We woke up before dawn to trek to the part of the property that best overlooked the ocean. We had been to this spot the morning before, but we weren’t able to get set up before the sun began to rise.
This time, we were going to get the shot.
Shooting at the tip of Baja, California in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Panasonic’s new GH5 II was in our hands. Equipped with a Sirui 50mm f1.8 1.33X anamorphic lens, we caught the light as it crested the horizon and into the sky. This was the last shot of our trip, but it ended up being our favorite.
The Panasonic LUMIX GH5 II gave us some beautiful images that week in Mexico. Shooting the sunrise that day, we shot in the included V-log L at the upgraded 6K anamorphic (4992 x 3774) in 10-bit 4:2:0 at 200 Mb/s. The sensor on the GH5 II is the same as found in the original GH5. The difference is, Panasonic added an AR coating to cut purple internal flare. The GH5II can capture internally up to DCI 4K at 60p in Long GOP at 4:2:0 or 4:2:2 at 30p. And, in variable frame rate or VFR mode, it can shoot up to 180fps, but only in HD.
You can capture internally and externally with the GH5 II via the HDMI at the same time. Plus, it is able to capture at its top data rate internally while outputting 10-bit 4:2:2. This is helpful when you want to shoot to an external recorder in a different format. And like all other Panasonic LUMIX cameras, there is no internal record limit time. The camera can continue to capture until your media is full or the battery dies, whichever one comes first.
The camera’s price is higher than the GH5, which Panasonic has said will continue to be available. However, it does cost less than the GH5 was when it was first announced. At $1,700, the GH5 II supports sensor stabilization when shooting anamorphic. It has two SD card slots for V60 or V90 cards, which both offer the same support.
The biggest update to the GH5 II is its ability to livestream with a smartphone or the ability to use it as a USB webcam. Additionally, Panasonic has planned a firmware update that will allow for using the camera for IP video.
Let’s talk about how the GH5 II performed and what makes it different from prior Panasonic cameras.
Anamorphic sensor stabilization
There is now sensor stabilization available with the GH5 II when shooting anamorphic, which proved to be a useful new feature. Before this, handheld anamorphic shooting was a shaky mess. Now with sensor stabilization, being able to shoot a wider aspect ratio is a special delight, and framing is much easier when you have a wider aspect ratio. Also, lens flares streak horizontally and bokeh has a unique shape. There is also a digital stabilization available that works well, but it will crop your image some.
Micro four-thirds makes great lenses affordable
Because Micro four-thirds is a smaller sensor, less glass is needed to make a lens. As a result, this brings down the cost of quality lenses found in products like the Sirui anamorphic lenses, the Olympus m.zuiko line and now the GH5 II. All three offer a good fit at a great value, respectively. .
Here’s a tip: choose a lens with a constant aperture across the zoom of the lens. Take a 24mm-105mm f/4 lens, because regardless of whether you are 24mm or 105mm, you can shoot at f4. If the lens was, say, a 24mm-105mm f/2.8-5.6 when you are wide at 24mm, the largest aperture is f/2.8. This changes as you zoom the lens, so by the time you’re at 105mm, the widest you can be is f/5.6.
All-intra 10-bit DCI 4K captured internally
The GH5 II offers a whopping 400 megabits per second (Mbps) in its top data rate in All-Intra in 4:2:2 in DCI 4K – just reading that will take your breath away. To put that into some context, if you put in a 64GB SD card, you will get about 20 minutes of capture. You will get full information in every frame, unlike GOP that only captures the differences between each frame.
No record time limit
Although many mirrorless cameras now offer unlimited record time, not all do. Panasonic has long offered unlimited record times. As a video shooter, it’s hard to consider a camera that can’t capture for longer than 30 minutes. Say you need to do a long take for a wedding ceremony – you don’t want to have to re-arm the camera or cameras. This is the reason external video recorders became popular – they allowed for longer capture times.
Included V-Log L
The GH5 II differs from the GH5, where a paid upgraded firmware gave the camera V-log. Instead, the feature is included in the GH5 II’s price, and it’s V-Log L , found in the varicam line. If you need dynamic range, shooting in V-Log L is the way to do it. Additionally, they have a view assist so you can see what your shot looks like, with a LUTapplied.
The upgraded resolution of the monitor is from 1,620,000 Dots to 1,840,000 Dots. While this is headed in the right direction, the screen is smaller than desired. We found, even with focus peaking, that it was hard to tell what was in sharpest focus.
An external monitor would resolve this. But along with the cost of that, you’ll want to throw in a cage too. This is because mounting a monitor to a cold shoe is not always trustworthy. Every cold shoe mount will eventually fail with weight and use. For most of our test footage, our chosen focus point was off and we were often shooting f16 to f22.
Location of anamorphic controls
We love the anamorphic capabilities of the GH5 II. But, we found changing anamorphic settings to be a bit frustrating, starting with the recording settings. Amongst all the other options, and there are a lot, you have to find the ones indicated as 4:3. That’s fine, but it’s easy to choose the wrong setting. We would rather see just the anamorphic options, or what isn’t anamorphic grayed out.
Because an anamorphic lens squeezes your image, it needs to be de-squeezed to see it as shot. We wish this was just automatic when shooting anamorphic. After all, who doesn’t want to de-squeeze their anamorphic shot? The same is true for previewing shots – de-squeeze preview must be on to see the footage properly. Desqueeze must be chosen to preview anamorphic shots in the proper aspect ratio.
Again, this should be automatic and the camera should be told what to do when 4:3 footage is played back. We wish you just told the camera you were shooting anamorphic and the rest was automatic. We would even settle for just having all the anamorphic features next to each other in the menu.
Low light performance
To test the low light performance, we must understand at what ISO you start to see noise. At the same time, we want to know what the range of that noise is, so we can choose accordingly. To test this, we do an ISO ramp from ISO200 and double it until we reach its highest ISO. Noise starts at ISO800, but is not distracting or degrading to the image. We’d use it up to 6400 ISO, but over that the noise color shifts and is much more noticeable. Any denoising to footage over 6400 will likely result in detail loss. This is typical across mirrorless cameras.
The autofocus (AF) function on the GH5 II wasn’t impressive. When using AF for video, it needs to be flawless. At one point during our trip, we were shooting a saxophone player in a lower-light situation. During the performance, we adjusted the AF settings in the search of the perfect settings. Regardless of what settings, there was a lot of hunting. When shooting in a high key, high contrast setting, the AF did perform better. But, outside of perfect lighting settings, we would stay away from depending on the AF.
Final thoughts on function and image quality
The image quality out of the GH5 II is fantastic, and the improved anamorphic shooting is an awesome addition. But finding and using the camera’s anamorphic controls are frustrating.
Still, the GH5 II’s unlimited record time is a must-have for video shooters. Better yet, being able to capture 10-bit 4:2:2 internally is fantastic, and being micro four-thirds makes quality lenses far more affordable. As a result, the GH5 II has a better starting price than the GH5 and offers a great value overall.
The GH5 II’s monitor resolution made getting focus more difficult. And the AF performance is not great. Despite these problems, the image quality, price and value make the GH5 II a good choice for budget-minded shooters. In fact, there isn’t a single user group that the GH5 II wouldn’t be a good selection for.