Why I used the Lumix GH3 for IBC
Having covered IBC twice in the past I knew it was a daunting task ahead of me to cover fifteen companies in three days, the place is so big, remember not everyone is available to be interviewed when you turn up, Sony being a case in hand.
I turned up to Sony to discover their shooting gallery was a three piece jazz band belting out music at a level drowning out any chance of a decent interview with Bill Drummond, so we had to arrange a re-shoot on the Sunday at the shooting gallery when the band were on their break.
As I turned up on the Friday Richard Payne from Holdan asked me if I would help him cover a half hour slot over the three days from 3.30-4pm so as you can imagine I had to be at the Teradek studio for 3.15 every day cutting out a further 3 hours of filming.
My last trip to IBC which was 2 years ago saw me using the Panasonic AF101 for interviews and it was a pig to carry the equipment needed for the that job so this year was to be a challenge to cut down on the kit.
A fly in the ointment came with the news that I was to film a documentary of the Teradek glass studio, this gave me the added problem of needing a high quality low light camera as I new only too well how dark IBC can be.
This young lady was part of the Panasonic stand and was very helpful
It was a no brainer the Canon C300 a bag of lenses, sound kit and my trusty Miller Compact 25 with carbon fibre legs, this was my low light camera of choice but with one exception…weight.
Its fine using the C300 for one stand but what about the 15 interviews throughout the show, no way was I trekking with a C300, heavy tripod and lenses round IBC, I had two options…a Sony NX30 or a JVC HM650 but these were not going to give me the look I was after…my hunt for the right camera was on.
My fling with my Lumix DMC-FZ200 came to mind as I had used it recently to demonstrate a DSLR being used with a Tascam DR60, the Tascam had already been ordered through Production Gear so my sound was sorted but the camera side was becoming a nightmare.
I owned a Nikon D7100 that would shoot 720p but stupidly Nikon decided not to give you the ability to adjust the aperture during live view rendering the camera less than useless plus focusing with an LCD was not my cup of tea nor recommended.
After a few days deliberating I was down to two cameras the Sony Alpha 99 or the Lumix GH3, I had already owned the Alpha 77 so I knew the pedigree of the mirrorless viewfinder, it took a look at Philip Blooms video about the film he shot for Panasonic with the GH3 to convince me this was the right camera.
Panasonic have been developing the GH camera over the last 3 years with rave reviews on all versions more so the GH3, with its 17.3 x 13mm sensor and readily available mFT lenses this was a camera I felt at home with.
Could I focus using the EVF on the GH3, John Preston who had the camera in stock sent it up to me on an overnight delivery and at that time I only had the 14-45mm f 3.5-5.6 lumix lens but it was clear from day one the EVF was a winner from a focusing point of view plus the major bonus in manual focus the picture enlarges by 4x…fantastic.
Other major advantages were, swivel LCD, 1080 50p Full HD in AVCHD (28MBps) or 50MBps .MOV, my initial thoughts were 50MBps .MOV as this would give me cracking quality but strangely this proved to be troublesome in FCPX causing a staccato effect, reluctantly I switched over to AVCHD but was pleasantly surprised with the picture quality in Full progressive HD mode.
Not wanting to give myself any further heartache I stuck with 1080 50p AVCHD as to my eyes the quality was stunning…two days later the Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 “X” lens appeared, very nice and just the job for my trip to Amsterdam, a crop factor of two gives you a 35mm equivalent of 24-70mm, perfect for filming at at IBC.
I decided on day one the inbuilt mic was not good enough and tried my powered VideoMic Pro from RODE which did give far better sound but this mic has three drawbacks…
1. A 9v battery compartment that is a pain to access
2. A poorly designed rubber suspension system that keeps falling off
3. The need to switch the mic on and off
Dipping into my pocket once again I decided to buy the Lumix DMW-MS2 Stereo shotgun mic, which is specifically designed to work with the GH3 and self powered via the camera. In a quiet environment like my house the mic was good but I soon discovered its limitations on day one of the show.
Not taking any chances with my sound I was to use a Tascam DR60, this is a cracking unit and highly recommended. I do insist on XLR phantom powered mics when capturing interview sound so I also had a RODE NTG-1 and a Sennheiser MKH-416 shotgun mic both with Rycote softies and grips. This was to be my saviour as the Lumix mic was surprisingly poor, though it was only needed as a guide sync track.
Walking from hall to hall fairly builds up an appetite this is Scott and myself catching lunch sitting on the floor, as you do, chairs at IBC are as rare as 3D cameras.
In the press room at IBC I met Kieron from Holdan who told me to concentrate on the interviews/product and not to worry about the behind the scene documentary, this was a blessing in disguise as the C300 bag, lenses and tripod were becoming tiresome to the point that my good friend Nick from Ianiro made room for it in his cupboard, the day we arrived. I knew you don’t leave any such kit in the car as IBC was a magnet for thieves in fact a C300 was stolen on day one from one of the tripod manufacturers.
C300 out the road the kit was vastly reduced to two bags and a far lighter Manfrotto photographic tripod with a Manfrotto MVH-500 video head. This gave me new vigour and an excitement using the new, vastly smaller kit but some trepidation that “have I chosen the right camera”.
Interview one was with Charles from Cambo he was a joy to interview and my recently acquired Ledgo LG-B150 camera light was a bonus as it was very lite and sat nicely on the side of my tripod.
I had acquired a system of work using the DSLR, focus manually, setting the aperture to f4 to give breathing space, shutter at 50, ISO at 400 or 800 depending on the background illumination, press the Tascam to REC which switches onto REC PAUSE then press REC to record, re focus the GH3 and press the REC button, with both GH3 and DR60 in REC mode…interview begins…as long as I stuck to that religiously I was fine.
Possibly a couple of more steps than I would have with a video camcorder but I don’t know of any small video camera giving me the large sensor look at 1080 50p, even my C300 is restricted to 720 50p !
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the battery life, I got two extra batteries from Hahnel before the shoot and I only needed one battery per day, I was amazed how long the batteries were lasting.
My main gripe was panning, this really affects the autofocus if you are not careful so I had to make sure the focal point of my subject both start and end of shot were the same in manual mode. Racking the focus is another problem, the small diameter of the “X” lens makes pulling focus a problem, that’s where the Cambo pull focus unit would help but then we start to add meccano and before long you have a heavy wee camera, but not ruling it out yet !
Running the two units in tandem, the GH3 and Tascam is fraught with danger, I nearly lost my interview with Sony’s Bill Drummond with a Tascam error. I started the Tascam not realising it was low on battery and it ran out half way through the interview but to my horror I was not aware of this.
Although the batteries were too low to record the sound you still got enough power to keep the pre amps up and running and the headphones, not a good idea in my opinion.
The unit was slightly behind me so I could not see the LCD, fortunately I checked both units right after the interview and was alerted by not having a red record light. The day before the trip I bought Duracell’s digital batteries for the Tascam and after a bit of apologising and a new set of batteries re-started the interview. This did nothing to convince Bill other than conventional video was still the way forward.
I do feel the GH3 and the Tascam are still poles apart and would make life a lot easier if the GH3 could trigger the Tascam, that still may be possible but as yet I know of no way to do this.
It always has been the DSLR’s Achilles heal matching good external sound with exceptional pictures, relying on a second process to activate the Tascam is fraught with danger.
UPDATE : MAJOR WARNING TASCAM DR60 : As of today just before posting this I went down to my studio to take the main kit pictured at the top of this article, I got the cards mixed up and put the DR60 into the GH3 and the GH3 footage into the Tascam…The Tascam decided to AUTO FORMAT my GH3 footage without warning me…This is very poor indeed and I will be taking this up with Tascam, fortunately I had a program called DataRescue 3 and recovered not only my video footage but my JPEGs as well !!!
Update 2 : Tascam admit this is a “feature” built into a few of their sound recorders but were not aware that the unit would auto format without pressing a button.
Update 3 : Ok so I decided to retry an SD card that I backed up first. I slotted it into the DR60 and it prompts you “Format Error…are you sure you want to format” only if you push the button will it auto format. I must have bumped against it in my hurry to get the picture taken.