It is no surprise that the two tech companies, Sony and Panasonic, are leading the pack when it comes to the UHD 4K movement. Whereas other camera manufacturers are just that, camera manufacturers, the joint developers of the AVCHD format have a long-standing heritage in video and set the bar for what consumers should expect when it comes to 4K; each giant reigning over their respective kingdoms.
Panasonic shares essentially the same micro four-thirds lens system as Olympus, yet the video quality of even the most budget-minded Panasonic cameras are arguably better than Olympus’s flagship, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
But then there’s Sony, and it sits alone and on top in the mirrorless full frame segment and dominates the APS-C market. But regardless of the many advantages of both systems, aspiring cinematographers still have a difficult time choosing between Panasonic or Sony.
Caleb Pike of DSLR Video Shooter released a video on his thoughts and predictions on how Sony could take the solid lead when it comes to camera choice for video; thoughts which, in my option, that are platitudinous. More to it, Sony is pretty much ahead anyway, but there are things Panasonic can do to change that, and they’re the only company that actually could.
When compared to Sony, the micro four thirds system that is at the heart of Lumix-branded cameras have a lot going for them. They have a substantial lineup of great native lenses, the IBIS in Panasonic cameras is superior to the Sony equivalent (granted that’s only a recent debut), and ISO performance between the two systems is negligible up to 3200. Essentially, what we can deduce is that while the Lumix system is fantastic it far from perfect; with a few tweaks and changes it could be the one to beat. Here’s what the only real challenger to Sony’s video segment can and must address.
Implement Better V-Log (which it can)
Panasonic treats it dedicated LOG profile as an in-app purchase for the GH4, GH5, FZ2500. A $100 purchase that is slap in the face when you take into consideration that you need an external recorder to get the most out it.
V-Log was originally designed for Panasonic’s Varicam 35, a 12-bit 4:4:4 camera with 14 stops of dynamic range. When recording internally on the 8-bit GH4 V-log can reduce the tonality of the image, causing banding.
While V-log can help the GH4, GH5, and FZ2500 to be graded to other log-capable cameras, it is only limited to those three. If you want to match footage from a GH5, G85, and G7 you are limited to Cinelike-V or Cinelike-D, which may or may not be the most ideal of situations.
In a perfect world, Panasonic would redesign V-Log for their entire lineup of 4K capable cameras that would meet or exceed the benefits of Sony’s beloved S-Log2.
Phase Detect Autofocus
While most cinema cameras don’t have any sort of AF at all, cinematographers have been relying on fast and accurate phase detection systems like the ones implemented into Sony cameras and Canon’s Dual Pixel.
When the GH5 debuted it had a newly developed DfD contrast detection AF system with 225 focus points, but Panasonic’s DfD (Depth From Defocus) technology still has to focus past the subject in order to lock on. The technology has just never managed to catch up to the competition when it comes to fast moving subjects.
In contrast, the a6500 has a 4D Focus system with 425 phase detection points that utilizes High-Density Tracking AF technology that concentrates the AF points around the moving subject for better accuracy and near instant focus. In this scenario, Panasonic should take a page from Olympus who has incorporated phase detect AF in their flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
Panasonic has a habit of limiting great tech to specific higher end cameras. It is understandable the Pansonic would want to segregate the GH5 to a higher tier than the rest of it other cameras, but this should not apply to accessories. When it comes to developing accessories that are specifically made for one but could help the entire lineup, they really put themselves behind the eight ball. What I am referring to is their interface for the DMW-XLR1 XLR adapter.
Sony’s Muti-Interface Shoe has become standard in most, if not all, Sony mirrorless and SLT cameras since the introduction in 2012, replacing an assortment of other proprietary mounts allowing for multiple connections for speedlights, microphones, and audio adapters to communicate to the camera via pins in the hotshoe. The interface allows for the use of the XLR-K2M adding professional XLR inputs to be used with capable cameras, where as the DMW-XLR1 is limited to just one camera, so Sony is ahead here, but…
Panasonic’s offer is a bit more robust, not to mention less expensive than the Sony equivalent. If Panasonic were to add the connections into smaller 4K cameras like the GX85, it would justify the absence of a mic-in jack for such a capable camera.
In video production, depth-of-field is not everything. When shooting narratives, short films or documentaries it is more important to have the subject in focus than have a creamy blurred background. Sony may have the ‘pull’ of larger sensors, but that pull stems from marketing and elitism. Actually, we could also bring up the point that smaller sensors actually have shallow dof (see here for that).
In my opinion, Sony has made massive strides and impressive market penetration because they are not afraid to cannibalize their own existing cameras to offer a better one, and they segment sensibly. A perfect example of this is that the cheaper a6500 shoots better 4K than the more expensive a7SII, yet each still sells extremely well.
So, to reiterate the point here, Panasonic is really the only competitor in a position to dethrone Sony with video, and Sony could do with the competition, but there are big ‘IFs’ that need be addressed. If they can create a better Log; if they can implement phase detect AF in their cameras, and if they are not afraid to cannibalize their systems for the betterment of the public. Maybe then, just maybe, they could actually reign.