Why I Chose the GH4

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So here's the setup - I had been shooting with the Canon 5Dmarkiii since it's initial release over three years ago. Despite it's very good low light performance, it was starting to show it's age, as newer cameras have better dynamic range, higher bit rates, higher frame rates, mirrorless sensors, and of course, 4k. It was an aging DeNiro, still working, but not producing anything worth watching. 

On top of all that, the HDMI port was broken rendering my $1000 NInja Blade useless. So I started doing a massive amount of research into every camera I could afford that was made for serious video work. If you're in the market yourself, here's what I learned:

1. THE INTERNET CAN TELL YOU EVERYTHING 

In my quest for a new camera, I read hundreds of reviews, blogs, opinions, etc and watched way to many "test" videos on Vimeo. I can shamefully say I become obsessed with making this decision, so much so that I was having trouble sleeping. It's like that time I watched "Gone in Sixty Seconds" but couldn't manage 60 seconds of sleep because Nicolas Cage's pathetic acting was haunting me.

There's no end to the number of resources on the Internet where you can learn the ins and outs of all these cameras without ever trying them. Of course, there's really no substitute for actually trying them, but if you're strapped for cash, you just have to do the research.

On my list of possible purchases were:

  • Sony A7s
  • Panasonic GH4
  • Sony FS7
  • Canon C100
  • Canon C100 Markii
  • BMCC
  • BMPCC

Some websites and blogs that helped me make a decision were:

2. TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

You can read other people's opinions and you can watch dozens of camera test and comparisons, but not everyone uses a camera in the same way, or for the same purpose, so trying out a camera for yourself (if you have the cash for a rental or a nice friend) will go a long way in making a decision.

I had worked with a DP friend on two occasions with a Canon C100 and knew it had very good dynamic range, built-in ND, XLR inputs, and was a overall a nice camera that I could use for my daily job. 

A nice image from the C100. Natural light. M.A.D.D. spot. DP - Derek Aspenberg

A nice image from the C100. Natural light. M.A.D.D. spot. DP - Derek Aspenberg

 

I was also fortunate to do a shoot with the Sony A7s, which for a short time really seemed like the camera I was going to buy. It was full frame like my 5d, had great low light capabilities, and some nice high frame rate options. 

After working with it, I realized it's not the camera for me. If I hadn't had that opportunity I can't imagine how unhappy I might be right now if I had purchased this camera.

A still from A7s. Jamwit Launch commercial. DP - Derek Aspenberg

A still from A7s. Jamwit Launch commercial. DP - Derek Aspenberg

A still from A7s. Jamwit Launch commercial. DP - Derek Aspenberg

A still from A7s. Jamwit Launch commercial. DP - Derek Aspenberg

3. Make a Chart

At some point I got tired of reading, watching, re-reading and re-watching. I sat down, and made a chart with my top 6 choices and made notes of all the things that I deemed most important including: lens mount, crop factor, frame rates, 4K options and 4K acquisition price. I also added some well known pro and cons for each camera and took into consideration if the camera would need to be rigged or not - ie. the C100 would need minimal rigging whereas the BMPCC would need serious rigging.

My crappy chart. It sucks, but not as much as John Travolta's acting.

My crappy chart. It sucks, but not as much as John Travolta's acting.

The chart itself wasn't enough. I sat my wife down (she had about as much interest in my decision as I do for Ben Affleck films) explained a few things to her in regards to crop factor and lens mounts, and then went over the chart with her point by point. This helped me eliminate several cameras from the list, and in the end, my decision was easy. Sometimes an unbiased opinion is just what you need.

4. Sometimes We Get Spoiled

I shot a 19 minute pilot in early 2014 on the Red Scarlet. The images were amazing. I want one. I can't afford one. Not even close. But the truth is, working with a Red Scarlet on a daily basis wouldn't make sense for the type of video I'm shooting right now. It would be overkill and would take a lot of lighting and finesse to bring out the best in what that camera can produce. 

Beautiful filmic look from the Red Scarlet.

Beautiful filmic look from the Red Scarlet.

5. Why I Chose the GH4

Okay, so I made you read a lot of stuff before actually getting to heart of the matter. Sorry, but that's how these blog things work. So here's the logic behind my decision:

  • 4K for $1500 - the GH4 has the cheapest price for 4K acquisition. The C100 doesn't do 4k, neither does the BMCC or BMPCC. Outfitting the A7s for 4k would cost triple what I spent on the GH4.
  • Crop Factor - nailing tack sharp focus with a full frame sensor isn't always easy, especially in run and gun situations. I compared work I did with my 7D (1.6 crop factor) and my full frame 5D and found that my 7D images were sharper and in focus a larger percentage of the time. Do I really need two full frame sensor cameras? Nope.
  • The GH4 is mirrorless. It's a big deal.
  • I own a Ninja Blade which I can now use with my GH4 to record 10-bit 4:2:2 out.
  • I purchased the Metabones Speedbooster S so I could use my EF Canon and Rokinon lenses and I'm very pleased with the crop factor and the extra stop of light it provides.
  • 96fps is not too shabby
The GH4, Metabones Speedbooster, Rokinon Cine DS 14mm, and a new SSD for the Ninja Blade.

The GH4, Metabones Speedbooster, Rokinon Cine DS 14mm, and a new SSD for the Ninja Blade.

I've used the GH4 on three shoots so far and I've been pleased with the camera. There's also a wealth of info out there on how to set up the GH4, with plenty of people weighing in on their favorite customized settings. 96fps is a little grainy (and not the good kind) but the 4k image looks great. It's a very customizable camera and works well for what I do. Hopefully you can find the right camera for you as well.

-Sean

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