The Panasonic GH5 Has Some Major Autofocus Problems

The Panasonic GH5 Has Some Major Autofocus Problems

Yesterday four Panasonic GH5s finally arrived at the Fstoppers studio and I spent all day playing with the cameras. As you may have heard, we have decided to finally switch from shooting videos on Nikon DSLRs and the GH5 is quite an upgrade. There seems to be one major issue though... The auto focus while recording isn't reliable. 

Let me first start by saying that the autofocus before recording works great and I can't tell that it's any slower than using a standard high-end DSLR. I was extremely impressed by how many different AF options there were and how quick and accurate they each were. Once that camera begins recording however, everything changes. If you're filming, AF seems to have a mind of it's own. Sometimes it quick, sometimes it's slow, sometimes it hunts constantly even if the subject is totally stationary, and occasionally it won't focus at all. What makes this even more strange is that at times the camera will create a box over your subjects face (in face detection mode) showing that it does in fact know where the subject is, but it still won't focus. I would have made a video about this myself but Max Yuryev made a great video that goes into extreme detail about these issues. 

At this point the AF issues with the camera seem to be software based and perhaps they could be fixed with a simple firmware update but to complicate things even further, some GH5 users are claiming to have excellent AF results during filming. Check out the impressive performance of the GH5 in this studio environment. 

This has some GH5 owners wondering if there are actually hardware issues with some or all GH5s that will not be able to be fixed with a firmware update. 

I personally have never used continuous AF while recording. I like my focus to be locked off because I don't trust that the camera will hold focus perfectly but that may be because I haven't ever used a camera with quality continuous AF. This focus issue with my GH5 has led me down a path of comparing continuous AF while recording with Canon and Sony cameras and I had no idea just how good AF could be. Check out this side by side comparison of the GH5 and Canon 80D

The Canon's AF is absolutely incredible. Apparently it has on-sensor phase detection which allows it to focus so quickly while recording and the GH5 only has contrast AF which would explain why it works better recording in 60fps rather than 24. 

If the GH5s AF is looking pretty pathetic to you at this point, wait until you see what Sony's cameras can do.

The continuous AF in both Canon and Sony cameras are so good that I could certainly see myself using it while filming and the GH5 is so spotty that I don't think I could ever trust it.

Why I Still Don't Regret Switching to the GH5

If I was filming a bunch of stuff by myself or vlog style videos, the GH5 simply wouldn't work. The AF is too slow and too unreliable to assume that it's working correctly. Obviously I'm hoping this is all a software issue that will be resolved with a simple update but even if it never is, it's not a deal breaker for me. Nikon's continuous AF during recording was always so bad I never even attempted to use it and so I've come up with a system for recording videos that doesn't rely on AF. In fact, I don't know any professional videographers who use AF (other than to get the initial focus before filming).  Most cinema cameras don't have any sort of AF at all. 

And when it comes to manually focusing, the GH5 is far superior to any Nikon I have used. The screen will "punch in" to 100% so that you can more easily see what you're focusing on and focus peaking will put colored lines around in focus areas of sharp contrast. It may not be an upgrade from a current Canon or Sony camera, but coming from Nikon, it's a huge jump. 

Stay tuned for many more posts about the new GH5. I'm learning so many things every day and I will relay the best information back to you guys here at Fstoppers. 

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25 Comments

David Love's picture

Wow. After using the 5D Mark III with no auto focusing compared to the mark 4 with amazing auto focusing I could never go back. Sometimes you just want to point the camera at something and have it focus. For model videos it's awesome because I can spend more time giving direction than trying to focus. If they mark 4 gets c log, I'm all set and 4k 60, I'm all set.

David Vaughn's picture

Disregarding the crop, inefficient codec, and lack of c-log, the Canon dual pixel AF is probably the best video autofocus out there right now and I really wish they would stop gimping the 5D so it wouldn't be such a trade off.

Isn't the GH5 video comparison to the Canon camera inaccurate since you are using low contrast vlog on a contrast detection autofocus camera?

That may be a good point however it actually was working fairly well in that video

Grant Schwingle's picture

AFter all the previews I read and research I did on the camera, I was not expecting this to be a great video-autofocusing camera. Still, at $2000 it more than checks the features list to make it a viable option.

Isn't it conventional to actually learn and have experience with a camera prior to making pronouncements about its strengths or faults? You received the camera yesterday and you've never used continuous autofocus? I don't have the camera yet but I've spent a week or so with the manual -- novel thought -- and after 25 years in the computer business I know that this is a complicated computer. I'd suggest you get with it for a few weeks and then come back ant tell us about its issues. Respectfully.

I'm simply reporting news. None of the videos above were made by me with my cameras or my lack of knowledge about this feature. There is a big debate right now as to whether there is something wrong with the AF in some GH5 cameras. If you own a GH5 I would think you would want to know this and if you don't own a GH5 I find it strange you would be offended that I wrote a post about it.

>> I'm simply reporting news.

No. You're repeating claims. That's different. These people may be wrong; you haven't made a real effort to verify. You should have used language that made this distinction clear.

Certainly the GH5's continuous focus in video mode looks excellent here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjSviTxLLqY

When I've heard of a some-cameras-only problem before, the answer has usually been that people are forgetting the effect of lens performance or just didn't RTFM.

People like to blame hardware instead of themselves. The Internet speeds up the transmission of bad news, even where it's false, and the decline of print media and its replacement with sites that are much sloppier about verifying rumours before passing them on, only add to this.

So I think your article is at least verging on irresponsible semi-quasi-journalism here.

I'm repeating claims that multiple people have made that I have also tested myself

If you're still at the stage of replying to comments with "I'll try your settings" then no, you haven't tested to see if there is a real focus problem. You've just tested to see if the settings that you have tried were the right ones.

As for "multiple" reports: you can find multiple reports of UFO abductions and about Obama being a Muslim. This is because there is more than one idiot on the Internet. "Multiple" is not a high enough standard.

The actual circumstances, which you should have made clear are:

- Some people are very impressed with the GH5's video focus

- Some people claim there is a problem

- You've not really had the camera or tested it long enough to say

Which is arguably a non-story, of course.

michael andrew's picture

Everyone is happy with the Canon 5DIV video autofocus.

Not everyone is happy with the GH5 video auto focus.

Stupidty is random.

That is an absolutely horrible example of a video displaying "excellent" auto focus by the GH5. There is hunting all over in the actual footage. Your comments are baseless and asinine. You should troll somewhere else.

Slightly OT, but I shoot video with Nikons; could you share your "system for recording videos that doesn't rely on AF." Or have you posted about it somewhere?

It's not that complicated. I just rarely pull focus. If I'm doing a walking gimbal shot I lock the focus and try to stay the same distance from the subject. If the subject is moving around a little in the frame I'll stop down to get more depth of field.

Stephan Wiesner's picture

I have used it for a week now and can't confirm your issues. Did a lot of filming with different AF options. Worked fine most of the time.
https://youtu.be/Zuun94c19o0

I'm glad to hear your say that. I may put all of mine side by side and see if they perform similarly with the same settings.

For the 80D test, was the GH5's focus speed and sensitivity cranked up to the max?
Won't beat Canon's speed though... Hardware will always best software ☺

Another test worth linking to IMHO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG-G3tIhaig

This is an interesting video but IMO the AF in this video isn't working very well either. It's constantly dropping out of focus even when he says it's working correctly.

Chris Cheek's picture

It can never compare because it has no phase detection af..A big deal breaker..If you blog or use a gimbal, get the sony a6500 hands down.

Vlogging yes. But for gimbals? I think the gh5 is the best camera to put on a gimbal I've ever used. The a6500 has a major rolling shutter problem that shows up with gimbal use. Today or tomorrow we will be releasing a gimbal showdown video and you'll see what I mean.

Chris Cheek's picture

Lee, I have had no rolling shutter issues while using my gimbal/a6500. If you pan real fast using the 6500, then yes you will see rolling shutter issues. But on a gimbal the 6500 will surely work well and af correctly for that matter:)

You are the second person to tell me this. I've seem some really bad rolling shutter issues with the a6500 (when panning) and I assumed that would show up with gimbal work as well but apparently that camera is also great on a gimbal.

Bengt Nyman's picture

Having shoot the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II since it came out I must unfortunately report that the E-M1 Mark II autofocus performance is nothing to brag about either. When shooting subjects with minimal movements, like musicians on stage, the E-M1 Mark II fails to S-AF about half the time. Both the Zuiko 40-150mm pro lens and the Zuiko 300mm pro lens produce the same mediocre autofocus performance compared to a Nikon D810 or any other DSLR. The occasional images from the E-M1 Mark II are superb, but the shooting experience is clearly unsatisfactory. My impression is that there is a miss-match between the algorithm of the camera autofocus and the very slow speed of the focusing motors in the two lenses mentioned. Even when using the focus limiting feature of the camera to restrict the lens focus search to within a very narrow range the camera fails to expose about half the time.