I attended a very large conference last week and decided I was not going to slavishly attempt to write down short notes from each speaker and their Powerpoint slides ever again – after all, I tended to only get a few snippets down and a few days later I tend to be none the wiser of what my notes mean if I could read them!
So, for this conference, I decided a new approach was needed to maximise my time at the conference, make it more efficient and enjoyable at the same time, so I took my Panasonic GH-1 with 14-140mm HD lens and an Olympus OM 135mm f/2.8 lens with adapter.
HD video of the speakers and for presentations on stage:
The first session of the conference included presentations on stage to some of my colleagues and for posterity I wanted to capture short videos for them. Unfortunately, the stage was a very dark gray which really threw the camera metering so first step was to manually meter and work out an appropriate setting. Here is the only time the OM 135mm lens came into play – the equivalent of 270mm reach was perfect from where I was sitting, but more importantly, the f/2.8 aperture meant I could use a very acceptable ISO 800 and the ideal movie shutter speed of 1/50th sec, but perhaps even better was I could pre-focus with the live view and then ignore focus for the presentations. I could turn the camera off and on knowing that all my settings including focus would remain constant and ready for each video. I also set a custom WB using a piece of white paper to ensure skin tones were in an acceptable range. I took these using Motion JPEG in 720p mode so that they would be easier to give to my colleagues than explaining how to deal with AVCHD videos.
Silent documentation of presentations:
Speakers often flick through the Powerpoint presentations so rapidly that you can’t take them all in let alone write down a little of the information presentated as well as listen to their annotations.
Unfortunately, the GH-1’s camera mode is not as silent as I would like, but the video mode works extremely well for capturing the Powerpoint presentations silently and you get the speaker’s voice as well.
The 14-140mm HD lens is very adequate for capturing Powerpoint presentations, and given that they are only needed as an aide memoire, the video mode can be reduced to Motion Jpeg at VGA size (640×480) to reduce the files sizes.
Documenting poster presentations:
A significant component of conferences I attend are the research posters attendees have submitted, and these tend to contain a lot of detail. The best solution is to simply take a photo of the ones that interest you and really, almost any camera with reasonable low light performance will be fine – don’t use flash as most are glossy!
An advantage of the GH-1 is that you can set the Fn button to change the image aspect ratio, and then you can choose whichever aspect ratio best suits the poster aspect ratio – either 4:3, 16:9 or 1:1 – very rarely are posters in 3:2 format as with Canon or Nikon cameras.
Thus the GH-1 met all my needs and was not too intrusive and not too heavy to carry around.
Of course, any of the Micro Four Thirds cameras with movie mode (such as the Olympus E-P1/E-P2, Panasonic GF-1 but not the G-1) would have managed nicely indeed, and if you really must have an even smaller camera, the Canon G11 might be OK but would struggle to do the video of speakers given the low light conditions and the need for good image quality at high ISO and an aperture of f/2.8 at 270mm focal length (in 35mm terms).
Don’t forget to bring a large memory card or two, and a spare battery, although the one battery sufficed for each day for me, and you may need 16Gb for all the video for a day.