I haven't really discussed much about the Panasonic GH5's video performance yet, instead, I'd like to write in more general terms about how I've been using my cameras. Not just Panasonics but also Sonys. When I sit down to evaluate a camera I'm no longer looking at a camera as a "single use" device that will just deliver a great photograph. I want a camera that will hit well above the bar for image quality in still photography use but I also want a camera that will do very good 4K video. And I want to spend no more than $2,000 per camera body. My basic criteria includes: a microphone input jack, a clean HDMI output, the ability to manually control audio levels and a useful and logical menu for setting all my camera controls. It's a given that the camera will have a high enough resolution for still photography (16 megapixels, min.) as well as the ability to make RAW files and also to make pleasant Jpegs which are usable right out of the camera.
Why the $2,000 price limit? Because I like to buy my primary cameras in pairs and doubling prices gets uncomfortable quickly. Since cameras in the ascending age of video are still changing rapidly (as far as processor speed and video features) I want to be able to switch out cameras more frequently than we used to so I can take advantage of the new tech (HDR video anyone?).
But why this fascination with cameras that swing both ways? Some interesting studies from the advertising community are revealing. Seems 70% of internet users get their daily dose of content entirely, or almost entirely, from their phones. Additionally, while reading lots of type on a phone is a pain in the butt for most people watching short videos has become as easy as breathing. Every marketer I know is rushing to provide more and more video content for not only their websites but their YouTube channels and their many social media feeds. Just last week, at a three day corporate show for WP Engine, I was asked to make photographs as well as video. At the same show we fed a stream of images to the social media managers from the company so they could upload content from the show in progress. You may want to resist working in this new way but I'm pretty certain that clients' expectations are not going to regress back to a slower, more stationary methodology.
What I want to write about today is how I've been using video and photographs together for my theater client, ZachTheatre.org. I've been providing them with interviews of actors, directors and choreographers for their main stage shows. The idea is to invite the online audience to look behind the scenes and get a more nuanced understanding of how live theater works. How a production comes together.
I start my process by reading about the plays or musicals the theater is producing. Once I have the story line figured out I like to go to an early rehearsal to get an idea of the director's vision. Since I'll need good b-roll for cutaways, and to spice up the interviews, I always want to go to a tech rehearsal, with actors in costume, close to the opening date. By the Sunday before a Tuesday or Wednesday opening the costumes are pretty much finished and the stage set has received its last touch ups. Without an audience in the house I can spend time finding the right angles. I'm already familiar with the pacing and action since I've been to earlier rehearsals.
There are things I know I'll want to capture and weave into our video edit. For Dancing in the Rain I knew I wanted to get good footage of our lead actor actually dancing in the rain. Just 20 or 30 seconds of him tap dancing through the onstage downpour. But I also wanted to capture video snippets of each of the other main actors in character. You never know until you've finished an interview exactly who or what the interviewee will mention!
For Singing in the Rain I wanted to interview both the director and the choreographer. I arranged through the public relations director, Nicole, to reserve the V.I.P. lounge in the main theater space. It's a great place to shoot interviews because the room is modern and neutral but also because it has an entire north-facing wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Nice lighting if you can get it! But outside light fluctuates so I also set up a big, soft main light from the same direction to establish a base so passing clouds don't mess with my exposure on the talent.
Once I had my angles mapped out for shooting and lighting I got to work on audio. I killed the power to the bar refrigerator (too much noise) and put up a few baffles on stands to try and kill the air conditioner noise (not turn off-able, non-negotiable in parts of Texas....). Then I put up my favorite two hyper-cardioid microphones at the end of a boom pole and hung them about 18 inches from the interviewee, just above the top of the frame and angled down about 45 degrees, aimed at the talent's mouth.
Since I had the PR director assisting me on this shoot I was able to ditch the tripod and try working with the GH5 camera on a monopod instead. In concert with the image stabilization system the footage looked quite good with just enough movement to keep from looking too static. I was able to do this because I had the PR director actually asking the interview questions.
As soon as I finished both interviews the choreographer and I headed to the stage where he demonstrated the on stage rain effect by.....tap dancing through the pouring rain. I set the camera for the stage lighting WB and exposure and then handheld about three minutes of dancing while trying different compositions and framings.
During the tech rehearsal I mostly shot photographs but would switch the camera over to video settings if I anticipated a dance number or a comedic moment upcoming. It's a lot of extra work to make multiple trips to the theater to catch different stuff that may never make the cut but the trade off comes late at night when you are editing and you remember you have just the right three to five seconds of tight video of tap shoes splashing through stage lit puddles.
When I finish recording the videos and photos and the interviews I come back into the studio and start making little virtual stacks of content. All the interview footage goes in this folder, all the b-roll video goes into that folder. I open Lightroom and put in all the photographs and look for sequences I know I'll want to use. Since I'm heading for a video edit all the stills I decide to use get cropped to 16:9 and sized for the file type I'll be using. Since this project was going to be edited in 1080p I made the files 2198 on the long side. That gave me a little breathing room within the overall frame so I could crop in where I felt it would make the presentation stronger.
When I finally sat down to edit I listened to both interviews a couple of times, taking notes about stuff I liked and other stuff I wanted to cut out. Then I started assembling a timeline with the good content. If I felt the interviewee's delivery was too rushed I'd look for natural pauses and drop a half second or a second of black into the gap to make a pause from one thought to the next. Of course I would need material to visually cover the pauses but that's why we shot all those photographs and b-roll to begin with, right?
Once I get everything from the interviews laid in like I want it I make a pass to see if I can cut out "ums" and "ahhhs" and distracting word fluff. It's best to really stretch your timeline way out when making these kinds of audio adjustments because it allows for exacting work.
When the interview timeline is more or less locked I start looking for little chunks of video or photographs that correspond to what the interviewee is talking about. For example, the choreographer, when asked about his favorite scene from this production, discussed a scene with a character named, Cosmo, who does a great song and dance number. I didn't have any video of that part of the play but I was able to reach into the photography folder and pull out twenty or so images that were a close reflection of what the choreographer was discussing. With a series of fast, one second cuts the images worked perfectly to add strong visuals to the narrative.
When the director discusses the challenges of making it rain on an indoor stage I had fast paced video footage of the main character slipping and sliding and tapping across the stage in the rain. It was the perfect visual to play over the director's conversation.
And here's the thing about having a camera that can do both parts well; if all you need to do is change to the video setting and change the shutter speed to work with your fps, then the color and tonality of the video and the stills will match and intercut with each other beautifully. While the lighting on the interviews will be different the overall feel of the files will come through as a consistent element.
It's an intangible but I can feel the work hold together better when it all seems to come from a unified source. A matching visual style.
There's a perception that all video work gets done on a big tripod with a fluid head. That the camera needs to be nested in a collage of pre-amps, cages, monitors and geared controls. But really, when shooting live action on the stage I'm happy to have two identical cameras, set to the same WB. One with exposure set for stills, one with the exposure set for video. Each dangling on their strap just waiting for me to move from one to the other, grabbing it up, making a last adjustment and then holding it as steady as I can --- regardless of file type. As clean as making snapshots.
Your mind changes from making one-off masterpieces to making serial frames that can work in either modality. That's the promise of a "bi-lingual" camera system.