Hybrids are everywhere these days. Hybrid cars, hybrid laptops, hybrid cameras.
For the most part, this is good news for the consumer who wants a bit of everything, but sadly “hybrid” is marketing-speak for an old adage — “Jack of all trades, master of none”. So it is with the Panasonic Lumix GH5, a new hybrid stills/video camera that is struggling with an identity crisis.
Panasonic knows its market well with the GH5, the latest in a stable of high-end micro-four-thirds mirrorless cameras that aim to eat the lunch of video incumbents such as Canon and Sony, by providing cutting-edge tech buzzwords at affordable prices. The market, as Panasonic sees it, loves 4K video, loves cinematic shots and loves to feel like they are getting a bargain.
Panasonic exceeds expectations on the marketing checklist, but for all the “hybrid” spectacle of the GH5, it is in reality an excellent video camera masquerading as a middling stills shooter.
The GH5 captures phenomenal video and lifts the bar in terms of what filmmakers expect in a mid-range camcorder. It’s the first mirrorless camera to record 60 frames per second 4K footage, a true game-changer for video production. Most of the content we consume is either 24 (films), 25 (Australian TV) or 30 (most online video and American TV) frames per second, meaning this camera can capture two-times slow motion without a drop in quality.
The 4k footage is beautiful. It’s crisp, colourful and will record happily for about three hours before powering down. That’s the kind of video camera I want in my bag.
The GH5 also adds in-body image stabilisation, which helps to smooth out any camera shake from your footage. When combined with a lens with image stabilisation and a gamble (or very steady pair of hands), the stabilisation results are extremely impressive.
Another potential game-changer is the ability to internally record 10-bit colour, up from 8-bit in pretty much every other consumer camera. Ten-bit recording significantly improves the fidelity of colour and the ability to manipulate footage in post-production.
The camera also adds a second SD card slot. It is even hot-swappable, meaning you can continue recording video to one card while you add another.
Stills killed video star
Where the GH5 starts to falter is on the sub-par side of the hybrid equation — stills shooting. Micro-four-thirds (smaller sensor size) cameras have slowed compared to their full frame cousins when it comes to sensor resolution, and the GH5 is no exception. The camera features a 20.3-megapixel resolution, significantly below that of the Sony a7R II or Canon’s 5D MK IV.
This means that you won’t have the ability to crop your images as much, and in reality it isn’t all that much better than the average smartphone’s sensor size of 12MP. Of course, when paired with good lenses, the GH5 will significantly outperform your average iPhone or Pixel shot.
The GH5 also seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to autofocus. The camera refused to focus on some subjects, forcing me to switch to manual focus a few times. Continuous AF in video mode felt more consistent, and tap-to-focus on the screen is a joy to use.
The GH5 is relatively compact for a high-end hybrid camera, and weather-sealed for peace of mind. I brought the camera along for an Easter long weekend camping jaunt, where during the day it performed ably. I went for a wander through the bush, walked up a mountain and climbed a tree with the camera slung comfortably over my shoulder the whole time.
Though the battery life on the GH5 is impressive, Panasonic has not implemented USB charging, unlike many other mirrorless cameras on the market.
MicroUSB has been replaced with USB-C, which will happily charge my phone and laptop, but not the GH5.
On my camping trip, USB battery banks were the only options I had for charging my devices. Once the battery on the camera died, I was left without it for the rest of the trip.
The electronic viewfinder is satisfying to use when shooting stills, but the proximity sensor often disables the flip-out screen when using it as a handheld camera, even in manual video mode.
The biggest letdown in the GH5 is the poor optimisation of software evident throughout the software ecosystem. These days, a camera cannot be sold as a stand-alone piece of kit — it needs to happily interface with WiFi, Bluetooth and a range of third-party devices. Right now, the GH5 simply doesn’t play nice with my stuff.
When connecting to my home WiFi, normally the fastest means of wirelessly transferring pictures to my phone for editing and sharing, the GH5 refused to co-operate, leaving me with an endlessly spinning loading bar. When attempting to connect to my phone via Bluetooth, the Panasonic Image App failed to connect, but did manage to crash multiple times. Twenty wasted minutes troubleshooting later, I dug out an SD card reader.
Panasonic needs to urgently fix its shonky software — mobile device compatibility is an essential feature and this is a deal-breaker.
Still to come …
Beside the much-needed updates to accompanying apps, Panasonic promises a lot more potential in store for the GH5. Currently, the 10-bit video is limited to a bit-rate of 150Mbps with a 4k resolution. Down the line, Panasonic promises up to 400Mbps in less compressed codes, which should result in significantly better results for filmmakers, with a trade-off of much larger file sizes.
The GH5 is a strong contender for best budget filmmaking tool, but the camera does not add a lot of value to consumers looking to purchase a great hybrid. The stills performance simply isn’t good enough to justify the price tag, and the video features are too complicated and niche even for film students. With an asking price of $2999, the GH5 is a lot of camera, just not where it counts for a hybrid stills/video shooter.
I’d love to see this camera reimagined as what it sells itself as — a video camera, complete with a redesigned body that matches its purpose.
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