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Old July 21st, 2011, 03:43 AM   #1
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Using a Panasonic GH2 for wildlife

There are a few recent threads regarding the use of DSLR as wildlife videographer tool.
As I used GH1 and now GH2, I thought it would be nice to share my findings.
It was logical to add my post here New challenges for wildlife videographers
But I thought it would be as good to open a new thread even for the sake of future searches regarding GH2.

I will start with a short description of the camera, with the eye of bird/wildlife videographer…
GH2 is a very small mirror less interchangeable lens camera that can adapt to use a great variety of lenses (almost any make).
When used in RAW for photography the camera can rival entry level DSLRs from Nikon/Canon. Iso sensitivity for video is good (like T3i ?).
GH2 is not build to last, unlike pro Canon or Nikons. It costs new 900$ and I guess will go down to 400$ when new model will come (from GH1 market), I assume that product will last 2-3 yrs until replaced.
GH2 has a good (for composition/exposure/color) articulating LCD and an electronic EVF, unlike optical eyepiece of Canons.
This EVF has its limitations in low light, but is surprisingly good for focus.
The camera outputs 1080p24(very good), 1080p24 80%(very good) and 720p60/50 (not so good). Compression is supposed to be very efficient.
Same plug serves remote control and mic (can't use both).
HDMI out gives 1080i60/50 (good for monitoring, not recording).
Basic crop is 1.9 X, next is 5 X (cropped sensor), and 7.4 X (cropped sensor on 720p60/50).
The camera don't get over hit. Never. Even on long use at desert environment.

Some are general, and are not exclusive for the GH2…
Long GOP.
Hard to pull focus due to shallow DOF/large sensor.
No XLR, so sound is more compromised.
EVF (eyepiece) is located at the back, far from the COG of camera lens combo (most important for tracking birds in flight).
Consumer division of Panasonic don't believe in the niche, hence, in the product, hence, availability problems.
You can use a remote control or external mic, can't use them both.
Focus: LCD is not meant for focus and electronic EVF is good (I think a little bit of sharpening is applied to the EVF) but not enough.
No 1080p25 ! even on PAL models!
720p60/50 is not good enough.

Regarding the big sensor issue. Think of the camera as three in one…
The basic crop 4/3" sensor, Second is a 1/2" sensor (5X crop) and last a 1/3" sensor (7.4X crop), all with a push of one button. If you look at it this way, you understand that you don't loose anything, only benefit from more options.
Regarding the cropped sensor quality (very good). When cropped, the sensor gives its basic/true quality, when not cropped, there is some kind of algorithm involved to reduce the number of pixels from 16M to 2M, this process actually enhances the picture quality, hence, on basic mode (no crop) the camera works great even with a TC!!
As a former XL2 user, I expected a sever loss of quality when adding a TC, but with GH1 and GH2 on the basic/no crop mode, and with a good lens, it is not so.
( I think it is true also for the T3i, and maybe it explains why some people think that the 3X crop is less sharp..)
Size, weight, size, weight, size….
Very easy to carry, I can walk a few km's carrying the camera, a big lens and a sturdy tripod (10-12kg total) with ease.
Easy to set up and start shooting. In a hide, shooting from a car, or just outside.
Articulating LCD for composition in a hide or a car.
No over hit at all.
No jello no moiré, no aliasing.
Shallow DOF is nice.
Very good colors.
You can go over the clips you shoot instantly, and delete whenever you like wherever you like (cap the body and take it with you anywhere), you can even cut a clip in the camera (good when you leave the camera to shoot unattended for a long period of time).
Applying crop with a push of one button.
Good zoom range! Why so ? Think of the Canon 100-400mm that many use…
On XLH1 the effective focal length will be 720-2880mm
On EX3… 520-2080mm
On GH2 (will avoid the 7.4X crop) the effective focal length will be 190-2000mm.
I am talking of course, on the shorter range of the zoom. Now, you got a 10X zoom instead of 4X zoom.

What should we expect to change in the near future?
Again, some apply only to GH2 or replacement model, and some to all DSLRs.
GH2 is now hacked, so 720p60/50 will get much better, also shorter GOPs will be available.
Next models will probably have…
1080p24/25 50%-300% (over/under crank inside camera)
Peaking for built in LCD/EVF.
Good HDMI out for monitoring (already in the GH2), I don't think we will see a good HDMI for recording, in any DSLR, even on the far future.
Global shutter.
Availability of affordable small 5" LCDs and third party external EVFs (in the range of 200$/500$ for Chinese/EU models).
Lens iris controler follow focus for the Nikon and Canon auto focus lenses.
Improved Iso sensitivity (Think of Nikon D3 cameras).

Bottom line. For me, as a non pro, GH2 is a joy to use and almost the only affordable alternative. I can't shoot with it birds in flight like here
but I think an external EVF with peaking, situated near the COG will help a lot.
If I was a pro, I would go for the proper camera route (with external recorder).

Most of my vimeo stuff is SD, but here are two GH1's (no crop but with 2X TC)
And a few GH2 (a better resolution camera)

Sassi Haham is offline   Reply With Quote
Old July 21st, 2011, 09:13 AM   #2
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Arlington, TX
Posts: 2,230
Re: Using a Panasonic GH2 for wildlife

Thanks for sharing. Keeping focus is quite a task, great work!

My 2 cents is that while the GH2 footage I watched does have great resolution, the colors look flat compared to a "normal" video camera. Color makes up a lot of the perception of a quality video image. Have you tried to color correct or enhance the GH2 footage to try for an improvement? With the resolution, if you could improve saturation and get the image to pop it will be a great tool.

I would be interested to see a short re-edit of the hyena footage to see how much you can push/improve the image.
Tim Polster is offline   Reply

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