Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wildlife Filming With DSLRS-The Panasonic GH3

Canon revolutionized the video world on September 17, 2008 when they introduced 5D MK II DSLR camera. This camera had a full frame sensor and was the first Canon camera to feature full HD, (1920X1080), and SD (640X480) video recording.   This was followed by the  Canon 7D in the autumn of 2009, which featured an APS-C sensor.

Canon 7D-Canon's 2nd DSLR incorporating HD Video
In spite of issues with aliasing and moire, and poor on-board audio, these cameras soon gained a dedicated following among both amateur and professional film makers alike. Technically speaking one could change between stills and video with the flick of a switch, but there was much more to it such as using external microphones and fluid head tripods if one wanted acceptable professional results. While these cameras did some jobs well, they were less than ideal for long range wildlife filming. It was common for dedicated video cameras to have small sensors such as 1/3", which made it easy to find cameras that had 35mm equivalent focal lengths of 500-800mm or more on the top end and cameras such as the Canon XL-1s, XL-2, and XL-H1 had a crop factor of 7.2 ,which meant that a 100-400mm zoom lens  became the equivalent of a 720-2880mm lens when used on these camcorders.  There was no crop factor to aid the 5D MK II and only a 1.6X on the 7D.  This is all good and well in the world of still photography where one can crop a substantial amount in an imaging program and still maintain acceptable resolution.  In addition a full frame sensor is often preferred because of its better ability to handle low lighting conditions and that certain look that only a full frame camera can have.  That look is  often great for video and to a certain extent is part of the :"film" or "filmic" look that so many desire. The problem is that Full HD video only has  2MP resolution.  In the case of a still photo taken with the 5D MK II one starts with a 21.1 megapixel image and then crops from there, while in video mode one begins with a 2 megapixel video file and crops from there in post production. Needless to say one cannot crop video to the degree that they can still images without significant image degradation.  Canon made an attempt to address this issue with the Canon T3i, which features a 3x crop mode, that reads a 2 megapixel area of the central portion of the sensor.

Filming Whitetails At Extreme Range; Canon Rebel T3i  with 500mm F4 lens
This  works reasonably well for long range wildlife filming and I hoped that it would be incorporated  in more models, but the feature was not included in the T4i , which is the successor to the T3i, nor in any other Canon models to date. Other manufacturers have pursued this to a certain extent with Nikon offering  1.5x and 2.7x crop modes in the D4 and a 1.5x crop mode in the D800.  Panasonic has also pursued this course in their GH2 and GH3 EVIL(electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens)  cameras.

Since Canon didn't see fit to include a crop mode in its' newer cameras I bought a Panasonic GH2 last July. This camera features a micro  four thirds (MFT) sensor, which has a 2X crop factor compared to 35mm and  features a 2.4x crop mode much like the T3i, except that Panasonic dubs it "extended tele conversion mode".  While this is an excellent camera in many ways, it has a major shortcoming for my type of wildlife filming in that one has to choose between using a wired remote or an external mike.  Both use the same 2.5mm jack.  Also if one uses an external mike they must use an adapter as mikes that terminate in a mini-plug ordinarily require a 3.5mm jack.  One must keep close eye on the audio meters as it is easy for something to lose contact in this type of setup.  This was rectified with the introduction of the Panasonic GH3 in late 2012 as this camera has separate jacks for the remote and the microphone and has a headphone jack as well, which is essential for monitoring audio during critical shoots. The microphone and headphone jack are the standard 3.5mm size on the GH3, while it uses the same 2.5mm wired remote as the GH2. Initial supply of the cameras has been very tight.  I pre-ordered a GH3 in November and finally received it at the end of January.

Panasonic GH3 With Canon 85-300mm F4 FD Lens
It is possible to adapt Canon EOS lenses to  the MFT mount by the use of an adapter, but one loses auto-focus and image stabilization.  There are several adapters for less than $50.oo,such as the Fotodiox  that mount the EOS lenses on MFT bodies, but they do not control the aperture so you can only shoot at maximum aperture. Another option is an adapter that electronically controls the diaphragm such as the Redrock Mircro , which costs about $600.00.  Old Canon FD manual focus lenses work quite well as these lenses have a manually operated aperture ring and therefore do not need any electronic control or contact with the camera body.    They can be fitted to MFT mount cameras by suitable adapters.  Several models are available for under $50.00 at, but product reviews vary on these, with many complaining about poor tolerances, and various problems.  I have enough problems as it is, so I decided to got with the Novoflex adapter from B&H, which receives high ratings except for complaints about the cost and it has worked perfectly for me. 

Panasonic GH3 With Canon 85-300mm F4 FD Lens-remote microphone and headphone jacks shown
In the photo above note the remote microphone and headphone cords.  Also the silver ring at the back of the lens where it mounts to the adapter, indicates it is one of the older FD lenses known as breech mount or breech lock lenses.  They will mount to any camera or adapter that a newer FD lens will fit, but instead of placing the lens in the camera mount and rotating the lens as one ordinarily does, one inserts the lens in the mount and then twists the chrome ring while holding the camera and lens stationary.  I almost passed on getting this lens because I was not sure it would work with a newer FD mount, but it turned out to work perfectly.  The good news is that lenses of this caliber ordinarily sell for $200.00 or less, but they are hard to find and it is more common to find 300mmF4 FD fixed power lenses, which are quite sharp, but not as versatile as the zooms.  Most of the telephoto zooms are the push pull models such as the 70-210mmF4 or the 100-300mmF5.6, which are push pull zooms.  These are not ideal choices for video as the lenses vibrate quite easily due to the push-pull design, while the 85-300mmF4 has a zoom ring and the barrel does not extended--it is rock solid.

Hopefully we will explore the subject of lenses for these cameras in more depth in the future, but for not here are some photographs and one video segment taken with the GH3.

Eastern Wild Turkey Gobblers: Panasonic GH3-Canon 24-105mmL lens-Redrock Micro Adapter

Mature Whitetail Buck: 200 yards distant- Panasonic GH3-Canon 85-300mmF4 FD lens
The buck shown above is about 200 yards away. The 85-300mm F4 FD lens was used. This was captured to a Panasonic raw file and then processed in Photoshop CS6 Adobe Camera Raw and fine tuned in Photoshop.  The video below consists of two brief clips. Again the 85-300mm was used at the 300mm setting.  The first clip is without extended tele conversion mode engaged, which gives a focal length equivalent of a 600mm lens on a 35mm camera.  The second clip uses extended tele conversion mode for an equivalent focal length of 1440mm.

Quality is really hard to judge from Vimeo clips, but I can tell little if any difference in quality between these clips on a large HDTV.  I do think the  extended mode holds up best at the more reasonable ISOs, with standard mode having more of an edge in poor light and with extremely high ISO settings. I need more experience with this camera to utilize its' full potential and find out its' limitations. At this point I don't think it is in the league of the 5D MK III once one gets over ISO 1600, but the MK III does not have the long range video capability of either the GH2, the GH3, or the Canon Rebel T3i.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Linda G. said...

My new Olympus OMD E-M5 camera is supposed to do nice video, especially with the 12-50mm that has been built specifically for video. I haven't tried the video function yet.

I purchased an adapter for this camera so that I can use all my 4/3 lens. The camera has an advantage over the Panasonic in that IS is inside the camera. I have tried a couple 4/3 lens on the new camera. I don't know yet how I feel about the AF .. seems slow. Eventually (when I have money saved up again), I will purchase some other MFT lenses.

Lindsjö taxar said...

This time I could watch the video, great!!!
Very nice pics again