The GH4 – an ideal setup
I have been using the Panasonic GH4 for almost a year at the time of writing this. In that time it has been promoted to my number 1 camera for commercial and corporate video production. It was bought as a second camera to compliment a Canon C100 but soon made my ownership of that great camera look rather pointless. I have now gone full circle in that I started my video production career with 1/3″ chip shoulder mount camcorders, then moved to Canon DSLRs, then the C100 and now I’ve returned to a DSLR in the form of the GH4.
For me the GH4 has everything in one package. A 4k and HD camera with slo-mo video features plus a great stills camera. The C100 produced a very beautiful image but at 4 times the price of the GH4 it lacked a lot – slo-mo, a decent EVF, 4k. Conversely the GH4 has all of this plus the LCD and EVF are very good. I eventually sold the C100 and replaced it with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for 2 camera interview setups.
Anyway enough with the comparisons, on to my current setup. What follows is a brief list of items I have added to make the GH4 the ideal camera solution for my needs as a professional videographer.
My main area of video production is commercial promotional type projects for businesses and design agencies. This tends to follow a simple formula of filming interviews (2 camera setup) and a lot of cutaways. The C100 was ideal for interviews as it had excellent built in sound recording capabilities so one of the first things I looked into was sound recording on the GH4. After a lot of research online many GH4 owners commented on how good the GH4’s internal audio recording was, and after testing this myself I was confident I would be able to do without using an external audio recorder. But there was one snag – adjusting the sound levels during recording was not easy so I went back to the internet and found an article by Suggestion of Motion, another GH4 user. He reviewed the Beachtek MCC-2 a 2 channel passive sound attenuation controller. It allows the adjustment of audio levels during recording. Perfect. For some the only downside maybe its 3.5mm inputs – the lack of XLR input and no phantom power could be a problem. For me its simple as my Sennheiser Wireless Mics come with the option of XLR or 3.5mm cables, but I had more difficulty finding a long enough 3.5mm to XLR cable for my Shotgun Boom mic. I found one that works on Amazon.
Some key features of the MCC-2 are the cold-shoe slots on the top and sides meaning you can point a DSLR shotgun mic on top. It made of metal meaning its very sturdy and also very light. It is passive so it doesn’t require batteries or power. You can control 2 separate inputs at the same time, however, the signal is recorded to one track in the camera. On the GH4 I have the Mic Level Adjust set to -4dB and Mic Limter set to ON to avoid peaking. I’ve found the sound to be perfectly good for interview situations.
The GH4 is a MFT camera meaning it requires MFT lenses or an adaptor if you want to use Canon EF or Nikon mount lenses. To use my collection of Canon EF and Zeiss EF lenses a Metabones Speedbooster for the GH4 was the only option as I wanted full electronic control of aperture and optical stabilisation. Autofocus is not needed as I always use manual focus for video shooting. I tried a couple of cheaper non electronic adapters but the lack of aperture control was a pain. These cheaper adaptors would work well if you have Samyang Cine lenses with manual aperture adjustment.
When shooting outside you’ll want to control the amount of light hitting the camera sensor and you don’t want be closing your lenses down to f22 or more to achieve this. The C100 had built in ND filters which helped keep the lens aperture at usable levels and obtain that nice Depth of Field look everyone is after. On the GH4 I needed a 3rd party solution. I went with the Tiffen 77mm Variable ND screw-on filter based on recommendations by other reviewers. With the twist of the filter you can control light entering the lens from 2 to 8 stops. I’ve used this on the sunniest of days without any problems. The Tiffen is relatively inexpensive although there are cheaper alternatives on the market. I also recommend buying the 77mm VariND and using step-up rings to attach it to your lenses. This means you won’t have to buy more than one filter. I have lenses with filter threads ranging from 58mm to 72mm and so the use of cheap step-up adaptors means I can easily swap the VariND from lens to lens. I also bought cheap 77mm lens caps that allow me to keep the step-up rings attached permanently to the lenses.
To be honest this is entirely optional. You could simple stack the Beachtek MCC-2 and Sennheiser Receiver on the cameras hot shoe. However, for me the GH4 looks a little too small and fragile and in my opinion needs a cage. I went with the Viewfactor Contineo GH4 cage which is made and shipped from the USA. Check out this review by DSLR Video Shooter to see why I chose the cage over the cheaper varieties on the market. I love it as its light, well made and adds very little girth to the overall footprint of the camera.
The Gh4 is a very versatile camera. Its a real swiss army knife. I always shoot 4k which gives me reframing options in post. I can quickly switch to slo-mo. I can quickly set up and record an interview and control the sound levels. I’ve set the function buttons to suit these quick changes. The camera is also light and compact enough to mount on a mini jib, or my CameTV 7800 gimbal. There are of course cameras with better low-light performance – the C100 is one example – and cameras like the Sony FS7 and the upcoming URSA Mini with 4k slo-mo and RAW capabilities, however, with the promised V-Log firmware update coming soon, I can see myself using the GH4 for a the foreseeable future.