The Panasonic GH4 – a week with the 5D killer, Part 1

I had the chance to shoot for a little over a week with Panasonic’s latest offering in the GH series, the GH4. I rented the camera, the Panasonic 12-35 / 2.8, along with bits and bobbles from Borrow Lenses. Being that it was my first time doing a rental from a house that ships items I want to mention how pleased I was with the process. They got the camera to my door nicely and since I wasn’t going to be coming home after I finished shooting I actually just mailed the box ahead to my destination. I was then able to simply slap the UPS return tag onto the box, pack it back up, and drop it off at FedEx once I was at my mid-journey location when the rental period was up. Super easy.

A bit about how I used it

I carried the camera with me as a run-and gun shooter for the week of the USA Pro Challenge, a major seven day pro-bicycle race. I was embedded with the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team for the week entire week. After the race ended we used it to do some on-location shooting for both interviews and moving shots of cyclists for a project with Pioneer Electronics. So, about 3/4 of what I shot was a grab and shoot situation, and the last 1/4 was planned with an assistant, but still very low maintenance the most lighting assistance that I had was a white reflector for interviews, otherwise it is all natural lighting. I mention this just to say that very little of my physical work went into getting the shots I did – which is important for me as I usually shoot alone or with only one assistant, without a grip or sound crew.

A bit about the lens

Panasonic's new(ish) line of HD lenses that are designed with video in mind, and the 12-35 2.8 is a gem of a standard lens.

I have been shooting with a few different Panasonic cameras for a while, mostly older models like a hacked GH1 which has become a go-to light weight body for gritty shots as well as more artsy projects, and a GF1 which has been my favorite personal travel camera for a few years now. With these little guys I usually just pack the fantastic 20/1.7, or the 14/2.5 and skip any thing else. I also regularly use my older Nikon AI, AIs, and G glass with an adapter. I hadn’t had the chance to use any of the Panasonic HD lenses with OIS until now, and I have to say that it worked really well for video. Assuming the camera would lock in on autofocus correctly, which it didn’t do very reliably, the lens had a nice ease-in to the focus point making it look almost like it was an intentional rack. The lens was lovely, gave amazing color, and provided nicely sharp images. I used an inexpensive (read=cheap) variable ND filter and shot at mostly 2.8 unless I needed more depth and even at that the sharpness was very usable – especially at on Cinema 4K. Clearly, one can use any MfT lens, or any lens you can get an adapter for as well on the GH4 – I wanted to try something that was easy and simple to use so I opted for this lens. I will say the one downside is that once you slap a step-up ring and a variable ND filter on it you lose the ability to put the bayonet mount lens hood, but there isn’t much avoiding of that beyond a proper matte box with flags.

Below are some screen caps from some video shots – all at Cinema 4K resolution. These are all straight out of the camera – zero color correction, shot at Cinema V color space.

I would say that overall the lens was a fantastic compliment for the GH4 to make it a nice run-and gun shooter. The weight is amazingly low but the overall feel is very pro and durable. As with all the Lumix lenses it has the obnoxious continuos focus wheel, which for some reason focuses beyond infinity. The only reason this really bothered me was that I found myself using manual focus more than the AF – not because of the lens but due to the unreliable focus tracking on the body. I think that the above screen caps go along way to show how sharp the lens is and how versatile it is when paired with the C4K resolution. I can easily say that this combo makes it feasible to actually pull a still from a video clip and use it. Obviously the shutter speed makes a difference depending on the type of footage, but overall – I think we might be verging on the best combo camera I’ve used.

A few more screen grabs at C4K resolution.
Stay tuned for Part 2 I’ll give some video examples, talk about what I liked, and how I think the GH4 might just be a game changer for not only my shooting style, but for my back because I can leave half my equipment at home now.

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