This month we are featuring the Lumix DMC-GH4, digital single lens mirrorless (DSLM) camera. Successor to the GH3 model, the Lumix GH4 introduces a couple new features, which are wireless connectivity with near field communication technology and 4K professional quality video recording capability, all in a nicely packaged compact camera system.
First impressions: The GH4’s touchscreen monitor and the “live” view finder monitor each have an amazing picture quality. I literally did a double-take the first time I saw my composition in the viewfinder. I did not expect to see such a high quality display engineered into this camera, especially the view finder screen. The LVF display is 2,359k dots and the touchscreen monitor is 1,036k dots with 10000:1 high contrast color reproduction. Additionally, the touchscreen monitor is engineered very well, with the ability to select your programmed function keys, from the screen display, with the touch of a finger. The compact feel of this camera is very good too. It can be held in one hand if needed, without worry of losing my grip, which is great for selfies. Also, the ten combinations of programmable function keys, plus three hotkeys add efficiency and increased functionality that is very similar to what you will find on high-end professional cameras. The moisture-proof build of this camera body is also a huge plus that is an “out of sight, out of mind” benefit, which can’t be ignored. Wireless connectivity is the feature that caught my eye and mounted my frustration and amazement at the same time. It’s a super cool feature that I wish I had more time to explore and master. Lastly, the single slot for an SD memory card is a bit of a turn-off. Call me “spoiled,” but I find that having an extra SD, or CF slot for overflow or .jpg capture is a flexibility feature that I have come to appreciate and desire.
Touchscreen Monitor: The touchscreen monitor itself is full of cool features, such as free angle shooting, finger touch operation and finger touch button selection. The monitor can be opened from its home location and positioned out to 180° (degrees), and then rotated 180°, for multiple viewing angles while composing. Once finished, the monitor can be stowed by snapping it back into place in the camera body. I highly recommend stowing the monitor with the screen against the camera body to prevent scratches on the screen. It does not come with a cover-guard.
The touchscreen can also be used to take a picture. That’s right… take a picture. This function is selectable from the sidebar menu (located on the right side of the screen). Once activated, the point that you touch on the screen becomes the focus point for your composition. The picture is taken when the subject focus is achieved. It’s a totally cool feature that works best for night photography. Since the screen is backlit, it makes for a better way to compose and shoot, as opposed to the viewfinder and shutter release combo. It gives a whole new meaning to “live view.”
By now you’ve probably realized that the touchscreen panel of this camera is capacitive. Which means that the finger touch operations we have become accustomed to with other devices, such as iPhones and iPads will work similarly with the GH4’s touchscreen panel. For example, pinch and drag motions… Pinch fingers apart to enlarge, or zoom into an image and pinch together to reduce, or zoom out. Drag motions will do several operations too, depending on the mode you are in, such as scroll or fast scroll to review images in camera mode, or become video playback, pause, etc. in video record mode.
Touchscreen operation features seemed to be limitless… Every time I explored one touchscreen feature, I learned about another… Such as the ability to use touch operations to define a specific AF area for auto-focus. You have to think in terms of the multi-point AF area that many cameras utilize for auto focus. Just imagine yourself drawing a “Z” across the touchscreen and those points along the “Z” line becoming the points of AF for the next composition. No more rotating the thumbwheel to move the AF cursor to the set-point that you desire. Simply use a touch operation to set the AF area. Once mastered, small functions like this can become huge productivity time savers.
Programmable Function Keys and Hot Keys: There are ten programmable function keys with the GH4 camera system. Five physical buttons on the camera body and five “virtual” buttons on the touchscreen sidebar menu. There are also three hot keys located directly behind the shutter release.
The function buttons work the same as they do with other camera systems. What impressed me about the GH4’s function buttons is how many there are… ten altogether. Each can be set to operate in different modes, camera mode and video mode. For example, calling a menu operation such as flash, while in camera mode. During this review, I quickly learned that the flash button (which activates the pop-up flash) does not have any other operable capability, as it does on my other cameras (i.e. flash compensation, or flash power). I needed to program a function key to call-up the flash menu and then proceed to select manual flash control, then the power level I desired. The function key, in this regard made it easier for me to get right to the setting I want, for faster setup. However, I did find it very annoying that I had to do this every time I wanted to adjust the flash power output. Another annoyance, by the way, was the previous setting not retained in memory. Meaning that once I changed modes (M, A, S, P), or the camera is powered OFF, the setting returns to default and the flash power setting I made previously was lost.
I really enjoyed the three hot keys and where they are located (directly behind the shutter release) on top of the GH4 body. This is the best button feature of this camera, by far… If you’re like me, the first thing you learn on any camera are the hot keys for ISO, White Balance, and Exposure Compensation. On my other cameras, the hot keys are located on the Left side, on top… or on the Left side of the backplane… and I am not Left Handed. Therefore, when I have my eye in the viewfinder composing a shot, I frequently have to fish around for the button with my Left hand. On the Lumix GH4 camera, these hot keys are on the Right side and they are positioned perfectly behind the shutter release on top. ISO and Exposure Comp adjustments were quick and easy to make with my eye in the viewfinder, composing a shot. One finger press and “done,” no fishing. I totally loved it.
Wireless Connectivity: This is the feature that I looked forward to the most. However, I have to admit that my expectations were out of phase with how this feature actually operates. The wireless camera control feature is primarily App driven, meaning that you have to download the Panasonic Image App to your smartphone or tablet, to gain access to the remote operation of the camera. The image App is free to download from the Panasonic website, so no worries there. I did find that the setup of the wireless camera control function was clunky and frustrating. It was not intuitive and I had a hard time finding the right combination of menu selections and synch actions to get right to the point… which is to take a picture remotely. However, once the camera was synchronized to the App, operation was flawless. The image App from Panasonic is completely solid and fun… There is only about a one second delay between activating the shutter release on my smartphone and the actual shutter release on the camera. Image transfer is a snap too, with the image popping up on the smartphone in about four seconds. I didn’t think to record an official time… I was having too much fun.
To use the GH4’s Wi-Fi function in a network, a wireless access point or destination device that is equipped with LAN function is going to be required. This feature capability opens up even “cooler” tricks, such as printing to a network printer, displaying your pictures on a wi-fi TV, transmitting your images to a PC, transmitting images to a family member that is located off-site, or even transmitting directly to the web. There are a whole host of details that come into play with this feature too. Everything from saving images to your smartphone or tablet, to file size limitations when sending to a PC, not to mention the playback compatibility on all of these mediums. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the test product long enough to fully explore all of these little gory details. One thing for sure is that there is going to be a learning curve for mastering all of the wireless tricks and treats.
Other features I like about the Lumix GH4 are; In-camera RAW image processing, which enables the user to process a RAW image, in-camera, and then output the processed image as a new JPG. Also, there’s another super cool feature that is… (for lack of a better description), an in-camera “spot healing brush tool,” called the Clear Touch tool. Clear Touch works much the same as the spot healing brush in Photoshop, whereby the user selects an area to retouch, then deletes the unwanted pixels. The deleted pixels are cloned by the surrounding colors in that area of the image. Additionally, there’s another gold nugget feature which is used for taking pictures with different image effects. This Creative Control Mode has several software driven image effects, such as a One Point Color effect, a Dramatic Contrast (Joel Grimes style) effect, and a Miniature Diorama effect, among several others… More-over, focus control has an In-Focus Highlighting mode (displayed at the LVF, on touch monitor) that uses three colors to indicate varying focus levels in a composition and the feature even works with manual focus too. One huge feature is the 4K video capability. I surely would like to have tested this feature too, but I do not have all of the equipment required to achieve the full 4K experience. As with all of our PAC reviews, they are limited to only three photography related features. With the Lumix GH4 there are many, many more features and functions than meet the eye. You are sure to get your money’s worth from the Lumix GH4.
All-in-all the Lumix GH4 is a power-packed camera… and an excellent choice for any level photographer, from the beginner level, to the professional level.