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Wayback Machine: The evolution of Panasonic’s GH-series cameras

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Introduction

Above: When the Panasonic GH5 was introduced in 2017, we got all the GH siblings together for a family reunion.

It’s hard to believe Panasonic’s video-centric GH camera series is 13 years old. For those of us who used or covered the series from the start, it’s also a stark reminder that we’re a bit older than we used to be. Oh, how time flies!

Fortunately, the GH series has aged well, evolving from a scrappy upstart video camera into a mature product with some of the most advanced video features on the market, short of a pro cinema camera. Ironically, it may have been widely available firmware hacks for the GH2 that really propelled the series forward in the market. Panasonic didn’t exactly condone these hacks, but it surely recognized how much enthusiasm the custom firmware generated for a more capable GH camera. The series quickly became a darling of video enthusiasts, spawning a large ecosystem of tools and accessories that continue to this day.

Personally, the GH series has always been close to my heart as its history somewhat parallels my own evolution as a videographer and filmmaker. Prior to the GH1, I had been using the very capable Panasonic DVX100 camera for video work, and despite the fact the GH1 was a bit rough around the edges I jumped onboard right away due to its size, capabilities and interchangeable lenses. Join us as we jump into the wayback machine to look back at this iconic series of cameras.

– Dale Baskin

Breakthroughs and distinctive features

Every GH series camera arrived with some notable features and upgrades, which in some cases included multi-aspect sensors (above). Before diving into individual models, let’s compare some of these headline features over the years.
Notable features or upgradesHighest ResFastest High-Res modeHigh bit-depth options
GH1
  • First 1080-capable mirrorless camera
  • Multi-aspect sensor
1080/24
(as 60i)
GH2
  • 1080/24 option
1080/60p (as 60i)
GH3
  • Modern GH body
  • Gains Headphone and 3.5mm mic sockets
1080/60p
GH4
  • First 4K-capable mirrorless camera
  • Focus peaking, zebras, and shutter angle
  • Log option (paid)
  • 10-bit output
DCI/24pUHD/30p10-bit out over HDMI
GH5
  • Image stabilization
  • 10-bit internal recording
  • Waveforms
  • Full-sized HDMI
  • Twin card slots
  • Anamorphic support
DCI/24pUHD/60p10-bit internal up to UHD/30p

GH5S
  • Timecode sync
  • 12-bit Raw output
  • Waveform monitor
DCI/60pDCI/60p

10-bit internal up to DCI/30p
12-bit Raw output up to DCI/60p

GH5 II
  • Lower price
  • Direct streaming
DCI/60pDCI/60p10-bit internal up to DCI/60p
GH6
  • Fan cooling
  • Tilt/articulated screen
  • CFexpress card
  • Output to SSD over USB
5.7K/60pDCI/120p10-bit internal up to 5.7K/60p
12-bit Raw out up to DCI/120p

Panasonic GH1: Where it all began

March 2009 – $1499

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 didn’t give us too much insight of what the series would eventually represent. Looking back, there was an impression that perhaps Panasonic had rushed the GH1 to be the first mirrorless camera to launch, and were a few weeks short of being able to get the video features working.

But at the heart of the GH1 was a sign that video was central to the camera: an oversized sensor that allowed it to maintain the same diagonal angle-of-view when shooting video as when capturing stills. It was also the first stills/video camera to shoot in the AVCHD format, which arranged H.264 files in file structure derived from the Blu-Ray standard. The format took some getting used to, but was better than the Motion JPEG offered by many of its rivals and proved to be an early adopter of what would eventually become an industry standard.

The GH1 shot 1080 footage at 24 or 25 fps, then output it in a 60i or 50i wrapper, to match the Blu-Ray and broadcast standards. It also included a 2.5mm microphone plug, which drove a lot of users nuts, as it required an adapter for use with 3.5mm mic plugs. Its biggest competition in the video space was the Canon EOS 5D II, which had been on the market for six months, could shoot 1080/30p in MOV format and even had a 3.5mm mic socket.

Much of the GH1’s reputation (and, perhaps, the evolution of the line) stems from the firmware hacks created by some independent developers. These allowed 1080/24p capture at 50Mbps, capture specs well beyond what the camera promised to do.

Panasonic GH2: Leading for the first time

September 2010 – $1499

The GH2 arrived eighteen months after the original model and for the first time started to include video specs that you couldn’t find elsewhere. Its new sensor was the first to be able to shoot 1080 at 60p. Half of this data was then thrown away to squeeze it into the 60i limitations of the AVCHD format, but it still meant you could get smoother motion if you wanted it.

Also added was a 1080/24p option, bringing the GH2 into line with hacked GH1s. It still wasn’t the most comprehensive video feature set, but it did offer some features the EOS 5D II didn’t, and with a list price around 50% lower.

Similar to the GH1, the GH2 establish something of a cult status in the hacker space as a series of independently-developed firmware hacks were released to improve the capabilities of the camera beyond what Panasonic officially endorsed. These opened up the option for higher bitrate capture for both video and audio beyond the constraints of AVCHD.

Panasonic GH3: Bulking up

September 2012 – $1299

By 2012, the GH series had gone to the gym. The GH3 was a significantly larger camera with a more substantial, weather-sealed magnesium alloy body, a deeper grip, more buttons and a larger battery. This form factor would eventually prove to be the overall design we’ve seen in the various GH series camera since, with only relatively minor changes in the shape and button array.

And it’s not just in terms of the body that the GH3 more closely resembles the newer GHs: it gained the ability to shot H.264 MOV files, meaning it could now break free of the AVCHD restrictions and deliver 1080/60p footage (another first for a hybrid camera). It also gained an All-I encoding option for footage up to 30p, along with the ability to record timecode.

We weren’t overly impressed by the GH3’s OLED viewfinder when it launched, but it was a big step up from the field sequential finders that had come before it. The larger body also allowed for the addition of a 3.5mm mic socket and headphone connector. What it lost, though, was the multi-aspect oversized sensor that had marked the first two GHs out from the crowd.

By this point, Canon’s EOS 5D Mark III had been on the market for six months. It also had a headphone socket and the ability to record All-I footage, but its capabilities topped-out at 1080/30p, and it still cost around 60% more than the Panasonic.

Panasonic GH4: Hey, hey 4K!

February 2014 – $1699

The GH4 wasn’t the first hybrid camera to shoot 4K footage, but it was the first one within most people’s reach, using a native crop from its sensor to do so. It could shoot DCI 4K at up to 24p or UHD 4K at up to 30p.

The GH4 was the first to let you change the camera’s ‘system frequency’ allowing you to shoot at exactly 24fps, or multiples of 50 or 59.94. It also saw the arrival of focus peaking, zebras and the ability to set exposure in terms of shutter angle, rather than shutter speed.

In addition to internal 4K capture, the GH4 could output a 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 signal over HDMI: the first camera we’d encountered to offer any sort of 10-bit option. Taking advantage of this combination, the GH4 was the first in the series to be able to shoot Log footage, but there was a separate paid upgrade to add this capability.

And, if this wasn’t sufficiently pro-friendly, there was also an optional interface unit (the snappily-titled DMW-YAGH) that provided full-sized HDMI ports, connectors for XLR microphones and a bank of SDI sockets over which 10-bit 1080 or 4K could be output, with timecode.

More competition was starting to appear by this point. Not so much from Canon’s EOS 1D C, which had offered DCI 4K (from an APS-H crop) nearly two years earlier, but from Sony’s Log-capable full-frame a7S. It was launched two months after the GH4 and only offered 1080 recording internally, but created this from 4K capture, and could output 4K over HDMI (in 8-bit 4:2:2). The advantage of the Sony over the Canon was that it didn’t cost $15,000, but the GH4 still came in at an even more reasonable $1,700.

Panasonic GH5: Middle-aged and more mature

January 2017 – $1999

The GH5 continued to build on its predecessor’s capabilities with the addition of UHD/60p capture and 10-bit internal recording at up to 30p. But just as significant was the addition of in-body image stabilization. This used the company’s Dual I.S. 2 system that can combine the movement of the image stabilization mechanism with the lens correction system to offer a camera that could be sensibly shot handheld.

The GH5 continued Panasonic’s policy of charging extra to unlock its Log capabilities, and added the ability to view a corrected preview as you shot. Even without the Log upgrade, it could shoot the HDRTV-ready ‘Hybrid Log Gamma’ (HLG) profile. This was saved as 72Mbps H.265 files, so wasn’t intended as any sort of substitute for V-Log L capture, but it at least mean you could benefit from the camera’s 10-bit abilities, straight out of the box.

The GH5 gained a second memory slot, with UHS-II interfaces for both, to support 400Mbps capture. It also became the first hybrid camera to offer a waveform display, vectorscope, and exposure and color monitoring tools that are standard in the video industry.

The GH5 added other features we’ve come to expect from Panasonic, including the ability to capture footage from the full sensor area for use with anamorphic lenses. More than just this, the GH5 could give a ‘de-squeezed’ preview of footage captured with an anamorphic lens and its stabilization system could be adjusted to take into account the differing levels of horizontal and vertical correction an asymmetric lens needs.

The DMW-YAGH add-on box was rendered obsolete by the inclusion of a full-sized HDMI port on the camera, and the option to add a rather more convenient XLR accessory, the DMW-XLR1. This attachment is also compatible with the GH5S, GH5 II and GH6.

In the three years since the GH4’s release, Sony’s a7S II gained 4K/30 recording, as did Canon’s 5D Mark IV (albeit with a heavy crop). In the meantime, though, Sony was adding features such as Log recording, focus peaking and zebras to a host of its mainstream models.

Panasonic GH5S: Revenge of the multi-aspect sensor

January 2018 – $2499

Just a year after its launch, the GH5 gained a sister model, rather than a replacement. The main differences were the return of an oversized sensor, this time in the form of a Quad Bayer BSI CMOS sensor. Using a sensor that extends to the edge of the imaging circle, along with concerns about interactions between I.S. and gimbals, resulted in the removal of the stabilization system.

The oversized sensor saw the return of the multi-aspect feature, giving the GH5S a wider angle of view than the GH5 on any given lens. It also became the first camera with a dual conversion gain sensor, which gives you a choice of which mode the sensor is used in.

In most other respects, the GH5S’s specs closely mimic those of the GH5, but with the ability to capture the wider DCI format at up to 60p. As the most video-specific model yet, the GH5S included V-Log L capture from the start. It even offered the ability to sync timecode using an adapter connected to its flash sync socket.

Also new was a Varicam/Arri-style settings display, the ability to re-size the waveform display on the rear screen, the option to use phantom power line-level mics and the ability to output a Raw data stream that can be encoded as either ProRes RAW or Blackmagic Raw, depending on what type of external recorder you attach it to.

Panasonic GH5 II: Refined and affordable

May 2021 – $1699

The GH5 II is essentially a GH5 updated to include some of the features introduced with the GH5S, along with bits and pieces from the S1H and S5 full-frame models. It included 10-bit capture options for 4K/60p shooting and gained a number of direct streaming options – a feature that has become especially valuable during a period of remote working and Zoom conferencing. Raw output was notably absent from the GH5 II, but V-Log L capture is included as standard.

Perhaps the GH5 II’s biggest selling point was its price cut. The GH5 II was launched for $1699: $300 less than the Mark I and around the price that the older model had settled to. Notably, it was announced alongside the first details of the GH6 being developed – the beginning of a GH series with two price tiers.

This makes sense in an era when the likes of Fujilm’s X-T4 offers 10-bit 4K capture with stabilization, and even 4K/60p is available on $2000+ full-frame models such as Canon’s EOS R6.

Panasonic GH6: The next generation

February 2022 – $2199

Thirteen years on from the inaugural GH model, the GH6 is the latest in a line of cameras that have fairly consistently offered the best video specs on the market. The addition of a fan indicates just how serious a production tool the GH6 is intended to be, offering a level of dependability that is otherwise hard to match.

The GH6 can shoot DCI or UHD 4K at up to 120p, or full-width 5.7K at up to 60p. There’s an expanded choice of codecs including industry-standard ProRes 422 and 10-bit options across the board. Image stabilization is improved over the GH5, as are the range of squeeze ratios supported for stabilizing anamorphic shooting.

The GH6 is the first in the series to use anything other than an SD cards, with a single UHS-II SD slot paired with a faster (and hotter) CFexpress Type B format. Video output to SSDs is promised in a future firmware update, as are 4K/120 Raw output over the HDMI socket and gamma-encoded 4K/120 video streams using the HDMI protocol.

The market is a much more competitive place than when the GH1 arrived over a decade ago. A host of modern cameras offer very good 4K capture, with 10-bit recording becoming increasingly common, and 8K starting to creep in. Panasonic’s persistence with its DFD autofocus system is the most obvious complaint about the GH6, but elsewhere it offers a comprehensive array of shooting modes and support tools that continue to mark the GH series out as the serious video camera to beat.

GH series video modes compared

Although we take features like 4K resolution or 60 fps capture for granted today, a comparison across GH models shows just how far they’ve come. Early models like the GH1 and GH2 didn’t do much by today’s standards, though widely available firmware hacks extended these abilities for users inclined to experiment. Since then, however, it’s frequently been the GH series itself that pushed the industry forward.

1080UHD 4KDCI 4K
/24/30/60/24/30/60/120/24/30/60/120
GH1IPB
as 60i
GH2IPBIPB
as 60i
GH3All-IAll-IIPB
GH4*All-IAll-IAll-IIPBIPBIPB
GH5**All-IAll-IAll-IAll-IAll-IIPBAll-I

GH5S

All-IAll-IAll-IAll-IAll-IIPBAll-IIPBIPB
GH5 IIAll-IAll-IAll-IAll-IAll-IIPBAll-IAll-IIPB
GH6***All-IAll-IAll-IAll-IAll-IAll-IIPBAll-IAll-IAll-IIPB

* The GH4 gained 10-bit output over HDMI (or SDI with DMW-YAGH)
** The GH5 gained 12-bit Raw output to either Atomos or Blackmagic recorders
*** The GH6 gained the ability to output direct to SSD

Key:
8-bit
4:2:0
10-bit
4:2:0
10-bit
4:2:2

What the table should make clear is each generation of camera has offered significantly more than the one before it, leading up to the GH6, which can shoot 10-bit 4K footage at up to 120p, as well as native/5.7K capture. In the space of 13 years we’ve gone from the first video-capable mirrorless camera, shooting 1.9K footage at 17Mbps, to a fan-cooled production-grade video machine that can capture 5.7K footage at up to 1903Mbps in ProRes 422 HQ format. The cost of all this improvement? A 10% price increase, once you’ve taken inflation into account.


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