Panasonic Announces GH6 — Goes Their Own Way

So the GH6 is finally here and the details now known. As you might expect from a GH-labeled camera, it has a high emphasis on the video side of its abilities.

bythom panasonic gh6

Right up front we see a surprising difference: Panasonic is using a different image sensor than OM Digital Systems did in the OM-1, with the first bump in resolution we've seen in a long time, to 25.2mp (with no low pass filter). That produces 5776x4336 images (due to the 4:3 aspect ratio), probably not a number you've seen before. Not a big bump, obviously, but this enables some of the things that make the GH6 unique.

Let's start with the video, since it's what Panasonic wants to emphasize. The big news here is 5.7K 60P and 4K 120P, both at 10-bit, plus 1080P/240. The V-Log-/V-Gamut combo is included for the first time in m4/3, as is ProRes 422HQ compression. As usual, anamorphic support is included. Dual gain ISO is present, with the normal video range being 100-12800, and the posted range 800-12800 (HLG happens at ISO 250 or 2000 base). The devil's in the details, as usual, with video, as the 4:2:2, 10-bit, and various compression possibilities vary with resolution and frame rate chosen. But suffice it to say that Panasonic has pushed the GH6 significantly beyond where the GH5s was. 

The viewfinder stays the same, though the Rear LCD gains some dots (now 1.8m). The thing everyone was anticipating—phase detect autofocus—didn't happen, with Panasonic sticking to their DFD contrast-based autofocus technology. Sensor-based IS is now specified as 7.5 stops CIPA. 

The mechanical shutter maxes out at 8 fps with full capabilities, 14 fps if you lock focus. The electronic shutter goes to 1/32,000 second and allows 20, 60, and 75 fps, but only with focus locked to the first frame. Battery life is a minimum of 330 images, and up to 850 images with power save and SD card use. Which brings this up: two card slots in the GH6: one CFexpress Type B, one SD UHS-II. Panasonic promises direct record to SSD capability is coming in the near future, via the USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port. 

The body itself—already the biggest of single grip m4/3 cameras—grows a bit with the GH6 over the GH5, with a more pronounced hand grip being the primary contributor. That also means the weight goes up to 739g. Apparently Panasonic cameras are like American humans, and gain girth and weight as they age. That said, for the capabilities and performance, the GH6 is still one of smallest video cameras you can buy. 

Speaking of which, the price is now US$2199, and the camera will be available in March.

Commentary on the announcement: So it seems clear that OM Digital Solutions and Panasonic continue their coopetition and bifurcation of the m4/3 market. The OM-1 seems more suited to the wildlife photographer, the GH6 seems more suited to the videographer. But both can do both. 

One problem, of course, is whether or not the GH6 pricing makes sense against some of the full frame competition. Is there enough there there to hold off US$2000 full frame cameras that have near equivalent video capabilities? (Hint: probably. What no one is talking about is that the next round of full frame camera updates may have to charge more given the sudden inflationary patterns being seen.)

I'm sure we'll see more "is that enough to save m4/3" articles and comments in the near term. Technically, no camera or camera company is "safe" at the moment due to the supply chain issues. The parts shortages are forcing them all to put most of their energy into the top-end cameras that are low quantity volume in the first place. While this preserves profit margin on lower sales volumes overall, it doesn't really do anything to shore up the finances of any the camera companies. Growth is elusive and fleeting, and by emphasizing higher-end products, the mass market is quickly forgetting dedicated cameras and just using their mobile phones. 

But most of the comments I see about who will survive and who will leave the camera business are backwards. For instance, Nikon and OM Digital Solutions are often the most oft-mentioned death bed candidates. But both those companies performed the massive downsizing that allows them to thrive on very low volumes. Both are emphasizing the up-scale models, too, so profitability is there. And both have to continue to figure out how to sell cameras profitably long-term because that's so much of their overall business. Fujifilm, Panasonic, Ricoh, and Sony are different. They are massive conglomerates who have to keep their sales and bottom lines growing in order to fully satisfy shareholders. Products that dip below certain corporate-mandated thresholds for various financial measurements tend to get jettisoned, as we've seen in the past with both Panasonic (sensors) and Sony (computers). (Canon is somewhere between Nikon and Sony in all this: cameras are large enough that they can't really consider jettisoning them, but the overall company is big enough that it has to have all divisions producing growth and profit to keep shareholders happy.) 

At the moment, all of the camera companies, including the m4/3 twins, are managing to swim in the smaller pool. I don't see that changing any time soon, though I do wonder how many still-focused cameras Panasonic will produce this generation; video is their superpower, and the GH6 caters to that. 

Update: spelling correction

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