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Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Quite different but also very much the same, the Lumix DC-BGH1 box camera has a lot to offer everyone from the serious film-maker to those live streaming to YouTube

Flexibility and customisation are the two key design concepts at the core of the Lumix BGH1. This little box camera presents the user with a bare-bones body that can be built on according to the type of work it is required to do. The hand-held film-maker might add a gimbal, a monitor, a cage and a focusing rig, while the run-and-gun operator might also cable a microphone into an XLR adapter mounted in the top plate. The event live-streamer, however, will need only SDI and Ethernet cables running to the camera as it’s strung up and hidden high above the stage. How the final rig will look depends on the job in hand, and with so many ways to configure the BGH1 Panasonic hopes it will appeal to a very wide audience.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

A standard run-and-gun rig with the BGH1 powered by a battery so it can be used on the move. The hotshoe is fitted with the DMW-XLR1 fed by the Rode StereoMic X, while the Atomos Ninja V allows recording and monitoring via HDMI. The Manfrotto cage adds a handle and supplements the 11 mounting points of the BGH1’s own body. The lens here is the Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 ASPH

At first the Lumix BGH1 appears to be just the Lumix GH5s without a screen and an EVF, but the fundamental difference between the two models is the degree of connectivity offered by the BGH1. We get much the same technical specification and almost the same menu as we do in the GH5s – with a number of significant extras – but it’s the SDI and LAN connections that open the BGH1 to so many more uses and which make it attractive to a wider range of videographers than the regular Lumix G models.

Connections Galore

It seems strange to start an article talking about the things we often put last, but in the BGH1 the connections are some of the features that make it stand out from the usual mirrorless crowd. The rear of the body offers SDI, Ethernet, HDMI, Time Code, Gen Lock, USB-C, headphone, microphone and DC-in ports. Some of these we will be familiar with, but others are new features for Lumix mirrorless models.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Ports on the left, from the top: 3.5mm mic, 3.5mm headphones, LAN connector. On the right, from the top: SDI, Time Code, Generator Lock, USB-C and HDMI Type-A (both behind the partly closed flap)

We are well used to attaching cameras to monitors and recorders via HDMI and while this works very well when the devices are close-by there is a limit to how far a signal can travel with this type of connection. If you are recording 4K you might not want a cable longer than three meters, or 15m if you are working in FHD, which can make life difficult if your destination device is further away. In theatre and event productions the camera might be a very long way from the recording desk which makes SDI the better option. The BGH1 has a 3G-SDI port that can carry a 1080p/i signal for 100m at up to 59.94fps. 1080PsF is available at 25/24fps. Audio can also be transmitted alongside the picture, with frequencies of up to 48kHz in 24-bit quality when the DMW-XLR1 XLR adapter is in use.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Dual SD card slots allow hot swapping, so the camera can record without interruption. We can also record to the cards while simultaneously streaming out via the HDMI and SDI ports

One of the main advantages of the inclusion of the SDI port for many professional videographers and film makers is that it will be compatible with their existing monitors and equipment, as HDMI is less used in high-end operations. Of course video can be streamed simultaneously via the SDI and HDMI ports, so monitoring/focus pulling and high-resolution recording can be performed at the same time. In addition, the camera has dual SD card slots and can output to SDI/HDMI and record to the card all at once, so we can record live-streams in-camera as well as externally.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Used remotely the camera doesn’t need a monitor on-board as it can be controlled via the LAN connection on the left. Here the picture is also streaming via HDMI. It is worth noting that the camera can also be stop/start controlled via a Ninja V recorder

The LAN port offers a number of features that will be useful to those operating multiple cameras as well as those who need to place the camera in an inaccessible location and control it remotely. Connecting an Ethernet cable allows wired connection to a network or direct connection to a PC. Once connected, the camera can be controlled using Lumix Tether for Multicam software running on your computer, which allows you to control up to 12 cameras at the same time. A significant added convenience is that the BGH1 can also be powered via the network so long as the cable (at least cat 5e) and the Ethernet switch or your PC is PoE+ compliant – the camera needs 802.3at Type 2. Panasonic promises this LAN port will also allow streaming via IP at some point in the future.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

As part of the Lumix G system the BGH1 is compatible with all the existing G series lenses, and can easily mount third-party and vintage glass via adapters

HDMI we are quite familiar with and, as with most other Lumix cameras, the BGH1 allows us to stream content out to monitors and recorders. This is especially helpful in this case, as we need a monitor of some sort to address the menu system.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks
Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Time code shows in the lower left of the display, while Genlock is a new feature for the Lumix series and can be accessed via the menu system

Time Code we have also seen in the Lumix cameras before and, as with the GH5s, the BGH1 can take the lead from an external Time Code machine or generate its own for other cameras to follow. Time Code makes synchronising footage from multiple cameras easier in post-production, but now we also have a Genlock system that does the synchronising for us and ensures cameras match exactly as they are recording. The system is compatible with Black Burst Sync and tri-level sync, is available in NTSC and PAL frequencies and allows Horizontal Phase Adjustment of -206 to +49.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

There are three different capacities of Panasonic battery available to fit the BGH1. I used the lower powered of the three – the AG-VBR59 – and was surprised how long it runs the camera without dropping its charge. The blue network light indicates the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are active, in this case to connect with the mounted phone

We have three ways to power the Lumix BGH1 – via the regular 12v AC supply, via PoE+ or using an AG-VBR59, AG-VBR89 or AG-VBR118 battery mounted on the rear of the camera. The USB-C 3.1 port does not allow in-camera battery charging or power to the camera, but it does allow another way to tether the camera via Lumix Tether, Lumix Tether for Streaming and Lumix Tether for Multicam software applications, as well, of course, to download the content of the SD cards and load LUTs/firmware to the camera via the card.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks
Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

I found connecting to a smartphone via the Lumix Sync app allowed me to create a very compact and neat shooting solution. The X-Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Power OIS, shown on the left, offers both in-lens stabilisation and a Power Zoom that can be controlled via the app. The zoom can also be adjusted in Lumix Tether, which makes it a shame there are only two Power Zooms in the range – the other is the X-Vario 45-175mm f/4-5.6.
On the right you can see the Lumix Sync app working with an anamorphic lens. Conveniently, the in-camera anamorphic desqueeze preview is transmitted to the app, so a desqueezed view is shown on the phone’s screen.

Further connections that we can’t see are 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, which allow the camera to be wirelessly connected to a PC or to be controlled via the Lumix Sync smartphone app. Connection to a smartphone is especially useful in this camera as it offers a quick way to not only preview what it is shooting, but to control it and remotely start/stop recording when on location. You just have to set up the connection using an external monitor and to remember to leave the camera’s Wi-Fi on – or customise one of the function buttons to activate Wi-Fi. The anamorphic desqueeze is communicated via the Wi-Fi connection and its effects display on the screen of the phone. Photo Styles are reflected on the on-screen display, though LUTs show only via HDMI and SDI connections.

Other unique features

The sensor used in the Lumix BGH1 is the same Dual Native ISO, multi-aspect ratio unit that is used in the Lumix GH5s, but with more modern processing Panasonic has managed to squeeze an extra stop of dynamic range out of it. The dynamic range of the GH5s was impressive enough, but now with 13 stops the BGH1 is even better at retaining detail in very bright and very dark areas. The maximum regular ISO setting is 51200, but the extended range takes us from ISO 80 to 204800 – which is the same as the GH5s, but two stops better than the GH5. When using the built-in V-Log L profile the lower limit is ISO 400 and the upper is 25600. HLG allows a lower limit of 320, and Like709 has a lower limit of 160.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

A fan similar to that used in the Lumix S1H draws air through the body of the BGH1 to ensure it remains cool enough to continue recording for extended periods of time.

And of course the camera has a built-in fan designed to draw air through the body to maintain a cool sensor and processor, so that intensive tasks can be performed for longer – and consequently there are no time limits on recording duration for any of the resolution settings. The fan has two auto settings that prioritise when it comes on, and it can be switched between ‘normal’ and ‘slow’. The fan really is very quiet so it will very rarely be picked up on the audio.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

As well as the usual video-centric features such as auto focus transitions and the ability to display gain as ISO ratings or decibels, and shutter speeds as angles, the BGH1 brings some of the newer features from the S series cameras to the Lumix G range. We have a choice of 5 anamorphic squeeze factors for the in-camera desqueeze preview, as well as a choice of frame masks and guides for those planning to alter the aspect ratio of their footage in post-production. It is also possible to record upright video and have to play-back ready-rotated for smartphone screens.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

In a first for the Lumix G series we have a choice of desqueeze factors in anamorphic mode, both for the preview and the digital stabilisation system. We can also choose different aspect ratio frames to display on-screen – including an upright frame ideal for footage destined to be viewed on smartphones

Form

One of the big criticisms of DSLRs when they started to offer video options was that, well, they were DSLR shaped. Videographers used to video cameras moaned that no matter how good the spec if the camera was the wrong shape it would be no good for making movies. Since those days fortunately we’ve become much more used to shooting video with bumpy-top cameras that have big hand grips designed for viewfinder shooting – and with camera cages and gimbals the shapes of a camera when recording moving images has become less important. At the same time, as videographers become much more used to fitting camera cages and the idea of attaching monitors, microphones, matte boxes and focusing aids the original shape of rigged cameras becomes irrelevant beneath the screw-hole riddled metal bars and tubes. And if video is your main ‘thing’ you may very rarely hold the camera to your eye.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Literally a box with a hole in it, the BGH1 comes with a sensor similar to that in the GH5s but no screen, grip or viewfinder

This new box-camera relies on the user creating some sort of rig to operate it and thus dispenses with the elements rigged cameras no longer need. There’s no rear screen, no viewfinder, no in-body sensor stabilisation and no handgrip. What you get is literally a box, with a hole and a sensor, that can be configured to suit either the way the operator works or to fit with the job in hand.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

There are plenty of mounting points on the body, with 9 spread over three sides of the BGH1 and two on the base

Actually, you get lots of holes, as the body is peppered with ¼-20 UNC threads with a depth of 5.5mm that can be used to attach a host of accessories. There are nine mounting points spread over three sides of the camera, as well as two on the base. This allows the videographer to configure the camera on a boom or hidden in a corner with just a lens and Ethernet cable, or to build it into a full-blown cinema rig to be carried by the operator on a gimbal – and everything in between. As it is so small the Lumix BGH1 is very easy to conceal on a set.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Shown alongside the Lumix GH5s for size comparison, you can see that the BGH1 is very small. While it shares many common features and functions with the GH5s there are a few additional options as well as more external connections. The GH5s also shoots stills – the BGH1 can only do that via Lumix Tether

Even though the camera body looks very different to the Lumix models we have become used to there are plenty of aspects that we’ll find familiar. The main menu button is straight from the Lumix G series, as are the Fn buttons, the big red record button, the Q Menu as well as the layout of the main menu itself. There are four immediately customisable function buttons that users will take advantage of when the camera is being operated within reach. Fn1 is set to display or hide the on-screen information to the external feed, which will be pretty crucial to those operating the camera at close range. The other three are by default set to aperture, ISO and white balance. As two of these features are also very easily accessible via the Q Menu there’s plenty of scope for switching these to one of the other options in the vast array available.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

Despite the drastically different body form there are more than a few familiar control characteristics on the body, including the menu, navigation wheel and Q Menu

The camera has a hotshoe and while it has all the regular contacts it doesn’t offer flash control or the ability to trigger one. The function of the hotshoe in this camera is to communicate with the DMW-XLR1 XLR microphone adapter. Depending on the XLR microphones used, the camera can record 2 channel 48kHz/16-bit, 48kHz/24-bit, 96kHz/24-bit audio directly to the memory card or out via the HDMI/SDI ports when the DMW-XLR1 is in use. Other microphones with which the camera has a special relationship include the DMW-MS2 shotgun mic and the VW-VWS10 stereo mic – the pick-up pattern of the DMW-MS2 can be tailored in the main menu.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

The green light on the front of the body tells us that the camera is switched on and goes orange when tethering is in operation. It can also tell us PoE+ is being established and that there isn’t enough power – either from the PoE+ or the battery. Red tally lights front and rear let us know when recording is taking place. The Tally lights also flash when card capacity is close to being reached and when the battery is low. Tally lights can be individually switched on or off, and the front one has two brightness levels

So, what’s it good for?

The reason anyone would buy the Lumix BGH1 over the GH5s might be for the extra stop of dynamic range or the more comprehensive anamorphic settings. But it’s much more likely that what will attract buyers will be the extra connectivity the camera offers. If you are a regular GH5 user you may not need SDI or Ethernet, and tethered control may have limited appeal, but for those involved with multi-camera productions, live events even with one camera, or those working on a movie set there is a lot to like about this neat little box.

Lumix BGH1 - a neat little box of tricks

With its V-Log L and 13 stops of dynamic range it will work very nicely as the lead camera in a host of different film-making situations, and with that same V-Log L – that accepts the same LUTs as the VariCam range – it will fit in perfectly as a B-Camera on a tripod, mounted somewhere out of the way, on a crane or dangling from a drone. The BGH1 is the Build-A-Bear of the Lumix range, and can do anything, be used anywhere and can have as many eyes, legs and arms as you want it to.

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