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Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

Needables
  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in Canon 5D Mark II (52)

Sunday
Jan092011

The Shot You Can Make

There are some exciting new camera options out there these days, ranging from inexpensive, large-sensor hybrids from the likes of Panasonic and Canon to groundbreaking high-end digital cinema rigs from folks like RED and Arri. When contemplating buying or using these cameras, one has many resources to evaluate things like focal length equivalencies and depth of field. This chart from Barry Green is a great example — it’s extremely helpful and the kind of thing you could refer to again and again.

In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll need to refer to it again and again, because there’s nothing really intuitive about it. It’s a bunch of numbers. You might find yourself staring at it and thinking, “Yeah, but what kind of shot can I actually make with these camera/lens combinations?”

Read down the thread on DVXuser and you’ll see one member exclaim with glee that with only three Panasonic zoom lenses, he can cover every focal length from 7mm to 300mm on his Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) rig. Barry quickly points out that this is true, but at undesirably slow apertures. The poster is, I’m sure, left scratching his head, trying to grok just how these slower lenses are going to affect the cinematic look and feel of his shots.

You can feel my own frustration with this in my article on the Panasonic AF100. I discussed there the dilemma of MFT — is it “big enough” for cinema? Yes, but if you want cinematic DOF, you’ll need fast lenses, faster than most of what Panasonic makes.

Another example — you might be looking at the recent demonstrations of the fixed-lens RED Scarlet and wondering just how much DOF control you’ll have with an ƒ2.4 lens on a 2/3” sensor.

All the charts and sensor-size comparison images and spec sheets won’t answer the question: “Yeah, but what shot can I make?”

So I’m introducing a new Prolost feature designed to help answer that question. It’s called the Shot You Can Make (SYCM) Simulator, and it’s sort of a 3D “Marcie” for focal length and depth of field. Here’s what it looks like:

I started with a shot from a movie called 12 Rounds. Directed by Renny Harlin, 12 Rounds is an action flick set in New Orleans and starring WWE’s John Cena. It’s the kind of movie you can rely on to contain the kinds of shots you see in many movies — in this case, a guy (Cena) with a gun. The focus is on Cena’s face, the gun is slightly soft, and there are a few big, boke-liscious out-of-focus lights in the background.

12 Rounds was shot with Panavision cameras on Super 35mm film. My guess is that this particular shot was made with a 125mm Panavision Primo at ƒ2.0. Based on this estimation, I simplified the image into cartoon-shaded layers and split them out in 3D in Adobe After Effects, essentially recreating a simplified model of what was in front of the lens that night. Using a lens blur plug-in rigged with expressions, each 3D layer gets the correct amount of defocus for its distance from camera. The result is a simulation of the shot with accurate angle of view and depth of field.*

The shot contains a number of recognizable things, like a man, a hand, a gun, and some distant lights. If you’re familiar with your camera — any camera — you can probably easily imagine what kind of shot of this setup you could make. But what about a camera that you’re not familiar with?

The Shot You Can Make Simulator allows me to place any camera I want, with any lens, at any stop, into this same scene, and re-photograph the virtual scene with that rig. In this way it provides a real-world-ish benchmark for the kind of lens performance that matters most to filmmakers: 

  • What’s the angle of view, i.e. how wide or telephoto is this lens?
  • What kind of depth of field performance can I expect? I.e., what will be my ability to isolate my subject from the background using focus?

Here’s an example. Simulating a Canon 5D Mark II with a 50mm lens at ƒ1.4, you can see that I’ve had to move closer to my virtual Cena to achieve similar framing. His hands appear larger, and much softer. The lights in the background are still blooming, but not as much. Although we’ve opened up about a stop and focused closer, we’ve also gone wider in AOV, so our ability to make big circles in the background has diminished.

Another example, this time simulating the shot you might make with a Canon 5D Mark II using the Canon 70–200 F2.8 II IS, at maximum zoom:

Note that we now have a slightly narrower Angle Of View than the Super 35 125mm baseline, so we’ve stepped back a bit to maintain the framing. But despite focusing longer and stopping down, we have a much larger image sensor on the 5D, so we maintain the same “feel” in terms of the softness of the gun barrel and the size of the background boke.

Now, if someone tells you that 200mm on a 5D Mark II is a decent rough match for 125mm on Super 35, that’s useful information. But unless you’re a Cybog Killer from the Future, you might have a hard time getting a sense of how all the other factors will balance out — slower lens, but larger sensor, but longer focus, but more money left over for tacos.**

I was trying to explain to someone the other day why I felt that the MFT zooms Panasonic has on offer are not very sexy. Maybe this will help — here’s the same shot at 140mm ƒ5.8, the max zoom of a popular “do it all” MFT lens from Panasonic:

Even though we’re zoomed way in, tighter than the baseline shot, we can just barely soften the background, and the gun is razor sharp. Interestingly, the Shot You Can Make with the Panasonic 14–140mm is not unlike the Shot You Can Make with a Canon HV20, which has a tiny sensor by comparison, but a surprisingly fast lens. Here’s the HV20 making the shot at its max zoom of 61mm, ƒ3.0:

The similarity between these images shows that you can very easily slap a lens on a MFT camera that will completely undo any perceived DOF advantage of the large sensor. To me, this is useful information. If you agree, I’ll use the SYCM Simulator to profile lenses and cameras I discuss here.

* My respect for you the reader demands that I generally avoid disclaimers, but in this case I would like to point out that this is all guesswork on my part, from the original lens used to the dimensions of the set. And I could very likely have my math wrong on any of the DOF calculations too. Please let me know if anything jumps out at you as wrong.

** Tacos have not yet been integrated into the SYCM Simulator.

Friday
Nov192010

BRICK & STEEL

A fake trailer for a sequel to a movie that was never made, a birthday party gone horribly wrong, a CalArts reunion, and a fun test of achieving a hyper-poppy Stephen Sonenfeld (colorist on Transformers, Mission Impossible III and my Playstation spot) look on 5D and 7D footage (+ Redrock Micro Stubling, Eyespy DeluxeZacuto Z Finder Pro, and Zoom H4N) using Magic Bullet Denoiser, Colorista II, and Mojo. Budget = beer. Lots and lots of beer. Also available at 1080p on YouTube. For some reason.

Wednesday
Nov172010

Sony PMW-F3 Shoots, Scores, Has a Little Brother

 

Sony very wisely lent one of their pre-production PMW-F3 cameras to Jason Wingrove, shooter, director, and co-host of the invaluable Red Centre podcast. He made this:

compulsion - teaser from Jason Wingrove on Vimeo.

I’ve seen the raw footage close-up and it looks amazing (Jason let me grade a couple of the shots using Colorista II). Very film-like, very gradable, and the compression is certainly there but nothing like what we’re used to from our DSLRs. I haven’t yet blogged about the F3 because it’s still settling in with me exactly where the camera fits. But it absolutely does fit.

Jason and Mike will be discussing the camera on the next Red Centre, so be sure to tune in.

Director Martin Scanlan also got his hands on an F3 and shot this short film:

Convergence - Short Film shot on Sony PMW-F3 from Martin Scanlan on Vimeo.

Sony also announced another Super-35 camera today, code-named the NXCAM. Little brother to the F3, it features the same sensor (we think), fewer options, but a much lower price point than the F3, which is said to street for about $12,000 when it becomes available [UPDATE: its now up on B&H for $16,000] [Second UPDATE: B&H reduced their price to $13,300 in short order, and added the promised F3K model with its included trio of Sony F2.0 PL primes for $18,950]. Oh, and a design inspired by Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Philip Bloom was at the Sony launch and has a great write-up on his blog.

Both of these Sony cameras are, like the Panasonic AF100, examples of a company responding to the turgid love affair the filmmaking world has been enjoying with HDSLRs such as the Canon 5D Mark II, 7D, and my new favorite for video, the Canon 60D. Neither the Panasonic nor the Sonys are breaking new ground in resolution or compression (both are 1920x1080 max, with what are considered to be decent, but not great codecs) the way RED did with the RED One and intends to with future offerings. But both blow HDSLRs away with their professional features that we’ve long taken for granted on proper video cameras, such as XLR audio inputs, exposure and focus assist options, and built-in ND filters. Oh yeah, and true HD images without the aliasing and moiré we get from our SLRs.

It’s a great time to be a filmmaker.

Tuesday
Oct122010

Do You Want to be a Grown Up?

It’s kinda fun doing things the wrong way.

You can buy a fancy slider (I did, I love my Glidetrack HD), or you can feel so much more clever and agile turning any tripod into a jib arm.

We’ve been having a lot of fun shooting with DSLRs, complaining the entire time about all the obstacles they present. Won’t someone come along and make a camera with a huge sensor, interchangeable lenses, and proper video features?

I’ve been a part of this complaining, but I don’t share the opinion of some that the challenge is easy, if only Canon or Nikon or whomever cared to rise to it. The line-skipping or binning issue is not simply a question of will or understanding — it’s an actual limitation of how fast data can be streamed off the back of the sensor itself. To pull a full 5616x3160 image off the 5D Mark II’s sensor every 24th of a second would likely require a much more expensive sensor and a method of dealing with the resultant heat. We can complain all we want, but we’re the beneficiaries of a glorious happy accident of “good enough” coupled with Canon’s years of experience hacking OK-looking movies off point-and-shoot sensors. The result is that we’re making sexy-looking video (just don’t look too close) with cameras that costs only a grand or two — and most of that cost is due to features we’re not even using.

Still, it seems to be obvious that what I predicted two years ago is true: It’s no longer OK for video camera manufacturers, whether they be Sony or Canon or RED, to make a video camera that doesn’t excite us emotionally. I added: Buttons and features and resolution charts just had their ass handed to them by sex appeal.

But can we have both? Panasonic says yes.

This is the AF100. A proper video camera that will presumably ace its test charts, and also sports a 4/3” sensor like the GH1 and GH2. Interchangeable lenses. XLR mic inputs. HDMI and SDI outputs. No aliasing. Waveform monitor and focus-assist peaking in the viewfinder. A viewfinder. Watch this video and/or read his detailed write-up — Barry Green does a much better job than I ever could of pimping this thing.

It’s easy to understand his enthusiasm — this is everything we’ve been wanting. Or is it?

When I tweeted about the availability of the AF100 for pre-order from B&H Photo, I got a couple of replies to the general effect of “but will the images hold up to those of the 5D?” Now, why would a person ask that? Obviously Panasonic has gone to great pains to emphasize that this is a camera for grown-ups, with no pixel binning or line skipping. They have repeatedly stated that their target is zero aliasing artifacts. Between this an all the other pro features of this camera, such as its focus and exposure aides and various gamma modes, there’s no reason to doubt that this camera will make superior images to the current crop of HDSLRs.

No reason? Oops, I meant to say three reasons. One artistic, one technical, and one marketplace reason.

First, the technical reason to doubt the AF100: its codec. The AF100 is an AVCHD camera. We’ve discussed this codec here before, and while opinions vary, few would argue that it is a professional codec. At 17mbps it cripples the GH1. At 24mbps, the maximum allowed by the format, will the images from the AF100 be “good enough?” That strikes me as a sad question to be asking about a $5,000 camera body with a mission statement of quality.

The marketplace reason has to do with the availability, cost and quality of lenses for the AF100, and how those issues meld with the camera’s unique features. A big part of the cost and advantage of a camera like the AF100 is sophisticated autofocus. Even with my Redrock Micro EyeSpy Deluxe rig and my Zacuto Z-Finder, I find shooting with my 5D and 7D to be laborious for the simple reason of focus. The idea that I could enjoy shallow depth of field with (occasionally, mind you) reliable, fingertip-on/off face-tracking autofocus is actually quite revolutionary. You might save enough money in follow-focus add-ons and blown takes that the AF100 could start looking less expensive than a kitted-out 7D.

But if you want to take advantage of this revolution, you must chose from Panasonic’s small selection of continuous-AF, video-optimized glass. Most of these lenses are zooms, and rather slow:

You can see where I’m going with this. The top reasons for a big sensor are light sensitivity and control over depth of field. But with these lenses, you’ll be hard-pressed to create a sumptuous, DSLR-like narrow-focus world.

Panasonic does offer a 14mm prime that’s F2.5, and an awesome 20mm pancake at F1.7. Here’s a shot made with the latter.

Panasonic GF1, 20mm at F1.7. Photo by Josh Locker

Clearly with the right lens, Micro four-thirds is plenty big to create a shallow-focus look. But so far there’s only one or maybe two video-optimized lenses that offer this. Which might be fine for many users, who look at the Micro Four-Thirds format as an opportunity to collect abundant, adorable little speedy primes, or to use a PL adapter to mount gloriously fast cine lenses. But in doing so, you’re not only making an investment in glass that might start to feel out of proportion to the camera, you’re also back to manual focus, which means an abundance of expensive support gear.

This rambling point I’m making about lenses has one last nuance, and its a personal one that you may or may not share. One advantage of shooting video with the same DSLR that I use for stills is that I only ever have to buy one kind of lens. As a result, I buy them more freely, and I buy really nice ones. If I suddenly had to collect completely different lenses for stills and video, the sad fact is that I’d buy fewer of each — even though these adorable little Panasonic lenses are quite reasonably priced.

The last reason to doubt that the AF100 will impress us more than the 5D Mark II, the artistic one, is the biggest, and it relates directly to the lens issue.

Quite simply, we have tasted full-retard DOF, and it is good.

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm at F1.2

With a 5D Mark II, its sensor double the size of a motion picture film frame, we can achieve cinematic focus at F4. We can get fetishistically shallow depth of field at F2.8. At F1.2, we can create abstract art in a Burger King. The insanely shallow DOF afforded by the 5D Mark II is the artistic solution to the camera’s numerous technical problems.

Buttons and features and resolution charts just had their ass handed to them by sex appeal.

So the question becomes, if you have a little sex appeal and you nail the buttons and features and charts, do you defeat the less expensive, double-duty camera with its wealth of gloriously speedy lenses and sex appeal dripping down its glistening magnesium-alloy body?

Not with an F4 lens you don’t.

So at long last, here’s the thing about the AF100. It’s the sensible solution. But we might not want to grow up and use it. It’s a compromise. Its sensor is slightly smaller than that of the 7D, which you may recall I also weighed in this sex appeal equation, and determined that it just barely passed. Meanwhile, in this corner, the AF100 — smaller sensor, slower lenses, a $5,000 invite to the “buy a bunch of new lenses” club.

At this point, you must be thinking, “Man, I thought Stu liked Panasonic, and here they built exactly what he’s been asking for. Why so grumpy?”

The truth is, I am thrilled that Panasonic made this thing. They do get it. And by all indications, this camera rocks. Did I mention that it shoots at arbitrary frame rates up to 60fps at 1080p? Including funky frame rates like 22fps, for those post-lasagna-lunch Kung Fu fight scenes? It’s a true filmmaker’s camera.

What it needs is a better codec and some sexier continuous-AF lenses.

That’s all, and it ain’t much. I mean think about it — if this thing shot to ProRes, it and a PL Mount would be a ghetto Alexa for a tenth the price.

Now if I don’t buy an AF100, you can’t take that as a poor review from me. I’m not a pro shooter. Not even a responsible adult. I like doing things the wrong way, especially when I’m trading technical accuracy for images that make me want to lick the screen.

But that’s just me. You’re rockin’ it Panasonic. You’ve begun the flow of sex appeal into the world of proper video cameras. Please don’t stop though, you’re not quite done.