May 16, 2014

SUBJECT: Birding with the Panasonic GH4 - Part I

Last week I teased everyone by stating that the images I showed were not what you think. What I'm about to reveal is truly mind-blowing. But first, a bit of history.

I've been photographing wildlife/birds for quite a few years now and I have had quite a history of Canon DSLR's that I have used over the course of time. So let's take a stroll down memory lane...

In August of 2004, Canon announced the 20D camera and by later that year I had one in my possession. It was my first truly usable camera for bird photography. I took a lot of excellent shots with that camera, one in particular won me a national award.

The Canon 20D had a sensor that captured images at 8.2 million pixels. Most cameras today now have sensors with many more pixels, but 8.2 was good enough to take excellent images.

Now let's fast-forward to 2014. Earlier this year, Panasonic announced the GH4. The GH4's main attention-getter was the fact that it took 4k video. 4k video has a resolution that is quadruple over 1080P HD. Today's TV's operate at 720P and/or 1080P. Why in the world would anyone need 4k resolution especially if broadcast TV is only at best 1080P?

Is this some kind of gimmick to get people to buy something they really can't use or don't need?

No, no, no. This is really mind-blowing what this camera can do and I will do my best in the coming weeks to describe to you why this camera is so special.

4K Resolution
The GH4 records 4k video with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. Doing the fast math that equals 8,294,400 pixels or 8.3 megapixels. Remember that old Canon 20D with 8.2 megapixels? Now we have a camera that can take a frame of video at the same size as the Canon 20D. The Canon 20D could take up to 5 frames per second at up to 23 images and then the camera would have to wait for the buffer to clear before shooting again.

The Panasonic Lumix GH4 can take 30 frames per second indefinitely. Really? Yes. Really.

What this means is that you can use the GH4 to take video and later in post-processing grab a frame of the video and make incredibly detailed photos. I have printed quite a few 8 x 10 prints from some test video and they look awesome. 8 x 10's are certainly in-the-bag and I'm quite sure prints up to near poster-size will work too.

Besides making prints, what else can you do with 4k video?

Well... you can crop or pan in post-processing to make your 1080P videos come to life. In other words, if your final product is going to be 1080p for the masses, you can take the 4k video and:

1. Downsize the video. Downsizing 4k video to 1080p makes for incredibly sharp and low-noise video. Very close to shooting 1080p video in raw format.

2. Crop the video. By cropping the video, you can produce video that zooms in and out. Much easier than attempting to do it with a zoom lens.

3. Pan the video. Ken Burns Effect? Not a problem. A 4k video has lots of room to pan to create that Ken Burns effect with live video.

To illustrate my point, here's a short video clip of a Green Heron demonstrating all three effects:

To see this video in all it's glory, please click on the Vimeo icon (lower right corner) and download the video directly from Vimeo. (Left click on the download button, then right click to save to your PC.)

And to close out this week's journal, let's look at another video and then some frame grabs from the video. The following Youtube video is comprised of various raptors that I recorded at the Stillman Nature Center in South Barrington, Illinois. They had a Mother's Day event in which a number of their birds-of-prey were on display in natural settings.

I shot the entire event with the GH4 using 4k video. This video is actually viewable in 4k resolution if you have such a monitor. Be sure to click the Youtube icon to see it on Youtube, then click on the gear icon in the lower right-hand corner of the video and choose your highest resolution.

Now, the best part of all. Let's look at a few frame grabs from the video. Each of the images below can be seen as full-size, ready-to-print, 300 ppi images. They do have watermarks embedded in them, but you can see how clean and sharp these 4k images can be. Just click over the images below to see the full-resolution version. Note: All frame grabs were cropped to 12" x 8" format at 300 ppi, cleaned with Topaz Labs then sharpened. Just as I do with all my images.

Broad-Winged Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Barn Owl
Barred Owl

If I'm not out doing too much filming next week, we'll continue with other cool GH4 features and talk about the lens used to take these videos.


—Alan Stankevitz


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