10.19.2014

Panasonic GH4-Disaster Brings New Method of Shooting


Extreme Long Range Tool: GH4 With Cage- Canon 500 f4.5 FD Lens-Ronsrail Support, Rode VideoMic Pro
Most of the readers of this blog that encountered in Pennsylvania Elk Country this year have already heard the story that I will relate today, but I would like to share it with all blog readers as this is about an experience that changed my approach to filming wildlife.  I only wish that learning this had not been so traumatic or so expensive.

I have mentioned in several posts that I am now using the Panasonic GH4 as my primary video acquisition tool. I got my first one on May 1, 2014 and liked it so well that my Canon 70D was retired from taking video and became a backup still camera to the 5D MK III and the Panasonic GH3 was used only in situations where the GH4 was on the tripod with a long telephoto attached and wildlife got so close that I needed a smaller lens.  An example of this is that when filming spring turkeys from a blind I kept the 14-140mm Lumix  attached to the GH3 and used it if widlife got so close that I could use a short focal length, shoot hand-held and still get stable looking video.

Fast-forward to early July, which is one of my favorite times of year, as the whitetail bucks and  bull elk have substantial size antlers.  A favorite activity is to take a walk in the back country at the crack of dawn and check out meadows where bucks either feed in the cool of early morning or cross the meadows on their way from feeding areas to bedding grounds in the nearby woods.  A major reason I love taking video is that it is easier to get acceptable results with it at long range than it is with still cameras and many of the bucks that I see are very intolerant of humans, which makes long range encounters the norm. On the morning of July 8th I  found a few decent bucks in a meadow complex and got some video of them.

7P At Long Range: GH4 Video Still Capture
There was really nothing all that special about the situation except that the GH4 worked so well for this long range shooting compared to the cameras I had been using.  The LCD was much better than the one on the GH3 and as I reviewed the clips I had filmed I thought about the trip I had planned to elk country that coming Sunday and I felt on top of the world as I thought about the excellent whitetail and elk filming opportunities that the near future offered and what a pleasure it would be to use this camera.

As it was still fairly early I drove to another spot where fawns are frequently seen and set theGH4 up on the tripod.  A fawn soon appeared and I took some video  footage and then decided to go for a few still frames from my 70D, which was close at hand with the 70-200mm f2.8 attached.  I fired a shot or so from eye level and as the fawn was not spooky I dropped to a kneeling position to get a better perspective and fired a few frames.

Young Fawn: Canon 70D-70-200mm f2.8 L IS II
 When I stood back up, I stumbled a bit, felt a small bump on my back, and glanced over my shoulder. To my dismay, the tripod with the Panasonic GH4 attached was  falling over backwards.  It all seemed to happen in slow motion and before I could turn completely around I heard a sickening crunch as something broke.  I was in denial and didn't even want to look at the camera, which must be whey I took no photos of it after the accident.  I walked up to it and reluctantly assessed the damage.  I had the LCD opened and at a 45 degree angle which is my favorite position for video and the camera fell in such a way that the LCD and mike input jack bore the brunt of the impact.

The Aftermath-Broken LCD Hinge
The LCD was still attached to the camera and the glass was not broken, but the hinge was damaged and it would not display an image. On a positive note the internal electronic viewfinder worked OK and the remote control jack still functioned, but it was very limiting to shoot video this way after the freedom of using the LCD

In one short moment I went from being on top of the world as I thought about the coming summer and shooting 4K video to being faced with the possibility that it would be some time before I could shoot 4K video again.  There several options open to me including going back to the 70D and The GH3 or breaking the XL-H1 out, while the camera was sent to Panasonic for repair. Pursuing this option meant no 4K filming while it was gone, an unknown turn-around time, and even the possibility that Panasonic would simply want to replace the camera at full cost and not repair it.  Another option was to replace the camera with another new body.  The downside to this was the expense and as it turned out it was not possible at the time as they were out of stock everywhere.  This left the option of using the camera with the electronic viewfinder only, but then I realized that I had time to get an external monitor before the trip.

I have considered using an external monitor for years, but never made the step as there was always some other piece of equipment that I felt it was more pressing to obtain. Also there were concerns about the added bulk and complexity of the equipment once a monitor was attached.  Back in the SD days I filmed some performance videos of bands using multi-cameras and a mixer with an output plugged into a TV set for monitoring, but I never used a dedicated on camera monitor while filming wildlife in the field.

Considering the options facing me, I decided to got with a 7" Ikan VK7i Monitor and I got it in time to make a home-made bracket which I used in conjunction with a Zactuo Gorilla Plate, to fit it to the GH4.

GH4 and Ikan Monitor attached by Zacuto Gorilla Plate and home-made bracket
This saved the day and I had a great trip to elk country and continued to enjoy filming whitetail deer, elk, and other wildlife in 4K

Foggy Morning Elk-Video Still Capture
Doe Feeding As Seen On Ikan VK7i
As it turned out I was less than pleased with my homemade bracket and once I was back home, I acquired a GH4 Camera Cage from Amazon and after altering a few minor details I was relatively happy with my setup. Even though I was pleased with this set-up I still missed having the touch-screen on the GH4 and once GH4 bodies were in stock again I got another one and I am using it with the monitor, while the damaged GH4 has so far been relegated to the spot of the camera to use with a small lens for handheld work at close range.

There is always pluses and minuses to any set-up and there are several draw-backs to using an external monitor. The GH4 is a joy to carry--especially with the 14-140mm and 100-300mm lenses, but once a camera cage, external monitor, and microphone are fitted to the camera it is no longer light and compact and with a configuration such as that shown in the first photo, it is very cumbersome indeed, but the offsetting factor is that it is a serious tool for serious long-range work.

Hopefully we will explore this more in the near future including showing more video clips taken with this camera.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


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