We are currently talking to one regular client of mine about creating a series of fifteen second spots for Instagram. Instagram videos! It’s a real job paying real money and requires a solid video skill set! Who would have ever thought? Some people laugh and say that shooting for Instagram is stupid. Advertising is about getting your brand / product / message out to people. Twenty years ago it was the 8pm – 11pm slot on NBC. Now it’s on Instagram 24 hours a day.
If you are just joining this discussion please see the first part so you know where I’m coming from and what I am looking for when shopping for video gear. This post is about which camera I chose and why I chose it.
I ended up going with the Panasonic GH4 camera with a small assortment of Panasonic lenses and one Voigtlander that I’ve owned for awhile. My video kit consists of two GH4 camera bodies, the Lumix 7-14mm f4, 12-35mm f2.8, 35-100mm f2.8, and the Panasonic/Leica 42.5mm f1.2. The Voigtlander is the 28mm f2 that I use a generic M mount adapter to mount to the GH4. I bought all of this from the good folks at Midwest Photo Exchange. As I say in the video above, I cannot be more happy with my purchase of the GH4 system.
Here’s the process I went through to decide on this camera:
My three main considerations for choosing a video kit were features, price, and size. For features I wanted 4k, built-in time lapse (intervalometer), image stabilization, industry standard ports, auto focus, and good third party support from accessories to tutorials. For price I had a total budget of about $10k to $12k to build an entire system along with a solid set of accessories like monitors, mics, cables, a bag to hold it all in, etc, etc, etc. The third part of this series will cover those accessories.
Why 4k? The number one reason I wanted 4k in a camera was for editing options. I do not foresee moving to editing and delivering in 4k any time soon, but having that much video real estate to work with in a 1080 window is a wonderful thing. Shooting in 4k and editing in 1080 gives you a number of advantages while you are editing. Let’s say you’re working with some interview footage that is a 3/4 body shot. If you are editing in 1080 with 4k footage you can punch in to a head and shoulders composition of that shot and then cut to a scaled down shot of that scene. You effectively get two shots from one piece of footage. Take a look at the size of a 4k frame (4096×2160) compared to a 1080 (1920×1080) frame below.
When you have that much resolution to work with you have more options in editing. While I am not a proponent of cropping to your shot in still photography, I realize that video is a different ball game and having options to cut to is important in the editing process. As I said above, I don’t foresee shooting, editing, and delivering in 4k in the near future but it is nice to know that if that is requested of me I can do it with this camera. For now we are shooting everything in 4k and editing in 1080 and it’s going pretty well.
I honestly looked at going back to a DSLR for video and I looked at the Canon 5D3, the 7D, and similar offerings from Nikon. I know that there are ways of getting 4k footage from 1080 cameras. Magic Lantern has a hack that can open up a number of options on something like the 5D3. I have ZERO desire to hack my work cameras. I don’t want a system that I have to jump through a hoop or two to get what I want out of it. I’ve heard enough stories of something going wrong at a crucial point in a shoot to make me just stay out of that business all together. I know others that swear by the hack and that’s great. I just don’t want to get into that. I want to pull a camera out of a bag and it just works. You know how I shoot 4k with a GH4? I turn it on. How would I shoot 4k on a Canon? I’d start with this…
Other options are capturing RAW video from other cameras by recording the HDMI signal coming out of the camera and into an external video recorder. Guess what? I give not two shits** about RAW 14bit video footage. Look — I’m not shooting my cinematic opus right now. I’m not grading footage to hell and back. I’m shooting tutorials, reviews, and various small things for clients that aren’t going any further than 1080 on Youtube. Why the f*ck would I need 14bit RAW 4k footage? Why? Why bother with any of that for what I’m doing? In addition, in order to get that footage, I have to always capture to an external recorder. That’s at least another $700 per camera rig.
If Levi’s or some other international brand called me tomorrow and said they wanted me to create a series of commercials for them the last thing I’d be worried about is 14bit RAW 4k footage. Concept. Story. Audience. Schedule. Budgets. Locations. SO much to think about. Oh. You need it for broadcast and you want it in 4k? At that point I’m going to hire someone to deal with that. For us running around shooting whatever? 14bit RAW footage is one hundred kinds of overkill.
Moving on… A built in intervalometer for time lapse was something I wanted in a camera and the GH4 handles that beautifully. It’s as simple as can be to shoot a time lapse and then have the camera compile those stills into a video file up to 4k within a few menu selections. You choose the resolution and frame rate you want and it writes it to the card and you’re done! Nice! The rest of the features I wanted are simple and straightforward. ISO up to 3200 is great as are the built in color profiles. We started shooting the flatter CINE D that can handle more in the grading process but have since moved to CINE V since that gives me the look I like straight from camera and it takes a step out of the editing process. B&W in camera is really nice as well.
The buttons, dials, and ergonomics are all fine. What’s interesting to note is how much I really don’t care about buttons, and dials, and ergonomics when looking at a camera for video. For a still camera I think about these things a lot because when I’m shooting stills the tactile feel of the camera I’m using is part of the picture making process. I find this isn’t the case when shooting video. Typically I’m setting up the camera the way I want it for a particular shot and then I’m doing everything I can to NOT push a button or turn a dial while I’m shooting. Stills is not such a “set and forget” process so the ergonomics of the GH4 is fine for me. If I was shooting it as a stills camera I might have a completely different opinion on the matter. The GH4 body is packed with controls and customizable function buttons so you can set it up however you desire.
One thing we utilize a lot are the three custom settings on the top control dial that are labeled C1, C2, and C3. Since there are sooooooo many functions on this camera from resolution to frame rate to color profile to focusing modes to display settings to white balance to everything else it is nice to have your preferred settings saved. If we turn both cameras to C2, for instance, then the camera is set up in 4k, 24fps, Cine V color mode, custom WB, ISO 400, f4, 50th of a second shutter, Single AF mode, etc. It’s great to have each camera turn on to one base setting. We then get each camera to the proper exposure and set a custom WB off of the same target; those settings are then saved to C1 on each camera. If a battery dies on one of the cameras, or we turn them off for a break, when turning them back on with C1 selected we know they both start up on equal settings. C3 is typically set for 1080 at 96 FPS. The next consideration was the size of the system I was going to buy into.
At no time in my life do I ever want to deal with a beast like that thing above. I don’t want to own it. I don’t want to put it together. I don’t want to operate it. Screw that camera and all that stuff. No desire. Hire someone to deal with that? Yes. There are people who love that sort of thing. Me personally? I’d rather eat hot death. Yes, yes, yes. I know that it has a purpose in this world. I know that the quality is great. I know that each and every little thing bolted on to that monster is there for a reason. I’m just trying to say that the monster pictured above, for me, is not something I ever want to personally deal with.
After moving from DSLRs to my Fuji kit I’ve loved working with a small and lightweight kit and I wanted the same for my video kit. Here’s a screen grab from the video above showing two GH4 rigs next to two Canon 5D3 rigs along with the new prices for each body and lens combination shown.
I know full well that comparing a GH4 to a 5D3 is not an apples to apples comparison. I’m not saying they are completely equal on all fronts but the physical size and the price points were of great consideration and, when you get down to it, for what I need video for right now in my life, either system would work. I just found the GH4 to work better for me in a smaller kit of gear for far less money. The 5D3 has nothing going for it that is worth the extra money for me.
The last major consideration for me was my budget. I had a huge spring cleaning sale on eBay of gear that I no longer use or rarely use. It’s amazing how many odd ball things you can have sitting on shelves and stuck in boxes that have no use left in your life but someone else out there could use it. When it was all said and done, my eBay sales just about purchased my entire video kit. I knew going into this that I’d have somewhere between $10k and $12k to invest in video gear and I couldn’t go any further than that. As nice as the 5D3 is you can see that my whole budget would have been blown had I built a similar kit to the one I built around the GH4.
Other cameras I thoughtfully considered were offerings from Nikon, Black Magic, Sony, and Olympus. I made a chart and listed model numbers, features I wanted, prices, and other considerations. While the Panasonic led the pack in pretty much every category there’s one thing the GH4 had that every other camera, especially Sony, was lacking.
That key factor was the zeal of GH users.
The words “cult following” are often said when people start talking about the GH series from Panasonic. When people talk about GH cameras there’s a spark in their eye and a quickening of their pulse. People genuinely love these cameras despite the many shortcomings GH cameras have had in the past. Entire lines of accessories, forums, user guides, and tutorials have popped up around the GH series and a vast number of people have created some remarkable content with these little cameras.
I have never seen excitement and zeal around Sony products; I promise I’m not being hyperbolic here. People talk about Sony cameras but usually with the same zest that someone has when reading an insurance policy. There’s “This is a really nice camera. I really like it.” Then there is “OMG I f*cking love this camera!” When you are researching new gear and you aren’t particularly loyal to one brand over another then pay attention to how much excitement people put into the current product line or an expected new release. If people are genuinely excited about a brand there’s a reason for that.
There is a lot of buzz and excitement around Olympus M43 cameras and that did make me look further into those cameras. I especially liked the in-camera image stabilization as opposed to lens based stabilization. I read somewhere, though, that one reason the GH4 is great at high ISOs is that the sensor is stuck to a large heat sink to keep it from running too hot. If they had done in-camera stabilization at the sensor level then the heat sink would have been diminished thus creating more heat at the sensor level and thus creating more noise. I’m not an engineer but that sort of makes sense to me. Could be a load of shit for all I know. At the end of the day GH4 shooters reminded me a lot of Apple users or Fuji shooters. Talk all the shit you want about Apple fan boys but Apple just posted the largest single quarter profit of any company in history. How you like them Apples?
Having now owned the GH4 for a number of months I can see why people love these cameras so much and I’m happy to report that I finally found my video camera. The build quality is great. The lenses are superb. The image quality is fantastic. The cameras are easy to use and customize. There’s a ton of third party accessories and support. As my nephew Grayson said so well, “You can put these cameras in just about any situation and they kick ass.” Talking head interview? Kicks ass. Run and gun shooting? Kicks ass. Low light? Kicks ass. Affordable and easy to transport? Kicks ass. Need to build a full rig with rails and a cage and monitors and all that? Still kicks ass. Of all the cameras in this segment of video production that are out there I honestly can’t think of one that beats the GH4.
Here are some stills pulled from 4k footage. Click on them for larger views. These are straight from camera.
Those are 4k stills from 24p video. Jeebus. That ain’t bad from a small camera with a small sensor with some small lenses. You could go to print with a frame if you had to. Not a huge print but they can print. And for images for the web? It’s more than you need. It’s crazy the world we live in. Dirk Halstead, Brian Storm, and David Leeson were all saying back in the late 90s and early 2000s that this would be a reality and here we are living in it. With one rig you can capture professional video, audio, and stills and build three products out of it: video for broadcast, audio for radio, and stills for web and print in an affordable easy to use package. We live in the future.
While researching these cameras I watched countless videos comparing footage from one camera to that of another. I read all the blogs. I talked to lots of people. I searched through social media posts. It was enough to drive me just a little bit crazy and at one point I could have listed six different cameras on the wall, thrown a dart, and made my purchase. I really appreciated the time many folks put into reviews from people like Griffin Hammond, Blunty, Dave Dugdale, Eduardo Angel, and of course, those wild and crazy guys at DigitalRev. The one video that really did me in though was this 57 second GH4 promotional video called Light.
And it was this one scene in that video that really grabbed me and solidified the deal. I don’t know what it is about this shot or this little short promo video but I guess it showed me that you could put the GH4 in any situation and it would kick ass.
It’s interesting to note that everyone reviewing this camera spent about five seconds talking about shooting stills with the GH4 and then the rest of the time talking about the video capabilities. I am not going to be an exception to this rule unless you consider that I’m not even going to take the time to review the stills from this camera at all.
I have shot stills on this camera. Do they meet or exceed the quality of stills I get from my Fuji cameras? They do not. They really don’t even get close. To be honest, I’m just as happy with the 4k stills above as any still I’ve shot with the GH4 in stills mode. Video quality? Awesome. Time lapse? Awesome. Each individual frame of those time lapse videos? Not bad. Pretty good really. Great like my Fuji or a Canon or a Nikon? Nope. Good? Yes. They are good stills. For some folks this is a perfectly fine still camera.
Some of you might be wondering why I bother with this whole two camera system. Shouldn’t I just commit to something like a Canon or Nikon and have one system to rule them all? It would make sense to do that in some regard. I stewed over that idea for a few weeks. Here’s why I didn’t go that way. I honestly and truly and deeply love my Fuji cameras and I really wanted them to work for my video rig but the video capabilities of Fuji X cameras just aren’t there yet. I think, for them to be on par with something like the GH4, it will take a lot of development and tons and tons of R&D. God knows I’ve been asking for more video capabilities and I think the folks at Fuji get that but they are patient people so I think it will be some time until we see Fuji X cameras going head to head with cameras like the GH4 and others.
The second consideration to this was the amount of gear I need for stills and video. Let’s say I built up a Canon or Nikon system again and I head out on a shoot where I’m doing stills and video. Well, I need a certain amount of bodies and glass for the stills part of the shoot and then more bodies and glass for the video. From educational videos to client videos I can easily have two bodies on hand with lenses for the stills and two bodies with lenses rolling for video. Four bodies. Duplicates of lenses. It’s not so simple to just sell everything off and go $30k and up into one homogenous system. Also, if I did that I still wouldn’t have 4k and I wouldn’t have my beloved Fuji system.
No. I’m good with my two systems. I have my stills. I have my video. When I’m shooting stills I’m in one mindset. That mindset changes when I move to shooting video so my brain easily compartmentalizes the switch in the tools I use for each task. I’m sure in five years I’ll have it all in one system and it will be called the iPhone 10. 🙂
Having used this gear for a number of months now I can report that I have one item of buyer’s remorse regarding this kit and that is the Panasonic/Leica 42.5mm lens. I love this lens. LOVE this lens. It is a gorgeous piece of glass that I am happy I own but I should have skipped that one and put the money toward a second 12-35mm f2.8 lens. That’s based solely on the needs we have run into while using two cameras on shoots. The 12-35 f2.8 has become our most versatile lens and we are always bemoaning the fact that we don’t have a second one. We end up using the Voigtlander 28mm or the 7-14mm f4 instead. While the Leica 42.5mm has seen plenty of use we’d most likely be using a second 12-35 more. Two cameras have worked well so far but I can see where we will be adding a third this year as we have run into that need enough to justify the purchase of one more body. I’ll probably pick up that second 12-35 as well.
You might ask why not pick up a less expensive GH3 for the third body? When it comes to video I want every camera body on set to be the common denominator. Same sensor. Same controls. Same buttons. Same programmed custom functions. Same capabilities. Same resolution. Same WB from the same target. I want every bit of footage to be as close as we can possibly get them to be so we aren’t spending a ton of time in post trying to get things to match up. The GH3 and GH4 do seem to mix well from what I’ve seen but I’d rather have every camera be exactly the same.
For those of you who are really interested in this camera here are some more resources to help you in your research that I found informative during my research.
A big thank you goes out to the good folks at Aperturent for pulling all that Canon gear in the side by side comparison.
Thanks for checking out this post on the Panasonic GH4 and for all the great discussion that is happening on the first post. If you have any questions or comments about this system please hit me up in the comments below. Part three will cover the accessories that we’ve purchased so far and what we like and what we don’t like about those.
**Meg here. While editing this post I asked Zack, “Did you mean to write ‘I give not two shits’?” And yes, yes he did. He responded in a rather Shakespearean fashion, “I give not two shits! Two shits I give not!”
ETA – Just got a chance to test the weather resistance of the camera. So far so good. Leica lens held up as well even though it’s not weather resistant. Might stick it in a bag of rice just to be safe.