Dear Panasonic. My (realistic) GH5 wishlist
For many months the Internet has been speculating about the feature set of the expected Panasonic GH5 (before we even knew there would even be a GH5.) Many of these proposed features have been, well, let’s just say “outside the realm of likelihood.” Now that Panasonic has officially pre-announced the camera at Photokina with a body design and a very short list of new capabilities, we have a better perspective as to what the camera might be likely to include and what is probably not gonna happen. Within that context, let me proffer what I’d personally like to see make it in before the end of Q2 2017, while limiting myself to wishes that are at least possible. (As I’m not on the engineering team, it’s difficult for me to know what’s pragmatic at this stage of development.)
What we already know
- 10bit 4:2:2 internal recording – Wonderful addition. Should obviate the need for an external recorder just to use V-Log. Will make color grading much less brittle. Kudos to Panny for including this. Now we must hope the codec is up to the task.
- 4K @ 60 FPS – Again, a clear benefit to most video shooters. Wedding highlights will benefit from the dreamy slow motion, and sports shooters can capture every bit of the action, and neither will have to sacrifice detail. As with 10bit 4:2:2, we’ll definitely want more bandwidth allocated than we currently have in the GH4.
- 6K Photo – The description of this capability is lacking and confusing. Based on what’s been said to date, we could see a “recording time” limited to a short burst of photos (probably what can be held in internal memory) that are then interpolated to 6k (because the actual resolution of the sensor is not 6K.) What’s confusing is that the current 4K Photo feature can record indefinitely. From what little we know at this point, my guess is that it is the former, not the latter, which makes this a feature of real value to certain subset of photographers (nature, sports, etc.)
- Physical body – Looks to be largely the same as the GH3, GH4, and that’s mostly a good thing. It’s not too big, not too small. Feels good in the hand, and there’s a great chance that we won’t have to replace existing accessories. There are some improvements that should be made, which I’ll discuss below.
What I’d like that’s entirely possible
- Rugged HDMI port – It’s doubtful that Panasonic will allocate precious space to a full-sized HDMI port, but at a minimum they really need to put some strength behind the micro HDMI port. The GH4’s port is ridiculously fragile, especially considering Panasonic has publicly acknowledged the value of external monitor/recorders.
- Better EVF – Just use the GX series viewfinder, it’s noticeably better than the GH4’s.
- IBIS – Panasonic has demonstrated the quality of their 5-axis stabilization in several cameras now. It is worrisome that this wasn’t mentioned for the GH5. This is a really important feature for both video and stills shooters. I really, really (really) hope Panasonic does everything in their power to include it.
- Better continuous autofocus – Enough said. It’s pretty bad in the GH4. Sony has proven it can be much better in a mirrorless camera. Bonus points for a usable autofocus that locks onto a subject’s eyes and works as well as Canon’s does for interviews.
- HFR autofocus – I understand that continuous autofocus during high frame rate recording may not be possible, but we should at least be able to half-press the shutter to find focus. Hell, even give us peaking during HFR recording!
- AutoISO in manual mode – Why is this disabled on the GH4?
- Higher bitrate – Assuming Panasonic does stick with H.264, we need more recording bandwidth to ensure that 10bit 4:2:2 4K doesn’t end-up bit starved and blocky. (Not to mention 60 fps 4K.) The GH4 already demonstrated the ability to record 1080P @ 200Mbit to common SD cards, so I think it’s reasonable to assume we’ll get at least that much allocated to 4K.
- Higher S/N ratio – Across the board, the GH4 is a noisy camera, and not just in low light. Since we’re almost certainly not getting a next generation sensor, don’t expect miracles, but a meaningful improvement would be appreciated. And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about after-the-fact NR processing, I’m hoping for better native performance. A clean image to ISO 1600 is a realistic goal, and when coupled with a reasonably fast lens, would accommodate the vast majority of shooting situations.
- Improved dynamic range – Not only is dynamic range an important factor in achieving cinematic exposures, but that latitude can mean the difference between a salvageable run-n-gun shoot and unusable footage. 12 bonafide, usable exposure stops is the minimum goal, with 14 being the ideal.
- Reduce HDMI lag – Need I say more?
- 1080p @ 120 fps – We already know the GH5’s pipeline has improved bandwidth to support 4K @ 60 fps, so this should be doable. 120 fps is where slow motion starts to get interesting.
- Optimized V-LOG – For the 7 people in the whole world that cared about matching GH4’s to Varicams, V-LOG <> V-LOG L compatibility was a nice idea. For the rest of us, it meant a severely crippled profile that wasted most of the precious, highly compressed bits. The GH5 needs a log profile tuned specifically to its capabilities, and that curve needs to make use of the entire bit bucket.
- Accurate color science – Natural vs Portrait. Cine-D vs Cine-V. Standard vs whatever. The Canon look vs the Sony look vs the Arri look vs the Blackmagic look. Help! The endless testing and debate about how to squeeze the most PQ out of the GH4 has been exhausting. Panasonic, please just give us a profile (go and and leave all the others if it makes your marketing team happy) that has one goal, and one goal only: the most accurate reproduction of color. If I use full spectrum lights, white balance the camera and then point it at a chart, I want to see that vectorscope snap into shape. Period. We’ve got LUT’s to do the rest.
- “Analog” highlights – When film is over-exposed, it doesn’t “peak” (hard cut off) to white, it gradually “rolls-off” into white. Neither is technically accurate, but the vast majority of people find the analog roll-off more “natural” or “pleasing.” (This is one of the reasons people like the look from Arri’s digital cameras.) Make this a toggled feature and make everyone happy.
- Full sensor 4K – There are a lot of benefits to direct sampling a 4K window from a larger pixel array, and I don’t question this as the default. There are definitely times it would be nice to have the option to use the full sensor, though (wide angle shots, especially.)
- Modern user interface – The GH4’s menu system works. In fact, it works better than most. But compared to Blackmagic’s wonderfully modern interface, it looks like it was designed by a software developer in 1998. I almost hate to suggest revising the UI for fear of screwing it up, but truth is there are some fairly simple, fairly safe things that could be done to bring it in line with modern usability standards.
- Full wireless control – Make every on-body camera control available in the app via WiFi.
What I’d like, possible, but I’m not holding my breath
- Larger sensor – I’m not suggesting abandoning the m4/3 format – Panasonic would never do that, nor do we want them to. What I am suggesting is to utilize a sensor big enough to resurrect the GH2’s multi-aspect ratio feature. Done right, 4K could actually have a wider field of view than HD.
- Better sensor – Panasonic patents reveal some revolutionary new sensor tech that could dramatically improve performance. It’s highly doubtful the GH5 will use an entirely next gen chip, but there may be “bridge” technology we’re not aware of that will give a meaningful bump to picture quality.
- Built-in, continuously variable ND filter – Others have now done it, and done it well, in similarly sized bodies.
- Dual native ISO – Panasonic has demonstrated the power of this feature in the Varicam 35, so we know they can do it and it works well. Its a great way to coax more performance out of the same sensor tech.
- Dual SD cards – Continuous recording (hot swappable) or mirrored, user’s choice.
- Back-up battery – We should be able to hot-swap batteries without losing the current set-up. Bonus points if the GH5 kept recording.
- 1 more function button – Right next to FN1 on the top of the camera.
- Relocate A/V ports – Somewhere, anywhere, so that they don’t obstruct rotating the touchscreen.
- HDR video – Take a play from Red’s book. Record two different exposures in rapid succession for every frame, and combine them into one shot with more dynamic range than would otherwise be possible. If the GH5 has enough bandwidth to shoot 4K @ 60P, then it has enough bandwidth to shoot 4K HDR @24/25P. Make the A image the correct exposure, and the B image exposure protection so that if the HDR frame isn’t usable because of extreme motion, the A images can be used as a standard frame.
- Better codec – There’s a slim chance Panasonic could switch to the much more efficient H.265 (as Samsung did.) A lot of people have been asking for ProRes, but this is highly unlikely given its high bandwidth demands.
Unique “killer” software features nobody else has
We always focus on improving camera hardware from one generation to the next, but because today’s camera software isn’t very smart, delivering better software is actually a really good way to differentiate a camera. These two software-only ideas are my gift to Panasonic (or any other camera manufacturer that wants to take them.)
- Multi-point “Focus Memory” – This feature would use the touchscreen in combination with auto-focus lenses to allow the shooter to pre-configure up to four focus points in a scene, and then use the touchscreen (or wifi connected device) to smoothly “rack” between them in any order. Because they are set before rolling, there is none of the ugly autofocus hunting that plagues the current touchscreen focus feature.
- “Creative Exposure” mode – As a filmmaker, while I need to have creative control of the look, I have to worry too much about correct exposure. Currently, the GH4 has the same exposure modes as most others cameras: you can have full manual control, or you can take manual control of one side of the exposure triangle and let the camera control the rest. CE mode would allow the shooter direct control of the aperture, while setting a “soft target” for the shutter speed and ISO. In order to achieve correct exposure, the camera would first adjust the ISO within a user-specified safe range, and then if the exposure still wasn’t good, it would adjust the shutter speed within a user-specified safe range. If exposure still wasn’t good, it would under or over expose.