clip that you can bring into software like Adobe Lightroom and hand pick the exact frame that you want to adjust and export.
You might be thinking – Can’t I just shoot a 4K video and pull a screen grab from that later? And the answer would of course be yes, you can do that. However, there are a number of benefits to shooting in 4K photo mode that make it preferable over simply shooting a regular 4K video and pulling screen grabs later.
Two of the biggest benefits in my opinion are the “Loop Recording” and the additional aspect ratio options. Loop Recording does exactly what you think it will do – it continuously records a video loop until you stop the recording, and will re-write over previously recorded footage once the loop has run out. The idea is that if you are trying to capture a specific moment (let’s say a bird flying across the sky), and it takes 30 minutes for that action to happen, you don’t want to have to review 30 minutes of footage just to find that one moment. Loop mode will keep deleting the extraneous footage until you tell the camera that you have what you need, and in the end it will ultimately keep your file sizes smaller and workflow simpler. What’s far more important to video shooters however, is the second feature that I touched on: Aspect ratios.
4K Photo Aspect Ratios
Unlike shooting in video mode which limits you to a 16:9 aspect ratio (or 1.85:1 in 4K cinema mode, which is nearly identical to 16:9), the 4K photo mode gives you all of the aspect ratios that you would expect of a stills camera. Specifically, it can record in: 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, and 16:9. This is a necessary feature for photographers, however it is just as beneficial for video shooters as it opens up the possibility of using anamorphic lenses.
For those of you that don’t have experience shooting anamorphic – An anamorphic lens is able to squeeze more information onto your sensor than is normally possible with a traditional spherical lens. This is essentially done by distorting the image (or squeezing it), resulting in an image like this straight off of the camera:
When the image is then de-squeezed in post, it will look completely proportionate and will have it’s own unique set of characteristics. Most notably, anamorphic lenses can create very wide aspect ratios, beautiful lens flares, and extremely shallow depth of field. This is why they have been used extensively on Hollywood level features for many years, and are still the preference of many of the world’s top DPs.
In the film days, anamorphic lenses would squeeze a widescreen image onto a regular (non-widescreen) piece of 35mm motion picture film, and then when it was projected later on, a special lens was used on the projector to de-squeeze the image. The exact same principles all still apply today, but we’re just de-squeezing the image digitally as opposed to optically.
The problem with most digital video cameras today, is that they don’t offer the correct aspect ratios needed to utilize most traditional anamorphic lenses. For instance if you were to use a 2x anamorphic lens on 35mm motion picture film, you would effectively be capturing a beautiful 2.39:1 widescreen image, which is a cinema standard to this day. However, if you were to use that same lens on a 16:9 video camera, you would wind up with an extremely wide 3.55:1 aspect ratio which is far too wide for most productions. It’s worth noting that there are anamorphic lenses specifically designed for 16:9 cameras (1.33x anamorphics for instance), however they don’t really offer the full effect of a 2x anamorphic and therefore aren’t as ideal to use. That’s why it is so amazing to have the ability to change the aspect ratio on a digital cinema camera to 4:3 or 1:1 for instance, so that various anamorphic lenses can be used much in the same way the were in the film days.
So the GH4 is now giving us the ability to not only shoot in 4K, but also to choose our aspect ratio which opens up a massive amount of flexibility with regards to lens choice. Not to mention, the overall image quality and resolution that is achievable when shooting anamorphic on the GH4 is nothing short of impressive. When you consider that the vertical resolution of 4K 16:9 footage is 2160, it’s pretty incredible that you can capture 2336 lines of resolution in 3:2, 2496 in 4:3, and a staggering 2880 in 1:1. Assuming you have the right glass to make use of the 1:1 mode, you can essentially capture an image that (when de-squeezed) will amount to 5760 x 2880, which is pretty impressive.
Unfortunately though, there is still one major drawback with regards to shooting in the 4K photo mode – The frame rates.
Currently, the only frame rates you can shoot with in 4K Photo mode are 30fps and 25fps. Essentially, the frame rate will default to 30fps if you are in NTSC mode, and 25fps if you are in PAL mode. If you select the 24.00Hz cinema mode, the menu option for 4K Photo mode is not available. This is pretty frustrating for many shooters at the moment, seeing as the vast majority of cinematographers that want to use anamorphic lenses are obviously going for the cinema look, and therefore want to shoot in 24p. Right now, the only option is to shoot at one of the other two frame rates and conform your footage in post, which will never yield results that are as strong as capturing a native 24p image.
While I am certainly not a camera engineer and wouldn’t claim to know what is or isn’t possible technologically speaking with regards to the GH4, I would say that it isn’t improbable to assume that this issue will be resolved in the future with a firmware update. Clearly the camera is capable of capturing beautiful 24p images in a variety of resolutions, so it wouldn’t be a far leap for Panasonic to introduce 24p recording as a 4K Photo option with a future firmware upgrade. Will this happen? Only time will tell, but for now at least Panasonic have raised the bar for other camera manufacturers, and this may very well prompt some of their competitors to offer similar features too.
For more on the cinema look, be sure to check out my Guide For Capturing Images With Your DSLR here.
And if you aren’t on the latest Lumix GH4 firmware, it can be downloaded by clicking this link.
The experience told me that the frame rate is very important. And on filming, the frame rate must be correlated with the shutter speed.
Great article. Succes!
Glad it was helpful for you!
Videograf Nunta Bucurestiat
I haven’t updated my firmware yet and tried it out, but one thing that you didn’t mention that I think is certainly useful (especially for unseasoned shooters such as myself) is that you get EXIF data when shooting in photo mode, no?
with 4K Burst mode what is the exposure time taken for each image? 1/30th of a second? If so, the images of some sporting action will be blurred. It’s very useful to have this info and is a bummer that it doesn’t come through on the metadata in regular video mode.
Great point – thanks for adding it!
4k Photo has much more noise in high iso than normal video.
Interesting. Hadn’t noticed it myself, but good to know! Thanks for sharing.
Noam, with 4K Burst mode what is the exposure time taken for each image? 1/30th of a second? If so, the images of some sporting action will be blurred. We all know that you need around 1/1000th of a second to freeze fast sports action like someone running and kicking a ball.
Are you able to set the exposure so that it is set at whatever you want it to be (1/1000th or faster) or are you restricted to the video fps of 30fps?
This is very important to those of us considering a Panasonic camera to capture the action in ball sports etc.
This was demonstrated perfectly well in another video showing 50fps in the FZ1000 where all the pics of the playing cards flying through the air were all blurred.
However, other videos clearly showed action pics with the subject as sharp as if taken using 1/1000th sec.
Am I missing something here?
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Could anyone share some images in original size so I can check them in Photoshop? Can you set the contrast low?
Also, is it so that you can not use an external monitor while shooting in burst mode? Any way around this?
I have been reading over all your blogs regarding the gh4 since i bought mine this past winter. I am trying to figure out how to either save in camera all the photos in one shot instead of having to save each one individual. Or how to edit the mp4 that the burst mode creates in photoshop or lightroom. When i bring into lightroom it state “Video is not supported in develop” Not sure how you brought in the entire video.
I have a pretty fast computer with 8 gigs of video card graphics and 32 gigs ram, but when i bring in a simple 10 second video into photoshop it takes 10 minutes to bring up the edit screen and nothing happens when i hit render video.
Is there another step i am missing?
That’s strange to hear! Have you tried opening the clip in any other software? It might be worth trying to open it in Premiere or something else to make sure it isn’t your computer…
I have used 4k Photo with my GH4 to shoot VIDEOS. It has many advantages over creative video mode:
-Auto iso in M
-Auto iso upper limit (no more camera running easily to iso 6400)
-Shows all exposure values in all modes
-possibility to shoot 4k 30P with PAL camera
-Changing PASM modes for video just turning mode dial
-Different aspect ratios 1:1 4:3 3:2
-Toggling video/photo camera just pressing FN-button (4kphoto on/off)
-I can have more presets for video (PASM + C memories)
-When playing video I can zoom in with any frame
-Showing frame exif when extracting image from video
4k Photo issues:
-AFS is not working (must use full manual or bad AFC)
-audio is low bitrate
-noisier frames than in normal video mode
So no perfect mode for shooting video in Panasonic cameras. GH5 may change things if Panasonic thinks details better
Great points Vesku! Thanks for sharing this… I’m sure it will help many GH4 shooters out there.
4k Photo has much more noise in high iso than normal video.
I have compared noise (video vs 4k photo) with my GH4. I use always NR -5 with video. Even with NR-5 GH4 makes some noise reduction in video mode. There is a visible “noise net” living its own life and own “frame rate” when the camera or image moves. NR -5 with 4k photo looks like there is not at all NR. Noise is not changing when image moves. Maybe a very good post NR can remove this noise but I doubt.
The camera NR (other than -5) is muddy and very blurred in dark tones.
I’m new to 4k and I am about to purchase a Panasonic FZ300 which features the 4k photo mode with preburst. I’m still trying to sort out in my head how the preburst works. Is the camera constantly recording a loop which doesn’t get recorded onto the SD card? Then when the shutter button is pressed, it keeps the last 30 and next 30 frames and records these onto the SD card? I’ve been trying to work out for a while now how the camera gets the 30 frames prior to hitting the shutter button. The idea of a loop now makes some sense to me, if that is how it all works. Thanks for your article.
Great question Harry, and I believe you are correct. I don’t know specifically how the science/programming behind the preburst function is set up, but I always assumed there was some sort of buffer or RAM that is essentially pre-recording footage/deleting at all times. I’ll need to look into this though, as this has definitely piqued my interest.
Thanks Noam, I’ll be interested to see if you can find any information. Very little seems to be published about it that I can see so far.
First of all, Thank you so much for putting out this video. IT really helps a lot as I just purchased a GH4 and an Anamorphot and i’m completely a newbie at this. Can you kindly tell me for a nice 2.35:1 frame, do you recommend shooting in 1:1 or 4:3 when in 4k Photo mode ?
Thank you :))
No problem Shawn! If you have a 2x Anamorphot, you’ll want to use 4:3 since that is the standard aspect ration of standard 35. Hope this helps!
I would like to use 4K video for stills and video. Shoot a wedding in 4K and give the couple 50 jpegs for album. I read the article above but still not sure which mode to use 4K or Photo 4K . In order to keep 16:9 for TV viewing is there any advantage to using 4K photo mode in 16:9 ? Bob
Hi Bob, you can certainly pull stills from your 4K video footage, even if you aren’t in 4K photo mode. If you are primarily shooting in 16:9, you might be better off simply shooting video footage, since one of the big advantages of the 4K photo mode is that you can use different aspect ratios. Hope this helps.
Please can someone help me on setting my gh4 to 4k…I’m new to the photography community. ..my 4k photo is off and can’t turn it on because it is not highlited
I feel like a fool for not trying this feature yet! I guess the 12fps on the E-M1 has its days numbered.
Regarding shutter speed, is it safe to say that you’d set it like you would for fast action photography? By that, I mean not adhering to the doubling of the frame rate?
That’s right – I would recommend setting the shutter speed however you need to for your still photos (for creative effect) and then just rolling video. Good luck!
Good news with the new annunced Lumix G7 (main processor is the same Venus Engine 9 as in GH4) :
4K Photo Modes
Utilizing the 4K video recording capabilities, a trio of still shooting modes are available for recording continuous 8 MP stills at a 30 fps shooting rate:
4K Burst: Just as with video recording, this mode will allow you to continuously record 8 MP images at 30 fps for up to 29 min. 59 sec., making it ideal for instances where you need a fast frame rate in order to capture the best moment.
4K Pre-Burst: This mode is ideal for times when you’re unsure of the critical moment to press the shutter button and will record 8 MP images at 30 fps one second prior to and one second after pressing the shutter button in order to give you 60 frames to choose from.
4K Burst (S/S): This mode most closely follows the 4K video recording process, and allows you to playback your video, pause at the chosen moment, and use the shutter button to mark a chosen frame from the video and save it as a single 8 MP frame.
When using any of the 4K Photo modes, you are afforded complete exposure control using the PSAM dial in order to base metering results and exposure configurations on your own shooting needs.
I fly the Gh4 with dji s900 copter. This is great for me. I can’t switch the modes while airborn and had to land to switch from video to stills. I pulled stills out of 4k with the in camera feature and they are… ok for web. I am glad that i will have the 3:2 frame now. Hope the stills quality is better. Tests today.
Definitely! Let us know how it goes…
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I haven’t updated my firmware yet and tried it out, but one thing that you didn’t mention that I think is certainly useful (especially for unseasoned shooters such as myself) is that you get EXIF data when shooting in photo mode, no? It’s very useful to have this info and is a bummer that it doesn’t come through on the metadata in regular video mode.
Hi Eli – this would be a great feature to have, however I don’t believe that any DSLR really allows for EXIF data while shooting video. This is primarily a stills function… Some cameras (like the RED Epic) will remember the camera settings in a meta-data type format so that you can later adjust the raw settings, but with DSLRs there isn’t really an equivalent… If you want to keep track of your settings for testing purposes, you might want to keep a log, or do a verbal slate at the beginning of each clip stating your settings.
Or switch to photo manual, one click clockwise on the dial, take a still photo, and then switch back to film-manual, one click counter clockwise.
Thanks for sharing Frank.
GH4 writes very detailed video exif. You can see it with “Exiftool” program
I have played with this feature a bit but for me I don’t find it terribly useful. I mainly shoot video and from time to time it would be great to capture stills at the same time. With video being the priority, I need to set the shutter to double the frame rate, usually 50 or 100 but this makes for sometimes blurry photos. Yes I could set the shutter higher but then my video suffers from weird motion. So I don’t think its a true video/photo solution just yet.
Good point… Although, if you are using an image stabilized lens you could probably get away with keeping the shutter speed at 50. But regardless there are definitely situations where you have to pick and choose either to set your camera settings for video or stills, which can certainly be a tradeoff.
Yes, the framerate is an issue and will always be since it is a function of physics and not the camera. Even if you are stabilized, the subject could be moving fast enough to make 1/50 too slow of a shutter.
I know I’m extremely late to the party here, but I’m just starting to play around with 4K photo on the GH4. I thought switching into 4K photo mode would automatically adjust your shutter speed to a higher (faster) rate in order to avoid motion blur between frames. This is not the case. You still have to adjust shutter speed manually (just as if you were taking stills in “M” mode). So it can be a bit annoying having to remember to switch to higher shutter for 4K photo and back down to 50 (for 23.98fps) when I go back into regular 4K video mode.
However I keep C2 set for 60fps which requires a shutter speed of 125. That shutter is much more suitable for fast motion in 4K photo mode. Just switch to C2, turn 4K photo on and you’re ready to shoot. If you have an available “C” slot, it’s not a bad idea to program one of them specifically for 4K photo (with appropriate shutter speed).
Great tip Jesse, and I appreciate you sharing it here. The reason why the 4K photo mode doesn’t automatically jump to a higher shutter speed is so you have full control over your shutter. Just like with regular stills photography, there may be times when you want a slower shutter – either to add more light, or for creative effect, so the GH4 gives you the option to customize things to your liking.
Great write-up, I could’ve used this a month ago! DOH!! Oh well, screen shots it is…
Anyhow, I’m sure you’re familiar with, (perhaps not), Vitaliy Kisilev the fellow who reverse engineered the GH1, to get the famous GH13 hack, (and all the others that followed). I wonder if he would have any thoughts on the GH4’s ability to handle such function? Common frame rates and HDMI workarounds were things unlocked in the previous GH cams…
Just a thought..
Great article, once again thanks for sharing.
Hey Zack – Yes, I am certainly familiar with Vitally’s work. I had a hacked GH2 back in the day thanks to him! That’s a great question about the GH4 and if it could be hacked to allow for additional functionality… Not sure if this is possible myself, but I would love to see it!
Here are 6 photos of birds in action from last fall when I first got the GH4 and started using the 4K Photo Mode.
Thanks for sharing Harold!
Wondering which lens you used for the above 4K Photo mode shoot
Thanks Greg! The shots that I took (the sunset/grass shot and my dog) were done on a 20mm Lumix pancake lens.
Can you let me know which lens you used in 4K photo mode for shooting the birds
I see my first comment was deleted. I don’t believe I said anything controversial. If I violated a guideline, please let me know as I do enjoy your site and may comment from time to time. That would have been my first comment. Anyway, just wondering. I did mistake the Website box for a Subject box so maybe that was it? I hope it isn’t because I do this only as a hobby. Perhaps you want to reserve this space for serious professionals. I did enjoy your Capturing Cinematic Images with your DSLR. It was money well spent.
As for the 4K Photo Mode, I do use it a lot for my bird and insect nature videos hobby.
Hi Harold – I just approved your last comment and responded! I’m sorry about the wait… I actually approve comments manually on these articles since I get a lot of spam, and I always enjoy hearing from the readers so thank you for taking the time to leave your 2 cents! Also, I’m really glad to hear you’re enjoying the DSLR Cinema Guide. I have a few more guides in the works as well, which I’ll be sure to keep you posted on.
I’ve set my C2 to regular 4K Photo Mode and my C3 to Loop 4K Photo Mode and I have to say it is what brought me to the GH4: the ability to pull 8meg stills from the 4K Photo Mode video clips. Getting birds and insects in flight has always been a challenge. Not any more. Not with this new feature. Since I will be using these bird and insect stills in my hobby video projects, I’ve set the aspect ratio to 16:9 and then in Premiere I simply pull the stills that I like and then incorporate them into my nature vids. This feature makes me pine for a 6k or 8k Panasonic camera so I can pull 12 and 16meg stills. Wouldn’t that be great. Any way, my two cents on the topic. I enjoy your posts.
Great to hear about how you’re using the photo mode! It’s really amazing how useful it is, and I’m glad Panasonic made the effort to integrate it into the GH4. Appreciate the kind words and thanks for sharing this.
According to EOSHD, Matt Frazer of Panasonic in the US said he was pushing hard for 24p in 4K photo mode so US anamorphic shooters could shoot at the cinema frame rate.
Good to hear! I hope it comes in a future update…
Thank you so much for this info. I need to update my GH4. When I log on and try to switch to 4k Photo Mode it won’t show the video aspect ratios tab(1:1, 16:9 etc ) It’s weird, hopefully another update will fix.
Have you seen the “Portrait Mode” on the GH4 being used by Michael Medgyesi. Its looks very very nice! Check it out on Vimeo.
Hey Danny, no problem at all! Are you in 24Hz mode? If so, you won’t have access to the 4K Photo mode.
I haven’t seen the vide you mentioned, but will definitely check it out! Thanks.
Till now DSLR videographers where confused with photographers, with this nobody knows who`s the photographer or the videograhper :)))
Though there`s no flash for this mode, only natural light. It has it`s limitations
Good point! I’ve seen a lot of photographers move over to continuous lighting recently, which might in itself signify a bit of a trend.
Great writeup on one of my favorite GH4 features. There is one additional benefit to having flexible aspect ratios: Chromakey. Many times it is more practical to fit a subject over a chromakey background into a square shape than the limiting 16×9. In many cases, the edges of the frame are not going to have active content, and are usually cropped from the final composition. With the Square and 4×3 modes, you can capture more detail in the center area of the screen while not bothering to waste data on unneeded sides of the frame. There is also one additional downside which I find crippling in professional environments: The HDMI port is disabled in Photo4K mode. This means no director monitoring and is an absolute deal-killer in most serious studio environments where more than one person needs to see the footage as it is shot. If this is due to the way the HDMI protocol carries additional vertical pixels, this may not be something that can be solved entirely in a firmware update.
Great point, Matthew. I never would have thought of that usage, but it makes perfect sense. Also, very interesting about the HDMI port being disabled in 4K Photo mode… Didn’t know that, so thank you for sharing.