With the arrival of the GH3 many people might be asking why is Panasonic so concerned with improving the camera as a videography camera. Was the GH2 so good at videography? Well, this week I have had the honor of shooting an event that had me filming 13 hours a day, for 4 days straight- WOW, what a long job- well compared to most video shoots. It is not the first, and it won’t be the last, time I have used the GH2 for videography, but after such an intense amount of work I felt like writing a blog about it.
First off, I am using the GH2 because I love the camera and since I have had to fly with my equipment, it’s size is optimal. Another videographer, my partner, is using the much loved Sony FS-100, which I have not used before but have always referred to as “the camera I should have bought.” Why? Because it is a dedicated videography camera with unmatched low light capability. I now am retracting such a thought because the GH2 is holding up very well and always manages to impress me. I am sticking by my original statement, that the GH2 is a great videography camera, and here is why:
First of all, besides low-light situations, I feel the two cameras are very similar in the amount of detail they resolve. Some accuse the GH2 of being too sharp, not cinematic, but for video documentation this is a large plus. Many of the reasons that people discount the GH2 as a good cinema camera are the exact reasons that make it such a great videography camera; more on this later. Clients really appreciate a sharp looking image that is closer to reality. Most of my clients love the detailed and realistic look of the camera, and maybe they would agree with me that the Canon competition is just too soft and saturated with color… maybe.
The color on the GH2 is awful. I admit, the GH2 can get ugly, exspecially when lacking light and when not setup properly. I have seen all too often people use the nostalgic scene file to get more dynamic range, and it looks terrible. I use smooth, and I always custom set my white balance with a color passport, and then I dial in a color matrix that looks good (mostly -green) and then it looks just as good, but with less depth of color as other competing cameras. It takes babying, and that is annoying and actually a negative to videography, but still, this camera has very accurate color to my eyes and the flim-flam about it not having good color is bs and bad knowledge. It would be better to have a camera you can leave in Auto mode and just hit the red button, right. This is what videography is, a camera on sticks and you go smoke! Shame… For example, this location I am shooting in has windows, but also relies on heavy indoor lights. These indoor lights are both tungsten and blue fluorescent light, so the color is unbearably mixed. But by careful adjustment, it looks just like what my eye sees.
Unlike some other brand of cameras, the moire and noise are at a minimum. Not gone, but almost missing. For a large chip camera this is great. Traditionally, small sensor cameras have been used for videography and news, this is meant to increase depth of field, because you don’t know how things are going to move and therefore your subject should stay in focus, and with smaller sensors you get more zoom range, oh and of course smaller sensors are easier to make. Many times available light isn’t enough, so having a large amount of depth of field is perfect at f/1.4. The 4/3 sensor is a unique beast because although it is only half the size of a full frame DSLR, it can still maintain a shallow depth of field. Many attest that the depth of field is not shallow, but when pulling critical focus you notice that it is shallow enough to ruin a shot. But, with wide angle lenses, or telephoto lenses focused far away, the depth of field dramatically increases and all of sudden you have a more traditional videographer camera, but one that can actually achieve shallow depth of field at times. For weddings, which I never do, I might still use a full frame as a B camera because shallow will sell, but for videography of events the GH2 will save your @$%. A long time ago, when I first bought the camera, I though that it wouldn’t’ be good for videography because of the shallow depth of field. Now I know it is perfect, because it creates a pleasant image without the full frame fuzzy face fears.
“The ergonomics of the GH2 are awful;” some say (although I love the camera’s layout of course). Have you seen the FS-100??? This thing was designed by a sadistic 4 year old. The screen is too awkward, the buttons are numerous and small with nothing jutting out. How are the GH2 buttons bigger when the camera is half the size??? The cold shoe mount if flimsy and bounces around when mics and light are put on it??? The GH2 is more solid because it’s molded right on the body. The Fs-100 does allow more contorl whilst recording, this is good. GH2 is a stills camera with video ability, the fs-100 has more buttons that do better things. But c’mon Sony, can you make it look like a camera next time? And I”m 6’1,” and you’ll never hear me complain the camera is too small for my hands, it is perfect.
But the battery door is jammed under my tripod plate. Anyone who does videography with a GH2 knows this issue. You could by a special quick release plate for a 100 bucks…ick. So check out this picture. I use a camera bracket to mount it off my tripod and that way the battery is easy to get to. I can eject it and put in a new one with no issues. And thanks to the great articulation of the screen, I don’t have issues with perspective. This camera bracket is so useful for many jobs, especially with a magic arm.
But who wants to change batteries every 15 minutes? Well, this is a joke. Many say the GH2 battery is not good enough. True, compared to the 5 pound DSLRs and camcorders with their battery packs it is not as good. But I am recording for 2 hours and 30 minutes on one battery, not a low amount of time at all. The FS-100 we used had 4 batteries, but can only record up to 2 hours on the large batteries, and they are a little more than twice the Gh2’s batteries size! As I said, this is the first time I have been around this camera- but I am really shocked by this fact. I thought it would record much longer on a battery, and we ended up having to plug it into the wall. I had a Panasonic HMC80, and it recorded up to 7 hours on one battery- why can’t this camera? They use the same codec, so I’m not becoming a Sony fan-boy here. Possibly they were third party, correct me if you have a different experience.
Furthermore, the GH2 records up to 5 hours (NTSC only) on my 32 GB card. This is great, I just plug it in the wall and let it run on while I go online and write blogs. This ties the FS-100 and other cameras in maximum record time. I find this really surprising since it is not a video camera. Of course, we know a lot of people are hack crazy with the GH2, they want to shoot at 200mbps for everything- especially landscapes? Well, I don’t know…because…uhh….I don’t notice a big difference frankly. Usually, when you use a new program or try a camera’s new features the difference is noticeable; the hacks, just… aren’t so much. Some say the reds are better… but I don’t think any hack changes the color sub-sampling, do they- no. And more mbps means better color grading, yes. But am I going to color grade my videography- not really, that’s why I get the color right in the first place, so I don’t have to waste all that time with rendering out color grades, and time is $. Maybe for fast action I would use a more GOPs or higher bit rate and the higher ISO limit the hack gives can come in handy. Bur for most things, using 720p at the lowest bit rate setting is perfect for DVD distribution. You also must remember that AVCHD was considered, when it first came out, to be 3x better than previous generation codecs, and most of those where only 25 to 50 Mbps. So at 25mbps AVCHD could be considered equal to 75 mbps. So if I shoot at 15mbps I am really shooting 45mbps- right? No, but maybe it will make some Mbps junkies feel better.
Although the m4/3 standard is new, it has many good lenses and you can fit many old manaul focus lenses on it. I use manual focus a lot of videography because at least one camera is going to stay still and capture a wide angle of action. Even for movement shots continuous focus has low fidelity and I still prefer manual focus for all camera brands and lenses. So the GH2 has the lions share of choices in this respect. As well as the FS100, which has a similar flange depth.
OIS and continuous focus- The bells and whistles on this camera work great. I’m not sure which manufacturer gives the best image stabilizer, and some say Olympus IBIS, IBIS, IBIS, IBIS all the time. But OIS works great, like really blow your mind great. I think Panasonic excels at video work, because with stills, I don’t actually ever notice the OIS; but when I shoot videos, oh how it smooths out the rocks under my dolly tracks. Also, the continuous focus, although stupid at times, works 5 times better than most of the competition. Ah hem, Canon– is this camera really trying to focus????
ETC mode- So simple yet so important. What is better than having two fast primes in your pocket? The ability to make them teleconvert 2x with just a touch of the button. I personally carry a 12mm and a 50mm in my pocket, so that they become 24mm and 100mm receptively. This gives me 4 fast primes.
The limitations of no XLR or proper 1/4″ inputs are not reasonable complaints. For most events I simply run a mixer into the sound system and the camera’s sound is simply for post-syncing. At no point in my career have I thought cheap preamps from a camcorder sounded good and have I never ever wanted to run into just a camera. For doc work yes, I do, because you need to stay mobile and that is just the way it is. But for any other project sound should not be an after though, a mic just laying around picking up everything- but it should be an art form in itself. For event videography, an on-camera mic is at the most needed to just catch ambience or some diegetic sound. At this long event we recorded, and with many jobs, we do not have the luxury of a mixer (which is what most people probably deal with), so it comes down to the FS-100’s XLR inputs. Well, to my surprise the quality of the sound from the FS-100 is not very good. In fact, when we pluged the mic into both cameras and recorded, we found that the GH2’s sound is better!!!! This is shocking; and I wouldn’t believe it if I had read it on some random blog. Try it out, it’s up to you to decide.
Oh yeah, and it takes stills. I hear a lot of snobs say either: “I make movies, I don’t take stills.” or “I don’t have children, I don’t want my photo camera to do video.” Anyway, both are stupid for completely obvious reasons and it is most important to note that in almost every job I use stills. Why? Because it can be cut in, because I can use stills to create DVD menus or covers, because I can use stills to make any graphic for either industrial, corporate, or event videos. I’ve even, wait, wait… been paid for my GH2 stills. What? Clients see me snapping photos of this and that, and they want it for their website or some company meeting. It really works guys. P.S. You can also take picture of where you put your tripod, so the next day when you have to re-setup you can just look at the exact placement.
Now the biggest joke of videography is that it doesn’t pay well, so most everybody uses the cheapest cameras. It is easy to pick up work, and it doesn’t require as much expertise, though if you know what you’re doing it turns out pretty good and you deserves better pay. But most of the time money isn’t even available and the lowest bidder wins and that bidder will be using A CHEAP CAMERA. Cheap cameras have less dynamic range and worse low-light performance, and usually 1/4″ sensors. Events have terrible lighting and need lots of dynamic range to cover the hot spot lights and deep shadows people trip into. So, it comes down to an equation, what price gives me the most dynamic range. Is 1.5 stops of dynamic range worth 4000 dollars? I should use a Panavision Genesis for best dynamic range right, so I need one of those for this dance recital, right? Well, okay, but that’s not going to happen. It would be wrong to think cheap jobs need expensive cameras and expensive jobs can use cheap cameras- but that’s just not the way it is. So in reality, I like to use 2-3 cameras per event, it just works better that way and doing this was essential in the days of tape. Now, if I use 3 different cameras, the colors are all different, usually a huge problem. But if I use three of the same cameras, then the color should be, and usually is if done right with white balance cards, the same. So, should I spend 15,000 for three FS-100s, or 3,000 for 3 GH2s. Think about what money you will get back when A- they become obsolete or B- you get better paying jobs and buy an Arri Alexa because you saved money and did it right with a cheaper, slightly lesser, but well equipped camera.
So, although the FS-100 is a better camera than the GH2, I don’t think it is worth the price. But really, I owe Panasonic a lot of money, I paid too little for the GH2. I was coming from an HVX-200/XHA1 world and the GH2 was way cheaper and obviously better. Now, a bigger debate is how much narrative work will you do with your camera. If you will be doing that, the GH2 could impress you, but if you can afford an FS-100, go for it. Commercial work, that is a personal decision, I wouldn’t complain if I had either camera.
Now with the GH3 coming, we might see a huge improvement in the sensor and it might really shame the FS-100 and other similar cameras. The GH3 will supposedly offer many of the missing features that camcorders have. With a supposed future upgrades we might get peaking, zebra stripes, and …well XLRs for those who do docs. The addition of time code, more battery life, and more Mbps options will really boost up the camera and with the right lens we can go outside as long as it isn’t down pouring. What bigger camcorder offers all this for $2,000? I don’t know any.