This article is a comparison of the specifications of the Sony A7s, the Panasonic GH4 and the Canon 1DC cameras, with currently available information – to know how they fare against each other for their 4K videos. I have left out the Blackmagic Production camera and the Sony FS700 because I wanted to focus on ‘DSLR’ cameras.

Here are our contenders:

Important: Some of the information is unverified. Some are just rumors. Therefore, don’t take this comparison seriously. Don’t take the prices or the specifications seriously either.

The basics

Let’s start with the camera bodies:

Canon 1DC GH4 GH4 with YAGH Sony A7s + Atomos Shogun
Price of Camera body $9,999 $1,698 $3,298 $4,493
Included Accessories LC-E4N Battery and Charger, Cables, Strap, Eyecup, RAW software Battery pack, Battery Charger with AC Cable, Body Cap, USB Cable, Shoulder Strap Battery pack, Battery Charger with AC Cable, Body Cap, USB Cable, Shoulder Strap, YAGH attachment 2 x NP-FW50 Battery, Charger, AC Adapter, USB Cable, Body Cap, Shoulder Strap, Atomos Shogun
Warranty

12 months

Lens Mount Active EF mount Active Micro Four Thirds Active Micro Four Thirds Sony E mount

The list of accessories is not complete. It’s interesting to see the Sony ship with two batteries. Otherwise, they’re all pretty much even.

The GH4 is the cheapest 4K option we have today. Even with the DMW-YAGH interface unit (package price) it is more than $1,000 cheaper than the Sony A7s with the Shogun.

What about size? How do these cameras stack up for travel and portability? Here’s a comparison (somewhat to scale):

Let’s put it this way. All of them are big and bulky in their ‘full avatars’ (the 1DC has only one). The GH4, though, is the lightest without the unit. It’s half a Sony A7s and one third (!!) a Canon 1DC. All in all, every option sucks on the ergonomics front.

Based on price, weight and size, the GH4 is the clear winner here.


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Comparison of sensors

Here’s how the camera sensors compare:

Canon 1DC GH4 GH4 with YAGH Sony A7s + Shogun
Sensor 36mm x 24mm 17.3mm x 13 mm 17.3mm x 13 mm 35.8 x 23.9 mm
Horizontal Crop Factor based on FF 35mm 1.3 (for 4K video, 1:1 1080p mode) 2.3x (for 4K video) 2.3x (for 4K video) 1x
Required lens resolution 147 lpmm 237 lpmm 237 lpmm 113 lpmm
Maximum Resolution 4096×2160 4096×2160 4096×2160 3840×2160
ISO Range 50-51200 200-25600 200-25600 100- 102400
Shutter

Rolling

Let me put it this way. If you wanted a 50mm full frame (35mm) equivalent, you’d need these focal lengths:

  • 1DC – 38mm
  • GH4 – 21mm
  • Sony A7s – 50mm

To get a 21mm, you’d need:

  • 1DC – 16mm
  • GH4 – 9mm
  • Sony A7s – 21mm

The differences are not insignificant. You would need top quality lenses for all cameras to really make 4K shine. However, the Sony A7s will be the most forgiving. Furthermore, its lens mount allows you to use practically any lens that covers full frame.

On the other hand, the GH4 has one cool ‘friend’, the Metabones Speed Booster. With such an ally, I’d call the lens mount issue a tie.

Resolution-wise, I don’t see the point in worrying about Ultra HD and 4K. They’re all the same.

The size of the sensor allows one to play with depth of field. The GH4 gives you more depth, while the Sony A7s will give you shallow depth of field. Neither is a weakness or strength. However, the Sony A7s has one advantage. It can provide both shallow and deep shots, while the GH4 will struggle to match Sony, even with the Speed Booster.

Where Sony really pulls away is ISO. Its ISO performance is off the charts. Here’s a video test:

Current ISO tests on the GH4 and the 1DC show they are nowhere near the performance of the A7s.

Based on sensor size and especially ISO performance, this one goes to the Sony A7s.

Comparison of video features

What kind of 4K do you get anyway?

Canon 1DC GH4 GH4 with YAGH Sony A7s + Shogun
Frame rates at max. resolution 24p, 25p 23.98p, 25p, 29.97p 23.98p, 25p, 29.97p 24p, 25p, 30p
Claimed Dynamic Range 12 stops 11 stops 11 stops 12 stops
Recording Format/Codec for 4K MJPEG Interframe H.264 (IPB) Does not record Prores
Recording Format/Codec for 1080p ALL-I H.264 ALL-I H.264 Does not record Prores, DNxHD, XAVC-S
Data rate, 4K 546 Mbps 100 Mbps Uncompressed 880 Mbps
Color information, 4K internal 8-bit 4:2:2 8-bit 4:2:0  10-bit 4:2:2 Does not record
Color information, 4K HDMI 8-bit 4:2:2  10-bit 4:2:2 Passes to SDI 8-bit 4:2:2

The best data rate from the GH4 internally is 100 Mbps at 30p. That’s a lot of compression for 4K. It’s the equivalent of 25 Mbps AVCHD for 1080p. The YAGH interface does not record video, it just splits it up for SDI output and XLR input. Moreover, while using the unit, you can’t record 4K to an internal SD card anyway.

Don’t be misguided by 8-bit vs 10-bit depth, they’re all about the same in the real world, even for grading purposes. Even so, the Sony A7s and the 1DC are on par, while the GH4 will need a recorder like the Shogun to get 10-bit 4:2:2.

What about media used? Here’s a comparison:

Canon 1DC GH4 GH4 with YAGH Sony A7s + Shogun
Media Compact Flash SDXC n/a SSD
Market price per GB $3.5/GB $1.5/GB n/a $0.7/GB
Price per second of 4K $0.24 $0.02 $0.56 $0.08
Price per hour of 4K $859.95 $67.50 $2,006.55 $277.20

Obviously, recording uncompressed 4K is a nightmare beyond imagination, so let’s leave that out. SSDs are cheaper than SDXC cards by half. CF cards are twice as more expensive as SDXC cards. Even so, going by the data rates of these systems, the cheapest is the GH4, for its internal codec. If you used a Shogun to record 4K off all three cameras, you’d get the same price ratios.

The 1DC, though, is seriously expensive, not only to own, but also as far as media is concerned.

Finally, let’s come to frame rates. The 1DC fails here (comparison-wise) because it lacks 30p. The GH4 can go up to 96 fps in 1080p, while the Sony A7s can go up to 60p in 1080p and 120 fps in 720p mode.

Overall, I have to give this one to the Sony A7s. Even though it ties with the 1DC on chroma subsampling and bit depth, it wins out on codec and frame rates.

The final image quality is purely a subjective issue, though I feel all these cameras will output similar quality at their best ratings.

Comparison of audio features

Here’s a look at the audio features:

Canon 1DC GH4 GH4 with YAGH Sony A7s + Shogun
3.5mm TRS headphone jack 1 1 1 1
Microphone inputs 3.5mm stereo x1 3.5mm stereo x1 XLR x2 3.5mm stereo x1
Audio Specs LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit LPCM/Dolby Digital AC-3 16-bit 48 KHz, 2 channels LPCM/Dolby Digital AC-3 16-bit 48 KHz, 2 channels LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit
Audio levels Yes Yes Yes Yes

The Sony A7s can also take XLR inputs via the XLR-K1M adapter and mic kit ($798). The Shogun can also input XLR via a breakout Lemo cable.

All said and done, they’re crap, internally. The GH4+YAGH and the Sony A7s fare equally well, because they allow for XLR inputs at least.

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Comparison of miscellaneous features

Of course, there is much more to a camera than its audio and video features. Here are a few important things that affect usage:

Canon 1DC GH4 GH4 with YAGH Sony A7s + Shogun
Connectors HDMI HDMI 3G-SDI, HDMI 12G-SDI (Actually 3G-SDI)
Monitor 3.2″ LCD (1.04M dots) 3″ OLED (1.04M dots) n/a 3″ LCD (0.92M dots)
LANC inputs No No No Yes
Battery life 1.4 hours 2.5 hours n/a 1 hr (excluding Shogun, 4 hrs)
Cost of one battery $165 $50 n/a $48
Cost per hour battery life $117/hr $20/hr n/a $48/hr
Weather-sealing Fully sealed Fully sealed Fully sealed Fully sealed
Viewfinder 100% Optical 100% OLED EVF n/a 100% OLED EVF
Still image shooting Yes, 18 MP RAW Yes, 16 MP RAW n/a Yes, 12 MP RAW

Let’s see where each camera wins:

  • Sony A7s – connectors, LCD, LANC
  • GH4 – battery life, cheap batteries
  • 1DC – Stills, though that’s contentious
  • YAGH – meh

Let’s go the other way. What are the major cons?

  • Sony A7s – poor battery life. Now we know why Sony includes two batteries.
  • GH4 – None really
  • 1DC – poor battery life, expensive batteries
  • YAGH – meh

The LANC port could be an important feature for some users. SDI is great for monitoring and switching. Ultimately, it is up to the user to determine how important these features are to his or her production needs. The really great feature is all of them have fully weather sealed bodies.

Who wins? I’d say the Sony A7s based on connectors, the 7″ LCD that comes with the Shogun and the LANC.

Which is cheaper to own?

Let’s just add up the basics: Initial price, media cost per hour of footage and battery cost per hour:

Canon 1DC GH4 GH4 with YAGH Sony A7s + Shogun
Price $9,999 $1,698 $3,298 $4,493
Media per hour $859.95 $67.50 $2,006.55 $277.20
Battery per hour $117 $20 $40 $48
Total (Rounded) $10,976 $1,786 $5,345 $4,818

The GH4 is way cheaper – in every department. However, for the same equivalent codec, the Sony A7s is cheaper. We can forget the 1DC as a relic that has lost its relevance. Even if Canon dropped the price by 50% it still would be too expensive for its video features. However, we should not forget that the 1DC is also a capable stills shooter, and it appeals to a super-niche audience who are not satisfied with the stills features of both the GH4 and the A7s.

This one is a little tricky to call. We’re not really comparing apples to apples. Still, I’ll think about it in this way: If, instead of the YAGH unit, I opt for the Shogun. This would equalize a lot of the features as well as the media and battery costs. In that respect, the GH4 would be cheaper.

As far as economy is concerned, the GH4 is the winner.

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Conclusion

Who wins? Here’s a recap:

Feature Winner
Size and portability GH4
Sensor size and ISO A7s
Video A7s
Audio Draw
Features A7s
Price GH4

One major pain point regarding the Sony A7s is that it always needs the external recorder for 4K. Therefore, if that is unacceptable to you, and all you need is a light and portable camera that shoots okay 4K, the Panasonic GH4 is the best deal.

On the other hand, spec-for-spec, no holds barred, the Sony A7s + Atomos Shogun is the clear winner of this comparison, at least to me.

Don’t agree? Think about it in this way: If you wanted to add any functionality from the GH4 to the A7s, you can. But can you add these to the GH4:

  • Full frame shallow depth of field look?
  • 100K ISO
  • 1x crop factor for lenses?

You can’t. The Sony A7s wins.

What do you think?

25 replies on “A Fun Comparison between the Sony A7s, the Panasonic GH4 and the Canon 1DC 4K ‘DSLR’ Cameras”

  1. keith singleton A well lit scene looks amazing on the Song A7s. Slog2 loves light – should be rated at about 250 iso anyway cause overexposing it is key (but you know marketing). The highlight roll off on my Fs7 is equal to that of my Sony A7sii and my A7rii

  2. Csmdop 
    And the statement
    “You can’t even light, in my opinion, properly to 400 on the gh4 without a noisy image”
    Can you upload some caps of that?…I tried hard not to laugh at that statement, seriously its verging on the ridiculous.
    I know plenty of GH4 users on forums everywhere that would really laugh hard at that statement.
    If that were even remotely true, apart from being outrageously wrong, then most GH4 users would be using Neat Video in Adobe AE or Premiere or whatever else ad nauseum.
    No C100 owners would be happily be using them to match with the C100, no reviewers would miss this, but apprently most have…according to you.
    You deserve to be called out…this is total BS!!

  3. Csmdop
    I can send you some screengrabs if you like…can I upload them here?
    But first lets get things in a little perspective…you offered some over the top statements and no earlier footage to support those statements…so talk of a zero portfolio in my case is a moot point, because you never offered any earlier footage to support your claims of noise at 400 ISO either…yet you made those statements.
    I know that noise at 400 is not an issue, I know noise at 650 is not an issue (you can set the ISO to smaller increments) you know that tho…no problems at 800 ISO either.
    At 1600 ISO I shot a close up of a baby indoors in pretty dim light, those skintones look far less plasticky than the ones you posted.
    The reason I even bothered to comment is because your comments and observations come across as completely biased,
    Surely you have also seen the countless vids online shot at 400 and above that dont have noise…seriously!!
    If you post those kinds of statements…somewhere along the line someone is going to question them…and I have.
    Go back and check your A/B/C s
    BTW I am not a Panasonic fanboy either, I know they have a shitty support, and I may be getting the NX1 soon…I could not care less, but statements of pathetic noise at 400 is a little too much to ignore.

  4. RPMan And yet you have nothing to offer in terms of your own testing?  So nice of you to stop by and critique from your invisible portfolio that you have put on display.

  5. Csmdop 
    Hi…I was simply expressing my experiences.
    Next year it will be a different set of cameras …so I dont really care about getting into a huge debate about cameras…soon it will be the ongoing debate about the NX1 then the GH5 or whatever.

    But…you said the Gh4 had “noise at ISO 400…which is just plain pathetic”…I stated I have never seen that, and I havent…therefore I stated the A,B.C situations and I stand by that.

    As far as wether skintones are plasticy etc…there are a lot of videos and people that specialize in interviews such as Erik Naso…who gets really good skintones, there are links to many vids on the dvxuser site which look great..
    I agree your youtube test looked horrible, the model was wearing very shiny foundation or something…not a good look, the BMCC looked bad as well.

    Any camera can look bad in the wrong lighting, I have seen plenty of skintones that look better than this…perhaps you should read Erik Naso’s guidelines on how he gets great skintones.

    Personally I dont care what camera you prefer or like, it doesnt influence what I know to be true…but as I said “noise at 400 pathetic”.
    Really? I just had to respond because I have never seen that…I would have sent the camera back if that was me.
    Cheers

  6. Csmdop Just to clarify, the A7s exhibits “a lot of noise” at 3200 in S-Log2, and even in other modes, you get noise at 1600. In side by side testing I’ve found the GH4 to be better with noise.

    My Sony A7s review is more recent, and towards the end I give you my thoughts on when the GH4 is more better suited.

  7. I think you missed our whole conversation about professionalism. Here is a test I shot with the gh4 and the blackmagic cinema camera. The noise may be hidden by compression, but the skin tones on the gh4 are clearly very plasticky among my other issues with the camera. I have a hard time believing that you don’t have any noise at ISO 1600 as I have only seen a camera such as the A7s display little to no noise at that level and I have shot RED, Sony F55, and many other professional digital cinema cameras. I have done none of the above in your ABC and I am also an artist by trade with an eye for details because that’s what my job as a freelancer in the film industry is and requires. Let’s all stop taking this so personally and keep it about the camera, please. http://youtu.be/SicDr3cQeBk

  8. Csmdop

    You are getting noise, even with lights at 400 ISO…WOW how did you achieve that?
    I cant even get it if I try., even if I wind iDynamic up and have lights and expose at 400 ISO I still cant get it.
    Can you post some examples…cause I sure dont know how the hell you are getting noise at 400 ISO in the situation you describe,

  9. Csmdop 
    I have owned the GH4 for several months.filmed in many
    conditions..and done countless tests too.I have NEVER had a problem with
    noise under 800 -1600 ISO as far as 400 goes nothing even in slightly
    underexposed shots.
    Your comment noise at 400 tells me  one of three things.
    A You have either totally underexposed the shots at 400
    B You pushed the master pedestal right up, or wound all the contrast etc..out of the Cine D profile to try and get a LOG profile and tried to put it back in post.
    C If you did not do either of the above, then rest assured you had a faulty camera…I doubt it tho.
    I have played my stuff to many different people and not a single one has ever said I see noise.
    I
    am an artist by trade (that is I build 3d models, create textures and
    build worlds) so I have probably a better eye for details and flaws than
    most do, I have to spot details, my income depends on it.I
    find the GH4 noise complaint comes mainly from users that never really
    learnt the camera, and blame the camera for their lack of knowledge.

  10. I guess I like the challenge of creating a heightened reality, where even the spookiest, dark and blue-ish moonlit scenes, with genuinely dark shadows, is actually a well lit set, that can be brought down in post in tone and such. Your point about latitude and options the Sony a7s have are all positives, to be taken advantage of. Especially in jobs where one has no control over lighting, and needs to take in information however it can. In features, we owe it to the audience to light so well that it is tough to go more than 15 to 20 setups a day indoors. To add touches that make shots more visually arresting and convey the story, mood, style.

  11. Also my gripe with the gh4 is that in proper lighting it will still produce a noisy image. You rate cameras at a native ISO so you light to that. You can’t even light, in my opinion, properly to 400 on the gh4 without a noisy image.

  12. Sorry, I should have given you a more detailed response. I just have an adverse reaction to posts like these. Yes, lighting is key and it is very true that shadows are not truly the shadows you see on screen until they reach grading. That being said, the gh4 is much more of a studio/production camera as the folks at blackmagic have seemed to deem their own camera that cannot handle or produce much latitude. That is the old way of film making however. What you are doing here is very much the new way of filmmaking, comparing cameras based on pure technical data. I could shoot a 10k through a window directly at an actor and bring all shadows up to f4 but even on “real” film sets nowadays you’re seeing less and less of a budget–or at least an expectation for doing more with less–for lighting and camera. Let’s be honest, neither of us are celebrated Hollywood DPs. But when I look at these cameras out of my own personal experience with them and using them, the A7s is the clear winner. You wouldn’t know this looking at it on paper. 8 bit? No xlr? No YAGH? How could it be better? The answer is in the eye of the beholder, so I guess if you have used all these cameras and your eye prefers the gh4 better than so be it. But, please, let’s not devolve to insults of who works on “real” films anymore. I don’t even think half the folks on the cinematographers listserv work on a 100 million dollar movie half the time. Let’s talk objectively about what these cameras do for us on the field, and if we compare to “real” film sets then at least compare to a camera like the Alexa and not just prosumer models.

  13. Depends. Are you making a real movie or not? Real movies require careful lighting by experienced technicians/artists in their own right, particularly the DP. Even when low romantic or spooky lighting is concerned, with well placed shadows, even those have to be properly lit to work on film. A true moviemaker looks forward to careful lighting and that takes time, money, equipment and experienced pros. Thinking you will make a pro movie without that shows lack of apprecuation of craft, a hackish attitude. GH4 firces you to be a pro. Ain’t a bad thing.

  14. the gh4 is noisy, but you can get extremely shallow depth of field shots quite easily, tbh. (i also own a canon 5DmkII and have been very surprised at how easily i can reach a very very narrow depth of field on the gh4)

    also, the gh4 – contrary to this post – does indeed sport a LANC remote slot. 

    the a7s wins hands down in the ISO department, but i’ve been getting fantastic footage out of the gh4 and with a bit of neat video magic you can solve most of the noise issues as well. 

    can’t beat it for the money. will probs buy an a7s as well for the full-frame (no crop factor), low-light performance as well as soon as i can afford it. plus the shogun as it will get better quality 4K out of the gh4 (10-bit 4:2:2) and 4K period out of the a7s

  15. This is silly. Having used and own both the gh4 (sold it) and the a7s (still own it) this is pretty misleading. The gh4 is noisy even at ISO 400 which is pathetic. The A7s is a far superior camera in all ways. Tech spec comparisons like these need field testing in order to be legitimate.

  16. Thank you so much for this interesting detailed comparison. 

    What do you think about a  5D mark III + Magic Lantern + Atomos Shogun ?

  17. GREAT ARTICLE!!!!
    Small correction though, Video ISO in GH4 maxes out at 6400 only. Here’s the test I did that lead me to this discovery. https://vimeo.com/90885582

  18. Sareesh Sudhakaran SittipongKongtong I switch frame rates when i’m shooting at 24… then to achieve a very slow motion feel i switch to NTSC in order to get 60FPS. When conformed in post on a  24FPS timeline, you get 40% speed.

  19. Thank for this comparison. Your information did not cover the whole fact about camera spec. The GH4 can record true 24p in both HD and 4K, It is only the camera that can switch from NTSC, PAL or 24Hz. And the battery life of GH4 can last more than 4 hours.
    Best Regards,
    Sittipong Kongtong.

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