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GH2 versus Arri Alexa and F3 (real world testing)
  • Recently directed a two week block of a nature doc where the gh2 was side by side with an F3 and then an Alexa. Overall, everyone was impressed with how well the gh2 stood up -- so much so I take back what I said about the F3 on another forum. I now believe the hacked gh2 may look better than any camera under $20K, even if those cameras are fitted with external recorders.

    In no particular order, here’s some observations for those who are interested:

    SPECS:
    Sony F3 with RED 17-50mm zoom outputting nanoflash at psf 140mbps I frame
    Arrix Alexa with a variety of canon bayonet mount lenses shooting to prores HQ 422
    GH2 with kae 3GOP hack with 14, 25 mm (panasonic) and 50mm (FD) primes
    All shooting was done at 23.98 with black frost 1/8th and schiender tru polas

    GH2 versus F3

    OUTDOOR PERFORMANCE
    We started off shooting the F3 at 100 mbps long GOP and almost barfed when we reviewed the results in the hotel room that night -- the high bit rate did not take away from the very “video” look, and the sensor had no ability whatsoever to handle blowouts -- the sun had disgusting fringy bands around it (although to be fair, this could have been the lens). Switching to I frame improved the “film” though the gh2 still somehow had better cadence -- our DoP, who is much more experienced than me, commented that he always thought panasonic’s cadence at 24 frames was better than other manufacturers and some of that knowledge could have gone into the gh2.

    Much like how the gh2 trumps the canon SLRS in terms of aliasing and moire, it maintained a slight edge over the f3 with nano in these categories as well -- we were shooting a lot in forested areas at the aliased fringing on foliage was less noticeable with the gh2 than with the f3.
    Colour Rendition. Although we did not have much time to play with custom colour profiles on the f3, the general impression was that the f3 handled reds better and the gh2 handled greens better. Overall, the F3’s look was much more like the richness you’d get off a 5D, while the gh2 (at -2,-2,0,-2) had a slightly drained film look while still rending beautiful green tones. Obviously, for nature documentary, greens are more important than reds, so once again the Gh2 was the winner.

    INDOOR PERFORMANCE
    We were unable to test the gh2 and f3 with only available light, but with a controlled lighting setup, the two stacked up very well. We used the f3 to cover wides and mediums and the gh2 with 50 mm fd to cover the headshot. Overall, the cameras were comparable -- they both handled blacks very well, exhibited minimal noise (in both cases, when there was noise, it was quite pleasing) and experienced no aliasing around the edge of the interview subject, even with a back and top light.

    The gh2 did show a noticeable red shift in low light -- I had to click the +G up about four spots on the colour balance and go a few 100 K cooler than the F3; even then we will be doing some colour correct to bring down the red a bit.
    Overall, for a sit down interview, I’d say the F3 was the winner with more accurate colour rendition, more detail and perhaps a half stop more of latitude. That said, one is a $1200 setup, the other (counting the nanoflash & lens) is nearly a $30,000 setup.

    BUILD QUALITY
    The placement of the F3’s viewfinder was even more inconvenient than an slrs and as such was rarely used -- forcing us to rely on the f3’s viewfinder, which is actually worse (and less accurate) than the GH2s. As the F3 lacks false colour of a red or an alexa, you’re basically shooting with a histogram and zebras, just like a gh2, so neither has the upper hand.

    We were not impressed with the build quality of the f3 -- it felt very plasticky, even more so than the gh2, and we were constantly worried we would break the thing. I could not, in good confidence, rely on it as a A-cam in a situation where I was far away from a gear house; one mistake and I think you’d shut down production. Same goes for the gh2 -- I’m sure its lack of weather sealing will one day cause me grief; thankfully, its low price tag will allow me to keep backups on hand.

    SIZE AND PRICE
    - With incredible progress of the hack, we often overlook how important the GH2’s form factor is, but I really saw it on this shoot:
    One of our DPs, who has done a lot of work in warzones, saw the gh2s and its results and immediately commented, “these are going to be the Leica’s of video.” And I realize I’ve started to use it that way: like the stereotypical war photographic with three or four leica’s and primes around his neck, I just carry around two gh2s (and may get a third) — usually keep the 14mm on one (sometimes mounted on a glidecam hd), and the second one armed with either the 50mm f1.4 leica or a 100 mm f1.4 fd -- you get the visual characteristics of primes without having to stop to change them, and also quickly become a much better shooter.

    In a doc setting, it is incredible how much you can get done when you are not tied to a heavy camera and sticks (nor crippled by the 12 minute run time of canon slrs). It was too rainy/windy/sandy at one location to risk the F3 and nano so we just pulled out the gh2s and ended up getting way more coverage than we would have ever got with the f3 (an interesting point on most of the new cameras, F3 included, is that they are not really designed to be shoulder held, so you end up killing 5 minutes to build a rig whenever you go from sticks to hand held).

    WINNER: GH2

    GH2 versus Arri Alexa
    The above comments about the maneuverability of the GH2 apply even moreso comparison to the Alexa -- with lens, it weighs 30 - 35 pounds and can only be operated shoulder mounted with the assistance of a custom built easy rig.

    Indoor Performace
    The Alexa is absolutely incredible when shooting indoors with natural light only. It is mind-blowingly good -- in many situations we were able to shoot with a single 1x1 light panel as fill/key. The tonality of the colours is breathtaking (especially at 10 bit) but the real secret is the 14 stops of latitude -- whereas normally you’d have to light to keep your subject from disapearing into your background, and your background bright enough to not drop into shadow, with the Arri there is no need to do this. We shot some quick and dirty recon in an old train car and I felt like I was looking at a major motion picture (in the past, you had to spend hours rigging lights so the setting would look like it was naturally lit -- with the arri, you just use natural light).

    In situations that are lit, the contrast between the arri and gh2 falls off a little -- we did a dinner where everyone had their own dedo as a key (to simulate light coming off a practical (oil lamp) on the table), with backlight coming from a fire and various practical and fill from a light panel. In this environment, the gh2’s red shift actually sold the oil lamp light very convincingly, and it’s lack of latitude was not a detriment as we were going for a dramatic look (this is not to say that it was better than the arri, however, as the arri files could also be crunched later to achieve a similar effect -- it was just that the lack of latitude as compared to the arri was not detrimental in this situation). I should say, however, there is something about the gh2 cadence that is still impressive -- for part of the shoot, we had the gh2 on a konova slider and the alexa on a microdolly (the standard dolly from an out of focus silhouette to reveal a table full of diners) and I gotta say, in some cases I preferred the cadence of the gh2 but overall the quality, lattitude and 10 bit colour of the alexa was a sight to behold.

    OUTDOOR PERFORMACE
    In run and gun situations outdoors, the arri showed some of its limits -- you really needed a good dp (which thankfully we had) who could put the sticks in the right place the first time because it just wasn’t the easiest camera to move around. Even moreso than other large cameras I’ve shot with (like the f800, which is about half the weight) the weight of the arri did limit some options and increase setup time. But, given the spectacular colours, it was worth it.

    OTHER ISSUES
    - The weight, and the fact that it chews through a 32 gig SxS card in 20 minutes, means you’re not running this thing for long without an assistant. We were constantly dumping cards, backing them up and reformating them (and that was with 7 cards). But if you can afford a $80,000 camera body, you can probably afford an assistant.

    WINNER: ARRI ALEXA (what’d you expect?). I would say, however, the form factor of the alexa means that any doc shoot will require the highest quality, most maneuverable B camera to go with it, or you’re going to miss out on certainly angles and opportunities -- so far, the gh2 and Alexa seem a pretty good match in that respect, though we won’t really find out until we get them in the edit together).

    ONE FINAL NOTE:
    My biggest realization from these two weeks of side-by side comparisons (and a week earlier with the f800 as a cam) is that there really is “a gh2 look” -- something about the cadence, rendering of greens, slightly drained colour palate, and ability to handle dramatic lighting (from blacks to blowouts) makes it unique. As people once spoke of a Leica look, I think the more we play with the hacked gh2, the more we’ll realize it has something all its own. I can’t yet put my finger on what that is yet, but I can say that, much like film, there is something about its footage, which when shot right, gives you a real-but-unreal feeling; it is real because it has incredible detail and lack of video give aways (aliasing, moire, fringing/banding etc), yet is is unreal because the cadence contributes to suspension of disbelief, while its love of being at least one stop underexposed (and usually two) naturally leads to more dramatic tonality of colours and shadows than you’d experience with your own eyes).
  • 77 Replies sorted by
  • @JDN Wonderful report mate, can't wait to see some of the rushes/stills?
  • @ driftwood -- drives are being ingested in the suite right now but once that's done I'll grab them back and pull some screen grabs. May also try to post some footage but gotta be careful about that given that the thing is in production.
  • Oh, and should probably add that I'm totally happy with the F3 footage -- it's just for the money, I'm not sure it gives you anything more over a gh2 (I don't want to slight my incredible DoP!)
  • Your report is great and interesting. I've used all the camera's mentioned, but not at the same time. The thing I find the most interesting is how you would prefer the GH2 over the F3. I've owned many camera's in my day, the RED MX is by far the most stunning image out of the camera's I've owned followed next by the AF100 and then the GH2. I think it's interesting that I prefer the image from my AF100 over my hacked GH2, most people prefer the F3 over the AF100, and you prefer the hacked GH2 over the F3. I guess it proves that everyone prefers something different. Again, nice right up JDN, I look forward to screen shoots.
  • Ok, I was just contemplating whether to pick up a second GH2. You really sound convincing... :)
  • The GH2 is one one heck of a little camera. Magic can be made In the right hands with the right bunch of lenses, sound capture, and a great story to tell.
  • @JDN Very interesting write up. It's amazing how you used all of these cams together and got this type of impression.

    It's funny but when these types of questions were asked in the past in other forums (this camera vs that) they were always shot down with sarcastic remarks like "it's stupid to compare a consumer cam vs a pro cam" etc. I would agree with that statement if it were just about functionality and what each cam has to offer (tweakability and accessories etc.). But my bottom line was always image quality. You basically answered a lot of what many of us wanted to know....firsthand and without the snark remarks.

    Don't get me wrong....I understand the difference between a consumer camera's limits vs a professional camera...and that they are nothing but tools to get the job done. And, like how @Brian202020 stated "I guess it proves that everyone prefers something different"...I know the next guy could have a totally different POV in this same scenario... but I appreciate your honest feedback.

    Looking forward to whatever you can tease us with in terms of snapshots or itty-bitty-witty sample clips. :-)
  • Great write up! Thanks for sharing!

    I think another thing that helps the organic, but still crisp look of the GH2, is that it's down-rezzing from more mega-pixles (16mp). Say what you will about bigger pixels of the AF-100 and F3 being more sensitive... but I have a strong feeling that starting from a 16mp image (and properly down-sampling) give much better and more natural looking edges/detail than something that starts off at, or closer, to 1080p. The AF-100 just looks so video like, it doesn't even look like the same manufacturer as the GH2... could just be the sensor being a generation older, and the GH2 getting the very newest from the Lumix line.

  • @JDN Thanks. Sounds very encouraging.

    GH series is the only mirrorless model taken seriously. Something special about GH itself and the hacks. We know the magical formula by now. Smooth highlight roll-off & fine noise reproduction & good details. High bitrate solved the noise issue. Looking forward to trying out @cbrandin's upcoming custom film mode. GH2 keeps getting better.
  • Damn nice report!
    Interesting read and I respect your honesty. Thank you!
  • @bwhitz
    As for the AF100 looking video, it's all in the settings, lenses, and lighting my friend. Tweak those just right and it can look pretty damn amazing, and in my opinion more film like than most cameras. Those flat cine gamma curves are unlike anything else out there.
  • @Brian202020

    Probably... that and the lenses. Panasonic lenses look really video-like and ugly to me... even on the GH2. I actually remember a AF-100 music video that looked really good. I think they were using Ziess CP's and an off-board recorder to an intra-frame codec... it may just be the stock long-GOP motion that's to blame again after all.
  • @Bwhitz -- good comment. Makes a lot of sense to me. Certainly noticeable when you go from regular to crop mode in the gh2. For me, what is most pleasing is eliminating anything visual that says "video" -- I feel I immediately disconnect a tiny bit with what I'm watching because I realize I'm watching it through a lens. When you're shooting 1:1 on crop, a pixel is either one colour or another -- no ifs ands or buts, so you get excessive noise and can get aliasing around edges as it jumps back and forth between being the object and the background colour. But with down processing a bunch of pixels (especially at high bit rate) you can keep each pixel a constant colour I suspect.

    @Brain202020 -- yeah, no doubt reds are great. Shot an experimental jet ski at 120fps once and loved it! The discussion is broadening out, but I have indeed seem some things I liked on the AF100 but generally it is with the voightlander .95 or other lenses -- the panasonic lenses are indeed overly sharp and that's why I always have a black frost 1/8, and often 1/2, in (unless I'm doing a glidecam shot where the fast movement with 24 p cadence compensates/distracts from sharpness).

    Probably what I'm responding to positively w/gh2 is how easy it is get a slightly drained look while holding skin tones (maybe because it is a bit red to begin with?) -- it has some of the characteristics of a bleach bypass without going that far, which is perfect for me as I'm trying to add a film/narrative feel to doc work without going so far that it starts to feel distracting and overly processed (as an example, I thought the bypass on cave of forgotten dreams pushed things a little to far into unreality). But now I'm really getting off topic.

    Anyway, glad you all enjoyed the post. I'll try to post those clips or at least screen grabs in the next few days. Incidentally, if anyone has a favourite fcp workflow for avchd please message me. I've been working with avids for years but haven't touched FCP in many years and wanting to make sure our assistant editor doesn't go astray...
  • The Alexa wins for latitude hand down...true but... for myself its a simple math problem when comparing these 3 cameras... (GH2 FTW)
    ---------------------------------------------------------
    Alexa -> $60,000- $80,000
    Sony F3 -> $25,000 - $30,000
    GH2 hacked -> $900 - $1200
    ---------------------------------------------------------
    " Its the like the Geico of cameras, you could save a TON of money by switching to GH2..."
  • @bwhitz

    Down-sampling from an over-sampled image gives a HUGE improvement in aliasing, perceived color-resolution, moire, and many other forms of digital artifact. Based on my experience over-sampling/down-sampling in computer animation, this is the single biggest reason for the superior image performance of the GH2 over other video DSLRs. Panasonic chose to implement good-quality, real-time down-sampling (in custom VLSI hardware I presume) rather than skipping pixels.

    Another nice by-product of this choice is the high-quality of 720p on the GH2. Because it's down-sampled from the same full-res sensor data as a 1080p image, the 720p image still contains (in a way) all the same information that the 1080p does - it's just been 'averaged' into a smaller number of pixels. When I first saw a 720p stream from the GH2 I was pleasantly surprised - at first glance it looked like 1080, but shot with a slightly softer lens.

    As @JDN points out, the advantage is immediately obvious when you use ETC mode, which turns off the down-sampling. Suddenly you;ve got a much harsher, crudely digital image, especially in 720p.
  • @bdegazio
    What it's ETC mode?
  • Extended Tele, it's "windowing" a central area of the chip 1920 by 1080 px in size, so it's not downsampling any more, but giving you more telephoto effect because of cropping – still much better than a digital zoom in other cameras.
  • Thank you, Nomad
  • Did you watch your footage in editing yet? What do you think now, still convinced of gh2 performance?
  • @JDN footage!, footage! :):):):):):) we have been waiting :):):):)
  • Hey Guys,
    I know you want footage. I know. I'll see about screengrabs but I can't actually put the footage online.

    And yeah, I'm still convinced of the gh2's performance. We're ditching other cams and shooting a bit part of the doc on 2 gh2s now...
  • Yes screen grabs would be fine, if someday you are doing another shoot with the Alexa or F3. Just point the camera to another subject with the GH2 and one of these and then you won't have problem to show it :)
  • Super report there. Thanks for sharing.
  • Why do you prefer GH2 with kae 3GOP hack rather than than a Driftwood GOP1 setting? Aren't the other 2 cams GOP1?
  • Hi ,is a video in vimeo RED Epic verus Panasonic GH2
    vimeo.com/30751603