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Under Water, Over Land
Tools & Techniques for Nature, Outdoors, Wildlife & Underwater Videography.

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Old November 23rd, 2013, 11:35 PM   #1
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Camcorder or GH3: Help a Novice Choose

This group is refreshingly brand and technology agnostic: you're clearly interested in choosing the right tools for the job. I'm hoping, then, you might guide my choice in some new equipment. My situation, and the problems I'm hoping to address, are as follows. (I apologize for the length.)

In short, I'm shooting black birds at close proximity (within 1 to 3 feet, though sometimes as close as 6 inches.) The birds are on the ground in shaded forest underbrush, and the camera runs locked and unattended. While I've been getting good results from an aging Panasonic 3MOS camcorder, I keep running into the same two issues: 1) while the 1/4" sensors deliver a deep working DOF that I've realized is essential, the camera itself lacks aperture priority, making it impossible to nail that DOF predictably; and 2) those black feathers challenge the camera's dynamic range: expose for the black feathers and specular highlights from nearby leaves render as cellphone-video blobs.

Now, maybe I'm thinking about this the wrong way, but it seems like solutions to those two issues (controlling DOF and improving DR) are almost mutually exclusive, and are forcing a choice:

A) Prioritize dynamic range, and upgrade to the larger-sensor Panasonic GH3, which in theory has greater DR, probably better optics via some primes, and possibly recoverable shadow detail via the higher bitrate format. The downside happens when I see my DOF drop to a possibly useless fraction of what a 1/4" or 1/2" camcorder would deliver. (Prettier bokeh but frequently out-of-focus birds. Not good.)

B) Prioritize DOF, and upgrade to a small-chip camcorder with aperture priority (e.g. Canon G30) so I could properly lock the focus range AND retain the deep DOF. The downside happens when I dial in exposure compensation for the black feathers, and the highlights blow out moreso than with the GH3.

If I knew I could simply boost the ISO on the GH3, stop down and approximate the working DOF of a smaller-chip camcorder I'd probably go that route. But DOF equivalence charts tell me that would mean shooting at f11 (or higher) in woodland shade. Can the GH3 be pumped that far?

As it stands I'm hesitantly inclined to go with another small-sensored camcorder. But maybe my inexperienced logic is wrong.

Would anyone who's made similar choices care to offer their thoughts? Factors I'm not considering? Any guidance (or corrections to my assumptions) would be appreciated.
Kris Kohuth is offline   Reply With Quote
Old November 24th, 2013, 09:40 AM   #2
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Re: Camcorder or GH3: Help a Novice Choose

Hi Kris,

Since you have a clear picture of the pros and cons of both options I am afraid that I can't contribute a lot to your decision making. I own a GH3 myself and find it acceptable to boost the ISO up to 800. For me the image becomes less pleasant at higher ISO rates.
Cees van Kempen
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Old November 25th, 2013, 06:38 AM   #3
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Re: Camcorder or GH3: Help a Novice Choose

Hi Kris,

What is the aim of the exercise? For example are you trying to record some minute detail of a blackbirdís life or just whether they are present or how often they visit their nest? Is there a reason why they should come to within 6 inches of your unmanned camera? Will they do so reliably and from the same direction etc? Do you want to look through hours of recordings?

Achieving adequate depth of field at close range will be a problem as you have said but much easier with a smaller sensor and short focal lengths. Using a smaller aperture not only requires increasing the gain but also reduces definition through diffraction effects. Opinions vary with some saying do not use less than f4. With the Nikon lenses I use on my EX3 I find that better results are to be had at 5.6 -8.

Dynamic range is another issue again, Black Magic Design claim a very wide dynamic range for their cameras but from what I have read I donít think they are the cameras for me.
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