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May 5, 2014

4K Camera Showdown: Is the Under $2K Panasonic GH4 Sharper Than a $20K+ RED EPIC?

Under $2K Panasonic GH4 is Sharper Than Over $20K RED EPIC? - No Film SchoolThe Panasonic GH4 is barely on the market yet, and while we've seen some comparisons, some have been with cameras that aren't shooting 4K. But what about comparing the $1,700 4K GH4 to the 5K RED EPIC MX (non-DRAGON), which runs well over $20K for a working body? That's what Luke Neumann did, and he threw in the Canon 5D Mark III shooting Magic Lantern RAW for good measure, upscaled to 4K to keep everything consistent. Can a cheap camera really look sharper than a pro cine camera?

[Update 2] Luke also did an additional test with the GH4 and EPIC which you can download here. As I mentioned below, the Panasonic is doing a lot of processing internally, even if you turn down sharpness, which he did with the second test. The EPIC, on the other hand, does essentially nothing to the image, meaning there is no additional sharpening going on in the hardware. You can always add sharpening in post to the EPIC, which should bring it closer to the GH4, but the images still speak for themselves.

GH4 

Nikkor Ai-s 50mm f 1.2 @ f 5.6

Shutter at 180

CineLikeD: Contrast and Saturation to -5, Sharpness to -2

RED Epic

Nikkor Ai-s 50mm f 1.2 @ f 5.6

5K/FF/3:1

RedLogFilm: Contrast and white balance adjusted to match GH4 as close as possible.

This is a still from the new test (click for larger), which has been blown up to 400%:

[Update] Luke also shot this video with only the GH4:

What's Going on Here?

There is no problem with the focus of the lens (it's also stopped down where it should perform better), and Luke has actually uploaded samples so you can check them out without YouTube compression. First things first, Luke owns that EPIC, and I also own a RED, and we both own cameras of all brands -- basically we don't care what comes out on top in the end.

There is a huge difference between resolved detailed and perceived sharpness. Images can look very sharp because of edge enhancement (or high contrast), but may not actually be recording that much fine detail. Essentially there is an infinite amount of detail in the visible world, and how well a camera system reproduces this fine detail up to their pixel count is talked about in terms of resolved detail. A number of factors can affect resolved detail, including the lens, and the filter over the sensor (optical low-pass filter) that prevents aliasing or false details from showing up in the image as a rainbow pattern.

Nearly all color CMOS camera sensors (essentially most cameras you're using), have what's called a Bayer pattern:

If you look at a straight Bayer pattern image it looks terrible, and so in processing this pattern must be interpolated with surrounding pixels to make an image that looks like the scene you were shooting. This means that the image coming into the camera can't be translated 1:1 with your final image, and thus you're losing some resolved detail having to Debayer the image and interpolate. The best Debayering algorithms can reproduce about 75-80% of the detail of whatever your initial resolution is, meaning a 4K color sensor can never actually resolve 4K detail, but 5K should come closer. This is also why 4K downscaled to 1080p looks good, because you're sampling from many more pixels, and the whole system is already resolving well over 1080p.

Yes, the Panasonic GH4 Looks Sharper

Cameras that shoot RAW video, like the RED EPIC and 5D3 Magic Lantern RAW, do minimal processing internally to the image. Some has to be done to actually give you a clean image out of the box and remove fixed-pattern noise, but for the most part RAW is left to post. The Panasonic GH4, on the other hand, is a highly compressed camera, and it aims to give you the best possible image right to the card in the camera. This means it's doing a lot more processing, which includes internal sharpening.

Panasonic-GH4-4K-Front-No-Lens-616x407

Is it actually resolving more detail at 4K compared to the RED's 5K downsampled to 4K? It may very well be, and regardless of what you can do in post to an image, the vast majority like something that looks nice right out of the box. Could you sharpen the 5D Mark III and RED to look more like the Panasonic? Possibly, but in the end, for many people, the camera that costs the least, looks "the best," and requires the least amount of work to get to a satisfactory image might be the one they favor, especially if it's stuff going to the web where there may only be the slightest difference between a $2,000 camera and a $100,000 camera thanks to all sorts of factors like compression and screen resolution.

In the end, there are many factors that affect image quality, and resolved detail/sharpness is just one of them. There are plenty of others like color, dynamic range, motion rendering, etc. Each of these cameras has their own unique look, and they also have their own usability differences, which are often more important than the image, and are why one camera might be right for one job while another is not.

The test above shows that Panasonic is pushing as much detail as possible through this new 4K sensor, and with minimal correction, it stands up next to a camera that costs 10 times as much. Granted, the MX sensor is quite a few years old at this point, and DRAGON likely performs better, but we have now reached a point where you can get 80-90% of the overall quality of those high-end cameras for a fraction of the cost.

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263 Comments

Well, let's see the GH4 shoot the sun! We'll stick with our F55.

May 5, 2014

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Christopher Joh...

You clearly don't get the point.

F55 = $30k
GH4 = $2k.

If you wanted a high-dynamic-range shot, you'd rent a RED or F55 or Alexa for a day or two... then intercut the rest with a lower-priced camera and controlled lighting. The point is, cameras are getting less expensive and with better features than low-budget filmmakers had access to 3-5 years ago. Technology is no longer a hindering factor for a quality product, leaving the filmmakers with the sole task of concentrating on giving us a good story.

May 5, 2014

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Dave N.

+1

May 5, 2014

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+1 and you can get sony's new camera A7s for shooting the sun as well ;) im not sure how it compares but in my little microcosm it does pretty amazing .... now if only it shot 24mp stills it would be one of the ultimate cameras :P good time for frugal film-makers but i aint one of them

May 5, 2014

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Whispers

Agreed. I own a F5 and I cant wait to try the A7s. I love the F5 but its so heavy and there are times like traveling in N.Z. where I wanted to take it on long walks but the weight was too much.

Also Africa later in the year I dont want to take the F5 there. Draws too much attention. A7s will be a good size.

May 5, 2014

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Wow, lens flare.
Used to be a time when people avoided lens flare as it's unprofessional, now it's in 99% of commercials.

It's hackneyed as hell

May 5, 2014

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Fresno Bob

Well, thank Conrad Hall for pioneering this (Cool Hand Luke - 1967) :)

May 6, 2014

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SizeMatters

Well, at least you can shoot the sun with the GH4 and not get a freakin' black or red spot (I won't name names ...blackmagic...;)

July 3, 2014

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Tracey

For a topic and video that is bound to stir up endless debate, arguing, and some very harsh words and strong opinions, I am really impressed by how fairly Joe wrote this, and how he ended on two very important points: 1.) Both of these cameras are great for different situations, and 2.) Sharpness isn't the end-all, be-all of what makes a great image. Great write-up, Joe.

May 5, 2014

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+1

May 5, 2014

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Altus Firh

+2

May 5, 2014

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Bill M

That was, by far, the most awesome comment I've read on NFS in weeks.

May 5, 2014

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Lopez

While I would expect the GH4 to be slightly sharper due to a most likely weaker OLPF at the expense of aliasing. This test doesn't actually show it to be sharper. All this test demonstrates is that the house is out of focus on the RED and in focus on the stopped down GH4. For a fair...ish comparison look at this:

http://i111.photobucket.com/albums/n134/im_thatoneguy/GH4vsEpic2_zps68b1...

The Epic is actually sharper when you compare a part of the image that's in focus. Which actually is slightly surprising to me and I attribute to: lower compression and 25% more resolution.

May 11, 2014

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Gavin Greenwalt

Also just a correction that's not actually 5k Epic, that's 4k Epic. The framing is different between the two so you would normally shoot the same framing as a GH4 and then supersample the 5k down to 4k to gain some additional resolution. So yeah... that's with the same resolution of sensor even.
http://i111.photobucket.com/albums/n134/im_thatoneguy/REDGH4ResolutionCo...

May 11, 2014

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Gavin Greenwalt

There's two questions I have about the GH4 and the Red:

1) Those frames you have do show an ever so slightly better resolution in the Red, but still, doesn't the GH4 look better than any camera that was available anywhere in the world just seven years ago, and better than 98% of cameras available today? (I guess that's two questions in one)

2) Is the slight difference between the GH4 and the Red equal to the leap in price difference?

I think the Red's higher cost finds justification in things other than image quality, like high speed frame rate---which really is an exceptional feature of the Red. The price of a Red, ARRI, and Sony F55 is crushing to most film makers. The price of a GH4 can put a smile on their face.

There's two videos about moire in the GH4 that show's there is virtually no moire in the GH4 at the 4K (UHD) setting.

http://vimeo.com/94233203

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7Grj67XCUk ] This second video talks about more than just moire.

The only complaint I have about the GH's is in the area of the color palette. I wish it had a bit less brown appearance on the color and a bit better look in pinks and greens.

May 11, 2014

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Gene

1) Doesn’t the GH4 look better than any camera that was available anywhere in the world just seven years ago?
I would argue film still existed seven years ago so no. But yeah, shits getting cheaper and better all the time. I would have clawed and fought my way through rabid dogs 10 years ago to get a camera like the GH4. But we do have other options today.

2) Is the slight difference between the GH4 and the Red equal to the leap in price difference?
For some people and some applications probably not. To take it a step further is the leap in price between the GH4 and most people's iPhones worth it?

My point isn't to say the GH4 is a shitty camera. My point is that a 4k camera by and large is going to resolution wise look like a 4k camera. The dramatic difference in the moss on the shed is because the shed is out of focus in the RED shot. It's not sharpening, it's not OLPFs--it's out of focus. Oops. In a perfect test I would expect them to be kneck and kneck when compressed. And I would expect the RED camera to take the lead at lower compression ratios (3:1) and get whomped at higher (10:1) compression ratios.

All this test really accomplishes is drive hits to No Film School by posting a Gizmodo style inaccurate and click baiting headline.

May 12, 2014

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Gavin Greenwalt

Wow.... This thread should be fun.

May 5, 2014

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Altus Firh

You guys made this article JUST to see the shitshow of comments

May 5, 2014

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john jeffries

I can't prove it but I would have to say they deserve to have the benefit of the doubt. Guys with no axe to grind, as they own multiple brands including the 'expensive' ones. I think they just wanted to share their surprise.

May 5, 2014

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Altus Firh

It had to be done.

May 5, 2014

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JP Belanger

^ yup

August 4, 2014

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Let me just add some of OUR thoughts to this before people get all defensive. We OWN the Epic and have for almost a year. We love it. We bought the GH4 to replace our Mark III as a B-Cam/Behind the Scenes cam and simply wanted to see how the footage would cut together.

May 5, 2014

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Thought you just sold it on Reduser.
Wish the shots had split screen or
edited back to back to compare better.

5D3 with Magic Lantern wins this one.
To Hell with 4K.

May 5, 2014

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sammy

No, we have had it up there for about six months now. Been wanting to get out of it to move to the Scarlet Dragon or something. It's tough because the MX tech is starting to show its age but the price is still pretty hefty (justifiable...but hefty) and the new Dragon tech is just awesome.

May 5, 2014

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Cameras with mirrors are on the way out (note I didn't say they are dead). The GH4 at $1700.00 is a godsend to those on a tight budget---which is almost all film makers. This comparison really is a pleasant surprise.

May 5, 2014

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Gene

some doubts here, the Red doesn't perform the same in all lenses. And it perform really bad with zoom lenses.
I would rather make a text with prime lenses, and the difference will be obviously big and more precise.

May 5, 2014

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I agree but it is the same lens so it just shows the disparity between Epic and GH4. A nice prime lens would sharpen up the RED but probably do that much more to the GH4 (which would be WAY too sharp IMO). If you own RED and know RED you know these things so this test shouldn't make you think any differently. I was just surprised that it could even intercut with the RED stuff. Impressive.

May 5, 2014

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I'm surprised by the results, I would have thought the Epic would have won this detail/sharpness test. I like that we can all buy a camera with this amount of detail at $1,700. I like that Panasonic is doing this at this price range since Canon seems to not care.

May 5, 2014

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Dave,

Of the two companies Canon is BY FAR the more profitable.
So if your question is, does Canon care about the R+D, marketing and production of a low volume, thin margin camera, then no, they don't. The 1DC is still selling, even now!
Canon have several new 4K cameras ready to announce - one of which is out testing as we speak.
One version may arrive not too far from the GH4s number.
Personally, I'm keeping my powder dry for just a few months yet.

May 5, 2014

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marklondon

how do you know this? Canon is marketing the autofocus features for the c cameras what makes you think we will soon see a 4k versions of the cameras and damage their current line? if they are testing now then it means Nab next year ??

May 5, 2014

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Edry

Mark, for the love of all things holy and unholy, can you PLEASE give us a bit more detail on this mystery Canon 4K camera? Price-range? DSLR or Cinema EOS form-factor? Release date?

Please?

May 5, 2014

1
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Johnny

Canon does not make better video. But they do make better marketing.

May 5, 2014

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Gene

...and this thread will be epic... even without me trolling :)

- Or : "How to Generate Traffic to the Website - Lesson One".

May 5, 2014

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Juhan-i

Oh I think NFS learnt that lesson long ago.

May 5, 2014

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marklondon

It looks like the GH4 is resolving considerably more "real" detail, not simply adding sharpening in camera vs. post. This seems especially evident looking at the blow-ups at the end. Am I imagining this, or do others see it as well?

May 5, 2014

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Joseph Moore

It's tough to tell whether it's resolving more or just a matter of more being in focus due to the sensor.

May 5, 2014

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GREAT article. Im certain this article was written without bias, just like I'm certain the people at Panasonic are delighted by this article.

May 5, 2014

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so which is best for fast action sports close up .for detail and slow motion

May 5, 2014

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martin

Nice. Thanks Joe Marine and Luke Newman. No doubt about it. For the price that's a decent 4K option. What we really need is someone to shoot a comparison side by side on the GH4 and EPIC - then master it for 4K Digital Cinema projection and get a bunch of DPs to the screening. I accept the challenge.... Or Joe or Luke could get in touch and I'll sort you with a DCP for free

May 5, 2014

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Shaolin

And possibly a free screening (in the UK... :) ) - but I can send you the unecnrypted DCP no problem - just get me an XYZ DCDM master.

May 5, 2014

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Shaolin

Gh4 without OLPF is sharper, is this a surprise?

Try to remove the OLPF from a Red Epic, then we see. Even BMC 2.5 looks like 4k be ause it doesn't have OLPF. But a videocamera without OLPF can't be used for features and important things.

May 5, 2014

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Jean

I have been wanting to remove the OLPF on my Epic for a while...just a little afraid to get in there. Plus we want to sell it at some point and that seems like a harder sell.

May 5, 2014

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Sony F55 has OLPF and 4K raw results visibly sharper image when compared to all Red cameras raw. Also with 5.5K - 6K Red raw image... This was verified even by Red user group moderator.

It has been stated million times, Red puts out soft images, when compared to many other similar cameras.
It is because way the sensor works in Red cameras and they use rather strong OLPF to "mask out" resulting imperfections. Most likely moving images from the Red cameras would look like a piece of crap without the filter...

May 5, 2014

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Juhan-i

Can you please send link. I saw a different comparison of the Sony 55 and Red Dragon using a resolution chart and the Dragon WAS barely sharper when downrezzed to 4k. It was actually quite lackluster.

May 5, 2014

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Richard

Is that a trolling? Do you need more sharpness than an EPIC gives to you?

Ow my...

May 5, 2014

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alex mand

Sony F55 is videoish, i bet the OLPF there is not strong like Red cameras.

If you see Sony F65, it is another kind of beast: more cinematic and, for sure, better OLPF (and double the price)

You can't really compare F55 to Red, unless Sony will fix some quirks, and F55 will work, shoot, edit in Rec2020, that is not the standard at all right now, and it goes Rec709 or ACES.

May 5, 2014

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Jean

I used to feel that way but with S-Gamut3 it looks just like an Alexa except sharper.

May 5, 2014

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Richard

Jesus, I just stated a facts...

Look: NO, I am not trolling when it comes to image sharpness for F55 vs. Red Epic / Scarlet / Dragon.
If Richard wants to see himself, you can look at here:

http://www.cinematography.net/UWE/index.html

Download F55, Alexa and Red Dragon raw files, or compare .tiff files straight from example jpgs. With my computer you have to click left mouse button over the jpg image and then download the the uncompressed tiff.

Red Dragon images have 5.5K capture resolution, Sony F55 image have (obviously) 4K capture resolution.

May 5, 2014

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Juhan-i

Sony wasn't in the comparison.

May 5, 2014

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Gene

Just took a look. Yup, it's true. The F55 is actually sharper than the Dragon. That's ridiculous. It's possible Dragon has a strong OLPF which makes the image softer. I would love to see how the F65 compares as I still consider that camera the cream of the crop, IMHO.

May 6, 2014

1
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Richard

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