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 somestuff 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.