Panasonic GH5 and Ursa Mini Pro? Both?

Before I start, I just want to explain my purpose in writing this. The main thing you should take away from this is that cameras are tools. When deciding which camera to buy or rent, consider the priorities for the jobs you need to accomplish. I am NOT trying to convince anyone that they should make the same camera buying decisions as me, particularly if you're not shooting the types of things I shoot (corporate and educational pieces). But perhaps there is some benefit in here to see how I made my camera buying decisions.

Also, I am of the opinion that upgrading no more often than every 2 to 3 years is best. More often than that and I don't find that I get as much benefit for money spent. Also, it takes time to get really familiar with a camera. And you need to be intimately familiar with your camera to solve problems when production issues arise and you need to solve them.

My main production cameras for the last two and a half to three years for my corporate and educational video work have been the Panasonic GH4 (98% of the time) and the Nikon D750.

The GH4 is a great little camera that has held up reasonably well, with one repair for the rear thumb dial after 2 years of daily use. I'm not a low-light shooter in most cases so the noisy performance at ISO 1600 and above wasn't a problem for me. The only other issue that bugged me was that it always seemed that the audio was out of sync by about 2 frames. Maybe that was just my copy or perhaps it was a setting that I never figured out. Not a huge issue since I generally used a slate or clap to manually sync sound to the video.

But aside from those two main factors, I really, really love the GH4. It helped me produce a lot of content that my clients appreciated.

I like its color science straight out of the camera and almost never find myself doing secondary color corrections to pull the look back into reality. I generally find myself shooting with the Neutral profile with the contrast, sharpness, and saturation reduced a couple of notches. I turn off all of the other little gizmo features like the i.Resolution and i.Dynamic. Those just made the footage look unnaturally crunchy and over-sharpened and flattened them without a much benefit, even with post color correction and grading.

The battery life is quite good, and I find that I can get through an entire production day with 2 or 3 batteries. The 4:2:2 10 bit color which I record as ProRes using an Atomos Shogun makes my post workflow much smoother, especially with 4K footage. 

So I was excited when we finally heard the GH5 announcement. For me the big news was the ability to record 4:2:2 10 bit internally, in-body image stabilization, and a full-size HDMI port. There are lots of other little additions as well including waveforms and dual SD card slots. This makes the GH series even more helpful to me at a practical level. Now I don't need that massive Shogun and a huge Anton Bauer battery attached to my rig when I need to fly the camera on a gimbal or travel light.

So last night, I brought home a new Panasonic GH5. I used it in my most recent episode to shoot some of the insert shots and b-roll. I'm obviously not ready to do a full review or even a give my high level impressions aside from saying that it seems really promising. Everything feels right and the footage it produces is every bit as good as I would expect. The in-body image stabilization looks good with a very short informal test.

The GH5 looks like it will be a good, solid B camera for me, and an A camera when I need to keep things light, like when flying the camera on a gimbal or going to a job where we won't have the luxury of lots of set-up or strike time before and after the shoot.

I have the Panasonic XLR audio interface on order with B&H and will be testing that when it ships in a few weeks.

And my new A camera? The Ursa Mini Pro. With some recent jobs where I needed to turn things around to the client quickly, it became very clear that a DSLR or hybrid mirrorless camera wasn't going to make this an easy job for us. In fact, using the D750, which we did for a few reasons, we actually cut significantly into our profit margin. We essentially built good will with a client and came very close to breaking even. This is a situation that pro shooters eventually encounter when growing their business. And so we had to make a decision...

While you can create beautiful work with a DSLR, there are some workflow considerations that make them a less than ideal tool for the job. Yes, I could have and should have used an audio adapter and fed the audio from the Sound Devices mixer into camera so that we didn't have to sync approximately 12 hours of footage (whether using Pluraleyes or any other method). Battery power was an issue - these were long form interviews so we ran two cameras for angles and to have the opportunity to swap out batteries. We added Atomos Ninja HDMI recorders so that we could record ProRes which are larger files but much better to work with in editing.

So the weight of our Nikon D750 rigs, once we added Atomos recorders, an audio adapter, rods, battery plate, and cinema battery would put us in the same league as an Ursa Mini Pro.

If I had had the Ursa Mini Pro for that job, I could have plugged in to AC or used an Anton Bauer battery which can power the camera for four hours. I could have recorded straight to ProRes in camera. And of course with the XLR inputs, I could have fed a stereo mix from the Sound Devices 633 straight to camera. Our first round of post would have included syncing up camera angles and delivering to the client rather than also syncing audio.

Also, one of the biggest things missing from my kit was a camera with a wider dynamic range. And I realize that I am not shooting the types of things which require film profile (log) for every situation. And I certainly do not need to shoot raw in most cases. In fact, I don't see myself using raw all that often. The ProRes 422 files shot in film profile seem to provide all the latitude that I need. The highlight rolloff looks good as well, much less digital than any other camera I have shot to date.

I had been waiting for Canon to announce a C100mkIII but they haven't done that to date. And when Blackmagic Design announced the Ursa Mini Pro, I found that it met the criteria I was seeking. And because it has been almost three years since my last camera upgrade, I had enough money saved up to make this a reasonable decision.

Now I need to really learn these cameras and get back to shooting!

More to come...