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Ups & Downs of Shooting a Feature With the GH2

Going into production on my second feature film “Splitting Bethany”, I had a tough time deciding which camera to use. Unlike my previous feature “Footsteps” which was shot on RED MX, on this film I did not have a dedicated cinematographer and I decided to DP the film myself. This was an amazing experience as it allowed me to work with the actors and the scene in a way that was very organic and uninterrupted. But still, going into production there was definitely some stress as to how to pull off the role as a DP while also directing. Ultimately, I felt that the answer to finding the right balance between Directing and Cinematography would be found in the right camera choice.

While in development for the film, I had initially decided on using the Blackmagic camera to shoot it on. It made the most sense as the image quality from it is astonishing, the price was right and the size and usability of it seemed perfect for a bare bones setup. As the months went on and my BMCC never arrived, I had to start thinking of other options. I still hadn’t made a decision on the camera until about a week or two before our first shoot day. At the time of pre-production and into production, I had a colleagues RED MX package sitting in my closet. In fact it was the same camera I shot my first feature with. An amazing camera, but massive and difficult to operate without both a first and second AC. I was extremely tempted to just use the RED MX and deal with all of the headaches in production that would be associated with trying to use that camera with a minimal camera crew. As tempting as it was though, I quickly realized that even if I could pull if off, the end result of the film would suffer. Sure, I would have a feature shot in 4.5K, but it would mean missing a lot of shots, longer days, less takes and a longer post process.

So I was back to square one, with no camera in mind still. After a lot of back and forth – considering rental options or purchasing other cameras (such as an FS100), I ended up realizing the answer was in front of me the whole time. The GH2. I had used it on so many really low budget projects, films, commercials, etc., that I didn’t even think about it initially. I almost had a stigma attached to the camera and believed I should only use it for quick turnaround, small jobs. But a lightbulb went off at some point and I said to myself that I had to commit to shooting on this camera. It would mean more money for other aspects of production that were more important than added lines of resolution, and it also meant a simplified post workflow.

In the end, it was the right choice. I managed to move ahead with the GH2, attempting to pull out every last bit of detail from the sensor as possible. I knew it’s limitations and it’s strong points going into the shoot and that really helped as I planned many shots around the camera, making sure I didn’t push it too hard in low light or create too many intricate pans/slides.

While shooting, I primarily was on sticks and used a Sachtler ACE tripod. I would estimate about 70% of the film is on the tripod. This is a really great tripod and fluid head for the price. The legs aren’t amazing, but I could live with that – it just meant adding some weight to the bottom on certain shots. But the fluid head worked wonders for me. It really helped to get some beautiful camera moves relatively easily. On the last day of production, one of the legs of the tripod just fell off (apparently there is some type of glue on there that didn’t hold up well in the cold weather). But it was repaired for me the next day and has been working beautifully ever since.

For the shots that weren’t on the tripod, I would either use a small shoulder rig (from jag35), or have it on my Cinevate Slider. Both of these products worked perfectly for the shoot. The jag35 shoulder rig is actually quite well built considering the price/size, but I had wished that I purchased the extra counterweight for the rig as it was often quite front heavy, especially with a big lens on there. I would typically have the rig attached to the tripod directly so I was able to easily pop it off to use on my shoulder when needed. The Cinevate slider was amazing. I’ve written about it in previous blog posts, but it really was a workhorse and possibly the best piece of gear I used on the shoot. I didn’t do any steadicam or dolly shots as I knew going into the production that our budget/crew could not accomodate for it and as such I blocked out the scenes in a way to avoid needing that type of support.

My girlfriend with the camera:

While shooting, I used a pretty large mix of lenses. I have my own kit (which is very eclectic to begin with), but also rented some Zeiss EF mount lenses throughout the shoot that were used for about half of the scenes. I found the GH2 to work beautifully with almost any lens I threw on it. Although they of course all have their own unique properties, the GH2 does a great job of making everything feel very uniform. Right now I am in the DI/Color Grading stage of post and I’m finding it a breeze to match shots from scenes, even when I used three completely different lenses.

When selecting lenses to rent or use from my own kit, the most important element was that they were really fast. I think the slowest lens I used may have been a 2.8, but almost everything was a 1.4, 1.2 or 1.8. This was because I wanted to move quickly and minimize the need for lots of lighting. I shot the entire film with a small lowell lighting kit. The kit consists of 4 lights ranging from 250w to 750w. I did use a china ball on a few shots as well (which worked beautifully), but for the most part I aimed to use mostly natural lighting and just use the minimal amount of lights necessary to emphasize the existing lighting conditions. By doing this, it allowed us to stay light on our feet which was one of my primarily goals going into production. I literally was able to fit all of our production gear into the trunk of my car, and I’ve got a 2 door.

So after a few weeks of shooting continuously with the camera in all sorts of conditions – interiors, exteriors, low light, freezing cold, underwater, etc. I was really able to understand just how capable this camera really is. All in all, one of the biggest pro’s to using this camera were the fact that I was able to be extremely spontaneous when shooting. That was really important to me going into production as I wanted to do lots of montages and we shot at many locations guerilla style without permits, so having the ability to move quickly was essential. The cost of it was another huge benefit as it is practically free to shoot on this camera as the camera itself is so low cost and the memory cards it shoots on are very inexpensive as well. Another huge plus was that our DMT had it really easy. The entire film fits onto a small two terabyte drive that sits on my desk right now, and that is a pleasure after working off of multiple externals from my last film shot on RED.

There were a few negatives to shooting with this camera as you would imagine. Possibly the biggest negative was unfortunately the perception of the camera by cast and crew. Although no one questioned the camera at any point and in fact everyone seemed impressed with the footage, there was a noticeable difference in the feeling on set between this and my last feature. And I attribute a lot of that to the camera. When you have a skeleton crew and small cast with little or no experience with the camera, it can look to them like a very amateur tool. This really shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t matter to me, but the reality is that when people see a 30lb RED camera in front of them, all of a sudden they feel like their on a film set, where as when theres an SLR smaller than the one their parents probably own, it is a cause for concern for some cast/crew. Again this is a point that shouldn’t matter, but sadly those that don’t have an understanding of cameras are often unaware of what is possible with any camera if you know how to work it. The only other main downside to the camera is the fact that there isn’t much room to grade the footage in post. The GH3 in this respect, I find to be quite superior to the GH2. The GH2 makes a great image that looks phenomenal out of the camera, and while you can tweak the colors a certain amount in post – you really can’t push it that far or it starts to fall apart. Had I not been spoiled by shooting/grading lots of RED and Alexa footage this past year, I would have been more careful about my white balance as there are some scenes that were shot warm that are now a little tricky to cool down and get looking the way I want them to. So in that one respect, the GH2 can actually increase your time on set and in post as on set you may want to take more time setting the look and in post you’ll need to work extra hard to correct it.

Here are a couple of stills from the film:

No camera is perfect and every camera has its positives and negatives, but if I had to go back, I would have chosen the GH2 all over again. Most people that have seen both of my films notice no quality difference to their eye between this and my last film shot on RED. The trained eye can of course spot the differences, but the audience is concerned with story over resolution. Tt really goes to show that it isn’t the camera, it is what is in front and behind of it. And sometimes working with a camera like the GH2 is a great excercise because it forces you to make important, detailed conscious choices about what you’re doing. And when you move onto a RED or Blackmagic for another shoot, all of a sudden it seems unnaturally easy to get the look you want – especially in post.

Here is the teaser trailer that was released last month:

UPDATE: If you’re in the market for DSLR options for you film, check out my recent post on my top 5 DSLRs for video. And if you’re torn between the GH2 and GH3, here is my recent comparison between the GH2 and GH3.

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

26 Comments

  • PJ
    September 12, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    how many times for years I keep bumping into your awesome post and it never fails to pep me up, this time I was looking for sound gear info and I found some useful stuff in the comments.

    I have not yet decided but I am considering NTG2 with zoom. Although I have my heart on mkh 416, I don’t have the budget for it. I have a rather small crew so I am also thinking about using Videomic Pro on a boom to a good pre-amp to my GH2 instead. I am still looking for evidence that a short film can be done well with that setup, if I do, then mkh416 and zoom can be my next upgrade and I can happily keep the videomic pro. I know there will be less flexibility in the post though I keep hearing good stuff about videomic pro’s reliability and quality right off.

    I have had my GH2 for about 4 years and I’m finding it very difficult to move on, as much I love the colors of BMPCC, I still believe in GH2 and I love the 80’s film look of the hack IV2. Like you said, expose and frame well, don’t try too much low light, don’t try too many moves, treat it with respect and it can give you footage as good as any digital camera with untainted organic character.

    I have used it with Lomo lenses 28mm 35mm 50mm, beautiful footage. I have tried it with bolex anamorphot, beautiful footage. This time, I am using more practical options. I have finalized on Sigma 17-50mm constant f2.8, Nikon 35mm 1.8G and Nikon 80-200 constant f4 with Speedbooster.

    Thanks for the lowell light info, I have a few night campfire scenes, the real challenge I am looking forward to along with shooting in a moving car, which is giving me nightmares given how quickly the image breaks with movements in GH2. I am still researching my light options. I just have two small aputure LED’s.

    Thank you Noam! I caught the filmmaking bug about 3 years ago and I feel this is a great community with experienced campers like you sharing the wisdom so candidly. When and where can I watch your film?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 14, 2018 at 8:49 pm

      Thanks so much, PJ! I never finished this film, unfortunately, but I did just release a feature called SHADOWS ON THE ROAD. Check out my main blog for more info on how to order it on iTunes!

      Reply
  • Haqi
    May 27, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    This is a great blog. I have a gh 2 and found a gh3 for about 300,00. Also a black magic for about 400.00 in 2018. If you have a gh already would you still get a gh 3-4 to go with it and use it as a background or 2 can setup? Also what current monitors would you use for the lumix products. I know I’m late but the look and budget works for me to be a full filmmaker. Thanks in advance elhaqi@gmail.com

    And I found the rig cheap too. The cineverate on eBay cheap. I can get all this in a good sturdy bin with lid at Home Depot. Love it.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 13, 2018 at 3:43 am

      Hi Haqi! Yes, I definitely think the GH3 or 4 would work well with the GH2. They all have their own looks, but the cameras will be easier to match with each other as compared to a Blackmagic. As for a monitor, have you looked into the Video Assist 4K from Blackmagic?

      Reply
  • Raffa
    August 5, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    Hi! I know this is and old post but i try to ask you some questions ( my english isn’t perfect, sorry)
    watching the stills and the trailer i thought that the GH2 suffer some types of light. My opinion is that for this type of camers (DSLR in general, or maybe just this) looks very good with some lights, i think natural light for example.. and not so good with other lights.. Do you confirm?
    I’ve got a Panasonic G6 and i’m tryng to understand this becouse i would like to shoot a short with that camera using some old canon Fd lenses.. thank you very much! and good job!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 9, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      Hi Raffa – I think any camera will respond better to certain types of lights, so you are correct. Generally, I found the GH2 worked well in daylight and tungsten lighting conditions. That said, I never really experimented with LED panels HMI’s at the time that I owned it.

      Reply
  • Sam
    May 13, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    I know this is an old post, but I am planning on shooting a short on a GH2. Can I ask what film mode and settings you shot with? The trailer looks amazing.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 16, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      Thanks Sam! It’s honestly hard to remember, but I think I used a standard profile with contrast and noise reduction dialled down.

      Reply
  • Wayne
    January 30, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Hi i noticed you had a monitor attached does this mean you shot the film interlaced? I would like to shoot 25p but understand it is impossible to do with a monitor attached?? Thanks in advance – great read to :0)

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 3, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      I actually shot progressive and you can shoot in 24p with a monitor attached. That said, if you shoot at 60p and then plug in the monitor, it will switch over to interlaced.

      I’ve never shot 25p on the camera but would assume that it is true progressive as well, however that will probably change if and when you shoot 50p.

      Reply
  • Steve
    September 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Trailer looks fantastic!! Can I ask, what adapter you used to connect the zeiss lenses on the GH2? Were they PL? And do you have any thoughts on the speed booster for M/43?

    Good luck with the movie!

    Steve

    Reply
    • Noam
      September 7, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      Thanks Steve! I actually used a dumb ef – mft adapter (about $25 on Amazon). The lenses were EF mount.

      I think the speed booster is an amazing tool. If I owned a lot of Nikon or Canon glass, I would buy one in a heartbeat!

      Reply
  • Ansel
    July 2, 2013 at 5:51 am

    Great article! How well do you think the BMC pocket camera would hold up when choosing a feature film? Do you think it could be used as and A camera?

    Reply
    • Ansel
      July 2, 2013 at 5:53 am

      Sorry, I meant to say “shooting” feature film.

      Reply
      • Noam
        July 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm

        Hi Ansel,

        I truly think the pocket camera (in the right hands) would be more than capable of shooting a feature film. The specs and quality of the camera surpass many cameras that were used to shoot feature films that have been released theatrically. Films like 28 days later and November were shot on mini DV! And there are plenty of other examples to support that point. Like any camera, it will be about learning how to squeeze the best image out of it. Which lenses to use, how to rig it, etc.

        I think the issue people may have with the camera is they will be tempted to just pull it out of the box and start shooting (which is great for certain scenarios, but not always ideal). It will still needed to be treated like a cinematic tool. Rigged up properly. Moved fluidly, exposed and framed well, etc. But if you know it inside and out, this camera will definitely be able to shoot some stunning images that will hold up on a theatre screen.

        Reply
  • […] check out my article on shooting the above feature on a GH2: Ups and Downs of Shooting a Feature on the GH2 Please share and help support the site! Tweet Posted in Cinematography, DSLR, Gear, […]

    Reply
  • Anthony Wood
    May 3, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Noam; Any firmware hacking to up the bitrate/quality of the files on the GH2?

    Reply
    • Noam
      May 6, 2013 at 4:26 am

      Yes indeed. I used the flowmotion v2 hack and would highly recommend using a hack on this camera. It really unleashes its full potential!

      Reply
  • Jonathan Hickman
    March 31, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    What did you use for sound? I shot a doc last year on two hacked GH1s and ran all sound into a Panasonic HMC150. The sound is excellent and I used a NTG-2 on a free-standing boom (I’m a one man show) and a wireless lav. We’ve had no problems with sync so far in FCPX (there are more than 40 interviews).

    I have two Zoom H1s that I use as well, although, I’ve not used them for long interviews and can’t comment on the drift. My old Zoom H4 (not the N) drifted badly.

    I read that Carruth used the Samyang 85mm, which is surprising given the price of that lens. I’m temped to buy one, but I like the Zuiko lenses and want the 75mm. What was your main focal length on your film? And what’s your favorite lens?

    Incidentally, I have no complaints with the GH1 and just never had the need to jump to the GH2 for doc work. But this GH3 is very tempting…

    Reply
    • Noam
      April 5, 2013 at 1:15 am

      Hi Jonathan,

      For sound my recordist used a vintage shotgun mic (can’t remember which one specifically) and ran it to a zoom. We also used an NTG 3 for a few scene. I have used your exact combination in the past of NTG 2 going into an HMC 150 and also had great results.

      I ended up shooting most of my film on either a 50mm or 85mm lens, but much of it was on the 35mm as well. My favorite that I’ve used on the GH2 so far was the 50mm Zeiss. It just made everything look so gorgeous. I’ve since purchased the 35mm Rokinon 1.5 cine lens and have really liked it so far too!

      Reply
  • Xiong
    February 28, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Its always very fascinating and informative to read your articles, Im always excited when my rss feed ticks from your site because you provide such great content. I have a few questions.

    When will the film be done? And will it be available for purchase?

    Have you tried networking with Griffin Hamond of Indymogul? He’s a GH2 shooter as well and It might help in getting your film into more eyes when its released.

    Also, you mentioned the gh3 being a bit better to use in post production. What made you decide to the the gh2 over the gh3?

    You mentioned the perception of the gh2 for the cast and crew, did it affect the actors performance because if this perception?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Xiong
      February 28, 2013 at 9:33 am

      PS: Have you herd of Upstream Color by Shane Carruth? He the filmmaker behind Primer. Upstream Colors was also shot on the gh2. Glad to see the little guy finally getting some love 😉

      Reply
      • Noam
        February 28, 2013 at 5:34 pm

        Thanks for the kind words and appreciate your support of the site. This is why I have the blog so that people like you will be able to take something away from it. I have seen the trailer, but had no idea it was shot on GH2. It makes sense as the director comes from a micro budget background – can’t wait to see that film.

        Reply
  • Luca Carton
    February 26, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you Noam. Loved our 2 GH2s too, especially with the voigtlanders.
    About the white balance, I must say that the use of Filmconvert saved me many times with its color temperature setting in the premiere plugin. But yes, before FilmConvert, it could be a pain! 🙂
    Best,
    Luca

    Reply
    • Noam
      February 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Agreed. Film convert is a really amazing tool and is very complimentary to the GH series cameras. I’m getting my blackmagic camera this Monday and looking forward to seeing how it handles footage from that camera as well.

      Reply
  • Nelson
    February 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I agree the biggest thing with GH camera is the perception, though adding a matte box can really help with the presentation of the camera, especially to people who are new to you.

    Reply
    • Noam
      February 27, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Yes you’re right – a matte box can definitely help! Thanks for visiting.

      Reply

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