Panasonic GH4: First Impression and High ISO GH3 Comparison

Gear & Apps March 5th 2014 9:24 AM 24 Comments

The mirrorless camera race is off to a fast start in 2014. Only several weeks ago, Fuji announced its hotly anticipated XT-1 mirrorless camera. Now, Panasonic has responded with a groundbreaking mirrorless hybrid camera that can capture 16MP and more importantly, record 4K video.

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I recently had a chance to use the Panasonic GH4 for about an hour and from my first impression as a GH3 user, Panasonic may have a real winner here. We will cover the video more extensively when we get a review unit for an extended period of time, but in the meantime, here are some takeaways.

[REWIND: Stunning Sample 4K Footage from New Panasonic GH4 Released]

Ergonomics

Other than the GH4 badge, the Panasonic GH4 uses the exact same body and button configuration as the GH3. You can even use the GH3 battery grip with the GH4 since the pins on the bottom are backwards-compatible.

For the most part, this is a really good thing, since Panasonic did a great job with the dial and button placements.

There are a total of 5 physical custom buttons and 6 touchscreen custom buttons, as well as a customizable Quick Menu, so most functions are only 1 or 2 clicks away. The only thing that I wish I can do is use the scroll ring of the lower thumb wheel to control ISO. At least the directional pad can be assigned for Direct Focus, so you can quickly change focus points.

If anything, I would love to have a couple of custom buttons in the front by the lens like the Olympus E-M1 or the Nikon DSLRs, but by in large, ergonomic is a strong point with this camera. In my opinion, it is worth the trade off in larger size compared to other Micro 4/3 cameras.

The Viewfinder and LCD Screen

The two biggest external improvements with the Panasonic GH4 over the GH3 are the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and the LCD screen. Anyone who has been using the GH3 are familiar with the smearing issues of its EVF and luckily, Panasonic has installed a new 2.36M (1024×768 resolution) EVF that is not only smear-free, but also refreshes much faster so you won’t have to worry about tearing or stuttering issues. It is pretty much in line with the Olympus E-M1 and the Sony A7R.

Oh and on top of that, the eye cup is a bit larger and feels much more comfortable.

Panasonic also added a higher resolution OLED LCD screen that not only makes your images and videos look better, but will help you achieve focus much easier and much quicker. Thankfully, Panasonic has finally included focus peaking to the GH-line, which is sorely missing in the GH3.

First Impression of the Panasonic-Leica 42.5mm f/1.2

I did get a chance to shoot with the Panasonic-Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron (full frame equivalent 85mm) and let me tell you, this lens is a beauty. It is simply marvelous to shoot with and feels just as well to hold and operate. The aperture ring has a nice, positive click and the focusing ring is dampened well enough. With its sturdy metal body, I have to say that the Pana-Leica 42.5mm has a slightly superior build quality to my favorite micro 4/3 lens, the Olympus 75mm f/1.8.

We will talk about this lens more in-depth in another article, however, so stay tuned.

High ISO Comparison versus the GH3

I didn’t really get much chance to shoot outside as I would like, so I will save that section for the next time we get the GH4, but I did get a chance to do a low light, high ISO comparison test of GH4 versus the GH3.

At the time of this article, Adobe has not released a new version of Adobe Camera RAW that can read the GH4 RAW files, so we will be comparing jpeg to jpeg here.

So to test the low light capability of the GH4, I took a series of quick images of Giulio Sciorio, Mr. Hybrid Photographer extraordinaire and owner of SmallCameraBIGPicture.com. His key light is a Wescott Ice Light.

Finally, following Giulio’s recommendation, the Color profile is set to Standard with everything zeroed out except for Noise Reduction, which is set to its lowest possible settings for both cameras.

ISO1600

Panasonic GH4 at ISO1600 f1.2 1-400

Panasonic GH3 at ISO1600 f1.2 1-400

Starting from ISO1600, the GH4 already shows a sharper image than the GH3. I’m not sure if it’s because the GH4 focuses better at low light, the f/1.2 aperture, or if the pre-production firmware of the 42.5mm lens is not communicating properly with my GH3, but overall, the images consistently look sharper or more in focus with the GH4 than the GH3.

Other than that, both images have about the same amount of noise.

ISO3200

Panasonic GH4 at ISO3200 f1.2 1-800

Panasonic GH3 at ISO3200 f1.2 1-800

ISO6400

Panasonic GH4 at ISO6400 f1.2 1-1600

Panasonic GH3 at ISO6400 f1.2 1-1600

ISO12,800

Panasonic GH4 at ISO12800 f1.2 1-1600

Panasonic GH3 at ISO12800 f1.2 1-1600

Closeup of Giulio’s Head

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Head ISO1600

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Head ISO3200

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Head ISO6400

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Head ISO12800

Closeup of Giulio’s Hand

Panasonic GH4-GH3 Hand ISO1600

Panasonic GH4-GH3 Hand ISO3200

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Hand ISO6400

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Hand ISO12800

Closeup of the Bird on the T-Shirt

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Bird ISO1600

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Bird ISO3200

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Bird ISO6400

Panasonic GH4 GH3 Bird ISO12800

Conclusion

Overall, there is a clear improvement in the GH4 low light, high ISO performance when it comes to shooting jpegs. So, based on my first impression, Panasonic took what’s great about the GH3, from the ergonomic to the video quality, and improved just about everything. The new sensor produces noticeably better image quality especially in low light, the EVF and LCD are vastly improved, and of course, the headliner is the 4K video output, which we will cover more in-depth in the near future.

Stay tuned for further coverage of the Panasonic GH4!

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About

Joe is a rising fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He blends creativity and edge with a strong style of lighting and emotion in his photographs. Be sure to check out his work at www.fotosiamo.com and connect with him on Google Plus and on Facebook

24 Comments

  1. [email protected]

    slightly out of focus GH3

    • Joe Fotosiamo

      The strange thing is that I focused on Giulio’s face for each shot that I took for both cameras. I haven’t experienced auto-focus problems with my GH3 and other lenses, so I’m going to assume it’s more to do with the pre-production firmware with the f/1.2 Panasonic lens.

      The GH4 also has a pre-production firmware, so it’s low-light performance may change by the time the final firmware is in place.

      The real test for me would be once Adobe/Capture One allows me to open the GH4 RAW files for comparison.

      - Joe Fotosiamo

  2. Rambalac

    Very bad testing. Light is far from the same

  3. Rambalac

    Ergonomics is not the same. GH4 has timelapse mode on the left dial and the right dial has lock button.

    • Jack

      I don’t think you understand what ‘ergonomics’ are …

  4. Euroborne

    This may be hard to judge with these small images, but at ISO 12,800 GH3 seems looks cleaner to me, based on the background. The sharpness issue doesn’t help the rest.

    Also, per the EVF, 1024 x 768 doesn’t produce 2.36M, and it’s a 4:3 ratio…

    • Rambalac

      In cameras they count all color component dots 1024*768*3=2’359’296

  5. JESSE

    TOO MUCH difference at 1600 and 3200. What’s up?

  6. Euroborne

    @RAMBALAC – That’s right, they split the RGB channels into separate matrices; Thanks marketing…

  7. JJ

    I simply do not buy that the GH3 is simply “not as sharp” as the GH4 in the iso 1600 example. The image used as an example simply looks out of focus.

    I’m surprised that slr lounge did not look deeper into that; perhaps user error creating the mis focus rather then blaming the camera. For example, the GH3 shot appears larger/closer then the gh4 – perhaps the photographer preset the focus and simply did not walk back onto the exact mark. Can you explain that?

    • Joe Fotosiamo

      I refocused each time I took the shot, so I think it’s because of the pre-production firmware of the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens and maybe even the GH3 not focusing properly at f/1.2 in low light.

      All my other mu4/3 lenses work fine with my GH3, so I know my GH3 itself does not have a focusing issue.

  8. Otto

    The GH3 is a fantastic camera, but high ISO being its Achilles heal. The GH4 seems to do a better job at color accuracy and keeping finer detail. Way to go Panasonic. And G’s shirt is pretty rad.

  9. Jason

    This is about as good of iso performance as I would expect out of a sensor this size. Have no doubts the footage with adequate lighting will look amazing with ample light, but any kind of run n gun in low light will still best be suited for larger sensor bodies. I know the price point of the 1DC is much higher, but I now see the justification seeing as how no other 4k camera can in fact, do what it does. Amazing for gh4 none the less, this will be an excellent tool for small/medium sized aerial rigs indeed!

  10. FREDDY

    tell me you are joking…. now it’s the size of the sensor… that’s where the 1dc shines… haha… come on, wake up!

  11. Tim

    To my eye the GH3 does better. However the absolutely unusable GH3 viewfinder alone would give me enough reason to upgrade to the GH4.

  12. Joshua Cadmium

    As far as the detail difference between the GH3 and GH4, remember that the GH4 has sensor tech designed by Panasonic themselves, plus the GH4 has a better OLPF:

    “On the other hand, optimizing the combination design of new sensor, new imaging engine and low-pass filter enhances the limit resolution by more than 5% while suppressing moire.”

    Source: http://www.43rumors.com/full-panasonic-gh4-press-text/

    An OLPF can have a large impact on fine detail.

    While he could have, I doubt that a professional photographer didn’t focus correctly, especially in a test shot designed to show off sharpness.

  13. sakal

    i notes that gh4 have more color noise compare to gh3.

    • Grant

      That was the first thing I noticed. That is a big turn off for me because one of the things I like about my GH3 is that although it is noisier than some larger frame sensor cameras in low light…at least the noise is somewhat filmic and easy to clean up in post if need be.

  14. CLABART

    Sorry, the GH3 has better Dynamic Range than GH4

  15. YUR

    A terrible, totally biased, comparison. Lights (i.e., light angles) are very different. So, the amounts of lights on the face and other areas are very different. As a result, for example, GH4 results on the face *look* better, but may be or may not be better. Inconclusive… definitely.

  16. David Robillard

    I agree with SLR Lounge stills quality on the GH3 is poor and I would expect the GH4 to be better because it’s embarrassingly bad with the GH3. Video quality on tthe GH3 is very good however. Nice comparison and much appreciated.

  17. Akos

    Comparing it with its true competitor the Canon 5D Mark 3 really only makes sense here.
    anyone having the GH3 will update anyway, since its not a ot of money we are talking about here.

    Comparing video with each other (mark3 and GH4) at high iso above 3000 Iso makes really info .
    Plus testing the anti shake of this GH4 is about the most important feature here right after 4K.

    Food for Thought?

  18. EJ

    JOE FOTOSIAMO – Then this test is obviously invalid, maybe you should use a lens you know is going to work flawlessly with the gh3

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