The Look of Kodak Movies: Panasonic GH5 II Review

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If I were to buy a brand new camera in 2021, I’m not sure it would be the Panasonic GH5 II. And that’s not at all to say that the Panasonic GH5 II is a bad camera. In fact, it’s probably one of the best Micro Four Thirds offerings on the market. But, I think the problem has to do with Panasonic’s lineup. The Panasonic S5, for all intents and purposes, is just a better camera. In fact, before I bought the Leica SL2s, the Panasonic S5 was a strong contender. It also does something almost no other camera does: full-frame, live, composite imagery. But still, the Panasonic GH5 II delivers on the cinematic-looking image quality the brand has recently become known for. And more than anything else, that’s a big reason to adore the Panasonic GH5 II.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Panasonic GH5 II is a pretty good camera. But we’re a photography blog. And for what it’s worth, I think you’re better off buying the Panasonic G5. Micro Four Thirds has its benefits for cinema. But as a photographer, just with the Panasonic S5 instead.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Great autofocus even with Olympus lenses
  • CineLike color profile is excellent combined with film white balances. Combined with the 4:3 ratio, it reminds me of actual cinema
  • Built very durable
  • Nice screen, very bright
  • A fantastic webcam
  • Nice and small
  • Some of the most beautiful and inspiring JPEGs I’ve seen in a while. These are almost as good as Fujifilm’s.
  • Lots of flash options
  • Feels good in the hand
  • Viewfinder is very usable
  • Panasonic’s menu system continues to be one of the best in the business

Cons

  • I wish the buttons illuminated in the dark.
  • Though they’re using the same old sensor, they did a lot to improve the image quality. But I’m not sure how long someone would want this camera vs upgrading.
  • One shot street photography is great: tracking not so much.
  • Better as a JPEG camera, which isn’t really a Con per se. IMHO, the idea of always shooting raw and grinding away in post-production needs to start taking a backseat to actually learning how to use the camera.
  • I’m lukewarm about the RAW files.

Innovations

The Panasonic GH5 II isn’t really doing anything majorly special. It’s a slightly updated from the GH5 that lets it do more things that are centered on movie making. You’ll get cinematic image quality with the CineLike color profiles. But otherwise, it’s not really pushing the camera world into new territory.

Gear Used

We used the Panasonic GH5 II with the Olympus 17mm f1.2 PRO lens, Voightlander 17.5mm f0.95 lens, and the Panasonic 12-60mm f2.8-4.

Tech Specs

Tech specs are taken from the LensRentals listing

The Panasonic GH5 II is a versatile video- and live streaming-focused update to the pro-grade, hybrid photo/video GH5 camera. Key features include:

  • 20.3MP Live MOS sensor with AR coating
  • Internal DCI/UHD 4K/60p with no sensor crop or time limit
  • Internal 4:2:2 10-bit and preinstalled V-Log L gamma curve
  • 6.5-stop, 5-axis Dual Image Stabilization 2 system

What’s Changed? While the GH5S, Panasonic’s previous, video-centric iteration of the GH5, was a step forward for this series in many regards, the GH5 II marks an even more substantial improvement over the original GH5 with a particular focus on live streaming. The updated Venus Engine Imaging Processor gives you quicker autofocus response with improved face, eye, and body recognition; enhanced video capabilities; and increased operation speed across the board. The GH5 II also offers a plethora of improved livestreaming options, an updated image-stabilization system, two new color modes, and the twelve-stop version of V-Log L that previously came pre-installed on the GH5S. It’s worth noting that Panasonic has decided against including RAW video output in the GH5 II, although the presence of V-Log L means you probably won’t miss out on any tonal precision in any case.

20.3MP Live MOS Sensor and Venue Engine Processor. The 20.3MP Digital Live MOS sensor, which is carried over from the original GH5, has a newly developed AR coating and is paired with an updated Venus Engine image processor. This combination produces detailed, high-resolution images and video throughout its 200 – 25,600 normal ISO range, combats ghosting and flare in backlit scenes, increases dynamic range by 25%, and improves color accuracy and gradation.

4K Video Powerhouse. Like its predecessor, the GH5 II uses its full sensor width for DCI and UHD 4K capture with no recording time limit. The camera offers internal recording at up to 6K/30p 10-bit 4:2:0 (200Mbps), and can also simultaneously record 4K/60p 10-bit 4:2:0 (400Mbps) while outputting 4:2:2 10-bit over HDMI. Sending the signal out to a compatible external recorder increases the possible 4K 4:2:2 frame rate to 60p, but does little else.

Professional Video Functionality. Waveforms, vectorscope monitoring, zebras, and focus peaking are all carried over from the original GH5, and the Mark II also offers a variety of handy features like in-camera LUTs for monitoring, the new CINELIKE D2 picture style, which prioritizes dynamic range, the CINELIKE V2 picture style, which prioritizes contrast, the “nostalgic” L.ClassicNeo color mode, and the self-explanatory L.Monochrome S color mode.

V-Log L Upgrade Pre-Installed. Panasonic did everyone a solid and decided to preinstall the V-Log L upgrade on all GH5 II cameras. This provides an extremely flat gamma curve and image that’s capable of twelve stops of dynamic range for additional latitude when grading your footage.

Optimized for Livestreaming. When paired with the Lumix Sync app, the GH5 II becomes a compact, easy-to-use livestreaming system that’s ideal for travel, lectures, electronic news-gathering, events, and live-commerce applications. You can also use the Lumix Network Setting Software to livestream via a router, and Panasonic promises wired USB-LAN IP livestreaming with a future firmware update.

Five-Axis Image Stabilization with Dual I.S. 2 Support. While other Panasonic cameras have in-camera sensor stabilization, the GH5 II uses 5-axis sensor stabilization. When paired with a stabilized Panasonic lens that supports Dual IS 2, you’ll see up to 6.5 stops of correction.

But What About Still Photography? While its headlining features remain primarily video-centric, the GH5 II is a quite capable still camera. The 6K PHOTO mode lets you shoot 18MP stills at 30 fps, while the 4K PHOTO mode lets you shoot 8MP stills at 30 or 60 fps. Both of these modes give you unlimited recording time, and the pre-burst mode also records images one second before and after you press the shutter button so you have up to 60 frames to choose from.

225-Point Autofocus System. The improved Depth From Defocus autofocus system offers fast, accurate performance with 225 AF points, making it great for video and still applications alike. Tracking performance has been markedly improved, and the camera is able to quickly lock onto moving subjects’ faces, eyes, and bodies and continue following them, even against a background of other moving subjects. Panasonic has also included a dedicated joystick for selecting your desired AF point, and the camera can capture stills at up to 12 fps with continuous autofocus.

OLED EVF & Touchscreen Rear LCD. The GH5 Mark II retains its predecessor’s 3.68M-dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 0.76x magnification. Outside of the Leica SL, it remains one of the best available. Meanwhile, the 3.2-inch 1.84m-dot rear RGBW LCD is fully articulating and touch-capable.

Other Notable Features. Build quality is much the same as the previous versions of the GH5, with extensive weather-sealing around the magnesium alloy that Panasonic claims is dust-proof, splash-proof, and freeze-proof down to 14º F. Dual UHS-II SD memory card slots handle recording, while the DMW-BLK22 rechargeable battery gives you roughly 400 shots per charge. You also get built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity for wireless image transfer and remote camera control, and you can use the optional Panasonic DMW-XLR1 XLR Microphone Adapter add-on for professional audio functionality.

Need a Memory Card? You’ll need an ultra-fast memory card for a camera this powerful, and we recommend the Sony 128GB SF-G Tough Series UHS-II SDXC. This camera can take full advantage of its superior 299 MB/s max write speed and 300 MB/s max read speed for high-resolution, high-bitrate capture.

Ergonomics

Here’s a look at the Panasonic GH5 II from the front. It looks, well, a lot like a Panasonic GH5. 

Take the lens off the front, and you’ll see a command button and the lens release. 

Here’s the top of the Panasonic GH5 II. There are two primary dials: one for drive mode and the other for shooting modes. Then there are other buttons for various other controls like ISO, exposure compensation, etc.

Turn to the back of the camera, and there’s little in the way of controls. Canon users will adore the back dial, as well any previous Panasonic user. 

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Panasonic camera without a useful screen. And this one has a screen that swivels and rotates.

Build Quality

The Panasonic GH5 II is a very well-built camera. It’s got a whole lot of dust and moisture-proofing built-in, but it only experiences this fully with weather-resistant lenses. You can rest assured that if you’ve got one attached, you’re going to have no issues in the rain. It puts lots of Sony cameras to shame.

Otherwise, the Panasonic GH5 II feels great in hand. It reminds me of a smaller DSLR-style camera. I couldn’t see how someone could think or believe that this feels like a cheap camera. For what it’s worth, too, I think folks with bigger hands might like it. It’s larger than the Panasonic S5.

Ease of Use

Panasonic’s menu system has always been one of my favorites. It’s still not beating Canon’s, but it’s a close second place. The menu on the Panasonic GH5 II also uses the 3.2-inch touchscreen, which means that it’s touch-capable. It’s still not perfect, but it’s light years ahead of many other brands out there. 

Otherwise, the Panasonic GH5 II has great buttons in a very simple-to-use layout. One of my favorite things is the textured ISO button that Panasonic has. That lets you find it easily in the dark. However, I’d also really like illuminated buttons.

What you’re also bound to really like is the viewfinder. It’s not the big, bright, and gorgeous one that the Leica SL2s has, but we can’t expect that here. 

Thankfully, photographers will also be able to use the Panasonic GH5 II as a webcam. And overall, it does one of the best jobs out there. In a future firmware update, the Panasonic GH5 II will get the Live Composite feature.

Metering

The Phoblographer’s metering tests are based on Sunny 16 rules. This means that if you’re experienced and shooting in manual mode, you’ll be able to figure out your settings a lot faster. You won’t need to use the exposure preview or anything else like the camera’s metering. With all this said, the Panasonic GH5 II more or less falls in line with Sunny 16 metering methods. If anything, I found that it underexposes by around 1/3rd of a stop on average. That’s not bad.

The bigger problem, though, is with the smaller sensor. A small sensor like this sometimes feels like you’re shooting with slide film, and there’s no dynamic range. The Panasonic GH5 II isn’t an exception to this rule. So if anything, meter really carefully. I had to do our tests in Lightroom Classic. And if you’ve been a reader of this site for a few years, you’ll know that we all use Capture One because of its superior editing. Even so, I felt like editing images introduced more problems.

Autofocus

Here’s the really fun part! The Panasonic GH5 II is good enough for street photography but not for tracking subjects. I even went into the menu and tried tweaking the tracking settings. In my tests, the Panasonic GH5 II nailed the subject the first time around perfectly almost 100% of the time. But when it came to tracking moving subjects, it lagged behind. So basically, use the Panasonic GH5 II in Wide autofocus mode with human detection. Then shoot. It will probably nail the shot if it found the human you want in focus. But if you want to do shoot in drive mode, you’re going to be a tad disappointed.

Image Quality

What more can I say that the Panasonic GH5 II has a Micro Four Thirds sensor. These sensors, by and large, aren’t able to compete with APS-C, full-frame, or medium format. So to counter this, you’re going to shoot a lot in JPEG. And quite honestly, that’s where I feel the Panasonic GH5 II is at its strongest. It has a new CineLike color profile. Yes, you can apply it in Lightroom. But what’s the point if the JPEG produces the same image? That’s to say that the images are so good right out of the camera that I don’t need to shoot in RAW.

Quite honestly, after the Fujifilm X Pro 3, the Panasonic GH5 II delivers some of my favorite JPEGs.

RAW File Versatility

Here’s what you can get when you edit your images in Lightroom. It’s not bad, for sure. But that’s all determined on whether or not I nailed the metering, to begin with. At this point, I introduced a lot of image noise into the photo. It’s nothing like larger sensor cameras. Overall, I’d lay off a bit. 

At high ISOs, the colors also start to fall apart when editing.

High ISO Output

In our print tests, the Panasonic GH5 II showed more noise than we’d like at ISO 6400 and printing at 17×22. For the record, I use the Canon ProGraf Pro 1000 and Pro Luster paper. However, I was pretty impressed that it was able to hold its own with Sony’s 24MP APS-C sensor cameras. Fuji’s and Nikon’s outdid the Panasonic GH5 II at 17×22, though.

Otherwise, digitally speaking, the Panasonic GH5 II doesn’t have a whole lot of ISO noise at ISO 6400 on an iMac 27-inch screen. It will look pretty good still on a screen.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, the Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. You’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a whole section in our Extra Image Samples area to show off edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Unedited

Conclusions

Likes

  • Build quality
  • Small size, though the Panasonic S5 is smaller
  • Lightweight
  • Feels good in the hand
  • Pretty responsive
  • I adore the JPEGs.

Dislikes

  • All the usual problems that come with a Micro Four Thirds camera
  • I really wish the tracking autofocus was better.

So here’s the thing. The Panasonic GH5 II is a pretty good camera. It can deliver beautiful JPEGs. The single autofocus settings are great. It’s built very solid. It’s also very responsive and feels like a companion camera.

But I’m so incredibly torn about it. Objectively speaking, it will do a great job. If you’re going to buy a camera for video, it’s pretty obvious you should get one. But if you’re shooting stills, I think that Panasonic has better choices. We have yet to see and tested the Panasonic GH6. Further, they have one of the best cameras of the past few years in the Panasonic S5. 

Would I, personally, buy the Panasonic GH5 II? Honestly, no. I’d buy the Panasonic S5 instead. And for the record, I don’t hate Micro Four Thirds. I think that it needs to try twice as hard as full-frame cameras do, though, to compete.

With that said, the Panasonic GH5 II receives four out of five stars. Want one? Check out Amazon for the latest prices.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.