Sunday, October 19, 2014

Panasonic GH4-Disaster Brings New Method of Shooting

Extreme Long Range Tool: GH4 With Cage- Canon 500 f4.5 FD Lens-Ronsrail Support, Rode VideoMic Pro
Most of the readers of this blog that encountered in Pennsylvania Elk Country this year have already heard the story that I will relate today, but I would like to share it with all blog readers as this is about an experience that changed my approach to filming wildlife.  I only wish that learning this had not been so traumatic or so expensive.

I have mentioned in several posts that I am now using the Panasonic GH4 as my primary video acquisition tool. I got my first one on May 1, 2014 and liked it so well that my Canon 70D was retired from taking video and became a backup still camera to the 5D MK III and the Panasonic GH3 was used only in situations where the GH4 was on the tripod with a long telephoto attached and wildlife got so close that I needed a smaller lens.  An example of this is that when filming spring turkeys from a blind I kept the 14-140mm Lumix  attached to the GH3 and used it if widlife got so close that I could use a short focal length, shoot hand-held and still get stable looking video.

Fast-forward to early July, which is one of my favorite times of year, as the whitetail bucks and  bull elk have substantial size antlers.  A favorite activity is to take a walk in the back country at the crack of dawn and check out meadows where bucks either feed in the cool of early morning or cross the meadows on their way from feeding areas to bedding grounds in the nearby woods.  A major reason I love taking video is that it is easier to get acceptable results with it at long range than it is with still cameras and many of the bucks that I see are very intolerant of humans, which makes long range encounters the norm. On the morning of July 8th I  found a few decent bucks in a meadow complex and got some video of them.

7P At Long Range: GH4 Video Still Capture
There was really nothing all that special about the situation except that the GH4 worked so well for this long range shooting compared to the cameras I had been using.  The LCD was much better than the one on the GH3 and as I reviewed the clips I had filmed I thought about the trip I had planned to elk country that coming Sunday and I felt on top of the world as I thought about the excellent whitetail and elk filming opportunities that the near future offered and what a pleasure it would be to use this camera.

As it was still fairly early I drove to another spot where fawns are frequently seen and set theGH4 up on the tripod.  A fawn soon appeared and I took some video  footage and then decided to go for a few still frames from my 70D, which was close at hand with the 70-200mm f2.8 attached.  I fired a shot or so from eye level and as the fawn was not spooky I dropped to a kneeling position to get a better perspective and fired a few frames.

Young Fawn: Canon 70D-70-200mm f2.8 L IS II
 When I stood back up, I stumbled a bit, felt a small bump on my back, and glanced over my shoulder. To my dismay, the tripod with the Panasonic GH4 attached was  falling over backwards.  It all seemed to happen in slow motion and before I could turn completely around I heard a sickening crunch as something broke.  I was in denial and didn't even want to look at the camera, which must be whey I took no photos of it after the accident.  I walked up to it and reluctantly assessed the damage.  I had the LCD opened and at a 45 degree angle which is my favorite position for video and the camera fell in such a way that the LCD and mike input jack bore the brunt of the impact.

The Aftermath-Broken LCD Hinge
The LCD was still attached to the camera and the glass was not broken, but the hinge was damaged and it would not display an image. On a positive note the internal electronic viewfinder worked OK and the remote control jack still functioned, but it was very limiting to shoot video this way after the freedom of using the LCD

In one short moment I went from being on top of the world as I thought about the coming summer and shooting 4K video to being faced with the possibility that it would be some time before I could shoot 4K video again.  There several options open to me including going back to the 70D and The GH3 or breaking the XL-H1 out, while the camera was sent to Panasonic for repair. Pursuing this option meant no 4K filming while it was gone, an unknown turn-around time, and even the possibility that Panasonic would simply want to replace the camera at full cost and not repair it.  Another option was to replace the camera with another new body.  The downside to this was the expense and as it turned out it was not possible at the time as they were out of stock everywhere.  This left the option of using the camera with the electronic viewfinder only, but then I realized that I had time to get an external monitor before the trip.

I have considered using an external monitor for years, but never made the step as there was always some other piece of equipment that I felt it was more pressing to obtain. Also there were concerns about the added bulk and complexity of the equipment once a monitor was attached.  Back in the SD days I filmed some performance videos of bands using multi-cameras and a mixer with an output plugged into a TV set for monitoring, but I never used a dedicated on camera monitor while filming wildlife in the field.

Considering the options facing me, I decided to got with a 7" Ikan VK7i Monitor and I got it in time to make a home-made bracket which I used in conjunction with a Zactuo Gorilla Plate, to fit it to the GH4.

GH4 and Ikan Monitor attached by Zacuto Gorilla Plate and home-made bracket
This saved the day and I had a great trip to elk country and continued to enjoy filming whitetail deer, elk, and other wildlife in 4K

Foggy Morning Elk-Video Still Capture
Doe Feeding As Seen On Ikan VK7i
As it turned out I was less than pleased with my homemade bracket and once I was back home, I acquired a GH4 Camera Cage from Amazon and after altering a few minor details I was relatively happy with my setup. Even though I was pleased with this set-up I still missed having the touch-screen on the GH4 and once GH4 bodies were in stock again I got another one and I am using it with the monitor, while the damaged GH4 has so far been relegated to the spot of the camera to use with a small lens for handheld work at close range.

There is always pluses and minuses to any set-up and there are several draw-backs to using an external monitor. The GH4 is a joy to carry--especially with the 14-140mm and 100-300mm lenses, but once a camera cage, external monitor, and microphone are fitted to the camera it is no longer light and compact and with a configuration such as that shown in the first photo, it is very cumbersome indeed, but the offsetting factor is that it is a serious tool for serious long-range work.

Hopefully we will explore this more in the near future including showing more video clips taken with this camera.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pennsylvania Elk Rut 2014 With The Panasonic GH4

I arrived in Pennsylvania Elk Country on Sunday, September 21st to find the rut going full-bore and there were several days of intense activity, but then the rut abruptly crashed on Wednesday night and Thursday was very slow.  Things were a bit better on Friday, but the rut never really took off again during the next week and good filming opportunities were difficult to find.  I went home after the morning shoot on Friday October 3rd and have not heard if there was an upswing after that.

Starting in 2012 I have made a short video each year featuring the most dramatic  video footage from that year's elk rut and today's post features the 2014 video which I just completed yesterday. All of the dramatic footage of the bulls running about and fighting was taken on the first four days of the trip.

Today I have posted the same video on both Vimeo and You Tube to show help analyze the difference between them.

Vimeo Version

You Tube Version

The video was filmed with the Panasonic GH4, with the exception of the sunset scene used in closing which was shot with a Panasonic GH3. I used the14-140mm Lumix for the scenic clips and some of the close encounters with elk, but most of the material was taken with the Canon 100-400mm L lens. The 70-200mm f 2.8 L IS II was used in some cases, most notably the shot of the bulls in velvet in the fog. The  100-300mm Lumix  was used to film the bull following cows and calves into the woods near the end of the video.  Use of the Canon lenses was made possible by the Metabones Canon EF MFT Speed Booster, which enables the GH4 to control the aperture of the Canon lenses and permits image stabilization to be used. An added benefit is that it increases the maximum aperture of the lens making the 70-200mm f2.8 a f2.0 and the 100-400 f4.5-5.6 becomes f 3.2-f4.0, which is a big help in low light. The bad news is that it does not support auto-focus with the Canon lenses.

GH4   fitted with external mike, video cage external monitor.and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II Lens Note Metabones Adapter at rear of lens
This video is the first I have made that was shot in what is commonly referred to as 4K, although it is actually Ultra-HD (UHD)which has a frame size of 3840x2160 versus the 4096x2160 of true 4K and the 1920X1080 of full HD.  As few, including me, have 4K TVs to view this on some might ask what the benefit is of using this technology at present? There are several valid reasons,

4K edited on a 1080P time line supposedly yields a better 1080P finished product than using 1080P original footage.  Another advantage and the one perhaps most important to me is the ability to crop the footage substantially in post production and still maintain a 1080P or more resolution.  Of almost equal importance is that 4K is the immediate future of video and it is likely that the trend will continue through 6K and eventually 8K, etc.  Shooting 4K now means that one's footage will hopefully retain commercial value for a longer period of time.

Unfortunately the advantage is not visible on Vimeo.  I rendered the file to 1080P, but when the upload was complete a message came up that it was advisable to allow Vimeo to convert the clip to 720P so that it would play better for those that have a slow internet connection and I permitted it to do so. The clip was uploaded at full 1080P to You Tube.  Be sure to selected that playback setting for best quality.  If it gives problems with playing back smoothly, allow it to play through once while you are doing something else and then play it again and it should go better. This is a major reason that I hesitate to post a lot of video.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pennsylvania Elk Rut-Activity Is Now Spotty

Elk rutting activity was very slow on Thursday--at least where I was--but it picked a bit on Friday. That morning was extremely foggy, as is usual for Pennsylvania elk country.  As the fog started to lift a bit, I pulled into a Game Commission parking lot and heard bugling coming from a nearby meadow. Upon checking the situation out, I found several cows and calves feeding along the tree line at the edge of the meadow while a bull watched them from just inside the woods and bugled periodically. At first it was so foggy that the bull was almost impossible to photograph, but then the fog lifted and suddenly a  larger 6x7 bull came running in from behind me and to my right and  locked antlers with the smaller bull.

6x7 Charges Smaller Bull
Bulls Fighting
They locked antlers several times and fought violently for  brief periods before the smaller bull ran off and left the 6x7 in control of the harem.

The Victor
That evening I decided to check out a favorite scenic overlook and found a Wildlife Conservation Officer there.  While we were talking he suddenly whispered, "look behind you" and I turned to see a beautiful bull walking directly toward us along the rim of the overlook.  I had the 70D around my neck with the 17-40mm attached so I brought it to eye level and took several photos. This was the Conservation Officers' first trip to elk country and he was very impressed with the experience.

Overlook Bull
I saw more elk including a few bulls before darkness fell, but the photo above was the highlight of the evening.  These events raised my hopes for the remainder of the weekend, but the trend did not continue, and activity was flat on Saturday and Sunday.

The highlight of Saturday was the Benezette Elk Camera Club Picnic.  I wish to thank the club for the opportunity to address them and play a few banjo tunes.  I also thank them for the courtesy and kindness the members extended to me.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pennsylvania Elk Rut Explodes

Mature Bull Herds Cows During Peak Of The Rut

I arrived in Pennsylvania Elk Country just as a northwest cold front was moving through on Sunday afternoon.  Elk enthusiasts who were there all last week said that activity was good earlier in the week, but crashed as the weather got warm later in the week.  With the passing of the cold front; however, activity exploded again and it was very intense for a few days.

I took mostly video for the first few days of the trip, but on Wednesday evening several bulls were working a herd of cows in ideal lighting conditions for still photography so  I broke out the Canon 5D MK III with the 600mm f4 lens and the 70D with the 300mm f 2.8 and took the photos used in today's post. At first only one bull was present, but soon more arrived on the scene.

Bull Runs Toward Action
One of the bulls has large, sweeping antlers and is called "The Western Bull" by many as  his antlers look more like those seen on bulls in the western states.  It seems that the antlers on most Pennsylvania bulls are more likely to be relatively narrow in relation to their width, while many of  western bull's racks tend to be long, thin, and sweeping in appearance.  This bull is very aggressive and one point on the right antler is broken off from fighting.

"The Western Bull" A Damaged Warrior
Bulls locked antlers at times during the evening and I got a few frames of the action, but there was always some high grass between me and them when this happened and the blurry, out of focus grass detracted from the quality of the photos.

Bulls Fighting
Most expected the activity to continue this morning (Thursday),but most of the elk left the meadows shortly after daylight and there was little bugling.  Later in the morning, a solitary bull was seen feeding and resting along Winslow Hill Road near Elk View Diner and he soon became the major attraction on  the hill.

Old Bull Along Winslow Hill Road
This is the bull that many elk enthusiasts call "Limpy" He is a mature bull that is showing the signs of advancing age.  He has been in the center of the fighting for much of the rut, but now it seems he has moved away from the herd for a time, to rest and avoid confrontation with the other bulls.  He was still there in mid-afternoon when I drove past as I headed out for the evening's photography session.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.