Panasonic Lumix GH5S Review: This compact video-first camera is a delight

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Highlights

  • The Panasonic Lumix GH5S shines in the video department especially with 4K videos.

  • It’s also no slouch when it comes to still photography.

  • Its capability gets amplified with support for a wide array of lenses including vintage ones.

Every generation has had its own form of storytelling and video is the culture right now. With the culmination of digital and double/triple camera setups on smartphones, it has become incredibly easy to produce and share videos. In fact, I would say there has never been a better time to be a video producer.

With consumption of media rising with every passing month and consumers tending to favor YouTube over Facebook and Twitter, it is clear that video content is here to rule. It has also been observed that consumers watch smaller videos on YouTube while they rely on other over-the-top video platforms for long-form video content. The cheaper access to data networks and easier access to tools to create the content only aids in this video-first revolution.

So, let us talk about the tools that can come handy in making these videos. While smartphones act as a natural start for anyone interested in producing videos, you need a real camera to portray serious storytelling. On the YouTube-verse, content creators use a number of devices to create their contents. It ranges from a smartphone to a camera costing several hundred thousands of dollars. However, one of the most commonly used camera gear is the Panasonic Lumix GH5.

Panasonic LUMIX GH5S launched in India, priced at Rs 184,990

The Lumix GH5, when it launched last year, was an instant success thanks to its compact body, a great micro four thirds sensor and support for optics from Leica. It resonated with Vloggers who wanted a camera to shoot on the move and was easy to carry around. While the GH5 did both stills and video, Panasonic has decided to turn its successor into a video-first camera and is calling it GH5S. So, how does it fare as a camera? Let’s find out.

Design and Build Quality

If you have seen or used a Panasonic GH5 before then there is not much to tell these two apart. The two cameras have the same overall design and dimensions, which means all existing accessories will work seamlessly on the new GH5S. Just to tell them apart, Panasonic has added a small visual element in the form of a red video recording button, a red ring around the drive dial and most importantly, a red ‘S’ badging at the front of the camera.

The whole design and feel of the Panasonic GH5S is same as that of its predecessor. There is a universal code in tech that says never fix what is not broken. In my opinion, the design of Panasonic GH5 was nearly perfect and there was absolutely no need to fix it but there is always room for improvement. With GH5S, Panasonic now offers a viewfinder that reaches 120fps rather than 60fps. Otherwise, the EVF has same specifications as its predecessor which supports 3,860k dots and 0.76x magnification.

The 3.2-inch multi-angle LCD display is also exactly the same with 1,620k dots. While, the Panasonic GH5S is similar to the GH5 from the exterior, there is a lot of change under the hood this time around.

Sensor, Controls and Connectivity

The Panasonic GH5S seems to have been devised as a video-first camera from the word go. While the GH5 came with a 20-megapixel sensor, the GH5S has a newly designed sensor with half the megapixel count of 10.2-megapixels. In cameras, the megapixel count is the least important parameter while the sensor size has the real moolah. The GH5S has larger pixel, which does help in absorbing more light and reduce noise in high ISO settings.

The sensor is also slightly bigger than the area covered by the lens which allows you to change the aspect ratio without adjusting the diagonal angle of view. As I noted in my review of Leica D-Lux Typ 109, this support for multi aspect ratio format comes really handy in certain situations like product photography.

The new sensor on the GH5S is capable of recording both 4K and Cinema 4K at 50/60p while its predecessor captured Cinema 4K at 24p. With compatible lens, the GH5S can also record anamorphic footage in 4K at 60 full frames per second. While the sensor has received a major upgrade, the camera lacks in-body image stabilization.

The controls are laid out exactly as on the GH5. You get the drive dial on the left side while the main controls like modes, ON/OFF switch and recording buttons are on the right. Right next to the 3.2-inch LiveView display is the menu settings while the play button and ability to switch between LVF is located next to the EVF. There is a dial to switch between focus modes while a joystick makes pinning the manual focus easier.

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Honestly, the Panasonic GH5S is a camera loaded with features and the controls can seem overwhelming at times. For me, it took some time to get used to all the controls and then it was just easier to switch modes, select ISO and capture images without lifting eye from the viewfinder.

Image Quality

The Panasonic GH5S comes with sensitivity ranging from ISO 160 to ISO 51200 and can be extended to values down to ISO 80 and up to 204800 ISO. Unlike GH5, the entire range is now available for both stills as well as video. This is mainly achieved by the larger pixel and dual native values of ISO 400 and ISO 2500. The result is that when you try to shoot at ISO 6400, the GH5S does not amplify ISO 400 and need to only amplify ISO 2500. The final output tends to have lower noise compared to its predecessor.

During the time testing the camera, I found that Panasonic GH5S produces images with more contrast and less shadow noise. Since I did not have a GH5 for side-by-side comparison, the results can be considered subject to my understanding. In a nutshell, I would say the Panasonic GH5S produces images that are useful in ISO 6400 and ISO 12800.

Panasonic Lumix GH5S

For this review, Panasonic equipped us with a 42.5mm Leica DG Nocticron lens with f-stop of 1.2 and optical image stabilization. This lens is pure gold for any kind of scenario. The f/1.2 aperture means you get more shallow depth-of-field than many other conventional lens system, and the optics means you get a color system that is reminiscent of Leica imaging. There is also support for 14-bit RAW which will be welcomed by still photographers.

As I understood a few days into using the GH5S, Panasonic does not necessarily want you to take still photos with this one. I think the screen grab from the 4K video shot using the GH5S offers great details and easily qualifies as a 4K photo. A friend who is into shooting videos for a living showed me how V Log, Panasonic’s gamma curve allows to record the widest dynamic range at native ISO setting. The camera is very well supported by Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus AF system which has a locking speed of 0.07 seconds and better sensitivity of -5Ev.

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Verdict

I started this review by talking about vlogging but I am going to end with cinematography. While Alexa and RED have a mainstay in the cinema camera segment, the Panasonic Lumix GH5S comes close to what can be defined as mobile video camera. The ability to shoot cinema 4K at 60 fps and slow-motion at 240fps makes it a really versatile camera for videography. However, the silver lining comes in the form of support for a plethora of lenses including some from Leica, which hold their own sheen.

The camera also comes with host of connectivity features including a full-sized HDMI port, USB Type-C port, microphone-in, headphone out, remote input, flash sync and two SD card slots with UHS-II compatibility. The Panasonic GH5S is geared to do one thing well – 4K video recording – and it does that exceptionally well. There aren’t a lot of cameras that do one thing exceptionally well. At Rs 1,84,990, the Panasonic GH5S even sounds expensive, but considering its video chops, the pricing feels justified to some extent.


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