Panasonic Lumix DC-BGH1: Adaptability and versatility cubed
Making true the well-known maxim “less is more”, simplification has been taken to the limit to offer the most possibilities with the least constraints in this new camera, defined as ‘box-style’ multipurpose.
Lab test perfomed by Luis Pavía
It certainly seems like an exercise in innovation to us, and with excellent results, we must add. When it seems to us that everything has already been invented, a new space for innovation always ends up being discovered. And this is one of those cases that we are bringing to our pages today.
A camera that has much less than what we would have dared to imagine in the lightest of our daydreams. So much so that as soon as we have it in our hands, we wonder … and what now? Yet it seems to have what it takes to meet the needs of a huge pool of potential users and customers.
Had we been asked some time ago what the use of a camera that did not have any type of viewfinder or minimal information screen would be, it is likely that security cameras would have only sprung to mind. Well, imagine a camera that reduces the essential minimum to much less than what the vast majority of us consider such essential minimum. And we will have in our hands a Panasonic Lumix DC-BGH1.
We feel that the GH name links us to the siblings with whom it shares a sensor, while the B would refer to the “Box” format of its design. In fact, we will make some references to the well-known GH5s, reference model in Panasonic-Lumix, with which the sensor is shared. Although both are placed within the same price range, their configurations, capabilities, and standard components are quite different.
Very schematically, it is about housing an M4/3 (micro 4/3) sensor with its electronics in a box with a bayonet in the front, a compartment for the battery behind, a multifunction dial and 9 strategically distributed buttons, the entire set of connections on the back with protection caps, and 11 threads to attach accessories. A box-format camera with good cooling, in an aluminum and magnesium alloy casing that is virtually a cube (93 x 93 x 78 mm) and lightweight (545 grams excluding optics or battery).
Who is a camera like this aimed at? Paradoxically, to a huge number of potential customers and users. And this is one of the keys that make it a distinct piece of equipment. It has been conceived to be customized only with those elements that we really need, since it only has the minimum strictly essential elements. So much so that it is not even served with any type of battery, which in this case makes sense.
It is true that we will always have to have the elements we need, but only those required for each production, hence its enormous versatility. Although it is important to note that we will nearly always need to add additional components to shape up our tool. But do not let this throw us off. In the same way that it is nowadays common to purchase cameras without any type of optics, why not do the same with other elements that can often be unnecessary?
We will then go into a detailed outline of its features, highlighting those that mark distinctive aspects, but we would like to give you a hint of our personal conclusion: this camera’s design seems to cater to customization capabilities and minimalism as fundamental elements of its starting concept.
Since often the equipment that strives to satisfy many needs ends up being ineffective due to the number of unnecessary elements fitted, the approach in this case seems to have been the just opposite. Integrate only the essentials so that each client completes their customized design exactly tailored to their needs.
The first aspect to determine when choosing a piece of equipment to tackle any job is the tool’s suitability for the relevant purpose. And in cameras there are a few key concepts that determine such adequacy. The sensor is usually one of the key elements, because its size determines the appearance of the final image, ‘the look’, its field depth, dynamic range, noise; but it also determines what kinds of optics are available. Size and usability are other decisive aspects that will be determined by shooting conditions. Comfort of use to handle it by hand, size for placing it in difficult places, or lightness to put it on a hot head or upload it to a drone. We must also consider the type of files it provides and connectivity to adapt it to different situations. They are not the same for making films, for documentaries, reports, live shows, streaming, or for any of the different facets that we will need to face.
In this case, the camera is designed as a video camera, so there are no limitations as to recording time. It is built around the same 10.2-megapixel M4/3 Digital Live MOS sensor as the GH5s, 17.3 x 13mm in size, that is capable of working with DCI 4K and UHD resolutions up to 60p, Full HD up to 240p, or anamorphic with a 3328×2496 resolution, also up to 60p. And as such, it has its two classic recording indicators on the front and back of the body.
Since the size of the sensor is not particularly large, keeping a relatively low number of pixels clearly favors performance and results in low-light conditions. It is the way of achieving a proportionally large pixel size in a relatively small sensor.
Like the GH5s, it internally records 10-bit 4K DCI in 4: 2: 2 at 30p, or 4: 2: 0 at 60p. And when it comes to output it handles the same samples and frame rates in HDMI, improving on the GH5s in that it comes with Genlock synchronization and SDI output, although limited to 3G/HD; furthermore, it features a standard BNC connector without an adapter for time code input/output. To finish with the recording possibilities, let us simply add that in HD formats frame rates of up to 240 images per second can be recorded.
Internally, the highest recording quality is achieved by recording 4: 2: 2 10-bit sampling in .mov containers, All-intra compression, H.264 codec, and 400Mbps data rates. The next step would be for 4: 2: 0 at 10 bits, LongGOP compression and H265/HEVC codec at 200 Mbps. There are also different combinations for sampling in 4: 2: 2 at 10 bits for color and 4: 2: 0 at 8 bits, in Long-GOP compression and H264 codec and rates between 100 and 150 Mbps. Last, and already in MP4 containers, we have possibilities for data rates from 20 up to 100 Mbps.
Continuing with the sensor, it is Dual ISO with bases 400 and 2000. The standard working range is 160 to 51200, which extends to a range of 80 to 204800 when expanded. Panasonic assures us that the exposure latitude reaches 13 f-stops using the V-Log L curve. This one-stop improvement over the figures of its GH5s sibling is due to an enhanced processing of highlights achieved in the V-Log L curve, which is actually an improved version of the previous one. Thanks to the combination of both features, images with low noise levels and large work margins can be achieved in order to get spectacular results once the images are correctly color-graded.
One of the features that provide great versatility is the ability to record internally and externally simultaneously at maximum qualities, while also keeping the SDI output active for monitoring. Although through SDI we will only obtain an HD signal, it is noteworthy that we the three data streams available simultaneously: internal recording and HDMI output in maximum qualities, up to 4: 2: 2 at 10 bits in 30p (or 4: 2: 0 at 10 bits in 60p) and the SDI signal for monitoring.
We also find very interesting the possibility of loading and assigning different LUT curves to the HDMI and SDI outputs simultaneously, thus facilitating workflows. This allows us something as sophisticated as recording internally without LUT, externally with a LUT applied through HDMI, and monitoring with a different one through SDI. Does it make sense to record with one LUT and monitor with another? We understand that it does, so as to adapt the display to the different types of monitors that we may be using in each case.
In these same outputs it is possible to rely on histogram and zebra superposition, although we do not have a waveform monitor or a vectorscope. This is an aspect to consider carefully. If we are going to use an external recorder, the ideal configuration will be one that allows us to have these tools integrated into said external monitor/recorder, in this case leaving the HDMI signal completely clean of overlapping data.
Absence of these aids has not seemed to us a serious inconvenience, but we have missed the possibility of some kind of Raw format. At least in the firmware version on which we have run our tests, there was no possibility of having this type of Raw data. The best result is obtained using the correct setting of the base ISO and the V-Log L curve. Since its GH5s sibling does have this possibility, we dare to dream that this functionality will be included in a future firmware update.
It has a wide range of color profiles, such as Standard, Vivid, Natural, Landscape, three Monochrome variants, two Cinelike modes, 709, V-Log L, Hybrid Log Gamma, and several photo variants. The cinema type and 709 are the most suitable if we do not want to obtain direct results without getting into color grading processes. A wide range of parameters can be configured in most profiles, such as ‘Contrast’, ‘Highlights’, ‘Shadows’, ‘Saturation’, ‘Shade’, ‘Hue’, ‘Filter Effects’, ‘Sharpness’, ‘Noise reduction’, ‘Base ISO and ISO setting’, and ‘White Balance (WB)’. Although, of course, not all parameters are available in all profiles.
For internal recording there are two SD card slots (UHS-II), which offer the usual behavior for relay recording (jumps to the next card as they fill up), duplicate copy (the same content on two cards), or selective (saving video in one and photos in another). Relay recording coupled with the absence of limitations as to duration of the clips to be recorded allow for uninterrupted recording of sequences of theoretically infinite duration, as long as memory cards are replaced alternately and power is kept on.
Precisely, on the power side, we find another series of unique features. Available batteries advertise capacities of 43, 65 and 86 Wh. Considering that the camera’s consumption 7.5 W, it seems that the declared running time of more than 500 minutes with battery having the largest capacity is completely reasonable. Although it seems that the price of this battery is not exactly cheap. There is also a dedicated 12V power input.
But what is a completely novel feature this time is having the possibility of power supply via USB-C PD (Power Delivery) or PoE + (Power over Ethernet). In this way, especially in usage cases oriented towards streaming, remote production or IP environments, installation and handling is greatly simplified, being a single cable enough to obtain signal from the camera while supplying power to and remotely controlling the unit.
Regarding its streaming capabilities, by means of the LUMIX Webcam software it is possible to use the unit as a video conference camera with the most popular platforms on the market, such as Facebook Rooms, Google Meet, Line, Teams, OBS Studio, Skype, Webex, Whereby and Zoom.
Camera control is one of the aspects which are worth pondering and delving into. Because, although we have a multifunction dial and a set of 9 buttons, only 4 are customizable: they are too few to use as shortcuts for all the necessary functions during certain shootings. In addition, there is no screen of any kind on the camera body. Neither as a monitor to view the images we are recording, nor as a minimal auxiliary screen with status indications. Is this a good thing? As always, the correct answer is “it depends.”
If our expectation is to use it as a conventional-style recording camera in film or video-type environments, we will surely miss it. But if we intend to use some kind of external monitor/recorder, the missing screen will be irrelevant. And it will be even more unnecessary if we intend to use it with a gimbal or hanging it from a drone. What is more, in these cases we will be glad of the weight that we are taking from any of such implements.
To manage this control, we have two possibilities via software: LUMIX Tether in order to have complete control from a computer and LUMIX Sync App to control it from a mobile phone. Although at the time of writing this content is not yet available, an SDK development kit has been announced in order to allow for access to development of third-party remote control and management applications.
We think that one of the uses in which this camera will excel is shooting situations in which the equipment is far from the operator’s hands. And we reached this conclusion not so much because of the absence of a viewfinder, but because of the absence of a control screen. The only way to fully control the camera is by external means, through the dedicated 2.5mm mini-jack connector, the USB-C port, through a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection; or via an Ethernet port. In the same way, these are also the means available to view the camera’s configuration parameters. And in events involving Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, also to view the content in capture.
This does not mean that the camera cannot be used by hand, a perfectly viable situation once we have fitted the necessary elements such as some type of monitor and some type of handle or support. In the same way as placing it in complicated or atypical places. Its compact size and lightness allow to shoot having it placed in remote places, such as some corner inside a car, on a pole or in any other traditionally impossible place that our imagination may suggest.
It is true that by means of a mere mobile phone we already have all the necessary functionality for control, parameter monitoring and display screen. But this is a feature that we must carefully weigh when thinking about our final configuration. And, depending on the situations, the delay of a wireless transmission, minimal but nonetheless still there, is something to take into account. Especially in situations such as manually focusing, this small delay can be an added difficulty. Although, on the other hand, this also provides us with other advantages. Thanks to the aforementioned LUMIX Tether software, it is possible to control up to 12 cameras simultaneously from a single computer over the network.
In relation to the autofocus system, it seems that both the speed of the continuous autofocus and the contrast detection system with face and eye recognition and tracking has been improved compared to what we find in the GH5s. Focus can also be controlled manually through the LUMIX Sync and Tether applications, but only when using certain optics. It is important to consider at this point that, if we are using a viewing system through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, we must take into account that they add a certain delay.
Another outstanding aspect, which in this case has a favorable impact on prolonged and intensive use, is the cooling system, for which an internal air flow is established through forced ventilation from side to side of the camera’s body, which in turn prevents temperature problems and keeps the camera operational for long periods of time. The grille on one side acts as an inlet for fresh air from the environment, while the one on the opposite side is responsible for venting the hot air from inside. The behavior of the fan, its automation options and the different speeds are configured from the menu, allowing us to adapt its operation to the needs of the different circumstances of use.
The menus are very similar to those found in other LUMIX cameras, with the pleasant surprise of keeping the same filtering functionality. This is aimed at facilitating the selection of parameters for use by restricting the visible options as we limit frame rates, resolution, codecs, variable frame rate and Hybrid Log Gamma.
As for audio, there is no microphone built into the body: just the headphone and 3.5mm mic-in connections. Useful for general purposes, or to have a reference signal. If we want to record higher quality audio with our images, we must have the DMW-XLR1 module, which provides us with XLR inputs for the two audio channels. There are multiple scenarios in which the audio is managed completely independently from video, so it does not seem like a problem and we will only have to take care of this issue when, for whatever reason, the highest quality audio must by generated by the camera together with the recorded files or live signals.
Audio is always recorded at 24 bits in LPCM and at 96 or 48 kHz sample rates. The difference in quality will vary depending on the various features of the equipment capturing and transmitting the audio through one type of connection or another.
Said adaptor is the same as for other camera models. It provides us with two standard-size XLR connectors with the usual input controls for line, mic, or powered mic signals, as well as independent low-pass filters for each channel. The module’s connection to the camera is made internally through the flash-type mount itself. In this case, audio would be recorded synchronously with the video takes on the aforementioned UHS-I / UHS-II SD cards, or embedded in the HDMI, SDI and Ethernet signals.
As for the mount, it is the Panasonic-Lumix standard one for M4/3 lenses. We have the full range of native lenses available for this mount, plus all others that we may want to use with the corresponding adaptors. We will not go into detail concerning adaptors, as that is outside the scope of this article. But there are a couple of aspects to highlight related to the mount. On the one hand, in the short space between the mount and the sensor there is no neutral density ND filters at all, which will force us to have them in front of the optics if we need to use them. And on the other, the camera offers us the possibility of using anamorphic optics, because we have different aspect correction values so as to obtain the image already corrected without the need for additional subsequent processes.
In terms of build quality, finish and touch, our impression is that there is a good balance between solidity and reliability.
Given the peculiarities of this camera, which we mostly find positive, there are some important details to consider when setting it up for each new assignment. Beyond the traditional optics and batteries, it will now be necessary to determine whether there is need for different accessories such as a screen, external recorder, a handle, or some type of remote controller. But it will even be interesting to establish a well-thought set-up of functions for the 4 configurable buttons, for instance to control the iris (speed is assigned by default to the dial) or the shooting function for still photos, thus determining which ones will be assigned to the physical button, or if they will be controlled from any of the already described remote control means.
To conclude, another point in which it is very close to its sibling GH5s is the price. This makes the deciding between one or the other something far more dependent on what they offer around them, or on what we will be using them for. Basically, the GH5s is a mirrorless photo camera that records video. On the other hand, the DC-BGH1 is a video camera specially designed to adapt to the most varied conditions of use and even with slightly better video results than its sibling.
We think this is a camera that is versatile enough as to perform well: from film and broadcast environments in live multi-camera productions, to videoconferencing or drone operation. Small, lightweight, and versatile, it is adapted to be useful in the most varied circumstances. Furthermore, it is suitable for solving situations in which other models, due to their size, weight, or remote-control limitations, would be less suitable.
All these kinds of considerations will be decisive when it comes to getting the most out of this camera. Especially in this new creation environment, where more and more contents are being generated in streaming and/or remote camera operation environments.
Among the excellent news that we have kept to close our analysis, it is confirmed that the camera has the ‘Netflix approved’ seal, being therefore classified as suitable for creation of content for the aforementioned platform. And this alone, is already a guarantee of significant levels of performance and quality. Although this should not lead us forget that no single tool will be able to go beyond where our knowledge and skills can take it.