A long time ago, before I even knew Panasonic were going to release the GH4, a friend of mine, Ivo, booked this bird hide somewhere in the month of june of this year. As I mentioned in previous blog posts, I am not really into birding but once you are in such a cabin you cannot not love what you are seeing. It can be a bit boring sometimes but also very exciting once you see a kind of bird you haven't seen before and are hoping to see. Anyway, we switched with someone else who had booked the same cabin and instead went on the 5th of July to Han Bouwmeesters 3rd bird hide.

I had bought and received my GH4 in early may and didn't go to a bird hide ever since, so it was the first time I was going to use it. Previously I had used my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which has a 3x crop factor, which is a little better then the 2x crop factor on the GH4, because I just have a regular 80-200mm Nikon lens. But since I can shoot 4K on the GH4 and deliver in 1080p I can always crop my way even further then 3x.

Hotel Wildthout

Hotel Wildthout

The day started for my at Hotel Wildthout, just a 10 minute ride from where we needed to be. I had decided to go there by myself since I don't like to get out of bed too early :-) I met my friend Ivo at the parking lot, he had to get out of bed 2 hours earlier.

I took this photo with my new Sony A7s, which I had received two days earlier from B&H, combined it with a vintage 1970 Leica Summicron 35mm F2.0 lens. A perfect combination, but I'll leave that for another blog post.

Han Bouwmeesters 3rd bird hide

When we arrived at the cabin, we added some water to the pool, added just a little food to certain spots and went into the cabin

Han Bouwmeesters 3rd bird hide

Into the cabin

When we arrived in the cabin I noticed that I couldn't install my Induro Hi-Hat with my Sachtler Cine DSLR fluid head because of its height. That was a little disappointing, the only option left was to use two rice sacks, which did a much better job then I expected. But since it was going to be harder to keep the camera steady, I decided to shoot mostly at 96fps because that makes little vibrations much more smooth as oppossed to shooting at 24fps.

GH4 on a rice sack

Recording

I recorded the footage at 96fps in 1080p with the Cinelike-D picture profile with the following settings:

  • Contrast -2
  • Sharpness -2
  • Noise Reducation -2
  • Saturation -3
  • Hue 0

And also with these settings:

  • Highlight Shadow set to Standard
  • i.Dynamic set to High
  • i.Resolution set to Standard
  • Master Pedestal Level +5
  • Luminance Level 0-255

The only lens I used was a 80-200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens (with ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass) on a Novoflex Nikon F to MFT adapter. So ofcourse, only manual focus.

To help me better focus I used Peaking, set to LOW with a a blue colour. At the beginning I trusted to much on peaking for my focus, later I noticed that I was often just off by a tiny fraction, then I started using the the zoom control at 5x magnification before I pressed the record button. This improved focus a lot but you also have to act really fast because birds do the same :-)

I also closed down my aperture a bit more later in the day to not have such a shallow plane of focus (is that even correct english?). But not to closed down because I like to keep my subject separated from the background as much as possible.

I also used zebras, set to 100, to help tell me when I was blowing things out.

I shot at a 180 degree or 360 degree shutter, that about 1/192 and 1/384, I am not sure if the GH4 is so precise, it probably is more like 1/200 and 1/400 in this case. I used the 360 degree shutter to stop down the exposure more so I didn't have to put a variable ND on the lens. Normally I only shoot at a 180 degree shutter because that's how I like movement to look like but in this case, with those fast moving birds and shooting at 96fps, a 360 degree shutter looks just as good.

I record all my footage on a Sandisk Extreme Pro 95MB/s class 10 64GB SDXC card. This card hasn't failed me once on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera shooting ProRes or RAW and hasn't failed me on the GH4 shooting 4K or 96fps 1080p, up until now, I stopped recording and the entire camera just hang, I don't know if it was the camera or the card that failed, I only lost that clip, so it fortunately wasn't that big of a deal.

Editing

I editted the video in Final Cut Pro X, I just love it, I cannot imagine using anything else for editing, it's so easy, so fast.

The edit was really straight forward, I started by finding some music to edit to and then added clips to the timeline that 'felt' good, I do most of my editing pure on what feels good. I know there are all kinds of rules and meanings behind certain shots but I just do what feels right. I leave out very good shots if they have no place in the sequence of the shots currently in the edit, it has to have a right rhythm. I want it to look like the birds are aware of each other and react to one another, even if shots are 4 or more hours apart.

I am also glad I shot some b-roll, like the trees in the wind and some wider shots, that makes it way more easy to edit, because you have different perspectives and ways to transition the video from one mood to other, for example when it starts to rain.

I chose to edit on a 2.35 aspect ratio timeline (1920x816) to make it a) look more cinematic and b) to be able to crop certain things out of the frame.

When I was happy with the sequence of all the clips, I started color correcting and color grading the clips, also in Final Cut Pro X. I like DaVinci Resolve, but it adds a lot more rendering time to the workflow, so I decided to stay in FCPX for this one.

To help me achieve a film look more easily I bought the LUT Utility from Color Grading Central, I have used their Osiris LUTs in DaVinci Resolve and quite like them, I used the Kodak Ektar 100 FC stock from their new Impulz LUTs for this video. I then added some more contrast using the Exposure controls in FCPX to make the image appear a little sharper, because the 1080p 96fps is pretty soft and I was off with my focus sometimes. I didn't add sharpening because that increases the sharpness on the noise too, which looks terrible.

Conclusion

The Panasonic GH4 is a great camera for birding, although the 1080p 96fps footage is way softer then the cinema 4K footage (especially when you see them side by side) with a little added constrast the image is looks sharp enough to get away with.

To be honest I could use a bit more then the 200mm focal length I currently have on my 80-200 Nikkor. But I am not sure about using a teleconverter to make it around 300mm, I am afraid I will lose too much sharpness. Anyone has experience with this? Please leave a comment. Another option is a 300mm prime lens, that will definitely be sharp enough but I will lose the zoom range. I don't think there are too many low priced vintage 80-300mm lenses with a constant aperture, but that would be an ideal lens for this.

All in all, it was a great day shooting and I definitely prefer my GH4 over the Pocket Cinema Camera for this kind of shoots. The compressed 4K image of the GH4 beats the 1080p ProRes image of the Pocket camera with ease. But what really speaks in favour of the GH4 is being able to shoot at 96fps, that makes it so much easier to shoot birds and also much more interesting to look at.

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