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Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway – Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.

I have just return from one of the most challenging shoots I have been involved in. The shoot took place over 5 days in and around Tromso in Norway. The aim was to gather footage to show off the capabilities of a new type of 4K TV from Phillips.

We shot the Northern Lights, we shot dog sledding , snow mobiles, shots of the city and sailing on the fjords. Each part of the shoot had many challenges and a lot of the shoot took place at night and at night the crew slept in cabins, tents and on the yachts. Shooting from the ice and snow covered deck of a yacht in temperatures well below zero is not something I enjoyed. And to top it all off the weather was pretty grim fro most of the shoot. Heavy snow showers, freezing temperatures and towards the end strong winds.

Because image quality is paramount for this project I choses to use the best lenses I could, but at the same time space and time constraints dictated that zoom lenses would be desirable. We were shooting 16 bit raw as well as XAVC class 480 on my PMW-F5 and some pick-up shots in UHD XAVC-L on a PXW-FS5. For the PMW-F5 the primary lens was the Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20, 20-120mm PL zoom and to ensure we had similar looking images from the FS5 I used the new Fujinon XF 18-55mm. I have to say that I’m quite in love with both of these lenses.

fujinon-xk6x20-20-120mm-t3-5-pl-mount-lens-cc1-e1490981959479 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20 PL mount cinema zoom. A beautiful lens!

The Cabrio 20-120 is a beautiful lens and it’s really nice to have a servo zoom that is truly parfocal. The 20-120 produces really nice images even in the most challenging of conditions and at T3.5 it’s reasonably fast throughout the entire zoom range. This was the lens that I used for the majority of the shoot, in particular for the many night scenes we shot. The E-Mount 18-55 on the FS5 produces images that matched really well with the bigger lens and camera. This is a combination I would love to use on more shoots where the budget will allow.

One particular scene that we had to shoot was particularly challenging. It was a set up shot of a night time arrival of a couple of snowmobiles at a Sami camp site. The Sami people are the indigenous people of Northern Norway and they have a particular style of tent know as a Laavu which is similar to a teepee or wigwam. The idea behind the shot was to have the snow scooters arriving with headlights blazing and for the drivers to then enter the tent lit only by the light of a campfire inside the tent. At the time of the shoot it was snowing heavily and was totally dark. Turn off the lights of the snowmobiles and you could not see a thing.

A007C001_170317I9snwscter-wide-1.-e1490980652498 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Wide shot of the snowmobiles arriving at the camp in the dark.

While modern cameras like the F5 are very sensitive, the light of a campfire inside a tent will not adequately light a scene like this on it’s own. I didn’t want a totally dark background, so I decided that I would subtly light the trees of the forest that we were in to add some drama and give some depth to the background and a sense of being in a forest.

In-tent-wide-e1490980747645 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A slightly closer shot of the tent with backlit trees behind it.

As we were travelling continuously on this shoot there was no space for a large or complex lighting kit and the remote location meant we needed battery powered lights. In addition I knew before we left that there was a chance of bad weather so I needed lights that would work whatever mother nature decided to throw at us.

snw-scter-start-e1490980892561 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A snow scooter comes into the shot. You can see just how heavily it was snowing in this shot.

I decided to take a set of 3 Light & Motion Stella battery powered LED lights. It’s just as well I had the Stella lamps as on top of all the other difficulties of the shoot the weather decided it was not going to play ball. We had to shoot the scene (and much of the shoot) in the middle of a snow storm. Fortunately the Stella lights are completely waterproof, so I didn’t need to worry about rain or snow protection. Just set them up turn them on and use the built in dimmer to set the light output.

To light the scene I set up a Stella Pro 5000 in the woods behind the Sami tent, aimed through the trees and pointed directly towards the camera. I chose to backlight the trees to provide a sense of there being trees rather than lighting them. I felt this would look less lit than throwing a ton of light into the forest from the front and I’m pleased with the result.

20170317_201335-e1490980965481 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A Light & Motion Stella Pro 5000 was used to back light the trees and tent. The heavy snow was no problem as the light is totally waterproof.

The Stella Pro 5000 is very bright for a compact battery operated light, it’s 5000 lumen 120 degree output that is pretty close to what you would get from a 200W HMI, it’s very bright. It has a very high CRI and gives out great quality daylight balanced light.  It was positioned so that the light itself was behind the tent on a small bank, about 20m back in the woods. You couldn’t see it in the shot, but the light coming through the trees created shafts of light in the snow and the trees appeared as silhouettes. It added depth and interest to what would have otherwise been a near totally black background.

20170317_203855-e1490981224538 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Light & Motion Stella 2000 used to light the forground, again the lamp is waterproof so bad weather is no problem.

Then to provide a small amount of light so that we could see the riders of the snow scooters as they walked to the tent I used a Stella 2000. I didn’t really want the light from this lamp to be too obvious as this would really make the scene look “lit”. I didn’t need the full 2000 lumen output so I used the built in dimmer to reduce the output to around 70%.

The third light was a small Stella 1000 and this was placed inside the tent with a scrunched up orange gel. The Stella 1000 would typically be used as a camera top light, but it’s full dimmable and produces a very high light quality, making it suitable for many applications. The creases and folds in the orange gel helped break up the light a little creating a less lit look sympathetic to the fire inside the tent.

in-tent-mid-e1490981340247 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A Stella 1000 with orange gel was used inside the tent to give the light from the fire a small boost.

It allowed me to increase the illumination in the tent, adding to the light from the fire without it being obvious that the tent interior was lit. For some of the shots I had an assistant sit in the tent, out of shot and slowly move the gel in front of the light to add a little movement to the light to mimic the firelight even better.

sihuette-e1490981444887 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
One particular shot on the storyboard was the silhouette of the drivers entering the tent. The Stella 1000 really helped punch trough the canvas sides of the tent.

At the moment I can’t show you the footage. That will have to wait until after the launch of the TV. But I’m really pleased with the way this scene came out. It’s challenging trying to shoot in the dark, in a blizzard, in temperatures well below freezing. Every aspect of getting this scene was hard. Opening a flight case to get out some kit meant getting snow on everything inside it. Just positioning the light up the woods was tough, the snow was up above my knees as I waded through it. Operating the camera is so much harder when it has a rain cover on it. The viewfinder was constantly misting up as snow fell on it non stop. Seeing the witness marks on the lens is difficult (although thankfully the marks on the Fujinon 20-120 are huge and easy to see).

20170317_205922-e1490981701785 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
The Fujinon Cabrio XK6X20 lens all iced up at the end of the day. After shooting out in sub zero temperatures don’t take the camera inside until you are sure you have wrapped for the day!

But sometimes it’s challenges like these that make the job interesting. I know I was cursing and swearing at times trying to make these shots work, but seeing the scene come to life in the grade is all the more rewarding.

I’ll be writing more about the Fujinon 20-120 very soon, so why not subscribe to my blog using the subscribe bottom on the left.

USA Workshops.

I’ll be in the USA presenting workshops in late Feb and March.

There will be workshops in Austin (Feb 28th, Omega Broadcast), Dallas (March 1st), Minneapolis (March 2nd, Z-Systems) and Boston on March 7th.

The workshops will look at the new Sony FS7 II with practical hints and tips for all of Sony’s super 35mm cameras. It will cover gamma curves from 709 to hypergamma to  log. Understanding ISO, CineEI and LUT’s. There will also be an introduction to HDR and post production. More details will follow in the coming days, but these will be great events for anyone that really want’s to get the best possible image quality from their Sony large sensor camera or is interested in learning more about them.

As the details of each of these becomes fixed I will let you know more. As you can see from the dates I have a spare weekend between the Minneapolis and Boston workshops, so if anyone would like a workshop or one to one training on the weekend of March 4/5th please use the contact form to let me know asap.

Here are the registration details for Minneapolis: http://zsyst.com/2017/02/event-alister-chapman-3-2-17/

Sony PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 Version 8 Firmware no longer on the web.

The version 8 firmware update for the PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 cameras is not available on the internet in Europe. In order to get a copy you have to contact prime support or your local service center providing the serial number of your camera, current firmware level and any options installed. Then, if your camera is safe for an end user upgrade they will issue you with a copy of the firmware and the update instructions appropriate for your serial number. If not they will advise you as to where you need to send it or take it for the update.

My understanding is that despite all the warnings there have been a lot of people that have tried to install the firmware on cameras where the install procedure is different. The end result being a camera that will no longer work and the need to replace one of the logic boards which is very expensive. To prevent this they are requiring the serial number before releasing the firmware to you.

I also recommend that if you do have a copy of the version 8 update that you do NOT share it. Please allow Sony to ensure that only owners of those cameras that can be upgraded by the end user get the firmware. This isn’t Sony trying to get more money from you, this is Sony trying to ensure that you don’t end up with an extremely expensive repair bill.

In Europe you should email Prime Support: PrimeSupport@eu.sony.com They will normally get back to you very quickly.

The Firmware is available online from the US site. BUT YOU MUST ENSURE YOUR CAMERA CAN BE USER UPGRADED. DO NOT ATTEMPT IF YOU ARE AT ALL UNSURE.

In the USA I would suggest contacting:

United States service centers:

Eastern Service Facility
Teaneck
Sony Service Center
Sony Electronics Inc.
123 W. Tryon Avenue
Teaneck, New Jersey 07666
Voice: 201-833-5300
FAX: 201-833-5312
E-mail: TeaneckService@am.sony.com

Western Service Facility
Los Angeles
Sony Service Center
Sony Electronics Inc.
2706 Media Center Drive; Suite 130
Los Angeles, California 90065
Voice: 323-352-5000
FAX: 323-352-5039
E-mail: LAService@am.sony.com

In Canada:

Sony of Canada (Customer Service Solutions Group)
Service Operations
211 Placer Court
Toronto, Ontario , M2H 3H9

Sony Montreal Service Center
Sony du Canada Ltée
2886 Boulevard Daniel?Johnson
Laval, QC H7P 5Z7

Fusion Cine
1469 Venables Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 2G1
Professional Technical Support (Vancouver)

Please have the following details ready:

First name
Last name
Email address
Company name if applicable
Business Phone
Country*
Which product do you own?
Serial Number (6 digit number)
Which firmware version is currently installed?
And confirm if the CBK-55PD option installed?*

New 4K Optically Stabilised ActionCam. FDR-X3000

FDR-X300-1024x518 New 4K Optically Stabilised ActionCam. FDR-X3000
Sony FDR-X3000 4K action cam.

Sony have a new 4K action cam with some very cool features. The FDR-X3000 boasts full optical image stabilisation using a Balanced Optical Steady Shot (BOSS) system where the lens and sensor moves to take out the camera shake typical of hand held or body worm motion. This helps produce smoother and sharper images in many typical mini-cam applications. In addition the camera has a 4K Exmor-R sensor providing great (according to Sony) low light performance. The camera records using XAVC-S at up to 100Mb/s and has built in timelapse functions. All in all the spec is very impressive for such a diminutive camera. Pair it with the new Live-View remote and it becomes even more versatile as you can use it as a camcorder (and you can change the focal length of the lens from very wide to medium). The Live View remote can be worn on your wrist, attached to the back of the camera with a novel finger grip or clipped on to a tripod.

Full details over on the Sony website: http://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/actioncam/fdr-x3000-body-kit

In addition at IBC you have the opportunity to win an ActionCam with Sony’s  #SonyFlaminGO competition at IBC.

There will be 4 flamingos (fake, not real) hidden on the Sony booth.

Tweet @sonyproeurope a picture of all four flamingos hidden around the Sony stand either in a montage or separate pics arranged so that “SONY” is spelled out: http://bit.ly/2bz2PXZ

How much technology does a modern cinematographer need to know?

This post might be a little controversial, I am often told “you don’t need to know the technical stuff to be a cinematographer” or “I don’t need to know about log and gamma, I just want to shoot”.

I would argue that unless you are working closely with a good DIT a modern DP/Cinematographer really does need to understand many of the technical aspects of the equipment being used, in particular the settings that alter the way the camera captures the images. Not just things like “set it to gamma x for bright scenes” but why you would want to do that.

Now I’m not saying that you have to be a full blown electronics engineer, but if you really want to capture the best possible images it really is very important that you truly understand what the camera is doing. It’s also a huge help to understand how your footage will behave in post production. Any craftsman should understand the correct way to use his tools and not only know how to use them but how they work.

Part of the understanding of how your chosen camera behaves comes from testing and experimentation. Shooting test clips across a range of exposures, trying different gamma or log curves and then taking the footage into post production and seeing how it behaves.

Film cinematographers will shoot tests with different film stocks before a large production under the kinds of lighting conditions that will be encountered during the film. Then the film would be processed in different ways to find the best match to the look the cinematographer is trying to achieve. Digital cinematographers should be doing the same and importantly understanding what the end results are telling them.

Most of the great painters didn’t just pick up a paint brush and slap paint on a canvas. Many artists from  Da Vinci to Turner studied chemistry so they could develop new paints and painting techniques. DaVinci was a pioneer of oil painting, Turner used to make his own paints from base pigments and chemicals and patented some of the unique colors he created.

This doesn’t take anything away from the traditional skills of lighting and composition etc, those are just as important as ever and always will be. But modern electronic cameras are sophisticated devices that need to be used correctly to get the best out of them.  I believe that you need to understand the way your camera responds to light. Understands it’s limitations, understand it’s strengths and learn how to use those strengths and avoid the weaknesses.

And that’s a really important consideration. Today the majority of the cameras on the market are capable of making great images…… Provided you know how to get the best from them. One may be stronger in low light, one may be better in bright light. It may be that one camera will suit one job or one scene better than another. You need to learn about these differences and understanding the underlying technologies will help you figure out which cameras may be candidates for your next project.

It’s not just the camera tech that’s important to understand but also how to manage the footage all the way from the camera to delivery. While you don’t need to be an expert colorist, it certainly helps if you know the process, just as film cameramen know about color timing and film processing. A trend that is growing in the US is high end cinematographers that also grade.

This has come about because in the days of film the cinematographer could determine the look of the finished production through a combination of lighting, the choice of film stock and how it was to be processed. Today a cinematographer may have much less control  over the final image as it passes through the post production and grading process. Often the final look is determined by the colorist as much as the cinematographer. By also becoming colorists and staying with their material all the way through post production, cinematographers can retain control of the final look of the production.

As HDR (High Dynamic Range) delivery becomes more important along with the need to deliver SDR content at the same time, a good understanding of the differences between and limitations of both systems will be needed as you may need to alter the way you expose to suit one or the other.

So, there is lots that you need to know about the technology used in todays world of digital cinematography. Where there is a big enough budget DIT’s (Digital Imaging Technicians) can help cinematographers with guidance on camera setups, gamma, color science, LUT’s and workflows. But at the low budget end of the market, as a cinematographer you need at the very least a firm grasp of how a modern camera works, how to correctly mange the dat it produces (you would be amazed how many people get this wrong). Finally how the material handles in post production, if you really want to get the best from it.

It isn’t simple, it isn’t always easy, it takes time and effort. But it’s incredibly rewarding when it all comes together and results in beautiful images.

If you disagree or have your own take on this please post a comment. I’d love to hear other views.

Storm Chasing and Canada Workshops.

I’m off to Canada today for workshops in Montreal tomorrow at INIS (301, boulevard De Maisonneuve Est) Thursday May 26th, 1pm – 5pm and then at  6:30pm – 10:30pm.

Then in Toronto at SIRT, Monday May 30th 1pm – 5pm and 6:30pm – 10:30pm.

From there I go to Vancouver Film School on Wednesday June 1st, 1pm – 5pm and 6:30pm – 10:30pm. 

More details about these free workshops are here: https://www.sonybiz.ca/pro/lang/en/ca/article/broadcast-socan-alister-chapman

After that it’s down to Cinegear in LA for some more workshops there before heading up to Denver for a 10 day long storm photo and video workshop. While getting ready for the trip I came across a few clips from last year that I had not put up on youtube yet, so here they are:

Digital Cinematography Workshop – Singapore.

I’m running a 2 day intensive digital cinematography workshop at Singapore Media Academy on the 28/29th of June.

This workshop is going to be great for anyone that want’s to get the very best from their camera equipment covering aspects such as scene files and picture profiles. How to use different gamma curves to create different looks. How to shoot with log and raw and how to create stylised look with LUT’s (Look Up Tables). There will be an introduction to grading and post production as well as a look a the ACES workflow. There will also be an introduction to 4K and HDR production.

Grants are available through MDA Singapore for residents and some other categories to cover the full course fees.

CLICK HERE for more information.

PMW-F55 and PMW-F5 Firmware V7.01 Released

f5-firmware7 PMW-F55 and PMW-F5 Firmware V7.01 ReleasedA busy day for Sony because as well as the version 3 firmware for the FS7 Sony have also released firmware version 7.01 for the PMW-F55 and F5. No, you didn’t miss version 7.0. Sony chose not to release version 7.0 as they wanted to incorporate some bug fixes into the first release of the generation 7 firmware.

This is another significant release as it include a whole new way of operating and controlling the camera from the side panel. The new menu system called “quick menu” includes 6 pages of key camera functions laid out in a simple and logical manner. It really does make the F5 and F55 cameras much simpler and faster to use.

The F55 camera also gains the ability to record Rec-2020 color in custom mode for compatibility with future TV standards. This gives baked in rec-2020 color in the same was as you have rec-709 color when you shoot with the camera set to rec-709. In Cine EI both the F5 and F55 can be set to S-Gamut or S-Gamut3 to record color ranges compatible with rec-2020 .

Both cameras gain an increased zebra range with zebras now going all the way down to 0% and the ability to record an interlaced HD proxy when shooting at 50p or 60p in 4K.

For more details and the download links please go to the official Sony F5/F55 forum.

There are some ungrateful people out there!

Rant time, so ignore this if you are not interested.

I run xdcam-user.com for free. I provide a wealth of guides, LUT’s documentation and articles for free. It costs readers of the site absolutely nothing.

All I ask in return is for those that want to say thank you to buy me a coffee or a beer in the form of a small paypal payment for a coffee or beer.

But sadly there are some people out there that either don’t read what it says immediately above and below the PayPal button or pay any attention to what is stated on the PayPal transaction page. It clearly states “buy Alister a coffee (beer etc)”.

They make the payment and then open a PayPal dispute when they don’t receive whatever it is they are expecting to receive and I have to go through the whole rigmarole of refunding them etc.

Come on people, READ what it says you are buying, you are buying me a coffee or a beer as a token of your appreciation for the time and effort that goes in to running this site and providing a free resource. The LUT packs, PDF’s and other downloads are all under free links.

And finally I do appreciate the coffee’s and beer’s, I really do. I’m sorry that I don’t get around to thanking everyone that makes a contribution but I only have a limited amount of time that I can spend on the website and I often have to spend that time answering questions, responding to comments, preparing new articles and moderating the forum to keep the thousands of spammers and hackers that target the site every day at bay.

So a big thanks to all that have made a contribution of any size, but a suggestion to READ THROUGH THE TRANSACTION DETAILS to those that then open a dispute.

Rant over. Normal service shall be resumed.