The Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 II is a refresh, rather than a complete reworking of the company’s erstwhile video flagship. Since the launch of the original GH5, Panasonic has added full-frame video models and dedicated ‘box’ cameras and is now promising a GH6 model as a direct replacement. The GH5 II, then, updates the GH5 spec in order to ensure it remains an interesting and competitive option for stills/video shooters, rather than trying to raise the bar as previous GHs have done.
But where does that leave things if you’ve already got a GH5? And if you’re looking for a new camera, is it worth trying to pick up a discounted GH5, rather than buying the refreshed version?
Built-in Log and internal 10-bit 4K 60p
The factor we suspect will sway most people’s decision is whether their workflow involves shooting Log or not.
There are two respects in which the GH5 II benefits Log shooters. The more obvious is that it comes with the V-Log L upgrade already installed, rather than it being a paid-for option on the original GH5.
But the second detail is the GH5 II’s ability to internally capture 10-bit 4K 60p (and 50p) footage. This may sounds like a minor change, given the GH5 can already shoot 4K/60 in 8-bit, but even the 12-stop version of the V-Log L curve used on these cameras stretches 8-bit files a bit thin, risking posterization when grading.
The other major feature the GH5 II offers which the GH5 can’t is live streaming. Again, we’ve not had a chance to fully test features these and may never get a chance to test them all, since the permutations are so numerous.
The GH5 II will, after a firmware update, offer both wired and wireless connections to smartphones, PCs or wi-fi networks, providing a series of ways to live-stream video. Unlike most webcam/USB implementations that have been introduced, the GH5 II uses an industry standard system that includes audio and doesn’t rely on continued support from proprietary apps.
The GH5 II promises improved autofocus. We’ve not had a chance to fully test it yet, and we suspect that using the same sensor will limit the degree of improvement to be had, but the use of a newer processor allows the camera to run Panasonic’s latest subject recognition system and to read the sensor at 48Hz when shooting at 24p, so there certainly are reasons to expect it to be better.
We plan to check whether less-than-1/48-second exposures are needed allow the camera to fully exploit that 48Hz mode as part of our full review, but the signs are that there are appreciable improvements in the newer camera.
Improved image stabilization
Panasonic has also kept working on its image stabilization algorithms since the launch of the original GH5 and says the Mark II offers a stabilization rating 1.5EV more effective than the older model. Panasonic says the improvement is achieved through collectively processing the inputs from a series of motion detection sources, including gyrosensors, accelerometers and analysis of changes by the imaging sensor.
It’s not clear whether any of this sensor hardware has been updated or if the Mark II’s greater processing power prevents the GH5 achieving the same result, but we’d like to think that Panasonic would have already brought these improvements to the older GH5 if it were possible. Now the performance difference is being used as a way to differentiate the Mark II from the original camera, its all but certain that the GH5 won’t ever match the new camera.
USB-C with charging and operation
Another additional feature of the Mark II is the inclusion of a USB C socket. This has the benefit of being an increasingly common connector type but the main advantage is that on the GH5 II it can be used to either recharge or directly power the camera.
This allows the GH5 II to be used for extended periods using PD-compatible transformers, such as those that come with some laptops, rather than requiring a specific dummy-battery AC power adapter.
In addition to the headline upgrades, the GH5 II also receives some smaller, but potentially still pertinent changes.
For instance, the adoption of a microphone pre-amp with two fundamental gain steps allows the GH5 II to use a wider array of microphones, including higher output ones that could risk overwhelming the input on the original camera.
The LCD on the GH5 II is fractionally smaller than the one on the original camera, but Panasonic also says it’s brighter than the old one, making it easier to use outdoors, without having to put your eye to the viewfinder, and can represent a wider color space.
The GH5 II also gains the Luminance spot meter function we first saw in the Panasonic S1H. This lets you monitor a small region of the scene, with the relative exposure of that region indicated on screen. In most modes the camera reports an IRE % value, while in V-Log L mode it reports how far above or below the 42 IRE level the selected point is. This can be a valuable additional tool for judging exposure in video, particularly if you shoot Log.
One aspect that’s not apparent from the spec sheets is that the GH5 II has the revised menus and interfaces we first saw in Panasonic’s S series of full-frame models.
This is a benefit in itself, as we found the new menus to be a little easier to navigate (each menu tab is broken down into sub-tabs with icons representing each section). But it’s also valuable if you’re planning to use the GH5 II alongside an S-series camera. The ability to quickly make a custom list of video modes is also useful to avoid having to hunt for your preferred bit/frame rates.
Of course the converse may also be true for you: if you’re looking for a camera to shoot alongside an original GH5 or GH5S, then a camera with the older menu system will make it easier when switching back and forth.
Should I upgrade?
The GH5 II is a true version two product: a series of small refinements and updates necessary to keep the product suitably up-to-date. The consequence is that (even more than usual), it’s unlikely that it makes sense to upgrade unless you really need one of the additional features it offers.
If you shoot Log and would like the ability to shoot in 50 or 60p without having to attach an external recorder, the Mark II will definitely be handy, but unless your needs are that specific, there’s probably no reason to get itchy feet about your current camera.
Should I buy a GH5 II or a discounted GH5?
If you’ve been planning to buy a small, video-centric hybrid camera but haven’t yet got an original GH5, it makes sense to plump for the Mark II: its introductory price isn’t much higher than the current street price of the older model and the improvements definitely add up.
The GH5 remains a fine camera, and a second-hand one would still be a powerful video creation tool. But the sum-total of all the improvements in the GH5 II, along with its pretty aggressive introductory price make it look pretty tempting. It’s also worth considering the peace of mind brought by having a completely new battery and full warranty are definitely worth bearing in mind, if it’s a camera you need to depend on.
If we were in the market for a compact, high-end video tool, we’d probably opt for the Mark II unless we found the older model for an absolute steal.
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