Even though both the Panasonic GH5 (Amazon, B&H) and Sony a7S II / Sony a7R II shoot stills, I will be focusing only on the video-side of things. This eliminates one major advantage of the a7R II, 42 MP stills, but it still has one ace up its sleeve for video work.
Let’s start with the sensor.
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. For accurate information please consult manufacturers’ websites and data. Don’t take any decisions based on this comparison.
One of the most important differences between the two cameras is the sensor size. Your choice of camera could completely depend on this one factor alone.
If you want the full-frame aesthetic obviously your choice is made for you. On the other hand, if you just want shallow depth of field and are not overly concerned with low light performance, then it’s a tougher decision.
Here’s how the sensors compare:
The Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor is exactly half in each dimension, and one-fourth the area of a full frame 35mm sensor. This means you have a crop factor of exactly two.
So whatever lens you need in the 35mm equivalent, you’ll just need to divide by two to get the focal length for MFT. The only exception to this rule is when you’re using the Speed Booster. E.g., a 50mm lens in full frame would be a 25mm lens on the GH5.
Here’s how the camera sensors compare:
|Camera||Sensor Size (mm)||Horizontal Crop Factor||Maximum Resolution in Video||ISO Range|
|Panasonic GH5||17.3×13||2||4096×2160 (5K Anamorphic Mode with a future firmware update)||200-25,600|
|Sony a7S II||36×24||1||3840×2160||100-102,400|
What are the advantages of full frame over MFT?
- The full frame look. Just like with the medium format look, you can’t replicate the 35mm look with Speed Boosters, no matter how you slice the math.
- Low light performance. For the same megapixels a full frame sensor will have a larger photosites and will perform better in low light with lesser noise. You can’t cheat the laws of physics. The ISO range tells it like it is.
- Better dynamic range. Lesser noise also means better dynamic range, no two ways about it.
However, MFT is not without its own advantages:
- If you want deeper focus, then MFT will make your life a lot easier.
- The lenses only have to cover a smaller area, so can be a lot smaller and lighter. This is especially true of zooms.
- Auto focus and image stabilization should theoretically work much faster because of the smaller area the algorithm needs to cover. In practice, though, this is hard to quantify. Also, because the lenses are lighter, the motors can be lighter too.
- If and when the anamorphic 4:3 5K mode (5184 pixels horizontally) is released, it would make the GH5 a one-of-a-kind beast. However, good anamorphic lenses are expensive, and you won’t be able to use the Speed Booster and a PL adapter at the same time.
MFT has a smaller sensor, so the camera should theoretically be smaller. Unfortunately, that’s not true. The camera still needs:
- A grip (your hand is not getting any smaller)
- Space for a battery and SD card
- Cooling solution to handle 4K video in real-time
- Audio amplifiers
- Controls that are ergonomic
- A rugged lens mount
- The GH5 is weather proof, while the a7S II is weather resistant, so in real-world terms, the sizes are not at all what you’d expect them to be:
If you add a Speed Booster to get MFT to mimic the shallow depth of field capabilities of a full frame sensor, you are adding back bulk so the lighter lenses are no longer an advantage. The GH5 is bigger, bulkier and slightly heavier. On the other hand, the camera will be more balanced in your hands, instead of being front-heavy like the Sony cameras.
If you can get past the size of the sensor and body, the next important thing is dynamic range.
The Sony a7S II achieves about 13 stops in S-Log3 mode, and the a7R II comes close in S-Log2. The GH5 can do about 12, as confirmed by Panasonic. It has similar dynamic range to the GH4. The things I was not impressed by of the GH4:
- Lesser dynamic range (you can’t do anything about that)
- Unnaturally sharp images and aliasing (it is better in the GH5, there is no AA filter anymore, and they have improved the processing)
- Video-like look. Though if you shoot Log this should not be a deal-breaker with the GH5.
So, if you absolutely want the best cinematic quality with shallow depth of field, the a7S II and a7R II are clearly the front runners. But not so fast! It’s in the other things the GH5 must overtake the a7S II. To summarize:
|Camera||Price of Camera body^||Included Accessories /Software*||Warranty||Lens Mount|
|Panasonic GH5||$1,997||Body Cap, Battery, Charger, HDMI Lock, USB Cable||12 months||Active MFT|
|Sony a7S II||$2,698||Body Cap, Battery, Charger, HDMI Lock, USB Cable||12 months||Active Sony E|
- *The list of accessories might not be complete, and might change from region to region.
- ^As of February 2017, prices from B&H
I have first hand experience with Sony sales and service, and I have friends who own the GH4 and have had to visit the service center. Truth be told, neither are as good as Canon’s service. They’re both below average, let’s leave it at that.
4K Recording Options
What kind of 4K do you get anyway?
|Camera||Frame rates at 4K (Internal)||Resolution^||Built-in ND?||Shutter|
|Panasonic GH5||23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 50p, 59.94p*||4096×2160 / 3840×2160||No||Rolling|
|Sony a7S II and a7R II||23.98p, 25p, 30p||3840×2160||No|
- *Up to 30p in 4K and 50/60p in UHD. But who cares?
- ^The GH5 can also shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, so you can use existing anamorphic adapters.
The huge deal is the GH5 can shoot 4K 60p internally, with a firmware update. With an external recorder, you can shoot 10-bit 4:2:2 4K 60p externally as well.
Also, the rolling shutter performance of the GH5 has considerably been improved through a 1.7x faster sensor readout (as compared to the GH4).
As far as 1080p is concerned, the GH5 can record up to 180 fps, while the Sony cameras only achieve 120 fps.
Lastly, when the anamorphic mode option arrives, it would put the GH5 in a class by itself.
Now let’s look at what’s being recorded: codec, data rates and color (for 4K only. Other resolutions are ignored):
|Camera||Best Internal Recording Format (4K)||Max. Data Rate||Bit Depth||Chroma subsampling|
|Panasonic GH5||H.264 (future H.265, all-Intra*)||150 Mbps (400 Mbps future)||8-bit (10-bit coming soon)||4:2:0 (4:2:2 coming soon)|
|a7S II and a7R II||H.264 as XAVC-S||100 Mbps||8-bit||4:2:0|
- *Initial reports suggest it will be MP4 family (H.264 all-Intra) though some commentators suggest it might be H.265. Let’s wait and see.
The 10-bit 4:2:2 mode is definitely a huge deal. If Panasonic is not bluffing, the colors are going to be way better, and the banding is going to be much lesser. They have also implemented a noise reduction algorithm. Initial reports say the GH5 has usable ISO to 3200, which is good enough for most work.
What this means is you can actually use V-Log (Panasonic’s version of Log) to color grade, and create LUTs of your own. Panasonic will also allow you to upload LUTs to the camera (those compatible with the Varicam). On the other hand, Sony’s S-Log3 needs a lot of work in color grading, and any major operation invites banding across the board. The higher data rate, better bit depth and chroma subsampling on the GH5 make this a no-brainer. And think about the chroma keying potential as well!
Finally, the GH5 also has HLG for HDR imagery. To know more about HLG, click here. Unfortunately, HDR10 isn’t supported, so you’ll need a TV compatible with HLG.
What about the media used? Here’s a comparison:
|Camera||Media for 4K||Market price per GB*||Price per second of 4K* @24p||Price per hour of 4K* @24p|
|Panasonic GH5||SDXC V60 (U3 for 150 Mbps)^||$0.65/GB||$0.012||$43.5|
|Sony a7S II||SDXC U3||$0.65/GB||$0.008||$29|
- *150 Mbps only. Values rounded off. If you’re only recording 150 Mbps, then both are similar. 400 Mbps will require a higher-class card not yet available. It will be more expensive.
- ^Class 10 (V10) could record up to 10 MB/s (80 Mbps). U3 (or V30) can record up to 30 MB/s (240 Mbps). V60 can record up to 60 MB/s (480 Mbps). There’s a V90 as well!
To record 400 Mbps internally, you’ll need the V60 classification of SDXC cards, coming soon. Early adopters must also pay a premium for them.
However, the major point of differentiation is the GH5 has dual SD card slots, so you can record backups. I’m not sure how this will work with the 400 Mbps option, though.
Comparison of audio features
Here’s a look at the audio features:
|Camera||3.5mm TRS headphone jack||Microphone inputs||Audio Specs||Audio levels|
|Panasonic GH5||1||3.5mm TRS||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit||Yes|
|Sony a7S II||1||3.5mm TRS||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 16 bit||Yes|
|Sony a7R II||1||3.5mm TRS||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 16 bit||Yes|
The “little” things
The little things make all the difference – the stuff you only learn about after having used a camera for a while:
- Ergonomics, toughness and usability
- Video ports, viewfinder and monitor
- Timecode, wireless and remote control
- Recording limit
- Digital Zoom
Ergonomics, usability and toughness
Both the a7S II and a7R II are well-built and tough. However, the GH5 is guaranteed to be weatherproof as well as freeze-proof (which means it can operate to about -10 degrees Centigrade). The body is made of magnesium alloy, and Panasonic means business with this camera.
Also, the GH5 has a joystick at the back with some cool features, like controlling the focus point even while looking through the viewfinder.
One major point of debate is the placement of the record button:
I’m also not a fan of the ISO and WB buttons, they’re so ganged up together. Luckily you can customize the buttons and menu so I’ll reserve final judgement until after my review. It’s not like the Sony is any better, they probably have one of the worst menus possible on cameras.
Video ports, viewfinder and monitor
|Camera||Video Ports Out||EVF||Back Monitor||Exposure and focus aids*|
|Panasonic GH5||HDMI A Full Size||Yes**||3.2″ OLED touchscreen||H, FP, Z, S|
|Sony a7S II||HDMI D Micro||Yes**||3″ LCD (409K pixels)||Z, FP, Z|
|Sony a7R II||HDMI D Micro||Yes**||3″ LCD (409K pixels)||Z, FP, Z|
- *Key: H – histogram, FP – focus peaking, Z – Zebras, S – Waveform and Vectorscopes
- **Not really useful for cinema/video work. The EVF of the GH5 is better, though, if that’s important to you.
The addition of a waveform and vectorscope mean the GH5 is now a professional camera. You don’t need an external monitor or recorder to expose (though they are still useful), and it greatly increases the versatility of the GH5. Way to go, Panasonic!
The GH5 has a touchscreen OLED. I’m ambivalent about this, but I’ll give this one the GH5 because it is a flip screen and you can even close it to protect it from the elements. Having scratched both my a7S II and a7R II I think I know a thing or two about the subject.
Timecode, wireless and remote control
|Camera||Timecode||Genlock||Remote Control*||Wireless Video Streaming^|
|Sony a7S II||Yes||No||USB||No|
|Sony a7R II||Yes||No||USB||No|
- *2.5mm jack with the DMW-RSL1, which is a rudimentary shutter release cable, nothing too exciting. Sony doesn’t do very well either.
- ^All of these cameras can have wireless connectivity, but wireless video streaming is a different matter
The a7S II and a7R II have a recording limit of 30 minutes. The GH5 has no recording limit. Live event coverage? GH5. It would be interesting to see how long it will take for the camera to overheat.
The Sony a7R II has an APS-mode in 4K where you can punch in to about 1.5x. This extends the zoom range of any lens, and is a very useful feature. This is the ace for the a7R II that neither the a7S II or GH5 can have due to the smaller resolution.
All cameras have focus peaking. If you use native lenses, you will get autofocus too. I’ll reserve judgement until I test the GH5, though it has one useful feature. You can pre-define three focus points for video so you can move between them in a pinch. I’m not sure how useful it’ll be but it’s something Sony doesn’t offer.
Battery life and Power
All the features in the world are useless if you have to hire a donkey to carry your batteries:
|Camera||Battery life^||Cost of one battery||Cost per hour battery life||Connectors|
|Panasonic GH5||2 hours||$52||$26/hr||Dummy*|
|Sony a7S II||30 min||$50||$100/hr||Dummy/USB|
|Sony a7R II||30 min||$50||$100/hr||Dummy/USB|
- * I’m not sure the GH5 can be powered via USB. It is USB 3.0.
- ^All are estimates for continuous 4K recording, and could be totally wrong. The GH5 consumes about 20% more power than the GH4.
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:
|Camera||Price||Media per hour*||Battery per hour||Total (Rounded)|
|Sony a7S II||$2,698||$29||$100||$2,827|
|Sony a7R II||$2,898||$29||$100||$3,027|
- *Assuming 150 Mbps, otherwise the GH5 will be slightly more expensive
The GH5 is cheaper no way you slice it. But there’s more.
Lenses and Stabilization
Factor in a few lenses and the price differential is clearer:
|24-70mm f/2.8||$2,198||12-35mm f/2.8||$998|
|70-200mm f/2.8||$2,598||35-100mm f/2.8||$1,098|
|50mm f/1.8||$248||25mm f/1.7||$248|
The cost of Panasonic lenses compared to Sony is half or less. With third-party lenses you could get closer. However, you need Panasonic lenses to use the Dual IS feature.
How Dual IS works
Panasonic has incorporated in-body 5-axis image stabilization (BIS) with the GH5. However, Panasonic lenses also have dual-axis Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Won’t they clash?
No. Using the internal processor, the camera is able to combine both features depending on the focal length and shooting conditions (by which I mean aperture and shutter speed). Using a high-precision gyro system the GH5 is able to maximize stabilization.
What if you are not using Panasonic lenses? You get stabilization with manual lenses with the 5-axis BIS, though you’d have to dial in the focal length. This is similar to how the a7R II and a7S II operate. Of a few tests I’ve seen so far, the GH5 does very well, especially with gimbals:
I’ll test this out more thoroughly once I have my camera.
How the Speed Booster works
So far we don’t know if it works completely or not, even though there have been a few tests out already. The Speed Booster recommended for the GH4 is the Metabones T Speed Booster XL 0.64x (Amazon, B&H):
So the XL gives us a crop factor of 0.64x with an aperture increase of 1.33 stops. Here are a couple of examples to help you understand this:
- 50mm f/1.8 lens equivalent becomes a 32mm f/1.0
- 100mm f/2.8 lens equivalent becomes a 64mm f/1.8
Now here’s the problem. The XL was designed for a smaller sensor area of the GH4 (however Metabones claims it covers the full area), because it cropped the sensor for 4K. The GH5 uses the full sensor area, no cropping, so there are some reports of wide angle lenses vignetting with the XL. So either a new firmware update (won’t help with vignetting) or a completely new adapter might be required.
The other problem with Speed Boosters are that you can’t use Panasonic or any MFT lenses. You’re stuck to Canon or Nikon lenses, so no dual IS benefits. Also, the added size of the Canikon glass as well as the Speed Booster (which has optical elements in it) will make the entire kit a lot heavier.
The last major problem with the Speed Booster is it reduces resolution. After all you’re adding an optical element in front of your lens, so this is inevitable. There are compromises with the Speed Booster, so unless you absolutely need wide angle and shallow depth of field (both can be had with MFT lenses) the Speed Booster might not be such an attractive purchase, especially because it’s not cheap!
First, here’s a recap:
|Sensor and ISO||a7S II|
|Codecs and Color||GH5|
|Lenses||Relative, though by size, weight and cost the GH5 wins|
|Media||Tie, though the GH5 will need more expensive media for 400 Mbps|
|Ports and Monitoring||GH5|
|Most value for money||GH5|
As far as the a7S II is concerned, there are only two major advantages over the GH5:
- Better dynamic range
- Excellent low light ability
As far as the a7R II is concerned, there are only two major advantages over the GH5:
- Better dynamic range
- APS-C zoom feature
In every other respect, the GH5 wins.
Is that extra dynamic range really that important? That’s for you to decide. 12 stops is still great, and for most work it shouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t really give too much importance to this, because the a7S II and a7R II screw up that advantage with color compression and low data rates. As an all round video camera in the mirrorless form factor, the Panasonic GH5 (Amazon, B&H) is the new king. Here’s the launch video (beta firmware):
When I get hold of the camera end of March or early April, I will review it and we’ll know for sure. In the mean time, what do you think?