Panasonic’s GH2: If you’re an aspiring filmmaker then you really really really have no excuse anymore
You’ve probably already heard some stuff about the GH2 and how great it is for video. I bought one and days later used it for a client project, and have since ran some tests. This camera is a big deal. Seriously, I can’t believe this thing exists… for the money, it just can’t be beat. For now at least.
Pictured here with the 14-42mm kit lens, and Fotodiox adapter which puts to use old analog SLR lenses I already done ownededed. Neato.
No need for me to go over all the technical specs, that’s what the entire rest of the internet’s for. Here’s the bits that matter most in regards to low-cost filmmaking (I could care less about it as a stills camera)…
- It has a swivel screen, which right off the bat will save lots of time and headache in a no-budget shooting situation. Otherwise there’d be some low/high/oddly angled shots you just wouldn’t be able to get without shelling out for an external monitor.
- The Micro Four Thirds format has a sensor that’s slightly smaller than the size of 35mm motion picture film, which means it has a depth of field that’s close to such. Spherical-lensed, 1:85 35mm cine film (the most common format up until the mid/late 90s) has an image area of about 21.95mm x 11.87mm, and the GH2’s sensor in video mode is 18.8mm x 10.6mm (though nowadays nearly all Hollywood non-digital acquired films are shot on 24.89mm x 13.45mm Super 35mm). In my opinion, the mega shallow depth of field obtainable with the Vistavision-sized 36mm x 24mm sensor of the Canon 5D Mark II, while a nice option, is unneeded 99% of the time for video. And once you start shooting actual dramatic/narrative setups with focus-pulling, you’ll appreciate having more breathing room, especially if it’s a no-budget situation where you can’t afford to lose takes to focus problems. Bottom line: the depth of field “shallowness” is beyond good enough.
- The video footage looks great. It doesn’t have the aliasing/moiré/pixel-skipping issues that Canon’s 5D Mark II and 7D have… thin diagonal lines are smooth and clean in the GH2. The rolling shutter isn’t too much of an issue, and the compression looks pretty good for AVCHD.
- Probably the best thing about the GH2 is that you can use almost any old lens on it. This is huge. Once you make the jump into shooting with interchangeable lenses, the cost of glass usually becomes half the money involved. The flange distance (from back of lens to sensor plane) on the GH2 is really short, way shorter than analog SLR or DSLR formats. So if you simply get a cheap $30-40 adapter (basically just a metal ring that puts the lens further away from the sensor plane), then you can choose from literally hundreds of great old cheap lenses from ebay, garage sales, craigslist, whatever. Like go search for old Nikon F-mount manual lenses on ebay and behold. And on top of that, since the smaller sensor uses only the center of the lens, that means you can usually even resort to using ultra cheapo bad lenses, since most lens problems occur around the edges (you’re also scaling down to, and resolving for, only 1920 x 1080 pixels for video, which is very low res compared to still photos, so lower grade lenses generally should still perform perceptually fine). Take all that money you save and put it to work in front of your lens in the form of props, costumes, locations, actors, whatever. Just note that the effective focal length of 35mm still lenses will be doubled on the GH2… ie. an old 50mm Pentax K-mount lens will look like a 100mm in your footage. So you may end up buying a Micro Four Thirds lens if you like short focal lengths. One more note about using old lenses: if you don’t already own some, I’d recommend going with the Nikon F-mount adapter since there’s a lot of great old cheap Nikon lenses. And an added bonus: if you later get a Canon camera, you can use those Nikon lenses on it with another adapter because the Nikon flange distance is shorter than Canon’s.
- The body is only $900. THAT’S JUST FARGING RIDICULOUS THAT YOU CAN GET A CAMERA THAT SPITS OUT FOOTAGE LIKE THIS FOR A PRICE LIKE THAT. I started out with super8, then Hi8 video, then 16mm, then DV, HD… all those formats & cameras had some kind of serious flaw in regards to cost versus quality, and what I see in the GH2 is none of that. This is by far the most bang for your buck I’ve ever seen. And I have a feeling we’ve kinda reached the ceiling for a while in that regard. So waiting around for something better & cheaper is probably not gonna yield anything other than wasted time.
$900 GH2 + $30 Pentax adapter + $220 Peleng 8mm lens = Footage that looks like this. Unheard of. You can peep the raw frame as 90% quality jpeg here.
Okay, so here’s the bad things about it…
- You gotta deal with the audio issue… either record double system with something like the Zoom H4n for $300, or plug the GH2 into a BeachTek box. Orrrrrr… if you already have a miniDV or whatever camcorder with decent audio, then you can use that to record audio. Having the visual reference in the audio footage also can make synching sound to picture faster.
- It’s usually out of stock, so finding one takes more legwork than just clicking five or six times in your browser. I have a feeling video production companies are buying them in three’s. I wonder if anyone has bought it not primarily for video… probably not, that’s what the Canons are for. REALTALK.
- Using multiple old lenses makes using filters complicated. If you’re shooting in direct sun and wanna open up your aperture wider than like f8, you’re gonna need an ND filter. So to not spend mucho bucks on multiple screw-mount ND filters for all the varied lens face sizes, you either need to invest in a matte box & rectangluar filters (very expensive), or get one set of ND filters in a big face size and a step-up ring for each of your lens face sizes (not as expensive).
Of course, there are many higher quality, better workflow video camera options out there (duh), but if you’re looking for a camera to try out filmmaking or up your game from HDV/etc with minimal financial risk, then straight up the GH2 is it. Feel lucky you weren’t born twenty years earlier. Or thirty. Or whatever, you know what I mean.