2.11.2020

I don't know why I ever, ever take reviews on the web seriously. And yes, I do get the irony of writing that here. I'd like to address C-AF and the Lumix S1 camera.


Lou. ©Kirk Tuck.

I've read and heard over and over again that the Lumix S1 camera is "flawed" because it just isn't competitive with XXX or YYY camera when it comes to continuous focusing or face detection focusing when used for video. I almost believed it because, as in politics, a lie told over and over again starts to become "true." There is a story in the photo and video marketplace that says Sony rules the continuous autofocus performance race in video. The other prevailing story is how awful the Panasonic Lumix S1 is in the same contest. I've used various Sony cameras for video and experienced foreground and background pulsing as the camera changes focus quickly, over and over again. I've also experienced my share of low light hunting with them. In fairness the last model I used was the A7Rii but it did use PD AF....

Well. Maybe I just got the only good Lumix S1 sold in north America but my experiences yesterday confirm to me that the consensus on the web is unmitigated, mindless, fabrication or out and out laziness. Let me explain...

When I bought the two S1 cameras I shoot with I decided not to care whether or not the camera was a quick and accurate focusing machine for video. Most of the video I've done over the years (about 90% of it) has been done in manual focus for one reason or another. I learned to shoot motion stuff with my own Bolex Rex 5, 16mm film movie camera and its lovely companion, the Angenieux 12-120mm zoom lens. There was absolutely no way to shoot that rig in any other way but manually. And the small and gritty finder one used to attain sharp focus was no great shakes so one really had to be on their game to nail sharp focus. Moving subjects? One did a rehearsal with the subject of the film and marked different "focus marks" at different critical distances on the lens barrel. When the subject moved from one mark to the next the camera operator moved the lens from one focus mark to another. It worked. 100 years of Hollywood film production serve to prove the process works. 

I tried the autofocus on the Lumix for regular photography and found it to be very good for the way I operate. Yes, there's some wobble if you use C-AF and a faster frame rate but the focus itself has always worked fine for me. But until yesterday I never tried using the C-AF or the eye detect AF with video production. And, having read the usual incorrect and overblown crap on various websites (big and small) I thought I'd be giving it a try and quickly retreating to the proven MF methods I've learned. 

First, let me tell you the context. 

I was asked by the folks at our regional theatre, Zach Theatre, to help them promote a very good, one person production of "Every Brilliant Thing." It's a play about a boy who tries to help his depressed mother by creating a list of all the things that make life wonderful and worth living. I'm assuming from the title that the playwright is British... 

The marketing team decided that it would be a fun bit of social media advertising to create a video, or a series of short videos, asking random people around Austin, Texas: What makes them happy? What makes their day special? What small pleasures make life extra good for them? What are their favorite things? 

We'd be moving quickly and carrying all my gear along with us. We'd go from office to office, and from exterior location to exterior location, without any crew. No DP, no grips, no sound guy, no production assistant to fetch coffee and take notes, no make-up person to slow down our process. And no pre-casting; we depended on our charming personalities to enlist total strangers to our cause. And it worked!

But, that brings me to the reason I tried out the continuous AF in the video mode for this project. I had the camera on a Benro monopod, with an S6 video head. I was using the Lumix S1 camera along with the DMW-XX audio interface so I could use physical knobs to control audio levels. We used a reporter microphone which our marketing director wielded and I had a very small, Aputure LED light in the cold show of the audio interface unit. I was trying to juggle maintaining good composition and good audio in fairly close-up shots and I thought that if I could outsource the task of focusing to the camera it would be a lot easier for me to get everything else right too.

Our first shot was done outside on a very overcast day that came complete with flurries of rain and bits of wind. I put the camera in face detect AF mode and composed my shot. I used the touch screen to touch the face of the person on the screen so the AF would know where I wanted to start. The little yellow boxes leaped into action, found my subject's eyes and locked in like a dog with stolen bacon.

The first interviewee moved forward and backward and from side to side. The background was lighter than the subject. The camera wasn't rock steady (intentional) but the take away from this first test was that the camera never lost focus, never hunted and never pulsed between foreground and background. There was no focus jitter and no sense that the camera was compulsively refocusing in any unwanted way. In fact, it was focusing exactly the same way an experienced focus puller would have performed the same task only the camera was smoother. Emboldened by our first success I kept using the video AF for the next two hours. We interviewed 38 people and did something like 55 clips. I've examined each clip in Final Cut Pro X, on an iMac Pro 5K screen, and in each clip the eyelashes of my subjects are crisp and perfectly defined. 

At first I thought that the good performance of the C-AF in video was just because we started outside and the light was bright enough to be using ISO 200 with a 180 degree shutter (1/60th) at 30fps with a f4.0 aperture. I thought, given all the horrendous misinformation on the web, that when we headed into the darker offices of the next interviewees we'd selected the much lower light would cause the autofocus to hunt and peck like a starving chicken. 

One of the locations we shot video in was an office with minimal lighting and closed window blinds. To maintain the same video exposure triangle I outlined above I had to raise the ISO to 6400 (which is actually not a big deal with the S1 as it's a pretty clean ISO for video...).  The camera and lens showed the same smooth tenacity in focusing as they had in ISO 200 quality lighting. 

When we headed to the pedestrian bridge to downtown to recruit new subjects I looked a bit comical as I trailed along behind the marketing director and the social media expert with my rig nestled on top of a stout monopod. I had headphones around my neck as we walked over to the next location and I kept the reporter style microphone in my back pocket. I didn't want to disconnect stuff since we had a bit of mist to contend with from time to time but I also didn't want the marketing director to carry the mic in case she got distracted and inadvertently tested the length of the XLR cable. And the structural integrity of the cable to audio interface connection.

So now I'm curious where the other reviewers of this gear get their results. Do they actually put a lens on the camera and point it at something or do they just parrot what the guy before them said in his basement vlog? I think it's embarrassing for the industry and ruins the overall credibility of camera reviews. 

In addition to rock solid interview autofocus I have to say that the footage directly out of camera, with no color grading and no processing, is wonderful. We shot 1080p since the final use of the content will be on social media and will, overwhelmingly, be enjoyed on much smaller screens that the ones we're editing on. With the paid video upgrade for the S1 I was able to make video at 1080p that was both 10 bit and 4:2:2 color space. It's a bit rate of 100 mbps. I think it looks beautiful. Just beautiful. 

Here's a short clip:


Zach Interviews from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

If I could change anything in our very impromptu interview it would have been to add more front light so I could bring down the sky exposure. With that said my waveform tells me we're not burning out highlight detail. I guess I could reduce the highlights and increase the shadows but that might mess with the overall skin tone. It's always a compromise; either shadows and highlights or access versus production time. At least I know I chose the right camera for the job.

23 comments:

Hugh said...

My guess is that certain companies “forget” to ask for review samples back after a glowing review.
Companies that don’t play the game get knocked by some reviewers.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

I spent some time from 2007-2012 reviewing cameras for couple of magazines and in every instance those camera companies definitely wanted their cameras back. There are only a few review copies to go around. Might be different now but they'd need to disclose the "gifts" or they would run afoul of consumer advertising laws. But I guess in the current political milieu nobody particularly cares about abiding by the law anymore....

Jeff said...

I'm sure 'the political millieu' is why some reviewers might be happy to be bribed by camera makers or why some might be to lazy to actually use the camera they are reviewing. It's probably the reason I need two new tires too.

Eric Rose said...

"Locked in like a dog with stolen bacon". Classic Kirk!! Love it! I will be doing a bunch of interviews in the coming months. I hope my GH5 performs as well as your S1. There are really only a couple of "reviewers" I put any stock in what they say. The rest I don't even bother reading or viewing their reviews.

Eric

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Put enough light in the scene and the GH5 is formidable. Audio is great too!

Michael Matthews said...

Thanks for including the clip. It really brings home your point.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks MM. Everyone talks, I just supply a clip from a real, working job to make my point.

MikeR said...

"like a dog with stolen bacon"

"hunt and peck like a starving chicken"

I'm glad I didn't have anything in my mouth when I read these two jewels. Wooda been a real mess.

David said...

What!,
How dare you go against the internet with real information.
It will now sneak into your home as you sleep to give you more vibrating background orbs.
Thank you for the shot. Really hammers home the none issue in trained capable hands.

David said...

I do a lot of macro photography and often have to look up names of flowers or insects and try to get a little info about them. I used to be amazed at how many sites would say same the exact same thing, many times word for word. When it is nearly word for word it's not unusual to find that a university or government site has the same wording. It's certainly possible but I doubt that the university or government sites are the ones plagiarizing.

Anonymous said...

Kirk

3bmep has a review of the new Fuji x100v. The real information is the gh5 and g9 video used to record the review shows what you're seeing with the S1. No flutter either in the studio when something is shoved in front of hugh or in the field with excellent tracking.

Jay

Kodachromeguy said...

Reviews on the web? Surely you don't pay any attention to the trolling from the fraud-tographers on the infamous D reviewing site? Follow your instincts; you will be right.

Richard said...

Mille Grazie for not being a click baiter and an actual user of the product.

Mike said...

Now, I want to know if she actually performed the turn! Sounds like something my old body couldn't do for any amount of money.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Mike, She did do the turn! We filmed it and everyone survived. Oh, and the camera locked focus on her through the entire turn. Thanks! KT

D S said...

I posted your article on the Facebook S1 group where we have a LOT of people complaining about the AF. I'll preempt the question I know they're all going to ask . What settings were you using? :)

It performed beautifully in your clip though.
I've always personally believed that if Panasonic could nail the AF it would have the best cameras in the market right now. I love my G9. But people are constantly poo pooing them because of their perceived issues with the AF.

D S said...

It's posted to the "Panasonic LUMIX S1, S1R, and S1H" FB group and the comments are coming in :)

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

DS, Panasonic has more or less nailed AF for video. Unless you are shooting something with no detail at all under the world's worst light you should be fine. I dread the legions of disgruntled camera users who will now descend upon the VSL site to tell us over and over again how bad everything is and how stupid we must be to actually get it all to work....

JoeCD4 said...

Hi Kirk! Great review.
Which lens(es)? Did I miss that?
Native Panasonic L-mount?

D S said...

I don't think its going to be that bad . So far these are genuine owners of the cameras who are stating their issues not youtube pundits who've only had it for a week. The impression they've given so far is that they just want it to work, they're not interested in proving anyone wrong or right they're already invested in the system. So, as expected they're curious about your settings and would love to see other examples.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Another Video Test by a Lumix user and someone affiliated with Panasonic. At least he describes his test parameters and the whole demo is live: https://photojoseph.com/moment/lumix-s1-autofocus-test/20096#.XkSWuC2ZOAY

Mark the tog said...

I have found that in the internet environment people have zero problem in accumulating a list of specifications that are hallowed ground and anything not possessing said features are anathema.

Thus pundits who have never so much as put a fingerprint on a camera pronouncing it unfit for use by any sane person.
The same happens in the car world where some self anointed expert proclaims a vehicle a "deal-breaker" because it will not accelerate to 60 in under five seconds or that it lacks seventeen turbos.

I think they are the fat kids on sofas in their basements Trump keeps blaming the hacking on. I know better, they have been getting micro payments from Amazon to stir up "engagement" on DPR.

Mark the tog said...

BTW, the young lady in your clip is super charming.