Monday, 18 January 2016

SHOOTING 4K ON A BUDGET


This is part of a series of Blogs looking at implementing 4K into your filming workflow for lo/no budget filmmakers. You can check the others below :

PART 1 : WHY YOU CAN AND SHOULD BE SHOOTING IN 4K
PART 3 : COMING SOON

MAKING THE JUMP TO 4K

I've been shooting on entry level Canon SLR's since 2010 (Our feature Slasher House was actually the first feature shot on a 550d, even though it wasn't the first released). I upgraded to a 600d about 2 years later with the intention of moving up through the range, but I found that the entry level ones performed as well for me as the next teir line and so found myself sitting comfortably there. After 4 features however, I felt like I wanted to take it up a notch for my next one.


Still from Legacy of Thorn : 600D/T3i
When I decided to move from Canon I wasn't really looking for anything with Higher Resolution, I was just looking for a slightly nicer image and I felt like I'd pushed the Canon as far as I could without spending some serious cash on either upgrading to a full frame or spending some serious cash on lenses and I was starting notice how soft the image was compared to a lot of modern cameras.

I was really just looking for something that fit my work flow and had a clearer, cleaner image. After some serious research I settled on moving to Panasonic who seemed to have a much nicer image coming out of their cameras that suited the work I do perfectly. It was here that I discovered that they were slowly making the jump to 4K with the introduction of the GH4, this intrigued me. 

I'm a low budget filmmaker and so dropping £1000+ on a new camera still wasn't really an option and so I decided to figure out a low budget solution for shooting 4K. 


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LOW BUDGET 4K OPTIONS

If I were to buy the set up I have now (including external audio recorder) today, it would cost me less than £1000 for two of the best cams on the market, both shooting 4k.

Following are 3 low budget options for shooters looking to move to 4k but, like me, don't have a lot of money to spend. I found three different options for 3 different budgets, whilst remaining in what I would consider to be a Low budget category of under £1000.


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PANASONIC LX100 (£400)


The LX100 is an incredible little camera. Its a point and shoot with a fixed lens (An incredible Leica 10.9-34mm F1.7-2.8) that literally fits in a jacket pocket and shoots 4K! The camera shootS AVCHD/MP4 1080p at a variety of frame rates (A fairly low bit rate, but nothing to worry about) and 4K (Although limited to MP4, but with a very good 100mbps bit rate). The camera is a great low end 4K solution.

I picked one up a few months after they came out for about £700, but since then they've dropped quite dramatically to £400 new on ebay (less if you go used). Since January last year it has been my 'Main' filmmaking camera, Which sounds crazy as its considered a 'tourists' camera. The fact that it fits in my pocket is one of its best features and you find yourself out and about just shooting 4K whenever you want. Its lens suited all the needs I had in terms of focal lengths I use the most and it only really fell down for me in terms of telescopic zoom (Of which I've used 4 times in the last 5 years). Its amazing in low light too with 1.7 wide open.
Raw Footage from LX100 : SLASHER HOUSE 2

I was a little concerned about shooting exclusively in MP4, but so far the compression hasn't really caused me any noticeable quality loss with anything I've produced on the camera and in November I started shooting my 5th feature on it and the results from the camera were incredible. If you're on a tight budget and looking to shoot 4K right now, this is a great option.

Another slight draw back is that there is no mic input on the camera, I thought about that being a deal breaker, but I record sound to an external recorder anyway and so it never really became a big issue at all. In fact in some respects it made my life a bit easier and made me more cautious with my audio capture on set, which, trust me, is a good thing. The pros of the camera far outweigh the cons and with no need to add lenses it means that the costs of the camera are kept down.


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PANASONIC G7 (£550)


Using the LX100 was a great experience, but I did find myself missing the manual/fluid movement of lenses when focusing and zooming. About midway through the year the Panasonic G7 landed and I really liked the sound of it. It seemed to me like it had all the technical features of the LX100 but with the one thing I was missing, interchangeable lenses (Oh and an audio input!).

I picked one up just before Christmas for about (£300!!! yeah thats right, That was with a store discount and Panasonic were offering £200 cash back if it was bought before a certain date) and it was an offer I really couldn't pass up. The fact that this was a third of what I paid for a 550d (T2i) in 2010 is crazy.


Raw Footage from PANASONIC G7 : SLASHER HOUSE 2
Again, some drawbacks are that it still only shoots in MP4 when shooting 4K (again not really a huge issue), but this time there is an added mic input (although no headphone output STILL!). The camera is Micro 4/3's which means I was able to use some awesome (and super cheap) CCTV lenses that I bought for my malfunctioned EOS-M straight off the bat and they really brought this new camera to life for me.

Its an incredible and super low budget little machine for indy filmmakers and its has a much smaller form factor that a lot of DSLR'S and mirror less cameras at this level. I managed to shift to using this as my 'A' cam on our newest feature (demoting the LX100 to B cam) with no fuss whatsoever. It also drags over some the GH4's camera profiles that help with getting those nice flat shots with plenty of dynamic range and has some pretty nifty focus updates coming sometime this year. This really is the best camera I have EVER owned.


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PANASONIC GH4 (£900-£1400)


The GH4 is well known as a great piece of filmmaking kit. During my 4K research the camera came up over and over again. It now sits at just under £1000 for just the body and a little more for a complete Kit. The price of it has been steadily coming down over the last year and I expect to see a large drop when Panasonic releases its next model.

Now I don't own a GH4, so I don't really want to dive into any major depth about the usefulness of the camera as my exprience with it is limited. What I do know, is that it is incredibly similar to the G7, but with all the little niggles that that camera has taken out. It features better a better 4K codec (Mov) and a headphone output. In general this is a great home run camera for 4K filmmaking and although its a little outside of my budget right now I'll certainly be looking to make this my 'A' camera in the future.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS
This isn't the end of your options when it comes to 4K, the newly release GX8 is essentially a bridge between the G7 and the GH4 that seems like a great option for a B cam set up. The FZ100 is a bridge camera with a built in lens and is similar to the LX100 in a lot of ways but with the form factor of a larger SLR. These cameras weren't really options as far as I'm concerned due to things like low light performance and price and because of that I didn't feel they were viable options for me.

Of course, this is all my opinion. The great thing about filmmaking is that its like being an artist. You find the brushes (or in this case cameras) that suit what you do best. I believe that there is no One 'Perfect' camera, but when your making low budget stuff its better to try and get as close to that as possible.


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This may all sound like an advert for Panasonic cameras, but I promise that that is not the case (although some free kit would be nice), the simple fact is, at this moment in time, Panasonic are offering the right kind of picture quality that I'm after at a budget that I can afford as a low/no budget filmmaker. Sony have affordable(ish) options, although not really in my budget range, but they just weren't for me.

Listen, of course there are better options at a higher price that only shoot HD that and if you cash afford something at those prices then that great and you should go an do it. The point here is that you can buy an excellent HD camera with a 4K option, for the price of an equivalent camera that only shoots HD. To me, thats a no brainer. 

The good news is I think we'll see a shift in more companies offering this kind of tech at entry level prices, especially with Nikon releasing 4K DSLR into the market in the next few months, 4K will become common place before we even know it.  

But the most important thing isn't what your shooting on, its what you shoot and how you shoot it. So don't get caught in the resolution battle. Use what you have to do what you can. If you're always chasing tech you'll never have time to make anything. If 4K shooting had been out of my reach I wouldn't have stopped making movies and neither should you.

Just remember that resolution is a very small part of what makes an image look great.

MJ

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