Taking the Panasonic GH4 for a ride – a super-lightweight mobile setup
I was working so much in the last months that I didn’t really have the time to post some amazing things on this blog, but March is a bit low in those regards, so I took the time to check out a new light-weight contender for videography and film work. The Panasonic GH4 has already established itself a while ago and you can find a number of reviews and examples on the web. Nevertheless, I want to share my short experience with it. I bought the camera together with the Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens last week on Amazon. The intention was to have a small and lightweight camera for B-Roll footage without having to lug my (relatively heavy) Sony FX-55 (that is an F5 with the 4K-upgrade) / Sachtler Video III tripod-combo around. While it is not a big deal to place the GH4 on a larger tripod, my minimal setup includes the following tools for landscape / B-Roll gathering:
- Panasonic Lumix GH4 /w Arca-Swiss mount
- Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens
- Cullmann Nanomax 400T mini-tripod
- Sirui G-10X ballhead
- Rode Videomic Go /w Rycote fur
While the image from the GH4 does not look as posh as the image from the FX55, it is rather amazing to see such an image quality from a camera costing less than 1/10th of the other. Comparing the GH4 to my “old” DSLR – the Canon 5D Mark III – is a way more fair approach to rating the true values of the Panasonic camera. In regards to image quality, both the dynamic range and the sharpness beats the standard 5D Mark III in my opinion. But the image is not as “sexy” (I have no other way to describe it). Feature-wise, Peaking, Zebras and live Histogram can’t be found in any of Canon’s video / cinema DSLRs (5D3, 1DC) unless you use Magic Lantern (not available for the 1DC). Full-frame vs. MicroFourThirds, RAW recording etc. are topics that have been discussed extensively on the internet, for my applications, the GH4 is the camera that makes more sense and delivers the better picture quality. Another point that should be mentioned is the fact that the GH4 has built-in dead / stuck pixel detection & remapping, a feature known as “black shading” from the Red. On Canon cameras, this process can only be performed at licensed Canon service facilities with a special Canon software. That being said, the GH4 also has a couple of quirks, especially in combination with the (inevitable) 12-35mm lens: Audio offset in 4K recording: No matter if you record in 4K (UHD) or full 4K resolution, the audio is approximately 2 frames early. Easy to fix in the NLE, still quite uncomfortable if you want to sync cameras by audio, as you have to shift everything manually. No zooming please & servo focus: The G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 is marketed as a constant aperture zoom lens, but it isn’t. It’s got a strong connection to the GH4 nevertheless, which makes sure that the light loss at the tele end is corrected electronically. In other words, this means that whenever you zoom in or out while recording, the luminance of the image shifts from lighter to darker or vice versa. While this just takes approximately a second or two, it is still visible in the recording. Thus, it’s better to handle this zoom lens as a “variable prime” with no zoom motion recorded. The manual focus control is not direct, the focus ring just sends data to the camera which again commands a servo motor within the lens to do the shifting. The faster you turn, the quicker the focus reacts, so it is pretty much impossible to work with a true follow focus with fixed markers. The main reason why you should own this lens is the magnificent O.I.S. image stabilization that effectively reduces unwanted but inevitable shake when using this lightweight camera in a hand-held setup. The G X Vario 12-35mm is the perfect “variable prime” lens for run & gun shooting. And that’s what it is. No fun in low light: The GH4 is not a low-light camera. The base ISO of the sensor is at 800 and I wouldn’t recommend going any higher than ISO 1600. Looks and features remind me a lot of the Red MX, by the way. Buzz it like it’s hot: On earlier models of the GH4, there was a pretty unpleasant audio buzzing when being used with an external microphone. I never buy early production run units, so it’s no problem on mine. What about the A7s? The Sony A7s is Sonys flagship video recording DSLR. While it only records 1080p internally (4K with external recorder), it features a full-frame sensor with amazing low-light capabilities. Compared to the GH4, it lacks in other aspects that are important for me:
- Nope for weather sealing and internal 4K: The biggest reason to carry such a small and lightweight camera with me is portability and filming in more extreme (humid / dusty / rainy) environments. Carrying a huge 4K recorder in the bag is not really what I call “lightweight run & gun”, and the fact that the A7s is not weather-sealed makes it a risk to take along. Of course you can buy a rain-cover and a 4K recorder but hey – if that is the case I could also bring my FX55.
- Hands up for rolling shutter: While the GH4 also “features” rolling shutter, it is in no way as bad as on the A7s.
- Battery life: With a simple set of two batteries, you’re good to go for a whole day of shooting with the GH4. You probably won’t be able to do the same thing with the A7s.
For me, the GH4 seems to be the best supermobile Video/Photo hybrid camera on the market at the moment, and I really can’t wait to try it out on one of my commercial shoots.
Here’s by the way a 4K footage grab from the recording I did: