Shooting at Night with the Panasonic GH4

Shooting at Night with the Panasonic GH4

The Panasonic GH4 is an amazing little camera. I’ve been putting it through its paces from the moment I got my hands on one, and just like any gearhead, have been reading practically every review and comment about it on the internet. What can I say? It’s an addiction. I confess. One thing that stood out to me in all the signal and noise out there was that this camera isn’t a great performer at high ISO. My initial quick tests bore that out; at ISO 800, the footage is pretty noisy and by 1600, it’s unusable for a lot of work. But what I wanted to know was something a bit more subtle. I wanted to know if I could shoot at night, in a place like San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, and still walk away with usable footage? See, what a lot of people don’t get is that “low light” and “high ISO” aren’t synonymous. Just because you don’t have bright daylight doesn’t mean you have to force your camera into stratospheric ISOs. There’s more than one way to skin this particular cat and so, with my GH4 and some bits and bobs, I set out to find out if I could get the footage I wanted. Here’s the gear list: Panasonic GH4 Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, Nikon-mount Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95 Metabones Nikon G to Micro Four Thirds Speedbooster Video tripod and head The video is below, but before you watch it, here are a few notes to keep in mind so you know what to expect… The video is shot at 4K, 24p. ISO was kept between 200 and 400 for...
The Bokeh Effect: How Sensor Size Affects Background Blur

The Bokeh Effect: How Sensor Size Affects Background Blur

Of all the things that photographers argue about in our secret monthly meetings, sensor size and its impact on our work is perhaps one of the most heated topics that can come up. From the true “bigger is better” snobs (“Sensors? Bah! 8X10 film is where it’s at!”) to the ones who prize portability above all (“Micro-Four-Thirds rules!”), the debate between advocates of MFT, APS-C, and full-frame sensors often reaches religious fervor. Contentious topics related to sensor size include resolution, high-ISO performance, and dynamic range, but the quality and characteristic of bokeh, or out-of-focus backgrounds, is perhaps the most fiercely contentious. While there’s no contest that the bigger sensors can clearly produce much smoother and, well, blurier (not a word, I know), it’s also an unfair statement that the smaller sensors like the ones in Olympus and Panasonic Micro-Four-Thirds cameras can’t produce good bokeh. The Prerequisites Now, before you get into this article, if you have questions about what crop sensors are, how they work, etc., you want to read a few of these articles: Tip of the Week: Understanding Sensor Crop Factors, Part 1 Transitioning from Point-and-Shoot to DSLR: Understanding Full Frame vs Crop Frame Sensors Best Wide Angle for a Crop Sensor Camera These articles will give you a good understanding of what crop sensors are, and what using a crop sensor camera implies, for the most part. In this article, we’re going to drill down to one specific thing. We will take a look at just how the size of your camera’s sensor affects the bokeh characteristics of your image. To do this, we devised a pretty...
Illuminating the Face, by Peter Hurley: A Review

Illuminating the Face, by Peter Hurley: A Review

Back in 2011, photographer Peter Hurley teamed up with our friends over at FStoppers to create a tutorial video called The Art Behind The Headshot. That 4+ hour video more or less became required watching here at BL for anyone shooting any kind of portraiture, not just headshots. In fact, I still refer to it from time to time to prep for a new client; it was equal parts motivational video and coaching tutorial. Now, three years later, Peter Hurley returns with another tutorial called Illuminating The Face. This is the next logical release after The Art Behind The Headshot, and Peter sent us a copy for review. Here’s the one-sentence review: This is yet another home run for Peter Hurley, and if you happen to photograph the human face, regardless of your genre, this needs to be on your “must watch” list of tutorials. What came before… Let’s talk for a moment how Illuminating The Face differs from The Art Behind The Headshot. The Art… was very much a non-technical tutorial. It was a lot like having Peter Hurley coach you on how to interact with your subject, how to direct them, what to look for when pressing that shutter button. That’s not to say that there was nothing technical in that video; Peter did cover his trademark square box lighting technique that had turned heads on the internet and spawned a slew of  copycats and admirers — including, I’m not ashamed to admit, yours truly right here on this blog. Yet The Art… wasn’t a technical tutorial. It was very much a “human” tutorial, and was gloriously welcome at a time when...
Capturing the Surf: an Interview with Photographer Seth Migdail

Capturing the Surf: an Interview with Photographer Seth Migdail

Seth Migdail is a surf photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A regular at Mavericks, his work has been featured in a number of outlets, including Surfline.com and theinertia.com. I sat down with Seth to talk about his work, his process, and what it takes to break into the insular surfing community. How did you get started in photography? I grew up as an artist, doing drawing and painting. I found photography in college, and ended up dumping two years worth of art school and pursued that. I have a fine art background, a BFA in photography, so I came up in the analog world. I shot a lot of large format, medium format – that’s how I got started. Back then, in fine-art school, you take a lot of time to try and find your identity. It took me a while, but I eventually did. I did a lot of documentary photography, what I’d call “social landscapes.” I got a solid foundation in the craft that way. I also did a lot of work in the studio. What is your favorite subject, and why? Definitely surfing. I found surfing when I moved out to California. Growing up in New York, I hadn’t surfed at all, and I only discovered it when I moved up to San Luis Obispo. I’d actually put photography aside for a few years and kinda became a surf bum down there. When I moved up to the Bay Area, I suffered an injury that kept me out of the water, and I started shooting again. At the time, Mavericks was just re-forming...
Fuji X-T1: First Impressions

Fuji X-T1: First Impressions

One of the most eagerly awaited cameras of the year arrived earlier this month, and I took some time to put it through its paces. A more detailed review will follow, but I’ve worked with it long enough to put forth a few first impressions. The tl;dr version of it is this: the Fuji X-T1 is the best camera Fuji has ever made, and is the best mirrorless camera on the market. In my personal opinion, anyway. I’ve been a Fuji fan since the X100s came out, and eventually started using the X-E1 and X-E2 as my primary stills cameras (with a D800E for specific projects requiring high megapixel images and the Canon 5D MKIII for video). When the X-T1 was first announced, I looked at the images leaking onto the web and my first impression was, “WTF??” Looking at it, you can see that it kind of harkens back to retro SLR cameras. To me, it looks a bit like a blunt-top version of the Fuji STX series of film SLRs, and at least at first, it wasn’t something that caught my attention the way the rangefinder aesthetic of the previous X cameras did. Then I got one in my hands and my first thought was, “uhhh… what…?” On the one hand, this is most definitely a Fuji camera. It has loads of dials means you rarely have to drop into a menu once you set it up right. There’s a nice, firm heft to it that we’re used to with the X-E and X-Pro series. It’s small and light despite feeling dense. It is, in other words,...
Working With Magic Lantern RAW Files

Working With Magic Lantern RAW Files

In case you missed it, we started carrying a version of the Canon 5D Mark III modified with the Magic Lantern firmware modification last year. One of the really cool features of this tweaked body is that you can now shoot 1080p video in RAW format. Still shooters know what this means: better control over white balance and a file that stands up to post-processing really well. RAW is still something of a new bag for video shooters working with DSLRs, however, and there are a few things you should know when you start working with RAW files from the 5D Mark III. Making the Magic Lantern RAW File Usable Let’s start with this: The RAW file you get from the 5D isn’t immediately editable. It’s a single file with a .RAW suffix that none of the popular video editors, neither Final Cut nor Premiere, currently recognize without additional plugins like GingerHDR. So you have to modify this file to work with it. The converters for Magic Lantern RAW files essentially do one thing: they take a single RAW file and split it into a sequence of image files in either DNG, TIF, or JPEG files. Your video clip is then available to you as a folder full of hundreds or thousands of single images, each one representing a single frame of footage. That’s not ideal in that you now have a fairly large number of files to manage, but it’s not too difficult to work with them. But first, you have to get to that point where you have those hundreds of files. For this, you have a...
The Five Best Lenses For the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

The Five Best Lenses For the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

I’ve been playing with the BMPCC (Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera) for a few weeks now, and have, after much experimentation, finally narrowed the massive selection available for this camera (especially via adapters of various sorts) down to my 5 essential picks. Here they are, in no particular order… Best General-Purpose Lens: Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 This is one of those lenses that isn’t just good for the BMPCC; it’s awesome for just about any Micro 4/3 camera. Featuring a focal length of 24-70mm on a standard Micro 4/3 camera like the Olympus OM-D EM-1, a fast f/2.8 aperture, and optical image stabilization, this lens lends itself perfectly for BMPCC shooters. Given the Blackmagic’s 3x crop factor, this lens becomes a still-slightly-wide 36-105mm. Moreover, given the fact that the BMPCC has an active M4/3 mount, the image stabilization works just fine. In short, this is your desert island lens; it’ll work for almost every common scenario you might come across. Best Compact Lens: Olympus 12mm f/2.0   You’d think I’d pick one of the pancake lenses available from Panasonic or Olympus, like the 20mm f/1.7 from Panasonic. To be sure, that’s a solid performer, but I chose the 12mm for 2 key reasons. The first is that it’s still a pretty compact lens, and has a nice, fast f/2.0 aperture with the equivalent of a 36mm focal length. The second is that it’s a lens that lends itself a bit better for the BMPCC in terms of focus. Although the Blackmagic Pocket Camera does have a basic autofocus feature, most video shooters will find themselves using manual focus to nail things...
Things to Know about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Raw Update (with Some Sample Footage)

Things to Know about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Raw Update (with Some Sample Footage)

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is one of the newest additions to our inventory, and is already in demand — every single unit we currently have in our inventory is checked out for the next two weeks at least, so get your orders in as soon as possible. This tiny little package packs a wallop when it comes to delivering outstanding image quality, and as of a couple of weeks ago, it is also the smallest camera in the world that shoots RAW video. We decided to put the BMPCC’s RAW chops to an entirely unscientific test (in low-light, no less) as soon as we had a few spare minutes with a unit in-between your rentals, so check out that video after the jump. Suffice to say that RAW video offers all the advantages that still photographers have enjoyed with RAW images for a while now; the ability to shift white balance, increased exposure latitude, and a fat, robust file that stands up to vigorous post-production. Yet it’s not without its challenges either. Shooting RAW video requires some hefty resources on the shooting and post-production end, and so we thought we’d put together a list of a few things you need to be aware of if you’re going to venture into the land of RAW video. First things first – know WHY you want to shoot RAW. The BMPCC’s ProRes codec is plenty powerful – it has more than twice the bit rate of the Canon 5D Mark III’s All-I codec. Know why you think you need RAW before you shoot it. RAW video takes up a LOT of...
What (Else) to Know When Renting the Hasselblad H4X Medium Format Camera w/ 80MP IQ280 Digital Back

What (Else) to Know When Renting the Hasselblad H4X Medium Format Camera w/ 80MP IQ280 Digital Back

A while back, we did a piece on what to know when renting Hasselblad H4X Medium Format Camera w/ 80MP IQ280 Digital Back. Medium format gear is a pretty different creature from your standard DSLR, even your high-end Canon 1Dx and Nikon D4’s. Like my colleague Alex Huff pointed out, it can be “perhaps a little scary.” Here are a few more things you should keep in mind when shooting with the Medium Format gear, especially with the 80MP IQ280 Phase One back. As Alex mentioned, you will need Capture One to read and work with Phase One’s IQF files. While Capture One is available for free for 60 days, here’s something even better – it’s available for free for an unlimited amount of time in “DB” mode. DB mode restricts you to using Capture One with files from Phase, Mamiya, and Leaf digital backs only, but has the full feature set of Capture One Pro. Alex also mentioned the reverse crop-factor for lenses when you use them with this back. That difference is ridiculously stark when compared to APS-C or even full-frame sensors, let alone Micro 4/3 or smaller. Here’s a shot taken with a 24mm lens. As an image, it’s not particularly remarkable – till you realize that I was standing almost under the tree itself. The reverse crop factor gives you some seriously wide angles. The lenses made by Hasselblad are amazing as far as image quality goes. What they are not, is weather-sealed. I can’t stress this enough, folks – do NOT take these out to Burning Man. Or the beach. I did, and we had...
Gear Spotlight: Is the 24-70mm f/4 IS Canon’s Best General-Purpose Zoom?

Gear Spotlight: Is the 24-70mm f/4 IS Canon’s Best General-Purpose Zoom?

The 24-70mm zoom range is one of the most popular zoom ranges on any camera, and most manufacturers have at least one lens in that category. Canon’s 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom was getting fairly long in the tooth, and its replacement, the Mark II, has garnered widespread praise and accolades from users and reviewers alike. Lost in all of that was Canon’s 24-70mm f/4L IS zoom, which was released a few months after the f/2.8 version. This odd lens, which is, ostensibly, the replacement for Canon’s similarly long in the tooth 24-105mm f/4L IS lens, came as something of a disappointment. Why, people wondered, did Canon kill the additional 35mm of zoom range from this lens, and why would anyone opt for this lens over the sharper and faster f/2.8 Mark II? Well, I’ve been using this lens for the last few weeks as I work up a series of video articles for you folks, and I’m starting to think that this dark horse of a lens is a hidden gem. Bad figures of speech aside, there’s a lot to like about the Canon 24-70mm f/4L IS lens. Let’s start with the “IS” part. IS stands for Image Stabilization, and the 24-70mm f/4 lens, like many of Canon’s other lenses, has that. What’s unusual is that this is only the second lens in Canon’s lineup to feature the newer “Hybrid IS” system. Most image stabilization systems have the ability to compensate for movement or vibration in an up-down and side-to-side direction. Canon’s Hybrid IS system goes one step further, adding compensation for camera shift in both vertical and horizontal planes....