Although the GH4 has been widely available for some time now, there is still no consensus on what combination of picture profiles/settings is best for achieving maximum image quality. Some DPs have had luck using very drastic setting combinations, but as far as my experience goes pushing the settings too far can result in some really noisy and low quality footage.
If you haven’t already shot with the GH4, I’ll re-iterate here (as I’ve said many times before) that this camera is incredibly powerful when used properly… Especially considering the size and overall cost. As long as you understand how certain settings can fundamentally make or break your image, you will be able to capture images with this camera that can rival cinema cameras many times it’s price. Below, I’ve gone over the picture profiles and settings that I like working with most – and you might be surprised at how simple they are.
Some of my recent GH4 shots:
When I first started shooting with the GH4, one of the things I was most impressed with was the level of control that was available in the menu system. Not only were there new cinema style picture profiles (Cine V and Cine D), but there were curve adjustments, master pedestal settings, and many other options that really allowed the user to dial in the look to their preference. That said, I think that many users make the mistake of taking things way too far with some of these settings simply because they can, and I myself have fallen into that trap once or twice.
On the GH2/GH3 and any other DSLR for that matter, the goal in the past has always been to get the flattest picture out of the camera possible. A flat picture naturally means that there is a bit more dynamic range captured in the file, and that typically allows for a better grading process. Even so, when attempting to achieve a flat image on any of the GH4’s predecessors, you could only take things so far as the cameras didn’t have any sort of true log-style picture profile. Essentially, the strategy was usually to use one of the flatter picture profiles available and then dial back the contrast all the way. This technique worked pretty well, as the flattest picture profiles that the GH2/GH3 offered weren’t all that flat to begin with so the really called for that extra contrast adjustment. In the end, the final image you would get was far from log/cinema-style, but was still very useable in post.
With the GH4 however, everything changed. There were now very flat picture profiles available (namely Cine D), that already delivered an image that was flatter than anything you could get from a GH2 or GH3, without even having to adjust the settings at all. This was great news, but unfortunately for some – it wasn’t enough. Many shooters wanted to get even more flatness out of their image, and as such resorted to messing with their settings to the detriment of their final image. The most common issue was that people would up the master pedestal setting (which effectively controls your black level) so much that their blacks would be sitting way above where they should have been. They would then dial down the contrast on their picture profile to -5, and perhaps even use one of the curves adjustments to push up the shadows even more and reduce the highlights. I can tell you from first hand experience, this is one of the worst things you can do to your image and the GH4 was not designed to be pushed this far.
What people are attempting to do when messing with their settings to this degree, is to emulate a true Log setting like you might get on the Arri Alexa which is a camera that is actually designed to shoot that way. The only real issue of course, is that the GH4 is not an Arri Alexa and shouldn’t necessarily be treated like one. When you start pushing around the levels too much, you end up with an image that is very noisy and has been flattened in such a strange way that it becomes difficult if not impossible to achieve the desired look in post, while color correcting.
Here’s a quick frame grab from my Guide For Capturing Cinematic Images With Your DSLR, which shows grain exposed when cranking up the master pedestal, and keeping the contrast low (click to enlarge):
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t mess with your settings a little bit, and I am going to get to some specific settings that I would recommend adjusting in a moment… However, I am saying that you need to be very careful about where you push things. Don’t make the mistake of pushing up your black levels because you don’t want to set up an extra fill light, as your image will just never look the way that you want it to. There are no shortcuts with great cinematography. It all comes down to how you light the shot, how you frame it, and the camera movement that you implement. These considerations don’t change no matter what camera you’re shooting with, so you should never feel like any of those elements can be overlooked in any way because you can tweak your camera settings pretty drastically. On a side note, this applies not only to color but even to framing. I am hearing so often today people saying “I want to shoot in 4K so I can reframe in post”, and this really is not always the best method for giving you great results – at least as far as a cinema look is concerned. Yes, it’s nice to have the ability in a punch to reframe, but once you get into the habit of shooting with that mentality, the lack of attention to detail can really start to show. If you really want to emulate the ‘cinematic look’, you need to treat your craft with a certain level of respect and a large part of that means capturing the right image in camera, just like the film days.
So which settings do I use? I’ve already gone over some of the settings such as the master ped & curves adjustment that I don’t like to mess with (although in some rare instances I make exceptions)… But how about the picture profiles? The biggest thing that I’ve learned with the GH4 is that there is not a one size fits all solution. In the early days, I was using the James Miller settings (which essentially meant shooting in Cine V and cranking up the master ped), and while this worked well in some types of shooting situations, it worked poorly in others. Ultimately I found that pushing the settings less gave a much better result across all shooting scenarios, so I started to shoot more and more with much simpler setting combinations.
The two picture profiles that I use almost exclusively are still Cine D and Cine V, which should come at no surprise as nearly every GH4 shooter swears by them. For those of you that haven’t shot with either, Cine V delivers a higher contrast cinema look and Cine D is intended for a low-contrast cine look.
The difference between how I treat these picture profiles now and how I did in the past, is that I typically will now only adjust settings within the picture profile itself, and leave all of the bonus settings (like master ped, shadow/highlight curve, etc.) set to their base values. This works really well for me as it not only delivers consistent results, but allows me to move quickly on set by limiting my options. Depending on the scene I am shooting, 90% of the time I will end up using one of the two setting combinations listed below. In some rare instances, I will make additional adjustments within the picture profile to compensate for lighting or color temperature issues:
Noise Reduction: -5
Generally with Cine D, the biggest thing that I am focused on is reducing the saturation. Although the picture profile is flat, it’s still relatively saturated (unlike a true log profile), which means in post when I add any sort of grade to the footage it can become oversaturated pretty quickly. By pulling down the saturation in camera, it seems to put things at a better baseline for color grading. I also turn down the sharpness and noise reduction as the GH4 is very sharp naturally (almost too sharp), and I can get far better noise reduction results in post using Neat Video. In terms of the contrast, I always leave it at 0 for Cine-D as bringing it down too far can introduce some strange artifacting, and this picture profile is already very flat.
Noise Reduction: -5
My approach with Cine V is the opposite of what I do with Cine D to some extent. While I also keep the sharpness/NR to -5 for the same reasons stated above, I do like to dial the contrast back based on the nature of this profile. Cine V naturally has a pretty heavy contrast curve applied to it (which looks really nice), but in most situations it can just be a bit too much. By pulling back on the contrast I am able to get a smoother roll off to the shadows, and keep the image looking a bit flatter. The image ends up still looking a touch too contrasty at times, but I have found that bringing down the contrast in post ends up giving me better results than trying to bump up the black levels too high in camera.
Cine D vs. Cine V
There isn’t an exact formula for when to use each of these settings, but I generally find that using Cine D for night exteriors or other low light situations is ideal, while Cine V is great for shooting in day time situations or with a fair amount of lighting. This isn’t always the case, and before each scene I will test both settings to see which is going to work best, but in most situations that is my approach. Cine D helps to retain more of the shadow detail which is really nice, but in some situations it can actually flatten things out a bit too much. Yes, you can add contrast back in post – but once again, this is still a DSLR and capable of grading only to a certain extent. I color correct footage for a living and have worked with nearly every camera format out there, and I would say there is no question that as great as the GH4 is with regards to quality, you still don’t want to push it too far in post in order to preserve maximum image quality. That’s one of the reasons I like Cine V so much… You might lose a little bit of DR while shooting with it, but you can always compensate for that with lighting and you will know that what you see is what you get. There is less need for heavy color correction in post, so whatever is captured in camera will naturally look really great. You just need to rely more on your skills as a DP and less on your skills as a colorist.
Although these settings are pretty basic, that’s exactly why they work. By not messing with things too much and allowing your GH4 to actually shoot like a GH4, you can really get a lot out of the camera.
With regards to other camera settings (such as frame size, resolution, frame rate, etc.), they are all really dependant on the needs of your project. I do shoot 4K on the GH4 pretty often, but there are many instances where I shoot to 1080p instead. The same goes for shooting at a true 24 frames per second as opposed to 23.98. The focus of this article was really intended to highlight the picture profile settings, as those will be universally important no matter what frame rate or resolution you’re at. The other variables (detailed above) will largely be determined by the technical needs of your project and should always be looked at one a case to case basis.
UPDATE: I recently released 3 Cinematic LUT Packs, which have been carefully designed to help you achieve an organic, filmic look in post-production. They work well with any camera (including the GH4 of course), and I highly recommend them for filmmakers and cinematographers looking to achieve bold color results, while minimizing time in post-production. Be sure to check them out by clicking here!