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Panasonic GH6 Underwater Camera Review

Panasonic GH6 Underwater Camera Review

June 8th, 2022

The Panasonic GH6 follows the incredibly popular GH5 as Panasonic's flagship Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera. The old GH5 was a firm favorite among videographers. Can the new GH6 follow in its footsteps?
 
One of the biggest draws of the Panasonic GH6 is its ability to record video at 4K/120fps, which means you get high-resolution footage and the ability to show it down and retain a smooth, cinematic feel to your shots. Another great feature is 5.7K/60p video recording, which allows you to both slow down and smooth out your footage as well as crop further down to 4K to get closer to your subjects. This spring, we tested both of these features, as well as many others, diving in the cold waters of the North Pacific.
 
An Ikelite Panasonic GH6 housing and dual Ikelite DS 230 strobes in the field
An Ikelite Panasonic GH6 housing and dual Ikelite DS 230 strobes in the field
 
The Panasonic GH6 is uniquely placed in the market as it's the only camera in the $2,000 - $2,500 range that offers 4k/120fps & 5.7K/60fps video recording. Other cameras competing in this mid-range tier, such as the Sony A7 IV, Canon EOS R6, and Nikon Z6II, may all give you better video picture quality than the GH6, thanks to their full-frame sensors, but they don't give you the same resolution/frames per second as the GH6.
 
If you're looking for a mid-range camera for video, you'll need to decide whether you prioritize picture quality (in which case, go for a full-frame camera) or 4K up to 120fps and 5.7K up to 60fps (which leaves you with the Micro Four Thirds GH6). If you want both, and money is not an option, check out the Canon R5, Sony a7S III or the Sony A1.
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
The autofocus may be slow but it still is decent for every day shooting. I hit the eye in this photo.
 

Quick Specs

  • Sensor: 25.2MP Micro Four Thirds
  • IBIS: 5-Axis in-body image stabilization with up to 7.5 stops of exposure recovery
  • Video Resolution and Frame Rate: 5.7k/60p and 4K/120p
  • Burst (Stills): 14 fps
  • Video Profiles: V-Log/V-Gamut/ProRes 422 HQ
  • UHD or DCI 4K in 10-bit 4:2:2 at up to 60fps
  • Storage: 1 x CFexpress & 1 x UHS-II SD slot
  • Ports: Type A HDMI port
  • Dimensions: 5.45" X 3.95" X 3.92"
  • Weight: 3.14 lbs

Panasonic GH5 vs GH6

People will naturally compare the Panasonic GH5 to the new GH6 to see if it's worth upgrading or choosing the new model over its predecessor. We looked at specific areas during our tests to see how much of a step up the GH6 really is. 
 

Cooling

The Panasonic GH5 never had significant cooling issues, nor does the new GH6. That hasn't stopped them from installing a new, large cooling fan in the GH6, just to make sure. Despite the large exhaust, the camera is still weather-sealed, meaning you can use it in challenging conditions without worrying.
 

Dynamic Range

As you'd expect from a Micro Four Thirds camera, the smaller sensor size limits its dynamic range performance quite considerably. The GH6 now has a dynamic range boost mode that the GH5 didn't have. The dynamic range improves in boost mode, but the small sensor size still limits you. The base ISO is raised to 2000 in dynamic boost mode.

LCD Screen

The LCD screen now tilts up at 45 degrees without having to flip it out first, which is great for filming videos at chest height. It also still flips out and rotates like on the old GH5, but the new tilting ability adds another option for on-the-go shooting. Tilting the screen up at 45 degrees without flipping it out also allows you unrestricted access to the ports on the side of the body at the same time, something that wasn't possible on the GH5.
 

Build Quality

The new Panasonic GH6 is noticeably larger than the GH5. If you're used to the GH5, you'll have to get accustomed to operating a bigger camera with the GH6. Panasonic has now added a new cooling fan which adds depth to the body and a bigger grip making the whole camera more chunky. Having said that, it doesn't feel overly large or uncomfortable to hold. The weight and button placement means the GH6 is ergonomic and quite pleasant to use. The increased surface area has been put to good use, and there are now several new function buttons on the body. 
 
The downside of its size is that, once you put it in an underwater housing, most systems are almost the same size as a full-frame system. You lose the advantage Micro Four Thirds systems have in size and weight. The extra buttons and dials also take some getting used to and are a bit awkward to control when in an underwater housing.
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
 

Battery Life

Unfortunately, the battery life on the GH6 is not particularly great. On average, you can expect to get around 1.5 dives from one fully charged battery which means you'll need to carry a lot of spares for a full day of diving. We'd suggest swapping out batteries after every dive, which isn't ideal, especially if you're diving from a liveaboard. 
 
While you can still use the old GH5 batteries in the GH6, Panasonic has also released a brand new battery type which, in theory, extends its capabilities to 1 hour and 15 minutes of video recording at 5.7K. We honestly didn't find this to be the case. The battery life at 5.7K was shorter.
 

Video Resolution 

The standout feature of the Panasonic GH6 is its ability to record 4K up to 120fps and 5.7K up to 60 fps internally. In a mid-range camera, that's impressive. 4K/60p footage is usually the sweet spot for recording underwater video footage to get slow, smooth, and cinematic shots, but having 120fps in the locker gives you even more freedom to slow things down as they pass you by. We found that we were able to stabilize or macro footage quite well in 4K/120 mode.
 

 
The 5.7K shooting mode is excellent for b-roll or cropping in post-production. In addition to reducing the maximum fps to 60, the other drawback of shooting in 5.7K is that you don't get a perfect 16x9 aspect ratio, so if you're editing both 4K and 5.7K files from the GH6 into one film, you'll have to crop the 5.7K footage to match the 4K footage. 
 

White Balance

When shooting underwater video, the GH6's auto white balance mode isn't ideal as it changes the white balance often, makingthe color in your shots look inconsistent. However, the manual white balance mode is easy to use and quite accurate down to about 50 feet underwater. If anything, the reds get a little over-saturated, but nothing too dramatic. Check out our Panasonic GH6 underwater settings guide
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
A clown dorid photographed with the Panasonic GH6, Olympus 60mm macro lens, dual Ikelite DS 230 strobes, and an Ikelite GH6 Housing. f/18, 1/160, ISO 250
 

HDMI and USB-C Ports

The GH6 has both HDMI and USB-C ports, but unfortunately, you can only record to an external recorder or monitor from the HDMI output right now. This is likely to change in the future with a firmware upgrade allowing the USB-C port to be used to record to an external SSD. But we're still waiting for that at the time of writing.
 
For underwater videographers looking to use an external monitor or recorder, the HDMI port should work just fine. Reach out to us if you'd like to get set up with an external monitor or recorder for the Panasonic GH6. 
 

Autofocus

The bad news is that the autofocus system on the GH6 is not very good, especially if you're planning on tracking moving subjects. Panasonic has stuck with their contrast-detect AF system, which can't keep up with the speed of the AF systems in cameras from other manufacturers - especially underwater where there is less contrast. We highly recommend manual focus gears if you're going to be using the GH6 in a housing for underwater video shooting, as you can still get the job done with manual focus. In many of our shots, we found the AF to jerk back and forth, ruining the shot. Another good work-around to this issue is to shoot in AF-single mode in order to lock your focus before you take the shot.
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
A nudibranch photographed with the Panasonic GH6, dual Ikelite 230 strobes, and the Olympus 60mm macro lens. f/18, 1/160, ISO 250
 
For underwater photography, you're better off looking at other Micro Four Thirds systems such as the  OM system OM-1 or the OM-D EM-1 Mark III because of the GH6's poor AF capabilities. 
 

Is The Panasonic GH6 Good For Underwater Video?

The GH6 rivals even some of its full-frame counterparts when it comes to its video capabilities. However, the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor does not quite live up to its full frame counter parts when it comes to dynamic range and low light capability. You'll have a little bit of a harder time recovering details from the shadows or highlights. With a deeper depth of field, the video from this sensor has a different quality to it than with full frame cameras.
 
Having said that, the image quality of the video is good. It really can stand up against some of its full-frame competitors like the Sony A7 IV. But that's also its Achilles Heel. Panasonic has priced the GH6 similarly to the Sony A7 IV, so why would you choose the GH6 with its Micro Four Thirds sensor over something like the full-frame Sony A7 IV? One answer might be cheaper MFT glass or better video features. But it could make more sense to purchase a full-frame alternative for all the additional image quality benefits you'll get with it. The question you have to ask yourself is, do you think 4K/120p or 5.7K/60p is worth it? Because those are the maine features the GH6 offers that other similarly priced full-frame cameras don't.
 
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
A sea nettle photographed with the Panasonic GH6, Ikelite GH6 housing, dual Ikelite DS 230 strobes, and the Olympus 7-14mm Pro wide lens. f/13, 1/100, ISO 259
 
And the answer, for you, might be yes. After all, it's an excellent resolution and frame rate. Being able to slow clips down so much makes them look like they were shot on a tripod when they were shot handheld, and shooting in 5.7K lets you crop in and retain plenty of details. 
 
If 4K/120p or 5.7K/60p is something that's important to you because you want the ability to slow your clips down for additional stabilization or to crop in more in post-production, then the Panasonic GH6 will let you do that. 
 
If low-light performance and dynamic range are more important to you, you may be better off going with a full-frame alternative. 
 

Is The Panasonic GH6 Good For Underwater Photography?

There are certainly much better options if shooting photos is your primary focus that cost less and can do more. The GH6 can take great photos, but it was built with a heavy emphasis on its video capabilities. It's also hindered by its poor AF performance and limited battery life. 
 
If that doesn't put you off using the GH6, then you can actually get some great photos from it. Just be aware that you'll have to go "old school" and use it in autofocus single-mode, place the AF point in the middle of the LCD screen and lock on to your subject that way. It's not unusable, but there are better options for underwater photography.
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
Incredible details in the highlights and shadows of this image captured with the GH6. f/14, 1/100, ISO 250
 

Best Underwater Lenses for the Panasonic GH6

Thanks to its standard Micro Four Thirds lens mount, you can use all Panasonic and Olympus (OM-Systems) Micro Four Thirds lenses on the GH6. 
 

Fisheye

Despite most videographers preferring to stay away from fisheye lenses because of the added barrel distortion they cause, they can be great for shooting photos of reefs, big animals, and other wide-angle scenes.  A couple of great options are the Olympus 8mm F/1.8 Pro Fisheye and the Panasonic 8mm F/3.5 Fisheye.
 

Wide Angle 

Since most people will be interested in the Panasonic GH6 for video, rectilinear wide-angle lenses will be the most popular choice when it comes to wide-angle shots. 
 
An affordable option is the Olympus 12-50mm kit lens that can be used mainly as a wide-angle lens but also has a macro mode for capturing tiny critters. 
 
For more high-end options, the Olympus 7-14mm Pro lens and the Panasonic 7-14mm lens are great choices. They are pro-level lenses, and the image quality they produce is second to none. 
 
If you need a fast, constant aperture lens for low-light situations, then the  Panasonic 12-35mm F/2.8 is the lens for you. 
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
A critically endangered sunflower star captured with the Panasonic GH6 and the Olympus 7-14mm wide angle lens. f/14, 1/50, ISO 250
 

Macro 

If shooting the tiniest critters is your thing, you can't go wrong with the Olympus 60mm macro lens. This lens produces pin-sharp 1:1 macro images, but you can take it a step further with wet diopters outside your port for stunning supermacro photos of your subjects. 
 
If 60mm is too much and you like to shoot slightly larger subjects with your macro photography, consider the Panasonic 45mm macro.
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
Nudibranch photographed with the Olympus 60mm Macro Lens
 
 

Wrapping up

The Panasonic is undeniably the best Micro Four Thirds camera for video currently on the market. It picks up where the ever-popular GH5 left off, bringing some welcome improvements with it. 
 
While there's a serious debate to be had about choosing the GH6 or a full-frame alternative at a similar price, if 4K/120p or 5.7K/60p is important to you and you're on a budget, then the Panasonic GH6 is a serious contender. You'll have to work with its drawbacks, but they're nothing that can't be overcome if you need to. 
 
Panasonic GH6 Underwater Sample Image
 

 

Contact Our Sales Department and We'll Get You Set Up with a Full Panasonic GH6 Underwater Camera System:

Phone: 310-633-5052
 
 
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