My First (D)SLR

8 04 2011

Panasonic Lumix GH2

So, I’ve worked with DSLR cameras pretty much since they came out.  Most of the projects I have worked on have been with members of the Canon line: 7d, 5d and T2i.  There are definitely some drawbacks to these stills cameras being using for motion capture; however, the quality you get for video is really inspiring in a lot of ways on another level.  They, quite inexpensively, give you the opportunity to utilize a shallower depth of field compared to standard ENG cameras, are better in low-light situations and are compact and durable, though not quite so ergonomic.

I bought my Panasonic HVX-200 in January of 2007 and it’s been a great camera for me.  It’s a solid, prosumer ENG style camera that, at the time I bought it, was a real workhorse for independent productions.  I’ve shot many industrial, commercial, Web promos, live performances, weddings and everything in between on the HVX.  In addition, I’ve lensed seven short films, many award-winning, on this camera.  Yet, I’ve never been necessarily enamored with the picture quality and performance of the HVX.  It’s not bad by any means, but it does leave something to be desired.  For one, you can only truly shoot 24p in 720 mode, not in 1080; the kit lens on the HVX is not high quality; I hate, hate, hate that you can’t manually dial in a color temperature based on Kelvin increments and the LCD and LVF are complete crap.  As with any camera though, there will be downsides.

In working with many DSLRs, I have really come to appreciate the distinctive “look” to some degree.  However, with the Canon line, there have been enough setbacks of one form or another (limited continuous capture, overheating issues, aliasing, bad moire), that I have not yet purchased a DSLR of my own – at least until now.  I caught wind of the Panasonic GH2 late last year when it came out.  It’s a micro 4/3 sensor camera which in sensor size is extremely close to a 35mm motion picture film frame.  In addition, Panasonic had made some major changes that give it an edge over some of the other DSLRs on the market including: the ability to continuous capture indefinitely, no overheating issues and much improved handling of problematic patterns that cause aliasing and moire.

As with anything before I buy it, I spent many an hour watching sample footage, looking at camera tests and reading reviews.  Finally, I was sold; this was the DSLR I had been waiting for (it’s mirrorless so in some regards its not a true DSLR, hence my (D)SLR title).  In looking on Amazon, B&H and other camera suppliers, however, I noticed that this camera is basically impossible to get ahold of right now.  Everywhere had them backordered!  So, of course, I checked eBay to see what they had to offer, but everything was price gouged by about $300.  I wanted the camera, but not that bad.  Finally, a camera company in Washington state listed one with the 14-42mm kit lens on eBay and since they were a Panasonic dealer, they couldn’t gouge the price.  So, I jumped at the auction when I saw it up for a “Buy it Now” at retail value.

I just got the camera in yesterday and have only been messing around a little with it last night and this morning.  I have to say though, I am pretty damn impressed.  Here in the office, I’ve been shooting under available light at 1600 ASA equivalency and the image is way less noisy than the HVX even at that high an ASA.  The color space is impressive, the aliasing and moire have been greatly reduced for a DSLR and it really has a pretty damn good dynamic range.  It was holding highlights at a solid 3 stops over and even holding pretty well into 4 stops, which is not bad for the price.  I’m not getting rid of the old HVX just yet (I did list it prematurely, but then took it down) just because some clients would probably rather see the larger, more impressive looking HVX on a commercial shoot than this little still camera.  All in all, I am very happy I bought this camera.  I can’t wait to outfit it with a Kessler Pocket Dolly, Shoulder rig, follow focus, mattebox and extra lenses.

The HVX still has its place for the time being, but this little camera has a very impressive picture and I can’t wait to test it more.  I’m glad I have the extra camera and have long considered a DSLR; its definitely been well worth the wait for the added video improvements that have come along.  Just for anyone out there considering, with the 14-42mm kit lens (worth getting now as there aren’t a lot of micro 4/3 lenses on the market yet and with the sensor size, 14mm is closer to 28mm, 42mm to 85mm, etc.) this camera is $995.95.  Yes, that’s definitely a big bang for the buck.

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