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Panasonic gears up Lumix GH4 for 4K

The company introduces the first interchangeable-lens still camera that's QFHD- and Cinema 4K-ready out of the box, though you'll have to accessorize for best results.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
7 min read
Lori Grunin/CNET

Though it feels like a long time since Panasonic released the Lumix DMC-GH3, in truth it's only been a year and a half; it's the rate of technology change in that camera's cohort that makes it seem an eon. But it looks like what we're getting might have been worth the wait. The GH3's successor, the Lumix DMC-GH4, packs a host of feature and technology enhancements in the old body that offers something for everyone: 4K video and a new autofocus system with improved continuous-shooting performance are just the highlights.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 and the Interface Unit (pictures)

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For all the combinations of video frame rates, bit rates, audio formats, and file formats this camera is capable of shooting, you'll have to consult Panasonic's site: I think there are 36, not including the options for new variable-frame-rate (0.25x to 4x) HD video. It's the first prosumer model to offer Cinema 4K (C4K, 4,096x2,160) in addition to Quad HD 4K (QHD, 3,840x2,160), and notably it supports potentially extra-high-quality HD, meaning 4:2:2 10-bit output with a 200Mbps bit rate at all the major frame rates. (Here's an explanation of color subsampling.) It also adds a higher-quality All-I codec in addition to interframe compression, though it doesn't support All-I for either 4K standard. Unlike the GH3, the GH4 supports multinational video standards in one camera. Other new video-related features include color and audio reference signals, Zebra, and a 15-step master pedestal setting.

Shop for Panasonic Lumix GH4 (body only)

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Note that you can't just pick up the camera, stick a card in, and shoot best-quality 4K. In-camera you can only record 4:2:0/8-bit video; to record 4:2:2/10-bit video you to need run it through the HDMI connector to an external recorder via the horribly named but practical Interface Unit (DMW-YAGH), a powered dock that adds two XLR inputs with audio controls, SDI output, and various time-code options. To record any video at 100Mbps or higher in camera you need a UHS Class 3 (U3)-rated SD card for a minimum sustained write speed of 30MBps. (I do wish there were two slots.) None of these are drawbacks so much as technological facts of life at the moment. On the upside, you'll be able to start small -- though not even that small -- and grow into the camera by accessorizing. Speaking of accessories, Panasonic also announced a shotgun mic and support for some zoom mic features in the camera to go along with it.

To support 4K, Panasonic had to incorporate a new sensor (albeit at the same old resolution) with a faster readout rate, in this case half that of the GH3's sensor. In conjunction with the latest iteration of its Venus Engine image-processing chip, Panasonic claims a wider dyamic range and decreased rolling shutter.

While it uses the same metering system as earlier models like the GX7, the GH4 debuts a new autofocus system, a combination of traditional contrast AF and DFD, or Depth from Defocus. In theory, when the camera knows the characteristics of the lens and the deviation-from-focus of two planes parallel to the focal plane, it can calculate the location of the in-focus area faster than it can iterate there using plain old contrast AF (the contrast AF system has been enhanced as well, though). So it uses DFD to make the rough calculation and then fine-tunes it with contrast AF. In Panasonic's demos, it looks pretty fast. Too fast, in fact, for video, where you don't want it to snap from one subject to another; you want it to glide gracefully between subjects. It remains to be seen if there are any controls over the focus speed for that.

The design and control layout are nearly identical to the GH3's, with a few exceptions. The mode dial now locks; it has a larger, more comfortable eyecup on the viewfinder; and the EVF and LCD are higher-resolution, and Panasonic claims better color reproduction and less distortion for the EVF. It remains weather-sealed, with a die-cast magnesium-alloy chassis, but the shutter durability rating has been upped to 200,000 cycles. Lastly, the Wi-Fi connectivity now can use NFC and QR codes to more quickly pair devices.

Some comparable models:

Canon EOS 70D Fujifilm X-T1 Nikon D7100 Olympus OM-D E-M1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4
Sensor (effective resolution) 20.2MP CMOS
16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II 24.1MP CMOS
14 bits
16.3MP Live MOS
12 bits
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bits
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bits
22.5mm x 15mm 23.6mm x 15.8mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm
Focal- length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/ 51200 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 180 (exp)/ 200 - ISO 3200/ 12800 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/ 200 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting 7fps
16 raw/65 JPEG
47 JPEG/n/a raw
(7fps in 1.3x crop mode)
6.5fps (with IS off)
unlimited JPEG/60 raw
(10fps with fixed focus and exposure, IS off)
29 raw+JPEG
40 raw/100 JPEG
(12fps with fixed focus; 40fps with electronic shutter)
Viewfinder 98% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
2.36m dots
100% coverage
1.3x - 1.48x/ 0.65x- 0.74x
1.7 million dots
100% coverage
1.42x/ 0.71x
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
Autofocus Dual Pixel CMOS
19-pt phase-detection AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8
49-area contrast AF; phase-detection AF 51-pt phase- detection AF
15 cross- type; center to f8 or faster
(Multi-CAM 3500DX)
27-point phase detection,
81-point contrast
23-area contrast AF 49-area contrast AF; DFD
AF sensitivity range -0.5 to 18 EV n/a -2 to 19 EV n/a n/a -4 to 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs.; bulb; 1/250 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs.; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 60 - 1/8,000 sec.; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/320 sec x-sync (Super FP to 1/8,000) 60-1/4,000 sec.; bulb 60-1/8,000 sec.; bulb to 60 minutes; 1/250 x-sync
Shutter durability 100,000 cycles n/a 150,000 cycles n/a n/a 200,000 cycles
Metering 63-zone iFCL 256 zones 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 324-area 144-zone 1,728-zone
Metering range 1 to 18 EV n/a 0 to 20 EV -2 - 20 EV n/a 0 to 18 EV
Flash Yes Included add-on Yes Included add-on Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/ 60p/50p 1080/60p H.264 QuickTime MOV
(14 minutes)
1080/60i/ 50i/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p H.264 QuickTime MOV
(60i/50i only in 1.3x crop mode)
1080/30p QuickTime MOV @ 24 Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p/ 50p @ 50Mbps; 1080/30p/ 25p/24p @ 80, 50Mbps
1080/60p/ 50p @ 28Mbps; 1080/24p @ 24Mbps
MP4/MOV 4,096 x 2,160/24p, 3,840 x 2,160/30p/ 25p/24p @ 100Mbps (IPB); 1080/60p/ 50p @ 200 Mbps (All I)
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input; headphone jack Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input; headphone jack Stereo; mic input; headphone jack
Optional XLR
LCD size 3-inch articulated touch screen
1.04m dots
3-inch fixed LCD
1.04 million dots
3.2-inch fixed
1,228,800 dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen
1.04m dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen OLED
610,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen OLED
1.04m dots
Wireless Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Optional via WU-1a adapter Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC
Battery life (CIPA rating) 920 shots
(210 Live View)
350 shots 950 shots 350 shots 500 shots 500 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.5 x 4.1 x 3.1 5 x 3.5 x 1.8 5.3 x 4.2 x 3 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.5 5.2 x 3.7 x 3.2 5.2 x 3.7 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 27.2 15.4 (est.) 27.3 17.5 (est.) 19.4 (est.) 19.8 (est.)
Mfr. price $1,119 (body only) $1,299.95 (body only) $1,199.95 (body only) $1,399 (body only) $1,199.99 (body only) $1,699.99 (body only)
$1,349 (with 18-55mm STM lens) $1,699.95 (with 18-55mm f2.8-4 lens) $1,599.95 (with 18-105mm lens) n/a n/a n/a
$1,549 (with 18-135mm STM lens) n/a $1,799.95 (with 18-140mm kit) n/a n/a n/a
Ship date September 2013 February 2014 March 2013 October 2013 September 2012 May 2014

As usual, Panasonic hasn't determined -- or isn't sharing -- price and availability information. (My inner cynic is mumbling something about the company getting another news cycle boost by announcing them separately. I'm trying not to listen to it.) I expect it to be roughly the same as the GH3 was at launch, about $1,300 for the body, which would be an excellent price for this feature set. Update, March 10, 2014: Panasonic has announced the GH4 body will cost $1699.99; not inexpensive, but not out of line for its features and target market. The Interface Unit will be a pricier $1999.99. Both are scheduled to ship in May. The GH3 will remain in the product line, and if the price drops even more it will be a really good value.