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Tools

Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

Needables
  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz
Friday
May162014

A GH4 in the Hand vs. Sony a7S Preorder

I returned my GH4 and pre-ordered a Sony a7S.

It’s Not You GH4, it’s Me

After shooting very few tests with a small handful of lenses, including full-frame glass on a Metabones speedbooster, I packed up my Panasonic GH4 and sent it back to B&H. As much as I loved the controls, the form-factor, the variable frame rates and 4K sharpness, I couldn’t fall in love with the image quality.

But I came here not to bury the GH4, but to praise it. It’s a freaking awesome little camera. Here are just a few highlights:

  • After years of shooting with Canon DSLRs, having an electronic viewfinder with peaking, zebras, and even functional touch-to-focus was beyond refreshing.
  • I even put the little guy on my stabilizer and experimented with using autofocus. It was easy to set up an autofocus zone at a custom position and size within the frame, and the camera would quietly and smoothly focus the Vario 12–35 ƒ2.8 zoom lens on the subject, keeping up with all but the most abrupt of movements. Truly useful autofocus.
  • Variable frame rates are handled in a lovely way. You do have to dig in a menu for them, but once there, you have all the funky speeds you could want, including the all-important 22. Yes, 96 fps is a bit soft. But dude. 96 fps. And you can see your slow or fast motion playing back on the sharp, highly-positionable touch LCD.

A Crushing Blow

Ultimately, what doomed the GH4 for me was (what I perceived to be) its lack of dynamic range. Even after flattening out the image with the ample picture stye controls, my GH4 footage felt like reversal, not a neg. It felt crunchier and more brittle than even the footage from my 5D Mark III.

That, combined with a noisy image that didn’t degrade well in low-light situations, made me feel like the GH4 just wasn’t quite cinematically making up for its smaller sensor. Even with a Metabones speedbooster and a fast 50, I couldn’t quite coax the sexiness out of it.

To be crystal clear: The GH4 is a great camera. It just wasn’t for me.

For real, thoughful reviews of the GH4, check out the epic, detailed review at Cameralabs and Philip Bloom’s evolving video review.

You can never get enough of what you don’t need.

It’s easy to pick a camera for a particular project. But in the ever-changing world of tiny, affordable digital cinema cameras, if you don’t have a shoot on the calendar with specific camera requirements, then no camera will seem adequate. There will always be a “next camera,” the one that gets to be perfect in your mind rather than imperfect in your hand.

For many, that camera right now is the Sony a7S. I haven’t written about this little mirrorless marvel here yet, but you’ve heard all about it, I’m sure. It’s the latest in Sony’s line of impossibly-slim full-frame mirrorless cameras. It shoots 1080p video internally at up to 60 fps, and 4K 24p to an external recorder.

But what excites me most about it is that it seems to have the most remarkable low-light capability of any camera on the market (owing, presumably, to the gigantic gapless photosites on its modestly-megapixeled, 5D-sized sensor). Yes, this is fun for the stunt of turning night into day, but in practical terms this means low noise at normal light levels. And this little deck of cards with a lens mount shoots log. Which means it wants to be graded.

I’m fully aware that I’ve caught a case of next-camera syndrome here. I’ll let you know if the a7S is the cure, or just another symptom.

The Sony a7S is $2,500 USD and available for pre-order at Amazon and B&H.

Monday
May052014

Oscar at 96 fps

Dogsitting. Yard dug up for future lawn. Panasonic GH4 with Panasonic Vario 12–35 F2.8. Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 with new S-Curve tool. Ukulele.

So, obvously:

Saturday
May032014

Vincent Laforet’s Directing Motion Tour

I’d been trying to figure out how best to pimp my friend Vincent Laforet’s new Directing Motion workshop tour, but luckily for me, Philip Bloom has done it perfectly.

31 cities all across the US, from May 6 to July 13th. If you can, go.

Monday
Apr282014

GH4 4K and Slow Motion Samples

My buddy Gordon Laing of Camerlabs came to town, with one of the few pre-production Panasonic GH4 bodies in hand.

Naturally, we dranks some beers and ate some Chairman Bao.

We also grabbed a few test shots. Nothing too special, but I thought I’d share them here.

First things first: Having held and operated the GH4, I’m more enthusiastic about owning one than anyone should be based on this hastily-shot footage alone. The camera is capable of much better.

We played with 96fps (1080p) at the Ferry Building. The 96fps mode is a bit soft, with some color moiré. It seems (speculating here) that the camera sub-samples the sensor a bit to achieve this frame rate. Still, 96fps is fun as heck. If we’d had more time, I would have played with the synchro-scan menu to try to reduce the flicker.

At Off The Grid, we shot some ISO 800 4K. Or rather, we shot UHD (3840x2160), because it seems that 4K (4096 x 2160) is only avaiable at 24.0 fps mode, not at 23.976—which is a bummer of a (seemingly artificial) limitation. There are plenty of reasons to shoot true 4K at 23.976.

Other observations:

  • Even after choosing CINE-LIKE D, I was still able to adjust custom picture settings. Of course I turned the contrast all the way down, and sharpness too. But I didn’t have time to test these settings.
  • Off The Grid shut us down right away when they saw my Redrock Micro Eyespye Deluxe rig. So we packed it up and kept shooting video, using the GH4’s viewfinder. This worked surprsingly well. Holding the little GH4 with the tiny Panasonic 25mm f1.4 lens up to your eye provides great stability, and the viewfinder is plenty sharp for focusing, especially with the handy peaking feature. It’s a lot different than holding an SLR out from your body so you can see the rear LCD.

B&H charged my card this morning for my GH4 pre-order, so here’s hoping I’ll be able to shoot some better footage very soon.

You can order the GH4 from B&H or Amazon. Read the full Cameralabs review.