Panasonic Releases the GH4, Shoots Severly Limited 4K (only 100 Mbps) but is the First DSLR to Offer Variable Frame Rate (VFR)

By Sareesh Sudhakaran

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If you just woke up after a few weeks of sleeping, Panasonic has announced the GH4, with good news and maybe some bad news.

First of all, if you want to read the long press release, here it is. I’m only going to focus on the video aspects of the camera.

Video Modes

In a nutshell:

  • Both 4K Cinema and Ultra HD in 23.976p, 25p and 29.97p.
  • 1080p in 23.976p, 25p, 29.97p, 50p and 59.94p.
  • Variable frame rate (from 2 to 96 fps) available in 1080p only.
  • There is a 2.3x crop on this camera for 4K video, and not 2x as micro four thirds are.
  •  
    Here’s the full list:

    MOV
    59.94Hz
    [4K] 3840×2160, 29.97p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [4K] 3840×2160, 23.98p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 59.94p, 29.97p,  23.98p, 200Mbps(ALL-Intra)/100Mbps(IPB)/50Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    50.0Hz
    [4K] 3840×2160, 25.00p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 50.00p, 25.00p, 200Mbps(ALL-Intra)/100Mbps(IPB)/50Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    24.0Hz
    [C4K] 4096×2160, 24.00p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [4K] 3840×2160, 24.00p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 24.00p, 200Mbps(ALL-Intra)/100Mbps(IPB)/50Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    MP4
    59.94Hz
    [4K] 3840×2160, 29.97p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM/AAC
    [4K] 3840×2160, 23.98p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 59.94p, 29.97p,  23.98p, 200Mbps(ALL-Intra)/100Mbps(IPB)/50Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 59.94p, 28Mbps(IPB), AAC
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 29.97p, 20Mbps(IPB), AAC
    [HD] 1280×720, 29.97p, 10Mbps(IPB), AAC
    [VGA] 640×480, 29.97p, 4Mbps(IPB), AAC
    50.0Hz
    [4K] 3840×2160, 25.00p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM/AAC
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 50.00p, 25.00p, 200Mbps(ALL-Intra)/100Mbps(IPB)/50Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 50.00p, 28Mbps(IPB), AAC
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 25.00p, 20Mbps(IPB), AAC
    [HD] 1280×720, 25.00p, 10Mbps(IPB), AAC
    [VGA] 640×480, 25.00p, 4Mbps(IPB), AAC
    24.0Hz
    [C4K] 4096×2160, 24.00p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [4K] 3840×2160, 24.00p, 100Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 24.00p, 200Mbps(ALL-Intra)/100Mbps(IPB)/50Mbps(IPB), LPCM
    AVCHD
    59.94Hz
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 59.94p, 28Mbps(IPB), Dolby Digital
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 59.94i, 24Mbps(IPB), Dolby Digital (sensor output: 29.97fps)
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 59.94i, 17Mbps(IPB), Dolby Digital (sensor output: 59.94fps)
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 23.98p, 24Mbps(IPB), Dolby Digital
    50.0Hz
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 50.00p, 28Mbps(IPB), Dolby Digital
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 50.00i, 24Mbps(IPB), Dolby Digital (sensor output: 25.00fps)
    [FHD] 1920×1080, 50.00i, 17Mbps(IPB), Dolby Digital (sensor output: 50.00fps)

     

    VFR (Variable Frame Rate) Matrix
    59.94Hz
    MOV/FHD/100Mbps/29.97p, MP4(LPCM)/FHD/100Mbps/29.97p:
    2fps, 15fps, 26fps, 28fps, 30fps, 32fps, 34fps, 45fps, 60fps, 75fps, 90fps, 96fps
    MOV/FHD/100Mbps/23.98p, MP4(LPCM)/FHD/100Mbps/23.98p:
    2fps, 12fps, 20fps, 22fps, 24fps, 26fps, 28fps, 36fps, 48fps, 60fps, 72fps, 84fps, 96fps
    AVCHD/FHD/24Mbps/29.97p:
    2fps, 15fps, 26fps, 28fps, 30fps, 32fps, 34fps, 45fps, 60fps
    AVCHD/FHD/24Mbps/23.98p:
    2fps, 12fps, 20fps, 22fps, 24fps, 26fps, 28fps, 36fps, 48fps, 60fps
    50.00Hz
    MOV/FHD/100Mbps/25.00p, MP4(LPCM)/FHD/100Mbps/25.00p:
    2fps, 12fps, 21fps, 23fps, 25fps, 27fps, 30fps, 37fps, 50fps, 62fps, 75fps, 96fps
    AVCHD/FHD/24Mbps/25.00p:
    2fps, 12fps, 21fps, 23fps, 25fps, 27fps, 30fps, 37fps, 50fps
    24.00Hz
    MOV/FHD/100Mbps/24.00p, MP4(LPCM)/FHD/100Mbps/24.00p:
    2fps, 12fps, 20fps, 22fps, 24fps, 26fps, 28fps, 36fps, 48fps, 60fps, 72fps, 84fps, 96fps

    Color and Codec

    Internal video is 8-bit 4:2:2 Rec. 709. Both 4K and 1080p.

    There are three codecs available (all variants of H.264):

  • ALL-I 200 Mbps – 1080p only
  • IPB 100 Mbps – 1080p and 4K
  • IPB 50 Mbps – 1080p only
  •  
    As you can see, 4K is limited to 100 Mbps interframe. It sounds like a lot, but 100 Mbps 4K is the equivalent of 25 Mbps 1080p or AVCHD quality. If you’re planning on grading this, you might end up being disappointed.

    I really don’t understand why 1080p is 200 Mbps, equivalent to Prores HQ but with the heavy H.264 compression? It is going to put more strain on computers, and editing 200 Mbps H.264 is going to be harder than 220 Mbps Prores. Maybe Panasonic is indicating there will be no 1080p cameras from here on out, and this is it. Does this mean the AF100 upgrade might not be coming? We’ll see.

    I am severely disappointed with the data rate on 4K. Another thing is the camera is limited to a maximum recording time of 30 minutes depending on the resolution. How much will it be for 4K? If it can record 30 minutes of 200 Mbps, it will probably record 15 minutes of 4K at 100 Mbps, but let’s see if that is the case.

    GH4 with Adapter

    HDMI out

    This one is strange too.

    HDMI output is either:

  • 4:2:2 / 8-bit – you can record internally at the same time at 4:2:0
  • 4:2:2 / 10-bit- you can’t record internally at the same time, but can record this signal using an external recorder.
  •  
    It is geared to output 4K in 10-bit mode as well, which might be a relief if someone ever comes out with a recorder that can record it in Prores HQ. This would definitely be worth it. We’ll have to wait for the camera to release to know more.

    The Interface Unit (DMW-YAGH)

    The interface unit is definitely not ergonomic, and is probably another indication that the AF100 upgrade isn’t coming (but who knows?). It is connected to pins at the bottom of the camera, and the HDMI port:

    Panasonic GH4

    YAGH

  • It has 4 SDI ports, all OUT, for 10-bit 4:2:2 HD and 4K.
  • It has a TC IN, so will it offer genlock?
  • It has two XLR inputs
  • It has one DC XLR/LEMO input for power
  • It has an HDMI out port
  • It has an HDMI IN port, through which the unit receives its signal. This shows clearly that the unit cannot give you anything better than the HDMI out.
  •  
    The addition of 4 SDI ports and a TC IN tells me Panasonic intends this camera to be broadcast worthy. I guess we need four because we probably need two for 4K, but we’ll have to wait and see how that works.

    Regarding audio, the volume levels on each channel can be controlled individually, and the unit has an LED audio level display on the back:

    GH4 Audio Unit

    Of course, there’s Phantom power, and the ability to change between Mic and Line level audio.

    So, they combined a Blackmagic HDMI to SDI converter and a Juicedlink into one unit.

    Other important features

    Here are some important features relating to video:

  • It has a rolling shutter, electronic.
  • Maximum ISO is 25600.
  • You need a UHS Speed Class 3 (U3) SDXC card for high bit rates.
  • The video has noise and chromatic aberration reduction applied in real time. It also claims to reduce moire due to its high pixel density.
  • Wi-Fi video control.
  • Fully weather sealed.
  • 200,000 shutter life.
  • Zebras available, with standard luminance levels of 16-235, 16-255 and 0-255, all 8-bit. SMPTE standard color bars as well.
  • Cine gamma modes and profiles.
  • Focus Peaking.
  • OLED monitor and EVF.
  •  

    Pricing and Availability

    According to the rumor sites, the pricing might be as follows:

  • Panasonic GH4: $1,699
  • DMW-YAGH Unit: $2,199!!
  •  
    Wait a minute! The camera price is definitely competitive for a 4K video camera, but the YAGH unit is murder! A Blackmagic HDMI to SDI converter is about $280, and a Juicedlink is about $300-$500. Of course, there isn’t a converter that can change the 4K from the HDMI to one or two SDI ports, but it’ll come soon. On the flip side, you also need a device that can recognize this 4K signal. There is no such device because there is no SDI 4K standard!

    Would anyone spend $2K for a unit for two XLR inputs and nothing else? No. You can buy a top of the line Sound Devices for that. Therefore, I must, in all seriousness, question how this unit is supposed to supply 4K content and be of practical use in 2014 if this is the case. Very strange. The saving grace might be the TC IN and 10-bit 4K 4:2:2 video that can be recorded by an external device.

    If you are planning on buying the unit, I must advise caution. Wait till everything is shipping and the reviews are out. The camera though, is another matter.

    The camera is expected to ship by March 17th.

    Is the GH4 worth $1,699?

    Depends on you entirely. But look at it from two perspectives:

    Still photography

    At the moment, the 16 MP GH4 has to go one-on-one with the following cameras:

  • 16 MP Olympus EM1 – probably the best micro four thirds camera in the world today. Price? $1,310.
  • Sony A7 (24 MP) and A7R (36 MP) – probably the hottest selling cameras in the world today. Price? $1,698.
  • 16 MP Fuji X-Pro 1 (and the XE-2) – a hugely popular APS-C X-Trans sensor camera. Price? $999.
  • The Canon 5D Mark III. Price? $3,168.
  • 36 MP Nikon D800(E). Price? $2,796.
  •  
    Would I buy the GH4 (based on the GH3) over an EM1 or an A7? I don’t think so, but I don’t know about you.

    4K video

    Check out my Fun Comparison between the Panasonic GH4 and the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K for details.

  • BMPC4K shoots 4K Prores up to 30p. Price? $2,995.
  • GoPro Hero3+ shoots 4K 15 fps. Price? $400.
  • New Sony mobile phone might shoot 4K.
  •  
    It is not long before 4K video finds itself to many cameras and phones. In another two years’ time Panasonic might come out with the GH5, but two years is a long time!

    At the moment, the GH4 is an extremely capable still camera that shoots great DSLR-quality video. It promises a lot, but it’s not clear whether it will deliver. To be really honest, I won’t consider 4K at 100 Mbps to be of professional quality, so if we’re left with 1080p, I can’t see why users should opt for the GH4 over the current GH3! What really matters, then, is the quality of the 4K video over the HDMI port. Let’s hope it delivers.

    With that note, here are a few videos that will give you a better idea of what’s to come:

    Videos

    Here’s the showcase video:

    First impression videos (take with a bag full of salt):

    A discussion by Dan Chung and Illya Friedman on the subject:

    So, what do you think? Is this the camera we’ve all been waiting for?

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    February 7, 2014