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

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.

Another Super35mm HD Camera: Canon announces the EOS C100

The EOS C100 with a lens from Canon L-glass series

Another big sensor Camera hits the market. And for a reasonable price. The under $10.000 segment has more and more choices now. This could be an easy pic for those shooting on the 5D and who have an extensive set of Canon glass. Basically it’s the reduced version of the C300 but it still has the most important features: Amazing low light sensitivity and the same sensor. I certainly don’t want to make a quick judgment because I’m sure Canon did a great job and I actually haven’t worked with the C300 yet (just played around with it at NAB). But if I compare it to Sony’s FS700 which costs the same there are three massively important features missing:

1. Superslowmotion

2.HD-SDI out

3. Future upgrade to compressed 4K raw out.

So here is the question: Is the convenience of not using an adaptor worth missing out on those features?

Here’s a quick list of features (from the Canon website):

The EOS C100 digital video camera is approximately 85% of the size of the EOS C300 model, for maximum mobility. Designed for professional operability, the C100 includes a push auto iris function, one-shot auto focus (or full manual focus and exposure control), a multi-angle 3.5-inch LCD control panel, a high-resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF), built-in ND filters, dual XLR inputs, and a locking HDMI output. These features combine with such advanced technologies as reduced rolling shutter artifacts in 60i mode, enhanced gamma modes (including Wide Dynamic Range (DR) Gamma and Canon Log Gamma), cinematic depth of field characteristics, and excellent low-light performance. The C100 records to dual SD cards contributing to the camera’s reduced size and convenience.

Like its C300 sibling, the EOS C100 employs Canon’s uniquely designed Super 35mm 16:9 CMOS sensor that captures individual R, G, and B channels for each full HD 1920 x 1080 frame. This high-sensitivity CMOS sensor provides creative depth of field capabilities for an excellent “bokeh” effect, and provides an ISO range of from 320 to 20,000, enabling the capture of images in low light with minimal picture noise. The Canon DIGIC DV III image processor in the C100 helps ensure high color fidelity and smooth color gradations. The camera’s AVCHD codec utilizes MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression similar to the codec used in Canon’s XA10 professional HD camcorder. AVCHD features a maximum recording bit rate of 24Mbps in full HD 1920 x 1080 and 4:2:0 color space for sharp, vivid images. Multiple recording modes, resolutions, and frame rates (including 24p) make the C100 creatively flexible for many production environments. The C100 also offers enhanced gamma modes (including Wide DR Gamma and Canon Log Gamma) for a peak dynamic range of 800% and the wide exposure latitude needed for creative post-production image processing, color correction, and contrast manipulation.


View of the censor of Canon’s new EOS C100

Arrival of the Sony Nexus FS700

The big brown box from B&H

The friendly UPS guy delivers my new camera

There are only a few things more exiting for a DP than getting your hands on your new camera. For this one I waited a long time. When the specs were revealed just before NAB 2012 I almost wouldn’t believe it: 240fps, 4K, Super 35mm sensor for under $10.000? That was more than I had asked for. My craving set in instantly and hard. When would it be released? How long do I have to wait for this thing? Then the the first footage of the per-production models was revealed on Vimeo. Absolutely stunning! I had to get my hands on one – fast. Like in a mad frenzy I was checking the B&H site every day to be among the first ones to pre-order it. Which I did on the first possible day! Obsession! And today it happened – the UPS man dropped of the B&H box and the magical process of un-boxing unfolded itself. What is it with the unboxing people are obsessed about? There are unboxing videos and photos all over the internet? What’s the psychology behind it? Do we feel worth more because we own a certain thing and want to show it to the world? Erich Fromm wrote a whole book on it: “To have or to be?”. I can only speak for myself but I do feel better as a cinematographer owning a great tool. It’s like adding a new body part that serves my craft. Am I a better DP because of it? No – but I have the chance to work more, experiment more, train more and have more fun. I’m very grateful for this opportunity. Also there is just the sheer joy of having this marvel of engineering right in your hands. Just admiring all the knowledge, hard work, inspiration and creativity that materialized in this camera body. It gives me the feeling of being part of a greater human community. And then also there is this feeling of responsibility: I own this great tool – now it’s my duty to create amazing images. It’s a motivation and a push for quality. And last but nor least there is the pressure of making all the money back I spent on the camera – not to underestimate.

Jan Becker's new camera shines

There she is - ready to capture amazing footage.