Panasonic GH1 user experiences

Since I graduated from school in 2005 I haven’t really been able to afford to shoot on film anymore. I made a big investment in 2008 and got a Sony EX1 and a Letus Extreme and a bunch of good Canon FD lenses. A year later I sold the EX1 and the Letus and got the Panasonic GH1. Here’s a little write-up on my impressions after half a year of use.

A picture of the rig I used on a recent music video shoot.

Why would I change to a less professional camera? It’s all about what kind of stuff you shoot and what kind of tools you need for that. The money I saved in exchanging from EX1 to GH1 was substantial and it allowed me to buy a lot of accessories as well as save up. I shoot DIY documentaries, art films and music videos which I deliver mainly to the web. I use Sony Vegas Pro 8 to edit and that has so far handled any format I’ve thrown at it very well. It’s one of the least frustrating programs I’ve ever used and works without much fuss with the not-so-good-for-editing AVCHD format the GH1 records.

Image Quality

The picture quality of the GH1 is amazing and in my view when delivering to web in HD it’s totally comparable to for example the EX1. Heres a few shots taken with both cams from the same situation. Left is GH1 and right is EX1 with Letus Extreme.


You can see that the EX1 with Letus there is more noise/grain in the images and that creates an illusion of more shades of color. For me this is actually preferable. I know most wouldn’t prefer it but I do. So for all the videos I’ve shot with the GH1 I have added a little (or a lot!) grain with Magic Bullet Looks plugin. To me looking at the images like these they are at least on par with each other and maybe the GH1 takes the win even. In 720p you shoot 50 frames per second so choosing a shutter speed of 1/100th second (as opposed to normal 1/50th) you can get nice slow motion as well.

The kit lens is alright but to be honest I haven’t shot one shot with it that would’ve ended up in any production. It’s f3.5 so it’s a no go in low light situations. So far I haven’t done any outdoor jobs with the GH1 yet but I am hoping that it will be a good choice for outdoor wide shots. Sample footage online seems to promise it will be great! My lenses consist of Canon FD series 24mm f1.4 L, 50 mm f1.4, 85mm 1.2 L and 135mm f2. They’re fitted with ciecio7 adapter I bought from eBay (it’s called ciecio7 because that’s the username of the person who sells the adapters on eBay). I also use the Fader ND a lot, very recommended!

The real differences are under the hood so to speak. The GH1 codec is something that you really need to watch out for. I’ve ended up mainly shooting in 1280×720 resoution instead of full HD 1920×1080 because of the issues with jello and the codec breaking down. If you shoot on a tripod, don’t do fast pans and if you aren’t shooting high detail pictures such as forests it’s not a problem. But I like to shoot handheld, run in the forest and move the camera around fast so it’s an issue for me.

After about nine months, ten videos later and after hacking my GH1 with the GH13 hack I’ve started using Full HD mode exclusively. It is still not as robust as you’d hope for but it’s very good. I’m using the “C settings” so instead of 17MB bitrate it’s about 60MB.

You also gotta take care not to underexpose with the GH1 or you will get some banding – especially on red colors. It’s funny though, a lot of people shooting test shots at home end up with bad footage with banding. When you go out to do some real shooting with lights and you take care your exposure is nailed you get very good results. Here’s a few shots from home tests and real world shooting situations.


It’s really difficult to portray with still images but what I see when watching the videos is that in the forest scenes the blacks are black and there is no banding to speak of as opposed to pictures with the girl which are both underexposed and there is too little light and the banding starts appearing. So in essence if you underexpose and have too dark image you will get banding. If you have very little light but you nail the exposure you get better images. So this would mean that you get better images shooting at 400 asa with exposure just right then you do with 100 asa underexposed. Yeah, Im having a hard time trying to explain this, hope I made a little sense! :D

Here’s two videos I’ve done so you can compare the picture quality for yourself. First video is done with the EX1 and the second is shot with the GH1. Both with a Canon FD 24mm 1.4 L.


Shot with the Sony EX1 and Letus Extreme.


Shot with Panasonic GH1.

GH1 for Photographs

I’ve tried to take some photos with the GH1 and to me it’s just not up to the task. Especially in low light you can’t really get decent results no matter what. Compared to the higher end DSLR’s it’s no match. Although I can heartily recommend the GH1 for video if you are looking for a camera mainly to do photography with I would stay away from it. You can get decent results with it and I’m ok to take it on a holiday with me, even do product photography when you have proper lights or you are outdoors. But other then that unfortunately it’s not quite up to the task.

Audio

Another major handicap for some is that there is no pro audio inputs. The GH1 mic is not bad at all for DIY stuff in controlled enviroments. Doing documentaries is not out of the question. With a little investment in the audio side you can get truly professional results. I got a wireless Audio-Technica Lavalier mic, a Rode shotgun and Zoom H4n recorder. This gives an excellent audio quality for interviews. The Zoom H4n is also perfect for recording live gigs. I love having all these little gadget that become multipurpose. Now when I take all this stuff with me I’m ready to record live gigs. Do documentaries or shoot music videos. And it all fits in a small bag!


So far I’ve done two short documentaries with the GH1. The short documentary on a Belgian label Kraak records was done with nothing but the GH1 microphone. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality I got. We tried to control the audio by choosing rooms that were quiet and had a nice echo. I tried to stay close the people I interviewed. I think the results are totally usable for this kind of DIY aesthetics. I had to EQ it some but you can understand the people talking which is the most important thing with these types of videos. The second documentary on Jan Anderzén is recorded to the Zoom H4n with the wireless LAV and Rode shotgun mic. I ended up using mostly the wireless LAV and added some GH1 stereo audio for ambience.

Conclusion

Some people say that they wouldn’t dare show up at a clients door with a small size camera. I’ve done paying job’s with the GH1 and so far the only thing I’ve seen is excitement that the tools are getting so affordable and small in size but the image quality is so amazing. You are selling yourself with the latest footage after all. I would be scared to work for a client that only wanted to know what equipment I use and wasn’t interested in seeing what i’ve actually done with them so far.

To me the best camera is the camera that get’s me excited about shooting and makes things less complicated and fun. In a sentence a camera that I can pick up, get up and shoot with! The small size, cheap SDHC cards, being able to use a vast choise of old cheap prime lenses and the relative ease of use are the main advantages shooting with the GH1. Overall I find myself taking the GH1 everywhere with me and using it all the time. For the price it’s an amazing camera and gives a lot of people what they have wanted for a long time.

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