5.17.2017

Diving a little deeper into the Panasonic G85. It's a nice camera.

The G85, on a crowded desk, with a SmallRig cage on it.


My last experience with Panasonic cameras was with the workmanlike GH4. It was actually a very well done camera with exceptional 1080p video quality and a wide range of both video features and very decent photography chops as well. But it sported a lower resolution EVF, the anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor robbed the camera of that last tweak of sharpness and the shutter was a bit loud.

While I am certain that I'd like a GH5 I'm not at all ready to give up the sterling photography and video performance I get from Sony's A7Rii to plunge down into yet another full camera family change. In fact, I've written here before that I am now certain the minute I sell off or trade in my Sony cameras and lenses on whatever looks better on the other side of the fence will be the day that Sony announces a camera that will fit my needs even more perfectly. I'll be honest and say that I think the G85 is somewhat a camera for people who really would like a GH5 but can't justify the cost of a wholesale system change. In my mind the GH5 can only be justified if you see it as a video camera that's capable of great still images instead of a still imaging camera that can take great video.

On the other hand, the Sony A7Rii is resolutely a great still photography camera that can be pressed into video service and deliver the goods but with a penalty in handling and connectivity. (What a marvelous camera it would be with the addition of a full HDMI plug and the option to use some of that processor bandwidth to delivery 10 bit 4:2:2 in 1080p....).

I bought the G85 because I was very happy with the video performance (color, tone, handling) of the Panasonic fz2500 and thought I'd try one of the interchangeable lens, M4:3 cameras with the latest magic to see if it might be a great addition to the cameras I use for video work. After all, if the image stabilization lives up to Panasonic's promised and the color and tonality is at least as good as the fz2500 then I would have a great new tool to shoot handheld video content on the run. Right?

Since the camera was more or less brand new to me last week I decided against taking it on my trip to shoot stills and interviews in OKC. The combination of the Sony RX10iii and the A7Rii gave me a sterling still performance and great video, all with the same basic menu structures, profiles and batteries. The time crunch was too great to work with a new camera under pressure. No time to fix unexpected stuff...

But now that I'm back and the photographs from that assignment have been delivered I've dived back into my explorations of the G85.

First of all I should briefly describe the camera for people who are unfamiliar with it. The G85 is the replacement for the G7 (corrected model name; thank you anonymous commenter). The G7 was a good camera but subject to "shutter shock" and also endowed with some sloppy feeling dials. The G85 is a micro four thirds camera with the same type of 16 megapixel sensor but the anti-aliasing filter has be removed (or weakened, more likely...). The camera also inherited the same dual OIS image stabilization afforded the GH5. This allows the camera and lens stabilizers to work together (with a small number of currently lenses) to provide up to five stops of image stabilization for stills and 1080p video along with lesser capability when shooting 4K video. I've been using the camera with the elegant little 12-60mm f3.5 to f5.6 lens and have found the I.S. to be very, very good.

When I mount one of my older, manual focus, Olympus Pen FT lenses on the camera a menu automatically comes up asking me if I want to input the correct focal length into the system in order to match it to the camera's I.S. programming. A very nice touch and one that will keep me from having to dig through menus to set the right focal length every time I change non-system lenses.

The color and tonality I got from my older Olympus EM-5.2 cameras is similar to what I am getting here and while the Jpegs are lower contrast they are very malleable in post processing. The video menus are truncated when compared to what I have in the fz2500. By this I mean that a range of setting options for video files is less generous. First, this is not a "world" camera. You can't switch form NTSC 24 fps to PAL 25 fps. None of the PAL frame rates are included. Also, the camera doesn't give you the option to wrap your files in a .MOV wrapper. You get ACVHD or Mp4 and that's it.
So when you shoot 4K you are shooting 100 mbs into an Mp4 file.

This is a camera that you will want to use almost always in 4k as none of the 1080p files, Mp4 or ACVHD are bigger than 28 mbs. Not really enough information to make insecure videographers feel like they are getting enough information to work with in post. The only use I can see for the smaller 1080p files would be long for documentation like recitals, stage shows or corporate events for which the documentation video doesn't have to reach broadcast standards, or a near approximation.

The flip side of the coin is that the 4K files that absorb information at 100 mbs are very nice and very easy to work with. Panasonic seems to be using the same style of file for 4K that they provide in the fz2500 and that is very good, especially at 24 fps. While the fz2500 provides a wider aspect (and slightly bigger format- 17:9 ) cinema 4K at 24 fps the G85 does not provide the cinema version and is limited to 24 or 30 fps at the UHD ( 16:9 ) format. I don't see it as a roadblock for personal or corporate work but if you were using this camera as a "b" camera in a movie/cinema production with cameras that can go wider (17:9 )  you'll have some issues with editing that will require you to either do some letter boxing or cropping and neither are good, after the fact solutions where quality and control are concerned. The aspect ratio imbroglio.

The other poke in the eye, as far as serious video production is concerned, is the lack of a headphone jack. While photographers won't care anyone who is filming an interview certainly will. It's just too easy to not hear potential sound disasters if you don't listen through high quality, enclosed headphones. You'd miss everything from a bad electrical hum to appliance noise and even the rustling of a microphone on clothing. It's not an automatic disqualified for the camera's use in video since the Arri Alexa Mini at over $20,000 doesn't have a headphone jack either.... But it's a pain in the butt and, if they can put one on their bridge camera you'd think it would not be too difficult to work into this camera as well.

I have a good and then a better workaround for the headphone issue but both add bulk and complexity to the camera. The first is to use something like the Saramonic SmartRig+ which is a pre-amplifier for external microphone. It has a built in headphone jack. But it's limited. You'll be able to hear that what the mic and pre-amp are doing is fine but you won't know if the camera recorded it well until you play back the footage. It's a good way to catch noises and general problems but you'll spend time watching your meters on the camera to make sure you are getting enough level into the camera and not too much. About $100.

The better way (at least as far as making certain you have good sound) is to use an external, HDMI monitor that provides a headphone jack. The monitor is getting a signal after it's been processed in camera so you are seeing an image and hearing sound as the camera will hear them. While the monitor adds much bulk to smaller camera set ups it does deliver peace of mind for video makers.

A decent, 4K enabled, 7 inch monitor can be had for under $300.

Through I like the files coming out of this camera aesthetically I have to admit that the RX10ii and RX10iii, as well as the FZ2500 are much better solutions for video production.

Looking at the camera as a still photography tool shows me the camera in a different light. There is a laundry list of things I like about it. The EVF is good, detailed and has better stand-off than the Sony a6000 series cameras. The image stabilization, especially when using a lens with OIS -2 is closing in on Olympus territory. The files are sharp and their color is good. The body is a good size with nice heft and a good level of finish. The shutter is like butter. You probably will never need to switch into the silent mode since this camera, along with first curtain e-shutter, is so quiet it puts most other cameras to shame.  And, while the battery is not the same high performance one found in the GH4 and GH5 it is the same as the one in the fz1000 and fz2500 and if used well provides lots and lots of reserve. I have five batteries across two cameras but you have to know that I am a bit compulsive on redundancy.

Do I like using the camera? Yes. It's a comfortable camera and it delivers beautiful stills when used with the kit lens (12/60mm) or one of my little, gem-like Pen lenses. It's small enough to be a comfortable daylong shooter for me. The DfD focusing seems fast and accurate and the dials feel good. The menus (except for the AF menu) are easy and straightforward. It's a fun camera to use.

But....would I buy it again? For my kind of shooting? If I had it to do over again I'd probably choose the other fork in the road and buy the Sony a6500. It might not feel as elegant and finished as this camera but I like the array of video options and video performance better and, by all accounts, it is a low light monster --- perhaps the best in the whole APS-C world. The 4K video files are downsampled from 6K for incredible detail and sharpness. And I can use the Pen lenses on that camera too.

With the other cameras I own satisfying me on most jobs I'm not in a rush to get rid of the G85 or lunge toward yet another Sony camera. I'll concentrate on figuring out what the G85 does superbly and focus on its strengths. I do like the 4K video very much. I also like the way the camera makes photographs. In the end though it's just a camera. I should know my way around these by now....







7 comments:

Eric Rose said...

I love my G85 and am finding more and more about it as I go. It has a lot of capability built right in and am sure as my editing skills improve I will get even more out of it. BTW Kirk have you explored LUT's? Here is a great link with a tutorial. https://www.colorgradingcentral.com/free-luts I like the idea of being able to output my videos in a film like look.

Eric

Anonymous said...

Isn’t the G85 a replacement for the G7? And the GX85 a replacement for the GX7?

AlexG said...

I thought the GX8 was the replacement for the GX7 and the GX85 for the GM5? could be wrong though, the GM5 still goes for good money on the used market though a lot of people want a small mirror free body it seems.

Anonymous said...

Kirk

The last two sentences of this post triggered a memory about a sometime ago post so I searched around and found it. Back in December 2016 on the 22nd you posted about a how to book that delved into the intricacies of the r10 iii. You thought it was great. A partial quote of the posts title is "It's inefficient to not know what you don't know...".

Jay

Mike Rosiak said...

I just ordered one for my wife, and it's all your fault!

rick-pick said...

@AlexG

The GX8 was a sort of big brother to the GX7, but many people liked the smaller size of the GX7. Whether Panasonic anticipated that or reacted quickly I don't know, but the GX80/85 is virtually the same size as the GX7 and in Japan is marketed as GX7 Mark 2. It's a lot bigger than the GM5 so not a replacement for that. Although the GM1 and GM5 seem to be prized for their size by enthusiastic photographers, it seems that they didn't sell as well as hoped - there is no direct replacement so far. The recently-released GX800 is very small too and could be regarded as a GM5 replacement except that it has no viewfinder and is marketed more as a selfie camera. It doesn't seem to have the same cachet as an "enthusiast" camera. Still, you're probably thinking of the GX800, not the GX80 as the GM5 replacement. While Panasonic's naming system I'm sure makes sense to their distribution department it must be confusing the hell out of potential customers!

tOM said...

SmartRig --- or SmallRig ?