Angry Robot

GH1 Update 2

Dude Buys the Singing Fish

I love the feel of this camera in the hands. I love old school film cameras with all their manual doohickeys and I don’t like bad digital compacts with all the navigating poorly-laid-out on-screen menus. This thing has got old school buttons and levers, and where you need to go into menus, they are very well designed. The flip-out LCD is from heaven. Only thing I don’t like is the absence of focus marks on the lens. Still getting used to manual focusing with this bastard – the autofocus is good, so I’m not complaining too much.

It takes a bit to get used to the video. I got into the stills part right away. As I mentioned I have plenty of experience with shooting stills, and so I saw the improvements a camera like this makes possible right away.

On the video capture side I have few skills, other than general knowledge of photography (well, plus a wealth of skills in post, but that’s anoher matter). Also, this camera’s advantages in cinematography are tricky to unlock.

The post workflow is one thing. For me, it actually takes longer to get my tapeless footage off this camera than it did with tape. That’s because you have to convert at least once from AVCHD -> ProRes if you want Final Cut to be able to digest it (here’s one video task that may actually be better on windows systems). You need to convert again if you want to remove the 30i wrapper from your 24p footage. You can shoot slomo since the camera has a 60p mode, but that involves some trickery again.

Capture has its own challenges. I certainly saw the AVCHD ‘mud’ (compression junk as a result of the codec breaking down) that happens with fast pans. This is disappointing to say the least, and hopefully panasonic can address it in a firmware update, perhaps by upping the bit rate.

I personally needed to get a ND filter for daylight shooting; if you’re looking for ‘film look’ bokeh, you want some filters going. Once I had that I got better-looking footage.

Finally, camera shake is an issue in something this small. It’s okay if you’re shooting slomo. But if not, you either want to stay wide or get some means to stabilize this badboy. I had okay luck with the camera on my lap or otherwise propped against something, but i’m also looking into either a shoulder brace or steadicam-y type thing, and there are many options that I’m still shopping around for.

Once you figure out some of these things, you can get some excellent results. Here’s two vids of test footage. (You can’t watch them in HD through these embeds, so perhaps click through to the vimeo pages.) Here’s an early, not great one:

GH1 test from dsankey; on Vimeo.

I’m happy with the footage on our back patio (the girls chatting), but little else. That footage looks great because the camera’s stabilized, I’m able to get some bokeh, in part because it’s not too bright. The footage on queen street in direct sunlight is pre-ND filter and so the aperture is closed down, meaning there’s too much DOF. A lot of it was too shaky to use, too.

Here’s a later vid, with footage from Pride last sunday:

Pride 2009 Camera Test from dsankey; on Vimeo.

As you can see, the slomo works great. It smooths out the camera jitter awesomely. Also, I had the ND filter by then, and it was cloudy, so backgrounds are all pretty n’ soft. I look at some of these shots, and think I shouldn’t be able to get them, the camera being so cheap, and me being nearly unskilled.

The other nice thing is how people deal with the camera. It’s small and has the body of an SLR. I think at the AlternaQueer tent people thought I was a news photographer. And out on the street there were so many cameras I was more or less invisible. Because of the massive proliferation of cameras these days, the incredible 280mm zoom this thing can do, and the appearance of the camera’s body, I found myself able to go pretty much anywhere and take pics of anything with no problems. That was a nice surprise.

Anyway, I hope to shoot a few more tests this week as there are still things to figure out and questions to answer. Dealing with sound is one of them.