Wasting Time On DSLR Video

But A Used $100 Panasonic GF3 and $30 Lens Win My Heart

For the past couple of weeks I have been looking for a small video camera to complement my Sigma DP1 and DP2S, which take superlative photos, but unusable video.  Knowing I’d want short focal-length, shallow depth of field, I ruled out a camcorder. Having an all-around utility camera to complement the Sigmas, and the ability to use separate lenses, would also be helpful.

Having read a lot about Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras, especially the Panasonic GH2, I bought Panasonic’s lowest-end camera, a GF3, with 14mm pancake lens, for $245 on Craigslist (CL).  I then subscribed to Vitaliy’s PersonalView.  For $10 (you can do $5) and downloaded and installed a hack (first Cake 2.3, then Driftwood) for the GF3 which can double, even triple the bit-rate.

I was very impressed with the GF3, but noticed on a YouTube video, Kim Letkeman’ s Video Hacks Compare Four Panasonic Bodies — VLOG4  that the G5 provided as-good, if not better video, without a hack.  It also has a viewfinder and articulating screen.  Since Panasonic has a new G6, the G5 were being dumped on Amazon.  I picked one up with the kit lens for $350.

[Dear GH2 users.  I understand that none of those cameras is a match for a properly hacked GH2.  However, I’m going for small and cheap here].

I also bought a $20 adapter for my old Nikkor 50mm 1.4, siting in a drawer.  Wanting something less telephoto, I found a Minolta-mount 28mm/2.8 lens for $30 on CL, bought the adapter, and now had a couple of MFT cameras with a 14mm/2.5, 14-42mm, 28mm/2.8 and a 50mm/1.4.

Santo, who I met buying the 28mm lens from CL, uses an un-hacked GH2, and put up some very impressive videos on Vimeo.  Here’s one of a model train and the NMRA Model Train Show.  I watch his videos and think, ‘Max, you waste all your time comparing cameras instead of just using them!’

Then I saw an Olympus E-P1 for $150 on CL, that had a c-mount lens and Olympus 50mm/1.8 with adapter.  I bought it mostly for the c-mount lens (not knowing it was only $30), figuring I’d give the body with a lens to one of my children.  It turned out that the Olympus lens didn’t flare as much as the Nikkor, all the way open, and the E-P1 is a nice piece of metal hardware.  My daughter even said she wanted it!  Nice going Olympus.

I discovered that the C-Mount TV lens (Fujian with effective 35mm 1.7 for $30) delivers beautiful video, which is fun and easy to shoot.  I never would have tried that lens if it weren’t for the inspiring GH2 Shooter’s manual from Andrew Reid’s EOSHD blog and mini-publishing company.  I highly recommend his blog and publications.

There is only one limitation that bugged me.  On the GF3 (or, I believe, any Panasonic consumer MFT below the G6, you can control aperture, shutter speed, but not ISO).  In other words, if you expose for a brightly lit porch and pan to a darker area the camera will boost the ISO to better expose the picture.  In “iA” mode, you can slow the camera’s desire to change ISO if you pan from one level of light to another. Except for that exposure-lock limitation, everything else about the GF3 is superb (as a really inexpensive camera that does video).

With the GF3 I can use almost any lens, and it even has focus-peaking before I shoot.  For a couple of hundred dollars more, the G5, provides a view-finder, hot-shoe and articulating screen. (The current G6 adds true exposure lock and a mic input.  Currently, it is a hot camera so I’m waiting for prices to drop.)

The biggest weakness of MFT cameras is their color depth.  However, they are as equally sharp as any DSLR (if not sharper after hacks are used).  Also, you can get shallow depth of field with a fast lens (the $30 c-mount lens is f1.7 !).

CurrentLineup

DP1 28mm, DP2S, 42MM, Panasonic GF3 with Effective 35mm TV lens, and the D600 for a sense of size.

Can’t Leave Well-Enough Alone

Instead of going deeply into my new GF3, G5 and lenses,  I broadened my tests and began comparing them to my D-600.  Big mistake!  Here is some video I took during my honeymoon period with the D-600.

A DSLR is capable of better quality video, but in real world use, I ended up with problem-filled footage that, net-net, is worse than that from the MFT cameras (like Panasonic). Almost every time I shoot video with the D600 I score it ‘10 for color saturation, 2 for focus and 2 for basic exposure, white-balance, etc.’  When I shoot with the GF3 I score it 8,8 and 8.  Again, that’s now a $100 used body!

I wondered, would Santo’s work have been improved if he used DSLR video?  I think the answer is no.

The more I tried to get good footage out of the DSLR, the more disappointed I became. As many bloggers have said before me, DSLR video quality is a mixed bag.  The cameras work against you, not with you.

The following is a quick test, the Nikon D600 vs the G5 indoors. The Nikon has the Tamron 24-70mm/2.8 and the G5 the 14mm/2.8 pancake.  I don’t caption either video with which camera is being used.  If you’re a video nut like me, you’ll know which is which.  If you can’t figure out which is better, then believe me, stay away from DSLR video 😉

Here is a test of the two cameras outdoors.

FULL-FRAME DSLR VIDEO IS A TEASE

Yes, coming from camcorders, shooting slow-moving subjects, with shallow depth of field, during a nice bright day, and using LiveView under the shade of an apple tree, brought near tears of DSLR joy to my eyes.  In every other situation I cursed a whole range of annoyances and shortcomings: moire, rolling shutter, artifacts, false colors and equipment not really designed to shoot video.

Perhaps I could work around all that.  However, it would never cure the fact that I’m used to getting perfect RAW images in photography.  At the end of the day, DSLR video is a string of middling-quality JPEG images (video).  And the rolling-shutter effect is very irritating.

Perhaps only RAW video, from the 5D Mark III, hacked Canon 50Ds or Blackmagic will give me the real color look I want.  As much as I am amazed at the video that comes out of the D600 on a good day, it is still no match for the video that others are getting from raw-based video.  DSLR video, especially of faces, is blotchy and pasty.

For now, I’m sticking with Panasonic MFT cameras for video (and photo backup).  RAW beckons, however.

QUICK FINDINGS

Nikon D600

PROS

CONS

DOF (large sensor, shallow depth of field)

Very large

Lock Exposure

Very heavy (seriously, a brick)

Saturation

Lenses very expensive (and big)

Mic Input

Non-articulating LCD

Low Light (large sensor)

No video viewfinder focus

Fast Operations

Expensive!

Great Photo Stills

Remote Tethering

Stabilization

G5

PROS

CONS

Light

Limited Exposure Lock

Small

Poor Color Saturation

Articulating Screen

No Mic Input

Inexpensive Lenses (with adapters)

Stabilization weak

GF3

PROS

CONS

Really cheap (used $100 body)

No viewfinder

Very light and small

Limited exposure lock

Takes Hacks

Low color saturation

Cheap lenses (with adapters)

No mic and weak stabilization

This entry was posted in DSLR.

6 Comments

  1. Santo August 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    Max, thanks for linking my videos on this blog entry. Yes, I love my GH2 both for video and still. Audio meter is handy to make sure your external mic is working. ETC mode is also wonderful because it makes my 50mm lens to also be a 130mm and my 28mm a 72mm with no loss of quality. Mic input is certainly handy, but I also often use a Zoom H1 mic running independently and sync the audio later in post. It is quite amazing that these very capable devices are available at the hobbyist price range.

  2. Kim Letkeman September 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    Hey, thanks for the call out! Good article. The GF3 definitely is inferior to the G5, even after hacking. It’s just the nature of the sensor I believe. However, in my video, I did give it short shrift on the lens, which I think was unfortunate. I’ll eventually redo the test using the same lens on all the cameras (which means they will not be synced up in time unfortunately.)

    By the way, that was a smoking great deal you got on the G5 kit. The G5 is my go to camera for stills and my second cam for video. The GF3 and GX1 are fill cams for useful angles, and of course the GH2 is the big dog. Still unbeatable on a budget.

  3. Kim Letkeman September 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Just wondering if you have tried the Panny bodies with boosted saturation and contrast? That should pretty much mimic the D600 output. I happen to favour very low contrast output since it leaves a lot of room for grading, but I suspect that you can really pound on the contrast and saturation if you like …

    • adminme September 19, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

      I’ve been learning (very painfully) Magic Lantern RAW for the Canon 50D and EOS-M. For my aesthetic taste, no consumer H.264 comes close. So I’ve given up on the Pannys for now. Thanks!

  4. Jackson Chan February 24, 2015 at 6:31 am #

    You said GF3 gives you focus-peaking before you shoot?! How can this be done?! I tried to look up but can’t find it on my GF3.

    • Max March 17, 2015 at 3:49 am #

      I may be wrong, sorry I don’t have time to check.

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