The Panasonic Lumix GH6 shows that Panasonic still has faith in its Lumix G Micro Four Thirds line-up. Indeed, if anything it’s Panasonic’s full frame Lumix S line-up that it appears to have slowed down, with nothing new since the Lumix S5.
The new GH6 sits right at the top of the Lumix G line-up, offering powerful 4K and 5.7K video capabilities but in a smaller, lighter and cheaper setup than a full frame system.
It’s a serious step up from the Lumix GH5 II, which is essentially an update to the Panasonic’s long-running and popular GH5 model, but brings higher resolution, unlimited recording times, a huge leap in frame rates and a wider choice of recording formats, bit depths, bitrates and codecs.
It’s not just for video. While video features are at the heart of the GH6, it’s laid out like a conventional mirrorless camera and is in fact a highly capable stills camera, matching the resolution of many full frame models, albeit with a smaller sensor.
The GH6 is likely to attract serious filmmakers and videographers, mostly, but could also be a highly effective all-rounder for those who shoot stills too.
Sensor: 25.2MP MFT Live MOS
AF: DFD contrast AF, Tracking, Full Area AF, Zone (Horizontal/Vertical), Zone, 1-Area+, 1-Area (Human/ Face/Eye/ Animal+Human detection), Pinpoint,
ISO range: 100-25,600 (exp 50-25,600)
Max image size: 5,776 x 4336
Metering modes: Multiple, Center Weighted, Spot, Highlight Weighted
Video: MP4, MOV, Apple ProRes, 5.7K up to 60p, C4K up to 120p, 4K up to 120p, FHD up to 240p, VFR
Viewfinder: 3.86m dot OLED, 100% coverage
Memory cards: 1x CFexpress Type B, 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II
LCD: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1.84m dots
Max burst: 14fps with AFS, 8fps with AFC + Live View (mechanical shutter, electronic front curtain, AFS),
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Size: 138.4 x 100.3 x 99.6mm, body only
Weight: 823g, with battery and memory card
How's this for highlights:
• 5.7K 30p internal video in ProRes 4:2:2 HQ
• 4:2:0 10-bit Cinema 4K 60p internal (with simultaneous 4:2:2 HDMI output)
• 5.8K 10-bit anamorphic using the full sensor area
• 4:2:0 10-bit 4K at up to 120p
• 4:2:2 10-bit 1080p up to 240p (via High Frame Rate) with audio
One key feature of the Lumix GH6 is its new 25MP stacked sensor. This doesn’t just give a modest increase in resolution, but a big increase in readout speeds and hence choice of codecs, compression levels and frame rates.
It’s not processing power alone that has made this possible. The GH6 also has active cooling, for longer recording times and to accommodate the higher processing demands. It also swaps one of its predecessor’s twin SD card slots for a CFexpress Type B slot to accommodate the highest recording settings.
The GH6 also offers hybrid in-body and lens based stabilization, which will be a relief to many – Panasonic didn’t include IBIS on the video-centric Lumix GH5S, for example.
There are two things it doesn’t have, however, that users might have been hoping for: in-camera raw video capture and phase-detect AF.
The lack of in-camera raw video capture is disappointing and slightly perplexing. If Panasonic can’t do it with a brand new stacked MFT sensor and CFexpress Type B storage, can it be done at all? (The answer is yes, because the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has had in-camera raw video from the start.)
Panasonic has also stuck with its DFD (Depth From Defocus) contrast AF system. This is now so fast and effective for stills photography that you might not notice the difference, except maybe for high-speed tracking, but there are still many video users who complain of ‘flutter’ during continuous AF as the system makes countless tiny adjustments and focus checks.
A lot is going to depend on your own shooting and focusing habits, so single-person shooters filming themselves moving around and in and out of shot will quickly find the limits of any system.
Build and handling
The Panasonic Lumix GH6 is a big camera, bigger even than a Sony A7 series body. Some of this is due to the cooling system, which fits between the the rear flip-out screen and the camera body. The vents are quite prominent, but not obtrusive. Otherwise, it’s clear that this is a camera built for ergonomics and robustness, not dainty pocket-sized stowage.
The small relative size of the MFT sensor is apparent when you swap lenses. It also looks as if the IBIS system is not parked when the camera is off, so that ours rattled around a little disconcertingly – but snapped into position when the GH6 was powered up. At first, it looked like it was broken, but clearly not.
The GH6 does have a really good heft in your hand, all the controls are clearly marked and they are firm and positive too. Even the ‘third’ dial – the four-way rear controller, spins firmly, and without accidental button presses.
The cluster of AF controls, just to the right of the EVF, is highly effective. An outer lever switches between manual focus, S-AF and C-AF modes, and you press a button in the middle to choose the focus area. Just to the right of the main AF control is an AF-ON button, and just below that is a small but effective joystick, which also offers diagonal movement – however, the initial AF point movement is a little slow, and if you keep the joystick pushed it suddenly accelerates much too quickly. Positioning the AF point quickly and precise is not as easy as it could be.
The three-tier menu system is about a straightforward as you could hope for on such a sophisticated camera, and Panasonic has taken an interesting approach to handling the almost infinite possible permutations of video resolution, frame rate, codec, bitrate, subsampling and bit depth – it’s packaged these up into a series of choices and then organised these under the three internal recording formats supported by the GH6.
For example, if offers just three packaged settings for the MP4 format, recommended for direct and easy out-of-camera sharing, a much longer list for the MOV format, recommended for higher quality and editing/grading later, and a shorter list for the highest quality Apple ProRes format (that’s ProRes, not ProRes RAW).
That’s still a lot of options, but the choice is a lot simpler than trying to work out your own settings permutations.
We’ve yet to complete lab tests on this camera and we plan to spend more time shooting video before we reach any hard and fast conclusions about the AF performance. Our sample video (below) was shot using a modest 4K 25p MP4 setting, and it will take some time to explore the GH5's full range for formats and frame rates – but it does give an early impression of the stabilization and video AF performance.
The still image quality and AF performance are very good indeed. However, while you can shoot at up to 75fps in burst mode, the GH6 relies on its electronic shutter and AFS autofocus for these speeds. It’s more likely you’ll want continuous AF when shooting bursts, and here you’re sent way back down to 8fps – and with a pretty modest buffer capacity too. The GH6 can shoot sports, but with limitations.
The 7.5 stop IBIS is probably more useful for stills photography than video. The fact is, this IBIS system (and most others we’ve tried) can cope with ‘jitters’ very well, but do not replace a gimbal for video. The GH6 offers a very stable handheld platform for video but only as long as you can keep pretty still yourself. If the camera moves too quickly, or too far, the IBIS will struggle.
Here's a sample video showing the limitations of handheld shooting with the GH6 (and probably the videographer, ahem). Even the best IBIS in the world, and this might be it, can only do so much.
The autofocus uses Panasonic’s DFD AF system which mostly works very well indeed, especially for stills, but in our tests it seemed OK for finding and maintaining focus if the camera was stable, but struggled if it wasn’t. We tried filming some white gulls wheeling above us against a blue sky, but the GH6’s zone focus – which seemed the most obvious choice – was all at sea and just couldn’t cope with the subject and the camera movement.
We were sent a firmware update for our GH6, but alas too late for testing, so it’s possible the GH6’s AF performance may improve as a result.
The Panasonic Lumix GH6 pushes the envelope for 4K video capture further than any other Panasonic MFT camera to date. It’s a big and hefty camera, for MFT, and it doesn’t look cheap – until you compare it to the likes of the LUMIX S1H or Sony A7S III. If you want raw video, however, you’ll still need an external recorder, and if you’re filming yourself or other fast moving subjects, Panasonic’s DFD AF may struggle – this is where Sony really scores.
As a carefully crafted blend of filmmaking performance, frame rates, codecs, features and value, however, the GH6 is terrific. Maybe you wouldn’t buy it for any landmark technical breakthroughs, but on paper, it matches the Sony A7S III at less than two-thirds the price but with 5.8K capture, 25MP stills and with a wide choice of cheaper, lighter lenses.
Pre-order the Panasonic GH6 at Adorama (US)
Pre-order the Panasonic GH6 at B&H (US)
Pre-order the Panasonic GH6 at Park Cameras (UK)
Pre-order the Panasonic GH6 at Wex (UK)
Pre-order the Panasonic GH6 at Ted's Cameras (AU)
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