Shooting Music Videos On A Budget – The Panasonic GH4

Shooting a high quality music video doesn’t have to cost the earth, and there is plenty of great kit out there to help you achieve polished, broadcast quality looks.

I’ll be taking a look at some of these awesome tools in a series of posts looking into ways to shoot music videos on a budget.

In this first post I want to look at the camera I use and why I use it.

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Frame grab from ‘Broken’ by Mezurashii – Shot on Panasonic GH4 – Video pending release – http://www.officialmezurashii.com/

Panasonic GH4

After a good few years of mixed experiences with Canon DSLRs I was left feeling like I was trying to make a video camera with dozens of add ons. I was ready to swap back to a “proper” system when Panasonic announced the GH4 and after looking on paper, watching Philip Blooms and Dave Dugdales excellent reviews I was so impressed I got my hands on one and never looked back. This tiny mirrorless wonder packs a real punch and is the reason I stayed with small form factor over upgrading back to a ”proper” video camera.

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For me shooting music videos with the GH4 is a dream. It is so versatile and the quality you can get from this camera is superb. It’s my number one choice for shooting music videos on a budget and here is why:

  • Slow motion

Ah yes, that controversial and marmite 96fps on the GH4. Some love it, some absolutely detest it and say you shouldn’t use it but In my opinion this would be a mistake. Like every tool in any videographers arsenal it has it’s place, you just need to know where that is and how to get the best from it.

Slow motion can add real production value, but like most sub five figure price tag cameras, the slow motion comes at a cost and that in this case appears to be added noise, and a slightly softer image but there are workarounds to ensure you get as good an image as possible:

  • Exposure

Since the shutter speed increases to 180 when when switching to 96fps from 4K, more light is required for the higher frame rate so resetting exposure and making sure you have enough light is absolutely vital – this should be considered when shooting indoors or with limited light.

  • Avoid Fine Detail

If you’re planning on shooting very fine details or crucial information / detail then avoid 96fps unless the aesthetic pay off out ways the need to display the detail. Opt for 60fps instead and try motion blending in After Effects or the Twixtor plug in if more slow motion is required.

  • Shoot With Slow In Mind

Shooting silky smooth footage doesn’t mean every shot is going to look epic. A static subject is static at 25fps or 1000fps. You need to be mindful of your subjects movement and framing, and your motion in particular. A subtle 1 second swooping handheld pan will last x4 times as long in the timeline and can liven up an otherwise dull or non eventful shot.

  • Don’t over do it

Less is more, especially if you are planning to grade your gorgeous native 4K footage as the 96fps footage doesn’t come close to the 4K stuff.

  • True DCI Compliant 4K @ 24fps

Not UHD, which is delicious also, but the 100Mbps really good stuff. Just wow. Until the GH4 this was unheard of pretty much in any non pro camera.

This is such a massive deal with this camera and just doesn’t get the press it deserves in my opinion. Digital Cinema Initiatives Compliant means just that, the images the camera captures meet a set of criteria deemed worthy for digital cinema standards. Come on, that is INSANE – the camera body costs under £1,500.

Here is a quote from the homepage of the website www.dcimovies.com:

“Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC (DCI) was created in March, 2002, and is a joint venture of Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros. Studios. DCI’s primary purpose is to establish and document voluntary specifications for an open architecture for digital cinema that ensures a uniform and high level of technical performance, reliability and quality control.”

So yeah, it’s a big deal.

  • UHD 4K

There’s no reason if delivering a 25p 1080 music video (or any content for that matter) that you can’t make the most of the incredible 4K images the GH4 can capture. This opens up a whole load of options in post for helping you cut a pacier and more dynamic video by giving you the option to reframe, punch in and make two or three shots out of one and even apply subtle pan / scans across footage. It’s always going to be better to think about these shots when compiling your shot list and storyboard but there are two things you can never have enough of on a set and that is light and time. And when you don’t have the luxury of shooting every angle of a five piece band in a location you only have access to for 4 hours, believe me this option is a godsend.

  • Size

This camera is so compact, and being micro 4/3rds so are the lenses. I shot part of a music video last weekend at an incredible derelict location. The issue was it was only accessible on foot and was approx a one mile walk from where we could drop the transportation. This is where a camera like the GH4 and a lightweight rig and light set up really comes into it’s own. The total kit was able to be carried by 2 people and included:

  • Backpack:
  • GH4 + SD cards + Batteries
  • Honu v2.0 Cage
  • Shoulder rig
  • x2 Newer 160 + x4 Sony NP Batts
  • 12 – 35mm Panasonic Lumix 2.8 Lens
  • 14 – 140mm Panasonic Lumix 3.5 – 5.6
  • Tiffen Variable ND
  • Rode Film Maker Wireless Mic
  • Zoom H4N
  • MacBook Pro 15” Retina
  • Manfrotto 501 Tripod Kit
  • Kessler Pocket Dolly
  • x2 Aputure 672S Kit
  • x3 Light stands

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We were able to travel on foot to the location with all our kit, set up, shoot and wrap within 90 mins. That’s pretty incredible and this is largely to do with the M43 system being so compact, along with a very portable (and affordable) lighting set up.

The size also opens up an array of mounting options and the ability to use it with the uber low cost Nebula 4000 Lite brushless gimbal system for buttery smooth tracking shots (not used on this shoot).

So to the lovers – keep at it, you know just what this camera is capable of. To the on the fencers, just check out some of the incredible work that’s available to view online and think about what you want from your camera and how much you are willing to spend. And finally, to the haters: you are right, it’s not perfect, and that’s fine – no single piece of kit is.

About Jake Hawkins

Jake is a film and video producer based in Hampshire. A lover of all things cinema and specialising in music video production he likes to bring his feature film and broadcast experience to every production big or small. His debut horror feature Zombie Resurrection has enjoyed worldwide distribution and his music videos have aired on Kerrang!TV, Scuzz and more.

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