Technology doesn't have to be something that divides us from nature. It can be a tool through which we can explore the natural world...

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Brief History of Video - Part 2: The Panasonic Lumix GH4

"...yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on." Led Zeppelin
I had never owned a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. Any money that I had available  went to my camcorders and accessories. I knew that some stills cameras had video capability, but until recently, I turned my nose up at them. I had always preferred purpose designed video camcorders rather than even the full sensor 35mm that I noticed some film makers were going to. I asked Collin Orthner (of McBain Cameras in Red Deer) if he could shoot some video of a saw whet owl  for me with his Canon DSLR and I was impressed by its quality. I began to have second thoughts... If you are a beginner film maker, I definitely recommend thoroughly investigating both routes. What spurred my quest however was the issue of weight.
GH4, Rode microphone with"dead kitten" and 100 - 300mm lens.
I began to research the possibilities of DSLRs for video. One site that was very helpful was  and their "DSLR Cinematography Guide". Some browsing and talk with Collin Orthner led me to the Panasonic Lumix GH3 that some film makers were using. Collin introduced me to its smaller micro four thirds format.  Then I found out about 4K and UHD (Ultra High Definition) formats that were rumored, then confirmed to be coming in the new GH4. I put my money down and waited for my new camera to arrive and I haven't been disappointed. It isn't the total revelation that converting from SD to HD was, but it has been close to that experience.

Having a light weight rig was my goal and I have managed to achieve that. The GH4 body weighs in at a mere 560 grams (about 1.25 pounds). I bought two lenses - a Lumix Vario G 14-140mm /F4.0-5.6 which weighs 460 g and a 100-300mm/f4.0-5.6 lens, which weighs 520g. With both lenses, I am looking at a total of less than 3 and a half pounds and I have the option of just taking the one wider lens which would make it only two and a quarter pounds. There is a 2x crop factor involved with the micro 4/3 sensor which makes (with both lenses) my effective focal length 28 mm to 600mm .

The GH4 is a decent stills camera, too.
I am not going into a lot of detail here, but the Ultra High definition 4:2:0  video can be saved to the new high speed SD card (class 10, UHS 3) in either AVC, MP4 or MOV formats. At 24 frames per second you can shoot true 4K (4096 x 2160). I will probably be shooting in 30 fps UHD (3840 x 2160). The versatile camera has many excellent features which I won't go into here. I recommend that you check out Dave Dugdale's great review if you are interested at
The GH4 takes photos in jpeg and raw formats of various quality or both at once.

The GH4 also is a decent still camera but it is heavily designed around the video side, which suits me. Moving from a video camcorder to a DSLR means that I will need to modify my shooting style and some beloved features have been surrendered (though some of them may be retrievable with options). For one thing, I don't have a power zoom (a feature standard on any camcorder). For wildlife video this is a bit awkward and makes it harder to remain still while filming. I have worked at this though and still managed to capture some good video. I have purchased a tablet and downloaded the excellent free app which allows you to remotely operate and view the GH4. One major change involves the use of neutral density filters, which is a necessity when shooting video. It has devolved from flicking a switch (with my camcorder) to physically having to mount one on the lens or remove it depending on the lighting. I have managed to whittle my kit down to an ND8, circular polarizer and UV filter with a couple of adapter rings to get the combinations I want.
With practice, I have managed some wildlife footage (still taken from UHD video)
 Suffice to say that like any of my video cameras, I will have a light setup and a heavier setup (in the future) if I am to continue to use my GH4. I can think of many configurations. For my crossing of the Rocky mountains, I have bought a small Rode stereo microphone which mounts in the hot shoe. I am looking at a very lightweight fluid head and carbon fiber tripod to complete my rig. Some extra batteries and some extra memory should complete this simple setup.
Ultra High definition video is great for landscapes (still taken from UHD video)
I am confident that the added bonus of UHD quality will allow me to capture the plants, animals, geology and beautiful landscapes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in a manner that will do them justice. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences.