If you are a Panasonic GH-1 user and wanting the highest quality video – you can now have it courtesy of a free firmware hack by tester13 but please, if you use it, make sure you donate some money to him because this firmware hack is said to be truly amazing – yes – even better image quality than the full frame Canon 5D Mark II.
I must admit, I have not installed it myself yet as I mainly shoot at 720p 50fps motion jpeg as it suits my needs and I am happy to wait a little longer for resolution of a couple of the issues outlined below.
AVCHD may be the latest and greatest HD video compression for consumers but it is not easy to work with, and on the GH-1 without the firmware hack moving subjects or panning tends to result in mud artefacts.
The official GH-1 firmware limits HD video to 17Mbps data rate with options of AVCHD 1080i at 50/60fps derived from native 25fps, or 720p at 50/60fps in either AVCHD or MJPEG.
The firmware hack allows an astounding 50Mbps data rate at 1080/30p MJPEG (detailed scenes with sharp lenses and wide depth of field may deliver up to 70Mbps data from the sensor but then tends to crash the system – they are working on how to limit the data rate to 50Mbps), or 32Mbps AVCHD 1080/native 24p (although currently videos shot in this mode crash the camera on attempting to play them back and you may need to remove the battery to reboot the camera – but seems this has been fixed here). Some users are achieving 80Mbps at 720 30p on Class 10 SD cards.
The GH-1 50Mbps video images are cleaner than the Canon 5D Mark II at 35Mbps partly due to the fact the GH-1 bins the pixels to down- res the 12mp sensor whereas the Canon skips lines to down res its 22mp sensor, and partly as the MJPEG gives less compression artefacts than the Canon’s H.264 codec.
Surprisingly, it seems the GH-1 can write data to the SDHC card at over 8MB/sec which is almost double the Canon 5D Mark II’s rate. The other good news is, you only need a Class 6 SDHC card and not the more expensive Class 10 SDHC cards as one would think.
Be warned though, at 50Mbps 1080p MJPEG, you only get about 2 minutes 39sec of recording until the 2Gb file size limit is reached, and you no longer have the option of shooting in smaller file sized official 17Mbps video without re-installing firmware and incrementing the firmware another integer. Furthermore it seems in 720 mode you can now only get 30fps not 50/60fps but they are working on this.
Finally, Remember…version numbers cannot roll back which may have implications for future official firmware releases.
Post-script: it is possible that the latest production of GH-1 cameras which come with v1.3 firmware pre-installed MAY NOT allow updating the camera with the firmware hack – see here. I am sure if this is the case, there will soon be a way around this.