September 26, 2014

The Sony a7S & the Panasonic GH4 Duke It Out in This In-Depth Camera Review

Panasonic GH4 vs. Sony A7s
Lately, it seems easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of exciting new camera tech.

A great example of that would be everything that has recently been released at IBC from the likes of Blackmagic, Sony, Panasonic, and even Samsung. We shouldn’t forget to take a critical look at the amazing camera tech that is already available, namely the Sony a7s and the GH4. Dave Dugdale of Learning DSLR Video recently released this thorough camera comparison video comparing everything from low light and color performance. Have a look at the full video below -- or, if you just want the high-level summary, skip to 44:29: 

Caleb Ward over at The Beat connotates the current camera conundrum concisely (C):

Two of the more exciting cameras to hit the filmmaking world this year have been the Sony a7S and the Panasonic GH4.  The a7S is well known for it’s low-light capabilities and the GH4 is one of the cheapest 4K cameras on the market. Both have beautiful image quality, but which one is the ‘all around’ leader?

I owned (and hacked) a GH2, so I have some built-in comfort operating the GH line of Panasonic cameras. And as a new owner of a BMPCC, I also have to admit I'm most comfortable in the micro 4/3 realm. However, I also know it's best to be as versatile and camera system agnostic as possible, and the Sony a7s is producing gorgeous pictures with amazing low light capabilities. A review like this that gives a potential consumer like me so many points of view is invaluable. 

It's important to note that this review video covers the a7s as it compares to the GH4 -- Dave has done another entire review on the GH4 on its own. Dave conveniently outlines his table of contents for us, so we can skip ahead to the sections we are most interested in:

dave dugdale a7s gh4 table of contents

I find myself instantly gravitating toward the Low Light section at 11:37, the Color section at 18:50, and Dynamic Range section at 21:27.

Low Light:

I can't say I'm surprised about the a7s winning the low light contest; after all, that is the most well-known and attractive strength of the camera. However, seeing the side-by-side at ISO 3200 really seals the deal for me -- look at all that information that's retained. Dave's video is far more helpful than the still shot here, as he slides the image back and forth. (For more info on low light, I'd recommend Dave's low light showdown video as well.)

Color:

Dave focuses on the a7s here. Heis still experimenting with color, but of note he goes into detail concerning the a7s' S-Log2 S-Gamut. Dave notes the color seems off, especially in the sky, and I have to agree. It almost looks Rec-709 with the blobish clouds. However, in the clip of his daughter's hair, the color seems accurate.

He also makes note of a series of tests done by David Carstens with the different picture profiles and exposures on the a7s. Exposure definitely has a pronounced effect on color with the a7s. Check out Carstens' noise and color comparison below.

Dynamic Range:

Dave notes the sensitivity in discussing dynamic range, potentially "opening a can of worms" because there are so many different factors (that you can affect in a test), and I want to acknowledge it, too. That said, there does seem to be a difference here. The a7s seems to be doing better in the highlights, and the GH4 seems to do better in his tests in the shadows of skin tones. Technically by the numbers, the a7s has 14.1 stops (the same as ARRI AMIRA), and the GH4 has 10.9 (see this helpful post by cinema 5D). But again, this test is all about observable details, and I can see where Dave is coming from with the footage he shot.

Where I differ from Dave in this review is at 45:49 regarding how "unintimidating" the GH4 is. I'm not sure how I feel about that suggestion. While I realize that camera tech is getting smaller and smaller, I don’t find myself worrying about having a camera and lens combo larger than a GH4. I actually find this humorous in a way, because after adding follow focuses, mics/receiver, and a matte box, cage, or rails, a smaller camera would end up looking bigger anyway. It also strikes me as funny because it reminds me of the age we’re living in -- where it's almost the expectation that your A-cam will be smaller and still produce cinematic results. I feel like an old man -- "Back in MY day we interviewed with cameras the size of the Sony f900 to get 1080p24 -- AND WE LIKED IT!!!" 

Spoiler alert -- Dave ultimately ended up buying both cameras. He gets the GH4 so he would have the ability to crop in/pan-scan with 4k, and the a7s for the low light capabilities and the full frame DOF. He sold off some other Canon gear in order to make it happen. Gun to head, which would I choose? Based on what I note is important to me above, probably the a7s -- I'd simply plan on pairing it with an external recorder like the Atomos Shogun if I wanted 4k. 

All in all, this video is certainly worth your time if you've considered renting or buying either camera. If for some reason you'd prefer to read Dave's review rather than watch, head over to the review page itself on Learning DSLR Video. Thanks for another comprehensive, wonderfully produced comparison video, Dave! Keep up the great work!

What did you think of this video? Will it affect your decisions regarding the GH4 or the a7s?      

Your Comment

34 Comments

I went the GH4 route. Fast lenses are a good fix for low light and it records 4K internally.

September 26, 2014 at 4:32PM

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I don't think there are lenses fast enough that can make a GH4 expose the same scene like an A7s can at 102k ISO

September 27, 2014 at 1:06AM

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Miguel Sotto
Cinematographer
253

True, I wasn't suggesting that there was. I was just stating that there are fast lenses for the GH4 that help with low light situations. When possible, it's always better to light the scene when you can.

September 27, 2014 at 1:55AM

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The awesome thing about these two cameras is that you can buy both with an adapter to mount your favorite lenses for under $5k total. I like the GH4, 4K internally is awesome, but the A7s low-light makes it a winner for now.

October 8, 2014 at 10:23AM

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Dre Kahmeyer
Director
319

Both cameras are great, all about personal preference at this point.

September 26, 2014 at 4:34PM

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I laughed at the picture with apples and oranges. :D

September 26, 2014 at 4:37PM

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I've been really impressed with the dynamic range of the GH4 and what I can pull from the shadows. Color correction has also been a breeze compared to earlier GH models, Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Haven't worked with the a7s footage yet but I know with slog2 you're gonna need to spend some time grading. Both are great cameras, just depends on your needs.

September 26, 2014 at 5:12PM

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John Morse
Producer + Director
2506

We've had a harder time with the GH4. Have you struggled with noise in general? The A7s, when just slightly over exposed, which is not hard to do at sLog's 3200 iso, has been grading very well.

September 26, 2014 at 6:10PM, Edited September 26, 6:10PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1092

Gh4 is my pick.

September 26, 2014 at 5:24PM

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Ghazelli Zafer
Director, Screen Writer, Cinematography, editor
214

So far I haven't seen a single person use the low light capabilities for anything but tests. Let's face it you are going to light a scene with a flashlight if you have to or shoot it at the correct time of day. Maybe even pretend that that is actually how dark it is. I have a 14mm pany 2.0, 20mm 1.7 and a SLR 35mm 1.4 The GH4 works excellent. Oh ya. When my shogun arrives I will also have 10bit 422 with the possibility of 444 according to Matt from Panasonic

September 26, 2014 at 6:04PM

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It's very useful for wedding and event videography. I can stop down to F4 to maintain some lens sharpness and make it easier to focus on the fly.

September 26, 2014 at 7:19PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
886

We took the GH4 (Speedbooster and Nikon Zeiss glass) to Angola and had a really tough time with it. We just couldn't dial in the exposure to look good for us. There are so many different exposure features and each of them seemed to make it look worse. I did just a bit of research on best settings but couldn't get an image I liked.

After that we took an A7s (Metabones to EF Zeiss) to Madagascar and Zambia and everyone was thrilled with it. It just has a really pretty image and Davinci seems to love it. We'll probably get a few of those for B-roll and use the upcoming FS7 as an A-camera for interviews and main content.

September 26, 2014 at 6:05PM, Edited September 26, 6:05PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1092

Love the look of the GH4 when you get the settings right. Don't 'over flatten' it. Stick with Cinelike D 0, -3, -5, -3, 0, +2 shadows,-2 highlights and you are good to go. Nail exposure and white balance and this camera can look as good as anything I've ever used. Yes low light beyond 1600Iso is not really worth it but otherwise the image is just lovely. Plenty 'filmic' with the right glass, and its 'detailed' not 'sharp' when sharpness is dialled down.

September 26, 2014 at 6:35PM

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aaron trinder
Director
18

We over-flattened it for sure. We couldn't get an image back out of it. (what you see it what you get) At first I think we went with Dave Dugdale's suggested settings and they were really bad.

I love the anticipation of a shot really coming to life in grading. Also, the ability to make a shot go one way or another depending on what you need it for. (Like raw formats)

Hopefully, I'll have another chance to use the GH4 and do it justice

September 26, 2014 at 6:49PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1092

It's amazing how good a7S footage can be graded in Resolve. Slog2 is a really flat gamma profile but if you understand it and use the histogram in conjuction with the zebra it becomes fairly accurate to ettr +2 stops keeping clean shadows. It's so robust, if you don't get crazy and try to break the codec. Just sold my MK3 with the raw cards. It was a lovely image and a great job from ml team but it's just too problematic to work with. The a7S is a breeze compared. Astonishing camera indeed. Did I mention how good this e mount is? All my old canon FD lenses back to work without any hassels. About rolling shutter is not a drama as people are stating in reviews. It's probably something in the range of the mkII. With a proper rig it's greatly diminished. I don't feel so happy about a camera since the mkii back in 2009.

September 26, 2014 at 10:21PM

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Alex Mandarino
DP / VFX Generalist
233

What settings did you use of mine that look bad? I have made many changes in the past month.

October 4, 2014 at 11:05AM

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Dave Dugdale
Owner
161

What if i going to used for filming a movie ? i really like the GH4 but now with this review im confused ;(

September 26, 2014 at 8:11PM

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Jarvin Hernandez
Filmmaker/Photography
95

I would shoot GH4 for a narrative film, as you've just got everything in and all round 'in one package', but use manual glass such as SLR MAGIC, voigtlander or PL mount cine primes to give it the extra cinematic feel. If I was shooting night scenes of course I'd go with the A7s.

September 27, 2014 at 10:33AM

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aaron trinder
Director
18

yea still not convinced on both these cams, yes great dynamic range , yes all the pluses on how small and high frame rates but man, those high yellow/greenish baked in are not great on skin at all. Im sticking with canon raw for skin tones still.

September 26, 2014 at 9:20PM, Edited September 26, 9:20PM

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Joe Gonzalez
Filmmaker/Editor/Sound Designer
128

I love the A7s but I am still a huge fan of ML raw.

September 27, 2014 at 7:43PM, Edited September 27, 7:43PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1092

This guys seems like he only ever uses DSLR's. IMO if you want more of a cinematic image out of a DSLR then A7S all day. I used both various times and the dynamic range, colors, sharpness, low light capabilities, options, and ease of use makes the A7s fit much better for most scenarios. If you can grade footage and are used to working with actual cinema cameras, you'll have no problem grading A7s SLOG just like you would with an Alexa. The GH4 looks video and oversharpened to me, 4k is just not necessary especially from a highly compressed 8 bit codec. For filmmaking, events, weddings, etc, the A7s shines every time. We recently got rid of out 5d mk III's and got A7s' and couldn't be happier.

September 26, 2014 at 9:28PM

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Brad Watts
Filmmaker/Creative Director - Redd Pen Media
408

He says that the a7s has the APS-C crop mode which is very useful, but he forgot to add that the GH4 has it too, it's called Ex-Teleconv and windows the sensor like Sony does. It works only in HD, I know, but he was shooting HD on a7s too.

September 27, 2014 at 6:11AM

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Fabio Lanzone
Director of Photography
74

Sorry I didn't mention that, the video was 50 minutes long so I couldn't cover everything.

October 4, 2014 at 11:02AM

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Dave Dugdale
Owner
161

GH4 it's veru impressive. Sony too in low light situation... :D

September 27, 2014 at 2:48PM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7591

Sorry, I started following Dave Dugdale a long time ago, and stopped quickly. I don't have a whole lot of faith in his reviews/ evaluations. He is, admittedly, learning while he keeps up his channel, very quickly it's obvious his reviews, tutorials, etc. are aimed at suuuuper low knowledge people. People who aren't making a living off of motion, or still.

September 27, 2014 at 6:25PM

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+1... well spoken..

September 28, 2014 at 5:01AM

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henrovee
Film Designer
81

Sorry to hear you no longer follow me and don't have a whole lot of faith in my reviews, I will try to get better.

Who do you think are the top people to follow?

October 4, 2014 at 10:50AM

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Dave Dugdale
Owner
161

I disagree. I appreciate your reviews Dave.

November 29, 2014 at 2:25PM, Edited November 29, 2:25PM

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Sorry mate but I gotta disagree you. I don't know how high your expectations are for online reviews from self taught people taking a shot to help the community to understand the how's and whys of this marvelous but rather complex industry. I find his videos to be interesting, well made (take in account his not getting paid for that), educational, and hey! to be good at something just remember the basis, so what's wrong about that? Of course everyone wants to know more complex or advance stuff, but we al, know that those don't come cheap or as commond, mate be glad you can just watch it instead of read it. All the best.

January 6, 2015 at 1:47AM

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Maximilian Aponte
Filmmaker: Direction/Cinematography/Producer/Post
81

The comparison of bokeh was good to see with the womans face because it was proof the GH4 can't achieve the same look.

The actual bokeh was the same on both cameras but look at the lens compression in the shot. The GH4 shot was instantly obvious because the zoomed shot needed to emulate the bokeh completely flattens the depth in the image. Then look at the A7s shot next to it and see how much more dynamic and depth there is in her face.

September 27, 2014 at 7:59PM, Edited September 27, 7:59PM

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Agreed, I found this deceptive. Most cameras can achieve some kind of shallow DOF if you back way off with a long lens. But isolating subjects from a near background at wider angles - which everyone is so used to from the 5Ds - seems unlikely with the GH4.

It seems to be timing which has promted so many comparisons between these two cameras. They really do seem to produce rather different images.

October 3, 2014 at 3:33PM

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It is a good and a useful thing to bring out these comparisons between cameras. Can I suggest that owners of these camera go out there make films or commercials with these cameras. I am not so sure why arguments are always at a lower end.

October 3, 2014 at 7:46PM, Edited October 3, 7:46PM

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Joseph Otieno Adamson
CEO AILTV[AFRICANS IN LONDON TV ]
86

I really liked the ending bit, where he talked about new people getting the T2i.

Because it is a great point, composition and technique always trump hardware. If you want to take great video or photos it is important to experiment and learn and it is better to do it on a camera that won't break the bank if you accidentally break it.

October 5, 2014 at 1:05AM, Edited October 5, 1:05AM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
479

Thanks Dave! This review and your original GH4 review helped seal the deal for me to choose the GH4 for the majority of my work. I too would like to add the A7S later on for the low light capability.

February 22, 2015 at 1:35PM

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Gina DeGirolamo
Cinematographer/Editor/Producer
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