Tuesday, 25 April 2017

GH5 e-shutter is slower!

The Lumix GH3 introduced a new concept in 2012: Electronic shutter. Meaning that you no longer had to rely on a mechanical curtain shutter in front of the sensor to start and stop the exposure, this could now be done purely electronically by the sensor itself.

The benefits are obvious: Less wear on the shutter if you want to make a time-lapse, for example. And a perfectly silent camera.

However, there was also a big downside: The sensor was scanned vertically during electronic shutter usage, and this scan was slow, taking a total of 1/10s. If you moved the camera, or the subject moved in this time, you would get skewed lines and weird effects. And can you hold the camera steady for 1/10s? No, that is impossible.

So the usefulness was rather limited. Future implementations increased the e-shutter scan speed, however, at the expense of the bit depth. Using only 10 bits rather than 12 bits normally, that would increase the scanning speed, but reduce the dynamic range capabilities. This was done, e.g., in the Lumix GH4, angering some users. And the scan speed was still quite slow, way slower than cameras from the Nikon 1 series, for example, with a 1/80s scan speed.

With this backdrop, the big question is: What about the Lumix GH5? What is the electronic shutter scanning speed and bit depth? Does it finally make the electronic shutter useful? That is what I will answer here, by comparing with two similar cameras:


Back: Lumix GH5 (left) and Lumix GH4 (right), and Lumix G85 in the front. Despite these cameras appearing to be the same size, they are in fact significantly different, with the GH5 being largest, and the G85 being smallest.

Speed of E-shutter readout


The Lumix GH3 electronic shutter had a readout speed of 1/10s, which is very slow. This leads to significant rolling shutter artifacts, that you can read about here. How do the cameras above compare?

One way to test the speed of the electronic shutter is to take a photo at a fast shutter speed in artificial light. For about a century or so, people have been using incandescent light bulbs for electronic indoor lightning. Even when used on alternating current (AC), the light is stable. Since the filament is heated, it emits light also when the alternating current is at zero.

However, traditional incandescent light bulbs are now being replaced with the energy saving fluorescent light bulbs. They tend to flicker at 100Hz (in Europe) or at 120Hz (in the US). The lights don't flicker at 50Hz and 60Hz, as you might expect. This is since during each period, the electrical current reaches two peaks, see the illustration below:



Here are images taken at ISO 3200, 1/400s with the three cameras:

Lumix GH5Lumix GH4Lumix G85

Each yellow row represents 1/100s of scan time, and the more rows, the slower. So there is your answer, the Lumix GH5 has the slowest e-shutter scan speed of the three. Who would have guessed?

By counting the lines more thoroughly, I get these approximate scan speeds:

Lumix GH5Lumix GH4Lumix G85
1/22s1/30s1/25s

Bit depth


Having answered the first question, what about the second? Do you lose some bit depth, and, hence, dynamic range, when using the electronic shutter?

To find out, I took the same picture using the three cameras, and I underexposed by two stops. Then I increased the exposure by three stops in a RAW editing program. That reveals how much details are left in the shadows. I used ISO 200, the base ISO, in all the cases.

Here are the pictures, after adjusting the exposure by +3 in post processing, using the RAW file:

Lumix GH5Lumix GH4Lumix G85
Mechanical shutter
Electronic shutter

They look quite similar on first look, but some crops at 100% reveals the difference. The top crops are from the mechanical shutter, while the lower are from the electronic shutter:


What we see here is that the Lumix GH5 has the same image quality using both the mechanical and electronic shutters. The other cameras, on the other hand, lose some details in the shadows in electronic shutter mode, indicating a lower bit depth.

So the Lumix GH5 prioritizes image quality over scan speed, which is why it is the slowest in my above test. Also, it has a higher resolution at 20MP, which slows down the sensor scan.

Keep in mind that these images were underexposed significantly, and then raised in post processing. So the image quality you see here is much worse than what you would get with normal use. In real life use, you would probably not see any difference at all between the electronic shutter and mechanical shutter images, using the Lumix GH4 or G85.

Also, when using a higher ISO, the lower bits are probably mostly noise anyway, meaning that there is little to benefit from the extra bits in the GH5 rendering.

Conclusion


The Lumix GH5 prioritizes image quality over scanning speed in electronic shutter mode. While this will make many fans happy, there is a downside: A slower sensor scan which leads to rolling shutter effects.

Here are some examples taken using the electronic shutter with the GH5. In the first, I pan the camera following the bird, which skews the building in the background:


In the second, a passing car is skewed, due to the speed:


The shutter speed is not relevant for these effects. Even if you set a very fast shutter speed, you would still get the skewing. It is the scan speed which creates these effects, and it cannot be changed. The only solution is to use the mechanical shutter.

But there is good news! If you use the 6K photo mode, then the camera is able to scan the sensor surface much faster, which should help avoiding the rolling shutter effects. It probably caps some bit depth, but as you don't get any RAW file anyway, I guess it doesn't matter much.

Here is the Joker picture taken with 6K photo mode, indicating a scan speed of 1/60s, quite impressive:


Lumix GH5Lumix GH4Lumix G85
Electronic shutter scan speed1/22s1/30s1/25s
Electronic shutter bit depth121010
6K Photo scan speed1/60sNANA
6K Photo bit depth10?NANA

So my conclusion is: If you want to use the electronic shutter and get the best image quality, make sure to keep your camera stable and use the ordinary electronic shutter mode.

If you are going to do actions shots, use the 6K photo mode, which does the same, but with a faster scanning, and without the RAW file output.

The really positive news here is that with the Lumix GH5, Panasonic gives us this choice.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

G85 IBIS makes mirror tele lens usable

There are some third party mirror tele lenses available, e.g., the Tokina 300mm f/6.3 seen below:


The big advantage with the is that they are relatively cheap, and, not least, very compact. The lens here is surprisingly short for a 300mm tele lens.

On the other hand, there are drawbacks, for example, manual focus only, fixed aperture, no zoom, and loss of contrast when you have a bright background. Read more about this in my review.

Another drawback is the lack of image stabilization, which makes it near impossible to use the lens without a tripod. Even focusing correctly or framing is hard without a tripod. And this is where a newer camera like the Lumix G85 comes handy: It has built in In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) which makes this lens much more usable. See the sensor movement demonstrated here.

Notice that the lens above has electrical contacts, which is unusual for a manual focus lens without any aperture mechanism or image stabilization. However, it is still useful because it tells the camera the right focal length, so that you don't need to input it manually for the IBIS to work well.

Also, it signals to the camera when you operate the manual focus, so that it can show you a magnified view, if you have setup the camera to show this.

To illustrate how much easier it is to use on the Lumix G85, compared with the Lumix GH4, which does not have IBIS, consider this comparison video:



As you see, with the Lumix GH4, which lacks IBIS, it is impossible to focus or frame the lens, even if I support the camera and lens with both hands, and support both elbows on a windowsill. With the Lumix G85, though, the lens becomes usable, even without a tripod.

Note that Olympus cameras can also stabilize this lens. However, due to the way Olympus cameras operate, they only stabilize the viewfinder while you half press the shutter button. And half pressing the shutter removes the magnified view. So with Olympus, you can only get the focus aid stabilized for a split second at a time, which is quite frustrating. Not so with Lumix G85: Using the lens becomes fun!

Here is an example image taken handheld at 1/25s, f/6.3, ISO 3200:


Note that the focus is not perfect here, and there is some blur. But keep in mind that 1/25s is way below safe handholding speed for a 300mm lens, in fact, it is five stops below. You'll notice the typical out of focus donuts in the background, due to the mirror design of the lens.

If you just want an inexpensive, very long lens, then get the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6. It is a good lens at a good price, and will give you much better pictures than the mirror lens. The mirror lens is more of a fun novelty item, in my opinion.

In the picture below, you can see the Lumix G 100-300mm at 300mm (left), compared with the Tokina 300mm f/6.3 (right):


The picture clearly shows the size advantage of the catadioptric mirror design of the Tokina lens, making it remarkably short.