4K Upgrade: Panasonic GH4 and the Metabones Speed Booster

For more years than I care to mention I’ve been doing the bulk of my video production on a Panasonic HPX 170 and a Canon T3i. Both of these cameras have been totally respectable workhorses but even in their heyday they were never really top of their class. That said, once I became intimate with them there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish to the satisfaction of both my clients and myself. I’ve got nothin’ but love for these cameras but as that guy from Minnesota said, the times they are a changin’…

I knew I had to start thinking about upgrading my equipment but as many of you may already know, this isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re on a budget. Sure, if I was lighting the stove at night with hundred dollar bills I could just go buy one of everything and then decide what works best but that’s just not the reality I live in. Maybe one day, but today ain’t it.

Having made the decision it was time to move out of my comfort zone of working with equipment who’s behavior I could predict in most any situation, I began the arduous task of trying to figure out what my next rig was going to look like.

For months I studied YouTube videos and labored over reviews of every camera you can name off the top of your head. Knowing I wanted 4K from my next shooter narrowed the field a bit but it still left me with some difficult decisions. One thing I did learn throughout this process (I’ll cut to the chase in an effort to cater to your short attention spans), there is no “one size fits all” solution and in the end, you really need to make your own decisions about how much money you can afford to spend and which camera is going to serve your needs best in that price range.

gh4-metabones-sigma-2For me, that ended up being what you see in the picture… The Panasonic Lumix GH4 was the winner in my price range for the simple fact it offered 4K in-camera and 96fps slow motion (1080p only). I wanted 4K to “future proof” the work I was doing with Inside The Craft and I wanted the slow motion for sexy craft beer pours.

Having been sufficiently spooked by the constant lowlight laments of the GH4 as compared to say, the Sony A7S&Sii (already legendary in the low light department), I went ahead and got a Metabones Speed Booster and the new Sigma 1.8 18-35 “Art” series lens to sufficiently smash my piggybank on the way to low-light 4K glory.

I’m glad I did…

As you can see by the video, this is a more than respectable combination right out of the box. I basically got all this stuff at the same time, bolted it all together and took it out last night to see what it would do. The above footage was achieved with absolutely no color grading with the following settings:

ISO 800
Shutter 50
Aperture 2.2
CineD Profile
Contrast 0
Sharpness -5
Noise Reduction -5
Saturation -5
Hue 0

I chose these settings based on what I read in some blogs, in particular one by Noam Kroll who seems to really know his shit. I still have more testing to do but at the moment, totally impressed with what this combo produced right out of the gate.

Now, the downsides 🙁

The Sigma lens is AWESOME in picture quality but it’s not stabilized. This hurts a lot because I really do do a lot of run and gun stuff. I ended up modding my Canon 2.8 17-55mm EFS to fit the speed booster (it was well out of warranty so I figured I’d go ahead and roll the dice) and so far it appears to work flawlessly but I haven’t used it in the field yet.

The Sigma lens is HEAVY compared to the aforementioned Canon EFS, again rendering it less than suited for the kind of work I do. The bottom line being that as much as I love everything else about it, I can only effectively use it when locked down on sticks or maybe on my iFootage Shark S1. I’m considering some kind of gimbal or steady cam in the future but for now I have to do the best I can with what I got.

Finally, I have all Canon lenses and nothing to fit the GH4 without the Speed Booster… I’m worried this could become problematic in brightly lit scenarios where I still want a shallow depth of field. I see at least one of the Panasonic Varios in my not too distant future.

So just to reiterate, there really was no one size fits all solution (at least, not in my price range) to my upgrade but after just one night of testing I feel like I did pretty damn good and got the most bang for my buck.

More coming…

2 thoughts on “4K Upgrade: Panasonic GH4 and the Metabones Speed Booster

    • Thanks! Yeah, I’m definitely getting a set of filters so I can keep this thing in the “sweet spot” of the sensor in most any light. I’m going to go out again and try some different settings to see how it differs from the first test but so far I’m super impressed with this little guy.

      Cheers!

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