Panasonic GH4: The best camera I was prepared to hate

Sometimes I get an idea in my head.  I don’t always know where it comes from, listening to others, random ideas… Sometimes it’s just me being a wanker and not liking something I don’t/can’t have.  I get all down on it so I don’t ‘want’ it.  I know, a bit juvenile, but hey, we all have our moments, right?

Such is the case with the Panasonic GH4.  When it first came out I was like ‘no way’ internal 4k, it can’t be as good as all the big expensive cameras, who needs 4k anyway, it’s gonna be soft, lenses are gonna be kinda suck, OMG and that micro 4/3 sensor!!!  Who came up with this thing anyway, and since WHEN was panasonic a CAMERA manufacturer.  (yes, at times totally illogical).   I did ask around, at first all my fancy-indy-filmmaking friends jumped on the GH4 bandwagon, but fickle is as fickle does and promptly moved on to the Sony A7s for its monster low light capabilities.  (Yay! Another flavor of the week!)   Comments like “A7s is sharper in 1080p than GH4” reinforced my negative beliefs.  And who wants 4k deliverable anyway, right?

Time passed and a couple times my current camera systems were passed over for Underwater gigs because 1.  Want 60fps and 2.  Want 4k (mostly just for cropping of course)  I filed these away along with money to try and get the FS700 underwater with the Odyssey 7Q (another expensive proposal).

I’m a compulsive craigslist watcher.  I can’t help myself.  I have been keeping an eye out for a nice used tripod locally (goodness knows I don’t really need any more camera crap LOLZ!) when what pops up… nothing less than a lightly used GH4 and a pretty Nauticam housing at a rather good price.   OK, a REALLY good price, the kind that you think might be a mistake that you are happy to take advantage of.   Ride it like you stole it and all that jazz…

Internal 4K, 1080p @ 60fps (technically goes higher but you start loosing quality), voila!  Within days of bringing it home, it was already hard at work paying for itself.

So here is my review of the camera I was so prepared to hate.

If you are looking to get into Underwater Video, at this time and think you might want 4k or higher frame rates, the Panasonic GH4 is the best thing going under $3k (I say 3,000 because you will want to spend some $$ on good glass).   Interestingly enough the journalists I work with regularly from KCTS and PBS Quest also just switched over from their 5DMK2’s to GH4’s.   The footage mixes well with just about anything, and there is supposedly a LOG profile coming out in the next couple months.   Firmware updates from Panasonic have been consistent and solid.  Instead of cranking out a new camera every 6 months, its seems they actually gave a lot of thought to refining the GH4.

I picked up two lenses that I couldn’t be happier with, the 12-35 (equivalent to the 24-70 in 1080p and somewhere around a 26-77 in 4K due to the 2.2 crop factor).   Because the primary heavy lifting that this camera will do other than swimming pool work for local music video production and short films where 60fps is fantastic, is macro, an Olympus 60mm macro lens from Ocean Optical Sales was on the list.   The 60mm with the 4k crop factor comes in at a whopping 132mm macro lens that still focuses very close.  I don’t find any kind of big need for a diopter for the things i’m shooting right now.

The 12-35 with it’s IS is rather stunning.  The combo of camera and lens allows for some really creative handheld shots.  I love this lens.

The 60mm macro is kind of a one trick pony, but considering the trick, I’m very OK with that.

Now on to the housing.  This is my first nauticam housing.  I’ve peeked over my dive buddy’s shoulder a few times (he has a sony NEX 7n system) and as of a few years ago I wasn’t terribly impressed.  That has changed.  I feel like Nauticam has upped their game.  The housing is pretty intuitive, with active locking on levers and ports so there is no leap of faith.  It also came with a vacuum system, green light go, which is confidence inspiring, it feels a bit ahead of the leak alarm in my other housings that lets you know after there is enough water to make the connection.  The first foot or two is the most concerning (for me anyway) so being able to see that my seal is intact at the start of the dive is one less thing to worry about.

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A note about that.  When I choose gear, I do my best to choose kit that is known for its reliability and mostly idiot proof.  My dive kit needs to be invisible in the task loading department.  My boots need to fit, my fins need to be comfortable, my suit needs to be dry, my rebreather solid, everything just works and allows me the bandwidth to do what I went to all this trouble to do, shoot video.   The truth is, things happen, suits leak, I forget the right socks, etc… But because i’ve started from a solid platform of gear with no issues, a little thing doesn’t totally hose my dive.  If i’d started with ill fitting, poorly maintained, uncomfortable gear my margin for error would be much much lower.

When you dive with a CCR, scooter and a camera (sometimes more than one) in cold water conditions that vary from pleasant to zero visibility and rip snorting current, the key to safe and efficient diving is understanding that margin.  I have called dives because there was bit of current and I’d worn the wrong liner sock so my feet were flopping all over the place. In that situation I knew I was being distracted, which reduced my margin for error, so I called it.  Not only was I not at my best to do something like shoot video, I acknowledge that I was also down for the count as a good dive buddy due to the distraction.

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Without further adieu:

Here is video with macro lens:

and some sharks with the 12-35

 

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