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Panasonic GH5 II review: A vlogging classic gains speed and streaming powers


Panasonic’s GH5 was such an iconic vlogging camera that Panasonic unveiled two Micro Four Thirds successors to replace it. The $2,500 GH6, due to arrive later this year, has major upgrades like 4K 120p and even 5.7K video. The other is the model I’m reviewing today, the $ 1,700 GH5 II.

As the name suggests, the GH5 II is more of a refresh, with the same 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor. However, it has an all-new processor that delivers significant improvements in speed, video quality and AI smarts. Best of all, it’s $300 less than the GH5 was at launch.

Pros

  • 4K 10-bit 60p video
  • Improved stabilization
  • Video streaming
  • Excellent video quality

Cons

  • Mediocre autofocus
  • No external RAW video

The big question is whether it’s worth getting this model, waiting for the GH6, or even purchasing an older GH5 that’s now steeply discounted. To find out, I tested the GH5 II’s new features, video quality, autofocus and more — here’s what I found out.

Body and handling

Panasonic GH5 II review: A vlogging classic gains speed and streaming powers

Steve Dent/Engadget

If you’re already familiar with the GH5, you’ll be very comfortable with the GH5 II — the bodies are nearly identical. That’s a good thing, because it still out-handles many newer cameras, thanks to the excellent grip and logical control positions.

There are a few key changes, though. While the rear display is a little smaller at 3 inches instead of 3.2 inches, it has slightly more resolution and is significantly brighter. That fixes one of the biggest issues with the GH5: its relatively dim display.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) carries the same 3.68 million dot resolution and .76x magnification, but has double the refresh rate at 120Hz. That makes a noticeable difference in image quality; more so than a resolution bump in my opinion. However, it also drains the battery a touch faster.

Another nice improvement is the addition of USB-C PD compatibility that can charge the battery more quickly. And it comes with a more powerful DMW-BLK22 battery, the same one found in the company’s full-frame S5 camera. While it’s still CIPA-rated for 410 shots like the GH5, it delivers a few more minutes of video recording.

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Panasonic GH5 II review: A vlogging classic gains speed and streaming powers

Steve Dent/Engadget

The GH5 II has better menus than the GH5, gaining those introduced on the GH5s. It’s a color coded, tabbed menu system with hints to find the option you’re looking for. It also has the info panel from Panasonic’s pro Varicam models (also available on the GH5s), that show important settings at a glance. Another feature for pro shooters is dual zebra controls that let you check two levels at once, like highlights and skin tones.

As with the GH5, the new model has dual UHS II card slots, but they now support the maximum V90 (300 MB/s) speeds. That’ll ensure stable capture if you’re using the new All-I 4K video settings at up to 400 Mbps, or let the buffer clear faster if you’re snapping photos.

Video performance

There are several subtle, but important changes to the video capabilities of the GH5. A key one is an update to the image stabilization system. It now delivers up to 6.5 EV of shake protection, up by 1.5 EV over the GH5. When working with compatible lenses and using the IS boost mode, it’s designed to provide more steady shots, even if you’re walking or moving.

No in-camera stabilization system is ever going to beat a gimbal. However, the GH5 II does a better job than most mirrorless cameras I’ve tried at smoothing out walking or running, provided you’re reasonably careful. More importantly, it makes handheld camera pans and other motion smoother than the GH5 does. If you need some extra stabilization, there’s an electronic mode that does help, though it crops in slightly.

Another key change is with the autofocus system. In general, continuous autofocus for video is faster and smoother than before, though you’ll still see a tiny bit of hunting or wobble that’s unavoidable with a contrast-detect-only AF system. As before, the system works better at higher frame rates when it has more information to work with.

Panasonic GH5 II review: A vlogging classic gains speed and streaming powers

Steve Dent/Engadget

The GH5 II also brings some AI autofocus smarts that couldn’t be added via firmware to the GH5 because of its relatively old processor. It offers double the face and eye-tracking speeds, and can pick up focus when a face is tilted away from the camera. It can recognize heads and human bodies, making tracking more feasible if a person is turning or moving towards or away from the camera. It adds new animal tracking features that can handle most pets and some types of wildlife, as well.

With these features enabled, it’s easier to keep someone in focus if they or you are moving. Again, this works best at higher frame-rates, but overall, the improved focus hit rates make the camera more practical for vlogging or run-and-gun work, especially for solo operators. Animal tracking is also pretty useful, particularly if pets and/or kids are running around.

Is the GH5’s subject tracking as good as on Canon or especially Sony’s latest mirrorless cameras? No, because both of those brands use phase-detect systems that can nail focus directly without any wobble. Sony’s latest models, particularly the A1 and A7S III, also have uncannily fast tracking capabilities that Panasonic has yet to match. Still, the new model is a big step up from the GH5 and certainly good enough for many types of projects.

Video quality

Panasonic GH5 II review: A vlogging classic gains speed and streaming powers

Steve Dent/Engadget

Video made the GH5 popular, as it was far ahead of the competition for the price when it first arrived. Five years on, it’s getting pretty old, though, so a new processor helped Panasonic boost the GH5 II’s specs in line with what it’s done on full-frame models like the S5.

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To that end, the new model now offers 10-bit 4:2:0 4K and C4K (4,096 x 2,160) video at up to 60 fps, rather than just 8-bit video at 60p as before. That makes it better for slow-mo or high frame-rate video if you want to use log or HDR video settings. Like the GH5, it can also handle 6K 30p anamorphic (4,992 x 3,774) with 10-bit, 4:2:0 color settings. And where All-I capture was limited to 24/25 fps on the GH5, the GH II can now do it at up to 30 fps.

Though the GH5 II comes with VLog-L shooting out of the box, it’s limited to 12 stops of dynamic range rather than 13 like Panasonic’s BGH1 box camera and other recent models. Panasonic also introduced two new video modes, Cinelike D2 and Cinelike V2, that let you shoot log-like video with less hassle. Those deliver slightly more saturated colors and improved skin tones than the original Cinelike D and V modes.

Like other newer models, the GH5 II shows a red frame around the screen while recording, along with aspect ratio guides and a TikTok-style portrait video mode. With the same sensor, the GH5 II has pretty much the same readout speeds, so as before, rolling shutter is present but well controlled.

Panasonic GH5 II review: A vlogging classic gains speed and streaming powers

Steve Dent/Engadget

The GH5 II can now capture video simultaneously to an external recorder over the HDMI port, unlike the GH5. However, it can’t capture RAW video like the S5, for instance. Hopefully, that and the limited VLog-L dynamic range will be addressed in future firmware updates.

With all those tweaks, the GH5 II delivers sharp video with high levels of color accuracy for demanding work. It handles skin tones well and colors are natural and accurate. Low-light shooting is not its strong point, though, due to the smaller sensor size. For that, you’d be better off with either the GH5s or one of Panasonic’s newer full-frame models.

The new video quality changes are subtle, but could be helpful for certain types of work. Overall, it delivers the video quality everyone liked from the GH5, plus a little more.

Live Streaming

Panasonic GH5 II review: A vlogging classic gains speed and streaming powers

Steve Dent/Engadget

A key new feature for the GH5 II is the ability to broadcast live on the web, either using WiFi or a USB-C. The latter will require a firmware update that essentially allows the GH5 II’s USB-C port to be used as a wired LAN connection, however.

You can either stream to a smartphone via WiFi using the Lumix Sync app, or stream directly over WiFi without the need for a PC or phone. The latter requires you to use the Lumix Network software for PC or Mac to write your streaming settings to an SD card. Since it uses the RTMP/RTMPS standard, it supports YouTube, Facebook and other services. Better still, it supports camera audio as well as video.

Live streaming does require a robust connection, however, as I struggled to maintain a livestream in the countryside with a 16 Mbps connection. You won’t want to use the maximum 1080p 60 fps settings unless you have internet speed well above 16 Mbps.

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