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What makes a video camera ‘professional’?

What makes a video camera ‘professional’?

All Lumix cameras shoot great video as well as stills, but Damien Demolder explains what features make a camera suitable for professional use

What makes a video camera ‘professional’?

Lumix cameras have led the way for a long time by providing the features videographers and film makers need, and every camera that carries the Lumix name shoots great quality moving images. As with still photography though when we want to up the game and really take control of the way our films look, and the way we shoot them, there is a collection of specific features and functions we need a camera to provide. These features allow us to master the process and to fully determine not only the technical quality and atmosphere of our films but also to engage a range of practical handling facilities that have been created to make the professional film-making process smoother and more straightforward.
So if you are hoping to improve your productions and to move your quality and processes up the scale, here are a few things you should look out for when choosing a camera.

Creative Video Mode

Creative Video Mode

All the best video settings live beneath the Creative Video icon on the camera’s mode dial, so obviously you’ll need a Lumix model that offers this setting. You can shoot great video with cameras that don’t have this mode, but to move into advanced video controls and options, and to create anything more than a record of what is in front of the lens, you’ll need what this mode offers. Fortunately a massive range of Lumix cameras have this mode, right from the FZ range of bridge cameras to the Micro Four Thirds G, GH and full frame S series models.
When you turn the mode dial to the Creative Video icon a whole new world of options will appear when you hit the menu button, and it is these that give you access to the more advanced settings.

Image Quality

While the resolution of the video your camera can record is important there are other elements that will determine how technically good the film looks beyond simply how many pixels were used to record it. Most smartphones offer 4K video these days, but that alone doesn’t deliver good image quality. What counts for making the jump to high-quality video isn’t so much the pixel count of the camera but the way contrast is controlled and the way highlights, shadows and colours are reproduced.

Image Quality

To make the most of the dynamic range of the sensors in Lumix cameras some models offer us the means to record maximum tonal and colour information via RAW video formats. A number of Lumix cameras can send RAW video data to an external video recorder, using either Adobe’s ProRes RAW or Blackmagic’s BRAW formats. This allows 12-bit recording with maximum tonal and colour information, meaning we have the best chance of recording detail in extremely bright and dark areas of the image at the same time. RAW files also allow quite dramatic colour alterations in post-production without loss of quality or realism. So, for the absolute best image quality look for a camera that can record in RAW formats.
Not all projects need the flexibility that RAW provides, and sometimes it isn’t practical to use an external recorder. In these cases 10-bit recording works well and will still provide exceptional image quality. The Lumix range has the largest collection of models that can record in 10-bit so you won’t have trouble finding a camera to suit. Codecs that offer 10-bit in 4:2:2 or 4:2:0 will be more than good enough for most occasions in which the scene doesn’t have a really dramatic contrast range. To make the most what 10-bit codec offer many Lumix cameras have a V-Log or V-LogL Photo Style that records with a very flat colour and contrast profile to ensure highlight and shadow details are well retained. Combining a 10-bit codec with the V-Log/V-LogL Photo Style will give you plenty of room for technical or creative adjustment in post-production to get exactly the look and feel you need.
You will always find the best quality codecs when you have selected the MOV file format in the menu. Very high-end cameras that get used for movies and commercials often offer internal recording in the Apple ProRes format, which allows exceptionally high quality footage to be edited easily. This format, as well as MOV, is now offered in the Lumix GH6 in 5.7K resolution and 4:2:2 colour.

Check List

  • RAW video
  • V-Log/V-LogL
  • 10-bit recording
  • 4:2:2 colour
  • Recording in MOV/ProRes

Audio connections/phono

We all know of course that the quality of our audio is at least as important as the quality of the visual elements of our films, so it’s very useful to have a camera that’s capable of recording sound well. You may be recording sound externally to a separate recording device, but very often it is convenient to record directly to the video file as you shoot. At a basic level you’ll need a camera that offers a microphone input as well as a headphone port so you can monitor the sound as it’s recorded.

Audio connections/phono

A step up from this will be to use a camera that’s compatible with the Lumix DMW-XLR1 XLR adapter. This allows professional XLR microphones to be connected to the camera so that high resolution audio can be recorded directly to the video file. This is an excellent option and the quality of the audio is dramatically better than what is achievable with a regular mic through the 3.5mm socket. With the XLR adapter connected to the hotshoe Lumix cameras can record audio at up to 96kHz in 24bit instead of the standard 48kHz in 16bit.
The Lumix GH6 takes this a stage further however, and offers 48kHz in 24bit as standard with any microphone source – and across four channels instead of just two.
Professional cameras will allow users to control recording levels, gain and will offer a limiter and Wind Noise cancellation. You may also need Line Recording too, so you can connect the camera to a sound desk to receive an external audio feed – for a theatre production or conference, for example.

Check List

  • Mic and phono ports
  • High Resolution recording with XLR input
  • Line recording
  • Levels controls and noise reduction

Frame rate choices

Professional cameras will offer users a range of frame rates to choose from. This is not only to match the frame rates of the market you are operating in or to match the end use, but also to control how motion will appear in your films. Broadly speaking, you will want standard frame rates of 24fps, 25fps or 30fps according to whether you are shooting for cinema, PAL or NTSC regions, but you may also like more frames in every second of footage to create smoother motion or to allow your footage to be slowed down and still look good.

Frame rate choices

Many Lumix cameras offer variable frame rates (VFR) for both fast and slow motion effects, allowing us to slow-down or speed-up the subject in the frame. Some models also offer High Frame Rate (HFR) video that also allows us to record sound at the same time. These High Frame Rate video modes create smoother looking motion, especially when there are fast-moving subjects in the frame or when the camera is moving quickly. In Lumix cameras the High Frame Rate codecs can provide frame rates as high as 240fps, while Variable Frame Rates can reach 300fps.

Professional handling features

Professional handling features

When you are using a professional-level video camera there are certain handling facilities you might expect to have access to. Filmmakers tend to talk about shutter angles rather than shutter speeds, and decibels instead of ISO – and professional video cameras will display information in this way. As many high-end Lumix cameras are designed to shoot stills as well as video they offer a choice of how shutter and gain information is displayed, and can switch backwards and forwards as the mode dial moves between video and stills settings.
It is also useful to show over-exposed areas of the scene with zebra stripes warning patterns in the viewfinder and on the rear screen, and in the Lumix cameras that have this feature users can control at what point they become active. A Waveform monitor display may also be on-hand to further assist with exposing the subject correctly.
When multiple cameras are being used to film the same subject it is useful to be able to have a way of synchronising their footage without having to push clips around the timeline to make them match-up. Professional cameras might have a Time Code feature that can receive a time signal from a Time Code generator, or act as a Time Code generator themselves, so that all the cameras, external recorders and audio recorders will all display an exact time in the recording to make synchronisation simpler.

Build Quality

Professional videographers and filmmakers don’t treat their kit badly, but they do use it a lot and for extended periods so professional cameras need to be built to withstand that sort of constant action. As there will be money riding on every moment of a production the kit used needs to be reliable too, so things don’t break-down or stop working in the middle of a shoot. You will need a well-made camera and lens system that can cope with high mileage and with the occasional bash that comes to all kit at some stage.

Build Quality

Reliable kit also means cameras that won’t stop due to environmental conditions or due to overheating when challenging codecs are being used. Most Lumix cameras are sealed against dust and moisture, and those with very high data rates come with silent fans built-in to ensure users can make the most of their unlimited recording times.

Lumix Experience Facebook Group

If you have any questions on this piece, or any other, join the Lumix Experience Facebook Group where you’ll find other Lumix users and Lumix experts who will be delighted to help.

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