Consumer Camera Bests Camera Used By Hollywood

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When you taste wines, you never do blind tastings. You’d be terrified.  – Francis Ford Coppola, winemaker/director

Francis Ford Coppola chose the camera I use, a humble $750 Panasonic, over professional rigs costing 100 times more. He sat in a screening room with a bunch of other top flight directors and cinematographers and looked at images from nine cameras, from an iPhone to a $60 thousand dollar Sony CineAlta and determined that the second cheapest, the Panasonic GH2, was the best of the bunch. Many of the rest of the film hotshots couldn’t really make up their mind, even saying that the iPhone was perfectly capable of shooting a feature film.

The consensus was that the camera really doesn’t matter so much anymore, they’re all good. It depends on the lens and on the skills of the person behind it. Picasso beats the chimp with the paintbrush hands down.

The blind tasting happened in Chicago at what sponsor Zacuto USA, the film equipment supplier, called the Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout 2012. They professionally lit an extremely difficult scene with a combination of outdoor and indoor light. The actors’ faces were mostly in shadow. They shot the scene over, and over again with the eight cameras and an iPhone.

For the test, the Panasonic was hacked with a piece of open source firmware that blows its performance far beyond that set by the manufacturer. I have been using hacked Panasonic models for two years. Hacking is easy, you can do it yourself.

The GH2 makes a great travel camera. It is lighter weight than a typical digital single lens reflex because it doesn’t have a mirror. Instead it has a high resolution video view finder. It is also a good 16 megapixel still camera but doesn’t need all of those pixels for 1080p HD video. So Panasonic has thoughtfully added a switch that allows the camera to use only a portion of the sensor, in effect doubling the focal length of the lens for video. In other words, my 14-140 zoom, fully extended, becomes the equivalent of a 560mm birder’s lens, with stabilization to boot.

In all honesty, my favorite camera after viewing the results on my computer screen was the Sony F65 CineAlta, worth more than US$60 thousand. But, at 100 times the cost, I think I will stick with the Panasonic.

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