An evening at the theatre, watching the tech rehearsal for "Singing in the Rain" and learning just what the GH5 is capable of...

Last night I had the opportunity to document the technical rehearsal for "Singing in the Rain" at Zach Theatre. I really like using new cameras in the theater environment as I bring them into the fold in order to understand how they work in what I think is a challenging situation. The lighting on stage sometimes changes minute by minute, and those changes include shifts in color as well as intensity. In addition to lighting changes the actors are constantly moving and I have no control or ability to really anticipate changing expressions and gestures. It's a situation wherein you have to capture stuff you like, in the moment, and then edit toward the best stuff in post. 

In order to make it even more rigorous a test I sometimes deny myself the "crutch" of using the raw file format so I can get a sense of how well the cameras make Jpeg files. It's a bit idiosyncratic but then I never held myself out as a paragon of logic or consistency....

Our rehearsal started at 7pm. I got to the theater a half hour earlier so I could say "hello" to the many people on the technical staff that I've worked with for years. I also wanted to sit quietly and set up my two cameras at, potentially, the optimum settings.

I used two Panasonic GH5 camera bodies and two Olympus lenses. It seems counterintuitive but I think the two Olympus Pro lenses that I ended up buying are a perfect match for the GH5s. When I owned the GH4 cameras I chose (among other ancillary lenses) the two f2.8 zooms from that system; the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm. They were both good as well as smaller and lighter than my current  choices. I think the Olympus Pro 12-100mm is a better choice for all around photography than the 12-35 by dint of the much greater coverage on the long end. I also think it is a sharper and contrastier lens system than either of the Panasonic lenses I owned. Being able to cover most of the focal lengths I use in day to day practice is a time saver and means that most of the time I am wearing only one camera over my shoulder rather than two.

I bought the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro mostly to use as an adjunct to the 12-100mm in theater and corporate event photography where I might need both the one stop of extra speed and the extra 50mm of reach. While I found myself using the 12-100mm a lot last night I am happiest with the images I shot with the longer zoom. It's not that the files are "better" or sharper it's that they seem a touch cleaner and more detailed. I'd be perfectly happy with the shorter lens but there were a few shots, taken at the longer focal lengths, that just made me smile.

So, that was the gear inventory. The "kit." Two bodies and two lenses. Both set up nearly identically. 
I selected the finest Jpeg setting at the largest file size of 20 megapixels. I chose the standard profile for each camera and left all the parameter settings at their presets. zero, zero, zero. 

I set the camera with the 40-150mm on it to ISO 800 and the camera with the 12-100mm on it to ISO 1600 to compensate for the one stop slower maximum aperture. After consulting with the lighting designer I settled on 4200K as the color setting for the general illumination. The follow spot is cooler and some of the side spots are warmer. There's nothing much you can do about a wash of light that's homogeneously red, blue or magenta. With Herculean efforts you might be able to render a neutral color but it would be a fool's errand to try. After all, they are called accent lights for a reason. 

I tried not to use the shutter under 1/125th or above a 1/500th. If I had enough light to reach for 1/500th the logical thing to do would be to turn down the ISO. 

I shot both of the lenses wide open for the entire evening. On a wide stage shot I was hanging out near the 12-20mm range and figured that depth of field would cover any small disparity between camera and subject distance. At the longer focal lengths I was trying to grab tighter, one person shots and would depend on focusing accuracy of the system for best results. 

In earlier tests I found that the screens were brighter than the calibration on my studio monitor or my Atomos Ninja Flame monitor and knew that setting the brightness one or two notches below zero would help me push up the exposures in a good way. I also enable the histogram and put it in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, consulting it often.

While I had trepidation that the GH5 would stumble in lower light situations I found that anything I shot at ISO 800 or less was as perfect as anything I would expect to see out of any previous camera I had used to shoot this kind of work. At ISO 1600 I started to see (when viewing at 100%) the wavering hand of noise reduction impinge on overall image quality. It manifested itself in overly plastic skin tones and some harsher sharpening of bigger detail. After seeing this I tested setting the camera profile differently. I decreased sharpness by one notch under the default and brought down the noise reduction as well. With noise reduction I experimented with one and two notches under the default and I found that one notch under was enough to make the files perfectly acceptable to me while not requiring me to do anything in post production while a two notch correction required a bit of noise reduction fine tuning in post. 

I tried several different focusing options with the two cameras. I started with my usual: A custom configured AF pattern consisting of four smaller squares in the center of the frame, driven by S-AF. This method nailed every single shot I pointed the camera and lens at, and without any hesitation. It was much quicker and more certain than my Sony A7Rii or A7ii. 

Emboldened I thought I'd try out the methodology that seems to be the preference of many other photographers: To choose all the focusing squares across the frame (wide) and to set the focus to C-AF. Amazingly the camera locked on to the closest thing in the frame and worked predictably. I didn't notice any time lag at all and anytime the camera made an (infrequent) mistake it was because I started out pointing it at the wrong object. Following one actor as they walked across the stage was remarkably consistent and well locked in. 

Since these cameras are both highly competent video cameras I strayed from still imaging from time to time to shoot video snippets that I'll use in the video I am editing of conversations with the director of this play and the choreographer. I thought it would be really nice to have good b-roll of the lead actor actually tap dancing in the rain. When the stage hands turned on the rain device and we got a downpour on stage I switched to 4K video at 30 fps and followed the action. Again, the camera and the 40-150mm were able to follow the dancer (or his feet ) as he tapped his way across the stage under a convincing shower of rain. It's really beautiful footage and you'll get to see it sometime soon. 

We photographers are often given to hyperbole. Smaller format shooters would have us believe that their particular choice of camera is so special that it can transform the laws of physics and deliver performance equal to full frame (35mm) sensors across all performance parameters. Conversely full frame shooters would have you believe that anything smaller than their (35) frame size destines a user to end up with files that are nothing but mush and crap. The truth lies somewhere else. The scale isn't a linear one with full frame to 100%, APS-C at 75% and micro four thirds at 50%. The band of technical behavior and results is much tighter than that. All the cameras are in the 90%s. And there are always many compromises in each direction. As science and industry get better at solving imaging problems the ability to apply computational processing is aggressively flattening the field and reducing the differences we used to see between formats. 

I'm sure I will not be able to blow up these images to sizes as large as I would if using full res files from an A7rii but I'm equally sure that I can get close; and the reality is that either camera will make prints that are large enough so that the optimum viewing distance veils any substantive differences in overall quality. Fast lenses on small formats can equal the look of slower lenses on bigger formats. If f1.4 equals f2.8 (m4:3 versus FF) and we have f1.4 available then we gain two stops of shutter speed or two steps of ISO. Stuff works out. 

After carefully examining about 1200 photographs and six minutes of 4K video I'm happy to say that I feel comfortable using the new cameras in just about any situation. The secret is to understand how they can be set to ensure optimum operation. Used well just about any modern camera can excel. But few can match the GH5 for it's versatility (vis-a-vis the combination of video and stills). 


  1. Great looking shots, especially for out of camera JPEGS.

    When I do get into a detailed discussion about format choice I try to communicate to friends/collegues that the vast number of cameras in use professionally today were not sold last week. In fact, the vast number of images in professional use today were not taken with cameras sold last week... and we can take it further, that most images in existence today were either taken with much older tech/film, or on cellphones.

    That informs the "quality" at the end use point, every day people view imagery on phones, on screen and in print.

    As you know Kirk, I run a studio and get imagery in from large brand like All Clad, T-Fal Schwarzkopf, LG... It wouldn't surprise you, but I still get new shoots done with the 5D mark 1, older 16mp MF cameras etc. And generally a 1 stop difference in noise performance is pretty much invisible in print so extending it to 2 stops would mean someone might notice if two similar images were side by side (might being the key word), that doesn't mean they would care, who would, at the consumer end?

    I also work on a magazine for a national union who hires photographers for a lot of their work who use up tot he D810, and yet just in the last issue there was a double page spread of men at work taken with a cellphone, and quite noisy after I had adjusted the brightness etc for print. I was a bit worried and when I got the print proof it looked perfectly fine.

    Looks to me like you are putting the GH5's through their paces! I am waiting for my panel fabric to come in from Michigan so I can finish the sound work.

    All the best

  2. Good pictures of course! But as you are talking about settings, a question if you have the time... Do you use the AF button the back to set focus or simply rely on the shutter button at half press? I never understood the advantage of AF Lock other than for very slow focus lenses. So I'm wondering if I missed something.
    Peter Wright.

  3. Peter, when it comes to AF I am as dinosaur-ish as they come. Usually I shoot in S-AF using the half press to lock focus. Why? re-learning to shoot back button AF is a burden for my brain. I've got other stuff I'd rather learn.

  4. Speakng of burdening your brain, what's your take on the FZ2500 now that you've been using the GH5 and are in line for the soon-to-come Sony RX10 IV? Is it now an unwanted stepchild? Have you sold it? If not, do you want to sell it?

    The burden imposed on my brain by the OMD EM5.2's menu -- plus the bumbling around with multiple lenses -- has me thinking seriously of looking for a simpler way. I love the feeling of solid build, the advanced IBIS, and the quality of Olympus lenses, but love is not a rational thing and choosing a camera should be.

    If one were to go the bridge camera route and held fast to the fantasy of someday doing video, would the FZ 2500 be the rational choice? Or does the RX10 IV offer so much advantage that it justifies the $500 cost difference?

  5. How would the G85 stack up In a similar situation? Percentage wise that is. IQ, AF and the like. Do you still have one or did you get rid of it already?


  6. Eric Rose, I've still got the G85 and still like it very much. The AF seems like it's in the same ballpark as the GH5 and the IQ in 4K video is really nice. As far as stills go it's maybe a half stop to a full stop noisier than the GH5 (depending on the scene). I like it very much as a personal camera and great back up camera. I'm keeping it because it was so affordable and I like that it uses the same batteries as my FZ2500. Which is also still with me....

    It's hard to say a percentage because there are things that I like and things I miss with the smaller camera. One is the paucity of different file settings for video. You can either shoot 4K at 100 mbs or you drop down to about 28 mbs in HD. I want a higher quality HD setting.

    The color in this generation of Panasonic cameras is nice. The shutter noise is sublime.

  7. Michael Matthews, I continue to use (and enjoy using) the FZ2500. Since I have great, sharp, 4K video in the GH5's I may forgo actually buying the Sony RX10IV right now and continue using the Panasonic. While the Sony has a great 4K file it's still 8bit and 4:2:0. The Panasonic checks so many more boxes for a video shooter. As I continue to downsize my collection of various, overlapping cameras I am really appreciating having four cameras (Panasonic) that all have the same menu structure and whose interfaces all seem design to unconfuse busy photographers.

    While the RX10IV might have better still image quality and sharper 4K I find the FZ easy to use and the feature set for video very inviting. In a deadbeat, if I were just using either camera for video I'd probably end up choosing the FZ. I also like the finder better.

    After having written all of that I have to hedge and say that I haven't touched an RX10IV so all bets could be off on initial contact.

  8. Just wanted to add that the GH5, coupled with the Olympus Pro lenses, is a beguiling camera system. Might be the only one a cross discipline (still + video) shooter needs....

  9. These photos look really good. As a m43 shooter contemplating the addition of either a GH5 or EM1.2 it helps to see actual work samples. Unfortunately your enlarged views are approximately the same size as the photo in the post, so no extra details are available. Maybe if it's not too big a data hit perhaps you can make larger views available? Thanks!

  10. I am certainly considering the GH5, but as I was disassembling a Canon 24mmFD yesterday...with shaky paws...I was reminded that the decision on what to get rides on effective IBIS. Candidates are the GH5 or EM1ii, a bridge either the Pan or Sony, or possbly an upcoming Sony A7iii should it appear.

    For now...could you comment on the effectiveness of the IBIS of the GH5 vs what you have experienced with the A7Rii? I am going to assume any new A7iii would have comparable stabilization to the A7Rii. I have an idea how good the Oly might be as I have an EM5ii. Are your bridge cameras noticeably better or worse than either the GH5 or A7Rii? I can only judge at this point by fiddling with display models at a Best Buy. And without the chance to look at test shots, just eyeballing how jiggly the objects in the store seem to be while looking through the evf is not too trustworthy.

    Thanks for any comments, for those of us with the shakes.

  11. I use the OM 1.2 with the 12-40 Pro and the 40-150 Pro lenses. I am also using the ON1 Resize program (Genuine Fractals) to enlarge my photos when necessary. They look good to me. Do you have a copy laying around? You're the techno expert, I sure would like to know what you think.


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