Why the (hacked) Panasonic GH1 is a better video camera than the Canon5DMk2

If you are a Canon 5Dmk2 fanboy you may want to shut your eyes. The lowly Panasonic GH1 just got supercharged with a firmware hack that makes a great HDSLR video camera even better. Here is my list of things that make the GH1 a better video camera than the 5D. First let’s take a look at the 800-pound gorilla in the room, The Canon has a full frame 35mm sensor, therefore, there is no crop factor when using 35mm lenses. Canon’s full size sensor is 4 times the size of the 4/3rds sensor in the GH1, which also means that the Canon must compress 4 time the data for the same bandwidth, all thing being equal (which they are not.) Supposedly the 5D is writing data at 35Mbs, compared to the (stock) 17Mbs of the GH1, which means that it’s still throwing away half again as much data as the GH1 (4 time the sensor and only twice as much data as the GH1).

GH1 Camera rig

My GH1 Camera Rig

But the GH1 has a secret, with the Ptools firmware hack from Tester13, the GH1 can shoot true 1080P 24fps with no pulldown at 50Mbs. And since both cameras use h.264 compression, with the software hack, the GH1 is compressing the data from its sensor far less.

But there’s more, the GH1 hack also enables the 1080P mode using MJPEG compression at 100Mbs for short shots. While this setting is kind of like using nitrous and it’s really pushing the limits of the camera, it is a real boon if you want to get the highest quality video possible. The advantage that motion JPEG has over h.264 is that it only uses spatial compression instead of the temporal and spatial compression of h.264. This means prettier pictures. His holiness, Phillip Bloom posted a great blog post on what the firmware hack brings to the GH1 which you can read on his blog.
I’ll admit that image quality is close enough between these two cameras that the 5D might win if that were the only issue. But the GH1 is a far more usable camera than the 5D, First off, for shooting video you can’t beat the fold out LCD screen on the GH1. It’s just better than the Live View screen on the 5D, period, even with a Z-finder. Second, the GH1 has continuous auto focus when using the kit lens. With 5D in live mode, you are stuck with whatever focus you had when you started recording. Thirdly, even un-hacked the GH1 can shoot 30fps 1/2 speed slow motion. You just shoot at 60fps 720p and play back the footage at 30fps, no frame blending or doubling, just plain good old fashioned over-cranking.
Okay, Let’s talk about glass. The 5D still uses an optical viewfinder, which means it has a pentaprism and a mirror, which it must flip up to take video, which, of course, makes the optical viewfinder unusable. This arrangement also means that the Canon has a deep flange distance. the flange is the measurement from the back of the lens to the surface of the sensor. Traditional film and video lenses have a short flange distance and don’t work well with 35mm SLR bodies. The GH1 has no optical viewfinder and therefore has a very short flange distance, which means it can use practically any 35mm SLR, video or film lens that someone is willing to make a adapter for. There is even a PL mount adapter that cost as much as the GH1, so that you can use cine lenses that cost 100 times as much the GH1. I use all my old Canon FD SLR lens as well as some Minolta, Olympus, and16mm film lenses and even cheap CCTV lens with my GH1.
Finally, let’s take a look at the form factor. The 5D is big and relatively heavy DSLR. Great if you’re trying to impress other photographers or the bridesmaids at a wedding shoot, not so good if you’re actually trying to shoot steady handheld video. The GH1 is lighter, smaller, more balanced and just plain easier to handle.
I won’t argue that the Canon 5DMK2 is a great still camera, and better than the GH1. But when it comes to real world video shooting and video quality, 5D, you’ve been served!

45 thoughts on “Why the (hacked) Panasonic GH1 is a better video camera than the Canon5DMk2

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  6. Crunchy

    Size of the sensor has nothing to do with bandwidth or compression. Bandwidth depends on video resolution (1920×1080), frame-rate (25p or 30p), codec and chosen quality. Sensor size makes impact on DOF and low-light noise.

  7. Ryan Williams

    Nice points.

    Out of curiosity, how are you outputting your GH1 to the little monitor on your rig? I was under the impression it doesn’t do live HDMI output (yet). Are you just using it to check playback?

    Very excited about the hack. I was just about to pull the trigger on the 5DMkII, but I think a couple of GH1s will sever me far better for the money and lens compatibility (have about 6 FD lenses and a couple Nikon to play with for starters!).

    I would love to see some tests from you with the firmware hack along with some real world experience working with it. How often does the card error out? What SDHD cards are working for you? How’s the running time with various settings. Image quality? I’m still a touch nervous after seeing Phillip Bloom’s tweet the other day expressing some disappointment about banding (http://twitter.com/PhilipBloom/status/16182404941). Wondering if it was just a settings issue, since Andrew Reid and others have not expressed the same concerns.

  8. shaf Post author

    @ Crunchy
    You are correct in that both cameras are processing h.264 at 1920 X1080. The Canon has to do additional processing (line and pixel skipping to get the output from the 21.1 megapixel (5,616 x 3,744 pixels), sensor down to 1920 X1080 pixels.
    I agree that in some aspects Image quality is better from the 5D. But I think the usability and flexibility factors for video shooting. tip the scale toward the GH1 as a video camera.

  9. shaf Post author

    @Ryan
    You can only preview or playback with the HDMI and composite video output. My monitor is only composite and I am just using it for framing and to have something for clients or directors to look at. (an HDMI monitor is at the top of my wish list)
    Yes I looking at buying a second GH1 or GH2 (when it comes out.)
    There is tons of chatter on the DVX forum regarding settings for the pTools hack http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/forumdisplay.php?f=206
    I’m not messing with the MJPEG settings yet. I’m really happy with the AVCHD at this point.

  10. Edd

    Actually Shaf, from the tests I’ve seen so far. I’ve come to believe that the hacked GH1 really did manage to beat the 5D in image quality…

  11. shaf Post author

    The bottom line for me is which camera I’d rather shoot with, I’ve shot both, and I prefer the GH1 But that’s just me . I love the Canon too. YMMV. :)

  12. Crunchy

    @Edd

    Edd, I was commented the following sentence: “Supposedly the 5D is writing data at 35Mbs, compared to the (stock) 17Mbs of the GH1, which means that it’s still throwing away half again as much data as the GH1 (4 time the sensor and only twice as much data as the GH1)”.

    In my statement I only said that size of the sensor has nothing to do with bandwidth or compression. Namely, whatever DSLR sensor dimensions and resolution is, you have to pick up 1920×1080 pixels for video which should be coded. So, in both cameras, data, which goes to the coder, is of the same size (1920×1080 @ chosen framerate).

    5D is compressing 1920×1080 data into 35Mb/s and GH1 is compressing 1920×1080 data into 17Mb/s. If they would use the same codec, Canon would be in advantage. However, Canons have another problems related to aliasing/moire, as you already mentioned (they are probably better in low-light, though). I am closely following all threads about video on DSLRs for about three years, so I know what are the problems/advantages. Personally, I think that the one of the most serious problem with all DSLRs is “jello effect”. Hope that global shutters will be used in the near future. Otherwise, I agree with Shaf that GH1, especially with the most recent hack, is probably the winner.

    Hope it’s more clear now.

  13. Skeptikal

    “Hey Jay, the 5DII shoots around 47mbits/sec”

    …who cares about the bit rate if it’s low resolution (650 line), line-skipped, aliased crap that is in the mbps rate of information being recorded.

    I had a 5D2 for a year…until the novelty wore off and I did some resolution tests with a 2K Panasonic video camera. Sold the 5D2 a few days later.

  14. Daniel

    Interesting and great analysis! I am a mouse click away from buying the GH1, but am wondering if I should exercise patience and wait for the GH2 to be released…. any thoughts on the matter?

  15. shaf Post author

    I don’t know anything more than the rumors. I don’t think you will be able to buy a GH2 before late November.

  16. Jeff

    This may be a stupid question, but why on earth would a company (read: Panasonic) produce a camera that could do much more in theory than they allow it too? Was this just a lack of construction skills or an actually intended scaled-down in a way crippled camera to have something up the sleeve for the GH2? In any of the two cases I think it does not really strengthen my confidence in Panasonic products.

    Also, when the GH2 finally arrives, who is able to tell us that they do not fail again to include all the functions the camera is capable of (for whatever reasons or intentions)? Alternatively, will they sell us a “hack-proof” camera so that cracks are not even able to unveil all its features?

    Please convince me I am wrong and should gain back my trust in Panasonic.

  17. shaf Post author

    I think that there are two factors involved. One; to avoid class action lawsuits (ala Apple) that Panasonic produces a product that doesn’t crash under certain situations. The hacked GH1 as great as it it is, is crash prone. Two, The Lumix division is more concerned with making a good still camera than a good video camera. Panasonic’s camcorder division got blind sided by haw many video people would adopt the GH1 as a video camera. It will be really interesting to see how the AF100’s features compare to the GH2s.

  18. Camwerkz Pte Ltd

    Still cameras are opening up very good video capabilities. I’m sure they’ll be putting these seek after features into the future video cameras like NEX Series and the 4/3 Panasonic Video which is coming up soon. At last video depth of field is becoming reality.

  19. rob

    Just got my gh1 without the lens. I got the adapter and I am going to be using Canon lenses. Cant wait to try out after battery charges. I am confused on how to get the hack. I hope it’s as good as the 5d or better with the hack as I may shoot the first real movie on it.

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  21. Skeptikal

    Hacked with the “C” setting the GH1 is totally stable…shooting AVCHD @ 40 to 50 mbps. The image quality is stunning…far, far sharper than the Canon 5D2 and virtually no alising/artefacts.

    Haha…Panasonic have shit their pants.

    All of the latest (last) batch of GH1 bodies have a firmware lock applied at the factory which prevents to hack being applied. No doubt to protect sales of the soon to be released GH2 and AF100…both of which will have only a 24 mbps bit rate.

  22. Randy

    I read somewhere that the GH1 at some time started getting it’s chip from a new factory & that it was a better sensor chip. Do you know when that started? I would like to get both a hackable,newer chip GH1 if possible

  23. shaf Post author

    I think the new sensor from the new factory is only going to be available in the GH2 and the AF100. GH1s with “hackable” firmware were manufactured up until the end of May 2010, so the serial numbers would be from WE9xxxxxxxx to
    WE0Exxxxxxx with Some WE0Fxxxxxxx. If the firmware version is V1.34 it is unhackable. They say unhackable because Panasonic is not offering V1.34 as a firmware upgrade, so there is no access to the code.
    The GH2 will be a more capable camera that even a hacked GH1. Even at 24Mbs the GH2’s sensor and codec are improved enough that it should be difficult to notice any video quality differences.

  24. Randy

    I had read that they did start putting a better chip in from the new factory in the GH1 and that there was a noticeable improvement in it even un-hacked. I do understand there is no such thing as un-hackable firmware, but you have to have it to hack it. I really don’t like the term hacked because it’s really a patch made from hacking the firmware, but people like how it sounds like they’re outlaws LOL So you think a stock GH2 will be better then a hacked GH1? I know at some point after they post the first update on the GH2 firmware someone will hack it. As long as they can get it. Here’s something confusing me. A serial number that starts WE9SB? The S spot is supposed to be the month right? So it shouldn’t go past L should it? I saw a picture of the bottom of the camera it’s a GH1 with that beginning of a serial number. So what month is it? Or is it mean something else? A special run? I’m not sure what to think he said he installed the Tester13 firmware though. Thanks randy

  25. shaf Post author

    @Randy
    I also prefer patch to Hacked, but “hacked” does make a better headline. I haven’t figured out the serial numbers, mine is WE9SB also. Mine arrived mid Nov. 2009 Maybe it was for early US models?

  26. Jim Dorey

    What are you using in your setup Jay? Any suggestions for me on a shoestring budget? I want what you have and more (slider, etc).

    Incidentally I just bought (Dec 27, 2010) a WE0B**** serial GH1 at retail for $999 with the stock 14-140mm lens. Hacked wonderfully on the “C” settings – no issues at all. With the lens’ IS you can handhold it for impressive results too.

  27. shaf Post author

    My GH1 is a September 2009 serial # that I purchased in October of that year from Adorama

  28. BichFace

    “The 5D is big and relatively heavy DSLR. Great if you’re trying to impress other photographers or the bridesmaids at a wedding shoot, not so good if you’re actually trying to shoot steady handheld video”

    ???

    The lighter/smaller the camera, the more hand and arm shake will show in the footage, even kiddies in their first classes know that without having to be taught it. I cant even begin to understand why this individual would write something so clearly inaccurate here. ENG cameras are 15+ pounds, as are 16mm and 35mm motion picture cameras, and you can get some very steady handheld shots with those, obviously.

    I am amazed by that statement.

  29. shaf Post author

    You should be able to use the patch with your GH1 which was manufactured in November 2009. I will compare the hacked GH1 to the GH2, as soon as my GH2 finally ships.

  30. shaf Post author

    I disagree, especially shooting on a stabiliser. I shoot with both the GH1 and5D regularly, and find the 5D much harder to handle.

  31. Doomkat

    Most of your readers seem to be missing this 500lb gorilla in your article. “Canon’s full size sensor is 4 times the size of the 4/3rds sensor in the GH1, which also means that the Canon must compress 4 time the data for the same bandwidth”

    This makes no sense at all. Both codecs are compressing 24/25/30 frames of HD video data each second, that’s all there is to it. A lower bitrate gives greater artifacting at any given resolution and frame rate regardless of the physical size of the sensor it came off.

    And a little food for thought (All things being equal as you say). For any given lens, put it over a smaller sensor, and you will have to move further away to frame your shot. Adjust your focus to the new subject distance, your depth of field increases.
    This will result in an increased level of detail in less “important” areas of your frame, reducing the available data for rendering your subject. Thus a smaller sensor makes less “efficient” use of any given data rate.

    Of course this is silly. I just wanted to show that when you’re trying to argue a point, it helps if you keep to the facts.

  32. shaf Post author

    While I admit that the amounts mentioned might be be overstated, The sensors on both cameras are capturing much more than the 1920X 1080 pixels for HD. That is a first stage compression that most ignore since it is down rezzing. Once you have the 8 bit per channel “raw” pixel data is where the H2.64 compression takes place. In the article I was referring to the data reduction from the sensor data to the HD data.

  33. JB

    Guys – the elephant inthe room is optics- the smaller sensor not only limits your lens range, it also truncates DOF. the test would be a leica summilux on a 5d2 compared to… ?

    I have a GF2 with an Angenieux 0.95 and is Beautiful but the color contrast to the leica? Not too sure about that. If you cab put a healthy kit of primes that covers 20mm and up, you’re on. Rigging a steadi-something should be doable and the extended shooting time and overcranking is awesome!

    5d is a 35mm equiv from a dropout standpoint… Micro is like super 16. I’m just happy my useless lenses are now useable (and sweeet)!

  34. camilo

    This article is ridiculus. Just with the size of the sensor the MK2 kick the ass of the G1. And all the peoples that works with video know that h264 is much better than motion jpeg.

  35. Fleetwood

    You guy seem like some pros ,I just starting shooting music video and movies,my question is whats the best video camera to use for what i am doing also what am i looking for as far as the resolutions,also i would like to spend under a thousand dollars,i was looking at the cannon xl1 but its huge. i would like something a little more than good,im just a beginner but im detail oriented .

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  37. Ramon

    I found this post while was searching information about HDMI specs on the GH1 for a friend. Obviously, we are far from 2010 but I think necessary a clarification about lenses and their characteristics.

    You say “Traditional film and video lenses have a short flange distance and don’t work well with 35mm SLR bodies”. What kind of film and video lenses? All PL lenses, used on 35 and 16 mm motion film cameras have a flange distance about 52 mm, and common ENG/EFP lenses for professional video cameras with 2/3” or 1/2″ sensors present focal flanges between 35 and 38 mm. A Canon standard EF mount has a flange of 44 mm, which is much closer to them than MFT, with only 20 mm. Are you sure that GH1 short focal flange is really an advantage because is smaller than in mirrored SLRs? Maybe I’m wrong…

    Most of modern motion picture cameras are, as photographic ones, reflex (like models 235, 435, 535 and the 16SR family of Arri, or Moviecam and Panavision cameras). It means that they have a rotating mirror shutter at 45º of the focal plane that works similar to flipping mirror of SLR photo cameras, and is bigger too (so larger focal flange of cine lenses).

    Traditionally, professional video or TV cameras are equipped with 3 sensors for RGB scanning, and color separation is achieved with a dichroic prism located between the lens and the sensors. The presence of the prism increases the focal flange in these cameras, too.

  38. shaf Post author

    As far as flange distances goes, having a shorter flange distance camera allows you to easily make adapters for longer flange distance lenses like the cine and EF canon lenses, yet still accommodate lenses like c-mount super 16 and 16mm or vintage FD lenses for example.

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