In-camera compositing? Yes! Now available on the new Panasonic GX9
posted Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 9:27 AM EDT
Compositing images in post-production can be quite a time-consuming endeavor, and if your subject is shot against a textured background it can often be next to impossible to pull off. Panasonic has created a way around this, at least for anyone who only needs 4K resolution, with a new feature called Sequence Composition, making its debut in the just-announced Panasonic GX9.
Using the shooting mode "4K Photo" - which has been around for a few years now and was originally pioneered by Panasonic - you can now simply choose a series of images from a 4K Photo clip, in-camera, and instruct the GX9 to render the images you have chosen into one composited image written to the SD card. The process is fairly straightforward, and the actual rendering only takes about 30 seconds to complete!
Our friends at Panasonic were kind enough to share a production sample with us just days prior to the launch of the camera, and Mother Nature was kind enough to spare a few hours daylight amidst the endless winter storm systems, giving me time to wrangle some local kids and give this new intriguing mode a try.
So, how well does it work? Really well, actually. There are a few caveats, but once you know them you're free to composite, all in-camera, to your heart's content. And you can try different variations from the same 4K Photo clip, as many times as you'd like until you run out of available card space.
I intentionally chose backgrounds I thought would give the camera a challenge. After all, most enthusiast photographers know that selecting images against something flat like a blue sky and then moving them around isn't all that tough to do, but selecting an image against trees and winter scrub brush isn't nearly as straightforward, requiring masks and advanced selection techniques, not to mention a lot of time spent in front of a computer.
The GX9 Sequence Composition mode on the other hand is a straightforward process, and fairly simple at that! Simply put the GX9 into "4K Photo" mode, attach it to a tripod, and fire away. Once you get a clip you like, you then simply go into the menu setting "Sequence Composition" and then find the sequence you'd like to work on. From there, you can step through the individual frames, selecting only the ones you'd like included in your final composite. You can also unselect them as well.
And if you're worried about the lower resolution from 4K Photo, it's important to remember that you can still achieve an 8 x 10 inch print at 300dpi with room to spare. And even an 11 x 17 inch print at 180dpi is available if you'd like, so you're not overly limited on print sizes.
Once a frame is selected, a "ghost image" remains on the screen while you're selecting the next frame, and up to 40 frames in all can be composited into one image. When you've selected all of your frames, you simply press "Save" and then the GX9 does the rest.... in about 30 seconds! And if that sounds like a lot of time, this is a very processor-intensive job, and one that I doubt any cameras could pull off even a few years ago, at least not in 30 seconds time.
Below is a composite shot by Bob Wilson with a Nikon D700, that was awarded a daily placement in our Photo of the Day Contest, as an example of the power of compositing.
A few things to watch out for with Sequence Composition
Now about those caveats that I alluded to earlier.... there are a few that you'll need to know. First, and something Panasonic warned us about themselves, is that for the most part you'll want to watch out for overlapping images. It can sometimes work, such as with the overlapping bicycle tires above, but as you'll see in the image below, most times the camera doesn't have the time to "figure out" how to deal with overlapping images. Of course, you'll also want to intentionally try it, because other times the results can be artistic oddities that may just "work".
Another issue I found is that the "ghost images" used in the initial frame selection process can be hard to see on the LCD screen. I'm hopeful that in future firmware updates the ghost images can be made less transparent, so that the composition is easier to "gauge" before pressing Save. One additional small gripe is that scrolling in one direction to find new frames is fast, whereas going backwards is quite slow. This is likely not a glitch, but simply a limitation of the camera's ability to step backwards quickly through the frames.
The only other obvious limitations have already been mentioned - primarily that you're limited to shots on a tripod, and to 4K resolution. Otherwise, the process works exactly as advertised, with just one odd exception that we're sure will be remedied with forthcoming firmware, and that is....
The third time is not yet the charm
Here's something interesting - for whatever reason the Sequence Composition function on the GX9 (FW v1.0) isn't able to render composites with three frames. It is supposed to be able to render anywhere from 3-40, and so far I've had good success with 4, 5 and 7. But when I try to render three frames, the output shows two of them, but leaves traces of the third frame that I had chosen as odd artifacts. We're sure this is just a temporary glitch, and something easily correctable with a firmware fix, so stay tuned for more as we're told they're already working on it.
Astute readers will likely notice that one of the images above, a boy with his hands to the sides, has three frames in the composite. In actuality there are four, with the hand on the right being the fourth. This was the only way I was able to get that shot, by basically tricking the camera (but then being stuck with an extra hand). A similar situation occurred with this last image below, where you'll notice a shadow off to the left. That shadow was from a fourth selected frame, and I simply cropped that part out to get back to the artistically-pleasing three frames.
So there's a brief look at the powerful and fun Sequence Composition mode onboard the new Panasonic GX9. It's super-fun to use, fairly straightforward, and the minor caveats are all pretty easy to work around. Stay tuned, as we'll be bringing you more on this cool new feature and also information on firmware fixes for the one bug that we found.
And if you've yet to read our other in-depth GX9 content, please dive right in!