The Lumix GH5S is Panasonic's latest video-focused mirrorless camera, and if the comprehensive video specification of the Lumix GH5 isn't quite enough to satisfy your needs, the GH5S may well be what you're looking for.
The GH5S is designed primarily for professional filmmakers, and Panasonic believes it will deliver the best-ever video image quality seen in a Lumix camera.
- All-new 10.2MP sensor
- 4K up to 50/60p
- Internal 4:2:2 10-bit recording
For the Lumix GH5S, Panasonic has opted to ditch the 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor the GH5 uses, replacing it with an all-new oversized 10.2MP multi-aspect sensor.
The oversized design of the sensor (which was also a feature on the original GH1 and GH2) means it's physically larger than a normal Micro Four Thirds sensor. This allows the Lumix GH5S to shoot at different aspect ratios but can still use the full breadth of the imaging circle projected by the lens, as opposed to simply cropping down from the 4:3 aspect ratio of the sensor.
This means the GH5S's sensor provides sufficient margin to get the same angle of view in 4:3, 17:9, 16:9, and 3:2 aspect ratios.
As well as providing the option to shoot 14-bit raw files, the reduction in resolution has also allowed Panasonic to improve on the maximum ISO of 25,600 on the GH5, with an ISO ceiling of 51,200 in the GH5S. Panasonic has also included its Dual Native ISO Technology to reduce the risk of background image noise in low-light conditions.
What does all this mean for video capture? While the Lumix GH5 was the first mirrorless camera capable of shooting 4K footage at up to 60/50p, the Lumix GH5S takes this one step further, and shoots at a world-first 4K 60/50p recording in Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160).
That's just part of the story, as the GH5S is capable of internal 4:2:2 10-bit recording, which should deliver even stronger color reproduction, while V-Log now comes pre-installed on the camera – something that was an additional cost on the GH5.
You can record both Full HD and 4K video for as long as you want – there's no time limit – while the Lumix GH5S complies with 4K HDR video with Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) mode in Photo Style. The GH5S also records 4:2:2 10-bit 400Mbps All-Intra in 4K (at 30p/25p/24p) and Cinema 4K (24p), and 200Mbps All-Intra in Full HD.
The Lumix GH5S is also compatible with Timecode In/out, making it easy to synchronize multiple compatible devices when filming, for pain-free post-production editing. A bundled coaxial cable for a BNC terminal connects to the flash sync terminal of the camera, allowing the camera to be used as a Timecode generator for other GH5S cameras and professional camcorders.
Panasonic has opted to remove the built-in image stabilization system that featured in the GH5. This might seem a bit of an odd decision for such a video-focused camera, but feedback from film crews who used the GH5 (the BBC's motoring show Top Gear regularly uses the GH5 for in-car shots for instance) revealed that, even when mounted on a professional rig, the sensor is at risk of being shaken around despite being switched off.
This is because the IS system is designed to 'float' the sensor using a series of electromagnets, and even when the system is switched off the sensor isn't locked in place. With the internal IS system removed, crews are free to use their own gimbals and rigs to steady the camera.
The GH5S does, however, feature the same electronic viewfinder as the GH5, with a large magnification ratio of 0.76x (35mm camera equivalent) that delivers a smooth display at 120fps, and a 3.2-inch vari-angle touchscreen with a 3,680K-dot resolution.
The Lumix GH5S also promises to make composition and shooting in poor light that much easier. Live View Boost increases the sensitivity just for Live View, while there's also a night mode that features a red interface.
Build quality and handling
- Design virtually unchanged from GH5S
- Magnesium alloy frame
The design of the Lumix GH5S is virtually indistinguishable from that of the GH5; the only things that denote the GH5S are the flash of red around the collar of the mode dial on the top of the camera, and a more pronounced red record button (and of course the 'S' designation on the front).
Considering this is a mirrorless camera the design is quite chunky, but the GH5S feels nice and sturdy in the hand thanks to the large, purposeful grip. This is aided by the magnesium alloy full die-cast front and rear frame, while there's a decent amount of weather-sealing too, with the camera being dust-proof, splash-proof, and freeze-proof down to -10C. Like the GH5 it's equipped with dual SD memory card slots, compatible with UHS-II and Video Speed Class 60 SDXC cards, while there's also a HDMI Type A terminal.
As the GH5S apes the GH5 design-wise, it does mean there's no top plate LCD display like we've seen on the Lumix G9, but either side of the pentaprism are chunky drive and mode dials, while just behind the front command dial are buttons for accessing White Balance, ISO and exposure compensation. As on the GH5, all three buttons are finished slightly differently: the White Balance button is convex-shaped, the ISO one is flat with two little dimples on it, and the exposure compensation button is concave. This is a nice little touch, as when you have the camera raised to your eye it means you should know which of the three controls you’re accessing just by feel.
If you're coming across from the GH5 you'll feel right at home, especially as the menu system is virtually identical as well.
- Same 225-area AF system as GH5
- Useful Focus Transition function
- Broad range of focus peaking modes
With many of the GH5's other features carried over, it's no surprise to see that the 225-area AF system has also made it across to the GH5S.
Unlike a lot of rival cameras that use a hybrid system of both phase-detect and contrast-detect AF, the GH5S relies solely on the slower contrast-detect system. That said, focusing is still brisk (with a claimed AF speed of just 0.05 secs), while the GH5S can also focus in light levels as low as -5EV, which is darker than moonlight.
As well as Multi AF there's also a Custom Multi mode, which enables you to freely select the AF-area group, or Zone AF, in which the focus area group size and position can be customized.
For video the GH5S sports what Panasonic calls a 'Focus Transition' mode – again, something that first appeared on the GH5. This enables you to define up to three focus depths before you begin recording, then switch between them as you shoot. You can also choose the focus transition speed (five variations), so you can opt for smooth transitions or snappy changes in focus.
If you're focusing manually (something we'd expect to see users doing a lot with the Lumix GH5S), then there are a few focus peaking options available to you. These include both high- and low-intensity options, as well as the option to have the highlights edges shown in pink, white, cyan, yellow or green.
- Solid metering system
- Great viewfinder and touchscreen
- Good but not great battery life
The Lumix GH5S uses the same 1,728-zone metering system as we've seen in the GH5 (and quite a few other Lumix cameras for that matter), and as we've seen before it's a consistent performer – in most instances we found that we didn't need to reach for the exposure compensation button.
Its white balance system also delivers the goods, producing natural-looking results, although if you're wanting a touch more warmth in overcast conditions then one of the dedicated presets might offer that little bit of extra bite.
The large and bright EVF display makes for an excellent shooting experience: contrast is great, while the feed is incredibly smooth thanks to the fast refresh rate. On the rear LCD Panasonic's touchscreen interface is also one of the best around, offering a wide breadth of control whether you're shooting or reviewing images.
Battery life is rated at 440 shots, which is actually a little bit better than the GH5's 410 shots. That makes the GH5S better than some mirrorless rivals, although we reckon you'll still need a handful of spare batteries to make sure you're covered for a day out shooting.
Image and video quality
- Stunning video capabilities
- Still images show good noise control
- Good color rendition
Looking at stills before moving onto video footage, the GH5S's 10.2MP images hold up pretty well considering the low resolution on offer. The camera handles higher sensitivities better than its GH5 sibling, with noticeably less luminance (grain-like) noise, while dynamic range is a little better too. That said, those looking to shoot a good number of still images as well as capturing video will be better served by the higher-resolution GH5.
4K video from the Panasonic GH5S is impressively clean. Thanks to the internal 4:2:2 10-bit recording, there's just so much information across the tonal range, making for highly detailed footage at 400mb/s.
But while 4K resolution is all well and good, how well does the GH5S capture light? V-log L comes pre-installed – it's a pretty pricey extra for previous models – and this puts the camera into a log picture style, allowing you to capture more information in the shadows and highlights. When used in conjunction with one of the two native ISOs, the GH5S can capture nearly 14 stops of dynamic range, almost as many stops as cinema cameras from Arri or Red.
As such, footage is highly flexible when it comes to color grading. Adjust color, contrast, and saturation and footage mostly holds up, with shadows and highlights maintaining strong detail, while colors are rendered well. Skin tones are captured in a very natural, yet flattering way. In the right hands, the footage can come close to looking like it’s straight from a movie.
The Lumix GH5S also shoots slow-motion, specifically 240fps in Full HD. The footage is super-smooth, and makes for some really fun shots. However, the pixel-peepers out there may be disappointed with the quality in this mode, with the heavy in-camera processing leading to a significant loss in detail; shadows suffer the worst, but even midtones lack crispness, especially in skin tones. There's also a considerable amount of digital noise, even when there's lots of available light.
The Panasonic Lumix GH5S is certainly one of the more specialized cameras out there, and it's not going to be for everyone. While it can shoot stills quite happily (although at a pretty limited resolution), this should be seen first and foremost as a video camera – if you want to do both you've got the Lumix GH5 to fill that brief.
While the absence of built-in image stabilization might be a disappointment for some, Panasonic's reasoning makes sense, and that issue aside the breadth of features is incredibly impressive.
If you want to shoot professional-quality footage without remortgaging your house to buy a pro video camera, you won't find a better video-focused camera right now.