GH4 V-Log L: my thoughts
Much like the rest of GH4 owners, I’ve been watching the progress of V-Log since it was first announced nearly one year ago. In that time I have watched footage recorded by those close to Panasonic with eager anticipation. Then on September 1st 2015 they told us we would be able to get our hands on it.
This is where excitement turned to confusion both for the customer and Panasonic. Firstly for the customer there was no clear factual information on by who or how V-log would be delivered. What was clear was the fact that we would have to pay for the update (£79 in the UK). This kickstarted much anger on social media aimed at Panasonic. I personally didn’t care about paying for it. I read several conflicting reports and even noted several confusing social media posts by Panasonic themselves on how and when we would get it. Many of them turned out to be false. More confusion.
Secondly Panasonic slipped up big time. Some clever user noticed a back door accessible via the Panasonic mobile image app which allowed those who followed simple instructions to access and use V-log without any hacking or handing over money. Panasonic quickly went on a hilarious PR excerise telling us to update to firmware version 2.4 or the world would end! Nice try Panasonic. I happily shot my first V-log footage and was very impressed. I was one of the few I think! More on this later.
Eventually I was able to order a non-apocalyptic version of V-log L for £79 from Panasonic UK. Again this was not actually advertised anywhere, but thanks to a fellow user on social media I had the link. Long story short it arrived in the form of activation codes on a piece of paper taped to a card in a very large box. Why not a digital download? I now have an ‘official ‘ V-log installation on my GH4.
Anyway, enough of this verbiage. On to the good stuff. What does V-log do? Does it improve the Gh4? What follows are my findings and personal thoughts. You have the right to disagree. I don’t mind.
What does V-log do?
Simply it’s a flat profile that is less processed and is known as LOG. Canon called theirs C-log, Sony has S-Log and now Panasonic has V-log. The GH4 version is called V-Log L. The L stands for ‘lite’ as it is a cut down version of their full VariCam camera version. According to Panasonic we gain up to 2 stops of dynamic range. In reality it’s not easy to quantify this. A LOG image is not intended to be a delivery look. Rather it is intended to be graded and coloured to attain a final look. You can get my technical information here.
Personally I enjoy shooting and editing log profiles. I’ve shot and edited C-log, S-log and Blackmagic Film, so I was excited to get my hands on V-log. Up to this I had used the CineLike D profile on the GH4 and had never loved it’s baked-in look especially skin tones etc. I also found highlight roll-off to be very harsh. I shot a few quick V-Log tests in my garden and was immediately impressed by the improvements in all these areas over CineLike D.
Does it improve the GH4?
I’ve touched on this above. In terms of skin tones and highlights I have noticed a vast difference in comparison to CineLike D. I have never used the other included profiles so I can’t comment on those. Skin tones no longer have that ugly orangey yellowy mucky plasticy look. I always wondered how the engineers at Panasonic didn’t notice that! I’ve read that most other profiles on the camera exhibit similar characteristics.
Highlights have similarly been improved. I have found it much easier to retain highlight detail and V-log has a much nicer roll off curve.
Shadows also retain more detail, however the first thing I noticed was an increase in noise in these areas. After reading other users experiences and after my own testing I have found that overexposing by up to 2 stops helps reduce the visibility of noise. I also found that shooting at 800 ISO has helped. I noticed that the low-light failure that is the GH4 is producing cleaner footage at higher ISOs. Others are reporting great results at 1600 and higher ISOs.
These screenshots are from a shoot in a typical low light location that I find myself filming regularly as part of my work. They were shot at 800 to 1250 ISO and 1 to 2 stops overexposed. The lenses used were a fast Zeiss 25mm f2 and 50mm f1.4 on a Speedbooster XL. I love this combo! They were graded and coloured in Final Cuto Pro X using ColorFinale. I applied the Panasonic supplied V-Log to REC709 LUT and then adjusted the curves and colour balance. I don’t own an external recorder so all these clips were recorded internally in 8 bit 4.2.0. colour space.
I shot the following 2 videos to test the ability of V-Log in different weather conditions. The camera setup, grading and colouring is the same as that described above.
Finally here are some screenshots from interviews I have shot using V-Log. I can say with full confidence that the skin tones are vastly improved and they are closer to those of my Canon C100 and Pocket Camera. Again these are recorded at 800 ISO and 2 stops over exposed with the same grading as above.
Of course there are issues! Its technology. Whether its mobile phones or cars there are always issues.
I was an early Canon C100 adopter and there were issues that raised their heads in relation to C-Log and 8 bit recording – noise and macro-blocking. I read of many issues with S-log 2 on the Sony A7s when first available – mainly excessive noise. Similarly Panasonic’s V-log L implementation on the GH4 has these issues – noise and macro-blocking and some colour-shift. I all cases users cried foul! However, when the dust settled users found that these issues could be worked around and mostly eliminated, whether through over-exposing, proper grading in post or recording to 10 bit external recorders. The same will happen with V-Log L. The fact the users expect perfection is laughable on cameras in this price range. Working with LOG profiles is not as easy as using the baked-in heavily processed profiles that manufacturers include with cameras that are designed to reduce noise and other issues. The bottom line is, if you want to shoot colourful clean video and avoid spend time grading and colouring in post, don’t use LOG. Simple.
I have been happily and confidently using V-Log on paying client projects since I could get my hands on it and I have learned to work with it as I did with C-Log, S-log and the Blackmagic Film profile. I instantly saw the increased dynamic range that gives the look and feel that I had grown to love on my Canon and Blackmagic cameras – more filmic images. I can’t go backwards to the look and limitations of Cinelike D or any of the other included profiles. I can fully recommend V-Log L and I suggest you try it for yourself.