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Is the Panasonic GH4 the best DSLR ever?

Time was when any professional cameraman wouldn't be seen dead with a DSLR, given their generally deserved reputation for poor usability as well as a host of image problems from rolling shutter effects to moire, aliasing and a poor performance in low light.

But Panasonic seems to have made significant advances with its latest 4K DSLR offering – the GH4.

Panasonic reports that its has sold hundreds to dealers such as Visual Impact and CVP as professionals can see that its a big step forward, offering a wide range of high quality recording modes, including internal 4K recording at 100 Mb/s, plus 200 Mb/s in iFrame mode and 1080 50p or 60p HD.

The 4K image can also be efficiently downsized to HD for a 10 bit 444 sample which can be reframed for HD broadcast, plus it has slow motion options up to 96fps.

Its base price of around £1,300 including VAT sounds extremely low for a camera that can do all that, but professional users will need the Panasonic YAGH interface unit which provides XLR audio, Phantom power and timecode input – bringing the total cost to £2,500 including VAT. It records internally or to fast SAN Disk Pro memory.

In addition the GH4 offers peaking and zebras although as yet no ND filters.

Both Sky and the BBC's Natural History Unit are imagining a role for the GH4 as a specialist camera capable to taking 4K pictures which doesn't break the bank, and some productions have already experimented with the GH4 rigged on a drone for 4K aerials (it's extremely compact and light and has a low power draw).

The major drawbacks (there had to be some) are the micro four thirds sensor and restrictions over the type of glass you can use it with, although an adaptor for Canon EF glass is in the works. Plus the XLR audio needs four pin SLR power from an external source. Plus there's no escaping the fact that it doesn't have the from factor of a professional camcorder and its menu systems have to be navigated according so not one for run and gun style shooting.

Visual Impact sales manager Paul Brown said that the real relevance of the GH4 is the YAGH base, which provides XLR and BNC connections.

“This is a big plus, setting the GH4 apart from other DSLRs that typically need a lot of extra boxes to make them work.

“The fact that the YAGH is specifically designed for the GH4 makes it quite a nice package. At this point you can't expect a lot more.

"Generally people don't use this type of camera for run and gun due to difficulties pulling focus on the move, particularly in 4K mode. I see it scoring with budget film makers, low budget TV shows, corporates and people dipping their toes into 4K."

Richard Payne, technical development manager at Holdan, adds that the GH4 is a lot of cameras for £2.5k inc VAT.

“For this you get camera body and YAGH interface unit combined. You get a 4K camera with 96 fps slow motion and 200Mb/s recording in HD.

"Plus its got XLR audio with Phantom power, Quad SDI and timecode in as well as both peaking and zebras – features which you don't really expect on a Mirrorless Compact camera at this price.

“This makes it much more relevant for high end production – the word from the BBC is that it's a camera to be taken pretty seriously.”





Posted 23 July 2014 by David Wood
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