7.21.2017

The GH5 in VSL. First Up: The rationalization. Sure to be an interesting flight of fancy....

Ah. The "good old days" of shooting fill flash with film. We actually used light meters then....

I was pretty sure I'd get a lot of responses to my latest purchase along the lines of: "He needs an intervention." "Here we go again." "He's back into m4:3." "But wait, I thought you said Sony (Nikon, Canon, Leica) was best!?!" "It's just Gear Acquisition Syndrome." etc., etc.  But I was equally sure I could come up with at least one convincing rationale for my seemingly illogical purchase.

A few years ago, around 2013, I looked at the market for photography and made a few decisions. My read of the trajectory of paid photography was not optimistic. I saw evidence of financial decline in the actual profession that mirrored the slow down in the camera sales world. Not being anxious to ride the trend to the bottom without some sort of plan "B" I started looking around at options which could leverage the position I built in my market and also leverage many of the skills sets I'd learned over the years. While re-engaging with my advertising background seemed possible it was more of a long shot, in my mind, than ramping up my comfort level with video production and setting marketing goals to sell more video services. The benefit with this second choice is that I would get to play with technical toys (always a plus) and learn new things. If I played my cards right
I could also replace income lost to a declining market for still photography. 

Now I know this is disappointing talk for anyone who is not in the actual business of trying to squeeze money out of their photography but I don't think it should be. The decline of our old way of doing business in no way infers that the joy of doing photography for fun is in the least bit diminished. I love taking photographs and I love to share them, it's just that the market for selling the work is in constant flux and we rational humans fear and hate change; especially if we don't have some sort of life raft on which to cling. I'm certainly not trying to convince anyone to drop still photography and rush out to start making long form movies instead. I think that would be a dreadful use of our time; at least for 99 percent of us...

No, my rationales outlined herein have only to do with the way we embrace the crafts of photography and videography in order to make a living. If I head out the door to make images to please myself it's almost always shooting still photographs and basically never shooting video. 

Sometimes I can be prescient. Either that or I've created a self-fulfilling prophecy. No matter which is true I've seen a quick decline in the amount and kind of photography we are asked to do by clients and a commensurate increase in the amount and kind of video production that clients request. In fact, in this particular year, at the height of a record stock market and the advent of full employment (a government metric; perhaps not a reality in all geographic regions) I've done less photography than in one or two of the lean years of the last recession but at the same times I've offset that decline with an accelerating engagement in video. The end result is a stable and adequate income to maintain life, get the kiddo finished up at college, and to continue to pay the mortgage.

If you read between the lines you'll instantly understand that when the nature of your business radically changes the tools needed for the business change in almost every regard. From flash to continuous light, from freezing images to making stuff move...

In years past when I changed systems (as opposed to augmenting my work resources with additions and no subtractions) I went all in with any new system I got. I needed to immerse myself in the system and get up to speed on the finicky parts and the menus in order to present a calm and professional demeanor in actual shooting situations. This time I have no intention of getting rid of the Sony full frame cameras. I still have enough still photography business to warrant having the right gear to serve that market. 

And the interesting thing is that while most of the foundational (read: "boring and routine") jobs are drying up, as are many still photography jobs in the middle sectors, the higher end jobs, with higher budgets, remain. Keeping the A7Rii just makes good sense. It does two things that the one inch sensor cameras and the m4:3 cameras can't do as well (right now); highly selective focus and eye popping resolution. If I change my marketing just to concentrate on the higher end of the markets perhaps the balance in our business between video and still photography will shift back and I'll be even happier having held on to the Sony stuff. 

But for now the holes in my video equipment inventory are a reflection of my method of getting up to speed with the hands-on practice of video. I used whatever video I had in the cameras in hand to prevent rushing out with a laundry list of "wants" only to end up with stuff I didn't know how to use properly yet. A sure recipe for frustration and cash flow trauma. Most of the experimenting a video producer needs to do is rudimentary and based around knowing how to structure a video story. What shots are needed. How to cover a scene well. How to get reaction shots. What the standards are for composition and continuity. How to direct talent. How to move the camera and how to use different focal lengths to good effect. The technical stuff comes after the aesthetic stuff. 

I was also hesitant about buying anything that didn't have 4K as a feature because it seemed obvious to me (just ask Netflix) that clients were going to demand that we at least shoot and archive that format even if we continue to edit and deliver in the 1080p HD format. 

For the purposes of learning the framing and pacing all of my Sony cameras were, and are, beyond adequate. They are very good for anything that will eventually be mastered in HD, with a few exceptions. 

As I worked with the RX10ii and RX10iii as well as the A7Rii I was delighted to see just how great the files could look if I shot the video in the camera in 4K and downsampled the files to HD for editing. In ever respect they had as much detail and resolution as one could ask for. But as I became more and more conversant with shooting and editing I have come to understand that one aspect of the "holy grail" of shooting (non-raw) video is the bit depth and color depth of the files. Since the color and exposure are mostly baked into video files changes in color, fixing exposure, and making tonal changes in post production editing requires files that have sufficient information to push around, otherwise the files "break" and you just can't always push them enough to make them work. 

This became obvious to me when I bought the Panasonic fz2500 and coupled it with the Atomos Ninja Flame video recorder. With that combination I could make 4K files that start life as 10-bit (1054 shades of color versus 8-bit with 256 shades of color) 4:2:2 files instead of 8-bit 4:2:0 files. When I brought the ProRes files from the Panasonic+Atomos into Final Cut Pro X to edit them I could immediately see the benefits of a richer color palette and color with more depth to them. I could make bigger changes in color (shifting a file that's too warm or cool, for example) without having the files fall apart. 

The Panasonic fz2500 and the GH5 also offer much bigger menus of file sizes and types than the Sonys, including ALL-I files in which each frame is largely self contained and much easier for your computer and application to handle efficiently while all the Sony files are long GOP format files which means that only certain things that change from frame to frame are changed in the files which is efficient for in-camera memory but harder on computers and application to pound through in editing. 

The fz2500 was indeed the gateway drug of cameras as far as the introduction to the GH5 was concerned. What it showed me was that two different companies (Panasonic and Sony) could take basically the same hardware and fine-tune it and equip it for different specialties. Whereas the Sony RX10 cameras are very good video cameras they are exceptional still cameras. In contrast the Panasonic cameras are very good still cameras but they are exceptional video cameras. Seeing the on screen performance of the 2500 instantly led me to want the GH5. 

So, what are the benefits of the new camera to me? If you've read about the way I've been shooting video you'll know that I like to set up two cameras instead of one when I shoot interviews and stationary stuff like that. The idea is to give you two different angles/magnifications, etc. so you can give audiences something interesting and frequently changing to look at instead of having just one angle for an entire video. It's kind of important when you're trying to hold the attention of an audience for about five minutes.....

As you can imagine the best case scenario is to use two identical cameras with two identical lenses, all set to the same exposure, profile and white balance. That would make cutting back and forth between the two cameras easy as pie; especially when it comes to color grading in post. When I used the Panasonic fz2500 as my primary camera and one of the Sony RX10s as a "B" camera it took some work in post to match up colors and in some instances it just wasn't possible to get an exact match.

My main production rationale for combining the two Panasonic cameras is that I'll be able to match bit depth, color depth, profiles, and the basic look and feel between them because they derive from the same family of cameras and share the same look. With the fz2500 running into the Atomos I can get the 4K files I want in 10-bit, 4:2:2 while I can get the same kind of files directly in the camera with the GH5. With an upcoming, announced, GH5 firmware upgrade I'll soon be able to get that performance out of the GH5 but not just at 30 fps and below but also at 60 fps. In fact, it will be one of the few video cameras under $10,000 to offer that. 

With matched files my work should look technically better and the post production clip matching should be much easier. 

To sum up: I didn't buy the GH5 with an eye to replacing my current still photography cameras (with which I am very satisfied....) but as a separate videography system that's aimed at efficiently expanding an ever growing part of my business. In my experience the Panasonic cameras are well set up to be efficient video tools. I'm adding them to my inventory so I never have to bite my nails and wonder if a green screen shoot will meet client expectations. So I'll never have to wonder if the files I'm handing off will survive a third party editor's wild and whimsical color grading. So I can produce enormous (400 mbs) video files, if clients require them. I have very little interest in some of the usual still photography parameters that interest reviewers. 

I don't care at all if the GH5 is a good or bad selfie camera. I am indifferent to the performance of the camera's continuous AF tracking. I could care less how many frames per second it shoots in still mode.
I'm even a bit ambivalent about its high ISO performance since all of my video productions are generally well lit. I do care about how the video looks and how it edits. That's reason enough to buy a camera like this. 

The choice came down to buying the GH5 and eventually an Atomos Shogun (it records 4K at 60 fps) or saving up and buying something like a Sony FS7, a fully dedicated video camera. I'm not at the point where I need to spend $10,000+ to do the work I want to accept. I also don't want to spend that kind of money if my needs can be met by a $2,000 investment. 

The sad thing is that all the technology is changing so quickly that whatever we buy this year will be superseded in two more years. It's even worse in video than it is in still imaging because the targets (screens, monitors, projectors, etc.) for the work also change very quickly. If you shoot stills and share on prints the print side is pretty stable and changes much more slowly. Not so with video. I've looked into the future and it's all 4K. 

At any rate, I hope this is a logical presentation of my thought processes for the latest acquisition. In the end I think it's a cool camera and that played into my decision making as well. 

BLOG NOTE: I don't know anyone at Panasonic, or their ad agency. No one offered me any free stuff in exchange for this blog post. I bought this camera at my local bricks and mortar store, Precision-Camera.com, with money I earned from making video and still imaging content. I did bargain hard and got the people at Precision to throw in a free, Lumix battery. The total purchase price was exactly the same as that asked by Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video. The advantages of buying locally for me, in addition to the free battery, were in being able to ask three different sales people for opinions and experiences with the camera and also the understanding that the camera would be instantly swapped out if it was defective in any way. The best advantage was deciding to actually do the transaction at 2 pm and walking out of the store with the new camera at 3 pm. 

Every camera company has some expertise upon which it leans in the marketing of products. There is no one camera that excels at everything I'd like a camera to do. In my opinion the Panasonic products excel at video. That's the whole point of having access to a variety of solutions. 

Next, how my learning curve is coming along.....


19 comments:

Richard Leacock said...

The right tool for the right job as it were. An immensely informative reasoning and explanation.
Looking forward to the learning curve ; )

Cheers

ODL Designs said...

Good logical reasons. One connecting point is that because all gear will be eclipsed in the not too distant future making do with superb value for money with business decisions makes a company healthier.

It will be interesting to see if you end up duplicating a lot of lenses between the formats or making do. When I had the A850 for stills and a handful of quality zeiss, sony, minolta... but then ended up with so many overlapping lenses with the EP2, then EM5 that I felt I was being wasteful...

I guess many commenters could be right, 135 is the new MF and smaller sensors are the new 135!

Chappy Achen said...

I have the FZ2500, I like it for video, but I hate the manual. Any suggestions. Also any suggestions on what training is best for Final Cut Pro. Thanks for your blog and sharing your approach with us. Im 72 and want to stay relevant with my Grand Kids!

Mike Rosiak said...

Rationale? You don't need no stinkin' rationale. It's a business decision.

Gato said...

Seems like sound thinking. And always helps that it's a cool camera.

Michael Matthews said...

It's a good thing you're writing all this down. It should be reusable, with a little fine tuning, in that book on video production. Just think, as an e-book with links to video you'll be able to show exactly what you mean when discussing files that fall apart versus those which can survive manipulation in editing. Anyone who wants to know what a vectorscope is and how it is used to achieve desirable flesh tones can see it as it happens. Blocking the shot sequence needed to fit the editing process can be demonstrated and understood. It will even provide a use for outtakes that disclose abject failure -- with advice on how to avoid same in the future. And, there's more. The core volume you write on fundamentals can be extended to include later, saleable, additions devoted to changes in technology, fine points of using specific software, subtleties of lighting and lens selection, anything that strikes your fancy and a responsive chord in your audience. Throw nothing out. Flag it and bag it for later use.

Kirk Tuck said...

Will do. I have a video book firmly in my sights.

Mark Davidson said...

I agree that all this gear will be superseded in short order by the next wave of cool, shiny stuff. However, my experience is that we are very close to the point where that really wont change the product we deliver.

I have been shooting Canon 5D bodies since the first 13 MP body (a nice upgrade from the 6MP 10D) and recent shoots with 50MP bodies from Canon and Fuji have convinced me I need no upgrades.

The only thing that changed the way I work is the FZ-1000. That camera has transformed my event work. Joy has returned. Full sync on flash, nice EVF, killer zoom, and featherweight.

Kirk Tuck said...

Mark, I couldn't agree more about the slowing needs for future progress in still photography. Also agree about how refreshing it is to shoot with cameras like the fz1000 and the RX10s. As to progress, I think in video we are where we were with stills about four or five years ago. We're in a big transition to 4K and advanced 4K (higher fps, more bit depth, etc) and we're about two or three years from establishing a comfortable stasis.

rlh1138 said...

Wow, can't believe how grown up Ben is looking....

tnargs said...

Excuse me Kirk, but you *cannot* say that 10-bit video (or stills) has 1024 shades of colour and 8-bit has 256 shades of colour. The devices have 3 colour channels and those statements apply to *each* channel. So what do you think they sum to? (please don't say 3072 and 768)

Kirk Tuck said...

rlh, that's not Ben, it's me. But I think you knew that....

Kirk Tuck said...

tnargs. Sure. Okay.

Kirk Tuck said...

16 million possible color combinations versus over a billion color combinations. Just to be clear....

Kirk Tuck said...

16 million possible color combinations versus over a billion color combinations. Just to be clear....

David said...

I look at the pro market, earn real dollars to be the video market in the very short future.
Lets be honest, a still is easy. Cameras nail exposure, so that is not an issue. Only thing is composition, and cameras can tell the user how to do that in a good enough way.
Now look at the video side, you need an interesting story, live framing and cuts to change the dirction every 3 to 5 seconds at most. This is why go pro was good for one release, then people realized they had no story or their life was not exciting and droped it.
Video requires a thinking professional, photos are covered by a good computer.

Kirk Tuck said...

David, while I disagree with your assessment of photography I totally agree with the idea that the market values video and photography differently now for mostly the reasons you've suggested. My beef with your argument is that the real value proposition of good photography lies in having a unique look. Or, in portraiture, an ability to establish a real, effective and genuine rapport with the subject. It's something that can't be fixed or made in a computer. That the market doesn't value unique vision in the same way doesn't mean it doesn't have intrinsic value.

Wally said...

8-bit color is 2(to the 8th) X 2(to the 8th) X 2(to the 8th) = 16.7MM
10-bit is 2(to the 10th) X 2(to the 10th) X 2(to the 10th) = Billions of color.
Your hardware, OS, graphics card, processing software, and Monitor all have to support 10-bit color too.

MacBooks only started shipping with 10-Bit support in 2016 so legacy Mac users are stuck in the 8-Bit land. PC users if they pick the right components have had this for several years.

Craig Yuill said...

I can understand you wanting cameras like the GH5 so that you can record video files in the ProRes 422 codec. I transcode all of my HD 4:2:0 files to ProRes 422 before editing in FCPX to output video with the best color. The ability to shoot 4K appeals to me too (especially at 60 fps). It's too bad, however, that the editing and viewing hardware always seems to lag behind the shooting hardware. I started shooting video in earnest around 11 years ago. At that time SD footage recorded to MiniDV tapes was by far the norm. A number of videographers, however, advocated shooting in HD in order to "future proof" the video, even though HD cameras were rather expensive and computer hardware was barely adequate for editing HD video. This, of course, changed after a few years. But I get rather amused every time someone states that one should shoot 4K in order to "future proof" video. One needs some pretty powerful hardware right now to edit 4K. And isn't 8K video coming down the road pretty soon? It's rather hard to "future proof" video when the future keeps shifting so darn much.

That said, I can see at some point that creating standards and codecs that increase resolution will become less important than creating ones that improve colour rendition. I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years you state that you are pining for a camera that shoots 8K video at 120 fps in 4:4:4:4 color. Enjoy your new GH5 while it is still state of the art. ;-)