Slugline

Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Needables
  • 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 Panasonic GH2 (3)

Sunday
Feb132011

Eschew “Experts,” Follow the Curious

I drank this tonight. But don’t call it the perfect Martini.

I’ve noticed something about my reading, podcast listening, and Twitter following habits lately—I’m not interested in hearing from “experts.” By that term I mean a certain type who seem to feel that they’ve crested the mountaintop of knowledge on a particular subject, and are now prepared to dole out this valuable accrual of information to whomever will politely listen. Experts tell you the “correct” answer, because they know.

This static state of expertise is sad and uninteresting to me, because it is the opposite of curiosity. It wrongly defines education as a goal rather than a process.

You may have noticed over the years that I often culminate a big, nerdy Prolost post with a disclaimer that I am not an expert. This is more than just covering my ass, this is an honest description of how I feel. What I try to do here is describe my current explorations, in their current state, and share with you the questions I’m asking myself and the new and ever-changing discoveries I’ve made that caused me to ask them.

“I write to find out what I think.” Search for that quotation and you’ll find attributed to everyone from Stephen King to Joan Didion. It is the first answer I give whenever anyone asks why I keep this blog. If a thought or idea is floating about in my head, the exercise of forcing it into a cogent essay will either cure it into discrete form, or prove that it had none. This does mean that for every post you see here, there is probably one or more that was abandoned due to my failure to wrestle form from the chaos. There are also ideas very important to me that I haven’t written about here yet, because I’m still herding the cats into roping distance.

But sometimes it works exactly as I hope. When I sat down to write about Canon’s release of the 7D, I posed the question, “Is the APS-C format good enough for filmmaking?” I explored the pros (it roughly matches Super 35 film) and the cons (the sexiest stills lenses are still optimized for full-frame), and ultimately found an answer—yes. You can actually see me talking myself into buying the camera. I wrote “You got me Canon. I’ll probably buy a 7D,” and then half a page later, “Pre-order your 7D now. I sure did.” That’s actually true—I got to the end of the article, went to Amazon, pre-ordered the camera, and then came back to press the “publish” button.

This exploration that I conduct in public here on these pages is an expression of my curiosity, and I am drawn to others like myself who share their journey rather than announce their arrival at a knowledge destination. Here are some examples.

Anything from fxguide is good, but the Red Centre podcast (renamed “The RC” in the same way that Kentucky Fried Chicken is now just “KFC”—better not to admit/claim that your chicken is fried or that your digital cinematography show is biased toward a particular camera) is a standout. Mike Seymour and Jason Wingrove strike a perfect balance of tech and art, and distill festering piles of controversy into deliscious 90-proof facts.

I’ve always enjoyed Merlin Mann’s appearances on MacBreak Weekly, as well as his talks and writing about productivity, but lately, as he’s been working on his book, he’s been sharing his curiosity with the world with an almost unnerving honesty on a new show from Dan Benjamin’s 5x5 network called Back To Work. There have only been four episodes so far, so go listen to them all. I’ll wait.

By the way, Dan Benjamin and Leo Laporte (MacBreak Weekly, TWiT) are similarly gifted podcast hosts precisely because they nurture a healthy and perpetual curiosity.

Here’s a left-fielder. I love coffee. So does Mark Prince, AKA the coffeegeek. His website and far-too-infrequent podcast have helped me tremendously with my coffee journey, and although his shows have dwindled to a trickle, his most recent episode is not only terrific, it turned me on to James Hoffman’s blog at jimseven.com. James’s beautiful site is full of great, nerdy coffee exploration. I was delighted to see that his Cappuccino recipe is almost identical to my own (down to the controversially cool milk temperature), but was I was even happier to read his admonition that “I’m not going to label this ‘the perfect cappuccino’ because that sort of thing makes me angry.”

What’s the best camera? What’s the right setting for the 5D? Do you transcode to ProRes?

I appreciate a good cocktail, especially a Martini. A decade ago, when I started drinking them in earnest, what I then called a Martini I wouldn’t even call a cocktail now. Over the years my taste careened from vodka in a glass (AKA not a cocktail) to undiluted gin, to the well-balanced twist on the traditional concoction I had this evening. Which, if you’re curious, was 2 oz Hendricks gin, 1 oz Sutton Cellars vermouth, and 1 dash of Regan’s Orange Bitters, stirred vigorously and at length, served up with a twist in a chilled cocktail glass.

I never order a Martini with a twist. I love olives, especially gin-soaked olives. But tonight I had an amazing, fresh Meyer lemon, freshly picked from a friend’s tree, just sitting there half-demolished from contributing to other drinks. I was overcome with curiosity about how its rind might taste in my drink.

It was delicious.

If you’d handed that drink to me ten years ago, I may not have known what to do with it. I was wrong—dead, stupid wrong—back then about what makes a good Martini. I wonder if, ten years from now I’ll think the same of my present-day recipe. My point, and I thank you for your patience, is that it doesn’t matter. I’ve been enjoying my Martinis the whole time. And I’ll continue to enjoy them, because I’ll never stop being insanely curious about how to make a better one tomorrow.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? No matter how much you know, you’re probably doing it wrong. There’s no victory, so enjoy the vector.

I’m just a dude on a journey. I’m no expert. Want a little piece of advice?

Tough.

Wednesday
Dec152010

Scarlet What You Will

Be a fanboy or be a skeptic, but there’s a working fixed-lens RED Scarlet on this very planet.

Interesting times, these. We’ve got inexpensive 35mm-ish cameras rife with artifacts, a couple of reasonably-priced not-quite-35mm camera with great features, and a 35mm PL-mount camera with a price perhaps not befitting its consumer codec. Add to the mix a 3K raw-shooter with RED’s impeccable codec and the promise of some juicy frame rates, but a 2/3” sensor that seems positively tiny these days and a conveniently-cybernetic, but love-it-or-leave-it lens. Will Scarlet find love from folks more concerned about frame rates, latitude, and gradability than with depth of field so shallow you have to choose which eye is sharp? Will such shooters be content with a finite set of focal lengths, in exchange for a presumably reasonable price-point?

Sometimes even remembering that last year’s Academy Award winner for Cinematography was shot on 2/3” sensors and the Best Picture winner was shot largely on Super 16mm isn’t enough to quel that nagging feeling that bigger is better, even if it’s bigger, softer, and sizzlier.

RED is betting that you like some sanity with your cinematography. Do you?

Sunday
Dec052010

The Panasonic GH2, DSLRs, and Funky Frame Rates For Creative Effect 

Many folks wrote in the comments of my Canon 60D article something to the effect of “what about the upcoming Panasonic GH2?”

The GH2 is not yet available. Despite having been briefly up for pre-order on both Amazon and B&H, it is now listed as unavailable on both sites. That, and that it is not a DSLR, excuse it from inclusion from an article titled “HDSLR Shopping.”

However, the GH2 does look very exciting. I had been thinking of selling my 7D and buying a 60D, but I might wait and get a GH2 instead. My only real trepidations about that are covered in my post about the Panasonic AF100, where I discuss the slightly-smaller-than-35mm imager and the dearth of fast motorized lenses.

In brief, if you’re not familiar, the GH2 is a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera in the Micro 4/3 format. Being mirrorless, it is not a DSLR — but the desire to compare them is natural. Like our Canon HDSLRs, it is a stills camera with a video mode. What it promises over the Canons and Nikon HDSLRs are cleaner, higher-resolution video images and Panasonic’s signature attention to the needs of video shooters, with features like touch-to-focus, on-screen audio level monitoring, “Cinema Mode” color profile, clean HDMI out, and even a 1:1 crop mode — which allows you to take an HD crop out of the center of the frame, effectively acting as a digital tele-extender with no light loss.

The predecessor to the GH2, the GH1, broke my heart by suffering from compression artifacts so egregious that I resorted to rhyme. By all accounts, the GH2 does much better in this area, although it joins a sadly crowded category of cameras that seem to do everything right and then commit all your hard work to a codec just barely sufficient for the task.

One of the things that piqued my interest about the GH2 was its “Variable Movie Mode,” which purports to allow over- and under-cranking. Turns out this feature is not very exciting in practice. Panasonic’s site shows what looks like a broad array of speed options, from “80%” to “300%.” However, it soon becomes clear that the increments, 80, 100, 160, 200 and 300 percent, are significant in that they represent frame rates likely to be available on almost any camera.

If your base, 100%, is 24 fps, then 80% is 30 fps, 160% is 15 fps, 200% is 12 fps, and 300% is 8 fps. My 7D has 24 and 30, and if I wanted 15 fps, I’d just shoot at 30 and double in post. Same with 12 and 24. And if I wanted to shoot at 8 fps for some unprecedented reason, I’d shoot at 24 fps and speed up 3x in post.

The 7D and 60D shoot at 60p in a heavily artifacted 720p format (which I nonetheless used indulgently in Brick & Steel). The GH2 can shoot 1080i60, which you could de-interlace carefully and create 60 fps slow-mo (detailed instructions for this are included in The DV Rebel’s Guide). In both cases you’d better watch out for high-frequency horizontal detail in your frame, because it’s going to be dancing the night away. So the GH2 is not really offering much more than the 60D in the variable frame-rate department.

UPDATE: The GH2 also shoots 720p60, which is the better choice for slow motion.

What filmmakers really need are funky frame rates all around the home-base of 24, and overcrank rates that can be cleanly sped up in case you discover in the edit that your shot wants to be more John Ford than John Woo. Here are some of my favorites:

  • 24p is our everyday frame rate for sync sound and business as usual.
  • Undercranking by only one tick to 23 fps speeds up motion so unnoticeably that it’s recommended for almost any fight scene not featuring Tony Jaa.
  • After lunch, when everyone’s moving a bit slower, you can shoot fight scenes at 22 fps. You can even drop down to 21, but things might start to look a bit keystone cops at that point.
  • [UPDATE: See the comments for a discussion of achieving these undercrank speeds in post, if your camera does not offer them]
  • I have seen car and motorcycle drive-bys juiced-up by undercranking as far as 12 fps. Only works on smooth surfaces.
  • Moving into overcrank territory, shooting 30 fps for 24p playback can give scenes an almost imperceptibly dreamy quality. Everything feels a bit lighter and floatier, but you’re not telegraphing “slow motion” to the audience. Many of the behind-the-scenes shots in Brick & Steel were shot at 30.
  • If I’m worried that 30 might be noticeable, I’ve been known to shoot at 27 fps, which always sends the camera assistant scrambling to make up a new velcro-backed number for the slate.
  • 36 fps is exactly 1.5x slower than normal. The audience will know something is up, but it’s still subtle.
  • In fact, so is 48 fps. You’d think that half-speed would seem slow, but it doesn’t feel as slow as it sounds. 48 is handy because you can double it in post and be back to real time.
  • Since my 7D has 50 fps, not 48, I’ll use that when I think I might want to double back to real time.
  • Many cameras top out at 60 fps, which is fine for slow-mo, but it’s hardly Inception-grade slow-mo. Still, it’s nice. See the flyswatter in Brick & Steel.
  • Better is 72 fps. 72 is just a pretty slow motion speed. And conveniently, you can 3x it in post and you’re back to real time.
  • I shot some fight scenes in The Spirit at 88 fps. Why? Because it’s a nice slow speed, and if you 4x it in post, you’re back to 22 fps. So I could ramp from amped-up speed to dramatic slow in the same shot.
  • 120 is another handy speed at 5x real time. And beyond that, you’re into frying-pan-to-the-face slow motion effects.

OK, we’ve gone a bit off the topic of the GH2. But this is the ride my mind went on after getting excited about the “Variable Movie Mode” and then realizing what a non-thing it actually is. All it really buys you is the slight convenience of not having to conform different footage speeds in post, and the nicety of being able to preview these speeds in on-set playback.

The GH2 is going to be similar in price to the 60D, i.e. cheap. You’re going to have to spend more, like AF100 or Sony F3 money, to get the funky frame rates I list above, and even in those cases, you’re topping out at 60 fps (which, in the case of the Sony, is only available at 720p). I’ve completely lost track of the various cameras that Red is busily making, but hefty overcrank rates are something they promise, at a proportional price.

Meanwhile, If you, like me, are excited about the little GH2 despite its shortcomings in the frame-rate department, check out what Phillip Bloom has done with his pre-release model.

And I’ll let you know if I find one under my Christmas tree.