The new Panasonic LUMIX GH6 is finally here! And I had the chance to put it through its paces and hopefully answer some questions, like how does the new camera perform in the field? Did Panasonic finally manage to create a reliable autofocus system for video? Does the Micro Four Thirds even have a place in today’s mirrorless camera market? Let’s see what I can answer in this Panasonic LUMIX GH6 review! Keep reading…
Winter is slowly fading away in Austria and although it was an extremely windy day I teamed up with Helmut, who is a general manager by trade but a birdwatcher by heart to help me find out just how well Panasonic did with the new LUMIX GH6. First off, I will be honest with you guys, bird watching is completely new to me and it never really caught my attention. But after spending the day in the field with Helmut I can understand why this hobby is so relaxing to him.
As our decision to go out was spontaneous, I have to confess, I was not well equipped for the task, as I didn’t even have a proper zoom lens with me. But at the end of the day, this is a camera review and not a masterpiece for the National Geographics, and as such, I can now come back to you with a definite conclusion. The LUMIX GH6 shows strength when it comes to autofocus performance, image stabilization, video quality, and overall picture aesthetics. This camera can serve small teams of news gatherings, just as much as creators without any major hiccups. (Lowlight filming is OK, but I would not go higher than ISO3200)
In my opinion, this is the best mirrorless camera Panasonic has created so far. When using it I had the feeling of complete freedom and ease of use, meaning, there are hardly any “marketing settings” which are mostly good on paper but function poorly in the field. One good example is slow-motion – I guess we all got kind of tired seeing unusable high frame rate specification which serves no one but the manufacturer’s marketing team. But in this case, it’s not so. 240fps is absolutely clean and usable while 300fps can be very clean depending on how complex the recording scene is. By the way, both are 10bit and in HD resolution. If your production requires a 4K resolution, the highest you can dial and record is 120fps. Nice! (Continuous AF in high frame rates is depending on the lens)
Now, let me run you through what’s new and what captured my attention
Firstly, the LUMIX GH6 has a completely new Venus engine (processor) and a 25 million pixels Micro Four Thirds image sensor. I can only assume that the delay in delivering the camera to the market was partly because of the need to fine-tune these two components to work together well and within the high specifications benchmark Panasonic established.
Maximum resolution/frame rate wise, this camera can record in 5.7K up to 30p (17:9), and 5.8K in up to 30p in open gate 4×3. (I really love this mode when filming with an anamorphic lens as the freedom to re-frame your shot without losing resolution is indeed very nice). Filming in anamorphic 4×3 open gate mode in 4.4K 50/60p is also possible with the new LUMIX GH6.
Speaking of which, we have seen the “open gate” recording option in previous GH models, so I am truly hopeful that 4×3 recording can also be combined with ProRes in a future firmware update. Currently, open gate is being offered in H.265 only, and in our lab test findings, the codec tends to crash the shadows in an obvious way, especially when compared to ProRes internal recording.
Another big plus for Panasonic is that almost all the available recording formats in this camera are 10bit!
Apple ProRes Internal Recording
The LUMIX GH6 is the second mirrorless camera after the Nikon Z 9 to offer a proper in-camera recording format, and in this case, it even comes in two flavors. One can choose between two Apple ProRes variations, 4:2:2 and 4:2:2 HQ. Both are offered in 5.7K resolution and up to 30p. The difference is the higher bitrate the latter has. (Spoiler, this is my recommended Codec to work with). A future firmware update will bring additional flexibility when working with internal ProRes recording, and I will elaborate a bit more on this later.
Enhanced Autofocus Performance
Many of you might agree that the Achilles’ point of the LUMIX line of cameras is their autofocus system for video usage. In recent years this has become very noticeable, especially as other companies have made constant improvements in this field. Now, Panasonic is still relying on their contrast base DFD focusing system, yet this time, I think that I finally saw the light and am happy to report that the new camera is very capable of maintaining focus properly while filming with it. There is one fundamental condition thought, and this is the need to update ANY of the Panasonic lenses you have in your arsenal if you are after a proper AF performance. Thankfully, the update will be available for free soon. In the video you see above, I used the Panasonic LEICA 12-60mm (with updated lens firmware) and I also tried the OLYMPUS 12-100mm lens as I was very curious to see how it performs, although I’m not sure how and if Panasonic will support 3rd party lenses. All in all, the OLYMPUS lens did very well, considering the fact it is not a LUMIX lens.
Dynamic Range Boost
Well, this might be one of the most significant improvements of this new camera over its predecessors. So forget what you know about Dual ISO, meaning two separate “best ISO settings”, and welcome two constant ISO recordings (high and low) that merge into one single output. How this is done in real-time is beyond my technical expertise, but obviously, it is like having a constant HDR recording in different recording modes. But what really matters is, that it’s the first time I feel like Panasonic got it right! No more “too clean mojo-less” image, one that feels as if it’s controlled by extensive Noise Reduction. When filming in this mode, the video has a very organic feel to it, with a pleasant noise texture and not less impressive, a higher Dynamic Range indeed!
Here is what you need to know in order to enjoy the new feature:
- DR Boost (DBR) is available up to 60fps (Or less)
- Base ISO in V-log/HLG is 2000. If you are into filming in lower ISO settings, you must turn off DR Boost (Base ISO will become 250)
- Base ISO in all other picture profiles is 800 when DRB is set to “ON”.
- One will gain at least 2(!) stops of DR when using filming with DRB “ON”.
My colleague Gunther has already run our camera lab test with the LUMIX GH6 and we both agreed that DR boost must be offered by Panasonic as the default recording option and not as it is now, that the default is set to “off”.
Enhanced IBIS performance
With time, Panasonic developed a reputation of having a solid body/lens stabilization performance, but I think they did even better with this 5-Axis Dual I.S 2 system, at least with the two lenses that I’ve used. Needless to say, lenses without any built-in stabilization function can still be used as the camera body I.S still functions. If you are using an anamorphic lens, remember to dial your “squeeze ratio” for maintaining good stabilization performance.
The LUMIX GH6 inherited a similar cooling fan system as the LUMIX S1H (but at a reduced size), and the result is the possibility to record “unlimited” time when filming up to C4K/60p 4:2:2 10bit. I used ProRes 5.7K/25p and be it a long interview indoors or outdoors, I did not have any issues. In general, CFexpress cards, the camera processor, and the sensor are the ones that create the internal heat so it seems as if the cooling system is working nicely.
When it comes to audio there are many “LUMIX first” options to explore. Here are a few:
- 48kHz 24bit recording quality external or with the internal camera microphones
- 4ch audio when adding Panasonic’s XLR microphone adapter
- 96kHz 24bit audio recording when using an external microphone
- Sound monitoring channel setting is possible
- HDMI 4ch audio data output
What I really like is the new physical “audio information button” on top of the camera that allows direct access to the sound menu. Very useful indeed but with one missing function, controlling the headphones volume. As an independent shooter, it would have been really nice to have it all under one camera menu.
There are other small but essential new “goodies” that make the life of a cameraman using this camera a bit easier, such as:
- Front/back Tally light
- Front/top Recording buttons and additional possibility to “assign them around”
- The LCD monitor can be moved freely when an HDMI cable is connected
- The focus area can be enlarged during recoding (for assisting with accurate focusing)
- .CUBE files are now compatible with the GH6 camera
- Anti-rotation pinhole for tripod camera plates
- Timecode In/Out socket with bundled BNC cable
Future Firmware Update
It is nice to see that Panasonic is already raising the bar by offering even more complete filming tools and with the future firmware update one can expect the following:
- DCI 4K ProRes 422 HQ/422
- FHD ProRes 422 HQ/422
- USB-SSD Direct Recording (At this stage it is not clear what type of external recording will be available, but let’s hope for Cinema DNG option)
- HDMI 4K/120p RAW video Data Output for Atomos Ninja V+
- And more…(I took this short line from Panasonic’s press release with anticipation to be surprised…)
So far so good, but as always, here is what I wish to be improved, or at least, I see as a missed opportunity (without mentioning an internal ND filter)…
Things that needs to be improved
Let’s start by talking about the camera body design. For me, this is a COMPLETELY missed opportunity to expose an engaging new fresh design. The camera looks as if it is was from 5 years ago (Wait, this is when the GH5 was announced…). Gunther my colleague still has his trusted LUMIX GH1 and in comparison, the level of design and attention to detail is of a different class.
Next is the front record button. Unfortunately in the sample camera I have, it is MUCH too sensitive up to the point that I had to disable it altogether. I hope that production units do not suffer from this phenomenon.
Then, there is the EVF. All in all, I wish it were a higher quality to make manual focusing easier. On top, the EVF cannot be controlled over the camera menu and again, I can’t tell if it is only on my sample unit but it constantly flickers depending on how bright or dark my object of filming is. (Just to clarify, it is as if aperture or ISO are changing automatically).
Next on my list is a momentary freeze when starting to record in ProRes and it is not comfortable to work like this. BTW, playback ProRes files in-camera can result in total freeze. It happened to me a few times and if you encounter the same behavior, you will need to take the battery out in order to restore order.
Last but not least, here is a weird thing that I only noticed now (Happens with other LUMIX GH cameras too). When using manual lenses and accidentally pressing the lens release button, the picture will go black. I’m not sure if Panasonic is trying to protect some of the electronics here, but with some manual lenses, this can turn into an issue depending on where their aperture ring is.
- High resolution 4×3 open gate recording option is great to have, but currently, it is in H.265 codec only. Hopefully, Panasonic can consider having this mode with ProRes codec too.
- For achieving full Resolution functionality and recording in ProRes, make sure to be using the newest Panasonic batteries. Older ones will fit, but you will be restricted to record up to 4K MOV.
- In this new camera, one can find two media slots. Personally, I think the CFexpress is the way to go if the aim is to achieve high-resolution codec recording options, so I’m happy to see that Panasonic moved forward with this, but also included an SD card option for those who do not need the “bells and whistles” recording functions. (Mind you that there are restrictions to what can be recorded into the SD card resolution/frame rate wise.)
Let me start by asking if a Micro Four Third camera still has a valid place in today’s market. My answer is, absolutely yes, but mainly because of the vast amount of lenses out there. Originally, MFT had the upper hand when it comes to camera size, but in modern times, this advantage has disappeared. While it’s great to see Panasonic committing to this format, I’m sure it is not easy to develop two separate lines (MFT next to full-frame) considering the costs involved. I’m very curious to see how this will evolve throughout the upcoming years.
In regards to the LUMIX GH6 itself, I really like what Panasonic did here. One noticeable improvement is the overall color “pipeline”. If in the past I highlighted the fact that images are hard to grade (too reddish) and “too smooth” (Extensive noise reduction), now it is a think of the past. So all in all, It is a great overall performer.
I also want to dedicate a short paragraph to OM System, a direct competitor, which coincidently, brought their OM-1 on the market at the same. Although I did not have a chance to test their new camera, it seems as if there is very little to compare, besides the sensor size. If you are a filmmaker, the LUMIX GH6 might be the wiser purchase over the OM-1 as both are at the same exact price point.
Talking about price, I really wonder how the filming community will react as Pansonic is currently running a special promotion at B&H and one can get the LUMIX S5 full-frame camera body only at $1898, or, with a 20-60mm lens for $2198. This aggressive pricing can only confuse potential customers and result in them buying nothing. If Panasonic cares about selling as many possible GH6 cameras, the advantage should be definite.
The LUMIX GH6 will be available during the middle of March. For more information, head to Jakub’s my colleague news article by clicking here.
What do you think about the LUMIX GH6 camera? Is this the camera you’ve been waiting for? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.