Update: Panasonic announces pricing, availability for 4K-capable Lumix GH4

Update on March 10, 2014: Pricing and availability has been announced. The GH4 will go on sale in May. The body will cost $1,700 – more expensive than we thought, but still an attractive price. The optional Video Adapter (DMW-YAGH) interface unit that docks with the camera will cost $2,000. The older GH3 will still be available for sale.

Update on February 11, 2014: Panasonic has posted a 4K video on YouTube, shot with two Lumix GH4 cameras and various Micro Four Thirds lenses. The film was made by documentary filmmaker Bryan Harvey, and was shot in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. See the video below. (h/t SlashGear)

Panasonic has big ambitions for its new mirrorless flagship, the Lumix GH4 – Hollywood studio big. It’s calling the camera the “world’s first Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) with 4K video recording capability.” Panasonic is targeting this high-end Micro Four Thirds camera toward pro filmmakers who utilize equipment like this for a living, as well as advanced hobbyists looking to create 4K home movies.

The GH4 looks and feels similar to its predecessor, the GH3. But to push the GH4 to the next level, Panasonic said it had to overcome the weaknesses while pursuing quality. The areas the company concentrated on were image quality, autofocus, burst mode, live viewfinder, shutter speed, operation, and durability.

The new sensor is based on the one in the GH3, but it has been enhanced for fast readout speed for 4K.

In the image quality department, the GH4 uses a new 16-megapixel Digital Live MOS sensor that “excels both in sensitivity and response and suppresses rolling shutter effect even when using the electronic shutter.” The new sensor is based on the one in the GH3, but it has been enhanced for fast readout speed for 4K.

The Venus Engine image processor has also been enhanced. Using a quad-core CPU, it can deliver the fast signal processing required for 4K. The processor also pushes ISO up to 25,600, and the burst mode to 12 frames per second. Cameras usually choke when you try to go into the high ISOs, but Panasonic says the processor was designed to handle low-noise performance. The processor also has advanced noise-reduction for a cleaner picture. “Sensitivity, gradation performance, resolution, and color reproduction are dramatically improved to achieve even higher picture quality.”

With the sensor and processor, Panasonic has turned the GH series from a still camera into a moviemaking machine (although there are many users who are already shooting movies with Lumix cameras). It can shoot in two 4K modes, Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160, 24 fps) and standard QFHD 4K (3840 x 2160, 30 fps), the latter of which is fine for 4K TVs. If you’re not ready for 4K, the camera will handle Full HD just fine. But since it’s targeting pro users, there are also features designed for them. You can change the TV standard for different world regions in-camera; record to an external storage (with this option, the camera can be set to record in 10-bit, as oppose to 8-bit); use a high-quality mic for audio via the 3.5mm jack, and monitor audio with the 3.5mm headphone jack; output real-time image to a monitor via micro HDMI; and create time-lapse and stop-motion animation videos without post-processing tools. Users can also purchase the optional Interface Unit (DMW-YAGH) that, when docked with the camera, provides XLR input, HD-SDI output, and 12V DC power. Panasonic also created a new SD card with a super-high-speed Category 3 rating designed to handle 4K recording. There are also other new accessories, such as a stereo/gun/zoom mic and wireless flash. (There are plenty of other features for videophiles, many of which go beyond what most consumers will ever encounter.)

The GH4 has a 49-point contrast autofocus system, with Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus (DFD) tech that shortens the autofocusing time to a fast 0.07 seconds – demonstrating how much of an improvement the AF systems in mirrorless cameras have achieved in recent years. Panasonic has also added focus peaking to help users who prefer to focus manually (by showing the peak of focus as you adjust). In addition to the 3-inch vari-angle OLED display, the GH4 has a bright OLED viewfinder (Panasonic calls it the Live View Finder, or LVF) that’s incredibly responsive and accurate when we gave it a whirl during a press briefing. As we expected, electronic viewfinders in high-end cameras will become as responsive and useful as their optical counterparts, and the GH4’s didn’t disappoint. The GH4 has a highlight and shadow control function that lets you make those adjustments via live view.

The GH4 is completely weather sealed, including the areas around the dials and buttons.

Since filmmakers will probably want to use the camera in a variety of scenarios, the GH4 is completely weather sealed, including the areas around the dials and buttons. Made with a magnesium alloy frame, the camera is splash proof and dustproof. For convenience, the camera also has Wi-Fi/NFC, allowing users to remotely operate the camera from a smartphone or tablet.

As mentioned, we had a chance to check out an engineering sample of the GH4. Panasonic demonstrated both still and video quality of the GH4. As a photo camera, the samples we saw were great. Our colleagues were able to notice very minute details like blown highlights, coloring, etc., but for most users, the image quality should look very good. Considering that the GH4 is a major advancement over the GH3, that’s to be expected. With the GH4 in our hands, it felt like any high-end (but large) mirrorless camera we’ve played with in recent months. It had the solid DSLR-like feel, with all the buttons and controls where you’d expect it. Video quality was equally impressive: Panasonic demonstrated video on a 2K and 4K display, and you can really point out the clarity and details of the 4K image; 2K did not look bad at all. There were some issues with the smoothness in the playback, but, just like the image samples, the content came from preproduction units, so everything has to be taken with a grain of salt – as impressive as they might come off.

Panasonic won’t reveal the price and availability until sometime in March. If we were to guess, based on the hints thrown around, this camera may cost less than $1,500 for the body, perhaps even lower. Panasonic is comparing the GH4 to other popular moviemaking cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, as well as new 4K cameras like the Sony FDR-AX1, so it’s pretty serious about the GH4 as a pro camera. It’d be interesting to see what the actual pros will think about using the GH4 for movie production. As for general consumers, the GH4 might be an overkill, but if the price is right, it could be an attractive still and video camera for any user.

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