Panasonic GH5, HDR, and the Future of Consumer Video

The Panasonic GH5 is the first mirrorless photo camera to record 4K video at 10-bit color depth with 4:2:2 chroma sampling internally.

The specifics of the Panasonic GH5, and even the camera itself doesn’t interest me as much as the aggressive move from Panasonic to include internal video recording at 10-bit color depth with 4:2:2 chroma sampling. Even though 10-bit is restricted to frame rates up to 30p of the 60p maximum, it’s a significant statement.

Panasonic now takes a significant lead as the first manufacturer to take the demands of professional video creators seriously in a camera that is still essentially a photo camera.

Canon basically invented mainstream DSLR video with the 5D Mark II, and Sony more recently took top spot in the hearts and minds of DSLR/Mirrorless shooters with the a7S and a7S II. Now it is Panasonic’s turn to rock the boat and challenge the status quo. I certainly hope this pressures Sony and other leading mirrorless camera makers to follow suit and we can kill off 8-bit 4:2:0 as soon as possible. It simply has no place in serious video acquisition now, no matter whether aimed at consumers or professionals.

Panasonic GH5 – Nothing to Lose

With all the love and respect Canon has received recently from justifiably unimpressed videographers following the Canon 5D MkIV and C700, the Panasonic GH5 is a breath of fresh air. Canon let down a lot of people, and Panasonic is about to sell a lot of cameras as a result, not to mention the hugely successful legacy of the GH4 and loyal, locked in customers who have been waiting for a long time for the GH5.

Panasonic is in the enviable position of not having to protect an extensive product line of mid-range dedicated cinema or large sensor pro-video oriented cameras in higher price brackets. They can disrupt the status quo in the mirrorless (and DSLR) video market because they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by doing so.

Log Gamma Profiles

The use of log gamma encoding was once the sole domain of digital cinema cameras, allowing an extended range of luminance values to be encoded within a limited bit-depth by employing a non-linear gamma function. Even then a log gamma profile was employed with at least 10-bit color depth if not 12-bit or higher.

Now s-log, p-log, j-log (Sony, Panasonic, and even JVC) are including log gamma profiles in entry and mid level cameras at only 8-bit color depth. This is problematic for anyone familiar with the technicalities on a professional level. At a consumer level users are simply left with visible banding in skies and images that fall apart in post because everyone tells them capturing a “flat” image is better for color correction and stylistic grading. While this may be true at high enough bit depths, it is certainly not the case for low bitrate 8-bit 4:2:0 H.264 video.

The Reality of HDR

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is no longer just a consideration for high-end digital cinema acquisition. As HDR displays come to our homes, computers and mobile devices, we will want to consume HDR content. We will also want to create HDR content with accessible consumer oriented cameras. For this, 10-bit color with 4:2:2 chroma sampling is an absolute minimum at acquisition. The Panasonic GH5 is the first camera of its kind to cater to this future, which is only just around the corner.

UHD 4K and HDR is clearly the present and immediate future, with 8K acquisition already a reality for some. It’s time to let creators record visual content with the clarity and image information needed for post production and HDR delivery no matter what the device.

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