Six Months with the GH4

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(Not sure if you want to own a GH4? This article may help or it could quite possibly be a huge waste of your time. I'm not an expert on cameras and don't claim to be. I don't do fancy camera tests, but I do shoot something everyday whether it be personal or for work.)

BACKSTORY

Six months ago I purchased the Panasonic Lumix GH4 with a Metabones Speedbooster-S so I could use my Canon and Rokinon glass. I've shot close to 40 projects with it including two commercials purchased by Ad Council as well as spots for Hellmann's and Shell (don't judge me). Now I'll tell you what I think of the GH4 whether you want to hear it or not.

MY SETUP

Before I get going let me just tell you about my setup and what types of projects I normally shoot with my GH4.

My GH4 is surrounded by a Fhugen Honu Cage which was fairly inexpensive,  and has a lot of mounting points. Unfortunately, it's a little hard to see the top controls of the GH4 especially the dial which gives me pause when I'm switching between C1, C2 and C3 profiles. It has easy access to the battery and card slot but I have a pair of pro headphones which require a 1/4 to 1/8 inch adapter which is too big to fit inside the cage forcing me to use lower quality headphones for audio monitoring.

I mount my Atomos Ninja Blade to either the top of the cage or on my Jag-35 shoulder rig if I'm going handheld. I run my Sennheiser lavs through a Juicedlink MicroRiggy which I mount to the one of the three cold shoes on the top of the cage. I leave the Speedbooster on at all times and attach my Canon and Rokinon lenses to it.

Most of my work is commercial and corporate, but I also shoot a few narrative commercials a month. For the majority of the time, I need to keep my rig light and portable. For b-roll I occasionally mount my GH4 to a ball head on my Rhino 2" carbon slider but most of the time it's on my Sachtler Ace tripod or Jag-35 shoulder rig.

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SHOOTING PROFILES

There's a lot of possible shooting profiles available with the GH4. Each profile allows you to go in and tweak the contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, tint, and saturation as well as master pedestal and whole bunch of other confusing things. There's pretty much an endless number of blog posts where people tell you what they think are the best settings to use. I tried 32 different settings before I decided that this Noam Kroll guy has given the best advice (at least for me). This is a link to that advice (http://noamkroll.com/the-best-gh4-settings-for-video-why-you-shouldnt-be-tweaking-things-too-much/) but if you're fucking lazy than I'll sum it up: Shoot Cine-D or Cine-V depending on the situation to get a flat as look as possible so you can work some magic in post. Fingers are crossed that Panasonic will soon be releasing a new firmware update to the camera which will include V-Log (Panasonic's own version of a log setting which would be flatter than any setting you could dial in now). 

For now, my opinion is that while it's great to be able to tweak virtually any setting in your shooting profiles, there's definitely a learning curve for new adopters of this camera and you may want to fiddle with it before taking it out on a shoot. 

Lately I've been shooting with the Cine-V profile and starting my grade with deluts.

Lately I've been shooting with the Cine-V profile and starting my grade with deluts.

4K

One of the obvious attractions of the GH4 is its ability to shoot 4k internally. I'm not delivering any of my work in 4K, but the ability to crop in on shots, especially interviews shot wide, is a bonus. As far as the 4K goes, the file sizes are small and playback without a hitch in Adobe Premiere CC on my 3.4 Intel i7 iMac with 16GB of RAM.

I'm sure in the near enough future there will be more 4K monitors and TV's, but until then, for me at least, the benefits of 4K are marginal. If I owned a camera that didn't shoot internal 4K like a Sony A7s or a Canon C100 Mark II, it wouldn't be a big deal and certainly wouldn't cost me any jobs.

FRAME RATES

You can record 96 frames per second with the GH4. (FYI, you can also under-crank on the GH4 as well at 2fps.) I've shot 96fps on a few occasions, but I've found results to be noisy and sometimes blocky, even shooting at ISO 200. As with any camera that shoots at high frame rates, you have to watch your lighting and be prepared to deal with flicker in post. I find myself often just shooting at 48fps for a very natural looking slow-motion without flicker. The GH4 conforms footage in camera for you, so you can immediately play back your slow-mo footage. 

LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE

For some of my work, I need to utilize natural light to the best of my ability. The footage I've shot outdoors with the GH4, often with my Genus Fader ND attached to whatever lens I'm using, yields a beautiful image with reasonable dynamic range.

On the other hand, I shoot a lot of videos for restaurants around the NY and CT area, some of which are very dimly lit (sometimes for ambience). Due to the nature of my work, I often have limited time to shoot and I'm working around a restaurant staff at peak times during lunch or dinner service. Lighting is not option. Neither is turning up the ISO on the GH4. I start seeing a slight noise pattern at ISO 400, nasty noise at ISO 800, and crap at ISO 1600 and above.

Sure I've seen some low light tests with the GH4 on Vimeo that look pretty good. Well maybe those guys are really smart or something, because my low light footage on the GH4 doesn't look very good at all. That's why my Canon 5D Mark III stays in my case and is standby for low light situations.

OVERALL IMAGE

Don't buy the GH4 thinking a $1700 camera is going to compete with images made with the Red's and Alexa's of the world. If you have an eye for lighting you can produce great results with this camera, but it doesn't have that filmic look you get from Red and BlackMagic cameras.

BATTERY

What you've heard is true. Batteries last a very long time. I owned five batteries that I would swap in and out of my Canon 5d Mark III during a long days shoot. I only own two for the GH4 and even on long shoots I rarely need to swap them out.

GRADING

I've never been particularly good at grading my footage, but it's something that I've really started putting a lot of time into. I try to shoot my GH4 footage as flat as possible and have found a lot of success lately when starting my grade with James Miller's deluts luts. I recommend checking them out.

DID I MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION?

The GH4 is a pretty cool little camera. Shooting mirrorless is very welcome and having internal 4K is cool too, especially for such a low price. If you are really into M43, then there's some great lens out there for you including M43 primes made by Veydra. With such a low price point and a very compact size, the GH4 could easily be your A or B cam if you don't mind all the rigging. For me, I see it as a bridge camera that filled a need between my 5D Mark III and the next camera I'm going to purchase.

So, yes, it was a good purchase. I'm happy with the footage and the ease of use of the GH4. I'm contemplating purchasing a Nebulae Lite 4000 or DJI Ronin-M to use it with in the coming months.

However, looking forward at the cameras that will be released soon, the BlackMagic Ursa Mini with the new 4.6 sensor has myself and quite a few others excited. It's obviously a step up in price over the GH4 at $5000 and if you add in the viewfinder, CFast cards and shoulder mount you are looking at another $2500-3000. 

If you're still on the fence about buying a GH4 or something else, hopefully this helped. Due keep in mind there are some really interesting cameras you can buy right now like the Sony FS7, new cameras on the horizon (Sony A7rII), and some really great older cameras that are dropping in price like the Canon C300, C100, and Sony FS700.