When I interviewed NoFilmSchool founder Ryan Koo in episode 033, we discussed how the $3500 Canon 5D Mark II and other DSLR cameras like it were democratizing filmmaking, by putting true cinematic tools in the hands of the people, at prices the average Joe could afford. Feature films are now being shot entirely on a camera you can buy at a big box store — even the recent ParaNorman was shot entirely on Canon 5D cameras.
This is a stark difference to the landscape of 20 years ago, when I attended film school. Then, the main reason you spent $60,000 or more to attend such a program was that it was the only way you could access the expensive equipment to make broadcast quality television or cinematic quality films. This remained true until about 4 years ago, when an almost accidental addition of HD video to the full frame Canon 5D Mark II created a revolution.
Since the advent of the groundbreaking Canon 5D Mark II, there has been an onslaught of video-capable DSLR cameras. However, as more and more wannabe filmmakers and existing productions have put these cameras to the test, we have discovered shortcomings of the DSLR as a true production tool.
On many cameras, there is no way to control audio levels. And how can you monitor the audio, when there is no headphone output? Most of Canon’s offerings (including the 5D) had heat problems, and limited to 12 minutes of continuous recording before they would overheat. There are issues of moire on certain types of objects (like bricks), rolling shutter creates wobbly effects when the camera is moved quickly or an object (like a subway train) moves quickly in the field of view, limited data rates in the codecs, low resolution HDMI output not suitable for monitoring or recording externally, poor ergonomics, lack of time code, and other issues. Many of these shortcomings have even created an industry of support gear, trying to bridge the gap between the DSLR and tried and tested pro camcorders and film cameras.
The 5D Mark III came out… and has not been impressing. It is certainly improved over the Mark II, but like all Canons the video is soft, more like a 720p image that is blown up to 1080p than true 1080p. The Nikon D800 has impressive video quality, but can not record externally at full resolution while also recording internally. Neither of these can record true 1080/60p slow motion. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera offers great promise, but has had production delays, and very few people have actually used one.
Also, at $3000-3500 for body alone, these tools may be great for the professional filmmaker, but are not true democratization, as they are not priced within the range of the consumer, or even most prosumers (especially when you factor in another $2,000-$5,000 for lenses and support gear).
The little engine that could, the small Panasonic GH2, shocked the world when it was chosen in Zacuto’s blind camera shootout by the majority of those polled, including esteemed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. This $700 camera beat the $60,000 RED and $90,000 Alexa cameras, because of its ability to be hacked to provide a better codec and higher bit rates.
However, hacking the GH2 is not an ideal solution for most people, particularly because it can disable certain functions, and can even cause the camera to “lock up” (like a computer crash) at random times, forcing you to remove the battery and re-insert it even to turn the camera off.
Enter the Panasonic GH3, just announced at Photokina in September…
Why am I so excited about this camera?
As the title of this post indicates, why do I feel this camera democratizes filmmaking?
At $1,299, the GH3 is less than half of the cost of a Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800, or Blackmagic Cinema Camera. It has all the advantages of a hacked GH2, but without the hacking. It has a better-than-broadcast quality codec and bit rate, true SMPTE time code, true 1080/60p slow motion, headphone output, uncompressed full resolution HDMI output, WiFi and Bluetooth built in (for remote viewing and remote control of the camera by any iOS or Android device), new more robust weather-sealed body, and much more. It has a built-in intervalometer, which means you can shoot time-lapse videos even higher than 4K resolution with no extra gear! Even set up these time-lapses wirelessly, which is incredibly handy for awkward locations, like a wilderness blind or construction time-lapse.
Did I mention less than half the cost? Because broadcast TV specs mandate a minimum data rate of 50 Mbits (higher than all AVCHD cameras and most Canons), the GH3 is actually the cheapest truly broadcast quality camera on the market! (Note: in Europe, broadcast standards are actually 100 Mbit minimum, but you could overcome this easily by using an external recorder like the Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle or Atomos Ninja).
Another HUGE way this camera can save you time & money in a professional environment — no time-consuming import stage! The GH3 can record to standard editable Quicktime files, which gives it a leg up over most DSLR cameras. Don’t spend hours waiting for your computer to convert the files to an editable format, and don’t incur costly labor charges (plus workstation rental) for an assistant to do this for you! This is not a small deal — over the course of a TV season, this would not only pay back the whole cost of the camera and lenses, but save/make you extra money besides! [UPDATED Oct. 17, 2012]
As a mirrorless micro four thirds camera, lenses from almost any manufacturer can be used on the GH3 via inexpensive adapters, making it a truly universal camera. Though it is not full frame, very “fast” (wide aperture) lenses are available which give it the desired filmic shallow depth of field. It has the advantage of focus pulling over WiFi, incredible low light performance, fast focus tracking while shooting video, in-camera timelapse control, and much more.
Philip Bloom worked with TRON director Bruce Logan, ASC do to a remarkable GH3 launch film called “Genesis,” much of which was shot with available light only, even at night! If possible, download the original 1080p file from Vimeo and view in full screen to get a true handle of what this camera is capable of.
Also watch the Behind The Scenes video (shot on a non-hacked GH2), for their impressions after working with the prototype GH3 camera:
Shooting webisodes? Indie short films? Stop motion animation? Feature films? Commercials? YouTube videos? Podcasts? School projects? No matter the application, this hybrid camera is bound to truly democratize filmmaking, in a way that many other cameras have tried and failed.
They are selling like hotcakes, so be sure to order now! A portion of your order will help to support the podcast, and feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below, as I already have one in my possession.