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Saturday, March 8, 2014

••◊ Review of the Panasonic GH4, first look.

This weekend I am the director of photography for a shoot planned in the Anza-Borrego desert with director Tom Friedman, Aerial Mob, and model/yogini Danielle Orner.  The guys at Aerial Mob were able to steal a pre-release Panasonic GH4 camera for the weekend.  Unfortunately it has to go back on Monday, but for now it's mine...ALL MINE ("buhhh, ha, ha, buhhh, ha, ha" implied) to use for this weekend's cinematography.  Video Gear also provided an Ultra-Bounce 6x6, stands, shiny reflector, and backup camera, so I have to give them a shout out.  I'll be providing more information on their blog in the next week or so. 
The plan is to use this this camera on a new handheld stabilizer that hasn't been released yet, but needs demo material.  A prototype camera AND prototype stabilizer...what could possibly go wrong?  I did have a chance to try out the stabilizer today, and while it's not quite ready for a photo session, it's working.  Likewise, there are features on this GH4 camera that are not enabled yet, but it's working.  Most importantly the 4k recording feature, which we plan to fully utilize this weekend along with a Red Epic on Aerial Mob's octo-copter.
Since the shoot isn't until tomorrow all I can show are some basic product features and talk about what I've learned so far.  First, the demo camera arrived without media and we were first told that the camera would only record 4k with UHS class 3 cards.  That turned out to not be correct.  You can use UHS class 1 cards with write speeds of 45MB/s or higher.  The 40MB/s and slower cards can't keep up.  When we talked with the local Delkin rep he recommended the ELITE 633 cards.  We found other brands work equally as well.
There are two "flavors" of 4k resolution recording available, C4K (true 4k) and 4K (Ultra-HD).  There are also three flavors of HD (200Mb/s All-I, 100MB/s, and 50Mb/s).  In HD you can shoot up to 96fps! 

The base ISO on this camera is 200.  You can select up to 6400 ISO.  I don't want to comment on noise at each ISO setting because this is a prototype camera.  We'll be using it at ISO 200 tomorrow, so I won't have a chance to thoroughly evaluate it anyway.

Here's a look at the left side of the camera.  Note the mic AND headphone jack!  Finally!  Also on Panasonic's website they say that the camera has a mini HDMI, but this prototype came with a micro HDMI.  Luckily we had both spare cables sitting around, so no problem there.

The other side takes SD cards and the remote control.  Nothing too exciting over here.

On the top of the camera there's a lock button at the center of the mode dial.  This is something I wish my Canon 5DmII had come with.  Otherwise it's just standard controls as you would expect from any DSLR style camera.

The back screen is a nice flip-out LCD with plenty of features available in the menu.  I have the histogram shown here, but there's also focus peaking available...which even the 1DC lacks!  It's about damn time!  Also the new auto-focus feature is fast and smooth.  I plan to fully utilize it tomorrow since we didn't have a practical way of rigging a remote follow focus and remote monitoring for my AC.  From what little I've used it I was really impressed.  We're using the new auto-focus along with the 12-35 OIS f/2.8 Panasonic lens, for maximum micro-vibration control on the handheld rig.

One thing I wish they had an option for is a variable ND sort of like the Red Motion Mount.  Tomorrow I have to ride an external variable-ND filter to maintain proper exposure.  What I'm a bit concerned about are flare issues, especially in the sunny desert.  We'll just have to deal with that as it comes.

One control feature I really like is the control over highlights and shadows right in the camera.  On my Canon 5D all I get is the basic contrast control, which often gets set as low as it goes.  On here, if I have a shadow or highlight problem I can deal with it before the footage gets compressed to 8-bit 4:2:0 H.264 (in C4K).

Overall, I'm exited to shoot with this camera.  It meets most of my needs for the shoot and I look forward to seeing how the 4k footage turns out.  We have a nice location picked out, but the Santa Ana winds are really going to kick our collective butts tomorrow.  I'll post the next portion of the review once we put the footage through post production.

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