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Hands-on with the Panasonic GH6

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Introduction

The GH6 is the most recent in Panasonic’s video-centric line of cameras for the Micro Four Thirds system, dating back to the original GH1 in 2009. Since then, the GH series has come a long way, evolving into a very mature, widely used system.

According to Panasonic, its goal with the GH6 was to combine the best attributes of its two predecessors, the GH5 and GH5S, into a single camera. In particular, this meant a camera with a higher resolution sensor, like the GH5, but which could still deliver greater dynamic range, like the GH5S. The price of the GH6 even falls between the launch prices of those two models.

Panasonic says it developed the GH6 around two crucial tenets: workflow efficiency, including the ability to record with no time limits in any mode, regardless of frame rate or resolution, and absolute reliability, meaning the camera will operate without interruption no matter what the task. We’ll see how it tries to live up to these ideals in the following slides.

Body and controls

Like many premium camera bodies, the GH6 is built around a magnesium alloy body that’s fully weather sealed. The most significant change relative to earlier GH models is a built-in fan.

The fan is critical to supporting the camera’s advanced video features. Panasonic tells us that the body would need to be larger than the full-frame S1H to facilitate heat dissipation without it. The fan and the camera’s chassis are designed to cool the processor and the CFexpress card slot, while the sensor and stabilization components are mounted on a graphite sheet that directs heat down toward the tripod plate.

The camera includes two card slots, a UHS-II SD (V90) slot and a CFexpress type B slot. The CFexpress type B is required for any video modes captured at or greater than 800 Mbps. A full-sized HDMI port also supports output up to 4K/60p. A future firmware update will allow the port to support the HDMI 2.1 standard and 4K/120p output (more on this later).

Additionally, there’s a new microphone button on the top plate. This button takes you straight to the camera’s audio settings and will be a welcome addition for videographers, though it can also be assigned a custom function.

Displays

The EVF on the Panasonic GH6 is built around a 3.68M-dot OLED screen with 0.76x effective magnification, the same specs found on the GH5/GH5S twins. However, the exciting change is the redesigned touchscreen.

The 1.84M-dot touchscreen on the GH6 is a variant of the rear screen found on the full-frame Panasonic S1H, which was one of our favorite screen designs of all time. It’s both a tilt screen and a fully articulating screen in one. Because it can both tilt and articulate, it’s easy to swing out to the side without blocking the ports on the side of the camera body, something we’ve run into on quite a few models in the past.

Sensor and image processing pipeline

The new 25.2MP sensor is the GH6’s most apparent upgrade, increasing resolution on the Micro Four Thirds system for the first time in years. It’s not a stacked sensor like we’ve seen on other recent cameras, but it’s still fast, reading out the entire sensor in 17.6 ms and its DCI 4K region in 12.4ms. There is no low pass filter.

More notable than resolution, though, is the sensor’s dual output gain design. This is very different than the ‘dual gain’ sensors we’ve seen in recent years, which are capable of switching between two gain levels at a particular ISO. Rather than switching between gain levels, the sensor in the GH6 has two parallel output paths that can capture a high gain frame and a low gain frame simultaneously, then combine the results for greater dynamic range. For more details, you can read our article, ‘What is dual gain and how does it work?‘.

Panasonic says the camera’s updated Venus engine is twice as fast as any other Lumix model but includes upgrades beyond speed. It’s supposed to render diagonal lines, such as hair, more faithfully, improve noise reduction in photos, and improve pattern noise, image quality and color at high ISO values when shooting video.

Image stabilization

Image stabilization has been a historical strength of the Micro Four Thirds system, and the GH6 carries on that tradition thanks to a new ultra-high-precision gyro sensor.

Panasonic claims the GH6 can correct hand shake up to a CIPA-standard rating of 7.5 stops for any lens not equipped with its O.I.S. lens stabilization technology. When used with compatible O.I.S. lenses, Panasonic’s Dual I.S. 2 synchronizes movements between the lens and body, and the camera should maintain up to 7.5 stops of motion compensation even in the telephoto range. That’s up from 5 stops on the GH5 and 6.5 stops on the GH5 II.

Panasonic is calling it the most ‘gimbal-like’ stabilization of any Panasonic camera, and in our initial tests on DPReview TV, we were impressed by the results.

Photography features

The GH6 may be a video-centric product, but that doesn’t mean it’s a slouch when it comes to still photography. Of particular note is the new Handheld High-Res shot mode, which shoots eight sequential images while slightly moving the sensor between each frame.

The camera can generate a 100MP photo in both Raw and JPEG formats by combining the images. Moreover, Panasonic’s processing algorithms do an excellent job at detecting motion and only use the data from a single capture in those areas to prevent image trails or artifacts. As a result, this mode is genuinely useful for things other than static scenes.

Unfortunately, the GH6 does not include the 6K Photo mode or the image stacking mode found on previous Lumix bodies. These features were helpful for pre-buffering a series of images or focus stacking a series of shots.

Video performance

Considering its target market, it will be no surprise that the GH6 arrives with impressive video specs. These include oversampled UHD/DCI 4K at up to 60p in 4:2:2 10-bit color and up to 4K/120p in 4:2:0 10-bit color. If higher resolution is needed, a native 5.7K full-width capture is supported up to 60p, and 5.8K full-sensor (or ‘open gate’) capture is supported up to 30p.

High frame rate (HFR) recording is available in FHD/240p, including audio, though some lenses will require a firmware update to support this. If faster frame rates are needed, variable frame rate (VFR) recording can capture video at up to 1080/300p. All modes include options for 10-bit color support.

Panasonic has already announced a future firmware update that will support output of 4K/120p to a Ninja V+ recorder over HDMI.

Video codecs

The GH6 provides three codec choices, and virtually every mode is available in 10-bit color. These are: H.264, H.265 (HEVC), and Apple ProRes (including ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 HQ)

The older H.264 can capture video with 4:2:2 10-bit color. When jumping to H.265 video, however, the camera captures 4:2:0 10-bit color. Panasonic explains that there’s no processing limitation in the camera that prevents it from capturing 4:2:2 10-bit color in H.265, but that it made this decision because few computers support hardware acceleration for these types of files. In contrast, most recent computers provide hardware acceleration for 4:2:0 10-bit files, providing a good balance between video quality and performance.

Apple ProRes is a significant addition to the GH6, and it’s one of just a few mirrorless cameras to provide internal ProRes recording. ProRes is a high-quality, industry-standard, All-I editing codec that’s popular for editing and post-processing, so it’s a big deal to video shooters. However, due to the high bitrates, be prepared to keep some CFexpress cards in your bag.

Video tools

One thing we’ve come to expect from GH series cameras is a full suite of tools to support video shooting, and the GH6 doesn’t disappoint. To start, it’s the first Micro Four Thirds camera to offer Panasonic’s full V-Log/V-Gamut gamma curve, and Panasonic claims it gets to within 0.8 stops of the full-frame S1H in dynamic range performance.

It features the waveform and vectorscope we’ve seen on other Panasonics but now allows you to change the size of the waveform. The GH6 also gets the same luminance spot meter found on the S1H and GH5 II. Additionally, there’s a new Safety Zone monitor to help leave room for ‘lower thirds’ graphics and text.

Other new features include the ability to load custom LUTs into the camera using industry standard .CUBE files instead of .VLT files, a centering pin for video tripod baseplates, and the ability to perform punch-in focus while shooting video.

Audio

Panasonic was one of the first mirrorless camera makers to provide extended support for audio, thanks to its excellent internal pre-amps and the DMW-XLR1 XLR adapter. With the GH6, the company ups its game again.

The headline feature is the ability to capture 4-channel audio when using the XLR adapter, which can capture two audio channels. Two additional channels can be captured using the camera’s 3.5mm microphone port, which captures 96kHz 24-bit audio when used with external mics. It’s possible to monitor all four channels individually while recording, though you can’t adjust the audio gain of the two channels coming through the 3.5mm jack independently.

As mentioned on an earlier slide, the camera also has a dedicated audio button (with a microphone symbol) on the camera’s top plate. We expect this to be very popular among video shooters as it allows you to quickly go straight to your audio settings at the touch of a button.

Autofocus

Some users may be disappointed to learn that the GH6 still uses Panasonic’s Depth-from-Defocusing (DFD) system, a very sophisticated form of contrast-detect autofocus that tries to build a depth map of the scene, but could sometimes result in distracting autofocus wobbles or flutters.

Thanks to the new Venus Engine, which Panasonic says has 3x the processing speed for AF calculations, the GH6 should have higher speed, and higher precision, autofocus. The camera can also take advantage of its AI subject recognition for targets like faces/eyes, humans, and animals to avoid hunting for focus where it doesn’t need to. In our initial tests at DPReview TV, the system does seem to perform better than in the past. However, it’s worth noting that it can still struggle at 24p, a popular frame rate, as that mode provides less frequent data updates for AF calculations.

One very helpful tool is a new focus limiter, which allows you to set limits on the AF range of the camera, providing a noticeable improvement in AF behavior in our initial tests.

Power

The GH6 uses the same DMW-BLK22 battery found in the S5 and the more recent GH5 II. It’s supposed to deliver a CIPA-rated 360 shots per charge when using the SD card and around 10% less when using CFexpress. CIPA ratings typically underestimate real-world performance but are a helpful tool for making relative comparisons.

The camera is technically compatible with older batteries from the GH5, but due to a voltage difference, some features may not work. These older batteries also produce more heat than the newer ones.

The GH6 is also USB PD compatible. The included USB-C power supply that charges the battery can also power the camera, but it can’t power the camera and charge the battery simultaneously. However, it’s possible to do that as long as you have a charger that can deliver 9V, 3A power.

Firmware updates

A Panasonic product launch wouldn’t be complete without the promise of a future firmware update. This has become a bit of a tradition; we appreciate Panasonic sharing its plans so that users know what to expect and when.

The planned update for the GH6 will deliver several important features, including ProRes capture in DCI 4K and FHD (1080) resolutions. It will also allow recording directly to an SSD using the camera’s USB-C port, a feature ProRes shooters will appreciate due to the large file sizes.

Finally, the update will enable 4K/120p HDMI video out in Live View and allow 4K/120p Raw video output via HDMI to an Atomos Ninja V+ recorder.

Price and availability

The Panasonic GH6 is expected to be available in mid-March 2022, with a retail price of $2199.

To learn more about this camera, make sure to check out our Panasonic GH5 Initial Review, our video review of the GH6 on DPReview TV, and several other articles we’ve written about the camera.


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