Category Archives: Cameras

An image scientist weighs in about this year’s SciTech winners

While this year’s Oscar broadcast was unforgettable due to the mix up in naming the Best Picture, many in the industry also remember actors Leslie Mann and John Cho joking about how no one understands what the SciTech Awards are about. Well, Shed’s SVP of imaging science, Matthew Tomlinson, was kind enough to answer some questions about the newest round of winners and what the technology means to the industry.

As an image scientist, what was the most exciting thing about this year’s Oscars’ Scientific and Technical Awards?
As an imaging scientist, I was excited about the five digital cameras — Viper, Genesis, Sony 65, Red Epic and Arri — that received accolades. I’ve been working with each of these cameras for years, and each of them has had a major impact in the industry. They’ve pioneered the digital revolution and have set a very high standard for future cameras that appear on the market.

The winners of the 2017 SciTech Awards. Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S.

Another exciting aspect is that you actually have access to your “negative” with digital cameras and, if need be, you can make adjustments to that negative after you’ve exposed it. It’s an incredibly powerful option that we haven’t even realized the full potential of yet.

From an audience perspective, even though they’ll never know it, the facial performance capture solving system developed by ILM, as well as the facial performance-based software from Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks, is incredibly exciting. The industry is continuously pushing the boundaries of the scope of the visual image. As stories become more expansive, this technology helps the audience to engage with aliens or creatures that are created by a computer but based on the actions, movements and emotions of an actor. This is helping blur the lines between reality and fantasy. The best part is that these tools help tell stories without calling attention to themselves.

Which category or discipline saw the biggest advances from last year to this year? 
The advancements in each technology that received an award this year are based on years of work behind the scenes that led up to this moment. I will say that from an audience perspective, the facial animation advancements were significant this past year. We’re reaching a point where audiences are unaware major characters are synthetic or modified. It’s really mind blowing when you think about it.

Sony’s Toshihiko Ohnishi.

Which of the advancements will have the biggest impact on the work that you do, specifically?
The integration of digital cameras and intermixing various cameras into one project. It’s pretty common nowadays to see the Sony, Alexa and Red camera all used on the same project. Each one of these cameras comes with its own inherent colorspace and particular attributes, but part of my job is to make sure they can all work together — that we can interweave the various files they create — without the colorist having to do a lot of technical heavy lifting. Part of my job as an Imaging Scientist is handling the technicalities so that when creatives, such as the director, cinematographer and colorist, come together they can concentrate on the art and don’t have to worry about the technical aspects much at all.

Are you planning to use, or have you already begun using, any of these innovations in your work?

The digital cameras are very much part of my everyday life. Also, in working with a VFX house, I like to provide the knowledge and tools to help them view the imagery as it will be seen in the DI. The VFX artist spends an incredible amount of time and effort on every pixel they work on and it’s a real goal of mine to make sure that the work that they create is the best it can be throughout the DI.

Blackmagic intros lower-cost color panels for Resolve, new camera

By Brady Betzel

Yesterday, Blackmagic held a press conference on YouTube introducing a new pro camera — the Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K, which combines high-end digital film quality with the ergonomics and features of a traditional broadcast camera — and two new portable hardware control panels for the DaVinci Resolve (yes, only the Resolve) designed to allow color correction workflows to be mixed in with editing workflows.

For this article, I’m going to focus on the panels.

The color correction hardware market is a small one, usually headed by the same companies who produce color correction software. Tangent is one of the few that produces its own color correction panels. There is also the Avid/Euphonix Artist color correction panel and a few others, but the price jumps incredibly when you step up to panels like the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Advanced panels (just under $30,000).

I’ve previously reviewed the Tangent Ripple and Element color correction panels, and I love them. However, besides Tangent there really hasn’t been any mid- to prosumer-level products… until now. Blackmagic is offering the new Micro and Mini color correction panels.

The Blackmagic’s Micro color correction panel (our main image) is well priced at $995, which can be somewhat compared to the Tangent Wave (over $1,500 on B&H‘s site), Tangent Element Tk (over $1,135), or more closely compared to the Avid Artist Color Control Surface ($1,299). You’ll notice all of those are priced way higher than the new Micro panel. You could also throw the Tangent Ripple up for comparison, but that has a much more limited functionality and is much lower in price at around $350. The Micro panel is essentially three trackballs, 12 knobs and 18 keys. It is a collection of the most highly used parts of a color correction panel without any GUI screens. It connects via USB-C, although a USB 3 to USB-C converter will be included.

The Blackmagic Mini color correction panel (pictured right) is priced higher at $2,995 and can be compared to a combo of the Tangent Element Tk with one or two more in the Element set, which retail for $3,320 on www.bhphotovideo.com. The Mini adds two 5-inch displays, eight soft buttons, and eight soft knobs, in addition to everything the Micro panel has. It also has pass-through Ethernet to power and connect the panel, USB-C, and 4-pin XLR 12V DC power connection.

I am really excited to try these color correction panels out for my own — and I will, as the panels are on their way to me as I type. I need to emphasize that these panels only work with Resolve, no other software apps, so these were built with one workflow in mind.

I do wonder if in the future Blackmagic will sell additional panels that add more buttons and knobs or something crazy like a Smartscope through the Ethernet ports so I don’t have to buy additional SDI output hardware. Will everyone be ok with transport controls being placed on the right?

“We are always looking to design new products and features to help with the creative process,” says Blackmagic’s Bob Caniglia. “These new panels were designed to enable our growing number of Resolve users to be able access the power of DaVinci Resolve and Resolve Studio beyond a mouse and keyboard. The Micro and Mini control panels provide the perfect complement to our existing Advanced control panels.”

Blackmagic is really coming for everyone in the production and post world with recent moves like the acquisition of audio company Fairlight and realtime bluescreen and greenscreen removal hardware Ultimatte, providing Avid with their Media Composer DNx IOs, and even releasing an updated version of the Ursa camera, the Ursa Mini Pro. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget they provide one of the top color correction and editing apps on the market in DaVinci Resolve, and the latest color correction hardware like the Micro and Mini panels are primed to bring the next set of colorists into the Resolve world.

Oh, and as not to forget about the camera, the Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K is now available for $5,995. Here are some specs:

•  Digital film camera with 15 stops of dynamic range.
• Super 35mm 4.6K sensor with third-generation Blackmagic color science processing of raw sensor data.
• Interchangeable lens mount with EF mount included as standard. Optional PL and B4 lens mount available separately.
• High-quality 2, 4 and 6 stop ND filters with IR compensation designed to specifically match the colorimetry and color science of Ursa Mini Pro.
• Fully redundant controls including ergonomically designed tactile controls that allow direct access to the most important camera settings such as external power switch, ND filter wheel, ISO, shutter, white balance, record button, audio gain controls, lens and transport control, high frame rate button and more.
• Built-in dual C-Fast 2.0 recorders and dual SD/UHS-II card recorders allow unlimited duration recording in high quality.
• LCD status display for quickly checking timecode, shutter and lens settings, battery, recording status and audio levels.
• Support for CinemaDNG 4.6K RAW files and ProRes 4444 XQ, ProRes 4444, ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes 422 LT and ProRes 422 Proxy recording at Ultra HD and HD resolutions.
• Supports up to 60 fps 4.6K resolution capture in RAW.
• Features all standard connections, including dual XLR mic/line audio inputs with phantom power, 12G-SDI output for monitoring with camera status graphic overlay and separate XLR 4-pin power output for viewfinder power, headphone jack, LANC remote control and standard 4-pin 12V DC power connection.
• Built-in stereo microphones for recording sound.
• Four-inch foldout touchscreen for on-set monitoring and menu settings.

G-Tech 6-15

The A-List: La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Damien Chazelle may only have three feature films on his short resume, but the 32-year-old is already viewed by Hollywood as an acclaimed auteur and major talent. His latest film, the retro-glamorous musical La La Land, is a follow-up to his 2014 release Whiplash. That film received five Oscar nominations — including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle — and three wins, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons.

Now officially crowned as this year’s Oscar frontrunner, Lionsgate’s La La Land just scored a stunning total of 14 nominations (including Best Director), matching the record held by All About Eve and Titanic. It also recently scooped up seven Golden Globes, a record for a single movie, as well as a ton of other awards and nominations.

Damien Chazelle

Set in the present, but paying homage to the great Hollywood musicals of the ’40s and ’50s, La La Land tells the story of jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who meets aspiring actress, playwright and fan of old movies Mia (Emma Stone). They initially ignore each other, they talk, they fight — but mainly they break out of the conventions of everyday life as they break into song and dance at the drop of a hat and take us on an exuberant journey through their love affair in a movie that’s also an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics. It’s also a love letter to the Los Angeles of Technicolor dreams.

To bring La La Land to life, Chazelle collaborated with a creative team that included director of photography Linus Sandgren (known for his work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy), choreographer Mandy Moore, composer Justin Hurwitz, lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and editor Tom Cross who cut Whiplash for him.

I recently talked to Chazelle about making the film and his workflow.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports that the musical is dead have been greatly exaggerated. You obviously love them.
I do, and I also don’t think they’re just escapist fantasies. They usually tell you something about their era, and the idea was to match the tropes of those great old movies — the Fred and Ginger musicals — with modern life and all its demands. I’m a huge fan of all those old musicals, and I drew my inspiration from a wide mix of all the MGM musicals, the Technicolor and CinemaScope ones especially, and then all the films of Jacques Demy. He’s the French New Wave director who made The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and A Room in Town. But I was also inspired by ‘90s films about LA that really captured the grandeur of the city, like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or Pulp Fiction.

It’s interesting that all your films are so music-driven.
I used to be a jazz drummer — or a wannabe — so a lot of it comes from that. Probably frustrated ambition (laughs).

Is it true that you never used a hand double for Ryan Gosling when he was playing piano?
Completely true. He could play a little bit of basic piano stuff, and he’s definitely musical, but he was adamant right from the start that he would learn all the pieces and play them himself — and he did. He practiced intensely for four months before the shoot, and by the time we shot he could play. There’s no cheating. They’re his hands, even on the close-ups. That’s how committed he was.

The dancing must have been equally demanding for both Ryan and Emma?
It was. They both had a little dance experience — him more than her, I think, but fairly minimal and in different styles than this. So they had to do a lot of rehearsal and training, and Mandy Moore is a great dance instructor as well as a choreographer, so she did both at the same time — training them and building the choreography out of that and what suited each actor and each character. It was all very organic and tailored specifically for them.

The big opening dance sequence with all the cars is such a tour-de-force. Just how tough was that to pull off?
It was very tough. I had an amazing crew, and once we’d found this overpass ramp we had to figure out exactly how to shoot it for real with all these cars of different colors and eras, so there was a ton of insane logistics to deal with. That was going on while Mandy was working on all the choreography, either in the studio or in parking lots, since we couldn’t rehearse that much on location. The last thing to add was the crane. I’d storyboarded the whole sequence and shot a lot of the rehearsals on my iPhone so we could study them and see how we wanted to move the camera with the crane.

There’s been a lot of talk about it being one long uncut sequence. Is it?
No. We designed it to look like one shot but it’s actually three, stitched together invisibly, and we shot it over a weekend.

Talk about working with Linus Sandgren, who used anamorphic lenses and 35mm film to get that glamour look.
We had a great relationship, as every time I had an idea he’d one-up it, and vice-versa. So he really embraced all the challenges and set the tone with his enthusiasm. There was a lot of back and forth before and during the shoot. We wanted the camera to feel like a dancer, to become part of the choreography, to be very energetic, and we had this great Steadicam guy, Ari Robbins. He did amazing work executing these very difficult, fluid shots. I wanted the film to be very anamorphic, and today, scope films are usually shot in 2.40 to 1, but Linus thought it would be interesting to shoot it in 2.52 to 1 to give it the extra scope of those classic films. We talked to Panavision about it, and they actually custom-fit some lenses for us.

Do you like post?
I love it, especially the editing. It’s my favorite part of the whole process.

Tell us about working with editor Tom Cross. Was he on the set?
He visited a couple of times, but I think it’s better when editors are not there so they are more objective when they first see the coverage. He starts cutting while I shoot, and then we start. I like to be in the editing room every day, and the big challenge on this was finding the right tone.

While Whiplash was all about punctuated editing so it reflected the tempos and rhythms of the drumming, La La Land is the polar opposite. It’s all about lush curves, and Whiplash is a movie about hard right angles. So on this, it was all about calibrating a lot of details. We had a mass of footage — a lot ended up on the cutting room floor — and while some is heightened fantasy, some is like a realist drama. So we had to find a way for both to coexist, and that involved everything from minute tweaks to total overhauls. We actually cut the whole opening number at one point, then later put it back and dropped other scenes around it. There’s probably no number we didn’t cut at some point, so we tried all possibilities, and it took a while to get the tone and pacing right.

Where did you do the post?
At EPS-Cineworks in Burbank; then on the Fox lot. Justin, the composer, was also there working on score cues next door, and we had our sound team with us for a bit, way before the mix, doing sound design, so it was very collaborative. It was like a mini-factory. Crafty Apes did all the VFX, such as the planetarium sequence and flying through space sequence, as well as the more invisible stuff throughout the film.

Obviously, all the music and sound was crucial?
Yes, and it helped that we had a lot of the score done before we shot. Justin was with us for the edit, and we’d do temp stuff for screenings and then tweak things. I had a great sound team led by Andy Nelson, who were phenomenal. Just like with the VFX, it had to somehow be small and intimate while also being huge and epic. It couldn’t be too glossy, so all the music was recorded acoustically and the vocals are all dry with very little reverb or compression, and we mixed in Atmos at Fox.

Where did you do the DI?
On the Fox lot with colorist Natasha Leonnet from EFilm. She did Whiplash for me and she’s very experienced. The DP and her set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot, and then Linus and I’d go in for the DI and alternate on sessions. Our final session was literally 48 hours long non-stop — no sleep, no trips outdoors — as we were so under the wire to finish. But it all turned out great, and I’m very pleased with the look and the final film. It’s the film I wanted to make.


Review: Polaroid camera accessories

By Brady Betzel

When you hear the name Polaroid, your mind likely serves up an image of an instant camera, but that image might vary depending on your age. Not long ago, the once ubiquitous company sold off its last instant film factory — to a very interesting company named Impossible — and began to produce new cameras for the digital age as well as boatloads of camera accessories. (Check out their refurbished Polaroid format cameras and film here.)

You can pretty much find anything you want among Polaroid’s offerings, from sliders to their own HD action camera. For this article, I chose to focus on three camera accessories that I think every prosumer videographer could make use of. Because, let’s be honest, many editors and video pros shoot their own projects on the side, so why not be outfitted for the job? And let’s not forget those filmmakers who aren’t precious about getting just the right shot, whether it’s with a Canon DSLR or a GoPro.

Panorama Pan Head
Up first is the Polaroid remote controlled 360-degree Panorama Pan Head. It’s a small, mountable, remote-controllable, motorized pan mount for your GoPro, smart phone or any camera weighing around 1.2 pounds. Physically, it’s a little smaller than a tennis ball. It has fold-out legs that can act as a surprisingly sturdy stand, or it can be mounted to a standard tripod via its ¼-inch screw mount.

Since I love to shoot using GoPro cameras, I wanted to test this out with my Hero 5 Black Edition. Along with the pan head, you get a detachable GoPro Mount, a smart phone holder to get those panoramic pictures and a remote.

The remote has a less-than-awesome design, but it works! Once you mount your camera of choice, you can go left and right, faster and slower, press one button to rotate the camera 75 degrees and return home, or set up a rotational timelapse by telling it to rotate five degrees every 10 seconds.

If you are looking at this for panoramic shots on your iPhone or Samsung Android phone, you can connect the Bluetooth and use the remote as a wireless shutter trigger. I have to say that the Bluetooth connected easily and quickly, which doesn’t always happen in life, so I was particularly happy about that. The pan head is rechargeable via an included micro USB cable. It only took me a few hours to recharge, but the manual says up to eight hours for a full charge.

In my experience, the pan head isn’t a necessary piece of equipment. It’s more a fun piece of niche hardware that you will use in few shoots. If you shoot a ton of panoramic shots and want them to be consistent then the pan head is for you. The timelapse feature is interesting but I’ve messed around with some “egg timers” that people have retrofitted with 1/4-inch screw mounts that have been just as good and cost a lot less. You can find this Polaroid 360 Pan Head on Amazon.com for $49.99.

Track Slider
Up next is the Polaroid 24-inch Rail Track Slider. There are a lot of sliders on the market and some for almost impossibly cheap prices. The Polaroid slider comes in two varieties: 24-inch and 48-inch. I do a lot of product shooting for these reviews, so the 24-inch was just the right size for me.

I tested it out with a ball head tripod mount holding a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and zoom lens. Sliders really add another level of professionalism to any video, so if you are looking to take your shots to the next level definitely buy a camera slider. A few pushes and slides really make a difference and add some great dimensionality to any shot. Polaroid’s slider has detachable and adjustable legs, tension adjustment on the carriage itself to adjust slide speeds and a ¼-inch screw mount on the bottom to mount onto a tripod.

In addition, it has ¼-inch mounts on either side of the slider to mount it vertically to a tripod. I used the slider quite a few times and noticed that it worked well. I also noticed that the sliding of the carriage wasn’t always consistent; even when I was super-cautious and careful I would get some bumps. The carriage screw wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked, but for $99 you need to remember you aren’t getting a $1,700 Syrp motion-controlled slider. The slider itself is relatively light, comes in a very sturdy bag with handles and transports easily.

65-Inch Varipod
Last on the list is the Polaroid 65-inch Varipod — a telescoping monopod with removable tripod balance stand. Polaroid has really stuck to keeping prices low with their accessories, and they continue with the Varipod, which is priced at $49.99. While cheap, the monopod is very sturdy. I didn’t have a problem mounting my Canon DSLR with lens.

I was feeling particularly brave and decided to let the monopod hold my DSLR by itself — the Varipod held up just fine. The Varipod can get up to 65-inches tall, but I never needed it to go that high. One trick hidden inside the screw mount is that you can flip over the ⅜-inch screw and on the bottom is a ¼-inch screw mount. The best part about the Varipod is the detachable legs. If you want to take the legs off and use them as a sort of table tripod you can.

Summing Up
Polaroid has thrown every camera accessory against the wall to see what sticks. While the monopod and the pan head are interesting, and if you need them you will know, the real gem is the Polaroid 24-inch slider. If you buy one accessory other than a sweet lens, lighting or a tripod, you need to buy a slider. For $99 you really get a great starting slider and may never need to buy one again. I warn you though, once you start using the slider you might get sucked down the motorized slider rabbit hole.

You can find these Polaroid accessories on Amazon.com for purchase.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.


A one-man production band… on wheels

Capturing an event with pro know-how and flexible tools

By David Hurd

I recently had an opportunity to shoot a gala event at a mall for the Tampa Innovation Alliance. The CEOs of all the big local companies, as well as the mayor were there, along with 600 guests. The event was held in the large space that used to be an Old Navy store, and there were booths out in the mall that needed coverage as well.

The plan was for Tracy, the interviewer, to get short interviews with the VIPs before the sit down part of the event and then I would record the speakers. The footage would then be edited down into a five-minute 720p YouTube video.

Because of the many set-ups, and the size of the venue, I needed a rig that was quick and portable. I started with a pair of American Grip Dana Dolly Baby Combo Stands on wheels. These things are awesome and built like tanks. I then attached a 48-inch SmartSystem slider to the top of the stands and a Manfrotto head and pan bar. The 48-inch SmartSystem slider can take a lot of weight and allows me to use any camera rig.

I assembled the rig in the parking lot, and just rolled it into the mall. During the shoot, I used the slider to re-position shots quickly when the crowd got in my way, and it came in handy for creating moving shots as well. Let’s talk about the camera.

My Gear
I have grown to love my Blackmagic 4K production camera for jobs like these. I use a 35mm Rokinon lens, which due to the crop factor ends up at around 50mm. Indoors, I set it to Film mode (iso 800) and a color balance of 4000, which always seems to work best. I also turn on the 2:35 mask so that I have an idea of what the image will look like later.

The Rokinon lens is f1.3, so it does well in low light. Since I was going to be constantly on the move, I just used available light. Did I mention that the lighting inside the event looked like a dark bar? That’s where Film mode (iso 800) and the lens saved my butt.

For important jobs, I record a 220Mb/sec stream in ProRes 422HQ, otherwise ProRes 422 100Mb/sec works fine for the web. You will only see the difference when you zoom in a lot in post. For power, I used a V-mount Blueshape battery. Blueshape batteries are what professionals are changing to. The one I used that night lasted the whole shoot.

For audio, I use the amazing little JuicedLink BMC366 mixer for Blackmagic cameras. It’s small, lightweight, and has everything I need. I used a Shure VP64 mic, plugged into a Sennheiser RF transmitter in one channel of the mixer for the interviews. I also needed the house audio for the sit-down speeches. For this I used a Sennheiser lav transmitter plugged into a sub out on the house mixer via a 1/4-inch jack. Since the jack was mono and the mixer was stereo, I only pushed in the jack to the first click to avoid shorting it out. After adjusting the in and out levels, the Sennheiser transmitted the house audio to wherever I was in the room.

Interviews
The interview part of the shoot went something like this: Tracy walked around with his mic in hand, finding interview victims. I followed him, happily pushing my rig along. When one was found, I directed them into position to make use of available light, framed for a wide shot, focused and hit record. It was painless, and the process took about one to three minutes per interview.

When everyone went inside for the sit-down part of the evening, I found a place off to one side of the stage, about 30 feet from the podium. Using the same lens, I could get most of the stage in the shot. After a quick battery change in the house audio transmitter, I was ready to rock.

About an hour later, after the event, we stood by the exit and snagged people for interviews as they were leaving. Then I rolled the rig to the parking lot, took it apart, loaded it up, and headed home for the edit.

The Edit
The edit is where the magic happens. Thunderbolt is wonderful, and I have built up a system that is fairly state of the art, so that I don’t have to wait much while editing.

I called on a Mac Pro “Trash Can” with 64GB of memory and 12GB of GPU processing on the two video cards. The computer is connected to four G-Tech G-Speed esPro drive boxes via two HighPoint RocketStor 6328 RAID controllers. Each controller is connected to its own TB channel. Each set of two boxes (eight drives) is a RAID-5, and all 16 drives are striped RAID-0 in OS X. The system reads data at 2000MB/sec and writes at over 1700MB/sec. — perfect for 4K editing.

For viewing, there are two 32-inch monitors, one of which is a Boland broadcast monitor run through a Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K interface box via SDI.

The workflow is easy. I simply drop the SSDs from the Blackmagic camera into my RocketStor 5212, which transfers the data via Thunderbolt to my RAID really fast. I record on OWC 480GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G SSD cards, so the transfer rate is over 550MB/sec.

In Apple FCPX I create a 720p timeline and when I import the 4K footage, I select “Leave Files in Place.” Basically, I am dropping roughly 2000×4000 pixel footage onto a 720×1280 pixel timeline.

For more of a “film” look, I place a 2:35 aspect ratio mask that I made in Photoshop over the footage. Now, I simply open up the scopes and color correct the footage, which is much easier to do before it’s all cut up.

My intention was to have the original wide shot, and zoomed-in medium and close-up shots, so first I had to see where I wanted to cut them. To do this I had to go through the footage and make cuts with the Blade tool. For example, I may start close-up on Tracy and go to a two-shot when he introduces his guest. Then I go to the guest when he says something interesting and then back to a two-shot for the close.

With the cuts made, I clicked on the clips, re-sized them and moved them around into the medium and close-up shots. Because I had about 2000×4000 pixels to work with, I was able to zoom in up to 300 percent and still have pixel-to-pixel coverage. If the shot was in focus, but looked a little soft, I would call on a sharpen filter to fix it.

Since I shoot with a Prime lens, there is no zoom. If the client wants a slow zoom, I just use keyframes. This is actually better than trying to zoom in and out at the event, where there are no re-takes.

This rig and workflow turned what would have been a lot of lifting and moving about in a crowded space into an efficient one-man shoot. I didn’t have to worry about zooming, or getting the exact framing, which removed a lot of stress. I got 90 minutes of footage, and I only needed five.

This story has a happy ending. The client was pleased with the video, and I got paid.


David Hurd is the owner of David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Florida. He has been in the business for over 40 years.


Jaunt One pro VR camera available for rent from AbelCine

Thanks to an expanding rental plan, the Jaunt One cinematic VR camera is being made available through AbelCine, a provider of products and services to the production, broadcast and new media industries. AbleCine has locations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Jaunt One 24G model camera — which features 24 global shutter sensors, is suited for low-light and fast-moving objects, and has the ability to couple with 360-degree ambisonic audio recording — will be available to rent from AbelCine. Creators will also have access to AbelCine’s training, workshops and educational tools for shooting in VR.

The nationwide availability of the Jaunt One camera, paired with access to the company’s end-to-end VR pipeline, provides filmmakers, creators and artists with the hardware and software (through Jaunt Cloud Services) solutions for shooting, producing and distributing immersive cinematic VR experiences (creators can submit high-quality VR content for distribution directly to the Jaunt VR app through the Jaunt Publishing program).

“As we continue to open the Jaunt pipeline to the expanding community of VR creators, AbelCine is a perfect partner to not only get the Jaunt One camera in the hands of filmmakers, but also to educate them on the opportunities in VR,” says Koji Gardiner, VP of hardware engineering at Jaunt. “Whether they’re a frequent experimenter of new mediums or a proven filmmaker dabbling in VR for the first time, we want to equip creators of all backgrounds with everything needed to bring their stories to life.”

Jaunt is also expanding its existing rental program with LA-based Radiant Images to increase the number of cameras available to their customers.

 


Digging Deep: Sony intros the PXW-FS7 II camera

By Daniel Rodriguez

At a press event in New York City a couple of weeks ago, Sony unveiled the long-rumored follow-up to its extremely successful Sony PXW FS7 — the Sony PXW-FS7 II. With the new FS7 II, Sony dives deeper in the mid-level cinematographer/ videographer market that it firmly established with the FS100, FS700, FS7 and the more recent Sony FS5.

Knowing they are competing with cameras of other similarly priced brands, Sony has built upon a line that fulfills most technical and ergonomic needs. Sony prides itself on listening to videographers and cinematographers who make requests and suggestions from first-hand field experience, and it’s clear that they’ve continued to listen.

New Features
The Sony FS7 II might be the first camera where you can feel the deep care and consideration from Sony for those who have used the FS7 extensively, in regards to improvements. Although the body and overall design might seem nearly identical to the original FS7, the FS7 II has made subtle but important ergonomic improvements to the camera’s design.

Improving on their E-mount design, Sony has introduced a lever locking mechanism much how a PL mount functions. Unlike the PL mount, the new lever lock rotates counter-clockwise but provides a massive amount of support, especially since there is a secondary latch that prevents you from accidentally turning the lever back. The mount has been tested to support the same weight as traditional PL mounts, and larger cinema zooms can be easily mounted without the need of a lens support. Due to its short flange distance, Sony’s E-mount has become very popular with users for adapting almost all stills and cinema lenses to Sony cameras, and with this added support there is reduced risk and concern when adding lens adapters.

The camera body’s corners and edges have all been rounded out, allowing users to have a much more comfortable control of the camera. This is especially helpful for handheld use when the camera might be pressed up against someone’s body or under their arm. Considering things like operating below the underarm and at the waist, Sony has redesigned the arm grip, and most of the body, to be tool-less. The arm grip no longer requires tools to be adjusted and now uses two knobs to allow easy adjustments. This saves much needed time and maximizes comfort.

The viewfinder can now be extended further in either direction with a longer rod, which benefits left-eye dominant operators. The microphone holder is no longer permanently attached to the other side of the rod so it can either be adapted to the left side of camera to allow viewing the monitor to the right of the camera or it could be removed altogether. Sony has also made the viewfinder collapsible for those who’d rather just view the monitor. The viewfinder rod is now square shaped to allow uniform horizontal aligning in the framing in relation to the cameras balancing. This stemmed from operators confusing their framing by believing framing was crooked due to how the viewfinder was aligned, even if the camera was perfectly balanced.

Sony really kept the smaller suggestions in mind by making the memory card slots protrude more than on the original FS7. This allows for loaders to more easily access the memory card should they be wearing something that inhibits their grip, like gloves. Compatibility with the newer G-series XQD cards, which boast an impressive 440MBps write and 400MBps read speed, allowing FS7 II users to quickly dump their footage on the field without the worry of running out of useable memory cards.

Coming straight out the box is the FS7 II’s ability to do internal 4K DCI (4096×2160) without the need for upgrades or HDMI output. This 4K can be captured in nearly every codec, whether in XAVC, ProRes 422HQ, or RAW, with the option of HyperGammas, Slog-3 or basic 709. RAW output will be available to the camera, but like its siblings, an external recorder will still be required to do so. The FS7 II will also be capable of recording Sony’s version of compressed RAW, XOCN, which allows 16-bit 3:1 recording to an external recorder. Custom 3D LUTs will still be available to be uploaded into the camera. This allows more of a cinematographer’s touch when using a custom LUT, rather than factory presets.

Electronic Internal Variable ND
The most exciting feature of the Sony FS7 II — and the one that really separates this camera from the FS7 — is the introduction of an Electronic Internal Variable ND. Introduced originally in the FS5, the new options that the FS7 II has over the FS5 with this new Electronic Variable ND makes this a very promising camera and an improvement over its older sibling.

Oftentimes with similarly priced cameras, or ones that offer the same options, there is either a lack of internal NDs or a limited amount of internal ND control, which is either too much or not enough when it comes to exposure control. The term Variable ND is also approached with caution from videographers/cinematographers with concerns of color shifts and infrared pollution, but Sony has taken care of these precautions by having an IR cut filter over the sensor. This way, no level of ND will introduce any color shifts or infrared pollution. It’s also often easy to break the bank buying IR NDs to prevent infrared pollution, and the constant swapping of ND filters might prove a disadvantage when it comes to being time-efficient, which could also lead you to open or close your F-stop to compensate.

Compromising your F-stop is often an unfortunate reality when shooting — indoors or outdoors — and it’s extremely exciting to have a feature that allows you to adjust your exposure flawlessly without worrying about having the right ND level or adjusting your F-stop to compensate. It’s also exciting to know that you can adjust the ND filter without having to see a literal filter rotate in front of your image. The Electronic Variable ND can be adjusted from the grip as well, so you can essentially ride the iris without having to touch your F-stop and risk your depth of field being inconsistent.

closeup-settingsAs with most modern-day lenses that lack manual exposure, riding the iris is simply out of the question due to mechanical “clicked” irises and the very obvious exposure shift when changing the F-stop on one of these lenses. This is eliminated by letting the Variable ND do all the work and allowing you to leave your F-stop untouched. The Electronic Variable ND on manual mode allows you to smoothly transition between 0.6ND to 2.1ND in one-third increments.

Recording in BT
Another exciting new addition to the FS7 II is the ability to record in BT. 2020 (more commonly known as Rec. 2020) internally in UHD. While this might seem excessive to some, considering this camera is still a step below its siblings the F55 and F65 as far as use in productions where HDR deliverables are required, providing the option to shoot Rec. 2020 futureproofs this camera for years to come especially when Rec. 2020 monitoring and projection becomes the norm. Companies like Netflix usually request an HDR deliverable for their original programs so despite the FS7 II not being on the same level as the F55/F65, it shows it can deliver the same level of quality.

While the camera can’t boast a global shutter like its bigger sibling, the F55, the FS7 does show very capable rolling shutter with little to no skewing effects. In the FS7 II’s case it is preferable to retain rolling shutter over global because as a camera that leans slightly toward the commercial/videography spectrum of cinematography, it is preferable to retain a native ISO of 2000 and the full 14 stops over global shutter, which is easy to overlook and use cost much-needed dynamic range.

This exclusion of global shutter retains the native ISO of the FS7II at 2000 ISO, which is the same as the previous FS7. Retaining this native ISO puts the FS7 II above many similar priced video cameras whose native ISOs usually sit at 800. While the FS7 II may not be a low-light beast like the Sony a7s/a7sii, the ability to do internal 4K DCI, higher frame rates and record 10-bit 422HQ (and even RAW) greatly outweigh this loss in exposure.

The SELP18110G 18-110 F4.0 Servo Zoom
Alongside the Sony FS7 II, Sony has announced a new zoom lens to be released alongside the camera. Building off what they have introduced before with the Sony FE PZ 28-135 F4 G, the 18-110 F4 is a very powerful lens optically and the perfect companion to the FS7 II. The lens is sharp to the edges; doesn’t drop focus while zooming in and out; has no breathing whatsoever; has a quiet internal zoom, iris, and focus control; internal stabilization; and a 90-second zoom crawl from end to end. The lens covers Super 35mm and APSC-sized sensors and retains a constant f4 throughout each focal length.

It’s multi-coating allows for high contrast and low flaring with circular bokeh to give truly cinematic images. Despite its size, the lens only weighs 2.4 pounds, a weight easily supported by the FS7 II’s lever-locking E mount. Though it isn’t an extremely fast lens, paired with a camera like the FS7 II, which has a native ISO of 2000, the 18-110 F4 should prove to be a very useable lens on the field and as well in narrative work.

Final Impressions
This camera is very specifically designed for camerapersons who either have a very small camera team or shoot as individuals. Many of the new features, big and small, are great additions for making any project go down smoothly and nearly effortlessly. While its bigger siblings the F55 and F65 will still dominate major motion picture production and commercial work, this camera has all its corners covered to fill the freelance videographer/cinematographer’s needs.

Indie films, short films, smaller commercial and videography work will no doubt find this camera to be hugely beneficial and give as few headaches as possible. Speed and efficiency are often the biggest advantage on smaller productions and this camera easily handles and facilitates the most overlooked aspects of video production.

The specs are hard to pass up when discussing the Sony FS7 II. Hearing of a camera that does internal 4K DCI with the option of high frame rates at 10-bit 422HQ with 14 stops of dynamic range and the option to shoot in Slog3 or one of the many HyperGammas for faster deliverables should immediately excite any videographer/cinematographer. Many cinematographers making feature or short films have grown accustomed to shooting RAW, and unless they rent the external recorder, or buy it, they will be unable to do so with this camera. But with the high write speeds of the internal codecs, it’s difficult to argue that, despite a few minor features being lost, the internal video will retain a massive amount of information.

This camera truly delivers on providing nearly any ergonomic and technical need, and by anticipating future display formats with Rec.2020, this shows that Sony is very conscious of future-proofing this camera. The physical improvements on the camera have shown that Sony is very open and eager to hear suggestions and first-hand experiences from FS7 users, and no doubt any suggestions on the FS7 II will be taken into mind.

The Electronic Variable ND is easily the best feature of the camera since so much time in the field will be saved by not having to swap NDs, and the ability to shift through increments between the standard ND levels will be hugely beneficial to get your exposure right. Being able to adjust exposure mid shot without having filters come between the image will be a great feature to those shooting outdoors or working events where the lighting is uneven. Speed cannot be emphasized enough, and by having such a massively advantageous feature you are just cutting more and more time from whatever production you’re working.

Pairing up the camera with the new 18-110 F4 will make a great camera package for location shooting since you will be covered for nearly every focal length and have a sharp lens that has servo zooming, internal stabilization and low flaring. The lens might be off-putting to some narrative filmmakers, since it only opens to a F4.0 and isn’t fast by other lens standards, but with the quality and attention to optic performance the lens should be considered seriously alongside other lenses that aren’t quite cinema lenses but have been used heavily so far in the narrative world. With the native ISO of 2000, one should be able to shoot comfortably wide open or closed down with proper lighting and for films done mostly in natural light this lens should be highly considered.

Oftentimes when choosing a camera, the biggest question isn’t what the camera has but what it will cost. Since Sony isn’t discontinuing the original FS7, the FS7 II will be more expensive, and when considering BP-U60 batteries and XQD cards the price will only climb. I think despite these shortcomings, one must always consider the price of storage and power when upgrading your camera system. More powerful cameras will no doubt require faster cards and bigger power supplies, so these costs must be seen as investments.

While XQD cards might be considered pricey to some, especially those who are more familiar with buying and using SD cards, I consider jumping into the XQD card world a necessary step to develop your video capabilities. CFast cards are becoming the norm in higher-end digital cinema, especially when the FS7 II is being heavily considered.

Compromise is often expected in any level of production, be it technically, logistically or artistically. After getting an impression of what the FS7 II can provide and facilitate in any production scenario I feel this is one of the few cameras that will take away feelings of compromise from what you as a user can provide.

The FS7 II will be available in January 2017 for an estimated street price of $10,000 (body only) and $13,000 for the camcorder with 18-110mm power zoom lens kit.


Daniel Rodriguez is cinematographer and photographer living in New York City. Check out his work here. Dan took many of the pictures featured in this article.


Red shipping Epic-W and new Weapon cameras

Red Digital Cinema is shipping two new cameras — the Red Epic-W and the newest Weapon. Both feature the compact design of the DSMC2 form factor, as well as the new Helium 8K S35 sensor. Helium, Red’s latest sensor technology, allows for higher resolution in an S35 frame while maintaining the dynamic range found in the Red Dragon sensor.

The Epic-W 8K S35 captures 8K full-frame motion at up to 30fps, produces ultra-detailed 35.4 megapixel stills and offers Super 35 lens coverage. Epic-W is capable of data speeds up to 275 MB/s and is priced at $29,500 (for the camera Brain).

red_weapon_8k_s35The Weapon 8K S35 is the latest option in the Weapon line of cameras, featuring data speeds up to 300MB/s, the ability to capture 8K full frame motion at up to 60fps, and a sensor upgrade path to the Red Dragon 8K VV. It is available for the same price as the Weapon 6K with Red Dragon sensor, at $49,500 for the Brain.

“From the very beginning, we’ve strived to not only develop the best imaging technology on the planet, but also make it available to as many shooters as possible,” Says Jarred Land, President of Red Digital Cinema. “The Weapon remains our premier camera… and now comes with the option to either go with the 8K Helium sensor or 6K Dragon sensor.

Red is offering special pricing on these new cameras for registered Red camera owners — as well as those that have placed a deposit for Red Raven and Scarlet-W — starting at $14,500 for the Epic-W. Click here for more info.

In related news, Red has pre-announced that it will introduce an improved image processing pipeline, including new color science, in the coming weeks. These improvements will be available in-camera on all Brains with a Helium sensor, and will be available to all footage shot on Redcameras in post production. The new image processing pipeline will be made available soon via free firmware and software upgrades.

All of Red’s DSMC2 cameras shoot simultaneous RedCode RAW and Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD/HR.


Nat Geo’s Bertie Gregory shares tips for managing video in the field

Bertie Gregory may be only 22 years old, but he’s already worked at National Geographic magazine, won the 2015 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and is filming Nat Geo WILD’s first online natural history series.

The show, called wild_life, launched on August 3. Each episode finds Gregory (@BertieGPhoto) seeking out wildlife — salmon, black bears, wolves, etc. — to capture with his cameras. We asked this very busy young Englishman about how he manages his workflow during his 18- to 20-hour days in the field.

Here are Gregory’s Top 5 tips:
1) Have a Backup Plan
Before you set foot in the field, find a data backup system that works for you and stick to it. You’re not always going to be at your best when you’re transferring data from one location to another, and you don’t want to make a mistake. Take time before filming to run through your backup procedures so that there are no surprises.

When downloading from my camera, I always make three copies — one to be stored in a separate geographic location and the other two on me. With file sizes being as large as they are now, having a good workflow in place is absolutely essential. I can aspire to be the best tracker or camera operator, but if we don’t have everything dialed in on the back end, then none of that matters.

2) Choose Reliable Equipment
There are many storage manufacturers competing in the market right now, which has been great for consumers, but be sure that you’re choosing equipment not only based on its price, but also its reliability and durability. There’s plenty of bargain-basement hardware out there that might cost a fraction of their higher-quality counterparts, but they’re likely to let you down exactly at the wrong time.

Between being stuffed in a backpack and overzealous airport baggage handlers, my equipment can really take a beating, so I tend to invest in equipment that might be a bit more expensive initially, but will easily save me significant amounts of time, money and effort over the long-term.

My equipment list:
Cameras:
– Red Dragon
– Canon C300
– Sony FS7
– Multiple GoPros
Computer:
– MacBook Pro

Storage:
– 20TB LaCie 5big Thunderbolt 2
– Multiple 4TB LaCie Rugged RAID drives

3) Choose Speed
I shoot a lot of footage — more than 500 GB on some days — and there’s nothing more soul-crushing than wrapping up 15 hours of filming and realizing that you still have hours of work ahead of you just to back up your data. When I get finished with a day’s shooting, all I want to do is get horizontal as fast as possible. That means I need fast transfer speeds. Look for backup storage devices that use Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 interfaces, and which also incorporate RAID technology to improve both speed and reliability.

4) Get Rid of Distractions
Making one mistake can ruin an entire day’s worth of time, money and effort when you’re backing up your footage. When I’m downloading, I do it in a quiet location without distractions. Just like with everything else in life, you’re going to do a better, quicker job if you have your full attention on the task at hand. Admittedly, this is easier to do in the wilds of Canada than in an office somewhere, but quiet places do exist, even in the modern office.

5) Keep With Your Plan
When you have the right equipment, people and plan in place, you’re ready to go — as long as you keep to that plan. But with the long days, the thankless nature of backing up your data and the strains that being in the field can put on you, it can be very easy at some point down the road to just not keep with the plan.

“Oh, I’ll just do it tomorrow” becomes, “Eh, I can do it this weekend,” which becomes, “Wait, when was the last time I backed up my data?” And while you may get lucky and not suffer a mishap while your data is vulnerable, you’re playing with fire every time you put off backing up your data. Keep to your plan, follow your backup schedule and you won’t ever have to worry.


Check out more on wild_life on Nat Geo Wild.

Triptent intros robotic arm for high-speed cinematography

Triptent has introduced Robic, a custom-developed robotic arm system designed for high-speed cinematography. Robic is a fully programmable camera arm that allows for precise movement up to 105 miles per hour to capture and follow motion in laser-sharp focus at 2,500 frames per second. Robic is available now for productions, exclusively through Triptent, and is compatible with pro cameras, including the Phantom HD, Flex 4K, Red Epic and the Arri Alexa Mini.

“Together with our longtime collaborator, director/technologist/inventor Fernando Kocking, we decided to develop a custom solution allowing our clients a way to create shots that we’ve never been able to capture before in-camera,” explains Joe Masi, founder at Triptent. “With Robic, we can follow the action in realtime — a ballerina on pointe as she leaps into the air, a glass propelled by gravity as it crashes to the ground, the trajectory of a baseball through the air after a hit. Robic is the first rig to offer such laser-focused images even at high speeds. Using Robic’s infrared motion sensors, we can produce motion control shots that don’t require CGI, layering or effects because everything is captured precisely in live action.”

Robic is built around a set of robotic arms developed by world robotics leader Staubli, which were then custom engineered via a software toolset written by Kocking to specifically service high-speed cinematography workflows. Robic can capture not only tabletop and product footage, but also people and objects, enabling new possibilities in sports, performance, automotive, beauty and lifestyle shoots.

The current Robic set-up includes four motion control arms, all fully synchronized to capture a shot with ultimate precision even though it may be a millisecond in time. Two of the robotic arms, together with the custom Robic software, are designed to control cameras, and two are designed to control objects. The camera control arms can be used alone, or can be programmed to follow the movements of an object mounted on another Robic arm for perfectly synced capture. The system has also been designed so that camera arms can be controlled and programmed very simply via a videogame controller, dramatically reducing prep time.

The Robic system is transportable and can be set up on a stage or on location, and is already in use on commercial projects. See it in action: