The JVC GY-LS300 ($3,995 at B&H) Micro Four Thirds mount 4K camcorder with Super35 sensor looked promising way back in February this year when it was announced at NAB 2015, but as with most first-of-its-kind releases, there were gaps in the information available and the first version of the firmware appeared not to make the most of the camera’s capabilities.
Early promo material emphasized the LS300’s abilities as a live news reporting camera due to its HD streaming engine via Wi-Fi and 3G/4G and seemed to downplay its potential role as a documentary camera par excellence.
After watching B&H Photo’s NAB 2015 news coverage on the camera, however, I made a mental note to watch developments and look out for future reviews by professional documentary makers.
An early review at News Shooter concluded that it “really does make for a good alternative to a DSLR given its level of versatility and included features”. A more recent review by a globetrotting cinematographer based in Perth, Western Australia, Rick Young of Movie Machine, digs deeper into the JVC GY-LS300’s capabilities and his conclusion is even more positive and exciting than News Shooter’s Matthew Allard’s.
And then Mr Young revealed that a firmware update due September will radically boost the LS300’s feature set, hurling it headlong into territory I have longed to enter, that of cinematic documentary moviemaking via a lightweight, affordable yet versatile Super35 camcorder that takes interchangeable lenses prime or zoom lenses.
A Micro Four Thirds confession
When I first encountered the Micro Four Thirds format for video while in development for a feature documentary, I was less than convinced.
A staffer at a local vendor-cum-rental house told me about the Panasonic AG-AF100A, I visited their premises and he showed me one sitting forlornly in a dusty corner nearby a very limited selection of less-than-optimal M43 lenses.
I had not come across EF-to-M43 adapters then and was unaware of the impressive wide range of affordable to high-end glass that M43 movie and stills cameras are capable of accepting. Panasonic Lumix cameras were difficult to find in the shops and Lumix lenses even more so. I had only come across some mid-range Lumix cameras in an inner city duty-free store, locked away in a cabinet. The buzz about hacked GH2s for moviemaking had yet to reach my ears.
The GH3’s feature set looked promising but its caps stop me from committing cash, and there was already buzz about a potential 4K-capable successor. As soon as the GH4 became available I plunked my money down and committed to Micro Four Thirds format.
Smaller yet larger = better
As much as I love the Super16 format, a legacy of my early days shooting Super16 film, the Super35 format is even more alluring.
The years I spent as a professional photographer after my moviemaking career was iced by lack of cash, access to film school and professional opportunities left me with a double-edged appreciation for nimble small cameras like the Leica rangefinder and large film formats like 120 roll film and 4”x5” sheet film.
I had also developed an early appreciation for German rangefinder and view camera glass after some disappointments with Nikon and third party SLR lenses. I kissed goodbye to SLRs altogether and embraced my sheet-film/rangefinder world wholeheartedly. And successfully.
I was immersed in a world of rich color, fine detail, speed and responsiveness that reminded me of my moviemaking days. I lit my stills as I had my movie footage. I shot in series and sequences even when the assignment demanded just one standalone shot. I saw cinematically and aimed for the highest quality I could achieve despite often insanely short shoots and even shorter deadlines. I was happy.
Looking for a cinematic documentary experience
Just as I have been happy with my Panasonic Lumix GH4 and its native and adapted lenses. Shooting 4K has been an incredible experience but my early exposure to interchangeable lens Super16 movie cameras has left fond memories of cameras that can comfortably perch on a shoulder all day long – thank you Zacuto – or be carried about in the hands or balanced on a palm for a more gestural moviemaking experience.
My planet5D.com colleague Hugh Brownstone recently reported how sales are down on DSLRs while interest in camcorders and mirrorless cameras is picking up. DSLR and to some degree DSLM/mirrorless camera moviemakers are discovering the downside to cameras that need third-party accessories bolted on. Camcorders like the JVC GY-LS300 that deliver great results self-contained or with recorder/monitors like the Atomos Shogun attached have plenty going for them, with their handles, fully articulated monitors and built-in XLR audio inputs.
The LS300 is particularly intriguing given its small size, low weight and pricing within reach of independent moviemakers. Its unique ability to use almost every lens format out there while shooting Super35 is amazing and a real budget stretcher. It is delivering on the promise of Micro Four Thirds and then some. Then add its built-in ND filters – Blackmagic Design, please note – and you have a self-contained optical powerhouse.
Icing on the cake
The firmware coming in September is the icing on the cake and the clincher for me having looked closely at several recent cinematic documentary contenders. I have to admit, the prospect of choosing between a vast range of lenses is exciting. I could use Olympus M.Zuiko Pro or Panasonic zoom lenses for run-and-gun convenience, Veydra mini primes for a more considered form of moviemaking, superfast manual primes like Voigtlaender’s Noktons or DSLR Magic lenses for wide open low-light expressiveness, quirky Chinese-made manuals for, well, quirkiness, or adapted lenses from just about any other manufacturer you can imagine.
Add to that, come September, Log mode and DCI/Cinema 4K or 2K and I would have everything I need. And let’s hope that, not long afterwards, LUT vendors and other grading software makers whose products contain camera patches and software optimization for different cameras will release updates for the LS300 in log mode.
I have been delaying completion of a documentary feature budget because I wanted to be sure I was making the right future-proofed hardware choices. I have opted for log over raw because I need to be portable and cost-effective. Digital negatives in the form of raw files eat costly, bulky storage space for breakfast. I can’t carry nor buy a vast range of lenses – just the core right sets of matched primes and zooms will do. Anything else I will have to borrow or rent as needed. And big, heavy cameras are beyond my ability to transport or hold.
JVC’s GY-LS300 looks like the right combination of features, from next month onwards, and the heart of a potentially amazing cinematic documentary moviemaking system. I am looking forward to reading more about Rick Young’s experiences with it as well as those of other documentarians. Time to get my budget revision finalized. [bctt tweet=”Firmware upgrade soon to propel groundbreaking JVC GY-LS300 into the world of Cinema 4K.”]
JVC's GY-LS300 firmware upgrade adds histogram, Log mode, 4K & 2K recording modes, trigger over SDI/HDMI with Shogun
Via Movie Machine:
JVCKENWOOD has announced new features for the JVC GY-LS300, via a free firmware upgrade available for all current owners of the GY-LS300. New features to include: a JVC “Log” mode designed to duplicate the look of film; new Cinema 4K and Cinema 2K recording modes; a unique Prime Zoom feature that uses the cameras innovative technology to allow zoom capabilities when using prime lenses, and a histogram display for accurate exposure. The upgrade will be available in September 2015.
One of a kind – shooting with the JVC GY-LS300
JVC Log Mode
With the new JVC Log mode, the GY-LS300 delivers wide latitude and high dynamic range up to 800 percent to rival the look of film. The cameras Super 35 CMOS sensor delivers a higher contrast ratio between dark and bright areas within the frame without saturation while providing details within highlights and shadows. V2.0 also adds 4096 × 2160 Cinema 4K and 2048 × 1080 Cinema 2K recording modes at various frame rates, each with a 17:9 aspect ratio for digital cinema presentations, along with the ability to output a full HD signal via HDMI/SDI when in 4K recording mode perfect for monitoring in HD.
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(cover photo credit: snap from Zacuto)