The Weekly "De-Brief" with the Panasonic/Leica/Olympus System. Thumbs Way Up.

I was already booked to photograph the technical rehearsal of Zach Theatre's rock-and-roll version of "A Christmas Carol" when I got a panicky call from one of the technical crew. Several principal actors would be subbing out their roles for several days in the first few weeks of the show. Sudden schedule conflicts!!! There were several actors who could fill the roles but they haven't been in all the rehearsals and might be hazy on choreography. Could I set up a central video camera to record the whole show from beginning to end so the fill-ins could watch the video over and over again to see the blocking they needed to know? 

I added a Panasonic FZ2500 to the kit, along with a stout tripod, and headed to the theater to set up. 
In MP4 at HD the camera can shoot fairly small files. They are about 20 mb/s which means that a 128 GB memory card will give nearly six hours of run time. I set the exposure based on a middle of the road lighting cue, white balanced the camera and then turned the rear screen in to shut off the review and gain me some battery life. We rolled the camera for the entire 2 hours of the technical performance on one battery!!!!!!

With the camera manually focused on the middle of the stage the depth of field was adequate to cover most of the stage from front to back. The camera delivered great files for the intended purpose. Exposure wasn't alway optimum but as a reference for the actors it was exactly what they needed. They can clearly see the blocking and gestures and their relationships to other actors on the stage. Easy to accommodate and a big help to my Zach family. 

At the end of the performance we downloaded the SD card directly to one of the production team's laptops and it ran in Windows Media Player without issue. For $1,000, or thereabouts every pro practicing a hybrid video+photo model should have one of these Swiss Army Knife cameras.

I wanted to bring the discussion of doing a profitable business with a team of small sensor cameras out of the studios of full time YouTubers and breathless DP Reviewers and just tell you my experiences over the last ten days...
Here's a partial laundry list of the kinds of work we've been producing, mostly with the GH5 cameras and a collection of Olympus Pro and Panasonic/Leica and Panasonic lenses:

Technical and dress rehearsals for two theater productions. One gala for charity (event photography with camera flash) at the new, enormous JW Marriott hotel. One awards dinner (event photography with camera flash at the Four Seasons Hotel. A good reason to keep a couple of suits pressed and at the ready... A full day's shooting of high tech products followed by several days of clipping path creation. Two full days of video production; interiors and exteriors, for a high tech global client, in service of several local charities. One location video interview for a law firm's website, about a dozen headshots spread out over the ten days, and a marketing shoot to generate vertical banners for point of purchase. 

So, how has shooting the "tiny" sensor of the GH5 hampered my career? Not in the least. In fact, the camera's output seems no different to my clients than the files we generated from our previous Sony cameras and the Nikons before them. 

The stellar performer is, without a doubt, the Olympus Pro series 12-100mm f4.0 lens. At its widest focal length, and even wide open, its imaging performance is breathtaking. In fact, in conjunction with a good flash, it's the only lens I need to take with me to shoot any sort of social event. The focus with the GH5 has been nuts on and the final files, if anything, are too sharp and detailed. Easily fixed by reducing sharpness in the imaging parameters by a negative two clicks. It's the first m4:3rds system that, in conjunction with TTL flash, nails exposure and color 95% of the time. Count me highly satisfied in using the system for social events, galas, parties, receptions and more. 

In carefully controlled situations such as our product shoot I am even more satisfied. We were shooting a lot of products on a glossy white mannequin with a bright white background and the camera+lens never faltered or flared. I used the 40-150mm Olympus Pro lens a great deal and was thankful for the extra depth of field the system provided. I shot nearly everything at f8.0 which gave me the equivalent depth of field of a full frame camera at f16 but with none of the lens diffraction. Being able to toss a gray target into the scene and use the waveform monitor to set exposure was so much fun. You can see a graphical representation of the whites blowing out or coming under control and you can see the relationship between the middle tones as the highlights and shadows. It's a great way to present a camera user with information. 

This is my bare, go to combination; a wide ranging, constant aperture zoom with high sharpness mated to a camera body that goes effortlessly from being a great still photography camera to a camera you could easily make a feature film with in seconds. 

At one point we did a photo shoot for a theatre production to create images of characters for the "Tuna Christmas" play. We shot most of them from head to toe. I finally saw the way the images were used last night when I was working on a new production. A large number of images were combined to create a large postcard mailer and, of course, in postcard size they all looked quite good. But as I walked toward the entry to the theater I noticed some three foot by six foot banners which also used three of the images and they were just technically perfect. 

How can this be from a camera with a "tiny" sensor? My take is that technique and good photo practices, along with great lenses, can get most cameras exactly where you need them to be. There is a debate raging amongst two popular YouTubers right now about whether one should shoot Raw or Jpeg. Most of the discussion revolves around the need to shoot raw in order to correct things. Things like exposure, color balance and sharpness. But what if you just took the time to correct these things as you shot your work? You wouldn't have to shift the data in the files at all. You wouldn't have to throw away file information to correct for your sloppy technique. Right?

So, for stuff that will be used large (and almost everything else I shoot for clients)  I take the time to use the right lighting (in this case electronic flash), to use the cameras at their native (optimum) ISO; which for the Panasonic GH5s is ISO 200, to get the exposure exactly right (maybe it's worth hooking up an Atomos Ninja Flame and using the waveform and vector scope tools to precisely nail optimum exposure (and parameter settings !!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and to always, always, always create a careful custom white balance. We ended up with files that could be blown up to almost life-size (for humans) with no fuss and without the expense of a massive and ungainly full frame camera. We feel so heroic....

What we found out when pounding lots of video through the GH5s... We found out that even in 4K the image stabilization worked well. Even with non-Panasonic lenses. We found that when trying to shoot for "final look" (how we want the video files to look on your monitor), instead of blindly following the herd to shoot everything as V-Log, we were able to generate files with more than enough dynamic range and very pleasing color (and more importantly, contrast) that could be imported into an editing system and used without the need for extensive color grading and color matching. While the sensors in the Sony cameras, like the A7Rii and A7Sii (both of which my sometimes video partner still owns...), have more native dynamic range they are limited to 8 bit files while the GH5s are highly usable in the 10 bit mode --- which also generates files with.....more dynamic range. I'd say it's not even a wash it's advantage to the GH5. 

Aiming for "final look" demands that we get our tonality, color and exposure more or less perfect since there will be less opportunity (requirement) for these things to be done in post. And anything that's done in post constitutes throwing away lots of data.... So the idea is to up your technique and testing in order to make sure that not just white balance, contrast, sharpness and saturation are set to the best effect but also that you make use of the highlight/shadow controls and the luminance controls to create files that look great right out of the cameras. It's a bit more work and more intentional than shooting Log but I think it can be a great benefit to people who are not full time color graders with years of color grading from V-Log experiences.

We also learned that high bit rates that are generated by lots of detail and motion in your video really separate the field when it comes to memory card specifications. The GH5 is a camera that benefits from (and can use!) the fastest memory cards (UHS-II) you can throw at it. We had some issues on our full days of shooting with multiple GH5s with the cameras stopping the recording to wait and write to the buffer with slower cards. We are now in the process of replacing our primary working memory cards with V60, and especially V90 SD cards. I shot with a V90 card for the still photography at the technical rehearsal last night and even shooting some of the scenes very quickly in Raw+Fine Jpeg the camera never stalled or hit the buffer. Fast cards = high performance.

Smashing success with one new tool.... I'm thrilled that I picked up the DMW-XLR1 audio adapter for the GH5. We used Rodelink radio transmitters and receivers with a range of lavaliere and handheld cardioid microphones and in each case the sound was as noise free as we have ever been able to get while offering a clear and simple interface with which to control audio levels. I now consider this accessory to be a mandatory part of my GH5 video kit. The review from my director (who was shooting first camera and using the DMW-XLR1) was a direct comparison with the Sony unit. He found the Panasonic to be a better design with a lower profile and better handling. Two big thumbs up. 

I'm happy with it because I have several conference presentations to record as well as a live musical stage show, and I'll be able to pull a line-in from the productions' sound boards directly through the DMW-XLR1's XLR connectors and line-in setting. 

We are currently evaluating footage from this weekend that was shot in 4K, 10 bit, 4:2:2 and it's looking pretty fantastic. But beyond the codec tech specs one of the things that endears us to the m4:3rds shooting methodology is just how much easier it is to shoot handheld and to get nice, steady results. One lens I used while shooting in full sun (with an ND filter on the front) was the 12-60mm kit lens from Panasonic (not the Leica version...) and the integration of the dual I.S. system (camera+lens) was amazing. Half the time I was handholding the camera and lens and it seemed as though it was mounted on a tripod! Anecdotally, I have heard that shooting video with the Olympus EM-1.2 is equally satisfying. It's almost like have the camera mounted on a gimbal but without the extra cost and bulk...

At this juncture I have to say that the m4:3 cameras have exceeded my expectations by a significant (to me) margin. I look forward to bringing in a few of the high speed prime lenses from the Olympus Pro series as I consider their Pro series to be the best lenses I have ever shot with so far (Sorry Leica Summilux 75mm f1.4...).  

The new DMW-XLR1 eliminates the need for this cage and outboard audio interface from Saramonic while providing super performance for my microphones. A handling win for sure.

I've got this lens on my camera this week in order to shoot more architecture and city scape work. 
I'm anxious to push it to its limits to see where (if) the optical performance breaks down.

Great stabilization means you are ready to shoot in lower light than you may have thought possible. 
As long as there is no subject motion....

Yes, the Olympus 40-150mm Pro lens delivers great results when mated with the GH5.

Time out for a swim at Deep Eddy Pool with Emmett and Julie. 

A reminder that people who review cameras for a living rarely spend the time to do a really deep dive and use the camera you might be interested in non-stop for weeks and months at a time. 
Rarely do their livelihoods depend on the accuracy of their opinions. 
Time to take more YouTubers with a grain of salt --- 

A judicious use of the highlight/shadow control goes a long way toward making sure highlights don't burn out and shadows don't block up. 

Great lenses are the first priority followed by great sound.
I'm a fan of the DMW-XLR1 


Michael Meissner said...

Out of curiousity, did you worry about how long the batteries would last? Unlike a lot of video, you would typically want the camera rolling all of the time. Unlike the G-H5, it doesn't have the larger batteries and dual battery grip.

I record the performances as a very small renaissance faire in the summer, and I found that around the 2 hour mark my G-85 would be on the last bar for battery capacity (using both Panasonic and Watson batteries) when I recorded 1080p video of back to back performances. Note, I currently do not have the battery grip for the G-85, so I'm limited to one battery at a time.

I assume that since the FZ-1000 uses the same battery (DMW-BLC12) as the G-85,that it would last about the same amount of time recording video.

If you were worried about lasting on a single battery, there are ways to power the G-85 (and presumably FZ-1000) from an A/C outlet using a fake battery. I picked up a clone unit from Amazon of the DMW-AC8 (A/C adapter providing 9 volts of power) + DMW-DCC8 (fake battery that fits inside of the G-85) for under $20. At least when I looked around earlier this year, the officially branded Panasonic A/C adapter kit had not been in stock for a long time. Now for the renaissance faire work, A/C outlets aren't possible, but I've played around with just having a big battery that can provide 9 volts and 1 amp of power.

Another option is Tether Tools which has a similar setup. However, since the A/C adapter kit is cheaply available for Panasonic, I don't see the need for spending $200 or so to use the Tether Tools for Panasonic. I did eventually buy the Tether Tools setup for my Olympus gear.

I take another point of the story to be, a pro should always have a set of batteries and empty memory cards available in case something comes up.

Dave Jenkins said...

"How can this be from a camera with a "tiny" sensor? My take is that technique and good photo practices, along with great lenses, can get most cameras exactly where you need them to be."

I would like to amplify this statement with something directly analogous: Back at the height of the 35mm--medium format debate (a sometimes quite hot debate, as you will remember) I wrote an article titled "The Case for the 35mm Wedding." It was published in "Rangefinder" magazine. Here's an excerpt:

"I have 16x20 and 20x24 prints from both medium format and 35mm hanging in my studio, and when I have a prospective client who has been told that a real professional only uses medium format, I ask them to look at the prints and tell me which were made with medium format and which with 35mm. Most people can't tell the difference, and those who can realize that the difference is so slight it's a non-issue.
Here's a true story. On June 25th, 1998 I photographed the wedding of the daughter (and only child) of two engineers. These people are absolute sticklers for precision in every way. Both father and mother are engineers, and both came to just about every meeting. It was like two hens with just one chick between them!
Eventually the father told me how they had happened to come to me. It seems they had been to see another photographer in my building whom I consider very
competent. He uses the Bronica ETR system with Fuji NPS film for almost all his work, but they did not consider his photos sharp enough. As they were leaving the building they happened to see my window display of 16x20s and 20x24s, many of which had been
photographed with 35mm. They were so impressed with the sharpness of my photos that they made an appointment to see me.
The biggest obstacle I had to overcome in making the sale was their inability to believe that the photos on display had been made with 35mm equipment. Mrs. Engineer's father, a retired professional photographer, had told them that only medium format was capable of making sharp photos, and they were literally unable to believe the evidence before their eyes.
Reasonably good equipment, reasonably good film, and reasonably good technique can add up to extremely good photographs."

Fred said...

Very interesting comments on your equipment and somewhat different from all the internet "experts" who don't actually use m43 (because it isn't good enough, so why bother).
It seems to me that there are some advantages to m43 besides smaller bodies and lenses. I believe that better image stabilization will always be easier to achieve with m43 than larger sensors. Also, razor thin depth of field has never been important to me but having a lot of it is great. And very cool lenses.
I could be wrong (Betsy does remind me of that periodically) but it seems to me that the sensors in most pro video cameras are super 35 or smaller and broadcast cameras tend to use really small sensors and most DSLR type of cameras don't scan the whole sensor when shooting video.
I also don't find the camera size an issue. The GH5 is still smaller than a Nikon D5 the last time I checked. If you want a smaller overall camera put a pancake lens on the front :-).
And a question, does the DMW-XLR1 work with the G85?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Fred, Thanks for chiming in. Sadly, the G85 doesn't work with the DMW-XLR1. I wish it did, I'd have a perfect banging around combination. Sad. Bigly sad.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

MM, I had two more batteries in my pocket but when I checked the camera at intermission we still had 2/3 of the bars left. I took this as a sign from the photo gods that more intervention was not necessary. When all the screens are off the battery life becomes much better. That in itself was a good lesson.

David said...

With glowing reviews like these, maybe Panasonic will give you a G9 to test out.
I would like to here an honest review of that camera. As in 2 years or so it mybe my next.

Eric W said...

I have a Fujifilm X-T2 and some good primes for it. Great system, but based on your work I've been testing out an Oly OMD-10mkII with 12-40 Pro. It is the right size, very comfy, and the files are still pretty good If I want the f2.8 on my Fuji, the lens is a monster the size of the Nikon 17-55 F2.8. I like the 18-55 f2.8-4 kit, it is small but not a constant aperture. Since I don't need the bigger sensor, but want the convenience of easy carry and good glass with a constant big aperture...you have me thinking and evaluating. Thanks for the great work and real world lessons. I enjoy your portrait tutotials a lot as well.

Dano said...

With recent advances in 4:3 engineering, I believe a good photographer can make magic. Who needs full frame.

Anonymous said...


Could you provide some info on the use of the waveform monitor and vectorscope, which I gather you sometimes use with still images. The only things Imfound online were re. video. It almost looks like the equivalent of the “blinking”, but how could it be that simple. :)



ODL Designs said...

Another well thought out analysis Kirk,
I have had many conversations with photographers explaining the benefits of the system, and there are many, from the tech in the bodies, to a whole suite of modern lenses, supported by many different companies.

Glad to see the move is making more sense for you.

Michael Meissner said...

Kirk, I assumed you had multiple batteries in your pocket. But you don't want to tempt Murphy's Law and have the battery fail at the worst possible time.

I was curious how much power savings you get with the screen folded in, and broke out my external power setup and power meter. Note at present, I only have a visual meter, so I don't have a precise record of the highs and lows of the power draw. I fed the camera 9 volts from an external power supply (that is rated up to 2.5 amps).

When shooting video (I tried MP4/4K/30fps, MP4/1080p/60fps, and MP4/1080p/30fps), I could not really notice any difference in power draw whether I used the EVF, the back LCD, or I had the back LCD folded into the camera and nothing near the EVF.

When I'm not shooting video, and the camera is just on, I do notice some power savings when the LCD is turned into the camera and I'm not using the EVF, but I was surprised I don't see a savings with video enabled.

As I said, I need to more closely be able to monitor the power, monitoring total watts (voltage*amps) drawn, along with minimum/maximum during the test, rather than looking at the power display and mentally looking for highs/lows.

At a first approximation, it doesn't look like turning the LCD back into the camera saves much power when shooting video. Perhaps the rest of the video recording uses so much energy that it moves the LCD usage to noise level, or perhaps Panasonic doesn't turn off doing video to the screen when the screen is turned in.

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