Five years is a long time. I asked my six year old and he agreed. That’s how long it’s been since Panasonic released the GH5, which I would argue is one of the most important digital cameras ever released. It brought 10-bit video recording to the masses and, for me, it was the first mirrorless camera that truly felt like a replacement for a professional cinema camera.
Unlimited recording in most modes, waveforms, vector scopes, shutter angles… These were the conveniences many professional videographers and cinematographers would pay a huge premium to have access to. Now, suddenly, they were available in a relatively affordable, comparatively compact body. I ditched the cinema cameras I was using and haven’t looked back.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with many cameras since then. Everything from APS-C to full frame, and even medium format. But I’d always find myself going back to the Panasonic GH5. It was dependable, and I knew that it could handle most situations. However, technology marches on and I was starting to miss the higher resolution recording, high speed 4K and dynamic range offered by many recent cameras. I knew a GH6 was coming and I knew what I wanted from it.
|A camera so intuitive even your host can use it!|
Now that the camera is in my hands, am I giddy with delight, ambivalent or enraged? Was my list of GH6 expectations unreasonable?
What I wanted:
A faster scanning sensor
The GH5’s ability to record 4K/60p using the full width of the sensor was a rare capability, and many videographers accepted the limitations of Micro Four Thirds to have access to it. Now, in 2022 though, many (admittedly expensive) full-frame cameras are beginning to offer this capability, and even 4K/120p.
One of the major benefits of a smaller sensor is the ability to read out faster. I wanted the Four Thirds sensor advantage to shine with an extremely fast readout speed that would allow high frame rates and minimal rolling shutter artifacts.
More 10-bit/raw recording modes
The 10-bit recording of the GH5 was its main selling point at launch. But, that capability was missing from many record modes. 4K/60p and any high-frame rate 1080P would drop you back into the 8-bit recording of yore. This was especially troublesome when I was recording in VLog-L, which requires a 10-bit color space to get usable results. If I needed to grab a slow-motion clip, it meant switching my color profile to something more less prone to banding with 8-bit codecs.
One of the major benefits of a smaller sensor is the ability to read out faster
Also, while some Panasonic Micro Four Thirds offerings (BGH-1, GH5s) have gained the ability to deliver external raw video, the GH5 and even GH5 II never received that capability. I don’t record raw video often, but some jobs require it. Whether internal or external, I hoped the GH6 would offer it.
The GH5’s 3.69M dot OLED EVF is still no slouch, but recently I’ve been spoiled by the higher resolution EVFs in cameras like the Panasonic S1H and Sony a7S III. With these cameras, I found that I could pretty consistently pull focus manually without having to resort to an external monitor. I also adore the S1H’s hybrid tilt/fully articulating LCD. It keeps the LCD screen away from the ports on the side of the camera, and allows waist level shooting with the screen parallel to the lens. Finally, the endless tilt screen vs. articulating screen debates could cease!
|This is the best LCD design ever, and until now it only existed on the S1H.|
I included the word ‘Panasonic’ in this article, so inevitably many are heading to the comments section to write ‘Bad autofocus!!!’. This reputation is less warranted for photography where Panasonic have recently made major strides, but their video autofocus has remained incredibly unpredictable.
I rarely rely on video autofocus, which is part of why Panasonic cameras appeal to me, but there are certainly times where it can be extremely useful, and many new video shooters will not want to dedicate the time to learning solid manual focus techniques. The interesting thing is that Panasonic’s DFD contrast detect autofocus performance is largely dependent on sensor readout speed and processing power. If the GH6 made major strides forward in those areas, autofocus should dramatically improve as well.
(If this was a video, I’d do a snappy transition to today, holding a pre-production GH6 in my eager hands.)
|It’s finally here!|
Were my burning desires answered? Keep reading to allow me to go through them one by one.
What I got:
A faster scanning sensor
The GH6 reads out at 17.8ms , which is nearly twice the speed of the GH5. This is particularly impressive because the sensor is not one of the new stacked BSI CMOS sensors we are starting to see, but a conventional single layer CMOS that happens to read out very snappily. This allows continuous 4K/120p recording, as well as 1080/240p slow motion in 10-bit 4:2:2 and 1080/300p in 10-bit 4:2:0. Oh, and it can shoot full resolution Raw photos at 75fps!
While not as impressive as the readout we’re seeing in some of the new flagship full frame stacked sensors, this still means that rolling shutter artifacts (wobble) will be greatly reduced and the slow motion capabilities are dramatically improved.
|This sensor may not be the biggest, but it sure is speedy!|
More 10-bit recording/raw modes
Checkmark! VFR high speed recording can finally be captured in 10-bit, something even the full frame and much more expensive S1H cannot match. All of the more demanding recording modes now offer at least 10-bit 4:2:0 recording, meaning you can comfortably leave the camera in VLog recording when switching to higher frame rates or 5.7K recording.
That’s an impressive start, but Panasonic has also added the ability to record 5.7K in the inefficient but eminently editable Apple ProRes 422 codec. This is an industry standard format, and it’s a huge convenience to be able to capture ProRes internally, where most other cameras will require an external recorder.
This brings me to raw recording, which is a bit muddy right now. We know that externally recorded 4K/120p ProRes Raw will be offered in a future firmware update, but with the 25MP sensor, that capture will require cropping or line skipping for true raw video capture. I’d love to see native 5.7K ProRes Raw capture, as well as some anamorphic support. We’ll have to wait and see.
You win some and you lose some. The EVF remains a 3.69M dot panel, and the LCD is the same 3.2” 1.8M dots as the GH5 II (but slightly smaller and sharper than the GH5’s 1.6M dot panel). Despite that, I was thrilled to see that the S1H tilt/articulating design is here, and even improved.
|The resolution of the EVF and rear panel may be the same as on the GH5, but the tilt mechanism carried over from the S1H is fantastic. It also means you won’t block important ports if you tilt the screen.|
The S1H required you to press a small lock to tilt the LCD out, but this lock was inconveniently positioned right where you would mount a video quick release plate. With the GH6, just pull back on the LCD, and it will tilt away from the body, also conveniently keeping the panel far enough away from the body that it won’t interfere with your mic, headphone, HDMI and USB ports.
As expected, a faster scanning sensor and improved processor have led to better DFD autofocus. The real question remains, is it good enough? The annoying answer based on our initial testing is… it depends.
At 24p, autofocus was still quite unreliable. This makes sense, as the camera has fewer frames to analyze than other framerates. I was, however, quite impressed with the autofocus performance when shooting 60p. The telltale DFD ‘flutter’ is greatly reduced, and accuracy is a substantial step forward. Unfortunately, the camera cannot use subject detection when shooting 4K/120p, and autofocus performance took a major hit in that mode.
I was quite impressed with the autofocus performance when shooting 60p
There is a great new tool to improve your autofocus experience, a very intuitive focus limiter which allows you to choose a custom range the camera will attempt to focus within. Using this while vlogging, and limiting the focus distance to under one meter, I was extremely pleased with the results. Using this tool will keep the autofocus from making huge jumps to the background or immediate foreground.
So I got a lot of what I wanted, and a couple of disappointments. Panasonic surprised me with a few features I didn’t even think to ask for. Here are the standouts for me:
Dual read sensor for Dynamic Range Boost
I don’t want to get into the clever way this system works because Richard Butler just wrote a great article with all the details.
This technique theoretically allows for dynamic range rivaling larger sensor cameras, and in practice I found the footage graded much like that from the S1H. Plenty of highlight information, and much more usable shadow regions than the GH5. When shooting stills, this feature kicks on automatically at 800 ISO and above, while you can enable it when shooting VLog at over 2000 ISO. The important thing is it gives you a middle ground in DR between the GH5 II and the full frame S1H.
|The ‘DR Boost’ mode allows the GH6 to capture more dynamic range than all other Micro Four Thirds Lumix cameras, though still less than the full frame ‘S’ bodies.|
While this isn’t unprecedented, the S1H and Canon R5 C are both hybrid cameras with a fan to control heat, I was not expecting a Micro Four Thirds camera at this price to include one. Want to record a long form interview in 5.7K? Go for it. Roll 4K/120p of a bird for 20 minutes until it takes off? Have at it. Panasonic cameras have been very reliable for controlling heat, but the fan brings peace of mind that professionals (and even YouTubers) will truly value.
Punch-In focus while rolling
Few feelings are worse than looking at your monitor while the camera is rolling and thinking “Is this out of focus?”. Until now, Sony and Fujifilm were the only two hybrid camera manufacturers allowing you the ability to magnify the image to confirm focus while rolling. Now Panasonic has brought this capability to the GH6, allowing you to confirm mid-take whether or not you screwed up. Hopefully this pushes the other major mirrorless players to include this feature in their next models.
4-channel audio recording
Sony and Canon now offer 4 channel audio recording (2 XLRs and a stereo miniphone) on new accessories with three inputs, but it always seemed odd to me that when these are attached, it disables your existing 3.5mm mic input on the camera.
Panasonic has offered a compact and affordable dual XLR accessory for half a decade, the XLR1, but when the GH6 was announced with 4 channel audio, I anticipated having to buy a new 4 channel unit. Imagine my surprise when it turns out that you can use the existing XLR1 and just plug a mic (or two, with a stereo splitter) into the camera port and enjoy 4 tracks of audio. This delights me, but I do wish there was a way to control levels separately for the two 3.5mm channels. Firmware?
|The GH6 audio controls are easily accessible and very intuitive.|
The G9 introduced Panasonic’s high resolution multi-shot mode, but we haven’t seen it in a Micro Four Thirds camera since then. I was thrilled to see high resolution mode return, now capable of 100 megapixel resolution, and more impressively you can now leave the tripod at home while using this mode.
The GH6 surprised all of us at DPReview when it captured 100MP handheld HiRes images and there were no easily recognizable motion artifacts, even in busy scenes
Panasonic also has some of the best ‘motion compensation’ available, where it will only use one of the eight exposures for moving objects. I was not expecting to see this capability when shooting handheld, but the GH6 surprised all of us at DPReview when it captured 100MP handheld HiRes images and there were no easily recognizable motion artifacts, even in busy scenes.
OK, that’s a lot. So how badly do I want this camera?
Aside from very low light shooting, capturing the most high contrast scenes and when I need the absolute shallowest depth of field, the GH6 outperforms my current favorite video camera, the S1H. The headline features like 5.7K unlimited recording and 4K/120p certainly excited me, but the main things that make me really want this camera are the smart inclusions like the 4 channel audio, punch-in focus while rolling, and 100MP handheld hi-res capture with motion correction.
This camera will make me leave the S1H at home for the majority of DPReview TV shoots, and that means Micro Four Thirds is alive and well.