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You Can Build a 4k Cinema Camera for Under $1,500

Lewis McGregor

With the GH5s on its way, the GH4 is more affordable than ever. With a good lens and a Speed Booster, you can go 4K cinema for less than you might think.

Cover image via Metabones.

For the past few years, the GH4, the GH5, and now the GH5s have garnered a dedicated following of both amateurs and professionals. As great as these cameras are, they become even more special when you couple them with a Speed Booster, and now is the best time to do so with a GH4.

Lens adapters are certainly not a new concept — they’ve been around for decades. However, the Speed Booster is a relatively new tool on the market. First released by Metabones in 2013, the device changed the landscape for mirrorless cameras by enabling users to mount lenses for full-frame sensors on cameras with an M4/3 or APS-C system. I’ve never had a formal allegiance to a single (stills) camera brand, so I’ve hopped from one to another, trying to find the one that works best for me. I’ve jumped from Nikon to Canon, and I finally settled with Panasonic back in 2015. And across every camera model that I’ve owned, no accessory has been as beneficial as the Speed Booster.

What Is a Speed Booster?

A teleconverter is an adapter that places a negative between the lens and the sensor to increase a lens’s apparent focal length, often at the cost of sharpness and lens speed. Since the iris is further away from the sensor, less light passes through, which reduces the factory lens speed. Why am I writing about teleconverters? Well, a Speed Booster does the opposite, on almost all fronts, and as such, we can look at a Speed Booster as a wide converter (as opposed to a teleconverter). The Speed Booster places a positive in front of the sensor, which increases the amount of light traveling to the sensor, which, in turn, increases the apparent lens speed. This is just one aspect of a Speed Booster, and it’s how the device gets its name. Another feature, which goes hand-in-hand with the increased speed, is a reduction in the focal length of a lens. The exact reduction will depend on which model you purchase.

Channel 8 explains exactly how this works.

How Does This Benefit GH4/5 Users?

I’m only directly referencing the GH4 and GH5 because they are cameras that I’ve paired with a Speed Booster. However, Metabones also produces Speed Boosters for a number of other camera systems. These cameras usually have a Micro Four Thirds or an APS-C sensor, so as a result, you’ll see a crop factor.

Using a 35mm on a GH4, which has a 2x crop factor in photo mode, would give you the equivalent field of view of a 70mm lens on a full-frame camera — or an 80(.5)mm if you’re in video mode with a 2.3x crop. However, using the Nikon G to Micro Four Thirds Speed Booster, you get a 0.71x reduction, creating the equivalent field of view of a 50mm focal length, which is an incredible reduction, and it brings the lens closer to its natural field of view. Furthermore, by using the Speed Booster XL, released in 2015, you can reduce the crop factor from 2.3x to 1.5x. As Metabones states in its press release, it essentially turns the GH4 into a cinema camera:

The new Speed Booster XL 0.64x reduces the full-frame crop factor of the Panasonic GH4 from 2.0x to 1.28x, thus effectively transforming these cameras into APS-H format. When the GH4 is used in Cinema 4k video mode the horizontal full frame crop factor is reduced from 2.34x to 1.50x, thus effectively transforming the GH4 into a super-35 format 4k cine camera. In addition, the speed of any attached lens is increased by 11 /3 stops, with a maximum output aperture of f/0.80 when an f/1.2 lens is used. For example, a 50mm f/1.2 becomes a 32mm f/0.80, which is the fastest aperture available for full-size Micro Four Thirds format.

Now Is The Time to Pick up a GH4

The Gh5s will hit the market in the next few months, and you can bet we’re going to see many GH5s hit the aftermarket at a discounted price. Since the GH5 will no longer be the newest model in the line, the GH4 will drop even further in price. It’s already hovering around the $500-$700 range, depending on where you look.

Pre-owned Speed Boosters also sell for a reasonable price. So, if you add in the cost of a lens, you can essentially pick up a super-35 format 4k cinema camera for under $1,500.

Looking for more info on lenses? Check out these articles.

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