Review: Panasonic GH5s (One of My Favorite Micro Four Thirds Cameras)

The Panasonic GH5s feels like and looks like a DSLR. But it surely isn’t one.

When the Panasonic GH5s was first announced, I wasn’t very sure what to think of it. Sure, Panasonic was going after the video market and the high ISO market in the same way that Sony was. But for years, I wasn’t always too keen about Panasonic’s cameras. Over the past few years though, I’ve grown more of a soft spot for them as their performance has dramatically improved in a number of areas. With the Panasonic GH5s the name of the game is high ISO output. It has a 10.2MP Four Thirds sensor at the heart, weather sealing, dual card slots, touch screen, headphone jacks, microphone jacks, PC sync port, hot shoe, and dials galore that many photographers will love and appreciate. Yet for years still, folks continue to discount Micro Four Thirds systems and what’s possible.

 

Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • Weather sealing
  • Great autofocus in most situations
  • Focus peaking for manual focus lenses
  • High ISO output is great
  • Because this is a 10.2MP Four Thirds sensor, the pixels are more densely packed and therefore give off pretty detailed images.
  • Tactile things on the buttons that make you realize what they are

Cons

  • That’s a lot of money to pay.
  • Detail loss above 6400 is a bit too much.

Gear Used

The Panasonic GH5s was used with the Panasonic Leica 12-40mm f2.8-4 and the Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 lens.

Tech Specs

Specs are taken from Panasonic’s website. That’s the best place to see all of them.

  • 10.2MP high-sensitivity MOS sensor with multi-aspect and dual native ISO (400 & 2,500) with a range from 160 – 51,200; extendable to 80 – 204,800.
  • Unlimited in-camera recording of C4K: 60p50p 8-bit, 30p25p24p 4:2:2 10-bit, 4K: 60p50p 4:2:0 8-bit, 30p25p24p 4:2:2 10-bit. 1080p up to 240fps and C4K 60p VFR.
  • 4K Anamorphic professional video production interchangeable lens camera system with high performance, durability, and mobility.
  • TC In/Out / Synchro Terminal (via included BNC cable), 3.5mm Mic Jack with Line Input, 3.5mm headphone jack 2.5mm remote socket, HDMI Type A Socket, USB-C 3.1 Socket.
  • Dual SD Card slots (U

Ergonomics

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The Panasonic GH5s on the front is almost devoid of controls. There is a programmable button on the front as well as the lens release. But otherwise, it looks like  a smushed DSLR.

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Move to the top and what you’ll find is a whole lot more control. We can point out the mode dial, the white balance button, record video button, ISO button, exposure compensation button, on/off switch, hot shoe, and exposure dials.

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Look on the top left and you’ll spot the drive dial. This is big, in your face and really tough to miss. I appreciate that.

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Move to the back of the camera and you’ll spot the EVF, the LCD, a number of parameter control buttons, the AF lock button, and that big giant dial. If you’re a Canon user, this dial will be a refreshment for you. The problem is that I couldn’t figure out how to hard wire it to an exposure control of some sort.

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That big LCD screen also tilts out and swivels. It’s very nice for video mode and shooting in odd angles.

Build Quality

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I tested the Panasonic GH5s while out and about in the rain here in NYC. When paired with the 12-40mm f2.8-4 lens, the duo was able to resist the rain with no issues. Just by holding it, you know that the Panasonic GH5s is a big, beefy camera. It feels like a Canon or Nikon DSLR and not like a mirrorless camera at all. It has ample heft to it and not a single piece feels like it isn’t solid in any way. This is how professional mirrorless cameras are really meant to feel in the hand.

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Ease of Use

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Panasonic’s menu system is very simple to navigate through, but I have to admit that all of the sub-menus are quite long. Like Olympus, I sometimes find it difficult to get to exactly what I want. Eventually you locate what you’re looking for and remember it, but this of course takes time.

When it comes to operating with the camera in near darkness (where it was designed to shoot) you’ll be delighted to know the ISO button has a little perforation on it the same way that DSLRs do. All you’ll need to do is feel around in the dark and you’ll find the button. The white balance is also the only one that isn’t flat but instead convex. There are also three dials on the Panasonic GH5s. My only qualm here is that I wish I could program one of the dials to control the ISO without needing the press the button beforehand. This would be sort of like what Sony does — give the photographer control over the ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed just with dials. That would be ideal.

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Admittedly though, I didn’t have to change the ISO as much as I thought I’d need to simply because some of the best Panasonic lenses have image stabilization built in. So even when it’s getting dark, you can shoot at ISO 400 with little to no worries.

Autofocus

When working with the Panasonic GH5s, I only felt that the autofocus started to suffer when working with the smallest autofocus point and not finding any sort of contrast on a subject in low light. This is a camera meant more for professional uses and applications, and so I’d expect the autofocus to be top notch. However when I compare the Panasonic GH5s to other systems, I’ve had more success with Fujifilm and Sony, as well as Olympus. I’m not sure why.

When it came to working with the Panasonic GH5s with manual focus lenses like the great offerings from Voigtlander, I was pleasantly surprised.

Metering

In my tests, I found the Panasonic GH5s to meter accordingly with the rules of Sunny 16. In a number of situations, it was 1/3rd underexposing, but that’s very standard with digital cameras.

Image Quality

The Panasonic GH5s’s image quality is honestly pretty darned good. When it came to working with the RAW files in Capture One 11, I was very surprised as I went into the review with the feeling that the images would fall apart. Part of this may be from the way that Capture One really tells you to work with the color channels first vs the more basic settings. However, the RAW files could hold their own with many other options out there in the right conditions.

RAW File Versatility

I shot lots of photos in both really bright sunlight and dimly lit night scenes. I found the Panasonic GH5s better at recovering shadow details when it came to getting an average metering of each of the scenes. This tells me that you’re most likely going to get better results when you underexpose. In fact, you start to see that in the image above with the clouds.

In more overcast situations where the dynamic range isn’t very huge, the Panasonic GH5s surely achieves some of its highest and best output. Again though, much of that comes with working with the color channels specifically. What I found though, when playing around with most of the images I shot, is that it’s tougher to give a single image the dynamic range that you’d expect from bigger, higher megapixel sensors. And that just makes sense.

Indeed, working with the color channels individually helped me create my favorite photos that I made with the Panasonic GH5s.

High ISO Output

The image above was shot at ISO 3200, and for a 10.2MP Four Thirds sensor, it’s very impressive that it can render that kind of detail. Beyond ISO 6400 I found the details to start to smudge a bit too much for my own liking, but you’ll only really see this in prints and pixel peeping. You’re not going to see it that much when you look at the whole image.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • High ISO output
  • Build Quality
  • Autofocus is good in most situations

Dislikes

  • A bit too big and not elegant for me.

The Panasonic GH5s is a fantastic camera for the working photographer who needs great high ISO output and wants a massive selection of lenses with some serious weather sealing and build quality overall. The strongest suit of the camera is the high ISO output followed by just how great it feels in the hand. It’s a fantastic camera but for the price point you can go for even better options with better image quality from Fujifilm and Sony. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of what Canon is currently making when it comes to mirrorless cameras. But as it is, there isn’t enough for me to want to make the switch over. I want more and better dynamic range but Panasonic is really nailing it here with the colors and the high ISO output.

The Panasonic GH5s receives four out of five stars. What a great camera! If you’d like to buy one, head on over to Adorama.