Blackmagic Production Camera 4K versus Panasonic GH4

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Even though it's only been shipping for a short time, the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is the current "go-to" choice for shooting 4K video with a single sensor/interchangeable-lens system for less than $4000. However, things may change when Panasonic ships their 4K-capable Lumix GH4. If you're in the market for a sub-$4,000 4K camera, how do you choose? Rather than conducting a head-to-head shootout, this post is about clarifying what the specs mean to you.

Are you looking at specs only? Good luck with that. Although both cameras have a lot to offer, hitting a relatively low price point has affected the design choices of both models. Essentially, it all comes down to how you shoot, or, as the British say, “...horses for courses.” Are you looking for a still camera that also shoots 4K video? Or are you looking for a 4K camera that has a larger sensor than the Micro Four Thirds format, and is strictly for shooting 4K and HD video, not stills? If your primary use is shooting stills, and sensor size isn’t an issue, then your choice is easy, because the GH4 is the clear winner. However, if you're primarily interested in shooting video, and not concerned with shooting stills, this is where things get a little tougher.

Sensor Size/Lens Mount

The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K features a Super 35mm-sized sensor and an electronic Canon EF mount, while the GH4 features a Micro Four Thirds-sized sensor and a Micro Four Thirds mount. How much difference sensor size makes is up to you, but it does bear discussing. Sensor size has more to do with sensitivity, lens choice, and focal-length perspective. So instead of focusing on the size of the sensor, think about the lens mount. The Blackmagic camera uses a mount that accepts Canon EF lenses. Although there are many lenses available in the EF mount, as of the writing of this article, there is no simple or inexpensive option for using PL-mount glass on that camera. In comparison, the Micro Four Thirds mount on the GH4 will permit you to use a wider range of lenses, including PL and Canon EF-mount lenses, among many others. If you want to use non-EF-mount lenses, or if you want the option to use almost any lens, at this point, you should be looking at the GH4.

Workflow

If you need a camera that fits into a more professional workflow, with 6G-SDI ports and Thunderbolt output, then the Blackmagic camera is probably more your speed than the GH4, which comes with an HDMI output. Professional ports don't come cheap, as the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is priced just shy of $3,000, while the GH4 is less than $1,700. However, Panasonic is releasing the DMW-YAGH camera-mounting adapter box for nearly $2,000, which adds dual XLR inputs, 3G-SDI outputs, and Quad Link SDI outputs. The adapter, which costs more than the camera itself, allows the GH4 to fit into a traditional production workflow. The added XLR inputs and audio level meters create an audio solution that the Blackmagic camera lacks.

Audio capabilities may not be an issue for you, especially if you work with a sound recordist who mixes the audio before recording it into the camera and/or to an external recorder. As far as the Blackmagic’s lack of XLR inputs goes, I checked with Antonio Arroyo, a New York-based location sound professional, who told me that, not withstanding the Blackmagic camera's preamps, the ¼” TRS connectors themselves aren’t a problem. The only issue is making sure that you have adapters from XLR to ¼” TRS, and there are a plethora of adapters available.”

Resolution and Bit Depth

"Don’t look for one camera to be the best; look for the camera that's going to fit the way you shoot."

Here are a few more points to consider as you decide which option best fits your needs. The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K records UHD (3840 x 2160) and 1080p video only, while the GH4 shoots 4096 x2160, as well as UHD, and 1080p. The difference between 4096 x 2160 and 3840 x 2160 is a small one, with 4096 being the cinema standard for 4K, while UHD is the 16 x 9 equivalent. So, if you're shooting for the cinema, you want to check out how much, if any, of a headache the non-cinema resolution is going to cause you. The Blackmagic also records 12-bit video to a removable internal SSD. The Panasonic can only record 8-bit internally, to SD cards. 10-bit video is supposed to be available from the GH4 via the HDMI output (or SDI output by using the DMW-YAGH adapter). This means if you want the highest quality from the GH4, you need an external recorder, as opposed to recording to an internal SSD with the the Blackmagic. Generally speaking, the higher the bit-depth, the greater the control in post production; however, the file sizes are larger too.

Wrapping it up

Looking at each of these cameras, it’s amazing that you can get 4K for the price. The GH4 is both more and less expensive than the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, which really gives you three cameras to choose from, not two. Each camera will have its own strong points and weaknesses. Don’t look for one camera to be the best; look for the camera that's going to fit the way you shoot.

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blackmagik

Just FYP (perusal).  /Jean

The most important thing you forgot is: the Blackmagic records in Raw while the Panasonic shoots in jpeg.But  I prefer the Panasonic use SD card cheaper than SSD for the Blackmagic.

Vantho Nguyen wrote:

The most important thing you forgot is: the Blackmagic records in Raw while the Panasonic shoots in jpeg.But  I prefer the Panasonic use SD card cheaper than SSD for the Blackmagic.


Aboe is wrong.... The most important thing you forgot is really.. that The GH4 shoots video in an all i frame intra avchd and mp4 at plenty a high bit rate, not sure what the guy above is talking about.. Not to mention being able to use just about ANY lens ever made with inexpensive adapters. Thats right, just about ANY LENS ever made, almost. Yes it does shoot raw photography and yes Jpeg an option, not one i would ever use but its an option. Video is avaiable in a few formats and frame rates from film 24 to 60p for slow mo, not just the ONE jpeg consumer format the guy above thinks about. It has professional high bit rate formats which will lend great to film productions as well as easier formats for average comsumers. Personally I use the all i-frame avchd at the highest bit rate, and never touch jpeg not even in photo modes. If you want video in between jpeg and full on all i-frame, use the mp4 format it has for a mid rage worklow. I suppose not everyone is going to color grade everything.

I think you forgot to mention comparing the power usage differences between the two (Battery life). It may be a deal breaker for some. since the Black magic needs an external power source to record over 20 minutes, and the Panasonic DMW interface needs to be connected to an outlet all the time to work. Regarding this, what would you suggest be the best solution to the battery life of the Black magic, i mean what third party battery bricks would you suggest?

Two options for external power to consider for the Blackmagic Production Camera would be:

Switronix Powerbase-70 Battery Pack & Charger for Blackmagic Camera Kit

and:

Switronix 3-Stud Jetpack for Black Magic Camera Kit

The GH4 is the easy win here. 
-High variety of formats and frame rates to suit most procutions.
-Able to use almost any lens ever made for film and photo, of course nothing as small as 8mm film but 16mm and above you have a huge selection. I have a few leicas, panny, cannon etc.
-Shoot alot more thanks to a battery that lasts a couple hours compared to the black magic.

The GH4 is the easy win here. 
-High variety of formats and frame rates to suit most procutions.
-Able to use almost any lens ever made for film and photo, of course nothing as small as 8mm film but 16mm and above you have a huge selection. I have a few leicas, panny, cannon etc. The adapters are cheap.
-Shoot alot more thanks to a battery that lasts a couple hours longer compared to the black magic needing external power for longer shoots.
-The form factor lends well to a huge slection of dslr friedly tools & products on the market.
-10bit is an option if you get the accessory but you still have the option of inexpenisve internal SD card shooting still in 4k! in camera. With a high bit rate that still lends to excellent color grading.
-WEATHER READY BODY means tuff rugged shooting, a camera that wont quit over a little rain.
-All that said and then there's PRICE, all that in its favor than add that you get it at nearly half the price?! You can get similar quality from both, why pay that more more for it?

Compared to the BlackMagic I choose the GH4 for the higher versality in workflow and lenses but being nearly half the price is also hard to beat, that alone could win it for many looking for cinema quality thats afforadable.

Raw kicks ass...

Thanks for the review. As an owner of a Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and many Canon DSLR, i feel the Blackmagic is a pain to get set up. The bulky body and weird shape make it difficult to be hand held, even for short periods. Tripod or crane mounting will give your best motion shots. I generally look for cameras that are light weight, as this makes sense when shooting hand held. The Blackmagic is a definite no for 'Run and Gun' situations. Lets not even get into the shortfalls of the Blackmagic! They are horrendous... NO audio meters, a crappy overly sensitive internal mic. Don't ge me wrong... i love the picture quality, far better than any Canon DSLR i have ever worked with. Battery life on the Blackmagic 4K is supposed to last an appalling 20 minutes of shooting. Yes, any camera will chew up battery life, but 20 minutes???? Something is amiss here! Can't wait to get my hands on the GH4! cheers :)

I absoutely love the GH4. It's not only an amazing video camera, but it's awesome at photography too! I've done some test shoots with a Canon 5d Mk iii and I gotta say this thing is quite close to in photos. It smokes the competition in video too even at 8bit on the SD cards (4:2:0). However when the Atomos Shogun ships in Sept at B&H, you'll get the 10bit (4:2:2) recorded at true DCI 4k 4096x2160 image! NOT UHD 4k!!! THANK GOD! Can't wait as the video this thing shoots now is insane, let alone what an extra 2bits will do with virtually ANY LENS EVER MADE. Beat that Black Magic!

Great review and comparison 

Super in cinems