6.20.2018

Panasonic adds new "Night Mode" to their GH5 camera. Here's why I like this new feature: It has actual benefits.


Every once in a while a camera maker comes out with something in a firmware upgrade that goes beyond just C.Y.A. and fixing stuff they promised to have working at the time of launch. I'm appreciative to Panasonic for including a new feature called, Night Mode, in the set of improvements in the latest firmware update for the GH5. It adds real functionality to the camera for me.

Most camera screens are made to work under a bunch of different lighting conditions but work best in average room light, shooting average subjects. Most rear camera screens just flat out suck if you are trying to compose outdoors in full sun (thank goodness for the miracle of EVFs...) and most rear screens are too bright and too blue for low light work. The light output, and the color range (too much stuff in the blue spectrum) of that light output, messes with your night vision and is generally bright enough, in low light situations, to act as an annoying and distracting beacon to everyone around you. 

Most of the times I am shooting in the theater I am experiencing a combination of issues with conventional screens. A lot of dramatic stage work is done with lower levels of stage lighting and the house itself is quite dark. If I need to check settings and actuate the rear screen the light from the screen is overwhelming. Nearly as obnoxious as the bright screen of a big cellphone. If I go ahead and take a look, or use the rear screen to change a setting, I have my vision temporarily compromised by the blast of light. I could always chimp camera settings through the EVF finder of my mirrorless cameras but they too have the same brightness issues when it comes to the preservation of my night vision.

With the GH5, you have the option of switching either the EVF, or the rear screen, or both, to Night Mode; depending on how you use your camera. I used Night Mode for the first time last night. I was shooting some additional promotional shots of the Zach Theatre production of "Heisenberg" from a stationary position just to the right of the center section of audience seating. There was no one on either side of me but there were people in the row just behind me. 

Normally, when shooting with an audience, I would disable the rear screen and make all my settings, and do all my reviewing, on the EVF. Many times it's an advantage to be able to pull the camera away from my eye and into my lap to check settings or make a quick assessment of sharpness or composition. I miss having that option with a conventional rear screen set-up while shooting in a dark theater. 

Last night I set the rear screen to Night Mode and left the EVF in its normal implementation. It was great to be able to keep one eye on the action while I looked down at a menu item. It helped keep me from missing important shots. The deep orange on a darker screen was much, much less intrusive than the same screen when not used in Night Mode. I also tried using Night Mode with the EVF and it's very workable if you already know you are in the ballpark for color temperature settings. It might take a while to get used to judging exact exposure with the new set up because without colors the visual cues for correct exposure are different. You might depend more, at first, on histograms.

When using Night Mode in the EVF I was surprised at how much better I could see into shadows and how much more accessible faces in the audience were when taking the camera away from my face. I did the last quarter of the play with Night Mode enabled on the EVF and found that, not being seduced by color, my compositions where a bit tighter and better balanced and I didn't have the same level of eye fatigue I sometimes get when I spend the whole day shooting (we had a marketing shoot all afternoon followed by a break and then plunged into a full dress rehearsal shoot). 

I give Panasonic double two thumbs up. The first two elevated thumbs are for coming up with the idea in the first place (although aircraft instrumentation and some car instrumentation has featured the lower output, red/orange spectrum illumination options for decades) and including it in cameras I like to use. The second set of odd thumb signals is for making the implementation so flexible. I like being able to chose how I want each screen to work instead of one setting being universally applied. 

The new Night Mode feature should be a boon for everyone who works in low light and for many who suffer more acutely from eyestrain caused by spectrum sensitivity and excessive screen brightness. 

I predict that every single camera maker will copy this and put it into their pro series cameras just as quickly as they can. I can't believe this feature hasn't created more buzz on the web. It actually helps make shooting conditions better for many artists. 

The monochrome rendition distills images down to their essentials. 
Color doesn't get in the way...


Every time I use the GH5 I am a bit more impressed. 


7 comments:

Ken said...

Wow, that is different than I thought when you mentioned it in the comments in the Olympus 40-150 post, but that looks VERY nice to use.

RubyT said...

My Pentax KP offers that, and I absolutely love it.

Mike Rosiak said...

Have you tried the b&w monochrome setting for day work? (Assuming it exists. It does on the LX100 and G85) I like it for removing the distraction of color.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Mike, that is a feature on the GH5. I've used it and it's a nice way of distilling down to the composition and not being distracted by color. I like it for street shooting especially.

Joseph Kashi said...

FWIW - I cannot understand why other camera makers haven't done this years ago. My 1963 Cessna C336 aircraft came stock from the factory with continuously dimmable red night vision lighting. That's 55 years ago!

skygzr said...

If its REALLY dark, the red light causes your pupils to contract less than blue light, and you retain dark adaptation.

Astronomers have been using red gels on their flashlights since Babylonian times ;-)

Andrew Gardner said...

I've been shooting with a Pentax K70 for a while and it has this feature. It's not perfect but I shoot a lot of bands in low light in clubs, and have found it invaluable.