GH3 & X-E1 Meet The House of Blues
The House of Blues in Los Angeles opened in 1994 and is located in the heart of West Hollywood. Home to unique pieces of art and architecture such as work by Alan Sainte, James Boudrot and their “Jake and Elwood Blues Brothers” movable bars; the Los Angeles venue is covered in tin from a gin mill that was reportedly only 500 feet away from the Delta crossroads — the mystical field where Robert Johnson created his famous partnership with the Devil for his soul.
Notable acts that have played at the House of Blues Los Angeles include Jake & Elwood Blues, the last live performance by Tupac Shakur, and Prince with Maceo Parker. In keeping with tradition, the House of Blues Los Angeles displays the “Crazy Quilt” and keeps a metal box of mud from the Delta Mississippi underneath its stage.
On December 26, 2012 The House Of Blues showcased a first-time appearance by The CraigsList All Star Swing Band. Whether this band goes on to greatness or not isn’t the story. The story is a group of seasoned professionals recruited on Craigslist by a singer who was invited to The House of Blues for thirty minutes of fame before a packed audience. The rest, as they say, is yet to be seen.
My wife joined with this group for this event as the bass player. I jumped at the chance to do an actual live event to test both the Fuji X-E1 with its remarkable 35mm f/1.4 ASPH lens and the Lumix GH3 equipped with the equally impressive Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH. Video is all GH3, stills are all from the X-E1 processed out from RAW files to the JPGs shown here using Lightroom. Color grading on both the stills and the video is my own secret sauce.
Live performances are the worst possible locations for shooting stills or video with even the best of cameras. The lighting is always terrible, strong: Harsh colored spots before your eyes, huge areas of dark shadows, wires, cables, stands, instruments, and miscellaneous other musical accouterments cluttering up every frame. In this particular case at the House of Blues, the spots were a bright Red, a difficult color to grade out in post.
The lighting dynamics in nightclubs make it impossible to get the lighting and exposure just right. It’s always either too bright or not nearly bright enough with moving musicians on stage. I’ve had to learn to live with hot spots and ugly noisy shadows as does everybody who shoots this type of work. It just goes with the territory. Live events are designed for live audiences and are lit accordingly with strong, dynamic lighting and bright colors which wash skin tones. after all, it’s audience entertainment, not a closed video production. However I highly recommend (if it doesn’t interfere with audience or performance) the use of flash is common for stills and supplemental LED lighting for video whenever possible.
Documenting live events always has its challenges and this one was no exception. Tripods are not allowed in The House of Blues, and neither are professional cameras. Photography of any kind is strongly discouraged. All of my footage and stills were shot hand held while standing in a tightly packed crowd of several hundred people who filled the standing room only room making it impossible to change position for a variety of shooting angles. Fortunately, the small GH3 form factor, light weight, and the excellent O.I.S. lens stabilization functioned perfectly.
This GH3 live video footage is some of the best I have seen quality wise under these same extreme conditions. Remarkable is the word that comes to mind when I consider it is a small hand held mirrorless body that punches way above it’s price league quality wise. Panasonic admits to 11 stops of dynamic range, but is vague about the exact number. Whatever the actual numerical value, the value of having wide dynamics recording live events is incalculable. The House Of Blues demanded everything the GH3 could bring. It brought plenty to the party.
The video quality from the GH3 is impressive. The sound quality is of particular note as well. Using a good external microphone, the GH3 audio circuitry does an exceptional recording job. You don’t hear any of the usual “pumping” from an Automatic Gain Control found in most cameras. The audio from the GH3 sounds more like a compressor circuit, not a common gain control. A welcome surprise was the excellent bass response. Overall, the audio is a huge and most welcome improvement. Kudos to Panasonic for upping the audio bar along with the video.
As for the stills, what can I say? My X-E1 did a perfect job for me complementing the GH3 video. These two bodies used together make for a powerful story telling kit. My only wish would be that they shared a common lens mount and lenses.
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