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GH4 for theatrical feature films?
  • It looks like the GH4 is a big step forward, but is it ready for theatrical feature films--even low budget, limited releases?

    I know it's a big advance on the GH2--which I think is pretty amazing for $600 but which I still wouldn't use on a feature even after Upstream Color. But if it has advanced enough, there's a lot to like about the GH4--low cost for high quality crash cams, low weight for aerials and Movi-type work. 4K, etc.

    It you were helming a 500K-1M feature that had a tight BTL production budget but also high expectations in footage quality, would the GH4 be your choice?

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  • At that budget range I think you could hire a fairly high end cinema camera (epic, F55, Amira), not for the image quality difference particularly but for the solid workflow on set and the dynamic range. I love my GH4 but small cameras arent built for this type of production work. If, however your story was enhanced by use of a small discreet camera (street shooting, small crew guerilla style) then it's an amazing choice and I would certainly have it around as a b cam whatever.

  • +1 to Nobby Stylus. Red Epics are everywhere and cheap to rent. Alexa's are a step up image wise IMHO which accounts for their higher rental cost. Camera hire these days should represent a relatively small part of your budget

  • If I had 500,000 to 1,000,000 for the actual shooting of the film, above-the-line and below-the-line minus marketing, then it is quite possible I would bring in a slew of GH4's for a fast down and dirty multi-cam shoot.

    I would use a good portion of the money to acquire a couple names for two or three shooting days each. I would get as much coverage as I could from each actor in the time allowed. Most of the work would be with the minor actors in the film. Only one day would they work together, and it would only be a couple small, but pivotal scenes. Nothing time consuming with them, but large enough roles to market them as being in the movie without alienating their fans.

    I would light the crap out of the movie and cater to the strengths of the cameras. Each scene would be set up as close to final product as I could get.

    I would use money to hire GOOD below the line talent to maximize our efficiency. Stunt doubles for the stars, Experienced but cheap effect guys, Super strong audio, strong post production, etc.

    The movie will look and sound good. More than that it will be marketable worldwide. Stars = Money even in bad films.

    Stars + Good Visuals + Great Sound > Nobodies + Great Visuals + Great Sound

    There are exceptions, but this is usually a good strategy to make your money back. More than that, we would probably come in under budget, which always makes the money people happy.

  • @Mckinise That makes sense to me, content first, get that right and people don't have an issue what it was shot on - my wife didn't even see some of the bad focus in Boyhood which kept jarring me out of my disbelief, much as I loved it. Festen is my favourite film, looks like it was shot on PD150s but great content and work with the cameras they had. But let's hear it for the writer, good scripts are hard to find - I was a reader for a while and didn't read a single good script - and bad scripts make bad films, so I might spend a bit on making sure it was shit hot before we shot it.

  • Thanks. All of that is well and good. My main question is about the quality and usability of the camera, though.

    Imagine the lowest budget where one could reasonably go after a limited theatrical release. Money is tight enough that money saved on camera systems would play a role. Can the GH4, well operated, deliver a good enough picture without a operability hit that keeps the cost savings from being worthwhile?

    Good enough, or not good enough, do you think? Assuming all other choices from script through music are well made and that the savings on camera offers a little extra quality in the process over an Alexa.


  • Well if the debate is between buying a GH4 kit vs. renting an Alexa/Red/etc kit, wouldn't it just make sense to estimate your costs for each route and then go with whatever's cheaper?

  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC GH4 Test:

    see Voldemort's lair. He recommends Filmconvert with the Alexa Rec 709 profile for an ARRI film look for the GH4.

  • Wish I'd read that before I ordered one this week, confirmed my feelings exactly about the image I'd seen but got tempted by a good deal. A7S looks much more filmic.

  • Shane Hurlbut wrote this

    "Tron, I love your passion for this camera you feel rocks your world but my old 5D MK II will still kick this camera’s ass. The 5D looked cinematic right out of the box, you had to do nothing, you did not need to shoot with boosters, you did not have to shoot in this Natural or that Cinema V you just turned it on and even in its worst possible picture style settings it would trounce the GH4, no sure what all the fuss is about but love the commentary."

    I can't take his opinion seriously here. Is he sponsored by Canon?

  • The only camera bodies I've ever seen him blog about are canon ones - he keeps an open playing field for lenses. Draw your own conclusions

  • I wouldn't trust anything Hurlburt says about equipment. I don't even particularly like what I've seen from the GH4, and I think his remarks are ignorant and completely unfair. He is sponsored by Canon, at least in large part. Doesn't seem to me he knows much about grading either. It's easy to impress people with tons of equipment and 12 assistants running around.

    But back to the question what would a gh4 film, well filmed and well graded look like on a big screen. Shian might have a direct answer.

  • I made a web series (shot like an indie feature) that started on a 5D Mk II and finished on a GH2. Since there were a few early episodes that had pickup shots on the GH2, I can tell you that the GH2 blew the 5D out of the water--even though the 5D had Zeiss lenses and the GH2 just had Canon FD lenses. The 5D looked very soft and the colors odd and magenta by comparison. So as much as I admire Shane Hurlburt and enjoy his blog, I think he's too been drinking the Canon Kool-Aid too long to be objective. (I haven't shot with the GH4 yet, but it sounds like a big improvement over the GH2 in most areas, so...)

  • I read Shane Hurlburt's review (thanks for posting it!) and the comments. I think it does give me some clarity. I like a lot about the GH4--the lightweight 4K and relatively cheap bodies would help a lot on a particular project I have coming up, but all told, I don't think it has enough quality in a variety of real world shooting situations for me.

    So what is the next step up? RED Epic? I love Arri Alexas but I think that's probably a little big and heavy for what I have to do on this project.

  • BMCC. I love my BMCC. Hurlyburten loves it too. Not that that matters. Raw wins. With all the firmware fixes lately and with speedbooster and good lens it is a force to be reckoned with.

  • The real issue is form factor for focus pulls and easy operation. I love what I can achieve with my GH4 but it's not the right tool for serious drama shoots.

  • @DouglasHorn

    I think overall that you cant manage to create a proper image from the start from any camera at all.

    GH1,GH2,GH3 and GH4. All this cameras has enough big sensor size and quality to make any movie you like. (specially GH2, not talking about 4k crop here only 1080p) The hack for the first 2, actually made them a threatening tool for final delivery image to many bigger and better professional cameras.

    Dynamic Range? for me that's a creative proposition, though a challenge. Its like making a complex panting only with 3 colors. Those who cant then are exposed.

    Saying at this point that a camera is the limiting factor, is only accepted if an specific look from Full frame or medium format aperture look is required from a longer distance. THAT'S IT.

    So please share with us your work and tell us what scene could not be done with any GH series of cameras. Its not fan boy talking, its just that i cant withstand the lack of technical knowledge from you to say that this tool don't has enough quality in a variety of real world shooting situations.

  • @caveport

    Use faster lens,use faster aperture, maybe add speedbooster to it, use ND filter and there is your "look"

  • I wouldn't take Hurlburt's review of the GH4 seriously...some people just go in with a closed mind and the results seem to follow suit. I'm an 'inner circle' member and the discourse around that test was just weird.

    In a time when truly cinematic imagery seems just one more camera away, I certainly wrestle with the same questions in this thread. In the end I bought my second GH4 recently (just before the price drop), over the possibility of an A7s, which I have borrowed from Sony on a couple of occasions and in a few scenarios, really loved. I have a sort of distaste for the idea of duplicate cameras, but of course that is silly, it turns out to be extremely useful, even more so than my previous GH4/3 combo.

    The GH4 strikes me as the most reliable workhorse in the class. I'm pretty temped by the Ursa, but Blackmagic in general makes me nervous on a number of fronts. An Epic isn't exactly one step up price wise, but while I am a RED fan in general I am not a fan of the idea of myself using one on the kinds of shoots I do for similar reasons as Blackmagic. The A7s is a very cool camera, but during the daytime I don't really feel it over the GH4. A GH4 with a Lumix zoom is a formidable thing in a small package, with its 4k-weather-sealed-long-battery-life-over-cranking-fast-zoom goodness. I am attracted to the idea of something like the F55, but it is out of the question, so I suppose the FS7 is going to be the big 'basically an F55 for 7k' kind of deal that people buy by the millions. Something smells off to me, however...probably because I used an FS700 on a Television show, and a couple of commercials over a year and hated it. It belonged to a producer friend of mine and I even tried to read everything to help him get the best image out of it for a doc he was shooting, and just...nothing I liked about it. I liked walking into a room with it down here in Panama, made us look like big shot movie people, but that isn't the most important thing for onscreen results as you might have figured out by now. Despite my erm, personal view on the matter, people seem to have loved the FS700 and continue to use it as a professional camera to this day. They are acting the same way about the FS7, which makes me, personally, nervous.

    Which leaves the GH4. Put an anamorphic lens in front of it if you want cinematic. Don't crank the master pedestal, that fucked up a portion of my 'movie.' Or what the heck, put a Lumix Zoom, a cheap ND filter (so that things aren't perfect) and a talented cast in front of it, good LUT and it will be 'cinematic.'

    I've now seen my anamorphic dailies projected in a private but hi-end projection room, and my TV show stuff projected huge for a broadcast presale to 1,500 advertisers and....I hate it, but I hate it less than everything else I see and compare it with, save only a few films in cinemas, which is my criteria for camera success.

  • Yes, of course the GH4 is feature ready. The cost savings therein may result in a better looking film due to the additional funds available to pay the lighting crew and post, if you follow me. The Amira gives a much richer image, and industrial reliability, though can't 'fly' on lightweight rigs. You'd need a special issue Alexa for that. Also, Upstream gives a bad impression of what the GH2 is capable of. Visually, it was a middling effort, with lackluster grading.

    If money is even remotely an issue, owning GH4s for the production is a wise move. You could still rent Arris for a couple days on those special scenes if you wanted to(slo mo climax etc.)

  • The GH2 was and is perfectly suited image wise for a feature, as long as the camera is "Panavised" to withstand the rigour of daily life on a set...the image is amazing in the right hands...Upstream Color suffered badly from needing a DP....not the GH2...The GH4 is even more capable and after a bit of experimenting people will figure this camera out also...has to be in a rig, but otherwise an excellent camera at any price!

  • @endotoxic - Here's a list of some of my work.

    It's not the most extensive resume around, but hopefully the fact that I've directed two features in release plus the TV producing and the rest (plus all the corporate and commercial work not on IMDB) explains that I do have some solid technical knowledge here.

    I'm really not saying that the GH4 is or isn't a good camera. In fact, I think I was just raving about the GH2 over the 5D. I've used the GH2 on short films and other projects and love a lot about it. I think full frame is overrated. And I've probably said a few times on this forum that the hacked GH2 is a better camera than the Sony CineAlta I used for my first feature film. So, a lot of the assumptions you seem to be making about me must come from somewhere else.

    To me, this is a pretty concrete question (although I know it's opened up a bigger question on the topic). But I'm looking at an actual opportunity for making a film. The project will have outsider expectations on it that I would need to address before using a camera system like this.

    There are pros and cons to the camera--lightweight, maneuverable, easy to fly on a -copter or gymbal, cheap in case one gets destroyed in a stunt--those are good. Not set up for proper AC-based operation, lower DR and poorer low-light performance, are not good. Noise, moire, post-production workflow -- those were question marks for me but I think I'm getting a better handle on it.

    Based on all that, more reading here, and some of the discussions in this forum, I think that the GH4 doesn't really work for theatrical at this time--for me. It's pretty close and a film that wasn't going to have a lot of night shots or daytime exteriors in harsh environments, maybe. The questions are very different when there is OPM on the line and the amount saved on cameras buys very little elsewhere these days.

    Thanks for reminding me about the BMCC I'll take a closer look there, too. I've shot with REDs before and I'm not a huge fan of the look or post workflow. What made the GH4 so attractive, really, was its small form factor. I'd love to find a camera about one step up in quality and cost that had the same size. But I suppose that's one of the things that makes this camera stand out is there really isn't anything close in size that can do what it does. (I just wish it was a -little- bit more.)

    Thanks all, for helping me think through this.

  • @endotoxic I think you misunderstood my post. I made NO reference at all to the look. I only referred to ease of operation on a drama shoot. I know how to get a look, I've been doing it for 35 years! Work with the set designers and director, light it properly, use the appropriate camera, lenses, filters etc. and most of all, don't get obsessed with any particular piece of equipment. Use what works for the job at hand.

  • Interesting comments all around. I have shot two shorts on the GH4 now, one around 30 min TRT and one about 10 min TRT. Both look pretty incredible and filmic. I am not saying this in a toot my own horn kind of way, the camera really performs. I will ask the directors if I could submit some samples of the films to demonstrate my point. One is in post and the other is up for festivals.

    I am actually incredibly impressed with it's low light capabilities, and all depends on the glass you use. We shot 90% on FD glass with a speedbooster, and that extra stop on the low end is exactly what this camera needs. We shot some footage with lit only by a lighter, or a flashlight with some pretty incredible results.

    The biggest weakness during both of these productions was steadicam work, the camera is so damn light that it took forever to get a good balance after switching a lens. This is easily remedied with a good rig to support the camera.

    I think once the shogun comes out this will be a feature ready camera, I think the 4:2:2, 10 bit color will bring this camera home for me. Plus with the shogun you get gen-lock timecode which makes this camera a fully featured cinema camera.

    Plus the possibility of V-Log. I believe 6 mos from now this camera will be on a whole new level. I wouldn't plan on using it for this feature, but definitely keep investing time in learning the camera, because what is coming for this camera is going to be amazing.

  • still a contender vs GH4? The SONY FS-100 is now around $2500 new , Used starting around $1400

    see Voldemort's Lair for comparison of the FS100 vs Canon C300

    GH4 vs BMPCC and FS100 low light test

    Rigging Sony's FS100 for an Indie Feature Shoot

    .Again, a prime concern is an ease of moving the camera through its various configurations. “[The FS100's] versatility is really remarkable, and that’s one of the things we need on this show,” Talley says. “We’re going to shoot one time in a practical bus bathroom, somewehere between 11mm and 16mm. This camera can go from an Arriflex 535 size down to an [Aaton] A-Minima size in two minutes, and you don’t have to change lenses or change stocks. You’re just ready to go.”

    “The footage from the FS100 blows up extremely well,” he says. “That was a huge concern for us, and it passed those tests with flying colors. We tested it against a number of different cameras, bringing in the native AVC HD off the SD cards and blowing it up 1000 percent.

    FS100 Theatrical Trailer:

  • I mentioned ages ago that I would post some footage for a couple shorts I DPd with the GH4, I haven't gotten permission for the longer one, but the shorter one gave me permission for a couple shots. I have included some of the daytime ext. shots (run and gun, available light).

    Also some shots, lit only by campfire, ISO 800. I was surprised by it's low light performance in these shots, if I had taken half a second for a backlight, and to bounce some fill light in, it would be an incredible shot.

    All things considered, this would be the camera I would go to if I had up to a $50,000 budget for a indie feature (with a shogun). Anything above that I would opt for a higher end camera. But IMHO to say this camera isn't ready for a feature is an inaccurate statement.

    EDIT: Hold the phone, just saw that vimeo really did a number on that compression, uploading in a more favorable codec. Un momento!