Guest author Kevin Luiz of Capion Studio gives his take on the Panasonic GH4 as run-and-gun option for shooters who thrive in-between trips to the airport.
You've seen the footage and, by now, I'm sure you've read the reviews: a camera that shoots 4k internally with amazing image quality, all at an affordable cost. Of course, I'm referring to the Panasonic GH4. No matter what your opinions are regarding the camera, these past few months, it's commanding an online presence that's difficult to be ignored. Crop factors, low light and feature feuds wage back and forth, but some conversations have yet to be had. Each camera has a purpose, and the GH4 is no exception. I'm a sucker for image, so much that often it becomes a detriment to my speed, but for me the GH4 has answered some crucial prayers.
By trade, I'm a shooter, traveling internationally to capture the sights and sounds of foreign countries. What I've learned in this profession is that confidence is everything. When I shoot, I might have five, ten, maybe twenty minutes (if I'm lucky) in a location to capture what's needed before I move onto the next. That being said, it's imperative that I can shoot with confidence and have an image to match.
The GH4 has given me exactly that, but the road to the GH4 wasn't without trepidation and heartbreak. I've shot with a long list of cameras in the six years I've been working. Battery issues, poor ergonomics, inefficient codecs, and muddy images; we've all dealt with these for years. While the GH4 is free from these concerns, it's far from perfect. The question remains though - in a market where so many options exist, where does the GH4 shine? I believe that area is in a run & gun (R&G) environment, and here's what I’ve found.
Feature Highlight: A Cockpit Full of Instruments
Focus peeking, live histograms, zebras, EV bar, horizon level, the list goes on. With all these tools packed into the camera, the only “feature” that’s missing is a bigger screen to accommodate the clutter. The screen on the GH4 takes a little time to get acquainted with, but once your eyes are attuned, its clarity is fantastic. I won’t lie, there are issues seeing in intense sunlight, but articulating the screen to the degree you need will alleviate some of the glare.
While in Cancun, I often found myself not even paying attention to the actual subject I was shooting or the image the screen was displaying to me, but rather what the tools were telling me. In a R&G environment, you can't afford to take a minute and squint at your screen; you have to trust your tools and the GH4 hasn’t failed me yet. I can rely heavily on the focus peaking, zebras and histogram to nail my shots. This isn’t to say that the camera is dummy proof, but I equate “blind shots” to sort of flying by instrument in an aircraft at night. You can see where you’re going with your own eyes, but if you put your faith in your instruments and know how to use them, they will guide the way.
Working with tools like these ensures accuracy and speed. Having to punch in to nail focus is now a thing of the past and, as a result, you will very rarely miss critical. All of this is crucial to rapid shooting because an event can happen and, in the blink of an eye, the moment has passed. Now you can give a quick glance to the zebras, spot your highlights almost immediately, compensate and acquire more footage before that moment’s gone. I find these tools to be an absolute must in my daily routines and, now having them in a small form factor, it's difficult to settle for anything less.
Handling: Smart Car Or Beefy Roadster?
The camera is light! It doesn’t feel like your average DSLR and that’s because it’s not; it’s mirrorless. Weighing in at a measly 560g, the GH4 is fantastic when slung over your shoulder or more important; in your hands. The battery certainly sips like it’s an efficient Smart Car. On average, I will pack three batteries for a day's outing, and maybe burn through one and a half. This allows me to keep my bag free of unwanted weight. Of course, my shooting consists primarily of 30 second to 1-minute clips for the edit, so this can vary from shooter to shooter.
Ergonomics are something of a personal preference, but having shot Nikon primarily, the switch was made easy. To me, all the buttons are accessible and intuitive, which is the main importance in the field. After only a few hours of handling, your fingers will glide over the back of the camera. This will result in quicker shots and increased confidence. You can also control the camera completely via the touch screen or alternatively through your smart phone. This makes the camera a real treat in the field if you slap it on a motorized gimbal and want to access the settings.
While in Spain, I utilized the camera on a Defy g5, but wanted to change the settings as I went along. Reaching for the back of the camera was nearly impossible, so I rigged the unit and connected the camera to my Samsung Note 3 and, “presto!” -100% camera control. The camera’s internals data-crunch so much information it some what baffles me that something so small and so light can pack such a punch. The camera might handle like a smart car, but under that hood is a serious v8 hemi, and that’s what we all crave, right?
Lens Highlight: The Power of Zoom
A good lens is usually dictated by its optical qualities, build and speed. Panasonic offers a unique feature, however, that appeals to the R&G environment: power zoom! The Panasonic Lumix G Vario PZ 45-175mm doesn’t have the highest DXO Marks, and, to some, the scores may appear poor. This lens is more then just stats on a chart though, and has become an invaluable piece in my bag. Much like a b4 servo zoom, Panasonic has developed two lenses that enable you to zoom electronically that they've branded in their "X Series". These lenses are lightweight and sharp as a tack center frame. On the barrel of the lens appears a small zoom rocker that will allow you to smoothly zoom in and out.
Additionally, the GH4 menu allows you to control the speed (no ramping yet). But why is this so important? Well, to have a lens in a R&G style shooting environment, you want to be able to zoom quickly, efficiently and, with your other hand, pull focus on the barrel. Without bogging yourself down with additional rigging, you can now achieve this with a power zoom lens. You can take this a step further and couple the camera with a Manfrotto remote thumb rocker. Mount one of these to your mono/tripod handle and it enables you to zoom, focus and pan all at the same time. This brings me to my last point regarding this lens: wireless control. While on a shoot in Spain, we attended a Flamenco show where the environment was very tight. I was unable to set the camera in the position I needed to and man it without upsetting the people around me and obstructing their view. Thinking on my feet, I was able to leave the camera unmanned and set it into a wifi controlled mode. This allowed me to wirelessly control the zoom range of the lens, achieving wide and tight shots all from my cell phone. This is a pretty powerful feature. I was able to confidently walk away with the content I needed.
Cell Phone: The GH4’s Little Buddy
Okay hear me out; sometimes your cell phone is your only alternative, so why not embrace it? When I started to travel internationally, I said to myself it’s time for a new cellphone, so I started looking at camera options. I landed on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which sports a 4k video feature at 30fps. There are some instances where you don’t have enough time to ready your camera and you might have seconds to pop off a shot. This is where your cell phone comes in handy and the Note 3 pairs quite well. Image quality is a little over-driven by internal sharpening, but with the right push in post, the material grades well and can interchange almost seamlessly between shots with the GH4.
The phone also pairs well in wifi mode with the camera because of the screen size, allowing you to control the GH4 without having to struggle with misclicks. 4k Paradise: Cancun I utilized three clips from the Samsung Note 3. Can you tell which the clips are from the Note 3?
Don’t be afraid to use a cell phone or a camera of lesser value, because in the end, it’s the content that matters. If you can only use your cell phone or GoPro in your shooting environment, do it! In the final edit, you might end up selling the look and feel of your destination stronger by getting those authenticate moments that were unattainable by you’re A-Cam. Embrace it, and be proud you captured the unattainable!
Conclusion: Instilling Confidence
I’ve said it before I’ll say it again - the GH4 is NOT perfect - but I think for R&G, it’s an important iteration of the GH line. For the first time in my life, I can feel confident about my images and know that at the end of the day the only surprise that’s going to hit me is how good the images look when I review them on a 4K monitor.
The media handles well in post and I continue to explore the boundaries on how far the grade can be pushed (it’s far for 8bit!). The camera is lightweight and requires minimal rigging to achieve optimal quality. To me, it’s a perfect storm of ergonomics and image. Cameras come and go with the wind, but the GH4 will take your R&G career to the next level because it instills confidence. Take my experiences with a grain of salt and if you haven’t shot with the GH4, I encourage you to at least go and rent one. I hope my findings have been insightful and many happy shootings to you all!
For more information about Capion Studio, visit the company's site.