src=" Hands-On with the Panasonic GH4, Leica 15mm and 42,5mm

Date: 04/03/2014 | By: Mathieu

Hands-On with the Panasonic GH4, Leica 15mm and Nocticron 42,5mm at the TPS

E-P5, 1/80, f/ 22/10, ISO 1600

Hands-On with the Panasonic GH4, Leica 15mm and Nocticron 42,5mm at the TPS

If there was one thing I was dying to try at The Photography Show in Birmingham, it was the new Panasonic GH4. The reasons are many: it is a new high-end Micro Four Thirds camera with a brand new sensor, an improved autofocus system and 4K video recording at 100mbps, amongst many other things. The list of improvements is actually much longer but I will stick to the main aspects since I only had a few minutes with the camera, which, I should mention, was tied to the Panasonic desk like a dog on the leash. 😀

Note: the GH4 tested was a pre-production model

E-P5, 1/400, f/ 22/10, ISO 1600
Trying the new Panasonic GH4

Ergonomics and Functionality

The GH4’s design is practically identical to the GH3: the same DSLR-like ergonomics, the same button layout. I’ve always found the GH3 to be one of the best MFT cameras to hold because of its DSLR design, and the same applies to the GH4.

E-P5, 1/125, f/ 22/10, ISO 1600
The Gh4 body resembles the GH3 body.

The mode dial seems slightly bigger and it has a handy lock button in the middle.

E-P5, 1/200, f/ 22/10, ISO 1600
The slightly updated mode dial.

The differences between it and the GH3 are minimal. The drive dial adds a fifth option for interval shooting. The button layout at the rear is exactly the same but the video recording button seemed easier to activate, whereas with the GH3 I often end up pressing it twice before being able to successfully activate the record mode.

The electronic viewfinder has been improved compared to that of the GH3, which is excellent news. I’ve never been fond of the GH3 EVF especially because of its blurry corners. The GH4 EVF is the same size but has more resolution (2,360k dots versus 1,744k dots). The LCD screen, too, has more resolution (1036K dots versus 614k dots).

As for everything else, it has the same straightforward menu found on every Lumix camera and lots of customisable buttons.

Autofocus and Image quality with the Nocticron 42,5mm

The first thing that struck me when taking the first shots was the autofocus speed and responsiveness. I had the new Leica Nocticron 42.5mm mounted on it and focusing even at f/1.2 was very fast and accurate. The AF seemed a little bit slower for video but still worked quite well.

DMC-GH4, 1/60, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
DMC-GH4, 1/60, f/ 1.2, ISO 200
DMC-GH4, 1/250, f/ 12/10, ISO 320
DMC-GH4, 1/250, f/ 1.2, ISO 320
DMC-GH4, 1/125, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
DMC-GH4, 1/125, f/ 1.2, ISO 200

The camera works with contrast detection AF but adds a new functionality called DFD (Depth from Defocus). The camera calculates the distance to the subject by evaluating two images with different depths of field. It then adds that information to the characteristics of the lens it has mounted on it.

I briefly tested AF tracking as well by asking my ever-ready model Heather to walk towards me. The camera managed to keep her in focus for almost every shot except the very last ones when she was really close to me. While I cannot conclude anything (pre-production camera and lens) my impressions are more than positive.

As I said at the beginning, I could only take a few shots of what was around the Panasonic desk, so I couldn’t really test image quality properly. However, from what I saw, it seems like significant improvements have been made over the GH3. It will be interesting to test it alongside recent MFT models like the GX7 and Olympus OM-D E-M1. I am sure they probably share the same overall IQ but there could be some small differences.

There is certainly an improvement in terms of high ISO performance as well. The shot below was taken at 12800 ISO and the results are more than promising.

DMC-GH4, 1/500, f/ 56/10, ISO 12800
DMC-GH4, 1/500, f/ 5.6 ISO 12800

As for the Nocticron, it certainly has its sights set on becoming the best portrait lens for MFT. The results at 1.2 are great: sharp with a lovely bokeh. Moreover, it can focus very close to the subject, which is a nice thing.

DMC-GH4, 1/160, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
DMC-GH4, 1/160, f/ 1.2, ISO 200
DMC-GH4, 1/160, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
DMC-GH4, 1/160, f/ 1.2, ISO 200

I certainly need to perform more testing to judge its full potential. With its excellent build quality, it certainly stands amongst the best MFT lenses out there. The aperture ring is a nice addition, feels great to turn and the aperture clicks feel strong. Apparently, the aperture ring won’t work with Olympus bodies, which is a shame.

The only thing that will make most users think twice about purchasing the lens is its price tag: at around $1500, it is quite expensive for a MFT lens. And let’s not forget the fact that Olympus has the best value for money lens ever with the 45mm f/1.8. I don’t dispute the fact that there might be some differences in quality  between the two, but is it worth an extra $1k? By the way, the picture below was taken with the 45mm f/1.8.

E-P5, 1/100, f/ 22/10, ISO 1600
The Leica Panasonic Nocticron 42,5mm f/1.2

4K takes video shooting to a new level

The picture below is a still frame extracted from the 4k video footage, taken at f/1.2 with the Nocticron.

, , f/ , ISO
Still frame grabbed from the 4K footage.

This is perhaps the most important addition to the GH4 and mirrorless cameras in general. The ability to shoot 4K brings about the new possibility to use the footage for different purposes including photography. While you certainly won’t get the same bit depth and post-processing possibilities, the frame above is more than usable on the web, especially if you reduce its size from 12mp to say 3mp.

, , f/ , ISO
Another still frame grabbed from 4k footage

I must say that I find this to be both exciting and scary at the same time.

It is exciting because I know that I can extract usable stills out of my video footage. On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked by a client for some stills to use for the web or a brochure. With HD footage, the quality of a grabbed still isn’t really enough, especially in terms of sharpness. 4k changes all that.

On the other hand, I do hope that this new feature doesn’t encourage clients to discard actual photography and photographers. The technology is constantly evolving, and there is no longer a clear line between the two jobs (filmmaking and photography). That can be fine for certain things but for most jobs, it is better to have a videographer on one side and a photographer on the other for optimal and more complete results.

The still frame option aside, the ability to shoot 4k certainly increase the details and sharpness of video recording, and also gives us more room to crop if necessary especially if we downsize the final output to full HD, one of the most used video standards for now.

Again, I couldn’t really test the video quality out of the camera but below you can download some .mov samples directly transferred from the SD card. Judge for yourself!


Original .mov footage available here.

Summing up the main video specs, the GH4 can record at 4k resolution (4 times Full HD) up to 30p at 100mpbs and up to 200mbps in Full HD with an ALL-I (all-intra) codec. In 24p mode, you can also get a cinema 4K aspect ratio (but the crop factor is increased by 1.2). In Full HD, the camera can register up to 96 frames per seconds, which is good for slow motion.

Speaking as both a photographer and a filmmaker, the GH4 is more exciting for its video capabilities than anything else. There are lots of new options available for filmmakers such as cine-like gamma curves, focus peaking, master pedestal, zebra, time code and more. There is also the optional module that will allow you to use audio XLR inputs, timecode sync and uncompressed SDI output in 4K. Panasonic might have announced the killer video camera of 2014!

E-P5, 1/40, f/ 71/10, ISO 1600
The XLR-HD SDI module

Bonus: some samples taken with the upcoming Leica 15mm f/1.7!

In a locked display window, there was also a pre-production model of the new Leica 15mm. I couldn’t resist asking to try it and the Panasonic representative was kind enough to let me mount it on a GX7.

E-P5, 1/50, f/ 71/10, ISO 1600
The Panasonic Leica 15mm f/1.7
E-P5, 1/40, f/ 63/10, ISO 1600
Very small and compact

The same limits apply as before concerning the kind of pictures I was able to take, but my first impression is that it has a slightly slower autofocus than the 42.5mm. Having said this, the lens seems to have the same great sharpness at the widest aperture, which is f/1.7 in this case.

DMC-GX7, 1/250, f/ 17/10, ISO 200
DMC-GX7, 1/250, f/ 1.7, ISO 200
DMC-GX7, 1/100, f/ 17/10, ISO 200
DMC-GX7, 1/100, f/ 1.7, ISO 200
DMC-GX7, 1/250, f/ 17/10, ISO 200
DMC-GX7, 1/250, f/ 1.7, ISO 200

The build quality is great, just like the Nocticron, and it also has an aperture ring which feels exactly like the 42.5mm.

E-P5, 1/40, f/ 63/10, ISO 1600
The 15mm mounted on the GX7
E-P5, 1/50, f/ 63/10, ISO 1600
Trying the lens with the GX7

This lens has an equivalent of 30mm in full-frame format, which is a less-common focal length. It could work really well for street photography and it will certainly be interesting to compare it to the Lumix 20mm f/1.7.

Conclusion: Will the GH4 become the ruling MFT camera?

Is the Panasonic Lumix GH4 the best MFT camera? This is a question that is certainly on the lips of many. Certainly the camera will challenge the OM-D E-M1 for the MFT throne. Unfortunately, there is still no official price or information about a release date but the Panasonic representative told us it should be announced in mid-March. Let’s hope it doesn’t go beyond that. I admit I have a little difficulty understanding why a company would officially announce a camera without providing any information regarding price and availability. It may be a move to “shut down” rumours or a kind of marketing strategy. However, if Panasonic waits too long, the general anticipation surrounding the camera may begin to wane.

Does an upgrade make sense for those who already own the GH3?

Well, it is too early for me to say as I haven’t tested it thoroughly and we don’t know the price, but my impression is that it will certainly be for video, and from what I saw concerning autofocus and image quality, it might be for stills as well.

E-P5, 1/125, f/ 63/10, ISO 1600
A dismantled GX7

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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Mark

    Hi Mathieu!

    Do you think you will be getting your hands on another GH4 to be doing a more in-depth review? I’d love to see an article comparing an OM-D EM-1 vs GH4 much like your recent article of the OM-D EM-1 vs X-T1.

  • Dermot

    Hi Keith,
    I thought I’d give you my feedback on using the GH3 for about 14 months and the GX7 for about 3 months. Like you I’m left eye dominant or at least that’s what I’ve tended to use when looking through camera viewfinders. I don’t find it any problem at all in using my left eye on either camera’s viewfinder. The only drawback is that if you want to enable a feature called “Touch Pad AF” on either camera and put your left eye to the viewfinder then you’ll nose (which will probably rub against the rear touch screen) will move the focus point around the screen which is frustrating unless disabled. The solution is to use your right eye or switch the feature off as already mentioned. The benefit of this feature is that it allows one to use a finger on the touch screen to move the AF point around whilst the screen is turned off (due to the eye sensor being triggered) and with your eye to the viewfinder. It’s not a big deal for me not having it activated.

  • Mathieu

    I didn’t see any vignetting at f/1.2 but my tests were very limited, so I cannot confirm it. The lens is large but not too heavy in my opinion.

  • Ulysses

    Yes, my understanding is that you can use either Olympus IBIS or else Panasonic in-lens O.I.S, but not both at the same time because they would work against one another.

    How did you fell about the size of the lens? Did it feel at all too bulky or heavy? It seems noticeably heavier and larger than the excellent 75mm f/1.8.

    In ours studio I frequently have need for a genuine portrait lens, and the 75mm is a often bit too long. So I have a feeling if this one performs so well, it might become a part of my kit.

    Does the 42.5mm seem to have heavy vignetting at f/1.2? I’ve heard one comment in the past about that. Thanks again! :)

  • Mathieu

    Hi Ulysses and thank you very much for your kind comment.
    About the 42,5mm, if I have the opportunity to test it again, I will try what you are suggesting on an Olympus body. I know that the OIS can remain activate when the lens is mounted on an olympus camera but I don’t know if is it possible to mix both Lumix lens OIS and Olympus body IS.
    Anyway it is a very interesting lens for MFT, but the price bar is too high.

  • Mathieu

    I think that both methods are fine. If you know for sure that your output will be 1080p only, it makes more sense to work with a 1080p timeline, especially if you want to crop some images by taking advantage of the 4k resolution.
    If you ever need a 4k output in the future, then it is better to work with a 4k timeline.
    About CPU and graphic cards, I would say an intel i7 quad core and a graphic card with at least 1GB of RAM. And 8 or 16GB of RAM memory will help as well. I currently use the last generation macbook pro retina (15inch with 2GB nvidia graphic card). It seems to handle 4k footage very well.

  • John

    What is the workflow (in Vegas or other products) to crop 4k files for 1080p output? Does one set up a 4k project, crop, and then export the smaller frame as a 1080p file? Or does one import a 4k file into a 1080p project and then crop? What CPU and graphics cards specs did successful testers have when doing this? Also curious whether using proxy files cropping or the quality of the final results. Native 4k files on a long presumably slow things down a lot. Thanks for any comments or clarification.

  • Ulysses

    Mathieu, first of all I’d like to take a moment to thank you and Heather for the superb job you’ve both done in such a relatively short period of time in building a great site and a fantastic reputation for yourselves. You offer something a little different from most other review sites, and it’s definitely enjoyable.

    I noted your comment about the aperture ring on the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens not working with the Olympus cameras. This was a question on the minds of many people. But I heard or read that the aperture ring might work — IF you turn of IBIS in the Olympus camera. I do not own the lens, so I cannot verify this. And I do not know if the built-in O.I.S. can kick in while mounted to an Olympus camera. But I’m eager to hear from yourself or owners of this lens because it’s very high at the top of my list of purchases for the Micro Four Thirds system. Thanks again!

  • Mathieu

    Are you referring to the dropbox link? Because I change it with a google drive link:

  • Jacob Barkey

    Hey there,

    Just tried to download the 4K sample footage, and it says it has been downloaded too many times. Any chance you can upload it again somewhere else?

  • soundimageplus

    Thanks for that. I was planning to go to the show to see the GH4 as you did, but didn’t make it. Must say the video quality didn’t really make me want to rush out and buy the camera, but I can see it will be useful, though I’d have to upgrade my computer to edit it. If nothing else I guess you might have saved me some money.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • MirrorLessForums

    Great to see your review of gh4… surely its a camera made aiming video

  • Mathieu

    If we have the lenses at the same time we can certainly do it 😉

  • Mahesh

    Mathieu and Heather, will you be doing a comparison between fuji 56mm and panasonic 42.5? That would be interesting. – how they render, etc.

  • Mathieu

    Yes I saw the 35-100 but it was a mockup sample only. There weren’t any specs and the Panasonic staff couldn’t tell us more about it.

  • Mathieu

    Hi Keith, I use my left eye simply because I can only close my right eye:) It has always been like this for me so I guess I’m used to now.

  • Mathieu

    I used a sandisk extreme 45mb/s 16gb card.
    I don’t understand your second question, what do you mean by “out of cameras”?

  • David

    What card did you use to record video?
    Also was the video recording out of cameras, not the with the brick?

  • KeithS

    Mathieu –

    I discovered your site just recently, since I was considering buying my first mirrorless camera, and have enjoyed it considerably. Thanks for all the work you and Heather put into it. This is a bit off-topic, but I noticed in the photos that you – like me – are in the minority of left-eye dominant people. You’re looking through the GH4 viewfinder with your left eye. Which is what I do – if I use my right eye I have to close my left and that just isn’t comfortable. But, of course, most cameras – look at the GX7 – are designed to be used right-eyed. I wondered if you found this awkward, particularly with smaller cameras – which is what most mirrorless cameras are, of course.

  • WestonC

    These are the first pictures taken from Panny 15mm 1.7. Wow, the pics are sharp w beautiful rendering. And it is the best looking M43 lens, IMO.
    I must have this lens!
    While you were there, did you hear the rumors the upcoming Panasonic 35-100mm ultra compact actually is of constant 2.8 stop? Start from 8:15 in the video in
    Found it hard to believe but remain hopeful. Panasonic is on a roll.
    Thanks for the testing pics!

  • Mathieu

    Yes cropping is certainly an interesting tool with 4k footage.

  • Mathieu

    Hi James, thanks for pointing that out, I got confused with all this “techie” numbers :)

  • Ken Snyder

    Thank you for sharing the original files. They imported nicely into Vegas. Really fun grading 4k. I also cropped the image of your beautiful girlfriend’s eyes and the image remained sharp when rendered 1080p. I see now why I must have 4k in my next camera.

  • James Benet

    Great write up Mathieu,

    Thanks for the samples it really looks to be a much improved sensor and a worthy competitive camera for stills to APS C. Video wise it’s a monster.
    You state: , “the GH4 can record at 4k resolution (4 times Full HD) up to 30p at 100mpbs with an ALL-I (all-intra) codec.”

    I don’t think that is accurate, the ALL I mode is for 200mbit at 1080p only. the 100mbit modes are for 4k and 1080p all use IPB compression which is not I frame. Other than that it seems your preview is sound.


  • Heather

    Oh yes, a bit too much fun! 😉

  • TysonRobichaud

    Boy am I jealous! Hope you guys are having fun… :)

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