Category Archives: cinematography

follow focus

As someone that started off loading mags and pulling focus on film cameras I’ve always hated pulling my own focus. It just doesn’t seem right. With today’s style of shooting whether on a RED, a DSLR or some other camera I find myself adjusting on the fly to a small monitor or EVF. I try and teach my students the ways of the focus puller but they never quite get it. That and the monitor is right there, they can just look at it and use peaking or some other digital tool to tell them it is in focus. Not really focus pulling, but it does the job.

So after a couple of frustrating follow focuses I’ve found one that works really well with DSLR style shooting. The Edelkrone Focus One had peaked my interest when it came out, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks. It is nice and smooth and has solid feel. The best part was that it fits on the rails, and doesn’t protrude too far down so I can use it with a sliding baseplate.

EDIT: The only difficulty I have found is trying to get this thing wedged between camera and mattebox when using short primes like zeiss standard speeds. My old RedRock micro couldn’t do this either. ARRI wins.

panel discussion

It is not often you get to chat about Cinematography with other Cinematographers in a public forum. Today I had the opportunity to discuss with my fellow Cinematographers the state of things in the MSPIFF forum. There was a packed tent with folks that were industry veterans and film students. We talked about the number of options today with electronic motion picture cameras. Too many? We talked about tools of the trade and 3 out of the 4 really missed pulling out the meter and really only Greg Winter said he still does use a meter regularly.

We talked some about lens quality and the overall shortage of quality lenses acknowledging that more lenses are being produced than ever before. Of course the discussion led to presentation and all of us agreed that digital projection is not there. Inconsistent, inaccurate, poor quality. All were hopeful that the quality would improve, perhaps. There was some discussion about the effect of not having a shutter on the electronic projection as a possible change to how we view films subconsciously.

Along with tools, we talked about how some of the lighting tools have changed, but others have not been replaced (18K).

We also had some discussion about other formats like 3D and interactive. Across the board 3D was viewed as a gimmick but Bo Hakala and Greg Winter had some interesting ideas on pushing the interactive nature of storytelling.

One question from the audience was on practical vs digital effects. Kevin Horn and I said we would prefer to film practical effects in camera and Greg and Bo brought up the idea of shooting digital effects with enhancement from the practical. Really blending the two.

Two hours went by really fast and I’m sure we could have kept chatting for at least another two.

2014 predictions

NAB is just around the corner. There will be new tools and gadgets for sure. It is fun to speculate what will be the big trend. I’m not basing my predictions on anything too scientific, just what I have been seeing in my work, students’ work and others throughout the industry. Last year was all about 4K, with the Black Magic camera that I guessed they would make before it was announced. (it just started shipping last month I think). This year will be all about High Speed cameras. We’ve seen some of this with the basically boring Sony FS-700. A work horse video camera with a 4K upgrade path. The on-board recording is AVCHD but you can send an uncompressed signal out through SDI. What makes this thing cool is the ability to shoot a burst recording at high speed, what they call S&Q (slow and quick). It will do 120FPS, 240FPS, 480 and 960. Using some fancy math and at the expense of quality you can get all of those frame rates at 1080. The 120 and 240 look great, but 480 and 960 are really just for screwing around.

Ok, so this wasn’t intended to be a review of the FS-700, but it shows the path and trend we are on. People want slo-mo video in their projects. The Go Pro can do 120 at 720. The new GH4 has a burst up to 96 I believe. There was mention of a mirror-less camera from another manufacturer that had 240 and higher at reduced resolutions. Arri’s new Amira will do 200FPS with the purchase of the key$$$ to unlock it. My prediction is that we will see a lot of cameras with a 120fps capable rate and at least one under $5K that will do 240fps well.

In the mean time here is a clip from the FS-700 at 240FPS.

set-up test: Jami and Adam from little tree films on Vimeo.

stabilize

So it has been a long time coming. As a camera operator I have always longed for a Steadicam. In recent years there have been many imitators of the famous brand of camera stabilizer. Until now I have resisted such temptations. So as the industry prepares for another revolution in camera stabilizers with the introduction of Movi and BeSteady I have finally picked up a stabilizer.

stabilizer
So a job coming up requires stabilization and I had my eye on the steadicam Solo since it was announced but it isn’t available yet so I went with another inexpensive model from Adorama branded as Flashpoint Zerograv. This one is sold with or without a vest/arm. I went with the vest (not pictured) because I don’t want to put any more strain on my wrist at this point in my life. A DSLR may be light, but not for extended periods of time.

I’ve never had a stabilizer before, but I have played around with Merlin, Glidecam and even a Pilot. I’ve always thought they were too difficult to set-up, etc. All true. Now I’m pretty sure the more expensive the stabilizer the better it may maintain its balance throughout the day, but nothing is easy. The Flashpoint was pretty easy to balance despite having no manual or instruction. Most of the forums will also tell you the same thing. It requires lots of practice, adjustment and more practice. After a couple days of practice I can get footage that looks better than hand-held but by no means does it look like Goodfellas.

New Year (1st post of 2014)

2014 is here. What does that mean? Flying cars? no. Teleportation? no. Replicator? no, maybe 2014 is not the Star Trek future I had wished for, but there are some things to look forward to.

Cameras – The last few years has seen new cameras coming to market faster than ever. 2014 will be no different, or maybe it will be better. Arriflex or ARRI has the documentary bred Amira coming out some time after NAB. I haven’t been this excited about a camera since the SR3 came out when I was in college. The Alexa has proven that there is more to a camera than the size of the sensor.

Speaking of sensor size, the RED Dragon sensor will be exciting when it arrives in all of our cameras.

The Digital Bolex promises to be an indy darling for sure. Looking forward to getting my hands on one.

Black Magic Design has shaken up NAB the last two years, but have yet to deliver the 4K camera they promised. It is sure to attract the student, independents and some other productions, but if it is anything like the BMCC it still has to fight the ergonomics and other limitations.

What else is out there? Open source sensor and software developers. smartphones. action cameras. wearable cameras from Google and other wired sources.

Lighting – Who needs lighting when you have a RED Dragon sensor? LED lighting has begun to explode with many manufacturers entering the scene. We have adopted the AAdyntech lights this last year. Mole Richardson also brought updates to the classic Baby, Tweenie and Junior line with High CRI led instruments. This year there will be more compact sources packing high output and better CRI readings.

Monitors – How we watch the films we make pales in comparison to the resolution of these cameras. On set the monitor may be HD or near HD in pixel count, but the display of color and gamma needs varies widely. In the edit room these monitors get better but the calibration of the monitor is still something of a sorcerers conjuring leading to graded images the vary from venue to venue. Then of course is the monitor in your living room. Mine is still a Plasma 720. At least we stopped talking about 3D.

Here’s hoping the 2014 is an exciting year filled with cool new gear and lots of opportunities to use the gear we have.

micro camera

So our latest camera purchase is not a Black Magic pocket or a preorder on a digital Bolex, though that is pretty tempting. I finally caved and joined the ranks of the GoPro legion. I’ve used these a couple of times for point of view camera. Strapped to a bike it gives a cool perspective. Of course extreme sports people are the primary customers. Anyway, the justification was that we could use the camera(s) in places that we can’t get angles with traditional cameras. Little Tree Films does lifestyle work, so weddings and other life events are the projects we work on. With these types of shoots coverage is very important and there are no second takes. What I like about this little camera is that it is so small an unobtrusive that you can put it anywhere. The capability to shoot 1080 at 60 fps or even 120 fps at 720 is appealing too. The ultra wide everything in focus is the downside, but every system has a tradeoff. I’ve seen people come up with adaptors to add c-mount lens to the front of the GoPro to allow focus and aperture control. I really don’t think these people understand the purpose of a GoPro. It reminds me of a time about 8 years ago when P+S Technik and RedRockMicro were adding these crazy adaptors to DV and HD cameras.

In addition to the GoPro and the many different mounting options we also picked up the Steadicam Curve. A small stabilizer designed specifically for the GoPro. It is a new item, so it hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m looking forward to handing it off to Finn to see what he comes up with.

slider

On a recent tour of the grip rental house I was reminded of how much I loved using the Fisher 11 dolly. Those smooth subtle movements inching forward or back or across the subject. I still like those shots but I don’t get to use the big dolly anymore. Today’s world has the slider. These things came out of DIY garages and the grips’ speed-rail bin. After a few years the some of the sliders on the market are very nice. As long as you know the limitations. My first purchase was the inexpensive Konova K2 from South Korea. As long as the camera was really small and it was well supported the shots were pretty smooth. Center mounted the camera was too bouncy on either end so the image looked bad. Also because the channel was narrow the center of gravity for the camera couldn’t be very high. So with tripod head and camera and monitor it was too bouncy again.

The next purchase after watching the product demo video over and over was the Edelkrone slider plus v2 from Turkey. I’ve had this for a couple of months now and it is greatly improved on the K2, but at three times the cost I would expect it to be. The small footprint is the best part. The wobble from track length is not there. Because of the small size the center of gravity can be an issue too if the camera is too high or heavy. Lately I have been using this slider on shoots and really liking the results. This little tree films video we made last month uses the slider in much of the behind the scenes footage.

Just this week I came across another slider by a company called Trost that has just begun shipping and is from Minnesota. The video and testimonials look great. And it supports large and small cameras. The price is twice as much as the Edelkrone but the features including the dual axis slider look amazing. I look forward to renting one of these as they become available.

So I would still like to rent a fisher or peewee dolly for the next shoot, but I would also like to rent a real camera too. Thanks to these tools and a little care we can make it look like they spent a lot more on the production.

speed booster

This week I got my hands on the Speed Booster by Meta Bones. The production company I am shooting for switched out the lens package for the Sony FS700 and went with the Canon EF mount lenses. Previously we had used a Nikon lens adapter. It is really a pretty cool adaptor for use with mirror-less cameras. I had heard about them but had only Canon or PL mount cameras so no real need for them. The white paper published on the Meta Bones site is pretty interesting and a very clear explanation of how it works. Through optical design and physics the device actually makes your full frame lens faster and wider. It is called a focal reducer. Basically the doubler or teleconverter in reverse. This is great on a mirror-less camera. The only downside is if you want to have your telephoto you have to get an even longer lens. With the abundance of new cameras coming out this might be something to add to the gear list.
speed booster

zeiss Jena obsession continues

Ever since I was in film school most professionals would say how important the glass you shoot with is more important than the camera or format. I’ve always held on to that idea even when shooting with a crappy kit zoom. Sometimes you just need a 300mm and the only one available is, well, embarrassing. Anyway I remember shooting with Pentax 6X7 SLR cameras back in school and they had these beefy lenses to cover the medium format. I was thinking about those lenses and sure enough Zeiss Jena, the East German lens maker made lenses for the commie version of that camera and others with the same mount. So after a little looking I took the plunge and sprung for a zebra 120mm Biometar 2.8. Of course the Chinese will make an adaptor for every mount, so we’ll see what this lens has to offer photography and cinema on a 5DmkIII. The later Jena lenses offered an MC or multi-coated lens and these look more like the leica R lenses, at least from the outside.

anamorphic

So I had a chance to spend the weekend with a set of vintage Hawk anamorphic lenses. I was focus puller on a short project so I didn’t have a lot of time to try out the abilities of the lenses but did see some interesting things the D.P. pulled off. They were paired with the Alexa Plus 4:3. First of all they are beasts, like any large format cinema lens the glass is heavy but these were all in the front element. Given that these were vintage and from what I could tell not overhauled they had peculiarities. The 35mm was very wide, but only the center of the frame was truly sharp. The other lenses in the set were a 50, 75, and 100. A PL 2X was used to add a little more focal length to the set. The 100 looked fantastic as almost a long normal lens. The second thing about these lenses was the witness marks were all over the place. At each lens change I had to set up marks through the eyepiece using the zoom function on the camera. This is not out of the ordinary on a large shoot, but it would be nice if you could make adjustments to the focus using the marks on the lens. Finally, the stiffness of the focus ring made focus changes tough. It even caused the old Arri FF 2 to squeak. Thankfully we were not filming on a quiet set. Without seeing the final image taken through post I couldn’t say decisively how well these old lenses performed and whether or not it was worth the trouble. I look forward to working with anamorphic lenses again.

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