• The Secret Life of Badgers

The Secret Life of Badgers

GTC member Richard Hopkins uses the Varicam LT to capture rare footage of badgers in the wild

GTC member and natural history cameraman Richard Hopkins was one of the first to pick up the VariCam LT when it was launched in February 2016. With a background as a Radiologist, Richard has developed a passion for natural history photography and fits the work around his day job.

"I work at Cheltenham General Hospital as a Radiologist; but natural history photography is my real passion and is a way for me to wind down. About three years ago I explored the possibility of taking a year out of medicine to study a natural history filmmaking course in Bristol; instead I chose to invest the loss of income I would have sustained in to the right equipment and ever since I have been fitting the filmmaking around the job."

Hopkins assessed the market for suitable options, deeming the VariCam 35 too bulky for taking on a one-man shoot.

"I looked at the VariCam 35 a year ago at Visual Impact but at the time decided to go with a rival as the VariCam 35 was a bit bulky for what I wanted, although its spec was very appealing. It was sod's law that Panasonic then released the VariCam LT, so I ended up buying two cameras."

The VariCam LT is a shoulder-mounted version of the VariCam 35, offering in a smaller form factor yet retaining the ability to shoot both in 4K (4096 x 2160) and ultra-high definition (UHD) (3840 x 2160).

After making an initial pitch to Springwatch producers for a film about TB in badgers, Hopkins impressed them, and he was therefore asked to film badgers in a context and style appropriate for Springwatch.

Capturing badgers in the Cotswolds, Hopkins shot around a week of footage in the native 4K AVC Intra LT codec.

He paired the camera with a Canon-CN20 50-1000mm PL lens and a wooden camera base plate.

"I couldn't be happier with the pictures I'm getting. Especially in low-light scenarios, you'll not find anything better" 

Low-light performance was key, as badgers are largely nocturnal creates, and the camera did not disappoint. "Some of the footage was just astonishing and I managed to capture things I'd never been able to film before because the light disappears just as the badgers come out. 

"There's no doubt that in the past I would have been unable to capture some of the fascinating behaviour of the badgers because light levels were too low. 

In order to maintain the VariCam 'look', the VariCam LT is equipped with a 35mm single-chip MOS sensor, originally developed for the VariCam 35 and has a similarly wide dynamic range. This ensures accurate image rendering over the entire image, from dark areas to highlights. 

Having two dedicated analog circuits means much higher sensitivity without increased noise. The 'V-Gamut' in the VariCam LT gives the camera a wider colour gamut than traditional film. The 'V-Log' gamma curve meanwhile has evolved further to extend the dynamic range to 14+ stops. 

"I also captured quite a lot of slow frame-rate footage, again in low light; it has been a game-changer for me to capture the type of animal behaviours I'm interested in. With the large sensor cameras I have used in the past, I have struggled to capture the motion of birds and moving animals because of the shallow depth of field. 

"Some of the footage was just astonishing and I managed to capture things I'd never been able to film before" 

"Using the VariCam at 5000 ISO gives that extra depth of field, making focus that much easier, which can be especially important when you are a single operator." 

"In terms of colour, while I'm not an expert, the colour from the image that I get with the VariCam LT is very true to what I'm seeing." 

Richard ultimately hopes to turn his passion for film making in to a career, and in the meantime is taking help and advice along the way.

Taking up the offer of a comprehensive training session with Panasonic was a good opportunity to get to grips with a menu structure and other features that were unfamiliar.

The footage provides rare coverage of a notoriously hard to film species. For his next project, Richard will follow badgers in woodland near Painswick in the Cotswolds, filming a single group over a year.

"I couldn't be happier with the pictures I'm getting," summarises Richard. "Especially in low-light scenarios, you'll not find anything better."