Reader, Ken, helps me open a new bag of worms. "Do I miss the GH4?" Do I feel I have the right tools for the job? (worms no longer come in cans....).

August. Every day over 100(f). This is the month to spend time at Barton Springs.

Everything seems to move so fast for photographers and videographers and yet everything seems to move glacially slowly for client adaptation. Get photographers or videographers together and many times the subject of conversation circles around to the latest technologies; and is accompanied with the implicit understanding that we must continually upgrade to the latest stuff just to survive in some sort of ultra-Darwinian marketplace (wrong assumption, IMHO). I'm a part-time victim of that process. I buy into the excitement and fear of tech advances and then I rationalize my way back out again. I sing the praises of the Nikon D810 and then do a wonderful job on a project with the tiny Olympus cameras. In the end it helps that I am married to an award winning, and very wise, graphic designer. 

She is currently working in a large, good ad agency in Austin, Texas. She is part of a team working on national and international ads. Her point of view on gear and camera tech?: Nobody in Advertising Cares as Long as the Image Looks Great.  And when she says, "Looks Great." she is never talking about resolution or even dynamic range but always about: gesture, pose, expression, color design, composition, propping, styling and timing. People who work with images everyday in their jobs and are responsible for knowing how things will print and how they will look on posters, or brochures, or as tiny web snippets, have long known, or sensed, that our cameras hit the point of sufficiency years ago. They laugh at us for worrying about the difference between 16 pixels and 18 pixels or 24 pixels. Doesn't matter as long as the image looks great. 

Let me explain the term: sufficiency. 

The first time I read it I was over on Ming Thein's website reading some
stuff he'd posted. He outlined his concept of sufficiency as being camera parameters that delivered good enough files to be used almost universally. We'll both admit that there are situations when large prints for trade shows or display may need to be made with higher resolution cameras (the higher the better?) but most of the time even prints we think of as large are easily handled by five year old technology. I'd go so far as to say that when 20+ megapixel, full frame cameras hit the market we found ourselves at the point of "this could conceivably be the last camera I need." That, of course, presumes that the camera doesn't fall apart in your hands, over time, and the sensor doesn't oxidize...

I own a D810 and a D750 and two EM5.2s. I've owned lots of digital cameras. Unless the commercial, printing industry is revolutionized (and pricing pressures are preventing a lot of R&D in that space) any of those cameras deliver files that deliver quality far in excess to the requirements of the media, even when size interpolated. We could stop now and be fine for years to come. But there is the siren song of "even better." 

And this brings me back to Ken's question:

Kirk, I applaud your simplification of bodies to two Nikon and two Olympus. I'm curious, now that video is becoming a larger portion of your work if there are times you wish you still had the GH4's or what if any advantage they may offer you at times that your current setup does not?

The succinct answer is: No. At the time I embraced the Panasonic GH4 it was the only hybrid camera that did 4K video, in-camera. It wrote the files to an internal SD card. The GH4 also produced 1080p files that were much more detailed and higher quality than the other DSLRs and mirrorless cameras at that time. As far as handling goes the inclusion of zebras and focus peaking was nice, as was the ample battery reserve. I thought 4K would be on the lips of every client. That every encounter would leverage the power of the great 4K imaging. But it wasn't true. The issue is that clients have enormous infrastructure investments in HD level presentation and they aren't rushing to upgrade that until 4K becomes a broadcast and AV standard all over the place. 

I'd feel differently if I was shooting movies or for television where I might need to re-purpose my programming for new formats. But we are marketing to corporations that use the moving images for their websites (mostly) and for presentation via monitors and in-house projectors. If we shoot a project today it will be obsolete in two years. The market for the goods or services involved will have moved on to a new set of products and services. The shelf life of the content doesn't justify the new, favorite term "future-proofing" when it comes to advertising and corporate video. 

The argument for continuing with the GH4 is a strong one based on the very, very good 1080p performance of the camera and, had other cameras (Nikon) not improved the video they were selling at the time the GH4 came out, I wouldn't have felt comfortable letting go of that camera for my video work. But while the GH4 is a great tool every camera is a series of compromises and the camera you end up with reflects which compromises work for you and your work. 

I am still in the testing period with the D750 from Nikon but I can make some general observations knowing that the performance is very similar to what comes out of the D810. The big compromise I've made in selecting the Nikons over the GH4 is the loss of 4k. No way around it. But here's what I think I've gained: The bigger sensor size of the Nikon gives me a lot more control over depth of field. I think about depth of field even more in video than I do in stills because with a moving camera every second has the potential for new distractions in the background. 

The second thing I gain is simplification. I understand the menus on the Nikon and I can use them more quickly than I can the GH4. I'm also a simplistic shooter in video and I don't want or need to be setting time code or pedestals, etc. My limited technical knowledge means that giving me a lot more options just gives me more opportunities to shoot myself in the foot. 

Where things are equal: Believe it or not, the Nikon D810 and D750 are as detailed in 1080p as the GH4 and have a nicer overall look with better colors. I like the flat profile better than I liked the Cine V and Cine D profiles that were resident in the GH4s when I used them. I am not a sophisticated enough color grader to shoot and subsequently edit S-Log. I bring the Nikon flat files into Final Cut Pro X and I can make good changes to them and they don't fall apart. In fact, they are easier to color and contrast correct than the files I got from the Panasonic. Especially with flesh tones. 

I'd love to say that I'm so advanced a video shooter that I can handhold everything and move and still make the visual stuff compelling and competent but I'm still mostly a tripod/fluid head video shooter. The upside is that my video is stable and it's easy to use an external monitor that gives me the other thing I liked in the GH4, and that's focus peaking. 

Everything is a compromise. I'll haul out the Olympus cameras to shoot video if we're going to make everything with a hand held aesthetic; the five axis IS is just too good to pass up. Its files, when locked down on a tripod and compared to video shot in the same way with the Panasonic or Nikons might not be as good, in terms of detail and overall color, but it's really not that far off and in a project where that fluid, hand held look is called for it's the perfect compromise over the bigger rigs and the external stabilizers. 

Where I really like the Nikons as video platforms is in the lens choice. I really like the "character" of some of the lenses in my collection. I love being able to shoot an interview with the old, manual focus 105mm f2.5 lens. It feels different from today's lenses, in a good way. And I like that the angle of view is identical when I switch from stills to video.

I like being about to shoot fast moving video with the 24-120mm f4.0 on the front of either camera because it's generally all the range I want and it's a good lens. 

I could make work with either camera system. Probably any camera system. I could make sellable, effective images and videos with products from Sony, Canon, Olympus, Nikon, Canon and Samsung. But right now I like the simplicity of shooting with one, all encompassing, professional system. It is streamlining my business and making decision-making so much simpler. 

I'm happy with the quality of video I am getting out of the Nikon's right now. If I felt the need for a higher quality level or I got asked to shoot a lot of stuff outdoors in hard light I'd buy one of the Atomos digital recorders and take advantage of the fact that both the Nikons can output various less compressed files (than the camera's codec) and do so at 4:2:2 color instead of 4:2:0 color. It would make my workflow more ponderous but if it's right for the project I'd consider it a normal course of business investment. 

Right now I'm trying not to let me gear lust exceed the level at which I am able to operate in video right now. I can light, shoot and do audio for really nice, interior interview projects. I can shoot fun B-roll. My commercial projects are in the $10,000 to $20,000 category and that includes editing, etc. It's seductive to think that my product would be vastly improved by a Sony FS7 or a Sony F55, or even an Arri Alexa but the reality is that all that gear would just be a distraction for me. A way of complicating a process I can do with the equipment I have now. The images would have the same usability but would require more crew, more post processing, much more expertise and that would price me out of the markets I feel comfortable in right now.  I would be making huge investments for only emotional/ego rewards. If I am smart I should be able to make money shooting good content from well written scripts with a level of equipment  that makes projects holistically effective packages for clients with any camera that can jump over the bar of competence. The visual competence bar is never really as high as the creative bar. You might have the world's greatest camera but if you don't know how to use it, don't have compelling scripts, lots of time to light, lots of propping and gripping resources, and a high end venue on which to present the final results you're really just trapped into the desire to have a Bentley automobile with which to make pizza deliveries....

So, to sum up, love the GH4 but it's not the compromise of features and looks that I felt I needed to do my work. The Nikon has different compromises but is more suited to my operational temperament. The choice of either is less important than the concept, the style, the point of view and the taste we bring to work. Honest.


Michael Matthews said...

Ah, there are times when you make so much sense.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thank you Michael!

Anonymous said...

Tuck's is always about a year or two in front of the mainstream. That's kinda why people get mad at him and others really like what he writes.

Patrick Dodds said...

"The visual competence bar is never really as high as the creative bar."

Seems like the essence of it all.

Max Rottersman said...

As a stills camera, the GH4 cannot hold a candle to a Nikon full-frame, photographically. You say that clients don't care about technology, and you can take great shots with an Olympus (MFT). But only outside, where shallow DOF isn't wanted. ANYTHING else, you're being kind at the expense of truthful for readers who only have/want MFT cameras.

Panasonic MFT colors just don't saturate well (IMHO). More importantly, Nikon still images have the most dynamic range of any camera. In the real world this gives them more latitude to get the BETTER image, should the exposure be off. The GH4, like most MFT cameras, has more noise and less dynamic range. These are REAL WORLD problems where one doesn't always PICK the best exposure when shooting. The GH4 is a GREAT camera for filmmakers on a budget or professional b-roll.

As you say in your article, the 1080 from the GH4 is sharper than the non 4K binned GH4, however, who ever asks for a sharper image? NO ONE has ever asked me. I'm interested! ABSOLUTELY! Others? No. Again, my wife yells at me if I pay $1 more for HD on Amazon (I need to do it when she's not looking!)

In short, the GH4 is sharper, in video, than the Nikon by a little. It takes less quality stills BY A LOT. As a stills camera, could I tell the difference between a perfectly lit GH4 shot and one from a D810? Probably not. Push the exposure up or down a bit, oh yeah. Shoot low light. Oh yeah. Shoot shallow DOF, Oh yeah.
era size is not a factor). I bet there are none because the difference is big enough that the

I'd love to know about any commercial photograph who shoots MFT in a studio/commercial setting (where camera size isn't a factor).

Kirk Tuck said...

Max, I have to respectfully disagree. I think the GH4 is a great stills camera within its envelope of capabilities. From ISO 100 to 800 it's not noisy and has good dynamic range. While shooting outside the envelope it will never match the full frame sensors of the latest Nikons my whole point was that for most commercial (and personal) work it's certainly sufficient to satisfy the majority of jobs or projects as a still camera. The dynamic range of the GH4 at the ISOs I usually work in is head and shoulders above the $3,000 full frame Canon 5dmk2 or 3. Yes, a D810 will be a better choice for jobs that need big enlargements or the most detail but within its native pixel count range, and making images up to 11x17 at 300 dpi it's as usable as anything out there including most Canon cameras in any format. My only reservations with the GH4 are depth of field control and less dramatic "focus ramping."

Last month I shot three different studio product shoots with EM5.2 cameras using Leica lenses and the 40 megapixel hi-res mode. I did so to gain more depth of field at the same angle of view vis-a-vis the larger format cameras. The results were at least as good as what I had previously gotten from a Nikon D610 with the added benefit of deeper focus. A much needed commodity for most table top work. No focus stacking needed.

Mark Davidson said...

Sounds like my argument to myself for not buying a Sony A7RII or a Pentax 645Z.

Max Rottersman said...

Kirk, thanks for commenting. YOU'RE the professional photographer, not me. According to Bill Claff (and DxO I would think). The D600 start at a DR of 11 at ISO 100. The Olympus MFT starts at a DR of 9 at 200. You've written about the low ISO benefits of Nikon at 64 ISO; this is a similar issue. So this sentence may be true for Canon "The dynamic range of the GH4 at the ISOs I usually work in is head and shoulders above the $3,000 full frame Canon 5dmk2 or 3" "Head and Shoulders"? And for Nikon? DR aside, Olympus color over Canon color?

You're lucky that you shoot in Sunny Austin. I'm pretty sure some crappy New England weather would put you "outside the envelope" more times than not ;) The MFT cameras are small. So who doesn't want to love them? Who doesn't want to convince themselves that they're good enough as those heavy DSLR bricks!

Where we differ is the "envelope of capabilities". Again, MFT cameras can do things that full-frames can't. Get into places unseen, shoot silently, allow you to take more focal ranges (lenses) I just can't believe you really believe they're right for 90% of most commercial work. Again, you're the professional. Many readers probably agree with you and think, "Dang straight Kirk. With a focal reducer on my GH4 I can get as good, if not better immages, than all those expensive/show-off full-frame Canons and Nikons!"

My message to them is "I'm sorry you can't afford full-frame cameras...but sorry, don't kid yourself"

Don't know if you read my review of the Olympus and it's 40mpx feature. It's here.


And here is Bill Claff's data


Gato said...

That second paragraph is great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Relax, Max. So, in your world the only reason to not own FF is that it's financially unobtainable? I've owned both FF and MFT systems (yes, at the same time) and found myself using the MFT system almost entirely. I've since sold the FF system and now use MFT exclusively. Yes, it has its limitations compared to FF, but for what I do the limitations are typically not an issue, and most of the limitations can be worked around when necessary. The benefits of the MFT system for me far surpass what little I've lost since changing formats. Cost has nothing to do with it, and I can afford either or both. And we can argue about sensor tech and resolution until both sides surrender, but at the end of the day what matters is that we're delivering clients what they need and want, and not which system performs 3.8% better on some clinical analysis. I think this is the point. It's like having a 5-octave voice but nothing to sing about. If you have nothing interesting to share, nobody really cares how big your sensor is. Have a point.


Santo Wiryaman said...

This is the first time I use 4K at this venue. Even though the final output is 720p, I find that having a couple of 4K cameras added some value. My main camera is the GH2 with the LX100 (4K) as an unattended B-cam on a tripod. A friend came along with his GH4 and GH3. The thumbnail picture of the video shows the LX100 in front on a tripod (lower right corner). The opening shot is from the LX100, which was setup to cover the entire stage. Later on, we see the mandolin solo which was a 100% crop of the left hand part of the frame. With 4K on a 720p timeline, we can get a 3X zoom in post with no loss of quality. The LX100 is a little gem of a camera. One thing I miss is the ability to record 4K video longer than 15 minutes.
Link to the video: https://vimeo.com/135827717


Max Rottersman said...

Hi Ron, my chief criticism of what Kirk is implying (who I respect and love as much as I can any blogger!) is that his work environment (sunny Austin) and use of high power flashes, obscures some of the real differences between full-frame and MFT. How can I POSSIBLY argue that his, or your, clients would be happier if you used FF over MFT? You have focused on one throw-away line I made about affordability. In retrospect, I wouldn't have written that.

You say that "at the end of the day what matters is what we're delivering cients". Again, how can I argue with that? What I'm saying is that if Kirk was called to the Zach theater in the middle of the day, while he's out shooting with his Olympus, and he didn't have time to get lights, and had to take a photo of Anthony Hopkins, say, in a dimly lit room, that photo would be noisier than the photo he would have gotten from his Nikon D600. If he wanted a super shallow DOF, he wouldn't be able to get that either.

To me, that's a fact.

Sensor size DOES make a difference in low-light shooting environments. Like the 5-octave voice, if everything you sing is in one octave, then yes, no need for 5.

I'm happy I can get up-tight here on Kirk's forum. Some "limitations can be worked around when necessary". Sorry, I can't relax when I hear that! :) If I felt that everything I learned about photography was something I could work around I'd stop today!

I completely agree with Kirk's main point, which is that in most circumstances an MFT camera is good enough for commercial work. I understand that if he took that photo of Anthony Hopkins the client would NOT say, "hey, that's not full-frame!"

Anonymous said...

Hi Max,

Your points are well taken and I think we agree far more than we disagree. And yes, after working with Nikon FF systems I cannot argue that in dim, low light environments that require high ISO, i.e., anything north of say 1000 in my experience, a FF system will deliver less noisy images. As for the shallow depth of field, I find that my 1.4 and 1.8 primes do an admirable job of providing that, as well as sharper images across the frame at wide apertures. Obviously not as shallow as a FF 1.8 lens, but for what I'm doing the shallow DOF is quite effective.
My "work arounds" are very minor, and basically amount to being better at lighting and more cognizant of DOF and lens usage. Basic photography 101 stuff, and because the MFT system is so portable, carrying two or three bodies, two zooms and a prime cover all the bases. The lighting I'm carrying is the same I used with FF systems anyway, so these days I simply crank it up slightly to compensate. which allows lower ISO settings (I keep it between 200 and 400).
All that said, I am able to control the lighting in most of my work, so any losses I may experience due to the MFT sensor limitations are typically "worked around". Easy peasy.
So yeah, I loved my Nikon FF, and perhaps if I shot often in low light or was a pixel peeper I might notice the differences. But I do not and don't. What I don't miss is the weight and size of it all.
I enjoyed your rebuttal on my 5-octave analogy. Had to chuckle when I read that. Nicely played!
And yeah, I enjoy Kirk's blog as well, both for his consistently great content and willingness to share his space for exchanges and banter. Thanks as always, Kirk.


Max Rottersman said...

Thank you Ron. I'm going to try again! Thank YOU for your thoughts and experience. (Again, thank you Kirk!) It IS valuable to me that you say MFT can work in ways I am doubtful. Anyway, since Kirk is in a "Buick" phase I went to BestBuy and dived in with the Panasonic LX100. They had an open-box for $560. I also have a focal reducer I can use on the GM1. I'm going to try some experiments to get more evidence, I hope for us all!