Is The Panasonic GH4 Your Dream Camera?

Is The Panasonic GH4 Your Dream Camera? By filmmaker Michael Head

The future of production for the foreseeable future is 4K.

This is true even if the majority of distribution will remain at 1080P and 2K for a while. But each day we get closer and closer to wide stream 4K distribution, be it through Netflix or even YouTube.

That leaves camera manufacturers in a very precarious situation.

The majority of consumer users are still not ready for 4K, but clients will soon demand 4K video (even though they might not really know why) and professional video producers can use the extra resolution to make their lower resolution projects look better.

Enter the Panasonic GH4, a camera which has already generated a lot of buzz.

Panasonic GH4

The Panasonic GH4

The Panasonic GH4, is a Micro 4/3 mount DSLR (ok, mirrorless) form factor camera that shoots up to 4K and Ultra HD video, and it already has a lot going for it.

Panasonic has a great pedigree of DSLR (mirrorless) video.

Keep in mind that the GH2 and GH3 are both good video cameras, and that was before users hacked the software and increased data rate and therein the detail saved in the video file.

If you need an example of the hacked GH2 on set, check out Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color – The second feature from the imaginative director, and the choice of camera was unique, but well made.

The Panasonic GH4 caters to video producers and photographers in a very unique way.

Where Canon loaded out two similar DSLR cameras which individually focus on photography (1D) and cinema (1D C), the Panasonic GH4 took novel approach to the divide – Produce a separate unit that focuses on what video producers need, that photographers do not need.

Enter the DMW-YAGH Interface Unit – a separate device that attaches to the underside of the Panasonic GH4 and includes XLR inputs, audio meters, and SDI output for professional external recording and monitoring.

The advantage of making a separate unit is that the photographers who don’t need it can skip it and videographers who might not be able to afford it at the start can use the camera without it and pick up the interface unit later.

I think that is a brilliant move on Panasonic’s part and shows a thoughtfulness and consideration of their broad client base that some manufacturers (*cough*Canon*cough) are missing out on (and PS, I’m a fan of Canon – my first camera was a 60D).

The Panasonic GH4 is not perfect – the camera features an 8-bit recording, which is somewhat limiting. And 4:2:0 cool subsampling in internal recording limits you a bit in post. But the Panasonic GH4 can output 8-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI and full 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video over SDI with the interface unit.

The Good Stuff
– 4k and Ultra HD resolution (4K – 4096 and UHD – 3840 selectable)
– 1080P at up to 60 (59.94) FPS
– MOV, MP4 (4k/UHD) and AVCHD (1080p) recording formats
– High Data rate – 200 MBPS at 1080, 100 MBPS at 4K
– Interface Unit with XLR inputs including phantom power and SDI output
– No 30 minute time cap on video
– NTSC and PAL selectable
– Highly adaptable M4/3 lens mount
– 10-bit 4:2:2 output over SDI, 8-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI

The Not So Good Stuff
– Separate Interface Unit (yes, I think it’s a good and bad thing because it ups the cost)
– 8-Bit 4:2:0 internal recording
– Internal recording to 4k requires class U3 SDHC cards (a new standard)

Questions About The Panasonic GH4:
– My number one question is this: What’s the dynamic range?

Final Thoughts On The Panasonic GH4:
As I get more and more experience with video, I am more and more convinced that dynamic range is vitally important to achieving the fabled “film look”. Panasonic’s choice to produce a special interface unit initially struck me as odd, and it does add to the cost of shooting for the professional videographer. But it also lets users choose their level of need and investment, and gives them a goal to aim for for increasing their possible output.

A while back, I was looking for a DSLR for video, and after extensive research, I had narrowed the choices down to the Canon 60D and the GH2. I went with the Canon for a variety of reasons including wider array of lenses and no overheating problems. But, if I knew then what I know now, the choice might have been different.

There has been a plethora of M4/3 mount cameras, and while camera bodies change rather rapidly, good glass can last for decades, and investment in dependable glass that can go across camera bodies is a large consideration these days. Good cameras like the GH4 are great, but don’t forget… The first thing your images pass through is your glass.

Filmmaking Tips – The Magic of Filmmaking

Hollywood Sign
Hollywood Image via Wikipedia

This is one of those times when I’m looking back through old work; my student films and screenplays, and I immediately remember how enthusiastic I was about making movies. There was an entire summer when I saved every penny just to purchase a used Arri BL 16mm film camera and a few rolls of film.

Back then (and it wasn’t too long ago) it seemed like you needed so many elements to make a movie. The camera wasn’t enough. You needed an audio recorder. So I convinced my friend Tim to save his money and buy a Nagra audio recorder and a boom mic. The camera, film and audio wasn’t enough, I needed a location. So I convinced my friend Chad to let me use his house for a few scenes. But then I needed to light the house. So I convinced my friend Jim to “borrow” some lighting equipment from a production company he worked for. (And he really did just “borrow” that stuff.) But then we needed to feed the cast and crew. So I convinced my mom to cook lunch and make snacks for everyone.

And thinking about why I make movies – There is just something totally magical about the creative process. When you’re making a movie, it isn’t about the outcome. I mean, yes, you want to do great work. And you want people to enjoy your show. But in the process, like the night before the first day of production – when you stare at your ceiling until 4AM, too excited to sleep. Wondering if you have enough equipment. Wondering if you’re crazy for choosing such a creative path in life. Dreaming of first film festival success, then a career in Hollywood when people ask you to work, instead of you asking for work… I mean, all of these thoughts flow through your mind.

Then the next day, you roll out of bed – early, because you haven’t slept a wink. You arrive on set with coffee jitters. You’re wondering what is going to go wrong. What is going to go right? And as more people arrive on set, followed by more people, followed by more… You suddenly realize you’re one part of something big, and when it works, a feeling of oneness comes over you and your crew and your cast… And everything just flows. You load the film into the camera. You share some of your mom’s snacks around the craft service area. You have a few laughs. And regardless of outcome, you know – I mean, everyone around you knows too, that what you’re about to create will be around long after you pass. And for some reason, this feels religious and sacred.

The first time you hear the audio guy announce “speed,” your heart beats a little faster, then they call out the slate and with the clap – the word action escapes your lips – and like passing into another world, you create a world, a new world for you around you. This can’t be taught. If you haven’t experience this, it can’t be explained. It’s just something reserved for those of us who know. It’s passion, but like an addiction. It’s like trying to find part of yourself – maybe the more ideal version of yourself that feels one with the moment. And in the moment between action and cut, you in fact are somewhere else. Somewhere maybe better… Somewhere magical. And maybe this is why we continue to do what we do.

It doesn’t matter if you’re making your first short movie, or your 15th feature – we make movies becuase there is always that promise of wonderment. Happy filmmaking.

Film or HD

Back when I started, I spent an entire summer saving up cash to purchase an Arri BL 16mm camera. For those of you who have not shot film, the Arri BL represents the quintessential film student camera. It’s rugged, durable and with the right lens, can shoot a great picture. The camera was actually used by the news media back in the day – but when applied to creative narrative, it’s a fun, simple and (relatively quiet?) tool for shooting film.

But as a new filmmaker, I would suggest shooting HD video over film. While shooting film is cool – the added expense of film stock and film processing, not to mention eventual video transfer can greatly diminish your bank account – when that money could be reallocated to other cool equipment, like cranes and dollies. (Just sayin’).

In the end the format you choose to shoot on is up to you. I won’t deny there is a certain sense of ritual and rite of passage to loading a film camera. But I can also attest that it’s sure fun to call “action” and look at an HD monitor and know exactly what you’re going to get.