Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Panasonic GH4 vs GH3 vs Olympus E-M1 (vs GX8?)

I've had the Panasonic GH4 a little over a week now.  I just did some video clips yesterday, pretty much for the first time, although I took a couple of video clips with the GH3.

I had the GH3 for over a year and wanted to trade it before the trade-in value dropped too far.  Unfortunately, it took a while to get a GH4.

I was enthusiastic about the changes to the GH4 because the GH3 was occasionally inconvenient, particularly, the EVF.  Given that the GH3 was the first mirror-less camera body I'd ever used, getting used to the electronic viewfinder was difficult enough, but it always felt a bit broken.

I even had a problem when I was wearing non-polarized sunglasses where the viewfinder at some angles would be blacked out.  I seemed to have a similar problem with the Olympus E-M1, but that seems occasionally to be a problem with the proximity sensor.  I realized that when I saw the image on the rear display.

In any case, the viewfinder of the GH4 seems much better.  There may be some odd behavior but I've only noticed positive results.  As usual, the viewfinder is so bright that I can see better than just using my eyes.  Despite the size difference between the E-M1 (0.71x compared to 135 Format) and GH4 (0.67x), I find the GH4's viewfinder to be very good.  Size is not an issue.  It is surprising that 1024x768 is an advanced resolution for an EVF.  The FujiFilm X-T1's viewfinder is bigger at 0.77x but doesn't seem incredibly better to me, though I don't use it every day.  The GH4's functionality is good enough that I could give up optical viewfinders, and that is difficult for me to believe.

Just today, I had a positive experience with the GH4's magnified manual focus view, unlike that of the GH3.  My experience with focus, whether manual or automatic was difficult on the GH3.  I was just moving from optical viewfinders and the resolution on the GH3 viewfinder was not great, and the distortions were not helping.  Plus, the magnified view was just a huge problem, getting in the way of my ability to follow the action while focusing.  Using the GH4, the magnified view was shown in the center, and I was able to see around it to keep up with the action.  It's apparently possible that you can move it to suit you.

The battery is the same as the battery of the GH3, and the GH4 seems to sip battery power, though I generally leave the rear display in the closed position, rarely browsing what I have just taken.  I wish that I could have done this with the E-M1.  Its economical design seemed more of an attempt to use already-available parts than to create a serious replacement for the E-5 dSLR, for which it seems Panasonic created, with the GH3.

The rear display of the E-M1 can't be protected because it can't be reversed.  It can be accidentally activated (far too easily, though I'm adapting), especially showing the focus point selection display, further depleting the battery life needlessly.  Practically the first thing I noticed when I got the E-M1 was that I could not fold out the rear display to take a portrait-oriented photo of a building from a very low angle.  You can slide it down or flip it up, but it shows a consumer-oriented display mechanism, unlike that of the E-5, GH3, or GH4.  Of course, my E-1's rear display couldn't be reversed either, but that came with a plastic screen protector and of course, didn't have touch capabilities.

The E-M1 does not seem to sip battery power, and my first experiences with the camera body was that I would run out of power early, and end up being a door stop, and I would have to get the E-5 out of the bag.  As the battery is small, so is the grip.  I have acclimated to the E-M1's grip, but it can be uncomfortable coming from a dSLR, unlike the GH3 and GH4 grip.

Using each body, I find myself referring to every SLR, all the way back to my first Fujica SLR but focusing on the Olympus E-1, my first dSLR, which felt instantly intuitive.  The GH3 and GH4 have the drive mode selector on the left shoulder of the top plate.  I feel it might be better to have exposure controls there, including ISO and exposure compensation.

As well, Olympus should have done something similar with the E-M1, assigning it to aperture control rather than having the front dial assigned to exposure compensation.  It was uncomfortable moving to the E-M1 from the E-5, and there are still times when it has been unintuitive, making for accidental changes that I didn't want.

I could hope that all companies come to use a standardized menu interface, but it feels that it won't happen any time soon.  Olympus' Super Control Panel is really amazing, and Panasonic's Quick Menu is satisfactory.  The regular menu systems are the opposite with Panasonic's being more easily navigated, in contrast to those from Olympus (8 levels within the Tools Menu, seriously, Olympus?).  The extra video options on the GH4 should make professional people working in video happier.

I've recorded a few videos and it went well.  Outdoors, it looked very real in 1080p, much like some documentary.  Indoors, there was a similar feel, even though it wasn't extremely bright.  Having been at the skate shop and their half pipe a couple of weeks earlier with the E-M1, I was surprised at how responsive and accurate the GH4 was.  I used the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens in both cases.

Checking the photos and videos later, I was so pleased that the focus was great, surprisingly great.  The photos and videos looked as though there was much more light than what the E-M1 had.

While I was taking video, I tapped the shutter release a couple of times and ended up finding two JPEG files.  I need to analyze them further, but they were taken at unfortunate times and I wouldn't be able to use them.

There was a problem for me finding the button for video recording, but even when I left my thumb on it, I wasn't always able to start or stop recording when I expected.  It's recessed to avoid accidental use.  I'm sure I'll become acclimated to it eventually.  I was thinking that it might be better if the video capture button was near the shutter release--in the front.

Many people value image stabilization and it may save me at some time.  I haven't noticed that it works or not, whether it's in a lens or working the sensor platform.  With the GH4 (and previously, the GH3) and 12-40mm f/2.8, I have no image stabilization, and I don't see any problem.  I finally bought a tripod about a year ago, and I've used it so few times.  When photographing sports in lower light situations, what will help other than more lighting?

At ISO 3200, you probably don't want to use the photos as your best work but from what I've seen, that could also be the story for APS-C and 135 Format sized sensors, as well, except for a very select few that include ISO sensitivity at 102,400 or greater.  Regardless, film didn't do so well at ISO 3200--or 1600 or 1000.

Panasonic GH3 Pros:

  • 1080p image quality and video format/bit rate flexibility
  • Video industry support
  • Grip comfort and battery life
  • Multiple function buttons
  • 5 custom sets--3 positions on mode dial
  • Fully-articulated rear display
  • Silent mode

Panasonic GH4 Pros:

  • Lower light auto focus ability and responsiveness
  • 4K/C4K video
  • Video industry support
  • Video format/bit rate flexibility
  • Grip comfort and battery life
  • Improved EVF over that of the GH3
  • Multiple function buttons
  • 5 custom sets--3 positions on mode dial
  • Fully-articulated rear display
  • Manual focus magnification mode
  • 1/8000 of a second shutter speed
  • Silent mode

Olympus E-M1 Pros:

  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • Electronic ViewFinder clarity
  • Button feature set toggle switch
  • Responsiveness
  • Phase Detection pixels for tracking, and PDAF with Four-Thirds lenses
  • Effective Face detection
  • 1/8000 of a second shutter speed

I appreciate the Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GH4 equally.  The extra money for the GH4 is consistent with its extra functionality and ease of use.  While I felt a bit betrayed by Olympus for the mess they created after the E-1 (Four-Thirds) body was released, the E-M1 is a very good camera body on its own, but with micro Four-Thirds lenses.  10 fps (E-M1) vs 12 fps (GH4)?  They both work really well.  I've seen plenty of reviews that say that none of these bodies are good for sports but I get my shots, though the GH3 made it much tougher and caused me to return to the E-5 dSLR in many cases.  The only real problem is the lack of wonderful lenses but Olympus is working on that.

The GH3 should be a great body for anyone who is interested in high quality 1080p video, with still photography on the side.  The price has come down quite a bit and it's a good compromise, especially with the fully-articulated rear display.  I was able to get some good architectural photos at a very low angle, thanks to it.

I'm not even sure that the E-M1's video capabilities have improved over the E-5 and without the fully-articulated rear display, it's not nearly as flexible.  Still photography is its domain and for the size of both the body and the system's lenses, I doubt there is a better compromise.

That said, the E-M1 is now the second most used body in my bag, rather than the E-5.  I doubt that will change once I'm more accustomed to the GH4.  It is both supremely comfortable and it's extremely capable.  The little problems I had with the GH3 seem to have been fixed.

Update 2014.12.13: I've found that the GH4 and E-M1 really automatically focus micro Four-Thirds lenses well (although there is an odd performance issue between the E-M1 and 35-100mm f/2.8).  I'm seeing mixed results with my Four-Thirds lenses.  The E-M1 and 50mm f/2.0 macro are a great match.  The E-M1 works better with the 50mm lens than any other body, including the Olympus E-1 and E-5.  I need to really plan and test, but my 2004 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 wasn't very good with the E-M1.  I suspect that Olympus only tested with the SWD version.  It seemed that it worked well with the GH4.

As I'd found when I was using the GH3, auto focus was better with my Four-Thirds lenses than with the E-1 in low or ordinary light.  My E-1 may have had a problem with auto focus, though it seemed okay in bright light.  The E-5 is still faster with Four-Thirds lenses than the GH4, GH3, or E-M1, except with the 50mm macro.  The 14-35mm f/2.0 is often a pain with auto focus but usally works reasonably well even with the GH4 and E-M1.

Update 2014.12.26: The GH4, as with the GH3, often focuses on something else entirely than what I put in the focus area.  It often finds a fence way behind the person I want to photograph.  Apparently, face detection is not useful.

Update 2014.12.30: Panasonic Face Detection asks me to register a face when I try to use it.  If this happens every time I need to use it, it's going to be a pain.  I hope it works beautifully.

I shot some 4K video the other day.  I tried to pass it through the Sony 4K-upscaling Blu-Ray player and it wouldn't handle it.  Maybe, it didn't like the file format.  I need to transfer to a USB stick and feed it directly through the TV's port.  That works.

Still having more fun/frustration with the auto focus.  It seems to randomly lose focus in the middle of what I'm shooting.  For a professional, it shouldn't be a problem since they won't likely be using auto focus at all--or the native lenses that suppose auto focus.  I'm learning, although, I'm looking at lenses that aren't native or those which won't have an electronic interface.

Update 2015.01.20: I went to take some portraits.  I'm not a portrait photographer but the E-M1 is quite good, partly because of face detection.  Focus rarely fails.  I really need to set up face detection on the GH4 to see how it works with the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.

I keep wondering about the value of Panasonic going it alone with their DFD technology only working on their lenses.  They need to work with Olympus for the sake of the format.  On the other hand, I've noticed the slower performance between the 35-100mm f/2.8 on the E-M1 versus the GH3 or GH4.

Update 2015.02.09: The GH4 continues to impress in most cases.  The auto focus is still a bit inaccurate (focusing on the fence behind a person rather than the person where the single focus point is place) and it would be better if it worked better with Olympus lenses since the premium Panasonic lenses are generally only adequate.  That said, I bought the Panasonic/Lumix/Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens the other day.  It has the typical purple fringing that seems to define Panasonic lenses but AF is almost always accurate.

I took a trip down south to San Diego and the LA/OC area, photographing at skate parks, both still and video.  I also used the GH4 and Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 at a small concert venue and it performed very well, and I managed to hold it fairly still.  Even though I was close to the speaker, it recorded the sound very well, and the video was good.

I bought some new USB drives, with USB 3.0 speed and copied the 4K video files onto one of them.  After connecting it to the USB 3.0 port on the TV, I didn't really see improved performance.  I'm just not sure the problem is with the TV or the GH4, given that they cost me about the same amount of money.  There was something in Panasonic's latest firmware for the GH4 that mentioned improved playback of 4K files but I figured that it was for the rear display or the viewfinder.

Update 2015.12.11: Things have changed a bit in a year.  The Panasonic GX8 and Nikon D7200 have moved the E-5 out of my current tools.  In many ways, I have regretted buying the E-5. Until the GH4 or E-M1, there was no incredibly-usable alternative for my Four-Thirds lenses.

I looked at jumping to Nikon instead of buying the E-5 but the price of lenses was so significant that I hesitated, and the D300 was looking old in 2011.  Since I now have the D7200, I'm not sure a Nikon body would have made me feel really good about the switch.  While I get good image quality from the D7200, it isn't a clear difference over the E-M1 and GH4.  It also doesn't work as well in lower light conditions.

The GX8 works in most conditions as well as the GH4 and E-M1.  It's really small and the battery has about the same capacity as the E-M1, which isn't much.  Since the rear display isn't exposed, that should save a bit of battery life.  I have three batteries, as I have for the E-M1, versus two for the GH4.

I still pull out the GH4 first, as I've created over 120 videos in the last 12 months, mostly from video clips shot at skate parks.  The GX8 has become a good companion to the GH4 for video.  I used the E-M1 so much in a year that I had to have the shutter replaced, as I had apparently exceeded the 150,000 actuations.  At 10 frames per second, that isn't difficult to do.

Almost all of my equipment is still weather-sealed and the GX8 adds to that.  One of my most-used lenses, the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens is not.

Update 2016.11.24: Almost two years from when I got the GH4, I'm pleased to use it the most.  I have over 100 videos on YouTube and appreciate the body's size and weight and battery life.  The GX8 is fine at times but the grip doesn't quite match my hands, even if it's better than the E-M1's grip.  Battery life for the E-M1 and GX8 are fairly bad.

I got rid of the Nikon stuff.  It was marginally better with the lenses I had.  Finding weather-sealed lenses was a major problem.  Some of the lenses had a fluorine-coated front lens element and that was the extent to the weather-resistance.  That's sadly amusing.  You can depend on FujiFilm and Pentax for APS-C systems with clearly marked "WR" weather-resistant lenses.  Sigma Sport line lenses are also weather-resistant.

The Olympus E-M1 has been succeeded with a Mk II model that is superior in most every way.  The price is the sticking point for many people.  In an era of almost zero inflation, the E-M1 Mk II is US$300 than Olympus dSLR flagships and something like US$700 more than the E-M1 was at launch.  It feels as though the extensive AF grid will make it worth the extra $300 over what I expected and the dual card slots, articulated rear display, and more show real value.  It's still a difficult price if you're moving from the E-5 dSLR, especially when the Panasonic GH4 feels so much better.

I'm glad to be using micro Four-Thirds for exactly what the reviews say isn't easily possible--sports.  I don't know how other people photograph sports, but what I've seen people show me needs to be improved.  For American Football, they can keep their Nikon D5.  It's obvious that it works well.

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