It seems this year it has snowed at least once a week for the whole month of January. Philadelphia is well known for being paralyzed for any bit of snow. Schools shut down. City services grind to a halt. Except hospitals and institutions of higher learning like universities where I work, they never close down. A couple weeks ago, Philly was hit with a thunder snow storm. I never heard such a thing before but you actually see lightening and hear thunder as the snow pelts down like mad. In approximately less than four hours over a foot of snow came down on Philadelphia. The city was pretty much shutdown. I on the other hand was still working until just after midnight. We do a number of late night video conference courses with California and I was helping to man the evening shift. By the time the professor and I walked outside the building we were shocked to see about 12 inches of snow that had blanketed the entire university. Snow plows were struggling some just spinning out of control. Cabs were stuck in the middle of Market Street with no place to go. The professor had offered me a lift to my house but as I saw the stuck cars and unplowed streets I didn’t think it was a wise idea. Then he pointed to his vehicle it was a huge Land Rover. Nice!
As we plowed our way through the snow it was truly an amazing sight to see. In just a matter of hours the little blizzard had made the rough edged urban Philly landscape a scene out of Edward Scissorhands. Since it was now well past midnight there was no one to be seen in my neighborhood. It really was a beautiful scene and made me realize that snow is beautiful. I decided it would be a great opportunity to do a quick snow test. This time I took my trusty indiSYSTEM indiRAILSpro MP which has a monopod which allowed me to plant my rig in the fresh snow giving me a steadier shot. The MP is my tried and true street rig and this time it really surprised me at how even with the large Canon B4 lens and all the snow how I was able to get some very steady handheld shots.
This test was also an opportunity to push the Panasonic GH2′s codec shooting with heavy snow fall and to see how well the camera would do at night with only the lights of the neighboring houses and street lamps. And then if that wasn’t enough I also used the Canon J8x6B 6-48mm f/1.7 B4 lens with the GH2 in Extended Tele Conversion (ETC) Mode. Clearly, this test pushed the limits. Using ISO 1600 in ETC mode with the Canon B4 lens was nice where the cars and trees were well lit. However, in street scenes with no direct lighting there was a lot of macroblocking which is clearly seen in the vimeo clip. Obviously, there was heavy snow fall so the codec was in the worst possible shooting condition. Upside of things is that even with my GH13 I would not be able to shoot this test because ISO 1600 is horrible and would have made everything extremely noisy and unusable with the low lighting conditions. With the GH2 I was surprised to be able use ISO 1600 especially in the wider shots with the snow fall the GH2 did a pretty good job. The macroblocking is still there but with some good lighting it’s not as heavily pronounced. Bottom line is if you had no choice and had to shoot in these conditions I think you could still make it work.
One interesting finding is that the B4 lens in ETC mode is very difficult to focus with. The image is not as crisp as when you place the B4 lens in the 2x extender mode with no ETC engaged. Even if it wasn’t storming it was extremely hard to focus with the B4 lens in ETC mode. After doing some further testing with the GH2 and the CanonJ8x6B 6-48mm f/1.7 B4 lens I find that I actually prefer to use the B4 lens with the 2x extender engaged because I get a better field of view and I can tell immediately when my subject is in focus. Even if I lose a stop I can pump up the iso and the image still holds up faiirly nicely. That’s something I’m finding out with zoom lenses in generaly when using the GH2′s ETC mode it’s very difficult to lock in sharp focus.
For what it’s worth here is the tail end of the Philadelphia thunder snow. It’s scored with one of my favorite interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring from George Winston‘s Album Winter.
After the Thunder Snow
“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”
composed by Johann Sebastian Bach