See our in-depth breakdown of the Panasonic GH5 camera in our first look review.
Aquatica AGH5 Housing Review
The Panasonic GH5 is the long awaited upgrade to the Panasonic GH4 which was the first mirrorless camera to shoot 4K to an internal card. To say the Panasonic GH5 is an upgrade to a Panasonic GH4 is an understatement. Nearly every aspect of performance with the Panasonic GH5 has not been just improved upon, but substantially improved. Here’s the new key specs:
- Durable Magnesium Alloy Body.
- 20.3MP with no low pass filter.
- 4K video internal recording:
- 4K 60p 4:2:0 8 bit
- 4K 30p 4:2:2 10 bit
- 1080 with from rates 60fps to 180fps.
- 4K 60p external recording at 4:2:2 10 bit
- 5-Axis Stabilization
- Continuous stills shooting at 12fps RAW with a 100 shot RAW buffer
4K video is captured from the full width of the sensor at over 5K resolution, then down sampled to 4K. It is currently the only mirrorless or SLR camera on the market to use the full width of the sensor for 4K. Also it's the only other SLR/mirrorless camera besides the Canon 1DX II with 4K 60p, for a fraction of the price.
Comparing the Panasonic GH5 camera body to the Panasonic GH4, a Panasonic GH4 user will feel pretty much at home. While the Panasonic GH5 is a completely new design, the overall design philosophy carries over. The menu system is similar, but has a new submenu that groups options together by function, such as exposure or focus, to make navigating the settings easier. Due to the redesign of the body, unfortunately the Panasonic GH5 will not work with Panasonic GH4 housings.
The Holy Grail of 4K 60pShooting 4K is a feature requirement now of any serious camera to be considered for video. At this time the Panasonic GH5 is the only mirrorless/SLR camera to shoot 60p internally to a card other than the Canon 1DX II, and at at a much lower price point. A frame rate of 60p for underwater work has serious advantages. A shooter can slow down the footage to half speed without sacrificing smooth video playback. Three major benefits come with this. First, if you have any slight wobbles or bobbles in your footage, those practically disappear at half speed. Second, the footage takes on a graceful and dramatic appearance when slowed down to half speed. And third, when played back at normal speed on a 4K TV that supports 60p, the viewing experience is surreal and the video becomes an incredibly immersive experience.
But wait... There’s more... 4K 60p isn’t the only option for shooting video. The Panasonic GH5 has a plethora of options for bit rate, color space, frame rate, and bit depth. Here’s the max bit depth, frame rate, and color space at each resolution and media type.
10 bit, 4:2:2 color space, 180 frames per second
Internal Recording to SD card in IPB format:
- 4K 60p, 4:2:0, 8 bit, 150mbps
- HD 1920 x 1080/60p, 4:2:2, 10 bit, 100mbps
- HD 1080p up to 180 FPS in variable frame rate, allowing 7.5 times slow motion
Available with a free firmware update, other internal recording options to a SD card in ALL-I format:
- 4K/30p, 10 bit, 4:2:2, 400mbps
- 1920 x 1080/60p, 4:2:2, 10 bit, 200mbps
- 4K/60p, 10 bit, 4:2:2
The ALL-I format compresses each frame individually while IPB looks for commonalities among frames and compresses across frames. ALL-I will stand up to a little more pushing around in post for color correction and exposure adjustments than IPB, but will lead to larger file sizes.
To sum it up if the Panasonic GH5 doesn’t have a resolution, bit rate, frame rate, or color space option that fits your needs, then you'll need to move up to a RED or Arri cinema grade camera.
8 bit vs. 10 bitYou might be asking what the big deal is with 2 more bits. The difference is 256 color tones available in 8 bit versus 1,024 color tones available in 10 bit. That’s a big difference! This will result in smoother blue water backgrounds without banding and more ability to color correct in post.
With so many options on quality, frame rates, bit depth, and resolution, the Panasonic GH5 can be all things to all people. Personally, I’ll aim to nail the exposure and color in camera and shoot 4K 60p for the ability to have the option of going half speed.
Improved White Balance Capability—White Balance Without a FilterWith all of these really great sounding video features, our top task was to see if the camera can perform a manual white balance underwater accurately. The Panasonic GH4 performed poorly in this regard without a color filter. After testing the Panasonic GH5 we can confirm that it indeed does perform an accurate whittle balance underwater WITHOUT the use of any filters. The hugeness of this can’t be overstated. This will now allow one to shoot ambient light or video lights on the same dive, giving the shooter more flexibility in any situation to shoot the way the scene needs to be shot. For the hybrid stills/video shooter, this means having the ability to shoot pictures with strobes and being able to switch over to ambient light video on the same dive. The Panasonic GH4 was completely unable to do this.
The Panasonic GH5 has 4 different white balance banks to choose from. This is super handy as you can set white balances for varying depths and also for use with video lights and have those in the can ready to go without having to re-capture a custom while balance. The process for capturing a white balance is easier and takes less steps than most other cameras on the market. Press the WB button, choose one of the 4 banks available, press the up button, then the set button. After a couple of times this process quickly becomes muscle memory and can be executed very quickly.
Stabilization—5 Axis and E-StabilizationUnfortunately even the most experienced shooters will have minor shakes and wobbles, which are difficult to avoid in a constantly ebbing and flowing underwater environment. Panasonic in the past has had image stabilization in lenses rather than the body. The Panasonic GH5 now has in body stabilization as well. The two different systems can be combined for even greater image stabilization.
For video shooters there is also another type of stabilization called E-Stabilization. This is an electronic stabilization that works in combination with the 5 axis image stabilization, which Panasonic is calling 5-Axis Hybrid image stabilization. For lenses that do not support in lens image stabilization, which is the majority of the lenses one would shoot underwater, this method is the best way to utilize the stabilization features of the Panasonic GH5. The electronic stabilization of the Panasonic GH5 adds a very small crop factor of about 1.1x to the frame from the full width of the sensor. This is such a small amount that will barely be noticeable, making this a no-brainer trade off for more stability, while still maintaining 4K resolution.
When 5-Axis Hybrid stabilization is combined with good shooting technique and slowing 60p down to 30p, virtually all stabilization issues go away. These combinations of stabilization techniques of the Panasonic GH5 makes you look like a way better shooter than you really are, and are simply just not available in any 4K SLR camera. After white balance, this is the next biggest feature to improve your keeper rate.
Focus Peaking—Critical for Video and Any Macro WorkFocus peaking will show areas of the image that are in focus by outlining the in focus edges in a color of your choice. I prefer red for this task. Even with high-resolution screens, critical focus is hard to see. This makes it easy to see that you got that super tight macro shot in focus without having to see the actual critical focus. This is an incredibly useful feature for not just video but also stills as well. Focus peaking is only active in manual focus mode, and there are a number of options to get there with the Panasonic GH5. My preferred workflow is to set the camera to AF + MF and assign AF-ON to the back focus button and take it way from half press shutter. In this configuration when the AF-ON button is pressed the camera will auto focus. When the AF-ON button is released the camera is in MF mode. If focus peaking is active then it will show when the AF-ON button is released and the camera is in MF mode. To toggle focus peaking on and off while in MF mode, it can be assigned to one of the many custom function buttons on the camera.
I find focus peaking a good tool to be used as a quick focus check for wide angle work and for maintaining the proper distance while rolling video on moving subjects with focus locked in MF mode. For macro video and photo I find focus peaking to be indispensable. Seeing critical focus on a screen or through an electronic viewfinder is extremely difficult. Focus peaking allows you to see areas that are in focus WITHOUT the need to see critical focus. This is great for subjects that are in constant motion where it’s hard to see focus because it never stops moving, or for shooters whose eyes might not be able to see perfect focus.
Exposure Aids — Zebra Stripping, Waveforms, and Vector ScopesZebra stripping will show areas of the image that are over exposed with diagonal moving lines. This feature has been available on other mirrorless cameras in the past and is helpful to see overexposure while shooting.
New features that have only been avialble previously on pro level cinema cameras are waveform display and vector scope. A waveform display is an overlay that shows the exposure or luminance value of each column of pixels. It’s similar to a histogram, but instead of showing the overall luminance values for the whole image at once, it shows luminance for each vertical column of pixels. A vector scope is a graph displays color hue and saturation information.
These pro level exposure aids are great addition, and some pro level land shooters will be super excited about having these familiar tools at their disposal. However, with the run and gun nature of underwater nature videography I only use zebra stripping and prefer the simplicity of keeping the exposure between 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop underexposed on the meter while keeping my full attention on composition and framing of the action.
Tone Curves and Flat Log ProfilesFor professional applications where color grading will be done in post, the Panasonic GH5 offers a pro level gamma profile that records a flatter image with more dynamic range to allow the colorist the most amount of information to color grade in post. V-LogL as Panasonic calls it, is a paid upgrade of $99. For most of us we’ll want to get the color as close as possible in camera, but the highlight and shadow curve can be adjusted in camera to tailor the highlights and shadows more to the shooting conditions without needing to go to a pro level flat profile that requires a professional colorist.
Great At Stills TooAll of this talk about video could make one forget that the Panasonic GH5 takes stills too. With a new 20MP sensor with no anti aliasing filter, the pictures look very sharp. It has the ability to shoot up to 12 FPS with an approximate 100 shot RAW buffer, which puts it into some serious top tier SLR performance territory. The base ISO is 200, which is the same as other cameras in the Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lineup. The flash sync speed is 1/250.
The image quality is a step ahead of the previous model Panasonic GH4 with better low light performance and the removal of the anti aliasing filter on the sensor. The anti aliasing filter on a sensor is designed to reduce pattern artifacts but comes at the expense of overall sharpness. Pattern artifacts are most commonly seen with fabric patterns in fashion photography. With the removal of the anti aliasing filter sharpness is significantly increased with little negative effect on the types of subjects that are shot underwater. Any pattern artifacts can easily be fixed in post.
Autofocus PerformanceFocus performance was snappy, but still lags a little bit behind SLRs. For wide angle this isn’t much of an issue—it snaps to focus fast and accurate. For macro still shooters, especially when shooting at close to 1:1 with the 60mm macro lens or with an additional external macro lens, focus hunts a bit more than an SLR but is still functional. Regarding live AF during video recording, the Panasonic GH5 isn’t quite up to the task. The best technique is to lock focus on the nearest subject in frame and have depth of field take care of the rest. This is the same technique we have been using with mirrorless and SLR cameras since their introduction, and it works quite well. As a note the only other cameras that we have been satisfied with, or shall we say amazed with the live AF performance during recording, are the Canon 5D IV and Canon 1DX II.
Lots of CustomizationThe camera setup can be highly customizable. There’s 6 physical custom function buttons (5 of which will be accessible from most housings), plus other buttons can be assigned to other functions. Our favorite way to shoot this camera for AF is to remove focus from the shutter and move it to the AF/AE button on the back of the camera and set the AF mode MF with AF+MF active. This allows the shooter to press the AF-ON button to focus, but when released the camera is in MF mode. Focus peaking can only be active in MF mode, so this is a great way to have the best of both worlds. This is great for macro shooters who could, if the focus peaking becomes annoying for composition, assign the Fn1 button to focus peaking ON/OFF toggle.
Conclusion For the VideographerThe Panasonic GH5 basically changes everything for an underwater video shooter. The biggest news for this camera is not the 4K 60p video spec, or the ability to shoot 10bit 4:2:2, or the image stabilization, vector scopes, focus peaking, etc. that the mainstream topside review sites all talking about. These are all great features that are lacking on other competing 4K rigs from Canon. The biggest news for the underwater videographer is the ability to shoot a proper ambient light white balance. Because if you can’t get the color right, none of those other features matter. And the Panasonic GH5 gets those colors perfect. And has all the right video features a shooter could ever want.
Besides the white balance capability the other really big news for the videographer is stabilization. This comes first in the obvious form of the 5-Axis Hybrid image stabilization feature, and second with 4K 60p. Slowing the footage down to 30p in combination with the 5-Axis Hybrid image stabilization and good camera technique virtually eliminates any wobbly footage. If you have ever shot footage at 30p without stabilization, you know how hard it is to stay stabile.
If the offering of video bit rate, color space, and frame rate options on the Panasonic GH5 don't satisfy your needs, the next step up is a RED or Arri Alexa cinema camera, which will be in the range of a 2nd mortgage rather than a credit card transaction. From that standpoint the Panasonic GH5 is a huge bang for your buck.
Conclusion For the PhotographerIf you had absolutely no interest in video whatsoever, but were interested in a top level mirrorless camera the Panasonic GH5 is at that level. The obvious competitor for the Panasonic GH5 is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II. Both cameras have about the same image quality, but the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II has a bit faster and more accurate focus in macro. Another alternative to look at for the stills shooter is the Nikon D500, which is a SLR that can be had at the same price as each of these cameras. The Nikon D500 will have much quicker focus and better image quality from its larger sensor, and the optical viewfinder makes it easier to see backlit scenes. The reason I say no interest in video whatsoever is that if you even have a slight inkling for underwater video the choice quickly becomes Panasonic GH5. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II does shoot 4K but only at 30p and lacks the ability to do an ambient light white balance at depth without a filter. While the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II color looks great when white balanced with a filter, a custom white balance can’t be executed in movie mode, only in photo mode. While the Nikon D500 is a fantastic stills camera with wicked fast and accurate AF, the 4K video implementation is just plain horrible across the board.
Conclusion For the Video/Photo Hybrid ShooterWith the ability to capture an ambient light white balance, the Panasonic GH5 quickly joins a very short list with the Canon 5D IV and Canon 1DX II that can claim this feature and shoot 4K. The white balance capability of these three cameras allows one to shoot with both strobes for stills or ambient light for video on the same dive. However, both Canon cameras outshine the Panasonic GH5 in the areas of image quality, speed of focus, high ISO/low light performance, live video AF performance, and lens selection. If you're more of a stills shooter, then the Canons are more of the way to go. But it is not without a few drawbacks on the video side. Neither of the Canons have any image stabilization and are also lacking key video features like focus peaking and zebra stripping. The Canon 5D IV only shoots 4K at 30p—no 60p option. The Canon 1DX II is the only other SLR or mirrorless camera to shoot 4K 60p. And both of these cameras come at a much higher price point.
For the hybrid shooter on a budget the Panasonic GH5 is your clear choice. If one leans more toward the video side and price is not as much of a factor, it’s a tough choice between the Panasonic GH5 and the Canons. You’ll need to weigh the image stabilization, focus peaking, and zebra stripping of the Panasonic GH5, versus the Canons’ better stills photo shooting, low light performance, lack of stabilization, and for the Canon 5D IV, lack of 4K 60p. To narrow that down even further it can become a simple argument of stabilization vs. low light performance.
At Backscatter we’re glad we don’t need to make that choice as we have a full fleet of gear we can take out and shoot anytime. But if you need help making a decision for yourself, don’t hesitate to give us a call and we can get you in the right system to fit your needs.
- Will now execute an ambient light custom white balance at depth without a filter
- 4 white balance banks
- 4K 60p video
- 10bit 4:2:2 in 30p
- Great slow mo options in 1080 up to 180p
- 4K is down sampled from about 5K+ resolution for ultra sharp video
- New imaging sensor with better sharpness and low light performance
- Focus peaking and its useful implementation
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