Don't Buy a GH4
***2017 Update - If you can't afford the GH5, this is probably a great time to buy a used GH4 for cheap or wait until the GH5 is released in March and watch the price of a new GH4 drop. Read below to see if it's the right camera for you.
**UPDATE - I bought a Canon C100 Mark II and I've been shooting with it for the past 6 months. I know what you're thinking but if you only read what Sony fanboys or spec slaves write about this camera than you're missing out. No 4K - no problem. The entire Canon Cinema line is highly requested on jobs and the camera is a friggin workhorse. Skin tones amazing. Makes my GH4 look like a prosumer camera.
That’s right, kid. This article is for you. You want to make movies or maybe you think you’re gonna carve out riches with your awesome Youtube videos. But you just don’t know what camera to buy. Or maybe this article is aimed at the professional videographer who shoots corporate and wedding videos and is looking to upgrade from your mini-dv camera. (I recently saw a guy shooting a bar mitzvah on mini-dv... seriously).
So what’s wrong with the GH4? It shoots 4K, 96fps, has V-Log now, and is pretty damn affordable at about $1500. Did I mention the battery life is amazing? Seems like a real no-brainer, but here’s the info you’re missing. Depending on what you make, the GH4 may or may not be for you.
Are you a run and gun documentary filmmaker?
Without it’s expensive YAGH interface (which needs external power), the GH4 needs to be rigged. You’ll have to shoot dual system audio or have something like a Juicedlink Riggy to get input from your XLR mics. You can always slap a Rode Mic on if you’re just recording nat sound. I use the GH4 for doc filmmaking and having to rig it (you’ll need a cage) is a considerable pain in the ass. Just my opinion, but you should look at a used Canon C100 or C300, or the new C100 Mark II and let’s not forget about the Sony FS5 which will give you 4K (unlike these Canons). These cinema cameras will get you up an d running a lot faster and could be the difference between getting the shot and missing it.
Do you shoot corporate videos with short shooting schedules at locations you can’t scout beforehand and don’t have time to light?
Unfortunately, I do. I shoot an average of 50 Yelp videos a year. I head into a business and have 90 minutes to shoot an interview, a testimonial, and a whole bunch of b-roll which I edit into a 60 second spot. I often have enough time to light the interview and testimonial, but nowhere near enough time to light all my b-roll which would take considerable more planning and often times more space than is afforded me in what is typically a business operating during business hours.
I’m left to shoot in what sometimes could be a very dark interior (usually restaurants). The GH4 is not a low light camera. You can definitely play with your settings and turn off some features that add noise when shooting at higher ISO’s, but the grain produced is still ugly and problematic. I keep my Canon 5D Mark III in my pelican case for when I run into this situation. Although it’s image is softer, it can handle much higher ISO’s without noise than the GH4 can.
A great alternative for low light shooters is of course the Sony A7s and A7sii. The Canon C100 also performs very well in low light.
Do you shoot narrative?
The GH4 produces a lovely image when lit properly as does most cameras. But if you shoot a lot of narrative and are looking for shallow depth of field, you’ll have to work a little harder since the GH4 has a micro 4/3 sensor. I’ve added a Metabones Speedbooster which gives my Canon EF lenses one extra stop to help with my DOF. The BlackMagic Ursa Mini, BMCC, and BMPCC all have a more filmic quality for a price similar to that of the GH4.
Do you want to shoot RAW?
Who doesn’t? Limitless possibilities in post. Heaps of terabytes of footage. Hundreds and thousands spent on hard drives and RAIDS. Wait, that actually doesn’t sound that good.
The GH4 does not shoot RAW and never will. If RAW is really important and you want it cheap, look into the BMPCC for $1000 or the URSA Mini which may be released sometime soon. You can also use the magic lantern hack on a several Canon cameras for some RAW capabilities.
You Want An Inconspicuous, Small Camera You Can Just Shoot With
You like to capture images and moments and don’t want a large, bulky camera slowing you down or attracting attention. The GH4 without rigging is very small especially if you are using M43 lenses. In fact, if I ever took took it on a job minus the rigging, the small business owner would probably think I was joking around. Sometimes we need our cameras to look bulky and cumbersome because people assume the bigger the camera and the more stuff, the better the image quality and more pro we are. But as filmmakers, we know that our smaller DSLR and Mirrorless cameras can still provide amazing image quality in a tiny package.
The GH4 is solid camera. I’ve been shooting with it 3 to 4 times a week for the past year. As good as it is, for a little more money, there are some other really great choices (keep in mind that there are no perfect cameras). With the demand for cameras becoming greater and prices steadily decreasing, cinema cameras like the Ursa Mini 4.6K and 4K and the Sony FS5 seem to make a lot more sense than buying a DSLR or mirrorless unless you want a small package. The C100 and C100 Mark II are workhorse cameras, but I’m not sure I could justify the price for a C100 Mark II when the FS5 does a lot more for the same price, and the FS7 does a whole lot more for just a few thousand more.
However, if you are completely new to filmmaking, do yourself a favor - instead of blowing all your money on an expensive camera, get a low cost Canon DSLR, one fast lens, some lights, and learn how to tell a story. Buying an expensive camera that does more is not going to make anyone a better filmmaker or storyteller and at the end of the day that’s what an audience is looking for.
Own a GH4. Disagree with me? Tell me why in the comment section below.