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Two years worth of hacked Panasonic GH2 shooting - my conclusions...
  • Let me introduce myself, I'm Christiaan Blok. I'm a shooter and director from Sydney, Australia. For two years I've been using a hacked GH2 for my professional work. I've shot interviews, events, short films, corporate, training and commercial video. The GH2 has followed me down mines, up arctic mountains, onto race tracks, across beaches etc.. etc.. You get the idea... I've used it a lot! :-) So, as a little thank you to the hard working people behind the hacking scene I thought I'd post my experiences and conclusions after two years of testing and shooting.

    THE RIG:

    • PAL GH2. Shooting a mix of HBR & 24p. Shooting people, settings are generally SMOOTH -2 contrast, -2 sharpness, 0 Saturation & -2 NR. If no grading is going to happen or I'm shooting products I might bump up the sharpness & contrast a bit. I used NOSTALGIC for a while but found it added too much warmth to the image & highlights went funny. SMOOTH has nice roll-offs and good skin tones.

    • 32GB Sandisk Class 10 Extreme HD Video 30MB/s SD cards for reliability. 2 of these make sure I have more than enough space for a day of shooting.

    • Official Panasonic batteries for max battery life, compatibility & reliability of the battery meter.

    • Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 & 42.5mm f/0.95 - two beautiful lenses. The 42.5mm's ability to go 'click-less' is a very nice feature.

    • Tamron 18-50mm f/2.8 - a solid workhorse lens. Fully open and wide, this lens is a bit soft but it gets better around the 24mm mark onwards, stopped down a little. The short focus throw makes focusing a little tricky. Not knowing my exact f/stop is a bit annoying. My Novoflex adapter had issues connecting so I use a cheapo ebay adapter with iris control. This is the lens I use when I don't have time to use primes.

    • 50mm f/1.8 Nikon E-Series - the lens I used before I got the Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95. A great interview & portrait lens. Very forgiving on facial features. Dirt cheap. Here's a shoot using this lens and the Sanity hack: http://www.cblok.com.au/portfolio/promotional-video/

    • 100mm f/2.8 Nikon E-Series. A bit soft but it gets me out of trouble when I need some more zoom.

    • Custom Gini Rig: 2 x arm mounts, a follow focus and 1 x handle. The follow focus on this item is very, very good - BUT HUGE! I attach handles & a shoulder mount when I need it.

    • Zoom H4N recorder for audio

    • LN2MIC-ZMGH-MON cable for syncing audio from H4N to GH2 & monitoring. Set the headphone output of the H4N to 64, the input level on the GH2 to level 2 AND make sure you've installed the Pasadena Pulse Audio v2 beta patch which gives increased flexibility and quality with audio levels and recording.

    • Good headphones to monitor - I use the Sennheiser HD280 pro

    • Carbon Miller DS20 Solo. A solid, light, beautifully smooth tripod.

    • Small HD DP6 monitor for focus - the colour is always a bit off though.

    THE HACKS:

    For me to use a hack it must be ROCK STABLE. If it fails unexpectedly I never use it again. For this reason I only use:

    • Sanity 5 with Pasadena Pulse Audio v2 beta
    • Flowmotion 2.02 with Pasadena Pulse Audio v2 beta.

    Sanity is my workhorse - super long record times, good quality, very reliable. Anything that is time limited or I've only got 1 x shot at, Sanity is used.

    Flowmotion is if I want to push quality higher eg: on a short film or larger production with more time to set up.

    THE TESTS:

    Driftwood Seaquake: My first hacked shoot was with Driftwood's SeaQuake 24p. File sizes were huge, recording time was limited to 4 mins & my editor complained about the files being tricky to process due to their off the charts bitrates. My editor also mentioned that grading was tricky - the image seemed to fall apart easily. Visually, the results were outstanding, however the usability of this hack was it's limiting factor. Here's the shoot, we used the 25mm Voigtlander f/0.95 lens & a single 2K:

    http://www.cblok.com.au/portfolio/short-film/

    Driftwood Quantum x v4b Orion CBR (HBR): I used this hack for a while on corporate shoots. For the shoots I was doing (interviews), the large file sizes seemed unnecessary. This hack failed on me a few times with grass and trees so it was scrapped.

    Driftwood Quantum x Orion v4d Dark Matter + HBR Fix CBR, Driftwood Quantum x v3 rocket RC 100+M, Driftwood Sedna Q20, Driftwood Span My Bitch Up v2b

    All of the above hacks failed on me on HBR, generally on grass and trees.

    Sanity 5 with Pasadena Pulse Audio v2 Beta:

    This hack has generally been rock solid. The only times it has failed have been situations which the creator had already warned of. That is:

    • Shooting EX-Tele. Often it works, however times where there is a lot of movement it may fail. For example, I was shooting off a boat using EX-Tele. The mix of Tele-EX & lots of moving water caused constant fails.

    • Shooting using very high ISO. Generally I stick between 160-1600 ISO. Over 2000 ISO is gets a big dodgy. The night sequences of the shoot below caused constant fails due to high movement & high ISO - we wanted it grainy though. We used the Voigtlander 25mm 0.95 & LED lights.

    http://www.theengineroomproject.com/portfolio/serenity/

    Flowmotion v2.02 with Pasadena Pulse Audio v2 beta:

    When I want more information in the high and low-lights, more room for grading & finer grain I use this patch. Generally pretty stable, I like how it handles low-light and my editor mentioned that grading was much better. Here's a test we shot that had TONNES of highlights which generally held together:

    http://www.theengineroomproject.com/portfolio/someone-has-a-problem/

    The above was shot with the NOSTALGIC setting - again, I'm not too happy with how this setting treats skin tones and highlights, but the hack held together well.

    As for low-light - this film was shot with SMOOTH & the Flowmotion patch and worked very nicely: http://www.cblok.com.au/portfolio/short-film-3/ It's a shame I can't post the entire film as it's doing festival circuits at the moment.

    So that's my experience and over-all workflow with this camera. Its been a great little camera, but I do often miss proper ENG style ergonomics - not to mention, built in ND filters! If anyone has any questions about what I mentioned, I'll try and answer them in batches.

    Cheers.

  • 49 Replies sorted by
  • I should also mention, I'm not having a go at Driftwood or any other developers. You guys are all doing great work developing this area. Thanks for your efforts!

  • @cblok Films look great.

  • what a versatile camera!!! great job!

  • @cblok Christiaan, this is a great post, giving excellent real-world experience. Much appreciated!

  • @cblok

    Glad you're enjoying Sanity. In case you're not aware, things have moved on a bit since version 5. Sanity 5.1 fixed a rare stability problem. And the latest version, Sanity X, introduces high bitrate, approaching 100M for complex scenes. Sanity X also retains Sanity 5.1 in the 24L position.

    In my expereience, ETC has been 100% reliable, even at extreme ISO's. I'm sorry to hear you had some problems with it. One thing you might try is either a 64GB Sandisk Extreme Pro 95M card or a 64GB Sandisk Extreme 80M card. So far, these cards appear to be bullet proof.

  • Thanks @Ralph_B

    With Sanity X, in HBR, how do the file sizes compare with Sanity 5 (or 5.1)? I shoot a lot of footage and keep it all on hard drives so space saving is important.

  • The high bitrate of Sanity X only applies to 24H. HBR, 720p and 1080i are unchanged from Sanity 5.1.

    Sanity X's bitrate varies considerably depending on the complexity of the scene. I personally have seen it range from 50M to 96M. I suppose an average might be in the upper 60M's, but it all depends on what you're shooting.

    The nice thing about Sanity X is that Sanity 5.1 is available by setting the shooting mode to 24L. So, you can use whichever one is appropriate to your needs.

    I'm pretty excited about Sanity X. The picture quality is spectacular.

  • I'm surprised you never shot any winder than 18mm

  • Interesting conclusions, thanks for sharing them.

    I've never had any problems with Sedna, CM Night, or Moon T7 (hands down the best image I've ever seen come off my GH2) -- in 24p, HBR, 60p, ETC or non-ETC. That's because I use a Sandisk 64GB 95mb/s. Expensive card, but so worth it.

    Sanity 5 is still my go-to for extended recording times, though.

  • Thanks @Ralph_B I'll test out Sanity X over Jan 2014.

    @IronFilm - I also use the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 but mainly for street photography and travel as it's so small, sharp and fast to focus. A lot of my shooting doesn't require very wide angles unless I'm shooting landscapes.

  • Hi !

    thanks for this topic !

    Do you or any knows if, as I don't use audio at all, I do music videos only, I can disable totaly the audio or reduce the stream to 1 on the camera or by modifying the hack by editing them ?

    this should help stability a little

    thx !

  • cblok

    My experiences are pretty much exactly as you stated, I just probably don't shoot as much.

    For paying gigs, I use sanity and sometimes flowmotion. Just started using the new sanity and no issues so far.

    I play around with high bitrate hacks, and some are beautiful, but could pretty much throw most of them on my old steadicam and romp through the woods and get them to fail. Later ones seem to be more stable, but I'm happy with sanity and flow motion.

    I have gh3, and still like the gh2 hacks better and use my 2 gh2's more often.

    I'm guessing at this point, we are never seeing a gh3 hack since I've never seen anything about it and the gh3 is ending it's life cycle in the next 3-6 months.

  • And the GH4K or whatever it's going to be called is done, well, sorta done :)

  • @bananarama - If you're having stability issues, it's much more likely a problem with the video stream rather than audio stream. Disabling audio will probably not give you any more stability.

    @jfro - thanks for the insight.

  • Someone asked me how to patch BOTH Sanity & Pasadena so I thought I'd post this:

    • Put the original firmware, ptool exe, Sanity ini & Pasadena ini in the same folder - make sure both ini files are labelled differently (eg: seta.ini & setb.ini)
    • Run PTool
    • Load original firmware
    • Click the corresponding green circle with a letter in it to load Sanity. Sanity is now loaded.
    • Hold 'Alt' then click the corresponding green circle with a letter in it to MERGE Pasadena.
    • Save Firmware
    • Load firmware onto a blank SD card that has been formatted using the GH2
    • Boot up your GH2 with fresh battery and the SD card with the firmware on it
    • Go into playback mode and agree to 'Version Up'.

    DONE.

  • My conclusion is that I am ready for a new camera, without the shivering shadows, digital rain (not the cams fault, maybe) weird colors and stairstepping. But I have enjoyed the ride, and it was a fun cam that took sharp vid.

  • Hi all,

    On a slightly different note. I've recently upgraded my Nikon E-Series 50mm f1/.8 to Voigtlander's new 42.5mm f/0.95 lens.

    The difference is quite noticeable - brighter, sharper and I also like the focal length - 85mm on full frame - it makes for a very nice portrait size.

    It's solidly built and also has a great little feature where you can make the aperture ring click-less. Sweet!

    Would recommend it.

    If anyone is in Sydney, George's Cameras on George St has them - they seem quite hard to find.

    Cheers.

  • @DrDave The "digital rain" is Flowmotion and Adobe Suite specific (something to do with the H264 decoder). Change to Moon T7 and the rain goes away (and doesn't come back another day...)

  • @nobbystylus, thanks, but I'm going to change the camera instead of the patch :)

    I need the spanning for my work, and Flowmotion spans really well--I have no problem using Cineform to fix the rain problem.

  • @nobbystylus or @DrDave I've never experienced digital rain, however I use FCP 7. Have there been any occurrences of it with FCP?

    Cheers.

  • Thanks cblok for a most useful post... as a GH2 owner who uses a video camera for video, I have been interested in the GH2 as a lighter, smaller alternative/addition... and being a newbie, this post gave me a lot of useful stuff to get started with. THANK YOU!

  • Great post cblock ... thanks .... I guess I'm asking what every newbie asks, but I'm after a rock solid hack that gives me more than 29min 59 sec recording limit (may just be UK version that does that) gives the best possible low light recording, as little grain as poss in high ISO's (sanity 5 problem?) , with a lot of latitude to grade in post... sounds like Flowmotion from your piece ?? any ideas on much much I'd fit on a 16 Gb card ?? Also wondered if you'd tried the Mitakon Lens booster vs Metabones Speedbooster ?? Cheers again Alan

  • @AlanEHoward with Sanity, the times I've had crashes due to ISO was when I was using ridiculously high ISO levels - higher than I'd ever use normally. I wanted it to be super grainy. There was also an intense amount of camera movement - actor running with the camera.

    Regarding Flowmotion, on a 32GB card I get around 50-60 mins worth of recording time. The longest I've recorded in a single take is maybe 20 mins so I don't know about the 29 59 limit. I've been using Flowmotion more lately and am always impressed with the clarity in the shadows - much less mud than stock firmware.

    Regarding the metabones speed booster. My mate uses it on his AF100 / Black Magic and loves it. Old lenses than weren't particularly sharp are now much better to work with.

  • On another note, I just got the Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 lens and so far I'm loving it. It's definitely a lot punchier in the contrast and very sharp. Having a stabilizer is nice also. I'm loving the wider angle too - it's a very versatile zoom range. I may retire the Tamron 17-50mm if all goes well. I'll post some video once edited.

  • Hi. I recently bought my GH2 and decided to hack it with the flow motion v2 hack. But since I am new to this camera, I don´t know where to look to see the changes the hack has made in the system. I searched the entire site, but nobody explains how to operate the new features after the hack, they just explain them, but not how to find them in the camera menus. Can somebody please tell me where to find the new controls ? thanks !