More Traveling with Cameras

April and May have been amazing so far. Great jobs came out of nowhere and I have been traveling. In April I was hired to shoot for two shows in the Bahamas: ‘Laura McKenzie’s Traveler’ and ‘Elizabeth Stanton’s Great Big World’.
The job included traveling on a yacht and staying in luxury resorts on the Xumas in the Bahamas for 2 1/2 weeks. Unbelievable. I was shooting on an old Sony F350 xdcam monster, sometimes knee-deep in water surrounded by sharks. Haha, not the man eating ones. All I can say is that I’m very grateful for the experience and feel privileged that I was able to work in a place where other people pay a lot of money to get to – and being with great talent and crew of course.
Now I’m back on the documentary about rural surgery we started last year and we are traveling the US on a shoe string budget. It’s the same amount of fun though which proves to me that I’m in the right job: I love what I do! So instead of racing in a cigarette boat through turquoise water and blasting HipHop I drive through the night in an RV listening to country music. Both awesome!
I decided to use my FS700 for the documentary although I couldn’t charge them for it – just because I love the camera. Still – the HVX proved itself way more practical for filming the surgeries and following the doctors around. Big sensor cameras slow you down substantially and require a certain amount of preplanning. Not that I haven’t done any run and gun on my Canon T2i but the amount of non-usable footage is way higher. Talking about out-of-focus.
There are some possible jobs coming up but I don’t want to talk about them until I’m booked. Classic superstitious behavior. Wish me luck.





I wonder if this is a thing of the digital aera or if it has always existed: The one-man-production company. In the old days it was probably as expensive to set up a 16mm cutting table at home as it is today to set up a decently equipped workstation.

Doing all the jobs myself is something I do from time to time besides working with or for other people or hiring crew. For this commercial for KatLash I did it all. I was gaffer, DP editor and grader. Only makup and hair was not my in my realm of responsibilities and that certainly is a good thing. My client hired the team herself so I didn’t have to worry about it.

There was not much wiggle room because the budget wasn’t that high but we had a nice little studio to shoot in so we kept the concept simple.

Most importantly I had to light Katarina properly so her beauty and the amazing job they did with makeup and hair would be translated onto the screen properly. I used four cheap soft boxes that I equipped with Kinoflo bulbs. The light is very good and clean but as I found out they flicker when you shoot high speed. I was able to fix that problem in post by applying the BCC anti flicker filter which just came out a year ago and is very, very useful.

I shot mostly in 60fps to produce slower movements which makes it look more elegant and also gives me longer useable clips. When we started using the fan I went up to 240fps but then noticed the flicker so I went down to 120fps. As I said I fixed it in post but there was no guarantee that it would work.

I made sure I had plenty of material since in a commercial the attitude that is displayed by the talent sells the product. I used Adobe Prelude to sort out the best clips and it took me almost a whole day to do that. All in all we needed 10 hours to shoot 4 looks.

I then transcoded into ProRes since I was considering grading in DaVinci but in the end my client didn’t want a grade at all. She liked the look that came out of the Sony FS700 so much that I only did some luma adjustments and that was it. The black and white is a preset in Magic Bullet Looks. So all together it was a three day job for one guy. Not bad.

Jan Becker Fashion Video Shoot

A fun atmosphere on set is key for good footage.

Fashion model filming

My typical iPhone shot of my rig.

Postproduction with Jan Becker

Selecting the right clips in Adobe Prelude

Sony’s new cameras and raw recorder: F5, F55 and AXS R5

Sony is gearing up and presenting two new magnificent cameras, the F5 and the F55. The specs are everything we could wish for and they are tools perfect for film production, commercials and TV. I have become a Sony guy since I bought the FS700, a camera that created new jobs for me and enabled me to generate the kind of footage that aesthetically satisfies me. The 2 new cameras are in a much higher price category but still an amazing bang for the buck.

Sony’s F5 and F55

The F55 competes with the Epic and the Canon C500 while the F5 is probably more targeted in the realms of the C300 although it also can record raw which the C300 can’t. So yes, they are both recording raw onto an recorder you can just snap onto the end of the camera and then also record with Sony’s new high bandwidth, high color resolution codec XAVC onto SXS cards. The F55 records 4K internally while the F5 only manages 2K. The raw recording happens in 16bit which is absolutely amazing: “16-bit (216) color depth is 65,536 shades each of Red, Green, and Blue. That’s 16 times as many Red, Green and Blue gradations as 12-bit RAW and 64 times more than 10-bit recording.”

Module Design

So the big question is: “Will they be as good as the Alexa?” Well – I think they are going to be a lot like the F65 when it comes to look and color science. But honestly, I think all of these cameras are and will be amazing. Period. They are different but what makes the real difference is always who is behind the camera anyway. When it comes down to the specs and how they translate onto the screen it’s all about what happens in the debayering process. The Alexa has been unbeaten in color science and that’s the reason why most TV shows are shot on the Alexa. What it does best is make actors look good and that’s probably the most important trait of a camera. So here is the question: Will the Sony F5 and F55 make actors look good? I’m very optimistic than from what I’m getting from the new cinegamma settings on the FS700 and from what the F3 is able to produce with S-Log.

It is clear that these cameras are some serious contenders in the market place for probably at least have the price of what you have to pay for the Alexa. Especially for TV it’s going to very interesting how the new XAVC codec will fair. The HD version will record 100 mbps at 10 bit 4:2:2 while the 4K version will run at 300 mbps (F55 only). There is a future upgrade to SR codec which will produce massive 880 mbps in 10 bit 4:4:4.  That’s very impressive and only screen tests will tell the truth.

The AXS-R raw recorder

For me personally the most amazing fact is that I can attach the raw recorder to my FS700 and record in 4K 16bit raw. Seriously – this is awesome! I got it confirmed from Sony because I couldn’t believe it. The downsize is that only the adapter to connect to the recorder already costs $2000 and nobody knows how much the recorder is going to be. Sounds like a rental item to me.

Update: The recorder is $6000 and the recording media almost $2000. So for 10 Grand extra you get Raw 16 bit. That’s actually cheap.


Skin Tone Test with the FS700′s Picture Profiles

Skin tone tests are the staple of camera testing and maybe the most important ones. The FS700 offers great cinegamma settings and the typical ways to manipulate the image.

Most of the settings are the exact replica of Jeff Lee’s picture profile settings over at Abelcine. I only changed the super flat settings and used cinegamma 4. Also, I added another setting which tries to emulate the cLog on the C300.

I shot at ISO1000 wich is no problem for this camera and just used one small china ball with a 5600K Kinoflo bulb.

Thank you Björn and Vicky for helping out.

The most requested PP settings from readers is this one:

C300 Cine Simulation

Black Level      +7

Gamma           Cine 4

Black Gamma:  Range:  High

Level:   +4

Knee:   Mode:  Manual   Manual Set:   Point:   75%

Slope  +2

Color Mode:   Type:  Still

Level     8

Color Level:   -2

Color  Phase  +3

Color  Depth:   All Zero

Detail:   -2     Manual:  Off

The New Anamorphic

Vilmos Zsigmond predicted a renaissance of anamorphic movies: “The anamorphic format is really perfect and it helps editing (…) you have a close up in the front left and a long shot in the right on the other side, so even if it’s a little out of focus you have the environment in the same shot at the closeup. If you are shooting TV a closeup is a closeup (…) it’s not exiting visual. That’s why I think there is a renaissance happening in anamorphic movies”

I think it’s something we can all wish for as much as for 3D to go away. Companies like Arri and Vantage Film are gearing up for the new aera of filmmaking and anamorphic lenses are popping up everywhere. The Alexa offers a 4:3 sensor format that is designed to capture the light coming through an anamorphic lens and then sends it to the de-squeezing into the digital intestines of the camera.

Vantage Film announced that they are investing € 7 Million in development of new lenses and tools. This represents the largest expansion in the company’s 20 year history. I assume that heir legendary Hawk lenses will be overhauled and optimized for the digital age.

Cooke Optics Ltd is also working on anamorphic lenses. They are planned to be ready by end of 2013 or early 2014, and my guess is they will be front cylinder, classic style Anamorphic primes, with the traditional “Cooke Look.”

Arri/Zeiss are working on a whole new line of anamorphic lenses and introduced some of them to the public already.

Servicevision has a 100mm 2x anamorphic prime (above) and a 36 mm model. Six lenses are planned to be shown at NAB 2013: 36, 40, 50, 64, 80 and 100 mm, with delivery toward end of 2013. The lenses are named Scorpio.

Of course Panavision still has a huge inventory of anamorphic lenses.

I believe we all can be looking forward to more and more production of epic widescreen movies in the very near future.

ISO Noise Level Test with the Sony FS700 (closed cap test)

This is a very boring but important test if you want to find out how the noise levels in the darkest blacks will increase when you crank up your ISO.
The FS700 provides very clean blacks up to 1600 and is absolutely usable up to 3200. 6400 is the cut off if you don’t want to compromise too much but it still looks nice since the natural structure of the noise (looks like film grain). But if your coverage depends on it you can crank it up all the way to 16000. We should call this Night for Day!
If I compare this with similar test with older Canon DSLRs we gain a lot here! Basically this is all the ISO we need. Who would want to make night look like day? The FS 700 is right up there with the Canon C300. This test was actually inspired by Shane Hurlbut’s ISO test of the Canon 1DC which is of course a very different animal. Anyway – again – the FS700 proves itself a strong contender in the low light field.

I highly recommend to watch this in full screen mode.

ISO Test with Sony FS700 (closed cap method) from Blue Tree Productions on Vimeo.