With the 4k race now well under way it was only a matter of time before ‘prosumer’ cameras jumped on the bandwagon. Panasonic call this mirror-less Micro Four Thirds Camera a hybrid, having been designed with equal emphasis on stills and Video.
The idea of being able to record 4k with a camera you can fit in your pocket (albeit a large coat pocket) is an exciting one and with a range of video modes and a solid still photo capability all wrapped up in a magnesium alloy weather sealed body, this camera has the potential to be quite a flexible beast.
Before we move on, I should note that this was a demonstration camera and there could be possible firmware changes by the time this camera hits the shelves.
In its video mode it can shoot 24fps, 4k video at 100mbs and Ultra High Definition video (3840 x 2160) at 25 and 30fps. It can even manage a 200mbs, 60p, 1920 x 1080 image. There is a choice of video codecs, MOV, MP4 and AVCHD. It has an ISO range between 200 and 25600, dual OLED displays, variable system frequency and variable frame rates up to 96fps (depending on video format).
In The Hand.
This camera is tiny. Just trying to get it on a fluid head tripod turned out to be challenging. The lens along with the PL adapter I was using was lower than the camera base making it impossible to mount on a snap plate without some sort of riser. In the end a stills tripod was the only way I could mount the camera for my tests. I believe Gitzo and Manfrotto are making hybrid (there is that word again) Still / Video tripods which would be worth investigating for a small camera such as this.
Along with a tiny camera come tiny buttons. You need the thumbs of a 12 year old to manage the control dial and cursor buttons on the back. That said there are a plethora of function buttons (10!) that can be programmed to mitigate toggling through the menu. The screen is also a touch screen and is useful for quickly changing settings. The record and display buttons are very small and hard to find without looking for them, but practice would improve the fumbling.
I shot charts for this test with a Zeiss Standard and a PL/Micro 4/3 adapter from Wooden Camera. I had to set the ‘shoot without lens’ option in the menu to use the camera with a third party lens.
The camera has SMPTE bars, time code and Zebras.
It has a centre marker, cine-gamma and a master pedestal control.
Recording to the internal camera card is 8 bit 4:2:0. Output via Mini HDMI is 4:2:2, (8bit or 10 bit I believe). The camera also comes with an optional unit that sits underneath the camera like a giant motor drive and allows 10bit 4:2:2 recording and XLR sound inputs.
While the bit rate is rated at 100bps for 4k and Ultra HD, it is variable, so the actual rates for the footage shot during testing ranged from 59 to 79bps.
The ISO range in video mode is limited to a maximum of 6400.
With a Lumix 4/3 lens attached, the camera can be used in video mode very much like a stills camera in manual mode with the front and rear control dials being used for aperture and shutter speed. Aperture control on a Lumix lens can be switched between the lens and the camera by simply turning the aperture ring to Auto.
At 4k there is no variable frame rate. Only 24p.
There is a histogram but it sits right in the middle of the screen. Slightly(!) inconvenient if you want it on while shooting.
Focus. Really hard work. While the OLED screen is clear and quite accurate it is so small that critical focus is difficult. Further more I struggled with focus modes on the camera. There are a number of options but the two lenses I was using behaved differently. The prime lens caused the screen to magnify every time I turned the focus ring which got quite annoying. This probably just entails a setting change on the camera and can be put down to operator error, but it wasn’t an intuitive fix and remained an issue while testing. There is a focus peaking function that I did not try. I find peaking problematic when I am trying to evaluate an image on the screen. Having said that, one of the function buttons could probably be set up to toggle peaking on and off.
I shot the following reference frames using a Picscan Chart (shown below) to create a black, white and mid grey reference at ISO’s 200, 800 and 6400, testing both standard gamma and cinegamma-D settings. The white of the chart is 2 1/4 stops over. Please excuse the curve of the waveform as only one light was used to illuminate the chart. The signal should be read from the middle of the wave form ignoring the curve.
Mid grey sitting around 42-46% is a good place to start for a 709 image. The white of the Picscan chart is 2 1/4 stops over and should sit around 79%, so the 800 ISO is looking pretty good. Noise seems reasonable in the blacks also.
With Standard gamma applied, mid grey sits very high at nearly 60% at 200 ISO and just a little above 50% at 800 and 6400. Quite an aggressive rendering of the image.
Looking at the RGB wave form, the signal shows a slight blue cast in the 200 and 800 ISO settings (both cine-gamma and std) and a slightly magenta cast in the 6400 settings (both cine-gamma and std). The blue channel also appears to be a little noisy in the shadows.
To test the dynamic range of the camera I photographed a grey textured surface to see where the detail disappeared.
The above stills show the dynamic range using Cinegamma_D. Three stops under and four stops over giving a dynamic range of 7 stops. There is a tiny bit of detail at minus 4 and plus 5 but I would not bet on it when shooting… what Art Adams would call gravy stops.
Sample footage shot at 800 ISO using CineGamma_D.
Its small size is the feature that really stands out with this camera. With 4k capability, a range of frame rates at other resolutions and solid stills capability it really is a versatile little camera. The controls are fiddly but there is not a lot of camera real estate on which to put them, and as I mentioned at the beginning the large amount of programmable function buttons and the touch screen go along way towards mitigating this.
The Lumix lenses I used for test footage were fantastic. A 42.5/1.2 (85mm equivalent) and a 12- 35/2.8 (24 to 70 equivalent). Both were stabilised and compact, perfect for this small camera.
A lens adapter and cinema lenses can dwarf the camera and the configuration can present tripod mounting challenges but this is not really a big deal considering the huge range of lens choices the 4/3 sensor gives you.
The dynamic range is small compared to what we are now used to with Log and Raw shooting but the cinegamma does help to extend the highlights and create a useful image if you shoot carefully. Having zebras is great. A shame about the histogram being right in the middle of the screen. The OLED monitor is very small and difficult to assess focus but accurate for gauging exposure and colour.
The 4:2:0 onboard recording doesn’t give a lot of grading flexibility but the mini HDMi offers 4:2:2 and there is also the optional adapter for recording 10 bit images, although it sort of defeats the purpose of having such a small form camera…
I really like this camera and believe it would be a versatile addition to a DP’s kit, from scouting through to on-set use.
Many thanks to Panasonic NZ and ImageZone for the camera and equipment used in this test.