Tag Archives: shoot

Philips Extreme Earth Episode 2 now on YouTube.

This is a part of a much larger project I have been working on recently for Philips. The Philips “Extreme Earth” project. The idea being to show of some of the latest technologies in their HDR Ambilight TV’s.

Last year we started the project up in Norway filming the Northern Lights. This year we travelled to Nevada and Arizona to shoot the second set of films under the “Canyon” headline, then we spent another couple of weeks travelling all over the Midwest shooting what will be the 3rd set of films under the headline “Storm”. We are now looking ahead to next year with several ideas being looked at from Volcanoes to Rain Forests.

For the Norway and Canyon shoots competitions were run ahead of the shoots in various consumer technology magazines . The winners getting to come on our adventures, stay in nice hotels and take part in various activities such has horse riding.

The main Canyon film was shot by myself on a Sony Venice using Sigma FF Primes as well as an Angenieux EZ zoom. The 1000fps Super Slow motion by Dustin Farrell on a Phantom Flex. I shot some additional 4K 120fps footage on an FS5 on a gimbal recording ProRes raw to a Shogun (horse riding and some tracking shots). The interviews and behind the scenes footage was shot by the projects director Leigh Emmerson of Persistence of Vision Productions (POV) using an A7sII, but there is a fair bit of FS5 (ProRes Raw) footage that I shot in there too.

The main film was produced at 60fps in HDR (I did the grade and encoding) and will be shown at the IFA trade show next month. The other films are all SDR.
Here is the HDR main video. To view this correctly ensure your HDR TV or HDR monitor is set to HDR10 (ST2084 gamma with Rec2020 colour).

Here is the “Making Off” video.

Here’s a video of the Canyon launch event:

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Duran Duran’s A Diamond In The Mind – A look back at a great project.

Tonight the BBC are running a series of programmes about legendary 80’s pop band Duran Duran. At the same time Sky television in the UK have made one of my the projects I am most proud to have been involved in available for free, in HD,  and on demand – A Diamond In The Mind. In 2011 I was involved in the planning and filming of  this Duran Duran concert. Originally conceived a s a lowish cost production to be shot in at a small venue in Berlin, the shoot was full of challenges, not least of which was the cancellation of the Berlin concert just hours before it’s start when the lead singer Simon LeBon suffered damaged vocal chords.

We were right in the middle of building up the cameras at the Berlin concert hall when the news came through.

IMG_0606-e1530304118804-765x1024 Duran Duran's A Diamond In The Mind - A look back at a great project.
PMW-F3’s being prepped in Berlin for the concert that never happened

With the cancellation of the Berlin gig the whole scope of the project changed as the next opportunity to shoot would be at one of the huge arena events in the UK. In 1984 Duran Duran produced a film called “Arena”. This was a truly epic concert video that covered several legs of their sold out arena and stadium tour of 1983. While we were never going to replicate this on our much more modest budget, it certainly gave us something to aim for.

The idea was to film the concert with what was at the time ground breaking large sensor video cameras to achieve a film like look. Duran Duran are famous for their videos so we were following in some pretty big footsteps. The majority of the cameras were Sony PMW-F3’s with a custom picture profile that I developed specifically for the shoot. Other cameras included (if I remember right) a couple of FS100’s, some GoPro’s on stage and right at the very back of the Venue there was a Red One shooting a big 4K wide shot.

I got the opportunity to test the camera settings the week before the shoot at a concert at the O2 arena. After that there was just a single concert to film, so we had to get everything just right.

IMG_1020-1024x765 Duran Duran's A Diamond In The Mind - A look back at a great project.The day of the gig was a typical dark and gloomy winters day in Manchester. Inside the vast Manchester arena we were busy fitting lenses to camera. Sorting out cue sheets, organising talkback links and all those other things needed for a multi camera concert shoot.

IMG_1025-1024x765 Duran Duran's A Diamond In The Mind - A look back at a great project.
Angenieux 24-290 T2.8 lenses on Sony PMW-F3’s at the MEN Manchester.

We had some very exotic lenses, several Angenieux 24-290 T2.8’s. At my camera position I was using a 40x ENG lens with one of the 2/3″ to super35mm adapters I had designed. The focal length of this lens was the equivalent of 1000mm at f4. The depth of field was paper thin!

IMG_1042-1024x765 Duran Duran's A Diamond In The Mind - A look back at a great project.
Getting ready to shoot Duran Duran with a 1000mm zoom lens!

The concert started and the filming went ahead. It seem to all be over very quickly, all that preparation, all those tests for just 2 hours of filming. And then the shoot was over.

Post production took quite a while as band member Nick Rhodes chose to add a lot of his own elements to the edit. Each track in the film has a slightly different look, but it was all worth it. The end result was the feature length film “A Diamond In The Mind”.  It’s a project that was amazing to work on, with an amazing crew put together by Hangman Films. Today, 7 years later I still think it looks pretty damn good. I’d love to go back to the rushes and produce an HDR version!

As well as being on Sky TV in the UK you can also find the film on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0iN4xn6afI

Shooting With Sony Venice.

I recently completed a week long shoot with a Sony Venice in the USA, so I thought I would tell you about my experience. The camera I used had a beta of the dual ISO firmware so it could shoot at both the native ISO of 500 and the second native ISO of 2500. This was particularly useful for the shoot as a lot of the filming was done in some very dark places.

I can’t show any of the footage to you yet. But I will be able to link to the finished films once they are released a little later in the year  by my client. I have to say straight away that I think the footage looks pretty amazing.

The first location was Las Vegas. I shot a number of views of the Las Vegas strip from the balcony of my hotel room in the Cosmopolitan hotel. These were pretty straight forward thanks to the cameras dual ISO capabilities. One of the shots was a day to night sequence, shooting locked off shots during the day and then at night to be blended together to go from day to night. The day time shots were done at the base 500 ISO and then the night shots done at 2500 ISO.

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Frame Grab from Venice, 2500 ISO. Click on the image to expand.

Sigma FF Fast Primes.

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Sigma Full Frame fast prime lens set.

For these shots I used one of the really nice 24mm Sigma full frame high speed PL primes and the camera was setup in the 6K x 4K full frame mode.

For most of the shoot we did however shoot using the s35mm 17:9 DCI mode shooting at 60fps, and we made quite a few  changes to the frame rates and frame sizes in the course of the shoot. The Sigma FF Primes are really beautiful lenses. Very well built, solid lenses that produce very sharp images even when wide open. The ability to shoot at T1.5 or T2.0 turned out to be a huge benefit on this shoot as many shots were done either at night or in some very dark locations.

20180413_171840-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Shooting with Venice in Las Vegas

One thing to note here is that I was working on my own. Venice is set up as a camera for high end shoots where it is expected that there will be a camera assistant working with the cinematographer or camera operator. During the shoot I made many changes to the cameras frame rate and aspect ratio. These changes are most easily done using the LCD screen and hot keys on the side of the camera away from the camera operator. So there were many times when I had to walk around to the other side of the camera or spin the camera around on the tripod to make these changes. It’s not really a big deal, but it is something to be aware of if you are going to use Venice as a “one man band”.

Vegas-night5_1.1.5-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame Grab from Venice. 2500 ISO Freemont Street Las Vegas. Click on the image to expand.

On the operators side of the camera there is a small LCD panel where you can change the shutter speed, ND filter, EI and white balance. But for anything else you need to either use the LCD panel on the other side of the camera or go into the main menu. Talking of the menu system – it’s very well laid out and quite logical.

20180420_155405-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
The operators side of Venice with the small info LCD.

Venice is a much simpler camera to use than the F55. In part because at the moment the feature set is still a little limited – there are no high speed modes, time-lapse, picture cache or other stunt modes. But the main reason it’s simpler is the design and layout of the main LCD and hot keys has been simplified and is better organised.

The “Home” screen has they key functions that you are likely to change while shooting – shutter speed, EI, ND and white balance. There is also a control for the frame rate, although the options for this are currently quite limited with it currently normally being locked to a single fixed speed set in the project settings. The Home screen also tells you how much space is left on your media, the aspect ratio and frame size, clip name, recording format(s), the battery status. Plus there are audio level displays for channels 1 and 2.

If you need to make any other changes to the cameras setting then you press the large menu button to bring up the main menu. This is divided into 5 sections each with it’s own hot key – Project – TC/Media – Monitoring – Audio – Info. The 6th hot key takes you into further settings for some of the menu pages.

There is a simulator for the Venice menu system here; https://www.sony.net/Products/Cinematography/Venice/Camera_simulator/index.html

Something else a first time Venice shooter should be aware of is that the cameras audio input is via a single 5 pin XLR connector. This can be set up as either a 2 channel analog line/mic input (with switchable phantom power) or an AES/EBU digital input. There are no 3 pin XLR’s on Venice so make sure you have the right cables or adapters.

While Venice isn’t a big camera, it is very dense. That is to say – a lot of electronics has been packed into quite a small body. It is…. shall we say… reassuringly heavy! I guess I have been a bit spoilt by the light weight of the F55. Venice is quite a lot heavier even though it isn’t really all that much bigger. I was shooting using the R7 recorder, recording to 16 bit X-OCN files as my primary material. With the R7 and a couple of Pag Paglink batteries on the back the camera was nicely balanced with the Sigma primes.

I was pleasantly surprised by the power consumption. A single 95Wh Paglink battery would run the camera for  over an hour and a PL150 for around 2 hours which is a pretty respectable run time for a digital cinema camera. Certainly a lot more that I would get from an F65 or Arri.

20180420_155349-e1526222971788-576x1024 Shooting With Sony Venice.
A single Pag PagLink PL150 battery will run Venice for around 2 hours.

The new DVF-EL200 viewfinder is a big step up from the DVF-EL100 often used on the F55 and F5 cameras. The image is brighter, higher resolution and the dipoter adjustment much better. Venice puts the information displays outside the picture area so the image isn’t obstructed by any text information. The large rotary encoder on the front of the viewfinder controls peaking, brightness and contrast.

Rating the camera – I had already done a few camera tests with Venice so I knew that the base ISO’s of 500 and 2500 matched well with my light meter. I also knew that there is very little noise at 500 ISO and only a little bit more at 2500.  For most daylight shots I shot at 500 ISO/500 EI. I don’t feel that there is the same need to rate the camera 1 to 2 stops lower as I do with the F55, FS7 or FS5. It just isn’t necessary for normal light levels. For some scenes that had low average brightness levels I did choose to shoot at 500 ISO/320 EI as it seemed a waste to shoot at 500 EI when the scene highlights were no where near clipping. The slightly lower Ei helped to put just a little more information into the already highly detailed shadow areas of my images. For the darker locations and night scenes I switched the camera to the higher base ISO of 2500 to gain a pretty decent sensitivity boost. When using the 2500 ISO mode I found I ended up shooting at 1600 EI to keep the noise levels very similar to the noise levels at 500 ISO/500 EI.

Vegas-night4_1.1.4-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame Grab from Venice 2500 ISO, Sigma 35mm FF prime. Click on the image to enlarge.

The noise that you do get when shooting at the 2500 ISO base is really pleasing. I’m not normally a fan of any noise, my personal preference is normally for clean images as these tend to give the greatest post production flexibility. But there is something that just looks nice about the little bit of extra noise that there is at 2500. It’s very, very fine grain that is different in every frame. Dare I say it looks very film like? I need to experiment with this further, but I suspect that many people may choose to use 2500 ISO even when they have plenty of light as the noise adds some character and a pleasing texture to the shots. I’m not going to get into too much of a debate here about the merits of shooting with a bit of grain verses adding it in post. Personally I would probably normally opt to shoot clean and add any noise later, but Venice certainly brings some interesting options to the table and I would not rule out deliberately choosing 2500 ISO,  even when  there is plenty of light, to take advantage of the really nice looking noise.

Slot Canyon.

20180416_111019-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Shooting with Venice deep in the Slot Canyon.

We shot a lot of the film in the bottom of a deep Slot Canyon. For those that don’t know what this is – it is a very narrow, very deep, steep sided twisting gully carved out over millions of years by flood water. The Slot Canyon we shot in was often only 2 or 3ft wide (1m) and around 60ft (20m) deep. In most parts sunlight never reaches directly to the bottom, so it’s often very dark. But in a few spots very narrow shafts of light just about make it to the bottom when the sun is directly overhead. This creates some areas of incredibly high contrast as beams of full desert sun penetrate into near total darkness.

Slot-Canyon-3_1.1.9-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame Grab fro Venice, 2500 ISO. Deep in the slot Canyon. Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice was the perfect camera for this situation. The high base ISO mode and the 2500 ISO exposure rating allowed me to capture the dark textures of the sandstone walls of the canyon, while the 15 stop latitude meant that I could also capture the almost laser like light beams as they created intense pools of light. In addition towards the upper parts of the Canyon you get incredibly vivid reds and oranges as the sunlight reflects of the red rocks. To the naked eye it looks like the canyon walls are on fire and Venice did an amazing job of capturing these intense colours.

Slot-Canyon-2_1.1.8-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame Grab from Venice at 2500 ISO. Looking up towards the sky from the bottom of the slot canyon. click on the image to enlarge.

My hotel room in the city of Page, Arizona was decorated with photographs taken in Slot Canyons. In many of the photos the shafts of light were completely over exposed with no detail or texture. I’m pleased to say that the footage from Venice almost always retained some detail and texture, even in the the most extreme cases. This for me has been one of the most impressive things about the way Venice behaves. There is something very nice about the way that Venice reaches the extreme ends of it’s exposure range, something the F55 doesn’t quite do and I really like it. Venice seems to hang n to those exposure extremes just that bit better. In addition Venice also retains an amazing amount of color information in the deepest darkest shadow areas.

Slot-Canyon-4_1.1.10-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame grab from Venice. Beams of intense light pierce the darkness of the slot canyon. click on the image to enlarge.

Grand Canyon.

Another location we shot at was the Grand Canyon’s Horseshoe bend. This a well know spot and frankly, if you have good light, it’s tough to make a bad picture. This is one of those locations where everything is on a grand scale. So it deserved a big image. Time to use the 6K x 4K full frame mode and those beautiful Sigma FF primes again. In the grading suite whenever I show people the shots from Venice at Horseshoe Bend there is almost always a “wow” moment. The texture and detail in the shots is amazing and starting with a 6K image for a 4K production gives you quite a bit of room to crop in to the image if you wish.

Horseshoe-bend_1.1.6-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame grab from Venice. Horseshoe bend, Page Arizona. Sigma 20mm FF prime. Click on the image to enlarge.

What about skin tones? Well we did shoot some Navajo dancers doing traditional native American dances and hoop dances. Even in the very harsh Arizona light the skin tones looked great.

Navajo2-1024x537 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Navajo dancer, Page, Arizona. Sony Venice.

With so many different locations to shoot at in one week, some of them very remote, being highly mobile was really important to us. While Venice is heavier than the F55 that I  normally shoot with, it is still an easy camera to transport. We had to lug the kit by hand across the desert to get to the Slot Canyon. I used a Miller CX18 fluid head with a 100mm bowl on a set of Miller carbon fibre legs. This is a pretty light tripod setup, similar to that used by ENG news crews. I didn’t need to go to a 150mm bowl or heavier tripod than this for this shoot because Venice is a very manageable weight and it worked very well.

20180420_155421-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Miller CX16 Fluid head.

One  scene was a nigh time campfire scene. For  the Venice camera shooting at 2500 ISO and paired with the Sigma T1.5 primes this wasn’t really too much of a challenge. The fire was a large wood fire and it was producing enough light to illuminate the faces of the subjects in the scene. Although perhaps this could have been shot without any additional lighting it was decided to add a little bit of extra light to fill in a few shadows and add a small amount of detail into the background of the wide shots.

fire1_1.1.15-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Frame Grab from Venice at 2500 ISO. Sigma 25mm FF lens. Stella 5000 adding a touch of light to the background.

For this I used a Light and Motion Stella Pro 5000 Led lamp. For a one man band these waterproof LED lights are really excellent. They produce lots of good quality light and can be fitted with all kinds of modifiers. For this application I used a Fresnel lens to narrow down the light cone. In addition they can be remotely controlled using a simple hand held Elinchrom remote control. This makes getting the light level just right really easy as you can look in the cameras viewfinder while dimming the lamps with the remote. It’s possible to control several lamps with one remote.

20180417_201204-1024x576 Shooting With Sony Venice.
Light and Motion Stella Pro 5000 light.
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Campfire cookout. Page, Arizona, Sony Venice, Sigma 85mm

I shot using Sony’s X-OCN codec recording on to AXS cards in the R7 recorder. These 16 bit linear files are surprisingly easy to work with. The compact file size was a huge help. I didn’t get through more than 2 x 512GB cards in a day, even though we were shooting 4K 60P or 6K 24p. This really helped with data management in the evenings. There’s big difference between backing up 1TB of X-OCN compared to what would have been around 5TB if it had been uncompressed raw.  Yet there are no signs of any artefacts in the material. The X-OCN files are also very easy to handle in post production, I can even preview them in real time on my laptop at half resolution. In post production the 16 bit linear files handle beautifully, revealing amazing amounts of picture information.

At the end of this shoot I am left with a big problem though. Now I’ve shot a real production with Venice – I don’t want to shoot with anything else. I have been telling myself that I will stick with my F5/R5 for a bit longer, maybe upgrade the F5 to an F55 and then hire in a Venice as needed. But now I want to shoot with Venice whenever possible. Every time I pick up a Venice and go and shoot with it I come back with images that surprise me. They just seem to look great with very little effort. So now I think I might just have to figure out a way to buy one.

Shooting Flat – No it’s not!

I know that many of my readers like to shoot log. One of the most common terms used around shooting log is “shooting flat”. Lets take a look at that term and think about what it actually means.

One description of a flat image might be – “An image with low contrast”. Certainly an image with low contrast can be considered flat.

Once upon a time shooting flat meant lighting a scene so that there was very little contrast. The background in an interview might be quite well  lit. You would avoid deep shadows or strong highlights. This was done because cameras had very limited dynamic ranges. These flat images of low contrast scenes could then have the contrast boosted in post production to make them look better.

8 years ago, with the advent of DSLR cameras that could shoot with film like depths of field it became fashionable to shoot flat because digital film cameras  when shooting using log produced an image that looks flat when viewed on a conventional TV or monitor.

But lets think about that for a moment. A typical digital cinema camera can capture 14 stops of dynamic range. A scene with 14 stops of dynamic range contains a huge contrast range, perhaps a brilliant bright sky and deep shadows, you can possibly describe the capture a scene with 14 stops of dynamic range as “flat”?

The answer is you can’t – or at least you shouldn’t because the recording  isn’t flat. The dynamic range that most digital cinema cameras can capture is not flat, not at all.

The problem is that a normal TV or video monitor can’t show a very big dynamic range. A conventional TV can only show around 6 stops. If you take a log video signal with a 14 stop image and try to show that on a 6 stop screen you will be squashing the highlights and shadows closer together, so the highlight that was at +14 stops in the scene and is recorded at 100%, gets pushed closer to the deepest shadow in the scene that is recorded at 1%.

On a normal 6 stop TV the 100% recording level is shown at +6 stops while the deepest shadow will be at 1%, so now the 14 stop recording is being shown with only 6 stops between the deepest black and the brightest highlight. Instead of the highlight being dazzlingly bright it’s now just a bright white and not all that much brighter than the shadows. As a result the image on the screen looks all wrong, nothing like what you recorded and it appears to be “flat”.

BUT THE DATA IN THE FILE IS NOT FLAT – that recording contains a high contrast, 14 stop image – it’s the inability of the TV or monitor to show it correctly that makes it look wrong, not that you have shot flat.

In the early days of DSLR shooting many DSLR shooters decided to mimic the way the image from a digital cinema camera looks flat on a normal TV, perhaps in the miss-guided belief that a flat image must always have a greater dynamic range. This definitely isn’t always the case. I can take any regular dynamic range image and make it look flat by reducing the contrast, raising the blacks a bit, shifting the gamma perhaps, that’s easy. But that doesn’t increase the dynamic range that is captured. Changing the capture range of a camera typically requires fundamental changes to the way it operates rather than simple tweaks to the basic picture settings.

So we went through a period where shooting a flat looking image with a DSLR was the trendy way to shoot because on a normal TV or monitor the image recorded is reminiscent of the image from a true digital cinema camera shooting log, even though in practice the “flat look”  was often damaging the image rather than improving it.

Now there are many digital cinema cameras that can capture a very big dynamic range using log encoding and these images look washed out and flat on a normal monitor or TV because of the miss-match between the camera and the monitor, not because the captured scene is flat. But we still call this shooting flat (wrong)!

Why? In many cases people like to leave the image this way as they like this “incorrect” look. Flat is trendy, it’s fashionable, at least to those inside the TV and Video production world. I’m not sure that the wider general audience really understands why their pictures look washed out.

If you have a monitor with high dynamic range display capabilities such as a Atomos Shogun Flame or Inferno, that can show a large dynamic range then you’ll know that if you feed it log and set the display range to HDR and choose the right gamma curve, the picture on the screen is no longer flat, it’s bright and contrasty. This isn’t a LUT or any other cheat. The monitor is simply showing the image with a range much closer to the capture range and now it looks right again.

storm-PQ-14stop-1024x577 Shooting Flat - No it's not!
This is a high dynamic range image. View it on an HDR TV set to HDR10 and it will be brilliantly bright, highly colorfull and full of contrast. On a regular TV or monitor it looks flat and washed out because the regular TV can’t show it properly.

So next time you use the term “shooting Flat” think very carefully about what it actually means and whether you are really shooting flat or whether it’s simply a case of using the wrong monitor. Using words or terms like this incorrectly causes all kinds of problems. For example most people think that log footage is flat and that that’s how it’s supposed to look. But it isn’t flat and it’s not supposed to look flat, we are just using the wrong monitors!

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.

PMW-F3, Run “n” Gun, is it worth the effort?

For me early Summer means airshow season and there are a couple of events that I shoot every year. The first is Flying Legends at the Imperial War Museum site at Duxford and features vintage aircraft predominantly from the second world war. The following weekend is the Royal International Air Tattoo, one of the largest military air shows and is all about the latest fast jets and military hardware. For the last 3 years I have been tasked with shooting aircraft being prepared for flight at both shows and for this I have been using a variety of cameras, but almost always some kind of ENG type camera. I’ve used PDW700’s, EX1’s and EX3’s. This year however it was decided to try and use one of my PMW-F3’s in order to take advantage of the shallow Depth of Field and give the footage a higher quality, filmic look.

Of course using the F3 for a shoot like this brings many challenges and one of the reasons for using it on these projects was to discover exactly whether the trade off between ease of use and shallow DoF was worth it. Thankfully, producer Steve Connor (flying machinestv.co.uk) is willing to let me try new things on his productions.

So how was it? Well it was hard work compared to running around with an EX1 or EX3. You have to check, check and double check focus all the time and this slows you down a little. The other thing is the lens. A camera like the EX1 has a 14x zoom lens giving a great range of focal lengths from a good wide angle to a nice long telephoto. With the F3 your lens choices are currently much more limited. While there are some very nice zooms like the Optimo 24-290mm (12x zoom) these just are not practical for run n gun. The Optimo weighs a whopping 24lbs/11kg . The other alternative to PL lenses is to use a DSLR lens. One of my favourites is the old Tokina AT-X Pro 28-70mm as this does not telescope, has a nice big focus scale and proper iris ring, but it’s only a 2.5x wide zoom, not much use for longer shots. The upshot of all this is that you end up doing a lot of lens swaps going from a wide zoom to a longer one (Sigma 70-300mm in my case). In addition the DSLR zooms are varifocal so you can’t zoom during the shot as the focus will shift.

So… I’m running around with the F3 and a rucksack with a couple of lenses and my favourite Vinten 100 tripod, swapping lenses many times for different shots. There’s no one-push auto iris confidence check, no image stabiliser and the batteries don’t last as long. As I said, compared to an EX1 it was hard work. But, I was able to be creative. It was easy to introduce some nice foreground or background soft focus objects. To do gentle pull focuses and to generally get good looking shots as opposed to just getting ordinary looking shots.

When an aircraft is started things can get very busy. There are spinning propellors to be aware of, or dangerous jet blasts (not to mention the noise). Aircraft can taxi with no warning. At these moments I was able to stop down the iris a bit to give myself greater depth of field for a little bit focus tolerance. This is what I like about the F3. It’s got sensitivity to spare so you can pick and choose how much DoF you have.

By the time the second airshow (RIAT) came around I realised that constant lens swapping was costing me shots. So for RIAT I used a Nikon 18-135mm zoom. This 7.5x zoom gave a much better focal length range, but its a rather nasty lens in so much as it’s f3.5 – f5.6 so the aperture changes as you zoom and it’s not particularly fast. It also telescopes and extends a lot as you zoom in, so you can’t use it with a matt box. The focus ring has no scale and iris has to controlled using the MTF adapter iris control. So all in all not my favourite lens, but for this particular shoot it worked out quite well. One thing that did become apparent is that not having a super fast lens, on this particular type of project was not an issue. I could still get reasonable shallow DoF shots when wide and at f3.5. At longer focal lengths the DoF decreases anyway, so shooting at f4 or f5.6 still yields pleasing results.

The footage from the shoots does look good. It has a much nicer look to it than conventional ENG video. The shallow DoF adds a quality feel to the material. While I didn’t shoot as much as I would have done with a more traditional camcorder due to the extra time required for lens changes, focus checking and the need to use the tripod more often, what I did shoot looked better overall so a higher percentage of what I shot will probably make it into the final production.

So as for my original question.. was it worth the effort? Well I think the answer is yes. The F3 can be used for run n gun, but it’s hard work, however the results are worth the extra effort.

Night Flyers. Shot with PMW-F3 in Singapore

I’m currently in Singapore staying at Clarke Quay. Most evenings a group of radio control kite flyers from a local store (goflykite.com) bring out their illuminated kites and fly them in the local park. It’s very pretty and seemed an interesting thing to try and shoot with my F3. As I’m travelling light, trying (and failing) to keep within a 20kg baggage allowance, I don’t have a tripod and I’ve only got a couple of lenses, my trusty 50mm Nikon f1.8 and my Tokina 28-70mm f2.6 zoom. Most of this was shot with the Nikon lens at +6db. I really wish I had a tripod and a longer lens! I did a little bit of grading work here and there to balance out the very orange street lights a little.

 

Duran Duran Mega Shoot – Berlin – Almost!

The Berlin Duran Duran shoot was quite an adventure that twisted and turned this way and that. The plan was to shoot a Duran Duran concert using a range of Sony Super 35mm camcorders, however in the days running up to the shoot the band had been forced to postpone some other gigs due to illness. On the Monday before the shoot we were all sat at home waiting for the go – no-go phone call from the producers. The call came at 9pm, we were go, so first thing Tuesday I was off to the airport with 75kg of kit to fly out to Berlin with the very real threat of either Heathrow airport or Berlin airport getting shut down by Volcanic ash from Iceland. In the end my flight left 20 mins early and the plane was even backing away from the gate well before everyone had taken their seats in a mad dash to get to Berlin before airspace got closed.

IMG_0603-300x224 Duran Duran Mega Shoot - Berlin - Almost!
The first of the cameras arrive.

My self and Den Lennie (of F-Stop Academy) in the advanced party got into Berlin OK and spent Tuesday collecting some of the rented and borrowed kit and getting it in to the venue.
However by the Wednesday morning the whole shoot was turning into a serious challenge as Berlin airport was closed by the Ash cloud from the Iceland volcano just as key members of the crew including Gavin the director and James the producer were due to fly in. They ended up going to Dusseldorf and getting the train up to Berlin. In addition some of our rented kit was delayed as well as the stage and rigging crew, so everyone was running behind, frantically trying to source more kit locally. We have to say a BIG thank you to FGV Schmidle in Berlin who went out of their way to help us out.

 

IMG_0606-223x300 Duran Duran Mega Shoot - Berlin - Almost!
5 of the 6 PMW-F3's awaiting setup.

We had 6 F3’s, 2 FS100’s the SRW9000PL and an EX3. The EX3 was going to be used on the back of a Canon HJ21x7.5 Cinestyle lens with a 2x extender from the back of the venue to get some close up shots that we just could not get with any of the PL mount lenses we had on the 35mm sensor cameras. Long, fast 35mm lenses are few and far between.

 

To get the look that we wanted the cameras were all set up with custom picture profiles. I designed a picture profile for the F3’s that would give maximum latitude to help handle the high contrast range that the concert lightning would bring as well as de-saturating the image to prevent the coloured lights from clipping and thus give more scope for grading and post work. Detail correction was set up to give a small amount of very fine detail boost to keep the images crisp without looking like video.

IMG_0609-300x224 Duran Duran Mega Shoot - Berlin - Almost!
Optimo 24-290 Zoom Lens on F3

 

 

Two of the Sony PMW-F3’s were kitted out with Angenieux Optimo 24-290 T2.8 lenses and Pre-Production Zacuto EVF’s. What a gorgeous lens, the EVF’s aren’t bad either! Hopefully I’ll get more time to play with both of these in the future and a review of the EVF’s should come soon. The Optimo’s allowed us to get beautiful mid and close up shots from the venue sides with nice bokeh and super shallow DoF. At the rear of the venue as well as the EX3 we had an F3 with an Angenieux Optimo 15-40 on a track to shoot wide shots of the stage through the crowds. The remaining F3’s were to be used with Nikon DSLR lenses in the 75 to 300mm range via MTF adapters (thanks Mike) and a prototype Adaptimax adapter (Thanks Steve). The other F3’s were going to go on tracks at the front of the stage or on the stage wings to pick off close ups of instruments and band members. We also had a pair of Sony MC1P mini-cams but we could not rig these until the stage crew arrived and we weren’t expecting them until early on Thursday morning, the day of the shoot. The FS100’s would be on stage, hand held and on tracks using prototype Birger mounts and Canon L series lenses.

Then the bombshell dropped. The event was postponed. The lead singer Simon LeBon has been suffering from Laryngitis and he still wasn’t well enough to sing. So the remainder of the evening was spent packing all the kit away and rebooking flights and schedules. The concert will now be held on the 8th of June, again in Berlin. I’m going to be flying back to London from Cinegear and a 3D event at Samy’s cameras on the 6th, passing through London ( 3 hours between flights) on the 7th where I will pick up my F3 kit and then travel on the Berlin, where we will once again try to complete the shoot. Photo’s and more gear porn to follow.

Two PMW-F3’s used on 3D Cinema Commercial.

Rig-on-slider-200x300 Two PMW-F3's used on 3D Cinema Commercial.
Alister Managing the F3's on a Hurricane Rig.

I got back late last night from a big budget cinema commercial shoot where I was working with a pair of F3’s on a Hurricane Rig. All went very well and the DoP, (Denzil Armour-Brown)  was impressed by the F3’s. The overall light weight of the complete system really helped us when moving from position to position. We used a ton of Chapman grip equipment including sliders and dolly’s. I was responsible for the 3D rig, camera setup and alignment as well as assisting the DoP.
We shot using 2 sets of band new Zeiss Ultra’s, mainly at 32mm and 50mm (very nice) as well as some older and very heavy Arri 100mm macro primes. Our only small issue was that the follow focus motors were shifting the camera very slightly due to flex in the tripod base plate on the F3. You probably wouldn’t notice this at most normal focal lengths in 2D but in 3D small shifts are very obvious. So a stiffener plate for the base will be needed to prevent this (as well as general flex) or a pair of 15mm rails mounted to the top holes on the F3 body.

We were recording to a Nano3D (2 x Nano Flashes) as well as to a Mac workstation recording ProRes in the video village. The video village allowed for instant playback on 50″ 3D monitors in a blacked out tent for review and tech assessment.

It was an outdoor shoot in great weather. As well as the F3’s there was a second rig with a pair of Phanton HD Gold 35mm high speed cameras shooting 3D at 1000fps. So even thought the sun was shining brightly, many shots were done with 2 or 3 18kw lamps!!

Towards the end of day the F3 rig was tasked with shooting some blue screen and other effects shots and in effect I became 2nd unit DoP. The effects shots will be matted in to the finished commercial.
I’m under NDA so can’t talk about the subject just yet, or post any pictures that show the subject, but once the ad is released (2 weeks time!!) I’ll be able to post some grabs and more photos.

All types of XDCAM

All types of XDCAM

We were filming 9 replica first world war aircraft doing mock dog fights. The weather was near perfect. We had a couple of Sony PDW-700?s, 2x PMW-EX3?s and a couple of Sony’s mini-cams, the HXR-MC1P. It was a great day and we came away very pleased with the results, but we also came away with a smug feeling that with the camera kits that we now have (Me and DoP Dave Crute) that we could produce a programme about just about anything at top, no compromise quality. Ever since I picked up the prototype PDW-700 at IBC 2 years ago I new it was going to be a good camera. I am a big believer that when something looks and feels right then it generally is. The 700 is no exception to this. The balance is perfect, it sits on your shoulder like it belongs there. The camera controls are all where you would expect and the HDVF20 viewfinder is clear and sharp. One thing I would say is that having used the EX3 with its supurb colour viewfinder for some time it was a bit of a shock to go back to a black and white VF. Dave has a colour VF on his 700 and it is much nicer to use than the mono VF. We didn’t spend a lot of time setting up the paint settings on the 700?s yet the pictures they produced were superb. Back in the edit suite it was all but impossible to see the difference between the EX3 and 700, both cameras produce incredible, clear, sharp pictures. It has to be said that the EX3 represents incredible value for money and for some jobs the EX3 will be the better camera to have. Especially when portability is important such as on my current trip. On the flip side I do love the disc based workflow where you never have to delete your master clips as you do with the EX’s solid state workflow. The HXR-MC1P’s also produced amazing results and we have some really nice air to air shots of the dog fights. One shot was spoilt by a bug hitting the lens of the camera as the aircraft took off, but in terms of visual quality these little cameras are way better than anything that I have used before. These are for me exciting times. I have the tools available to produce top quality programmes. The whole workflow is smooth and easy. I can shoot, edit and output from my office at the bottom of my garden programmes to be proud of efficiently and quickly, without fuss or hassle. It’s taken a while to get here but file based workflows and NLE editing have finally come of age.