For a Micro Four Thirds camera, the GH5S feels pretty substantial. It’s not a whole lot smaller than the Pentax K-1 Mark II we had in the office at the same time. That is, however, just the body, and the lenses are a different story. The smaller sensor format brings much smaller and lighter lenses, so although the GH5S is no lightweight, you’re still going to be carrying a smaller and lighter bag of kit than you would with an APS-C or full-frame camera.
The weighty feel comes from the camera’s rugged construction, based around die-cast magnesium alloy front and rear frames, and this is protected against dust, splashes of water and freezing temperatures down to -10ºC.
Ergonomically, it comes with a couple of little foibles, ones that probably won’t bother Panasonic fans but may irk others. One is the power switch, which is located around the base of the main mode dial rather than around the shutter release. This positioning means you can’t flick the camera on and off with your index finger, and while you can do it with your right thumb, it’s not as easy – especially when switching it off.
The second issue is the position of the REC button, which is used to start and stop video recording. It’s picked out in bright metallic red, which is good, but it’s in a position where it’s actually a little awkward to reach. It means either crooking your index finger at an awkward angle or moving your right thumb forward. The button is pretty flat with no raised dimple or any other tactile aid, so it’s also not that easy to find quickly without looking.
Over on the far left of the top plate is a drive mode dial for alternating between single-shot, burst, 4K PHOTO, bracketing and self-timer modes, while on the back of the camera, just to the right of the viewfinder, there’s a cluster of focus controls. These include a focus mode switch for single-shot AF, continuous AF and manual focus modes, and just below and to the left is a small multi-directional thumbstick for moving the focus point. To change the focus area mode, though, you need to press the Q.MENU button and select that option from the interactive touchscreen display.
Even though the GH5S is designed for video first and stills second, the external controls feel very much orientated to stills photography (in line with Panasonic’s other models). The advantage for existing Panasonic users is that everything is where they expect it to be, and it’s presumably easier for Panasonic to do this than redesign the control layout simply for this model.
The electronic viewfinder is bright, clear and detailed, with very little lag or streaking, even when the camera is moved quickly in low light. The focus peaking mode is especially good, both in the electronic viewfinder and on the LCD. It’s crisp and gives an instant indication of when your subject is in focus. This is especially important in videographer, where many shooters will prefer manual focus over autofocus while recording.
The EVF’s eye sensor is extremely sensitive, however, so if you’re shooting with the rear screen, it will black out if your hand, face or any other object passes within a few centimetres of the eyepiece. It’s quite difficult to stop this happening when you’re composing shots handheld at low level with the rear screen flipped out, which quickly becomes annoying. You can adjust the eye sensor sensitivity, but we didn't find that this actually helped.
The rear screen is a very good performer too, and highly responsive to touch. It’s not too fiddly to use and the menu navigation is straightforward. You can use the touchscreen for focus-point selection and interactive settings adjustments via the Q.MENU screen, for example. And, as well as a touch-focus feature, there’s a touch-shutter mode, where the camera focuses and takes a picture with a single tap.
Switch to the movie mode, though, and the touch-shutter feature disappears, although quite why this is isn't clear. Wouldn’t it be really useful to have a comparable touch-record option? It would certainly save having to shift your grip to move your forefinger or thumb over the Record button. There is a workaround, however, and that's to assign this option to one of the virtual Fn buttons.
Round the side is a memory card door, which opens to reveal two UHS-II SD card slots. That’s a pleasant surprise when you consider that some rivals offer one UHS-I and one UHS-II slot. Here, the slots are staggered to fit within the relatively short body height. They’re none too easy to flip out by accident, either, thanks to a raised lip in the centre. It’s irritating at first until you realise why it’s been done – and the cards release easily when you press them in the right place.
The twin control dials have a firm, positive feel and are easy to find with your index finger and thumb, and there’s a third dial around the multi-selector on the rear of the camera. With three custom (C) settings on the mode dial and five function (Fn) buttons, this is a camera that benefits from some time spent going through the manual to make sure the controls are set up the way you want them, and in particular, to get to your favourite video settings quickly.