Panasonic GH4 vs. Canon 1Dx - Round 2! / by Jason O'Brien

Following my review of the GH4 vs. the 1Dx, I have had a lot of criticism from die hard fans of both platforms and I thought I should follow up on somex things after further testing in the field and some unique situations

Now just to clear things up, I brought both cameras, I shoot with both cameras and I am not being paid by anyone to be bias in this. Some people just have trouble accepting that high end bodies can be challenged by cheaper products and feel they need to justify their purchases.

So anyway lets kick off with some updates and further thoughts about the GH4 vs. 1Dx

Weather Sealing:

The Panasonic GH4 is really performing well in adverse weather so far, I was concerned about water penetration in certain areas but so far the camera is holding together very well. So far I have shot 2 times in heavy rain for over 30 minutes with no issues and also hail.

There has been some slight water penetration around the bayonet mount but overall it's holding together strong and not an issue unique to the GH4. 

Panasonic GH4 chilling out after a punching a hail core in New Mexico

Autofocus:

Now this is the area where I copped the most flak in my initial comparison against the Canon 1Dx. I can say after a few weeks testing in some new environments that I can add some new information to the comparison also.

Now the GH4’s DFD system, as good as it is, does have some minor quirks that can lead to worse performance. This was mainly caused by low contrast situations or diffused subjects, the worst culprit for this is clouds with the GH4 generally failing to lock focus and racking slowly while hunting. In contrast (pun intended) the 1Dx generally had no issues even with spot AF and would find something to lock on to.

Now in reality this generally wasn’t too much of an issue as I was near infinite focus anyway or I could use something else to lock focus like an outer edge. Regardless I found this very interesting as the DFD system relies heavily on contrast edges to determine what is in focus vs out of focus or bokeh.

Putting all this aside, I still stand by my original conclusion vs. the 1Dx, in most situations the GH4 had the faster autofocus and was far snappier. I will throw in one caveat though, both cameras were only tested with 1 lens which I would consider the most generally used for both platforms. It is possible the tables would turn with telephoto lenses, large focal lengths and bigger optics to drive, that being said I had no intention of using the GH4 as a sports shooter yet and I don’t believe there is a lens good enough to do a direct comparison between platforms. The only possible lens is the Panasonic 35-100 f2.8 but I would really like to see a fast 300mm + f2.8 lens. 

When it comes to tracking focus, I am still seeing the same results as before really. As above for me to do a direct sports comparison, I would need lenses that are reasonably well matched to do a proper comparison.

Update: 4/6/2014 - One really annoying quirk I thought I would mention to everyone is the GH4 does not seem to retain manual focus positioning when using electronic lenses such as the 12-35mm. This has lead to some misfocused shots and video as I quite often shoot near infinity and leave it there locked down. Every time I turn the camera off it returns to a position just out of focus and sits there. I am hoping Panasonic address this bug as it is quite annoying for run and gun work.

Crop Factor:

This is one area I didn’t touch on in my original review and it is a big difference between platforms. There are photographers out there that love paper thin depth of field (DOF) while others can live with out it. I am on the fence with this personally, I still find the Panasonic 12-35 @ f2.8 offers more than enough DOF to satisfy my artistic needs but I can still appreciate the milky bokeh of a FF lens and body. Don’t think the GH4 is a slouch in this area though, the Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 renders very nice smooth bokeh as it is.

M43 Bodies can get shallow depth of field and milky bokeh

Now there are always 2 sides to a coin when it comes to things like this, having a smaller sensor and high(ish) megapixel count means you have a higher pixel density and higher crop factor. What does this all mean? Well in return you use vastly smaller glass to achieve the same focal lengths and light gathering ability but in the case of the GH4 with a 2x crop factor, you need to double the aperture to achieve the same DOF in reality.

When it comes to travelling, the crop factor can be invaluable as most micro 4/3 (M43) lenses are less than half the physical size of a FF lens and can be 1/4 the weight. Also keep in mind that you can use a Metabones speed booster to use FF Nikon glass still and gain a couple stops of aperture. I just wish they would hurry up and release a Canon version so I can use some of my amazing lenses on the GH4, otherwise I will have to move to the Nikon camp soon.

I am not saying either is the better choice but in photography you need to keep in mind that nothing is really clear cut, it is always give an take.

GH4 - Exceptional image quality at ISO 1600.

Ergonomics and Controls:

I thought I would touch on this area quickly now that I have done more extensive testing. Overall I have to say the GH4 has a very nice grip to it, slots nicely in the hand and can be carried confidently with no fear of dropping it with 1 hand. The button layout is similar to many DSLRs, all I really needed to do was reverse the dial layout to feel at home coming from the 1Dx. Button customisation is quite good however not as customisable as the 1Dx, very close though. 

Probably the only area the GH4 falls short is the menu system, it's not bad, but it's not the most mature system either. I find that I am constantly searching for settings buried in menus and having to constantly scroll through pages to find what I am looking for. On top of this the GH4 does lag a little when jumping in and out of menus or reviewing images / video etc. I think the 1Dx menu system is hands down better, it's much more mature, well thought out and designed to be time efficient. I am sure I will get used to the GH4 menu system eventually, I just wish it was a little faster with navigation.

As someone who has only shot with DSLR's I find the articulating screen very welcoming. It is fantastic if you need to get low to the ground, avoiding glare or do self interviews etc. The touchscreen I could do without personally as I find it a little annoying jumping between buttons and onscreen controls. It is also very handy being able to hide the screen away when travelling etc to protect it from scratches.

Conclusion and Side Rant:

Well this pretty much concludes my stills portion of the Panasonic GH4 review, it really has brought out the die hard fanboys from the FF and M43 camps which can be good and bad thing but I can go either way personally. I generally just view cameras as a tool and don’t take anything personally. At the end of the day I don’t really care who makes a camera or what format it is, they all have their pros and cons.

What I look for in a camera is ground breaking innovation, pushing things to the limit and the sense that the engineers have built a camera that is as good as it can be and not holding back features due to some sense of screwing more money out of you (I’m looking at you Canon).

Panasonic have made a truly amazing camera that excels in so many areas that nothing can really compete with it in every area, it will probably go down in history as a game changer for the camera market that is sure to force the competition to come back with something better to take it on.

The problem with Canon and Nikon is they both seem to have a gentlemen’s agreement and sit there throwing tiny rocks at each other, while trying to protect their monopolies and minimise R&D budgets. Meanwhile mirrorless camera makers are launching cannon balls at each other with each new model, constantly trying to do the opposition over. At the end of the day this can only be good for consumers.

Canon and Nikon do have amazing lenses and mature bodies but they are also remarkably similar with each generation and lack the motivation to really push the envelope and do something radically different, the gap between DSLR and mirrorless bodies really is diminishing rapidly to the point where I think DSLR’s in similar price points are now not worth considering. The main problem is that consumers are brainwashed into thinking bigger is better.

You can take this comparison any way you want I guess, say I am bias or whatever but at the end of the day I wrote this review for a bit of fun, comparing cameras that I purchased myself and use side by side in the field. People who read specifications of each camera and think they can tell me I am wrong need to find something better to do with their time.

Video review is coming very soon once I get back from documenting this years storm chasing and it will be worth the wait!

Also be sure to check out CameraStoreTV on Youtube as they did a review of the GH4 vs. other mirrorless cameras and the Nikon D4s.

Who says camera reviews cant be fun