Testing out the Panasonic GH5 as a still photography camera. We headed to Zach Theatre for a photon phest.

Sasha will be co-starring in "Singing in the Rain."

It's best to break in new cameras a step at a time. Here's how we do it in VSL World: Upon taking possession of a new camera model I put the battery on the charger and then sit down in a comfortable chair and read the full, online manual to get up to speed on all the features I know I will use. After manual reading and battery charging I put a lens on the front and head downtown to my favorite stomping grounds and get used to physically handling the camera. I shoot stuff and review. I use all the buttons that control the stuff I use all the time. This might happen between two and ten times before I'm ready to commit using the new gear on a project. 

When I feel comfortable with the camera I tend to use it in the studio for simple headshots to start out. It's such a controllable atmosphere and there's well known gear waiting in the wings if I happen to hit a snag. It also give me an opportunity to work with controlled lighting and to see just how good the files can be when shot at their native ISO and lit well. Then I drag all the files into Lightroom and try to find out where the points of pain might be in the files themselves. Is there a consistent color cast? How does the camera file handle deep shadows? How much highlight recovery is there, actually? Is the lens correction playing with a full deck?

Once I go past this I'm ready to take the camera with me to paying shoots for commercial clients. 

As you may have read I've recently been acquiring some good lenses for my Panasonic GH5 cameras (yes, I bought a second one...) and today (and tomorrow) presented good opportunities to slam a lot of frames through one of the machines and to see just how well it works. 

Today's project was a marketing assignment to shoot two dancers on white to use in marketing and promotion for Zach Theatre's upcoming production of "Singing in the Rain." 

So much experimenting. First of all we lit the set with nothing but battery powered lights. Lights spanning three different brands. The main light was provided by the Neewer 300 w/s monolight powered by its big lithium ion battery, aimed into a 72 inch, white umbrella. The fill was the Godox AD200 with a bare tube head and a wide angle diffuser aimed into a 77 inch, white umbrella. I used a couple of Godox camera speedlights on the background and a small, manual flash as a kicker positioned on the opposite side of the talent from the main light. 

The two big flashes were set to one quarter power, the background flashes at 1/16th power and the kicker also at 1/16th. The exposure was f8.0 at 1/125th of a second, ISO 400. Action frozen, talent fully in focus even when moving. 

I shot 500+ images and the flashes were happy to come along for the ride. No shut downs, no heat warnings. I have great images of the couple leaping through the air that are crisply frozen. The raw files are very malleable in Lightroom and the resolution works. The cameras are a blast to shoot with and nailed focus in spite of the fact that I wasn't using modeling lights but was depending entirely on the high ceiling florescent fixtures for all my focusing and composing illumination. Modeling lights can be helpful but one would think that after shooting these kinds of assignments for 28 years (give or take a few months) I should pretty well know where to put the lights. 

While the camera is great to shoot with, focuses quickly and generates pleasing files some of the credit must go to the lens. The 12-100mm f4.0 Pro Olympus lens is the sharpest zoom lens I've ever used on micro 4:3rds and the wide focal length range means I needed only one lens for the entire afternoon. 


Putting the final touches on a hard working, 4K, video system for commercial work.

Panasonic GH5 with Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 lens.

There are some parameters I need in my selection of tools if I am to feel comfortable offering video services to clients now. Those would include: a range of great codecs, solid 4K performance, unlimited recording time, solid battery performance, an easy to use audio interface, a selection of really good lenses, and well implemented image stabilization. Even before the recently announced firmware upgrade (v2.0) the GH5 system checked all those things off the list. In fact, it's the only hybrid (stills and video) camera I've found at any price to have everything I want for video production and a complete complement of photographic abilities as well. The only feature the camera lacks is an extremely high resolution mode. 

My immersion into the system has been gradual. As one insightful wag wrote, when I bought the Panasonic FZ2500, (and I paraphrase) "this (the FZ2500) will be the gateway drug into the GH5 system." And, to a certain extent, that is true. In concert with the Atomos Ninja Flame the FZ2500 allowed the use of 10 bit, 4:2:2 performance in 4K video. My recent experiences using the system to shoot green screen were eye-opening for me. The FZ also helped me get used to the color science of the Panasonic system.

After several very successful still shoots and much video testing with my first GH5 (using the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens) I felt ready to flesh out a cohesive video system around the GH5 camera body. I am certain that its advanced video features make it a good choice for the next two years without worries of technical obsolescence.

With the system in place I am confident that I can provide clients with sharp, clean video and audio that is on par with the technical deliverables of all mainstream video platforms commonly used for corporate and other commercial video uses. With the update to firmware 2.0 in the Fall we'll also add the ability to create files at 400 MB/s that will rival top systems. 

Here's what I've put together in order to provide my clients with great content and superior technical quality: 

Two GH5 camera bodies. Having two identical allows me to set up and shoot interviews from two angles/magnifications, to provide more editing options in interviews. On a fast moving project it allows me to use a second camera operator who will provide matching footage so we can two different scenes concurrently. The second camera always buys peace of mind on client shoots. If one camera goes down we have an identical back up. 

Leica/Panasonic 8-18mm wide angle zoom lens. I've always shied away from extreme wide angles but I'm finding more and more uses for focal lengths wider than the 24mm equivalent when shooting architecture (interior and exterior) as well as in cramped labs and clean rooms. The 8-18mm is extremely sharp, and, in conjunction with the in-camera corrections, doesn't exhibit much geometric distortion. The front of the lens has a familiar, 67mm filter ring which makes it easy to use polarizers and variable neutral density filters. The longer end of the lens gets into my comfort zone for everyday shooting. It's a nice overlap with the 12-100mm f4.0 lens.

Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro zoom lens. This lens is insanely sharp and perfect for those times when I have to travel light, work fast and move around with the camera off tripod. The 24-200mm equivalent focal range all falls into my compositional comfort zones. The manual focus feature, with hard stops for close focus and infinity, is a desirable addition for anyone shooting video production. The only thing lacking, which can be useful in some situations, would be a power zoom... This is the lens I keep on the camera most often for interviews and general work. In dark interiors I wish it was one stop faster but I've never wished for it to be sharper...

Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro zoom lens. I added this lens almost exclusively for shooting live theater at Zach Theatre (and perhaps the Lyric Theater in OKC and the Alley Theater in Houston....). With its fast and perfectly usable f2.8 and a focal length range that is equivalent of 80-300mm on a 35mm camera I can sit mid-house and grab endless shots that range from tight, one person compositions to small groups and ensembles. Being able to do so with the lens wide open at all focal lengths is a great thing. It's something I've done extensively with the Sony RX10 iii and the Panasonic FZ2500. If I need to go longer I can pick up a 1.4X extender which would get me to the equivalent of 420mm with an f-stop of f4.0. 

25mm f1.7. It's a reflex. Get a system and add the basic "normal" lens. Useful when smaller camera profiles are appreciated and, used wide open, a decent way to get more light on the sensor. 

While these are the primary lenses I'll be using for most commercial engagements I do find that the lure of my collection of Olympus Pen FT prime lenses also sways me to look to m4:3 cameras for video production use. They are a nice adjunct to the modern lenses, provide wider apertures and have a distinctive look. 

For convenience (and because the price is so much more reasonable than Sony's) I am also adding the GH5 Microphone adapter, the DMW-XLR1, to make audio easier when I am shooting solo. It fits into the hot shoe and has gotten good marks from all the reviewers I've read.

Everything else I need for the video I want to do is already resident in the studio. We've got all manner of cool lights, lots of light stands and C-Stands, endless modifiers, digital video recorders, meters, and cases. 

My aim is to provide "no excuses" video to good clients who value my particular "small footprint" approach to producing their work. We'll see if it's a market that's profitable.