Mirrorless Cameras Just Keep Getting More Interesting By The Day
Panasonic just did something unprecedented in the consumer camera world that has a lot of filmmakers excited. They just introduced a V-Log gamma profile to their highly acclaimed GH4 mirrorless camera system. To the average shooter out there, this news probably doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot, but to those of us that make our living creating motion pictures it is, well... kind of a big deal.
About Log Profiles
Log profiles are not the most beautiful thing to look at when you are filming. The picture looks dull, flat, and boring on screen in most situations, although there are times when you might just like that flat subtle look to footage. However it's the closest thing we can get to RAW and still have a workflow that isn't overwhelming. When the budget allows, or there is just tons of free time on your hands RAW is the gold standard when it comes to grading footage creatively and with precision. But, filmmakers also have to face reality when they aren't producing a well financed feature film, that at some point and time the film, or video content, has to get out the door and actually get seen. That is where LOG comes in. It's as close to RAW as one can get with the ability to actually finish projects with ease.
There was a time, when I thought I wanted RAW recording in a motion picture camera, but have learned that it was a bit naive in some regards. I come from a still photography background so I am in love with how far we can push RAW files in the still world. But, what I learned when I started working in motion picture was that RAW isn't always the friendliest of workflows, and dropping $50k+ on a Red Epic makes little sense when you can rent one if the need arises. Yes there are cheaper RAW recording cameras, but they all have their pitfalls whether it be chips size, noise ratio, color, etc... Bottom line... Log profiles are good business because it offers artists gradable high quality footage with a fairly quick workflow.
Getting it right in camera...
Speaking of workflow, I've spent a great deal of time dialing in a look that I love with the GH4. If you get it right in camera, it makes post production a breeze, and for the web based content that we often generate, I don't know that I will even use the Log profile all the time, but it's nice to know it's available when I want the look of cinema vs television.
On the other hand, using Log gives the GH4 two additional stops of dynamic range. So, there are plenty of times this will come in handy for sure. I just got the log profile on my cameras so I thought I would take the time to show a few images to share my initial experience and the quality of this particular Log profile on the GH4. As soon as I booted up the camera I walked outside on a very bright contrasty day, and I could immediately see where this counts most. Pointing the camera at my car sitting in the sun I could immediately see that the hot spot wasn't overly bright any longer, and yet there was detail in the black under the car as well. The real question on my mind at that moment was whether there would be a good LUT for this footage, and whether it would grade beautifully or not. More on that in a moment....
My Prior Experience with LOG, and why I have chosen the GH4
Prior to filming with the GH4, and being asked to be on the Lumix Luminary team, I was shooting with Canon C100's and C300's, which have a Log profile as well. The Canon Cinema line definitely creates a beautiful image, and I enjoyed those cameras for what they were. They were introduced at a time when I felt I needed something better than a DSLR to film on. In no way do I want to give off the impression that I do not adore the quality of image that comes out of these fine camera systems whether it be a DSLR or a Cinema Camera.
However, cinema cameras are so big in size that they simply don't travel well without at production team, and good luck filming in public locations. With a large cinema style camera you can't shoot unobtrusively in a restaurant, on the subway, on a plane, or anywhere else for that matter without the risk of getting shut down. They definitely have their place in the world, when you are pulling permits for broadcast or feature films, but in the world of content creation on the web they just don't make sense to me personally. It's simply a different market, and Canon has yet to respond to the demand for mirrorless cameras yet, which is why I had to make the move to Lumix. As for the DSLR... I have a closet full of Canon primes and zooms along with several 5D Mark III's collecting dust at the moment. They are great cameras for capturing stills, but when it comes to video, even though the footage is pretty, they just lack the professional features I've come to expect and adore.
However, I will say that I have become somewhat of a camera snob when it comes to the quality of content I expect to see and create. After making the switch the one thing I did miss about the Canon cinema line was that beautiful Log profile and the control it offered me in post. I really like the smooth, flat, cinema gradation that the Log gamma gives for certain projects, which is why I was glad to see it come to the GH4 via a firmware update. It solidifies that I made the right choice considering the momentum we are seeing and the creative direction we are headed as artists.
Why Mirrorless Matters For All Filmmakers...
I also want to give a shout out to the women filmmakers in this post, and say that Lumix is responding to the needs of women filmmakers with the creation of the GH4. I keep reading articles on how the video and film industry is heavily dominated by men, and I think a part of the reason is that cameras are just so damn heavy. My wife Jennifer, for instance, loves to capture motion picture, and in my experience women have incredible eyes for seeing the world in creative ways. However, cinema cameras simply don't work for her. At 5'3" and 125 lbs she simply lacks the strength to wield the cinema camera style format. Yes, she can direct, or produce to no end, but to actually pick up a camera and work with it all day is a different story. Today, I am happy to see her embracing 4K motion picture simply because she can, and the GH4 gives her that opportunity to capture and create without boundaries.
Nothing Worth Having In Life is Free...
I am not sure if the above statement rings true or not, but in this case it will have to do. The Log Gamma firmware update on the GH4 won't be free it turns out. Although I don't remember Lumix ever saying that it would be free, it has created quite a controversial stir on some technology and camera blogs. I get it that some are put off by this. If you feel Lumix was wrong to charge for it, I won't spend any time trying to convince you otherwise. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and feeling. Believe me... It pains me to to spend money on software.
However, personally, I figure at this point in the game we are just lucky to get VLog in a camera that was released over a year ago. In reality, Panasonic could have easily charged $1000 for a log firmware update on the GH4, or simply waited to put it in the next GH5 model. Instead they gave it to us for $99 as a paid update. Seems fair so, I won't complain. One thing I've learned is that If you are in the filmmaking world, you have to get used to paying for technology. It's a sad truth that we must face that it costs money to create this cool stuff, and it's up to us as artists to figure out how to make it work to our benefit financially. If you are interested in V-Log Here is a link to the details of where you can buy the update. It is NOT a download, but rather a boxed item that will ship to your door.
The nitty gritty.... So how good is it?
Here is the cool part... The GH4 V-Log profile is really quite remarkable because it pairs very well with the ARRI Alexa Log C LUT in my initial tests. Although the Alexa would of course offer even more dynamic range, this means that the footage coming off of the GH4, in 4K mind you, should match up remarkably well with Alexa footage. If you light your scene for the GH4, my best guess is you would be hard pressed to tell them apart meaning that the GH4 is kind of like having a mini Alexa or Varicam in regards to color and workflow. These cameras price out above $50k, so I don't know how they priced VLog-L this reasonably on the GH4. The L does NOT mean LITE by the way. It means Lumix. This is a fully engineered Log Profile that is just as good as the big guns.
LUTS are plentiful if you research for them, and this Alexa Log C LUT can be applied in Adobe Premiere Pro, or you can do so in Final Cut Pro X as I do. I used a Final Cut Pro X plugin called Color Finale which is also priced fairly at $99. (See a demonstration below) It's without question the best grading plugin I've ever used, and as luck would have it the plugin already has the Alexa LUT built into the download. It really couldn't be easier, and having experienced other LOG files from a variety of cameras I can tell that a lot of work went into making this firmware update worth every penny. Below are some photographs which show some quick first test shots in V-Log ungraded, and then graded in Color Finale.
Thank you Lumix for bringing LOG to the GH4. This final addition truly makes it the ultimate camera for those of us who are creating content anywhere and everywhere, and it's fantastic to now be able to offer a gorgeous cinematic gradable look to the footage as well.
Some shots below were shot compressed at 96fps for Slow Motion. The bottom shots in the car were shot in 4K.
Click here to see the beauty film "SEQUENS" here on Together In Style which is shot in VLog on the GH4, and will compliment the screen grabs from the film seen below. Keep in mind we were pushing to ISO 1600 in this dark lighting situation.
Final Cut Pro Users
Color Finale and Color Grading Tutorials
For those who are new to grading footage that use Final Cut Pro... I am a paid user of Color Finale, and it's easily the best grading solution I have found for FCPX. One of the creators of the plugin has a great series of tutorials on how to color grade footage using Color Finale. Here is one of them, and I urge you to subscribe to learn more.