November 8, 2015 at 6:18PM

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Rent before buying?

Hi everyone,

First off, I am a college student and am trying to get into some aspect of film for my major. (probably producer/director) I am currently trying to decide between a couple cameras and have roughly $1,500-$2,000 to spend.

The two cameras I am trying to decide between are the Panasonic GH4 and the Sony A7S. Most likely you already know all of the specs and may even have them memorized, so I won't paste any specs on this post.

Basically, the:

GH4's weakness is the 4/3's sensor. (strength: internal 4k)

A7s weakness is external 4k. (strength: native full frame glass, great low light capabilites.)

If I purchased the GH4, I would also get a Metabones speedbooster to mount EF lenses on it.
If I got the A7s I would get an adapter to do the same thing.

Currently the price is roughly around the same for both camera bodies. That being said, I would be buying one used.

I shoot a variety of short films and I'm not specific to one genre. In the past I have shot: interviews, comedy, nature, 'horror', and basic short films. I would like to eventually get into 4k footage, but I definitely do not NEED to be shooting it right now. It would be a nice feature in the long run if I ever wanted to use it... and if I owned a camera capable of shooting it.

I have not gotten my hands on either of these cameras yet, so my main questions are:

Should I blow $200+ on renting both of these cameras just to decide which one I like better? Are there camera stores that might have both these cameras on display to compare them side-by-side?

In my situation, which would be the better buy?*

*this question is aimed for those who have had their hands on both these cameras... I would like to avoid biased answers as much as possible(:

Thanks in advance!

14 Comments

If you live near a big city or have the time to visit one, you should be able to shoot some in-store footage at a camera store if you bring your own memory cards. I would try and go on a weekday mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Lots of places are pretty dead at these times of the day, so they usually won't mind letting you shoot some in-store footage with their demo cameras if you bring your own memory cards.

As far as PROs and CONs go, I would rate these cameras as follows...

GH4 PROs
- Internal 4K
- No recording limit ( you can shoot a 6 hour live event as one take )
- 3+ hour battery life ( 6+ hours if you use the battery grip )
- 2 F-stops of EXTRA DOF compared to A7S
( workable shooting DOF f/2.0 - f/4.0 )
- Weatherproof body ( rain or snow won't bother it with a weatherproof lens )
- 10-bit 4:2:2 External recording
- 12 F-stops dynamic range when shooting LOG format
- $1,000+ cheaper than the Sony A7S

GH4 CONs
- Not great in low light ( I normally shoot at 800 ISO or lower, but 3200 ISO is usable )
- Hard to get shallow DOF with wide-angle shots
- You have to use Micro 4/3 wide angle lenses
- V-Log image is MUCH better with 10-bit 4:2:2 external recordings

A7S PROs
- Internal 4K ( with new A7S mark 2 version )
- DOF is 2 F-stops shallower than Micro 4/3 format
( workable shooting DOF f/4.0 - f/8.0 )
- Best camera for low light work ( beats the GH4 by at least 2 to 3 F-stops )
- 5-axis internal image stabilization ( mark 2 only )
- Weather-resistant body ( a little bit of water won't hurt it )
- 13+ F-stops dynamic range when shooting LOG format

A7S CONs
- 8-bit 4:2:2 External recording ( great image, but not 10-bit )
- Can overheat when shooting internal 4K for more than one hour ( mark 2 only )
- 1 hour battery life
- 30 minute recording limit ( after 30 min you have to start recording again )
- Costs $1,000+ more than the Panasonic GH4

November 8, 2015 at 7:24PM, Edited November 8, 7:36PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32555

Thank you for your reply... unfortunately, I do not live near a big city, so I would have to rent the cameras from an online source.

Also, I am looking at the original A7s, not the A7s ii.

the mark ii is too expensive for my budget.

Grant Smith

November 8, 2015 at 11:18PM

Are you leaning toward one of them specifically? If you are, rent that one. If not, rent the one you're less sure about. Renting on a budget is always hard, but it's better than buying the wrong camera.

Alternatively, I know B&H offers a 30 day money back guarantee if you don't like your item for any reason, or at least it used to. Maybe go for the one you're pretty sure about, and if for some reason, it's not what you thought, return it and go for the other. Might cost you an extra week of shipping time, but it's not a bad deal.

To put in my two cents, I prefer the A7s, simply for the ease of getting wide angles, stills quality, and the ISO performance, which is great for workable apertures in natural or low light. It will lose it's resale value quicker than the GH4, due to Sony putting out approximately 4,000 cameras a year, but you might find it more flexible. The GH4 is a nice camera with debatably more power, but it's fussier and doesn't adapt nearly as well to every situation.

November 9, 2015 at 1:24AM, Edited November 9, 1:31AM

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Jacob Floyd
Writer / Videographer
1198

The GH4 is definitely fussier. It's great if you are willing to tweak the camera to what you are shooting, but can be a disaster with the wrong settings.

I also have a love/hate relationship with Lumix electronic lenses that can look over-sharpened if you are not careful. ( fantastic results with older Nikon AI / AI-S lenses )

Guy McLoughlin

November 9, 2015 at 11:13AM

Yes, rent them.
That way it is your decision and you will not wonder: "What if I didn't just listen to those people on NFS I don't really know and got the other camera?"

November 9, 2015 at 10:19AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9814

Definitely rent! I know it's a bit extra money, but it's like getting a 'clean bill of health' for your decision. I have definitely rented cameras and either went "sweet, I know what I want now!" or, "dear LORD I am glad I didn't spend 3,000 dollars on THAT!" haha.
That extra piece of mind is always worth it, especially for such competitors like a Gh4 vs. a7s.

November 9, 2015 at 4:27PM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1295

I used these two cameras heavily for a project recently.

If I had to pick only one of the two cameras, I'd pick the GH4 for most projects because I find the 4k really useful even if you're not finishing in 4k, just to be able to crop/zoom/pan/stabilize as needed. And I think the color is quite good. I'm not fond of flesh tones on the A7S; I found they always required more adjustments in color grading to get to a desirable range.

GH4 is not good in low light, that's what would convince me to go with the A7S over it in some cases. It really matters what you're going to do with it. Are you planning to shoot in night conditions with only available light? The GH4, even with a speed booster, is only sort-of passable for that, so it better not be a priority if you go with the GH4. The advice to try renting seems very reasonable to me, certainly renting the one you think you want if you have a strong leaning to make sure. If you can afford to rent both cameras for a short trial period, then that's even better.

November 10, 2015 at 4:46AM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
907

Hey man,
I've owned both these cameras in the past year and having used them both within some of the same videos, I can tell you exactly how I feel.
The GH4 feels better in your hands - it's menus are easier, it's controls are easier, it feels like a better build quality and if I were to have to drop one in water, the GH4 seems like it would fair better. The 4K is awesome.
But what I don't like about the GH4 are the colors and lack of full frame and these are huge for me. The A7s is also tricky to get the colors exactly how you want them, but it is possible - whereas everything i've done with the GH4 (cine-D, Cine-V, natural) has never given me amazing skin tones. Of those three, Natural was the closest.
A7s on the other hand has that amazing full frame sensor and once I tested out all my picture profiles, and double check white balance, I was able to get some amazing skin tones.
For one of the videos that I used both the GH4 and the A7s, there was a specific scene where I had started using the A7s, and I had several people (who didn't know there was a different camera being used, and knew nothing about how I made the video) mention it looked "just like a movie at the theater." This was slightly my inability to match the colors between the GH4 and the A7s, but mostly to do with the DOF of the A7s and the way it handled skin tones.
As much as I don't like how the A7s body feels and how the menus are set up, I can honestly say that once you use it and test it and use it and test it some more, you will get used to it. And you just won't be able to get the same DOF with the GH4.
Honestly, I think I could get either one to look amazing if I use Film Convert - so my strong suggestion would be to perfect your color correction and buy Film Convert (you can see examples of the GH4 and A7s on Film converts page, although the GH4 examples look like they were done by more experienced people, but there are a few A7s examples that you can really see what's possible).
My other suggestion would be to never buy a camera body. Only buy good cinema lenses and amazing lighting equipment - camera bodies get updated every year - good glass lasts until you break it or scratch it too much. And you can adapt cinema lenses to most all the cameras. If I have good glass, I can rent a A7sII for one project, and maybe a RED for another - include the rental price in the budget and there you go.

November 10, 2015 at 11:08AM

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Andy Gwynn
Director of Photography
1

>>>whereas everything i've done with the GH4 (cine-D, Cine-V, natural) has never given me amazing skin tones

Getting great colors with the GH4 was pretty difficult until recently. Now we have Panasonic's V-Log L profile for the GH4 which produces gorgeous skin-tones, especially if you shoot 10-bit 4:2:2 with an external recorder.

There are also some new color 3D color LUTs that can give you almost the same results when shooting Cine-D profile.

DvxUser GH4 Color Thread with Free Downloadable 3D LUTs
http://goo.gl/4ACpUF

>>>And you just won't be able to get the same DOF with the GH4.

You can if you can match the angle of view with a lens that is 2 F-stops faster on the GH4, which is easy to do for normal to telephoto lenses but not for wide angle lenses. But in most cases you want to shoot with a "workable" DOF, which for the Micro 4/3 format is f/2.0 to f/4.0 and for the Full Frame format is f/4.0 to f/8.0.

Shooting Full Frame format at wider apertures can give you that "myopic" completely blurred-out background look, which you can see with some of the early Canon 5D Mk2 videos from 2009.

Guy McLoughlin

November 10, 2015 at 4:57PM

I have a gh4. All good advice here. The pros and cons of both cameras are well documented. You can rent a gh4 and a good lens from borrowlenses for $100 for 3 days, so go find out for yourself. The A7S is a bit more obviously.

If lighting conditions are controlled, its hard to go with the Sony over the Panasonic. With a speed booster, crop factor and DOF is a relative non issue except for the truly OCD anal pixel peeper types. The annoyances of the Sony are easily forgiven when shooting in impossible lighting conditions and the GH4 just isn't designed for shooting in a cave with a candle=) Speedbooster and a fast lens helps.

I think your budget makes this an easy decision. The a7s is going to blow right through it. You'll have a lot more leeway going with the GH4 if $2k is your ceiling. Good luck.

November 10, 2015 at 12:12PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
894

I use GH4's at work all the time. We shoot 4k and reduce it to 1080p to give ourselves lot of room to adjust in post. With your budget I'd say that the GH4 is the best option for you right now, although it does depend on a ton of factors. A GH4 kit though will be significantly cheaper though. We have two GH4's, ef adpaters (although not metabones so it doesn't do the focal reduction) and a set of Rokinon lenses, and it's been a pretty awesome combo.

November 10, 2015 at 3:26PM

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Alex Everingham
Video Editor
602

I have the Gh4 and I love it. It does pretty well in low light but you really need to test it out to see if you like the footage. I think the noise performance looks pretty good up to 3200 ISO. I heard the Panasonic G7 does even better in low light, meaning you'd be safe shooting at ISO 6400 (or staying at 3200 and getting an even cleaner image there). I might actually get a G7 as a back-up / low-light companion to my Gh4.

If you're going to get a speedbooster, I'd highly recommend getting a lens that produces a nice image when it's wide open. I have Rokinon lenses and they're great, except they produce an ugly halo effect when they're wide open. For that reason, shooting wide open and speedboosting is reserved for emergencies only.

Sometimes I do wish I had gone with the A7s, though. I would love to be able to shoot at f/8 or f/11 at night or indoors. If prices on the A7s go down next year, I might get that instead of the G7 for my low light shooting.

November 10, 2015 at 4:00PM

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Alexandra
Videographer / Documentary Filmmaker
538

absolutely rent!

November 10, 2015 at 8:10PM

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Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1460

Greetings Grant,

I hope my experiences with my GH4 will be useful for you today.
May I suggest that you ask yourself some quick questions and make a list about what your artistic visions are like and what type of workflow you see yourself doing.

Some examples are:
- Is a very shallow DOF crucial to many moments of the story I want to tell?
- Will I have some time to set up some basic lights, or will I be filming very run and gun?
- Will I just shoot/cut/deliver or Shoot/Cut/Color/VFX/Deliver?

These are just some entry questions but you get the idea, figure out what's most important to you and your visions so that you have a checklist to decide from.

Now go and pop in your all time favorite movie, a movie that defines the stories you want to make, a movie you could watch twice in a row back to back cause it's that captivating. While watching the movie, go through your checklist
- Did this movie use a lot of very shallow DOF shots?
- Where they outside the whole time or inside?
- Were the colors unnatural?

Now put on your next favorite movie that's not of the same genre and ask yourself again. Now you should have a pretty good idea of what range your visions are like and now we can get to figuring out what tool set will fit your needs.

I myself have went with the GH4, between my production team and I we utilize 3x gh4's total with an assortment of lenses and generic focal reducers and here's why, for me.

BATTERY:
GH4 - The battery life is crucial for us as we are semi running and gunning when we are on location. The benefit of not having to invest/change multiple batteries helps us obtain lighting quickly through the camera and get to shooting the scene.

A7s - While you can use less lights, you don't want your videos to look flat without light shaping the subject/scenes. That being said, the battery life can become a challenge on location and you may end up spending more of your money on more batteries than you would with the GH4

SHALLOW DOF:
GH4 - My vision does not require constant shallow DOF (extreme) from shot to shot, so I use it sparingly. The GH4 with my Rokinon lens set, on the wide angle end, gives me just a little blur in the background from my subject while the lighting emphasizes the subject more. I specifically use the rokinon EF with focal reducer for wide angle shots, instead of MFT lenses, so that I can get just a little blur.

A7s - would be a powerhouse when it comes to using any f-stop I want on FF lenses because of its powerful ISO sensitivity, which is an amazing point about this camera. But because I have some luxury to work with lights, this point did not play a crucial role in my decision.

GLASS OPTIONS:
GH4 - you have the options to use big FF glass or small MFT/Cmount glass. We utilize Gimbals and Steadicams so having the small MFT lens with a long DOF, without even trying, becomes a major advantage as we're able to save cost on not getting a heavy duty gimbal and obtain shots easily without going out of focus too quickly.

A7s - Sony is definitely smaller and, again, can compensate a long DOF with its ISO. However depending on what lenses you have, the A7s could be extremely front heavy and become a problem to balance for certain gimbals. But this really just depends if it's part of your workflow

These were just some of the deciding factors for me to go with a GH4 and the MFT system over the full frame system. For me, I would choose the A7s if I was an events videographer where lighting is always up in the air and not what I make it to be. Of course I wouldn't hesitate to film something with the A7s and take it for a spin.

But when it came down to me deciding which one was right for me, it was the GH4. My productions have more time to plan and use lighting, we are on location a lot so have just 2 batteries to run the whole day was very very nice. Using big and small lenses gives me more creative control on how the camera can be set on its support systems.

I forgot one thing...The smartphone app for the GH4, holy cow is that thing amazing. I am able to control and view everything the GH4 see's from a distance. I can control focus if I'm using an electronic lens, which has been great for when the camera was set up in a tree, Jib, Gimbal. I was able to hit the record button for the operators so that they didn't have to bring the camera down etc.

I know you're on a limited budget and with that being a deciding factor, I would suggest you look towards the GH4, as I believe you will be able to get all you need right away instead of just half.
1x GH4 (used price $1000-1200?)
1x set of Wasabi batteries, comes in a pack of 2. ($30)
1x Generic focal reducer_I bought a Roxen from Ebay ($80)
1x A set of some nice vintage lenses + adapters can get you started for around $150 total. I use vivitar lenses with the M42 mount, serial numbers start with #37 (aka Tokina made)
1x 64gb Transcend UHS-3 SD Card ($30)
3x DIY 800watt non battery powered lights ($60 a piece)
1x Tripod or monopod + a good tripod head, if you don't already have one or cant borrow ($100-200)

At the Cheapest end, you will have a full kit at $1570 with some money to spare if you need other tools. Going with the A7s with the same starting kit, minus the focal reducers will put you between $1970-2170. (These prices are all for a Used camera body as you stated earlier)

Sorry for this long post, but I sure hope it helps you make a decision for your vision.
As Andy Gwynn said up top, your lenses and lighting equipment will get you there more so than a camera body will, those investments will last a lifetime.

Good luck, all the best

Jason L. Wang

November 12, 2015 at 12:05PM, Edited November 12, 12:08PM

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Jason L. Wang
Director/Cinematographer/Editor
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