Panasonic’s latest and greatest hybrid stills/video camera, the Lumix DC-GH5s, has proven to be a capable performer and, ironically, a better video camera than its cousin, the GH5. By dropping back to a lower-resolution sensor, a 10.2-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor (about half the resolution of the 20 MP version in the GH5), Panasonic has increased the low-light sensitivity to a native ISO 51,200. The engineers then took a cue from Panasonic’s broadcast division and the dual native ISO capability of the Varicam and EVA 1, giving the GH5s the same feature, which pegs the camera’s native sensitivity at ISO 400 ordinarily (ISO 800 for V-LogL or HLG capture) and the higher sensitivity of ISO 2500 ordinarily (ISO 5000 for V-LogL or HLG).
The GH5s can record a 400 Mbps All-Intra format out of the box. Add 10-bit recording and V-Log to the feature list, which was an additional charge on the GH5. The GH5s is the only camera in its class that can record Cinema 4K (4096x2160) in 60p, too. Panasonic also added the ability to produce time code to sync another camera on a multi-camera shoot or to input time code from another device. Panasonic seems to have crammed just about every reasonable video feature into this one.
For video shooters, Panasonic has made huge strides and major improvements from the GH4/GH5 versus the GH5s. I found with the GH4 images to be grainy at any ISO over 400, while with the GH5s I easily used ISO 1600 and even 3200 without needing to run the footage through noise-reduction software, a major improvement. The pastel-like skin tones and generally unflattering colors of the GH4 have been replaced with pleasant, saturated colors with good contrast and more naturalistic skin tones. Just five years ago, nobody could have comprehended a $2,500 camera with nearly all of these features; it would have just seemed impossible. The only glaring omission for some users will be the absence of In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), which the GH5 has. There have already been a lot of complaints and venting on discussion boards about its absence, so Panasonic, take note for the GH6—make sure it has IBIS!
Just a week or so after I began testing the GH5s, I was invited to the rollout of the new Fujifilm X-H1, Fuji’s latest APS-C mirrorless camera. Much like the Panasonic GH5s is a version of the GH5 designed to appeal more to video users, the X-H1 is a more video-centric version of Fujifilm’s popular X-T2. The XH-1 adds features designed to appeal to the video shooter, but many of them will also be handy for stills shooters or hybrid shooters who must deliver both high-quality still images as well as short video clips for social media or other online use. Working from the X-T2, the X-H1 gets a higher resolution viewfinder and adds touch sensitivity to its rear touchscreen.
The headline feature of the X-H1 is the addition of IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization), rated up to 5.5 stops. It’s interesting that Fujifilm has added IBIS just as Panasonic’s competing GH5s removes it; make of that what you will. The X-H1 offers DCI 4K in 23.98p and 24p, as well as UHD 4K in 23.98/24/25/29.97p. While the X-T2 requires an external recorder to use flat Log capture, the X-H1 allows for internal F-Log recording. The camera doubles the maximum data rate of the X-T2, utilizing bitrates of up to 200 Mbps and 24-bit audio (versus 16-bit on the X-T2). While I was only able to check out the X-H1 at the rollout event, I noted an absence of many of the types of exposure tools that video users expect, such as zebra indicators, waveforms and peaking; all of these are available on the GH5s. The Fujifilm only offers 8-bit 4:2:0 recording as well as HDMI output, although the images looked beautiful. In addition to inheriting the X-T2’s film emulation modes, the X-H1 adds a new emulation mode called ETERNA, based upon Fuji’s 500 negative ETERNA motion picture film. It’s less saturated than the other modes, which are taken from still film gamma curves.
Fujifilm took a leap ahead for video shooters at the same rollout, premiering its existing MK Cinema lenses, now available in the native Fujifilm X-mount that allows for the transmission of focal length, aperture and other data to the camera. The MK Cinema lenses have been a big hit with Sony E-Mount users. While I’m not sure if buyers of a $1,899 hybrid stills video camera will pony up the $4,300 needed for the MK50-135mm T2.9 Cine lens, it’s a nice option to have available.
Cameras like the GH5s and the Fujifilm X-H1 are beginning to show up on the sets of higher-end productions, usually not as the primary or “A” camera but more and more often as a B or C camera, on a gimbal, hanging from a drone or as a crash cam, positioned where it’s difficult or impossible to place a larger camera. It used to be that I much preferred shooting an APS C/S35 imager for its superior low-light ability over a much smaller M43 imager like the GH5s has, but I have to say that the low-light performance of the M43 imager in the Panasonic is even better in low light than the much larger APS-C imager in the X-H1, although to my eye, the X-H1 has a bit nicer color science than the Panasonic. The main differentiator between M43 and APS C/S35 is the field of view and depth of field characteristics between the two size imagers. When comparing DOF and FOV, you double focal length on the M43 imager, whereas you only multiply an APS-C imager 1.5x to arrive at the same FOV and DOF characteristics as full frame. Both of these cameras cost less than the most popular full frame cameras, like Sony’s a7S II, but at $2,500, the GH5s is almost at parity, while Fujifilm kept the cost of the X-H1 lower.
M43 and APS-C imager cameras generally offer smaller size and weight than most full frame DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, but they used to give up light sensitivity as well. Notice the past tense? I was shown footage shot at night around Osaka, Japan, with both the M43 Panasonic GH5s and the full frame Sony a7S II, widely considered to be one of the most capable full-frame cameras on the market, and the GH5s acquitted itself amazingly well, with more saturated colors and less apparent noise than the Sony full-frame imager in the a7S II. The days of having to choose full frame to gain low-light ability are coming to an end. With newer-generation technology in cameras like the GH5s, it’s now becoming more of a choice about desired DOF and FOV more than light-gathering ability. Another factor is that pro still photographers have long favored full-frame imagers precisely for their light-gathering ability, but for shooting video of moving subjects and trying to hold the image in sharp focus, full-frame cameras can become more of a handicap than an advantage. In the end, it’s nice to have choices, whether you favor smaller or larger sensor cameras.
Keep in mind that for around the same price neighborhood as the X-H1 and GH5s, you can also consider a new crop of 4K-capable video cameras from Sony, Panasonic and Canon. Models like Sony’s new FDR-AX700, the consumer-end version of the company’s new trio of 4K camcorders, offers face and subject tracking, S-Log recording in a camcorder-centric design. Consumer video cameras in this range are beginning to also overlap into formerly pro-only features like 4K 60p, Log recording and XLR audio inputs. These newer-generation camcorders offer more video-friendly features, like servo-capable fixed lenses, built-in ND filters and a form factor that’s generally better for handheld shooting video, too. The GH5s and Fujifilm X-H1 are still intended for the photographer branching into video production or the videographer who needs to supply stills as well as video, since both shoot beautiful, high-resolution still images as well as high-end 4K DCI video.
The good news is that if you can accept some operational and handling compromises, either the GH5s or the X-H1 are fully capable of stunning images, both stills and video, and both come at a reasonable cost for the robust feature sets they give you.