This is a question we have been asking ourselves over the last 6 months as we are looking to upgrade our camera system to take our videos to the next level. Like many videographers; we have trawled the internet watching reviews, tutorials and tests, endlessly looking for that definitive answer to the burning question about these two incredible new cameras.
This isn’t going to be an overly complicated, tech heavy piece but we just wanted to outline how we came to some sort of decision.
Firstly, what are we using at the moment? Our Canon 60D has been a wonderful friend and an incredible tool for producing all our music videos, tutorials, corporate work and viral videos. The flip out screen is a godsend and that is definitely one thing it has over the Canon 5D mkiii if nothing else. The added Cinestyle picture style has given us more dynamic range and a higher quality look recently. The only problem is that when using that picture style the noise in low light is atrocious and in general, over 1000 iso is a struggle for this little dude and we had to find that out the hard way unfortunately. The battery life is really good with our battery grip but the lack of headphone jack has proved difficult when trying to monitor audio levels during interviews etc. You really need to hear the quality of audio rather than relying on levels on the screen.
When the GH4 was released it was hard not to take notice, with EVERYONE talking about how groundbreaking and incredible it was. The big thing on everyone’s lips was internal 4K; a format which only a small amount of the population are able to view let alone appreciate. Yes, future proofing is definitely worth it in our ever changing technological climate, but we guestimate that it will take 5-10 years for the majority of households to have 4K tvs and computer screens. By that time it may be that the next level have cameras have come out and we’ll be told that we need those too!
The prospect of having 4K in a 1080p timeline though is very exciting. Those difficult tracking shots or zooms can be done in post, and cropping in for interviews would be a godsend for the run and gun shooters like ourselves who don’t want to be carrying multiple cameras and tripods around. The thing is, before this option was invented have we sat in our editing suite and wished for the ability to do so? Maybe once or twice, but not very much. If anything, it’s meant we have improved the way we’ve actually shot and planned the scenes in our videos. We have learned so much more when trying to get it right on the day rather than going “it’s ok, we’ll fix it in post”. Although, it would be good to have that option for emergencies.
The picture quality is a hundred times better than our 60D and initially it did blow us away when watching people’s videos on Vimeo and YouTube. After looking at the footage for a while we found it looked very “video”. With it being a micro four thirds sensor, the shallow depth of field is nothing compared to the APS-C on the 60D, let alone the full frame cameras. We do a lot of music videos and want to move in to documentary work later down the line and want that “filmic” and edgy look that we have been trying to achieve from the word go. The GH4 leaves us a bit short with it’s clinical and dare-we-say corporate video look. Yes, people have added the incredible Osiris LUTs to their edits and played with the in camera settings but we are still yet to see that mind blowingly beautiful video quality that we want when spending thousands of pounds on new equipment.
The flip out screen again is brilliant, the zebras and peaking are something we would love, as we haven’t had it on the 60D. The battery life is fantastic and for the corporate video shooter it is the perfect tool for the job with high quality, clinical video in controlled lighting situations and many more camera functions we haven’t even touched on. We have a certain style, that we don’t think fits as much with the GH4 as we would like. (yes, we know it’s the guy behind the camera not the equipment, but it’s our gut reaction).
Next, we come to the Sony A7s. This too had people talking, drooling and waxing lyrical about another ground breaking feature. This time it was low light. “Why would I want to shoot at 409,000 iso?” we hear you cry. Yes, we totally understand and you wouldn’t want to with that much noise, but at a staggering 12,000 iso it is relatively noise free. That is incredible compared to our little 60D (who is getting a battering in this blog, but we still love him).
Lots of people have been saying how you should always be lighting things properly and we don’t disagree with that. Interviews, presentations etc when inside and near power outlets it is the right thing to do. We have done a lot of work outdoors and in dimly lit situations recently. The recent horror experience, Outbreak was almost totally in darkness for obvious reasons, and it meant we had to pick and chose our shots when we had some kind of light source as we couldn’t walk around with our on-board light as it would ruin the scary atmosphere. The recent video we shot for Beautiful Boy suffered from noise in the dimly lit corridors of the Pelirocco hotel. Because it was a walking shot, we couldn’t find a place to position a light without it being in shot. When you aren’t always in a controlled environment and are shooting on the fly it is a gigantic benefit to have the low light functionality. As Philip Bloom points out, the chance to shoot at f16 in a dark environment is now possible, so you can get all your subjects in focus rather than struggling with f1.4. We are thinking of purchasing the Canon 24-105mm f4 lens, and the ability to use that in low light situations would be great.
The overall look of full frame is something we’d love to have in our arsenal with it’s shallow depth of field and wide field of view and the general 1080p image blows cameras like the Canon 5D out of the water. It looks brilliant. It’s smoother and more velvety somehow.
Now to the downsides. The rolling shutter is diabolical. Because we use shoulder rigs quite a lot, this will definitely be an issue. Even with slow pans and tilts it will definitely be an issue. Phillip Bloom did show how adding a Metabones Speedbooster will reduce this in APS-C mode and still give you a field of view close to the cinematic Super 35mm. Something we can definitely live with. The other gigantic problem is that blue burn out issue. What the heck is that all about? The fact we shoot live gigs which use blue lights, this is a worry. Imagine an entire shoot being ruined by this? That would be a disaster. Maybe Sony will find a fix for this in a firmware update but we aren’t so sure.
The GH4 provides 96fps at 1080p, which is incredibly impressive and would suit us down to the ground as we use slow motion a lot for our videos as it just makes everything look wicked! The a7s though does 1080p at 60fps and 120fps at 720p which is amazing, all be it not as good quality as the GH4 but can still look great as the videos below show.
Battery life on the A7s isn’t great, but a battery grip will surely help with that.
The only downsides to the GH4 are low light capabilities, not being full frame and the “video” looking footage. Although less problematic than the A7s’ faults, they are all things we desperately crave. It’s a shame because the GH4 should steal our hearts on paper.
We could go on all day about each function but that’s what we have Dave Dugdale for! ha. So, in conclusion it is looking like we are going to go with a Sony A7s as our next purchase along with a Metabones Speedbooster so that we can use our canon lenses and reduce that rolling shutter. One thing we have not discounted is saving up for the GH4 to have along side it. The prospect of having the right camera for every situation is mouth watering, but at the moment the a7s is the right tool for right now. One thing you should always be confident in is your own work. We feel that if Wild Stag Studio carries on progressing, it won’t be long until we can afford both and the Atomos. They are our goals over the coming years alongside conquering Brighton, Sussex, England, Europe and then the world. Why the hell not!
We will be following up with more blogs letting you know our experiences with how we got on with the A7s and whether we did end up with both cameras!
We hope this blog has helped you. Let us know what you think in the comments below!