The Panasonic GH4 is an awesome addition to nearly any video shooter’s bag, especially for those of us who have gotten used to DSLRs like the Canon 5D mark III and 7D. I’ve had a chance to take the GH4 out on a few shoots so far, and have some tips and tricks for getting great results in your video.
1. Get to know your shooting modes, and assign them to a custom button. There are HD modes, two 4K modes, an over/undercranking mode, and a crop mode/digital zoom feature. You don’t want to have to dig through menus to change from one to the next. I find myself switching between QHDp24 and 1080p variable a lot. If you’re only using the camera for video, you should assign all your custom buttons to useful video settings, like zebras and peaking, for example.
2. If you’re mixing and matching cameras on a multi-camera shoot, use the cropped sensor to your advantage. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L paired with the 2.3x crop of this camera makes for an incredible close up for live events. I even tried it with the 1.4x teleconverter and still felt like sharpness in 4K was acceptable at f/4.
There’s no easy way to get IS working, yet [Metabones now has an EF to MFT adapter that supports image stabilization!] but with a solid tripod, you’ll get shots you used to need a 500mm lens for.
3. Use that ISO! The GH4 native ISO is 800 according to Panasonic. It’s definitely the best option when shooting V-log. I think a native ISO of 400-640 would be more appropriate for 4K in the other picture settings. For a 1080p delivery I would be comfortable shooting almost everything pushed to 3200, as long as the footage was run through a denoiser. Video caps out at 6400 ISO, which looks significantly cleaner downsampled to 1080p than the Canon 5D mark III at 3200. Don’t forget to update to the latest firmware to take advantage of intermediate ISO settings, like 640. You’ll want a crazy fast lens or a speedbooster to make this the right camera for nighttime documentaries, bar and club shoots, etc. If you’re not used to shooting native ISO at 800, remember to bring an ND filter set with you pretty much everywhere.
4. Stay in 4K whenever you can. If you don’t need the higher frame rate, you’ll get a significantly better-looking final product than shooting at 1080p. Downsampling to 1080p in your editor is definitely the way to go. The other exception to this would be for rolling shutter. Pro tip: if you shoot at 96 FPS, 1/100 shutter in 1080p, and play back your footage at 4x speed in 23.976, rolling shutter is significantly reduced. You do give up a stop of light and the ability to record sound, though.
5. Sound is still a pain in the ears. If you only buy or rent one add-on for the GH4, consider a Rode VideoMic Pro. In my non-scientific testing, the preamps for the GH4 sounded pretty good vs. the 5D mark III, but it’s still nothing amazing. The lowest gain setting on the GH4 is much higher than Canon DSLRs, so you might not use the +20dB setting as much as you’re used to. If you’re using the GH4 in a studio setting and need audio, it’s probably easier to use the YAGH extension unit and record directly into camera, instead of using second system sound.
6. Focusing isn’t 2.4 times easier vs. a fullframe camera. You’ll still want a follow focus, and geared lenses, when possible. Yes, focusing at a specific f-stop is a bit easier, but I found myself shooting wider to better match the “film look” we’ve gotten used to from other cameras. Plus, 4K is even less forgiving than 1080p. I spent a lot of time between f/2 and 2.8, which seems like a reasonable aperture for the GH4.
7. Cinelike-D. For people who have been shooting on Panasonic, you’ve known about the Cine-D profile for a long time. It’s really the only picture profile I use for video. I keep the blacks pushed up slightly (+2) most of the time, except when I’m in murky or overcast lighting.
As cinematographers, we used to have to carefully choose which camera we bought, and screentest different models to decide which one would best suit our film’s look. As the bodies continue to get more affordable and portable, we gain the option of keeping more than one in the kit at a time. I can still see an advantage to keeping a 5D mark III in your bag (far superior stills, and so far no MFT glass equivalent to the options in the 16-24mm range). The a7S is a naturally well-paired camera with the GH4 as well, giving you unreal latitude and low light performance. The GH4’s killer feature, to me, is good-looking 4K in a camera body that’s only a little over a pound.
Posted by Jon Kline