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Panasonic GH4 Underwater Camera Review - Big 4K Resolution, Small Price

Articles » Video Equipment » Panasonic GH4 Underwater Camera Review - Big 4K Resolution, Small Price

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Panasonic GH4 Underwater Camera Review - Big 4K Resolution, Small Price


GH4 SHOOTS Ultra HD 4K - 4 Times the Resolution of HD

The Panasonic GH4 can record video in Ultra HD at a resolution of 3840x2160 30p/24p or 4096x2160 24p. Standard HD resolution is only 1920x1080 making 4K four times the resolution of HD. This is why you might also hear 4K referred to as "quad HD". The GH4 is a very exciting camera as it goes head to head with the Canon EOS-1D C as a professional grade photo and 4K video system, but at a fraction of the cost. Both cameras offer the convenience of 4K recording direct to in-camera memory cards avoiding the bulky external recording units required on other cameras. The GH4 costs $10,000 less than a Canon EOS-1D C and is the only mirrorless camera that offers internal 4K recording. We feel the GH4 is a top pick for photo and 4K video enthusiasts on a budget or travelers that prefer a compact system.

Panasonic Lumix GH4 4K Camera - Video by Jim Decker
This sample video by Jim Decker was shot with the Panasonic GH4, Nauticam NA-GH4, and Panasonic 8mm Lens. Also in this video Jim labeled the sections that show the different white balance and lighting techniques for reference.

Same EASY EDITING Workflow as HD

I had no problem playing back the 4K files from the GH4 on my Mac Book Pro. No stuttering or dropped frames. Editing in Final Cut was the same as HD, also without any dropped frames or playback issues while editing.

The 4K files are recorded in IPB format at 100 Mbps. While this format is more compressed than the ALL-I format, the quality is still really good and will hold up to a bit of post production editing. As a reference point, the wildly popular Canon 5D Mark II also shot in the IPB format, but only at 42 Mbps.

While I didn't shoot any 1080p footage on this trip, it is available on this camera at 60p and at a bit rate of 200 Mbps. I especially like the look of 60p for underwater footage. It gives a more realistic look and you can also slow it down 1/2 speed to 30p for smooth slow motion. You can also shoot what is called Variable Frame Rate at 100 Mbps in 1080p at a max of 96 frames per second. So even if you're not into 4K just yet, this camera has more frame rate options and records at higher bit rates for 1080p compared to other mirrorless or SLR cameras.

Warning: To record 4K video on the GH4, Panasonic recommends a Speed Class 3 (U3) SD card.

Panasonic Lumix GH4 4K Camera - Video by Chris Parsons
Here's another excellent video shot with the Panasonic GH4 and Nauticam NA-GH4 Housing by Chris Parsons of Nauticam.

TIPS FOR GREAT White Balance

The Panasonic GH4 has 4 different custom white balance banks. This is great to have this many custom white balance banks available. You can set different white balances for different depths and go back to them without having to re-execute. This makes it quick and easy to go back to a favorite canned white balance.

The process is very easy to execute. Press the white balance button, press up arrow, press ok button. This can be executed very quickly in the heat of action without much thought.

Unfortunately, the Panasonic GH4 does not like to take an ambient light white balance without a color filter installed on the lens. Without a filter, I could not get an accurate white balance at even moderate depths. I got mixed results at 30 feet and at 40 feet the water would turn purple and the entire image would appear flat. I tried experimenting with a Magic Filter in the back of the Panasonic Lumix G Micro 4:3 FISHEYE 8mm lens. This worked wonders. With the Magic Filter in the back of the lens I had no problem getting an accurate and great looking white balance at any depth. The color saturation and contrast looked fantastic.

I also used AWB with the Orcalight Seawolf 1560A video lights. This worked very well with the foreground colors showing up very vibrant with good saturation and gives a look and feel similar to what you would get in shooting stills with strobes. I shot this setup most of the week.

On another dive, I tried the Keldan Luna 8 lights with cyan LED heads. The concept is that you white balance to ambient and then the cyan color of the lights match the color of the ambient light. In practice this works to about a max of about 40 feet deep before even the cyan lights start taking on too much of a red hue. After about 40 feet deep, I would white balance to the lights instead of ambient. This worked out well with the difference between ambient light and artificial light not being as much as you would have with normal lights, especially as you go deeper.

Panasonic Lumix GH4 4K Camera - Video by Rusty Sanoian
This Panasonic GH4 video was shot by Rusty Sanoian in Monterey Bay using the Nauticam NA-GH4 housing, 8mm Panasonic Fisheye lens and Olympus 60mm Lens with Nauticam SMC.

TIPS FOR AUTOFOCUS AND TRACKING IN VIDEO MODE


Rusty Sanoian of Backscatter's Cinema Sales Department has extensively tested the GH4's new focus tracking features in video mode and adds the following comments:

Most mirrorless and DSLR cameras have poor autofocus while recording video. However, the Panasonic GH4 will focus quickly and even track subjects when shooting on land. Unfortunately, this new focus system does not perform as well underwater in ambient light due to lower light levels and decreased contrast, but I was surprised that it kept up with some slow moving subjects using video lights. However it didn't work well in all situations. We receive so many questions on the GH4's auto focus we felt it necessary to share our test results and recommendations.

In any of the auto focus modes, a half press on the shutter button (or the AF/AE button if assigned to focus in the menu) will prompt the camera to refocus while recording video. If you have "Continuous AF" set to ON in the cameras menu, the camera automatically focuses on subjects during recording. With "Continuous AF" set to off, the camera maintains the focus setting at the start of recording.

The GH4 has interesting focus tracking and area modes. I found the most useful modes for underwater to be Tracking, Pinpoint, and 1 Area.

In Tracking mode, you position a green reticle on the area you want to track and half press the shutter button. The reticle will then flash yellow indicating that you have focus lock. Once locked, a slow moving (and well lit) subject can be tracked as it moves through the frame.

In Pinpoint mode you can achieve a more precise focus area and this area will be enlarged on the LCD so you can more easily confirm accuracy. In the camera menu, you can modify the duration of the zoomed in display.

In 1 Area mode, the camera uses the AF zone in the center of the screen. This is the focus mode I recommend when shooting wide angle with the 8mm fisheye lens. Simply focus on your subject or even your fin and you can have 2 feet to infinity in focus for your entire wide shot when set to f8 or higher apertures.

Ultimately, when shooting macro or extreme macro subjects, I found good old manual focus to produce the most repeatable and successful results. Set the camera up on a tripod, zoom in on the LCD and use the MF knob to dial in the focus. Even when set in MF mode, you can still press the shutter (or AF/AE button when set) to let auto focus quickly get you in the zone.


Panasonic GH​4 Underwater Review - Boat and Barrel Sponge
The Panasonic GH4 has an increased flash sync speed of 1/250 that allows tighter sunball shots over the previous 1/160 sync speed of the GH3. Shot with Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes at full power with 120 degree diffusers. © Jim Decker | DMC-GH4 | 8mm | ISO 200 | 1/250 sec at f / 22

DON'T FORGET THAT IT SHOOTS AMAZING Still Photos

All this talk about 4K video would make you think this camera isn't set up to do stills, but you would be wrong. There are a number of improvements over the previous model, the GH3. Autofocus is faster. Shooting speed is up to 12 frames per second. ISO range, noise, and dynamic range have been improved.

Panasonic GH​4 Underwater Review - Diver with Pipe Sponges
The Panasonic GH4 has great dynamic range and reserves plenty of detail in both the bright areas of the sponge and dark areas of the surface. © Jim Decker | DMC-GH4 | 8mm | ISO 200 | 1/200 sec at f / 8

A big improvement is the flash sync speed is now 1/250 instead of 1/160. This allowed me to get sunball shots with a properly exposed foreground and a tight sunball in the background.

I noticed the flash recycle of the pop up flash of the camera is a little bit faster than other mirrorless cameras I have used in TTL mode. You can also manually adjust the flash down to 1/128 power manually and get more rapid fire shots, but an electronic hot shoe is required for true rapid fire shots.

Panasonic GH​4 Underwater Review - Little Cayman Grouper
The small size of the Panasonic GH4 and 8mm lens lets a shooter get in super tight where other larger systems may not fit. The grouper was 1 inch away from the dome of the Nauticam NA-GH4 housing. © Jim Decker | DMC-GH4 | 8mm | ISO 200 | 1/125 sec at f / 8

GREAT SELECTION OF HOUSINGS AVAILABLE FOR THE GH4 CAMERA

Panasonic GH​4 Underwater Review - Housing Options
There are multiple housings available for the Panasonic GH4. The Nauticam NA-GH4, the Aquatica AGH4, and the Ikelite GH4 Housing.




Conclusion for 4K cinematographers

If you're a pro level cinema shooter, you probably own or are considering a RED Dragon or Canon EOS C500. These systems shoot RAW allowing white balance to be corrected in post processing, leave more headroom for color grading, and provide the best low light performance available. However, these systems come at a much steeper price, upwards of $30,000 to $50,000 for a full rig. Drawbacks to shooting RAW is the effort it takes in post production to color correct a video and the extremely large file sizes required for all of the data. Not to mention the travel size. The GH4 shoots 4K at a respectable 100 mbps data rate and will hold up to some color correction especially if exposure and white balance are executed well in camera. Our experience and feedback from producers confirm the GH4 will meet most broadcast requirements and it will certainly be a top pick as a secondary 4K camera. You'll just need to make sure you shoot it right in camera.

Conclusion for serious video shooters on a budget

While the live autofocus on the GH4 is definitely more usable than live autofocus on other SLR's such as the Canon 5D Mark III, it's not as fast to focus as a dedicated camcorder. If you chose a GH4 you'll find manual focus and AF lock is still the preferred method to focus in video. Camcorder shooters who are used to live focusing and zooming while recording might find that a mirrorless or SLR camera might not fit their shooting style. Camcorders make it easy to shoot a wide, medium and tight shot on the same dive which is not easy to do on a mirrorless or SLR. If you need this shooting flexibility and are not interested in photos, something like the Sony AX-100 4K camcorder might be better 4K solution for you. However, a big advantage the GH4 has over a camcorder is lens selection. The GH4 can take a fisheye lens with 180 degrees of coverage, allowing wide angle shooters to get as close as possible to their subjects. Most camcorders are reliant on specialized underwater optics that while allowing some level of zoom through from macro to wide angle, the wide side is sometimes limited to around 90-100 degrees of coverage.

Conclusion for video/photo enthusiasts

Some of us want a camera that can shoot both 4K video and photos in one system. The GH4 is certainly a top choice in this category. It has the carry-on baggage advantages of compact mirrorless size, but pro level 4K imaging abilities as well. If you're used to shooting an SLR camera for video, you'll find yourself right at home on the GH4. The control set has the same familiar controls of shutter, ISO, and aperture. The next step up for 4K video and pro level photo is the Canon EOS-1D C. The Canon EOS-1D C is a full size DSLR offering a far superior optical viewfinder for photo, significantly better lens selection, but only 24p framerate. For most people the difference will be final price. A complete Canon EOS-1D C underwater system will total $25,000-$30,000 vs. a complete GH4 system at only $6,000-$10,000.

Conclusion for strictly photographers

The Panasonic GH4 is a mirrorless camera and thus does not offer the sharp visual experience of a DSLR optical viewfinder, but is more compact in size. It's also the most versatile mirrorless camera to date. No other mirrorless or SLR camera offers 4K and 1080 60p recording outside of the significantly more expensive Canon EOS-1D C. If you are looking for primarily a stills camera and don't have much interest in video, this is a top contender in the mirrorless category. However, if you're photo focused, we would highly recommend the Olympus E-M1 over the GH4 for its ergonomics, dedicated controls, and higher flash sync speed.

For video shooting in the mirrorless category, there isn't even a close 2nd. If you want to shoot both video and stills and are looking in the mirrorless category, there is no better option.


4K is here to stay and widespread adoption is going to be right around the corner. 4K TVs are dropping in price dramatically this year. Just as we made the move from SD to HD and had to reshoot all of our library content in HD, the same will happen again with 4K. For the quality of 4K video you get, reasonable file sizes, quality of photos, and small travel size you get with the GH4, it's the best bang for your buck around in any category for pro quality 4K video AND top notch photos.


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We are now accepting orders for the Panasonic GH4. Please contact one of our staff to order your housing!



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Our staff of experienced underwater shooters can help you navigate your way through getting up to speed on the latest offerings--whether it is from a compact camera to a full production cinema rig. Please call or email our staff and we will be glad to help you out.






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