Two brand new video cameras with different strengths going head to head is always a ton of fun. Not quite as fun as having to make the decision of which one of these cameras to purchase. We all know by now that nothing beats the A7s in low light and the 4k in camera shooting of the GH4 definitely has it’s advantages. So which one of these cameras should take its place in your camera bag, let’s find out.
You also might take a look at the Sony A7s vs. the Canon 5D mark III
On these cameras, both are geared towards videography and thus both come equipped with all the standard features one would expect such as manual audio control, focus peaking, zebras, and a ton of other more advanced options. The GH4 is able to shoot 1080p at up to 96fps while the A7s is limited to a more normal 60fps at 1080p or 120fps at 720p. The GH4 is also able to shoot 4k internally while the A7s can only use this via HDMI output with a recorder that is not yet available, costs $2000, and is bulky enough to make handheld recording at 4k not a great option. This is a huge win for the GH4 as 4k is the future for a format standard, but also has many applications now allowing for cropping or framing in post as well as digital stabilization without any loss of quality. Both may offer the same level of control but the GH4 feels a bit more logical with its layout and actually offers more custom buttons than the Sony. I’m also a fan of the touch screen LCD as it allows me to change all my settings without making any noise or risk of moving the camera. The LCD also adjusts to every level on the GH4 and makes it easier to use for filming yourself or filming from the side. I find this extremely useful and I’m a big fan of this ability. Now while both cameras offer Wi-Fi, the Sony app only allows for start stop of video recording while the GH4 basically gives you access to all the controls you would have on the camera and even the ability to focus and shift focus points from a remote location. This makes it much better for use as a b camera or on a dolly where it may not be easy to reach the camera controls.
Of course the Panasonic GH4 does have a much smaller sensor which imposes some limitations with dynamic range, a larger depth of field, and worse low light abilities, though there are some advantages to smaller sensors that start to even things out. For example, while the GH4 is not immune to rolling shutter or the jelly effect, it is definitely less pronounced and easier to manage than the Sony. However, in low light the GH4 starts to show limitations at 1600 iso with some noise present, and is limited to 6400 ISO while the A7s looked great up to 25000 ISO with the ability to go even higher if needed. However I did find the GH4 4k files cleaned up nicely with some noise reduction but that will add steps to your workflow. Either way, 6400 is the highest you can go in the GH4 while the Sony A7s is just getting started. Now, while the Panasonic offers great quality f2.8 zooms as well as 1.4 prime lenses, the Sony is limited to f4 for its native zoom lenses on only has 1 wide prime lens at f1.8. This meant it was easy to shoot with wider apertures on the Panasonic allowing me to shoot at lower ISO while achieving the same exposure. The smaller sensor also allows for more area in focus and I find it easy to shoot all day long at f2.8 and wider on the GH4 while on full frame cameras like my 5D3 I was stopping down to at least f4 to get the depth of field I was looking for. The small sensor on the GH4 also allows you to use a metabones speed booster which we will go over in another video but it essentially turned this Sigma lens into a 29mm-57mm f1.2 zoom lens after factoring in the 2.3x crop factor (exposure equivalence). Try shooting that wide on your A7s! So yes the GH4 loses the ISO battle, especially at 1600iso and above, but that is only half the story.
Shooting with these two cameras is actually quite interesting. While the controls and operation on the A7s felt clunky, the GH4 felt much better and I have been using the A7 and A7s much longer than the GH4. Also, before I had these cameras, I figured I would use them both at 1080p and the 4K would be a nice option for the future. Quite the opposite, the 4k recording has become part of my normal workflow allowing for sharp looking 1080p footage when down converted and the ability to crop and stabilize my footage in post. This is huge for me and it makes it tough to go back to normal 1080p. So while the A7s is comparable to the GH4 at 1080p in many ways, being able to shoot 4k made it a game changer for my current workflow, even though I have no plans on outputting 4k footage, nor do I own a 4k TV or monitor. 4k Files even played back on my laptop which was something I was expecting to have issues with. Both of these cameras also offer a profile for better grading with the S-log2 on the A7s and Cinelike D or V on the GH4. The S-log2 is definitely a more empty profile with more room for grading, but I found it to be almost too empty and the fact that you can only use it at 3200 ISO and up made it less usable in practical cases compared to the more natural Cinelike D on the Gh4. If you love grading, I’m sure you will love the S-log2 profile, but at 3200 ISO, I’m just not sure how often you will be using it but you might want to stock up on ND filters.
Both of these cameras have redefined my view of what video should look like in cameras of this price range. They have both stomped on my Canon 5D3 and Canon 70D so hard that it will be nearly impossible to pick them up again for video shooting. As a result, you really can’t go wrong with either of these cameras though the more time I spent with them, I definitely started showing a preference and For me, the GH4 kept coming out on top. For one, the 4k ability turned into a feature I could use every day rather than something that I thought was mostly for future proofing. Also, most of my footage is shot below 1600ISO and the f2.8 zoom and 1.4 prime, and even a 1.2 zoom lens with the metabones adapter for the Panasonic made it easier to shoot at lower ISOs while my F4 Sony zoom lens had me shooting at higher ISOs. Shure, the high ISO shots looked great on the A7s, but the smaller, lighter, cheaper, and still amazing quality lenses from Panasonic took some of wind out of the Sony’s sail... And for only $1700, there is another reason to go with the Panasonic, and use the extra cash for a nice wide aperture lens. Sure I wish the GH4 looked great at 6400ISO and the Sony is still king of the low light hill. But with all its advantages, great price, and overall fit and finish, because remember, this is Panasonics 4th generation of this camera, The GH4 is now likely the video camera that I am likely going to use from here on out.