Ah. The "good old days" of shooting fill flash with film. We actually used light meters then....
I was pretty sure I'd get a lot of responses to my latest purchase along the lines of: "He needs an intervention." "Here we go again." "He's back into m4:3." "But wait, I thought you said Sony (Nikon, Canon, Leica) was best!?!" "It's just Gear Acquisition Syndrome." etc., etc. But I was equally sure I could come up with at least one convincing rationale for my seemingly illogical purchase.
A few years ago, around 2013, I looked at the market for photography and made a few decisions. My read of the trajectory of paid photography was not optimistic. I saw evidence of financial decline in the actual profession that mirrored the slow down in the camera sales world. Not being anxious to ride the trend to the bottom without some sort of plan "B" I started looking around at options which could leverage the position I built in my market and also leverage many of the skills sets I'd learned over the years. While re-engaging with my advertising background seemed possible it was more of a long shot, in my mind, than ramping up my comfort level with video production and setting marketing goals to sell more video services. The benefit with this second choice is that I would get to play with technical toys (always a plus) and learn new things. If I played my cards right I could also replace income lost to a declining market for still photography.
Now I know this is disappointing talk for anyone who is not in the actual business of trying to squeeze money out of their photography but I don't think it should be. The decline of our old way of doing business in no way infers that the joy of doing photography for fun is in the least bit diminished. I love taking photographs and I love to share them, it's just that the market for selling the work is in constant flux and we rational humans fear and hate change; especially if we don't have some sort of life raft on which to cling. I'm certainly not trying to convince anyone to drop still photography and rush out to start making long form movies instead. I think that would be a dreadful use of our time; at least for 99 percent of us...
No, my rationales outlined herein have only to do with the way we embrace the crafts of photography and videography in order to make a living. If I head out the door to make images to please myself it's almost always shooting still photographs and basically never shooting video.
Sometimes I can be prescient. Either that or I've created a self-fulfilling prophecy. No matter which is true I've seen a quick decline in the amount and kind of photography we are asked to do by clients and a commensurate increase in the amount and kind of video production that clients request. In fact, in this particular year, at the height of a record stock market and the advent of full employment (a government metric; perhaps not a reality in all geographic regions) I've done less photography than in one or two of the lean years of the last recession but at the same times I've offset that decline with an accelerating engagement in video. The end result is a stable and adequate income to maintain life, get the kiddo finished up at college, and to continue to pay the mortgage.
If you read between the lines you'll instantly understand that when the nature of your business radically changes the tools needed for the business change in almost every regard.
In years past when I changed systems (as opposed to augmenting my work resources with additions and no subtractions) I went all in with any new system. I needed to immerse myself in the system and get up to speed on the finicky parts and the menus in order to present a calm and professional demeanor in actual shooting situations. This time I have no intention of getting rid of the Sony full frame cameras. I still have enough still photography business to warrant having the right gear to serve that market.
And the interesting thing is that while most of the foundational (read: "boring and routine") jobs are drying up, as are many still photography jobs in the middle sectors, the higher end jobs, with higher budgets, remain. Keeping the A7Rii just makes good sense. It does two things that the one inch sensor cameras and the m4:3 cameras can't do as well (right now); highly selective focus and eye popping resolution. If I change my marketing just to concentrate on the higher end of the markets perhaps the balance in our business between video and still photography will shift back and I'll be even happier having held on to the Sony stuff.
But for now the holes in my video equipment inventory are a reflection of my method of getting up to speed with the hands on practice of video. I used whatever video I had in the cameras in hand to prevent rushing out with a laundry list of "wants" only to end up with stuff I didn't know how to use properly yet. Most of the experimenting a video producer needs to do is rudimentary and based around knowing how to structure a video story. What shots are needed. How to cover a scene well. How to get reaction shots. What the standards are for composition and continuity. How to direct talent. How to move the camera and how to use different focal lengths to good effect. The technical stuff comes after the aesthetic stuff.
I was also hesitant about buying anything that didn't have 4K as a feature because it seemed obvious to me (just ask Netflix) that clients were going to demand that we at least shoot and archive that format even if we continue to edit and deliver in the 1080p HD format.
For the purposes of learning the framing and pacing all of my Sony cameras were and are beyond adequate. They are very good for anything that will eventually be mastered in HD, with a few exceptions.
As I worked with the RX10ii and RX10iii as well as the A7Rii I was delighted to see just how great the files could look if I shot the video in the camera in 4K and downsampled the files to HD for editing. In ever respect they had as much detail and resolution as one could ask for. But as I became more and more conversant with shooting and editing I have come to understand that one aspect of the "holy grail" of shooting (non-raw) video is the bit depth and color depth of the files. Since the color and exposure are mostly baked into video files changes in color, fixing exposure and making tonal changes in post production editing requires files that have sufficient information to push around, otherwise the files "break" and you just can't always push them enough to make them work.
This became obvious to me when I bought the Panasonic fz2500 and coupled it with the Atomos Ninja Flame video recorder. With that combination I could make 4K files that start life as 10-bit (1054 shades of color versus 8-bit with 256 shades of color) 4:2:2 files instead of 8-bit 4:2:0 files. When I brought the ProRes files from the Panasonic+Atomos into Final Cut Pro X to edit them I could immediately see the benefits of a richer color palette and color with more depth to them. I could make bigger changes in color (shifting a file that's too warm or cool, for example) without having the files fall apart.
The Panasonic fz2500 and the GH5 also offer a much bigger menu of file sizes and types than the Sonys, including ALL-I files in which each frame is largely self contained and much easier for your computer and application to handle efficiently while all the Sony files are long GOP which means that only certain things that change from frame to frame are changed in the files which is efficient for in-camera memory but harder on computers and application to pound through in editing.
The fz2500 was indeed the gateway drug of cameras as far as the introduction to the GH5 was concerned. What it showed me was that two different companies could take basically the same hardware and fine-tune it and equip it for different specialties. Whereas the Sony RX10 cameras are very good video cameras they are exceptional still cameras. In contrast the Panasonic cameras are very good still cameras but they are exceptional video cameras. Seeing the on screen performance of the 2500 instantly led me to want the GH5.
So, what are the benefits of the new camera to me? If you've read about the way I've been shooting video you'll know that I like to set up two cameras instead of one when I shoot interviews and stuff like interviews. The idea is to give you two different angles/magnifications, etc. so you can give audiences something interesting and changing to look at instead of having just one angle for an entire video. It's kind of important when you're trying to hold the attention of an audience for about five minutes.....
As you can imagine the best case scenario is to use two identical cameras with two identical lenses, all set to the same exposure and white balance. That would make cutting back and forth between the two cameras easy as pie; especially when it comes to color grading in post. When I used the Panasonic fz2500 as my primary camera and one of the Sony RX10s as a "B" camera it took some work in post to match up colors and in some instances it just wasn't possible to get and exact match.
My main production rationale for combining the two Panasonic cameras is that I'll be able to match bit depth, color depth, profiles, and the basic look and feel between them because they derive from the same family of cameras and share the same look. With the fz2500 running into the Atomos I can get the 4K files I want in 10-bit, 4:2:2 while I can get the same kind of files directly in the camera with the GH5. With an upcoming, announced, firmware upgrade I'll soon be able to get that performance out of the GH5 but not just at 30 fps and below but also at 60 fps. In fact, it will be one of the few video cameras under $10,000 to offer that.
With matched files my work should look technically better and the post production clip matching should be much easier.
To sum up: I didn't buy the GH5 with an eye to replacing my current still photography cameras (with which I am very satisfied....) but as a separate videography system that's aimed at efficiently expanding an ever growing part of my business. In my experience the Panasonic cameras are well set up to be efficient video tools. I'm adding them to my inventory so I never have to bite my nails and wonder if a green screen shoot will meet client expectations. So I'll never have to wonder if the files I'm handing off will survive a third party editor's wild and whimsical color grading. So I can produce enormous (400 mbs) video files, if clients require them. I have very little interest in some of the usual parameters that interest reviewers.
I don't care at all if the GH5 is a good or bad selfie camera. I am indifferent to the performance of the camera's continuous AF tracking. I could care less how many frames per second it shoots in still mode.
I'm even a bit ambivalent about its high ISO performance since all of my video productions are generally well lit. I do care about how the video looks and how it edits. That's reason enough to buy a camera like this.
The choice came down to buying the GH5 and eventually an Atomos Shogun (it records 4K at 60 fps) or saving up and buying something like a Sony FS7, fully dedicated video camera. I'm not at the point where I need to spend $10,000+ to do the work I want to accept. I also don't want to spend that kind of money if my needs can be met by a $2,000 investment.
The sad thing is that all the technology is changing so quickly that whatever we buy this year will be superseded in two more years. It's even worse in video than it is in still imaging because the targets (screens, monitors, projectors, etc.) for the work also change very quickly. If you shoot stills and share on prints the print side is pretty stable and changes much more slowly. Not so with video. I've looked into the future and it's all 4K.
At any rate, I hope this is a logical presentation of my thought processes for the latest acquisition. In the end I thing it's a cool camera and that played into my decision making as well.
BLOG NOTE: I don't know anyone at Panasonic, or their ad agency. No one offered me any free stuff in exchange for this blog post. I bought this camera at my local bricks and mortar store, Precision-Camera.com with money I earned from making video and still imaging content. I did bargain hard and got the people at Precision to throw in a free, Lumix battery. The total purchase price was exactly the same as that asked by Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video. The advantages to me, in addition to the battery, were in being able to ask three different people for opinions and experiences with the camera and the understanding that the camera would be instantly swapped out if it was defective. The best advantage was deciding to actually do the transaction at 2 pm and walking out of the store with the new camera at 3 pm.
Every camera company has some expertise upon which it leans in the marketing of products. There is no one camera that excels at everything I'd like a camera to do. In my opinion the Panasonic products excel at video. That's the whole point of having access to a variety of solutions.
Next, how my learning curve is coming along.....