Sunday, April 5, 2015

First Test with the Panasonic GH4

I pre-ordered the Panasonic GH4 on March 10, 2014. I had gotten amazing images from the GH1, 2 and 3, but the addition of 4k video from the latest iteration of the mirrorless hybrid promised to be a huge leap forward in my goal to create images that looked like the Hollywood films I grew up with.

Fellow filmmaker Patrick Rea invited me to shoot his latest short film, entitled "House Mother", on my GH3. It was thought that the GH4 wouldn't ship by the time Patrick planned to shoot. But fate intervened, and the GH4 arrived the very morning of our first day of production. I picked up the camera from the UPS Customer Center and drove straight to the location with it and with my GH3. When I arrived, I asked Patrick if he wanted to live dangerously. I said, "I can pop in the battery from the GH3 and we can shoot the film in 4k if you want. "Let's do it." he replied. So I unboxed the camera, popped in a Gh3 battery and a Class 10 SD card, fiddled with the menus for 5 minutes, attached my SmallHD monitor and we began shooting…in 4k!
The tonality in the skin tones is one thing I can really notice. The extra resolution and the Cinelike gamma setting give skin tone a creaminess that the GH3 doesn't have. Below are some brief outtakes from the "House Mother" shoot. Contrast has been added in post and the color has been desaturated. Another thing: this is all available light at 800 ISO. Patrick Rea made another bold directorial choice to only use practical light sources and hand-held camera.

Outtakes - GH4
from Todd Norris on Vimeo.

A few weeks after that shoot, I finally got to do some exterior day shooting on my own. Nothing amazing, as I was shooting at the worst time of day, with the sun straight above, but it helped me see what kind of detail could remain in the highlights and shadows in such a contrasty situation. Again, better than the previous GH cameras.

Protest On The Plaza - GH4
from Todd Norris on Vimeo.

Here's the technical information for the clip above:
200 ISO
Contrast 0, Sharpness -5, Saturation -2, NR -5. Highlights -3.
Luminance Level: 0-255
Lenses: Lumix 14-140mm @f5.6 with an ND9 filter. Shutter 1/50th. Nikon F 85mm f1.8 @ f2.8 with 2 ND9 filters.
One thing I learned is how different the contrast and saturation are when using the Lumix lenses vs. the old Nikon lens. It's partly because I didn't have a lens hood for the Nikon 85mm,
but the Nikon has less contrast and saturation, which I had to add in post to match the Lumix lens.

In the future, I will create a separate setting for older Nikon lenses, with more contrast and more saturation.
What I may do is actually lower the Master Pedestal one or two notches when using the Nikon out in full sun.
Graded in Premiere Pro CC using Luma Curves to create an S-curve
and 3-Way Color Corrector to lower the black level on the Nikon shots.
Grain added with Filmconvert, but I did NOT use its film stock color. I set all that to 0%. Grain was set to 30%.
I have not found a film stock or source camera setting in Filmconvert that doesn't turn green foliage brown. It just can't do greens. Not with GH cameras anyway.
Since Panasonic's Cinelike color matrix is supposed to be film-like, I trusted that and stuck with those colors, which I find pleasing.
I must say, the zebra function on the GH4 really helped me nail the right exposure effortlessly on this shoot. I set them to 100%.

I look forward to getting more familiar with the camera and shooting much more footage with it. As I learn more about it, I will share my findings and my opinions.
Images from the GH4:

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