Panasonic Gh4

Aug 102014

Yes and no.

Canon DSLRs are like your dad’s old suits. They are… “special”, a bit out of fashion, but still fit and get the job done. Wait. That’s an awful comparison. When I wear my Dad’s suits, I feel like an idiot. They are circa 1970 and about 3 sizes too big. A better example: My brother’s 15 years old Mercedes Benz; dated, but still has the aura of a car that was once considered premier. It’s crazy to think that Canon was the king of DSLR video a few years ago. If you were shooting on a DSLR, you were doing it on a T2i, 5DmkII, 7D, or 60D. Even when the 5DmkIII came out people flocked to it. I personally never upgraded my 60D because the 7D, 6D, 5Dmk2 and 5Dmk3 cost a lot for the incremental gain in performance. It seems like between the Canon T2i, and the 5DmkIII there was not a whole lot of innovation. I don’t know, the 5DmkIII is several years newer, costs 10x as much… shouldn’t the video quality and features be at least twice as good?

Magic Lantern To The Rescue

If you shoot on Canon DSLRs, you get to enjoy Magic Lantern. Magic Lantern has been around for a while; basically you hack your DSLR with software, (void the warranty) and you get tons of cool features, allowing you to customize your settings in ways that were previously impossible. On top of the this, Magic Lantern introduced a new set of hacks known as Magic Lantern RAW. This allows you to shoot high quality video (basically similar quality to RAW stills).

Using ML Raw is very time consuming and cumbersome. You have to set your camera up properly, record the footage, convert your ML RAW files into a useable (editable) format remove erroneous pink frames from the footage, and then edit. After all of this, unless you shoot on a high end DSLR like a 6D or 5D, you are left with a low resolution video file. So then you can upscale it to bring it up to 720p or 1080p.

It’s a lot of work which is why you usually don’t see entire projects done with Magic Lantern RAW.

Canon vs GH4 vs A7s

The Panasonic GH2was a game changer. It was hackable, and provided lots of video oriented functionality for a small price. The GH3 was better in all respects. It was a “serious” camera. Still, people were hesitant to shoot with GH3s: M4/3, (full frame FTW!) resulting in an aggressive crop factor, lacking lens selection, small (feminine?), and uh… well the video quality was not miles ahead of Canon. The video quality was on par/better than Canon, but if you already owned a Canon DSLR, there was not motivation for you to switch to the GH3.

Up until ~April 2014 Canon was well respected. You had HDMI video out, Magic Lantern, full frame capabilities, good low light performance, third party and built in anti aliasing filters, ML RAW, etc… But then the GH4 and A7s showed up, basically taking all your favorite features and rolling them into a nice clean (and cheap!) package. So does this make the 5DmkII crap? No. It’s still the camera that was considered to be great for video a year ago. The only thing that has changed is the bar has been raised. $2,000 gets your professional video. Canon offers high quality video that rivals Sony and Panasonic, you just have to shell out $5,000+ (C100, C300, C500).

$2,000(ish): The Magic Price for Video

For $2,000 you would be a fool to buy a Canon if all you care about is video. There are two reasons:

  1. Sony A7s
  2. Panasonic GH4

When it comes to these two cameras, Canon is really far behind. Even a hacked 5DmkIII shooting RAW will fall short. And the 5DmkIII retails for a lot more than the GH4! The only reason to stay with Canon in this price range is if you love Canon lenses, or you don’t care about sharp video. So if you shoot video, but don’t care about video quality get a Canon.

Canon, I Will Pray for You

I hope Canon catches up in the prosumer range. I’m a Canon guy. They offer a great mix of lenses, photo and video capabilities. I’d like to stay with Canon. Luckily I’m not a professional, so I don’t need to be on the cutting edge. I don’t need 4K. I need to get better at making films. So I hope when the day comes and I am ready to upgrade from my 60D, Canon will have higher bit rate video, uncompressed in camera video, minimal moire and aliasing in a sub $2,000 body. I am not even asking for 4K. Just good quality 1080p (by today’s standard), that works well out of the box.

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