I recently did a shoot with a full set of Canon's Cine primes. This is not going to be an in depth lens comparison, but rather a few thoughts after using these lenses for a one day shoot. The first thing to say is that these are reasonably priced, especially when bought in a set, rather than individually. The set of 6 lenses I used was bought for £12k.
My first worry with these lenses is that they would just be re housed Canon EOS L series Primes. I was impressed straight away with my first shot. I took the camera outside and the lens flare was beautiful. The sun caught the lens and sent a row of perfectly round colour spots across the lens. This is something you just don't get on a smaller stills lens.
Obviously having lenses housed in a tough metal construction that is designed for film use is a massive plus. I won't go into it too much as this is pretty obvious, but having an infinity at a hard stop at the end of the lens, manual iris control and a decent 300 degree focus throw are all very useful features when shooting video. Also, if you have a focus puller, proper distance marks on both sides of the lens is a big help.
The next thing that jumped out to me was the out of focus bokeh. Lights that would normally have an octagonal stop sign look were perfectly round. This is due to the fact the lenses have 11 iris blades. Below are a couple of low res pulls from the shoot, in each case the background lights are round.
Each of the above shots were from the Canon CN-E 50mm. The interview vox pop shot was not wide open, more like T2.0 The final shot is of somone looking at a cinema screen and was pretty much wide open.
In general the lenses were great to work with: not too heavy and really smooth iris and focus control.
The full 6 lens set look like this:
I absolutely loved the 50mm. Even wide open it seemed so sharp. I have a Canon EF 1.4f, which is a great lens, but I normally keep it stopped down to around 2.0f, 1.8f at a push, but with the Cine primes I regularly opened them right up and was really happy that the image didn't turn to mush. Through the view finder the focal plane looked tack sharp.
B&H are currently selling this set of 6 for $24k.
In the past I have used the Sony F55 for a day or two, but having just spent a week with it on a shoot, I thought I'd write a few notes on my experience. This might help you out if you have a shoot coming up on the F5 or F55 and want a few basic tips and tricks. (Users more familiar with the F55 will be better of looking a Alister Chapman's blog where the camera is covered in incredible detail.)
Shooting with the Sony F55 in the Saudi Arabian desert.
In order to get the best out of the camera and use the full 14 stops of DR available I shot with the S-Log 3 cine-ei mode. This image is VERY flat. Productions might steer away from super flat images if they are worried about time in the grade. That said, there are plenty of LUTs available now that will bring your footage in to line pretty quickly. To my mind if you are going to the effort of shooting on a high end camera, it is probably worth while using it to its full capabilities. There is of course the option to apply a LUT to the output, but I was confident the editor was very experienced and would be able to get the best out of the image.
The first thing to say about using S-log3 in Cine-ei mode is that your white balance can now only be selected by the presets and you can't manually dial in the exact temperature (but then you shouldn't need to shooting Slog). Changing ISO will not effect the image the camera records and it will continue to record at native ISO. The only problem with this is I found very hard to focus, especially in low light conditions. The easy solution to this was put a REC 709 LUT through the viewfinder. (Canon C300 users will be used to doing a similar thing when using Clog together with "view assist".) I found myself switching the 709 LUT on and off in the viewfinder occasionally so that I could check that the actual S-log footage looked as expected. Another option would be to attach a small monitor to the camera and feed the slog output to it.
NB On the side panel of the F55 you can switch viewfinder MLUT on and off after selecting the "Camera" button.
I liked shooting with the REC709 in the viewfinder for monitor exposure and focusing, but found it a bit annoying that this feature couldn't be used when shooting high frame rates. Once in HFR mode I was back to looking at a flat washed out image. A solution to this is to assign the view finder "high contrast" mode to the side of the camera. This helped with the focusing, but for low light shooting I found it actually made the situation worse. Adding contrast meant even more of the picture was darker and focus was difficult. Having the feature assigned to the side of the camera meant I could flick it on and off depending on the lighting conditions and this helped a lot.
On a side note, it did make me think, if I was going to buy the F5 or F55 I would definitely check out Zacuto's gratical evf to see if was better or worse than the Sony OLED viewfinder.
Shooting with the F55 in down town Riyadh, with plenty of lights to cause strobing.
One place where the F55 really excels is it's high frame rate shooting. I loved using this. When you first try to switch the camera to a high frame rate using the buttons on the side of the camera, it will only go up as far as 60fps. In order to access anything faster, you need to go into the menu and select HFR mode and switch it to from "off" to "Full Scan" or "Centre Scan" if you want to crop the sensor. In this mode you can only go as low as 66fps, so if you want to go back to a lower frame rate (such as 50fps or 60fps) you need to go back into the menu and switch the HFR mode back to "off".
The great thing about the F55 is that it is just so flexible here. I was shooting for a 25 fps production, but was shooting in a 110 60HZ country, so immediately you have the issue of flickering lights. However, the F55 is so versitile it is really easy to get around. One option is to match up the FPS with the local country's electricity. For 60HZ countries slow mo rates of 60fps and 120fps are going to offer less flicker. Using these rates, it is easiest to switch the camera to shutter degrees, let the camera sit at 180 degrees and then you don't have to touch the shutter when shifting between slow and fast frame rates.
If however you can't shoot at multiples of 60 and you need to shoot at say 50fps to give you half speed for a 25p project, then I find it easier to switch the shutter to fractions rather than angles (my maths is terrible and it would take me too long to work out the angle needed). With fractions selected for your shutter you can then just add the multiple of 60 here. So if you were shooting 50 frames for 25p you would normally shoot at 1/100 shutter but being that the electrical system is 60 HZ you will get less flicker at 1/120.
Whether you are using your shutter at angles or speed it you can scrol down to "continuous" and dial in the exact number needed. This is invaluble and allows you to adjust the number until the flickering disappears.
Over all I found the F55 good to work with. It has a serious heft to it, especially as I was shooting with Canon's 17-120 PL mount, which is a bit of a beast. I found it pretty comfortable for handheld work, using the Arri rig and the basic shoulder pad that comes with the camera. The menu system is fairly large, as with all Sony cameras, so it is worth having a long look around it before shooting as there is a lot that is very useful in there. Assigning buttons to the outside to quickly access what you need is also a big help.
Here is the thing, we started off with a nice chunky Beta SP/Digi Beta/DSR or whatever that sat comfortably on our shoulders. It was perfectly balanced, had a useable eyepeice and it came like that straight out of the box. Then we suddenly realised DSLRs produced fantastic images and since then we have been fiddling around with ever stranger rigs to make some weired box of a beast sit on our shoulder.
In this group of weired boxy cameras I include Canon C100/C300, Sony A7s, Blackmagic Design, RED, Sony FS7 etc etc, the list goes on and on. Decent rigs typically cost quite a bit, there is nothing worse than working with some cheap half-arsed piece of junk, so you end up spending money. The problem with this is, these days you might only keep your camera a few years, before you need to upgrade, and then that really expensive rig you bought is now useless.
My second big gripe with most rigs is that they mount the camera too high on the shoulder. Older cameras were build with a curve where your shoulder would go. Newer cameras have flat bases, mount these on a rig and they are too high: they are both unstable as they are top heavy and the LCD or view-finder is then above your eye. It might only be an inch too high, but if your head has to look an inch or two up all day long, you will have one big pain in your neck at the end of a day.
At last it seems Zacuto have developed a great product that works on an absolutely massive variety of rigs, and will almost certaintly work with whatever freakish-shaped-box-of-a-camera that comes out in the future. (By the way I have absolutely no connection with Zacuto whatsoever).
This just makes lots of sense. There are three things here: 1) You aren't mounting directly over the rods. This means you bring the camera slightly lower to the shoulder. 2) The area you can slide the camera backwards and forwards is massive. This is so useful, both to balance the camera on your shoulder, and even to find decent balance on a tripod. 3) Finally, this can be used on almost any camera out there. It isn't the cheapest bit of kit, so if I am investing in it, I want it to work on subsequent cameras.
Another feature I quite like is that it can be fixed to a normal base plate, these have been around for years because they work well and hold the camera to the tripod properly.
There is a whole lot from Zacuto that can be added on to this. There is the grip relocator for C300/100 users and there is also the Gratical evf. The Gratical looks like an awesome bit of kit. Best of all it can be mounted wherever you need it, so you aren't straining your neck.
The Gratical EVF isn't a cheap bit of kit, but then if you buy an OLED eyepiece from Sony for your F5/55 that isn't cheap either. The difference being that you can move your Gratical EVF onto any camera you are shooting and it will still work. Not so with proprietry viewfinders.
If you do a lot of shoulder work I'd say this rig is well worth a look. I am not going to bang on about the features and specs, if you are interested check it out at Zacuto.
Three and half years ago I asked the same question: should I buy the new Canon C300? At that time the market was a very different place, many people were still shooting on DSLRs and the C300 solved many of the problems inherent in shooting video with a stills camera. The C300 mark ii enters a market awash with cameras that shoot 4k and high frame rates.
There are plenty of options out there. For those on a small budget, cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and Sony's A7s both shoot 4k and have good low light abilitiy. Blackmagic Design have entered the market and are supplying low cost 4k options like the URSA. If you need internal ND filters and the ability to plug in XLR cables you can pay a touch more and get the Sony FS7 that has incredible specs for the price: 4k and 180fps at 1080p for $8000! Move up the price range and there is the sturdier, PL mount, Sony F5/55 and plenty of options from RED.
At $16,000 (US price) the C300 mark ii is not a cheap option. When the camera was first announced many, myself included, were disapointed with the slow motion options. People are used to seeing iphones cranking out super slow motion and expected more from at $16K camera. The mark ii manages only 100fps PAL 120fps NTSC at 1080p using a senor crop. Using a crop to achieve slow motion can be annoying on a shoot. Not only do you have to set the camera to record slow motion, you also then have to change lenses or reposition as you will now be too far zoomed in on the shot you had.
Sony has gone some way to improve camera ergonomics. The F5/55 sit comfortably on the shoulder, and even the cheaper FS7 isn't bad at all with a dedicated eye peice and removable hand grip.
Having said this, up until now, all we have had to look at is stats, numbers on paper. The pictures the camera produces is really what matters. The people who pay my bills might occasionally require slow motion, but above all else I need to supply them with fantastic looking pictures. A couple of films were recently released that peaked my interest.
There was a lot I liked here. The dynamic range is obviously pretty impressive. Lots of shots straight into the sun and the camera really holds on to the detail in shadows. The skin tones looked great and I liked the colour and tones generally, especially inside the house.
If the first video got me mildly interested, this next one started to draw me in a bit.
It's the shots inside the Japanese house where the woman inside looks like she hasn't even been lit. Of course this is a video produced by Canon marketing and for all I know there could be a massive poly board bouncing some very subtle fill back on the actors face, but it doesn't look that way. Again the tones are stunning, soft natural and not at all vivid or video ish.
Although most of the footage looks like it was shot on a slightly overcast day, you can clearly see the sun is smashing through in this shot. The trees have shadows amongst them and shadows are being cast on the roof of the building opposite around the chimney. Yet, despite all this sunlight we aren't loosing too much detail in the trees and the actor's face is still look good in a dark, un lit room.
The next video that is well worth a look at is this one that shows of the Canon's auto focus function. Auto focus has always been something I associate with home video cameras from the 19080s, but this video might change that.
I had thought auto focus for video a horrible idea: motors constantly hunting for the focus point, rapidly shifting in and out of focus. This looks very different though. When the model turns away from the camera the face following software stops, and then picks her back up when she completes her turn. (this happens 1 minute in). The auto focus system doesn't freak out and focus on the pony tail or the back wall, it just sits and waits to pick the models face back up like a camera operator would. The face against the mirror trick is also very impressive (around 1:25). At first I thought I wouldn't have much use for a full auto focus system, but what about if the camera is mounted on a stabilised gimbal, or maybe on a jib? It could be a very useful function, if it works as well as this video suggests.
I am also interested in the dual pixel focus guide.(1:45) The amount of times directors have wanted a ridiculously difficult pull focus, where a presenter is walking towards camera whilst delivering their lines. The safe thing to do is stop down, but so often directors want to shoot wide open, not realising just how hard that pull will be when you are operating by yourself. Having an indicator that says whether you are focusing too far or to close from the subject could be very useful. Again, it is hard to say how this would work in a real life situation, but it is only a few months until the camera is out and reviews will start coming in.
Here is the full video without all the camera info
If you want to see the focus being tested out by someone other than the camera manufacturers, check Dan Chung at Newshooter.com The video is below and the full article can be found here.
I like the fact that focusing speed can be selected, and you can manually choose which person to focus on when there are two people in shot.
So what else has changed with the updated C300? I have covered this a bit in a previous article comparing the C300 mark ii to Sony's FS7 and F5, so I'll keep it brief.
1) The top handle has been improved. A single screw thread has been replaced by a much more solid offering.
2) All camera buttons now illuminate and make less noise when you push them.
3) A basic mic has been added so you can shoot without the LCD.
4) A new additional unit can be attached that take in audio, but without the LCD screen
5) The monitor cables are no longer hard wired
6) The whole camera is in a stronger diecast housing.
7) Extra ND added (8 and 10 stops)
8) 2k and 4k in camera
9) 4 channels of audio at 24 bit (previously 2 at 16bit)
10) 15 stops dynamic range
11) 120fps Slow mo (crop) at HD.
12) High ISO at 102400 Canon are saying the camera has great low light ability, and it that is almost certainly going to be true.
13) Built in "looks" to better match the C300 with other cameras such as Alexa, Sony F55 etc.
14) Records higher bit rate to faster cards to stop rolling shutter.
If you haven't seen it, the guys from Zacuto give a really good all round chat about what has changed with a representative from Canon. It's 25 mins long, but worth a look if the camera is on your radar.
So, to come back to my original question: is this camera is worth buying or not? I know there are going to be hoards of camera owners pulling their hair out here saying WHAT! $16K for a camera that under performs cameras that can be bought for half the price!! I know where they are coming from, it seems a little highly priced to me too. There are pluses the C300 mark2 will have against it rivals. In the broadcast world it has a fantastic reputation, massive amounts of TV has been shot on the C300. They have also proved themselves as absloutely rock solid. I have used mine solidly for three and a half years, I have lugged it all over the world and it hasn't given me any problems. This may not be true of RED or Blackmagic Design, but it is almost certainly the case with Sony's cameras as well, which I have also owned in the past.
My next comparison would be to Sony's F5, which shoots nice pictures, can be easily upgraded to shoot 4k. Despite being over 2 years old the F5 is still ahead of the C300 mark ii shooting 180fps. This is a hugely popular camera, particularly in the world of sports TV where high frame rates are often needed.
As a personal preference, I like the look so far of the C300 mark ii over the Sony F5, however, I prefer Sony's ergonomics and the way the F5/55 sits on your shoulder. The auto focus thing may be a gimic, but I'd certainly be keen to try it out, so far my impression has been that it looks pretty good. At very least the auto focus will be useful for gimbal and jib operating. The F5 is a bit more versatile when it comes to lenses. Being able to chuck a PL lens on when needed, and then switch over to an EOS lens with an adapter is another big plus for the F5.
The fact that a lot is currently shot on the C300, could push me towards the mark ii. If a documentary already has material shot by shooting APs on a C300, they may want their main camera to be the mark ii. The post production process is fairly well geared to the C300, but then that is also true of the Sony cameras as well.
In part my camera buying decisions are dictated by the desires of directors. To an extent I will persuade a director to shoot on a certain camera, but often people come to me and say "we really want to shoot on x" If people start to lean toward the C300 mark ii, I can well see myself buying one, for now I think I'll wait and see how the camera is received when it comes out in September.
Stabilized brushless gimbals have been out for a while now, if you aren't aware of them, the video below was shot entirely on a gimbal by DJI.
I have shot on Freefly's MoVI M10 and like it but finally decided to buy the Ronin M when it was released a few weeks back. Here is why.
Weight. When you are holding a camera and gimbal out in front of you for any length of time, every ounce matters. DJI have halfed the weight of the original Ronin with the Ronin M. The rig is made from a mix of carbon and magnesium and weighs only 2.3kg or 5lb.
Set up time. With practice the rig can be set up and ready to go in just 5 minutes. The iphone app is simple and quick to use so changing lenses and adjusting settings takes just seconds.
Size. The Ronin M is small enough to be easily transported around, but large enough to take the Canon C300 or the Red Epic. If time is an issue, there is alwasy the option to keep a DSLR constantly rigged to it, and use it as a 2nd camera. Everything packs down to one small pelicase for easy transport when flying.
The new Ronin M is half the weight of the original Ronin, it is designed specifically for smaller cameras, but the motors are strong enough to take fairly heavy set ups. My first question when this came out was "Will the Canon c300 work with the Dji Ronin M." Happily the answer is yes, so I immediately bought one.
As you can see, there is plenty of room around the sides of the camera, once you have removed the handle grip and the eyepiece (there is a locking screw on them underside of viewfinder).
With light prime lenses you can get full range of movement with the Ronin M. However, once you add heavier zoom lenses the camera becomes front heavy and you have to shift the baseplate back. This limits your tilt range somewhat, as the top of the camera the hits the back of the Ronin. This isnt a huge issue on some lenses as the angle you can get is still pretty steep.
This is the Tokina 11-16mm on maximum tilt up. It can tilt all the way down, but the back of the eyepiece area just touches the back of the Ronin M at this angle. Obviously, the heavier the lens the further you need to shift the camera plate back and the smaller the angle will be when you tilt up.
This is the 17-55mm, which is a pretty heavy image stabilized lens. This is at the maximum up tilt angle and the back of the camera is touching the Ronin at this point.
Lots of people own the 16-35mm, which I don't have, but to give you an idea the 16-35mm mark2 Canon weighs 640g (the mark 1 is slightly lighter), the 17-55mm weighs 645g so the angle will be pretty similar.
If you want to use heavier lenses and keep the full tilt range there is a solution from Cinemilled. Cinemilled have made tilt extension arms so you can lower the camera further, allowing you to tilt all the way up. There is already a thread on the bottom of the Ronin M tilt arms, so the Cinemilled arms will just screw straight in.
The next issue to deal with on the C300 when pairing it up with the Ronin M is audio. There are a couple of options here. Firstly there is an audio input minijack just above the grip handle. You can't control the level of this to my knowledge, so you are going to end up with auto levels, good only as a guide track, but at least you will have something to synch to the sound recordist's audio. UPDATE - You can control the levels of the mini jack input inside the menu under audio. When you plug your radio mic receiver or any other mic using a mini jack cable, the auido options turn from grey to white on the camera menu and you can now set the audio levels.
A radio mic is pretty easy to mount on the cross bar with a hot shoe mount. I run a small mini jack to mini jack from my radio mic to the mic input on the camera.
The second option is to mount the C300 LCD unit to the cross bar. This does limit your range of movement somewhat and the motors will have to work a bit harder as they are swinging two thick cables around.
At present, the monitor mounting bracket from DJI (above) isn't availble in the UK. I have one on order from CVP, but orders seem backed up. There are a couple of mounting screw holes as you can see in the picture above. They are the normal 1/4" and 3/8" so you can attach a monitor directly to it, or via a Noga arm, ball mount or simliar so you can move the monitor about. I'll probably mount my TV logic 5.6 via a noga arm here, as it is a light monitor. There is a similar DJI mount out for the original Ronin, but it is slightly larger, as the Ronin has a wider bar. Again, Cinemilled have a shim for this if you want to use the original Ronin monitor mount. I also have also ordered a very thin BNC to allow the unit to move freely.
In the meantime I have ordered this 3rd party solution from Amazon:SMALLRIG Clamp Mount V2 w/ Ball Head Cold Shoe Mount and CoolClamp. This is wide enough to fit on to the Ronin M bar and also has a cold shoe, so I could mount the C300 LCD if needed. The cold shoe screws into a ball head on a 1/4 inch mount so I can remove the cold shoe and screw directly into a monitor instead. There are lots of other mounting options from Small Rig on Amazon.
After hours of playing around with various configurations I mounted the C300 LCD on the cross bar of the Ronin M with the Small Rig clamp.
This worked well enough, except the LCD cables are only just long enough, limiting your camera tilt moves somewhat. (they are just long enough to pan left and right.)
You could also use a magic arm, I played around with my Noga arm and got the LCD to just about work, like this.
The trick to making this work is getting the cables as close as possible to the camera. The best configuration I worked out was to put the LCD further back. Every milimeter helps here as the cables are not quite long enough.
On the whole I think I will stick to using my 5.6 TV logic monitor with an extra thin BNC cable. I don't like the idea of using the LCD as I think it will only be a matter of time before the cables get damaged using them in this way. For the occasional situation where you don't have a sound recordist and audio is essential, this would work, but for more extreme moves and better control, the seperate monitor is definitely the best solution. Below you can see my TV logic 5.6 mounted to the Ronin with a portabrace cover to provide a sun shade.
Also worthwhile, I have put on a thin BNC cable to keep the weight down and improve manoeuvrability. It is also worth having a right angle bnc connector to keep the cables in the right place.
Another good thing about pairing the C300 with the Ronin M is the fact that the hand grip can be relocated. Since you have to take the hand grip off anyway, it makes sense to mount it onto the Ronin M and that way you will have record on and off control and iris or ISO control. To do this you will need a grip relocatator from Zacutto together with a clamp like the one above and a screw in spud from Redrock or Zacuto make a "zud". The Spud or zud serves to connect the zacuto 15mm rod clamp to the 3party clamp. For more info on how to do this check out Cinema 5d
Lots more to come with the Ronin M. I'll be posting something about the settings and hopefully get some video footage up before too long.
I recently went on a shoot where one the cameramen had an Easyrig he was using with his XDCAM camera. My first thought was, can you use an easyrig with a Gimbal, such as the Movi, Ronin, Helix etc?
The weight of a camera a lens and a gimbal lifted out infront of your body means that you can only really hold the rig and operate for a few minutes at a time until your back and biceps begin to burn. The Easyrig would take this weight and sit it on the hips, making carrying a gibmbal very easy. One issue with this idea is that the overhead arm of the Easyrig is designed to sit a camera on your shoulder, not out infront of your body. An interesting solution to this is the Serene from Flowcine.
The amazing thing about this device is that, not only does it hold the rig out infront of your body for gimbal use, but it also has a shock absorber system. All gimbal systems are stabilized on three axis, meaning that the up and down bounce created by the operator walking along, is up to you to control. The Serene arm would take this bounce out. I was curious to know if this would work as a set up, until I saw it in operation on twitter from @
Here you can see the gimbal is the Helix with an easyrig and the Flowcine Serene. This looks to me like the ideal set up for using with gimbals on shoots when you need to hold the rig for long periods.
The DJI Ronin has some some fantastic features: it is quick to set up, it can be operated in three diferent modes, it is really well priced for what it can do, however, it does have one disadvantage, it is a little on the heavy side. Much of this weight is from the large motors which are strong enough to control fairly heavy cameras up to 7.25 kg or 16lbs. If you have a camera that is lighter than this, you may not need all of this power.
DJI have released the Ronin M, a smaller model of the Ronin, designed to carry cameras up to 3.6kg or 8lbs. The pay off is the Ronin M is half the weight of the Ronin, meaning you can hold it for much much longer.
The big question for me is will it hold a stripped down C300. A Canon C300 stripped down is going to weigh around 2-3kg with an EF lens so it should be within the Ronin M limit. On the official DJI page the C300 is not listed on the cameras that the Ronin M will carry (only much smaller DSLRS etc are). However, when Dan Chung at News Shooter asked the DJI manufacturers, they suggested it was possible, but had't tried this out. I have called up a couple of distributors in the UK: CVP and Videogear in the hope that they had been able to try it out. However, as yet they haven't even been sent a test model. The DJI M should arrive in the UK in a 3 or 4 weeks (mid June 2015) and at this point I'd be interested to know if you could put a C300 on it. There are models of the Ronin M kicking about in the USA, but I haven't seen any with a C300 attached yet.
UPDATE: After a bit of digging around, look what I found, on Instagram of all places:
So it looks like the C300 will fit on a Ronin M!! Exciting stuff (for me anyway). The company who posted this, Cinemilled make all sorts of interesting camera accessories. They did say that the tilt bars were at max extension, despite only have a light lens on (I think that looks like a 35mm). However, they make tilt extension bars, which I am guessing would allow you to use heavier lenses. Cinemilled also mentioned being able to add more weight to the front simply by adding weight to the back of the camera to balance things out.
Update: I now own a Ronin M. For more information on setting The Ronin M up with the C300 see here.
I have now have a Ronin M on order, I am going to try mouning the C300 with a few diferent lenses, and if I run into trouble I'll be ordering those Cinemilled tilt extensions.
More info on the Ronin M is here. And Dan Chung's video is below.
Lately, I have been obsessing about Gimbal stabilisers. I first used a Movi M10 shortly after it came out and instantly loved it. I was amazed by the results I could get, despite having no previous experience of gimbals or stedicams. I thought about buying a Movi at that time, but couldn't quite justify the cost, as I wasn't sure I could easily make my money back on it. Fast forward a year and the prices have come down massively. Dji are a large Chinese company that have a history of making drones and when they released the Ronin, Movi had to drop their prices to remain competative. New to the market is the Helix from Letus, another contender with a name that many in video will already know. There are plenty of other brands out there at even cheaper prices, but at the top end of the market, I would say these three are the ones to go for.
Freefly systems MoVI was the first to the party, so I'll start here. Advantages: The MoVI has several advantages, firstly, it has been around the longest and is tried and tested. Many facilities companies have been hiring these things out day after day and they seem tough and able to stand up to the rigours of filming. They are also light. Every ounce matters when you start holding your camera and rig with your arms stretched out. If you have never shot on a giro stabiliser take a 7.5kg weight a walk around holding it out infront of you, your arms will start to burn pretty quick. Freefly Systems are also based out of the USA with lots of distributors in other countries, so getting repairs, spare parts etc should be painless. Disadvantages: The first has to be price, despite a big price drop, the MoVI still comes in around $8k for the M10. The company no doubt has pretty serious R and D costs to recoup. The only slight quible I would have with the MoVI over other gimbals, is the fact that several attachments need to be tightend with an allen key against the carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is naturally smooth and slippery, so it probably needs to be tightend this way, rather than with a simple catch. The DJI Ronin on the other hand is alluminium and has quick release catches and screw tighteners, making it quicker to set up.
The DJI Ronin caused a bit of a stir when it was released, with prices well below what was expected. Advantages: The first thing to say here is price. The Ronin is an amazing deal. For $2500 you get the rig, a hard peli style case with lazer cut inserts, and they even throw in a remote controller for 2 person operation. Another great feature is the quick release clips that allow for a quick set up. I have spoken to several owner operators who say that after much practice they have got the set up time down to just 5 minutes. This is a big deal for me as I would envisage using something like a Ronin for just a few shots on a shoot, rather than operating on it for hours like you might a stedicam.
Another great feature that the Ronin has is the three operation modes: briefcase under slung and upright.
The upright mode means the camera is sitting above, rather than below the cross bar. The good thing about this extra height is that it brings the camera closer to the eye line. If you are filming a walk and talk, you don't always wanting to be pointing up at someones face, not the most flattering angle. It is also useful for over the shoulder type shots, where you need the camera to be at head height or above.
Briefcase mode allows the unit to be held low to the ground with one hand.
Underslung is the usual gimbal operation mode.
DJI are a large Chinese company that are very familiar to people interested in drones. I guess this can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you view it. With good resellers in each company you should be able to get spare parts, however, I can say in the UK right now there is a 2 week waiting list to buy the product. The other issue with Chinese companies is you are never too sure about customer service, but again local resellers should help. Disadvantages: Before I say it, you probably what I am going to say: weight. The Ronin weighs in at 9.26lb or 4.2kg, this heavier than the other two gimbals here. This is due to the motors being larger, as they are designed to carry heavier cameras, and the fact the rig is aluminium, rather than carbon fiber. This doesn't sound like much, but to give you an idea, by the time you add a monitor a stripped down C300 (no lcd, side grip, eyepeice) you are looking at 7.5kg or 16.5lbs. Chuck on a RED Epic and your weight will go up a fraction. That is a big deal to hold out in front of your body or above your head. Anything over a few minutes is really going to be a challenge. You can always add an easyrig to take the weight, but then your costs and setup time are escallating.
A very interesting addition to this line up is the Helix from Letus. Letus are a US company that are very camera focused (rather than drone focused like DJI). The have been producing all kinds of camera equipment and you are probably familiar with them already. Price wise they sit in between the two above, at $3975 Advantages: I havent actually used one of these as they haven't been out long, but I think they look pretty promising. The weight is definitely a plus being 7.25lbs or 3.3kg. The next advantage over both the other gimbals is that you can put it down on the ground. This is great for small crews, where you want to stop and rest your burning biceps without having to run back to wherever you left the cradel. Also, since Letus is a company that makes camera gear, there are loads of clever add ons, like quick release plates, cables etc etc. Disadvantages: The main one here for me is time. At the time of writing (May 2015) these things haven't been out long at all, I have never seen one, none of the usual UK outlets sell them and there is very little demo footage availble online to see if they are any good. You can of course order one online from their website, and I am imagine they are probably pretty good, but it is a risk with so little info about them.
It is worth noting in each case I have gone for the large model that works with cameras such as the Canon C100/C300/C500, RED EPIC etc. All of the manufacturers have smaller versions, The Movi M5 the Helix junior and the DJI M. So if you are operating a DSLR you could go with the cheaper, lighter alternative. Interestingly, I have heard that a C300 fully stripped down will just work on the Ronin M, but I haven't personally tested it, so proceed with caution.
Update: The C300 does fit on the Ronin M. More info on setting up the Ronin M together with the Canon C300 here.
So which one to go for: If I were a rental company, or wanted to make a name for myself as a dedicated gimbal operator, I would get a Movi. As an occasional gimbal user in a rush to get new kit, I'd get a Ronin, or if I had time to wait and see how the product is received I'd get the Helix.
Canon had a very good run with the C300 and then Sony hit back with both the F5 and F55 and more recently the FS7. Canon recently dropped the price of the original C300, bringing it closer to the FS7 and yesterday announced the C300 mark ii. So how do the cameras stack up in the battle for the mid range?
Firstly, the C300 mark ii has only just been announced and won't be available until September 2015 and the price could theoretically change by then, but this is how it stands now.
|Internal specs||FS7||Canon C300 mii||F5|
|Sensor||Super 35mm||Super 35mm||Super 35mm|
|Slow mo||180 @ 1080||120 @ 2k CROP||120 @2k|
|Dynamic range||14 stops||15 stops||14 stops|
|Record format||XAVC 10 bit||XF AVC 10 bit||XAVC 10 bit|
Comparing cameras is a tricky thing. The easy part of it is compairing the specs, like "top trumps" for cameras, even this, however, has its issues. Numbers such as those released for dynamic range may not be true or exact. Subsequent test after cameras are released are often different from those advertised by manufacturers. Above all else, one camera may often look a whole lot better than another camera, but the numbers may not reflect this at all. The next point is about individual tastes. Some people happen to love the super clean look of say a RED camera, whilst other prefer the more natural look of an Alexa. It may also be job specific. Clean colours may work better on a certain commercial, whereas more filmic tones might be better for a documentary. The next point to be made is that when a camera hasn't even been released it gets really difficult. The videos released from a manufacturer could have been very heavily graded. These days, with enough work, one camera can be graded to look very different from the image that it originally spat out. With that it mind you could think: I'll just buy any camera I feel like buying and someone can sort it out in post. However, as we all know, masses of programmes and items we shoot are not sent to a proper grading suite, or in some cases graded at all, therefore we need to buy something that looks good out of the box, but at the same time can shoot pictures with enough information in them so a colourist can go to work on it without the whole picture falling to peices. With all of this in mind let's take a look at how the C300 markii stacks up against the Sonys.
When you look at the specs and the pricing of the C300 mark ii against the Sony F5 it makes sense (despite the F5 now being over 2 years old), it's when you compare it to the FS7 that things get confusing (as the FS7 is very cheaply priced and has amazing spcecs).
To begin with let's look at the F5 and the C300 mark ii, as they go for a similar price. There are certain advantages the F5 and C300 mark ii cameras have against each other. The F5 is slightly more user friendly when it comes to ergonomics, with a proper dedicated eye piece it can be mounted on the shoulder more efficiently (although you do pay extra for the eye piece.) The slow motion capabilities are way better with the F5. The F5 uses a full scan to achieve slow mo, whereas the C300 mark ii only works with a centre crop. This could be a total pain. Imagine shooting on a 50 mm and then you decide you want slow mo, on the F5, no problem, on the C3002 you have to change lenses to a 25mm to achieve the same frame, or move the camera back. Either way, not idea. The F5 is FZ mount camera, it comes with a PL adapter or you can remove this and add an adapter and shoot EOS lenses. This makes the F5 more verstile as there are more lens options here. The Canon C300 mark ii is purchased as an EOS mount, if you want PL you need to get it attached by Canon. The F5 also has the advantage of a bolt on external recorder, which ups the cameras specs, particularly the slow motion, and you can now upgrade the camera to 4k, at a cost (or hack). With regards to price, as it stands now, the F5 will end up costing you a bit more, but not much. You need to pay for the view finder (which is optional on the C300 as you could choose to make do with the LCD. The F5 uses V lock batteries which are a little more pricey, although good quality, last for years and can be used for other purposes such as powering other cameras, LED lights etc. Having said this Canon's mark ii batteries are currently priced pretty highly, these could well drop down if the camera proves very popluar. The Sony F5 uses S by S cards, whereas the C300 mark ii uses Cfast cards. My guess is that the CFast cards will drop in price more quickly as people start to buy in quantity. All of that said your full set up will end up marginly more expensive on the F5.
To recap the F5 has:
So what advantage does the C300 mark ii have? Firstly an extra stop of dynamic range, 15 stops is claimed by Canon. Obviously there is some scepticism with DPs and cameramen when it comes to claimed DR. Some manufacters exaggerate, others do not. Early impressions seem to suggest the camera will actually get pretty close to those 15 stops. If you want to look into the dynamic range of the mark ii check out Geoff Boyle's test Geoff Boyle is a respected cinematographer that has taken screen grabs and video pushing the C300 mark 2 7 stops under and over correct exposure.
The next big point here is the focusing system. I was incredibly sceptical when I first heard about this, and thought it sounded like a gimic, certainly not the kind of thing I would want to use. However, the more I have seen this in use on videos and so on, the more I have been impressed. I like the idea of the DAF system, where the camera tells you whether to pull focus closer or further from the camera, and I have also been suprised at how good the face tracking is. If you can put this camera on a jib or gimbal and the auto focus actually works, it will be a very impressive add on. However, as yet we just have test videos to go on. More of this here. The pluses for the focus system is that it can track someones a face as it moves around and that the focus can be controlled to move quickly or slowly. From watching the videos, it also does not appear to hunt all over the place for focus in the way a stills camera would.
Canon started off with good colour reproduction, great skin tones and a camera that was very easy for broadcasters to work with. They seem to be continuing along these lines. The ergonomics haven't been improved much although there are lots of little updates where needed.
A good improvement in the C300 mark ii is the removable cables connecting the LCD module to the camera. The number of C300 rental cameras I have seen with broken cables that have been replace by Canon is unreal. Crazy when you think the camera has to be sent off to Canon, loosing the owner shooting days. (In the picture the Japanese says "Monitor Unit" - (this is the first time my limited Japanese has ever been useful on my blog)
There is also the improvement of the top handle: the weak one screw has been upgraded with a top helmet, which screws to the top of the camera, and then a couple of hex screws attach the handle. The handle also has a few monting screws and options, which could prove useful. (Mounting a top light is always a bit tricky with the C300 and this could be easier with the mark ii).
Again, something that I'd be interested to try is the pixel comparison focus assist. in addition to the auto focusing mechanism, Canon have come up with a system that tells you on the monitor if a certain area is in focus or not. If this sounds a bit like peaking, it isn't. Apparently, this is a very acurate system which will tell the user which way to focus ie. whether the lens needs to be focused further or closer to be in correct focus. I think this looks like a great idea, if you want to read more on it, this is covered in more detail in Should I buy the new C300 mark ii?
Another small but very useful improvement with the mark 2 is the addition of a small internal microphone. When you remove the LCD from the C300 mark 1, you remove all audio, so if you are mounting the camera on a Movi for example you don't have a guide track for synching in post - this is total pain for the editor. (The way round this is to plug an external mic into the mini jack once the grip handle has been removed - still not ideal though) The video below gives a good look around the new Mark ii.
The camera it seems is all over sturdier, it is heavier and built in a stronger metal housing. I think this is a big plus, the extra weight does't bother me a bit, in fact I actually prefer a heavier camera for balancing on the shoulder.
To recap the C300 mark ii has:
So what about the FS7? The FS7 is insainly cheap for the stats it has. In terms of bang for your buck I don't think there is a better camera out there. The specs aren't a milion miles from those that Sony's F55 has for a fraction of the cost. When compared to larger cameras, it does feel a little plasticy, that said, it has a similar interface to many bigger Sony cameras, with many of switches at buttons in the right place, where a camera operator would actually want them. The fact that it is an E mount, might put some people off, to others it may be a plus. Personally I would feel a lot more comfortable putting a larger lens on an F5 or even a C300 markii than I would with this camera. It just doesn't feel that solid. That said it cost a hell of a lot less, so you have to expect some sacrifice.
So the specs are unbelievable, but what about the image? The camera has been selling well and is being used in all kinds of productions. On a personal note I find the look slightly video ish. Nothing out there has really blown me away, despite the amazing specs. I do prefer the look that the C300 markii puts out. On a general note, I often find Sony's cameras to have a vivid saturated look, going right back to the DigiBeta days; Canon by contrast has a slightly more muted filmic look. However, this is somewhat unfair as all I have seen of the C300 mark ii has been produced for marketing purposes, where as Vimeo and Youtube is full of videos put up by FS7 users, which probably doesn't show the camera in the greatest light.
In terms of colour space, the Canon C300 ii can shoot 4:4:4 internally, whereas the FS7 does 4:2:2. This is certainly a plus point for the C300. Colourists working in grading suits are certainly going to prefer working with the Canon over FS7 here, and that may push certain productions towards it.
I have mentioned this video in a previous article, but if you haven't seen it, it compares the C300 to the FS7. The one worrying thing is the purple fringing issue here on the FS7. You can clearly see it if you look at where the trees meet the blue of the sky. Hopefully this is just a minor problem and will be fixed in a software update.
If you are interested in buying the FS7, it is well worth reading the whole article at The Delivery Men.
To recap the FS7 has:
Update: As the release date of the C300 mark ii nears, more videos have come out that show the picture quality and how the focus assist and auto focus funtions work. The first mark ii video was "Trick Shot", I wasn't that impressed when I saw this. I am not sure if the camera was to blame, or not. Following videos have been more impressive. This is really worth checking out here, in a much more in depth review.
Will the masses of C300 owners upgrade to the mark ii, or switch over to Sony? How will Sony respond? They may decide to include 4k with the F5 and therefore dent mark ii sales (although this may dent their own F55 sales). The value to the C300 is now pretty low with the recent price drops, so it would be a fairly big chunk to invest in the upgrade to mark ii. The way camera technology is changing, everyone is looking to upgrade and the question becomes when you are going to make the next purchase, rather than if.
Canon started with great colour rendition and have worked to improve it with the mark ii, so the question will be: does the camera produce better pictures than Sony's cameras? Having slow motion is a nice feature, but it isn't something that is used everyday by most shooters. There is also the question of demand. Although as camera operators we can nudge production towards one particular camera, often a programme will already have a set camera they want to use. The fact that a huge amount of TV is already shot on C300, will no doubt mean many people will want to shoot on the mark ii. The F55 is also very popular out there, but has a very different price point.
If you own a production company specialising in corporate work, it is probably a no brainer. For the price of the C300 mark ii you can almost buy two FS7s. I find it hard to believe many clients will be unhappy with the "look" the camera produces, and if they are, you can work on the colours in post. If you are a DP, or self shooter, it is a trickier proposition. You hand your images over to production and they judge you on this.
In the end I'll base my decision mainly on the look coming straight out the camera. I am not that into the ergonomics of the mark ii or the FS7 but I know I can deal with it. I also know any of the three cameras in the right conditions, and with nice lighting, will grade up pretty well, however, I want camera that will put out a great image that the director will be happy with ungraded. For fast turn around shoots this is essential. Once the camera is released there will no doubt be many side by side comparision videos. I think I'll wait until then before spending any cash. If I had to guess, I would say the broadcast world are so enamoured with the C300, that this trend will continue over to the mark ii and there will be a high demand for it.
A cheaper option than the mark 2 is the original Canon C300, compared here to the FS7 .
And a more in depth look at the mark ii here.
When the Sony FS7 came out I was expecting the price to be way higher considering its pretty unbelievable numbers on paper. When you consider the price of Sony's F55, this thing is incredibly cheap. Here is how it stacks up side by side to the Canon C300
|Sensor||Super 35mm||Super 35mm|
|Slow mo||180 @ 1080||60fps @720|
|Dynamic range||14 stops||12 stops|
|Record format||XAVC 10 bit||MXF 8 bit|
The FS7 retails for around $8k in the US and £6k in the UK. By comparison the C300 currently retails for far more (around £8k UK, $11.5k USA) However, over the past months Sony have been shifting massive quanties of the FS7 and Canon aren't stupid, they know they must bring the price down.
Today B&H announced a massive price drop and are now selling the Canon EF at $6499. This is priced perfectly to compete with Sony's FS7. It is surely only a matter of time before other retailers start making similar reductions.
So which is the right camera to buy? This obviously depends on who is buying. If you own a large number of Canon lenses already, then this may push you towards a C300 (once the price drops), otherwise the FS7 specifications look a lot more attractive. The third option, is to wait. It seems Canon will definitely be announcing a new camera before long. One of the big bugbears of C300 users is the ergonomics of the camera, and the FS7 is much the same as the C300 in that sense.
This is a very unscientific test of the two cameras side by side, but it does help give a sense of the picture quality and the dynamic range of the two cameras. NB This isn't my test, just something I stumbled across on Vimeo.
One part of the video that surprised me was the weired purple fringing in the highlights on the FS7. If you look at the last few shots, take a look at the trees in the background at the centre of the image. When I switched between the FS7 and C300 I felt that the FS7 didn't have a particularly filmic look, instead it had more vibrant TV colours. Having said that, this could have been down to the weired fringing isue. That is enough for me to stear clear of the FS7 for now, but I am sure Sony will fix this in later updates.
Interestingly, sales companies in the UK have been struggling to keep up with demand and can't access enough FS7s. However, they have also said that C300 owners are not trading many cameras in at the moment, so it seems that many C300 owners are waiting to see what will happen next.
I see the FS7 being taken up by shooting APs or small companies, as the price for the cameras specifications can't be beat. As for me, the first camera I ever owned had a retail price of around 50k, since then prices have dropped and I bought my most recent camera the C300 at 12k (3 years ago). I would prefer to see a few improvements in terms of ergonomics and form factor. If a new camera came out that addressed these issues, then I wouldn't mind spending a bit more money.
If you are thinking of buying the Sony FS7 it is definitely worth reading Dan Chung's review on the camera. He as spent time shooting with it on paid jobs, so his thoughts go well beyond a few technical specs. Also The Delivery Men (those who shot the above video test).
There is a lot to like about this video. Surf shots can get predictable sometimes, endless perfect glassy waves with surfers in the barrel. They are impressive, but there are so many of those kinds of pictures and videos about. I love the fact that Ray Collins has managed to capture something totally different.
It is all the more impressive that he isn't a full time photographer. Working down a mine in Australia can't be an easy job, and getting out filming in the water must the perfect antidote.
Check out the photos from Ray's book here. There are some beautiful image there, which makes me realise that what ever you are filming or photographing, there is always away to do things differently.
It is almost impossible to watch this video and not laugh, especially if you have ever been asked to do a job at way under your day rate.
Branded content is a big deal these days. Over the past few years I have worked with a large number of brands from Nike to Rolex to Dior to Heineken the list goes on and on. If there is one thing that is really important when filming branded content, it is the packshot. A packshot is a shot of the product, pure and simple. It should be obvious, this is what the client is trying to sell, so of course the packshot should look amazing. However, as the scope of branded content grows and the filming gets ever more elaborate, it is easy to forget this. Think of it this way, the marketing types and those high up in the company might not notice the quality of the camerawork, the music, the audio etc, but there is one thing they will notice for sure: the brand. Whether the brand is an object, a logo or just a name it needs to be given a bit of attention.
This is a frame grab from a slow move in on a test shot. Lighting this was a bit of a challenge. Watches are always a bit tricky to light. The problem is, glass reflects. You need to shine lots of light into the face to bring it alive and get the numbers and hands on the watch to pop out, but you don't want the light bouncing back into the lens. It's also tricky when you have a black background as you don't want light spilling all over the backdrop causing it to look grey rather than black. Finally, the hardest bit, and probably the most important, the brand name must be well lit.
Each light source hits the watch at an angle to reduce glare from the watch face. The main light source is reflected from a large poly behind the watch. This helped light the lower section of the watch, but left the brand name in darkness. The smaller polyboard was then used to highlight the brand name and the upper portion of the watch. The light here was a small dedo (anything more powerfull could have spilled onto the black background) which was reflected back using a silver poly just infront of the watch (left of the watch in the diagram above).
This was filmed with a macro lens and around 2.8f. The wide aperture was used so that the face would be sharp but the watch strap was soft.
I love filming interesting architecture. I find good architecture fascinating and I like the challenge of bringing a 3D space to life on a 2D screen. The video below is actually a photography "how to". The photographer uses a flash gun to add interesting texture and light. He then stacks up several layers of photos and cuts in the details he needs. So what is a photography video doing on my cameraman blog? Essentially you could create the same thing with video, rather than using a flash you would just use many small lights (such as dedos) the only additional challenge would be in hiding all the cables. The reason I think this works well as a tutorial, even if you are shooting video, is that it is easy to see the effect each light makes. As each light is added you can see the effect it has in the overall picture.
In this type of situation I would possibly shoot 2 layers, the first for an interesting sky, and the 2nd for the lights that are being switched on around the building. I sometimes shoot 2 versions of a shot in case the editor wants to cut in a plate, especially if I am shooting a timelapse. More than 2 layers and it probably gets a bit much for an editor to be messing around with, so I would hope to light the building all in one go. Obviously, you are going to be restricted by the number of lights you have at your disposal. On architectural type programmes there may not be time to light every shot, however, I would say the one master shot of the house it is probably worth while. The full article can be found here.
With NAB in the USA coming in April and BVE in the UK opening it's doors tomorrow, people are going to be curious about the future for the Canon Cinema EOS line.
The Canon C300 was originally sold for £12k and did incredibly well for several years. At this price bracket you now have the Sony F5, which has better slow motion capabilities and also works better as a shoulder mounted camera. This puts the C300 slightly lower down the rankings. Sony then releases an incredibly high spec camera for the price with the FS7.
Sony's FS7 sells new for just over £5k / $8k, whereas the C300 now cost well over £8k. The FS7 shoots 4k and has slow mo up to 180fps at HD 1080. Canon are obviously going to have to improve the C300 spec with the mark 2 to keep it selling units. Personally, I think they will make a few improvements, but I don't imagine them droping the price too far to compete with the FS7. Although 4k looks like it will be on the menu, I am not so sure about the high frame rates for slow motion. Canon has always been a bit behind with regards to high speed and has placed more emphasis on its colour pallet and skin tones.
In order for the C300 to become really competative again, they obviously need to look at ergonomics and make it more of a shoulder mount camera, which would put it well beyond the FS7 end of the market, regardless of specs. With a decent shoulder mount set up the camera would then be able to compete with the Sony F5 and maybe even the Arri Amira, although a lot would need to be done to get there.
I can imagine updates such as 4k, improved picture quality through colour rendition, and a few minor tweaks being ready for NAB, but whether a shoulder mount version will be released then who knows. Canon have already made noises about competing with the likes of Arri so you can guarantee a better spec shoulder mount camera will be here in the near future.
I have been working as a freelancer for years and have always been paid, that said it is worth taking a few precautions.
Firstly, it is worth being persistent. Find the right accounts contact and email them. If you still haven't receieved the money after your payment term, gently remind them. If you still don't receive anything it is worth calling to clear things up, just to make sure they haven't lost the invoice or paid it into the wrong account. Although 30 days in the standard payment term, some companies may regularly wait two or even three months before they pay freelancers to aid their cash flow. Although this is frustrating there isn't much you can do about it, other than email them reminders.
What if they refuse to pay you? If you still don't get paid, then you may want to lean on them a little harder, this is a last resort as it will certainly destroy your working relationship. The footage you shoot is your intelectual property, which you are selling to your emplyeer. If they don't pay you, then that property is still yours. This is a point you could easily make to the broadcaster or brand or whoever the end client is for this material. Obviously this is going to cause a major headache to whoever employed you and they may find it prefereable to just pay you what you are owed.
What if this still doesn't work? It is worth remembering that governments want business transactions to run smoothly and for individuals and companies to get paid. Whatever country you live in, there is probably some sort of system that can help if you aren't getting paid as a freelancer. In the UK there is the Small Claims Court which deals with small amounts of money owed (under 10,000 UKP). Although this sounds like a lot of trouble, especially if the amount of money you are claiming is really small, you may not need a solicitor or even have to go to court. Just registering the claim online means that a court date is set and a letter is sent to the person or company who owes you money. The letter alone could be enough for your client to pay up, as they may not want to go to court.
For a several years I have been keen to try out the Lighting Course at the National Film and Television School. Most of what I film is factual programming, so working in a purely film and drama context on a week's lighting course was something that has always appealed to me.
I picked the NFTS as it has a reputation as being one of the best film schools in the world, the list of alumni is pretty incredible and includes the likes of Roger Deakins.
(Above lighting for pack shots)
The course is limited to 8 people at a time, although this means it is heavily oversubscribed and places go quickly, once you are on the course you get plenty of hands on time with the kit.
The tutor was Derek Suter BSC. One of the first things he said was, he didn't want to talk too much and instead prefered us to learn by using the equipment. For me this was perfect, I didn't really fancy a week looking at a white board discussing theory. The course is sponsored by Panavision and Panalux, so the first thing we did was unload a delivery from them, a truck full of lighting equipment.
(Below setting up for daytime external shoot)
Over the week we shot: pack shots, daytime studio scenes, night time studio scenes, daytime scenes outdoors and nightime scenes outdoors. The group was split into two, so you have four people per group, each person taking it in turns to be the DP, focus puller, operator or assistant. There is also a highly experienced team around you. We had a fantastic Gaffer, a really experienced Camera Assistant a Spark and Grip. You end up learning just as much from each of these people, as each one of them is an expert in their own specific field. On several days there were also two actors and a sound recordist. Having the actors and sound really helped bring things to life.
(Below the Alexa with a beautiful Cooke 18-100 T3)
The cameras are always cabled up to a large monitor, so at any point you can go and check your work. Sometimes both groups work on the same scene, so you can flick between the two monitors and see how each one is set up and being operated.
At the end of the week you get to see your footage in the cinema. I have never seen anything I have shot blown up that big, so it is an experience in itself. You realise why attention to detail is so important in the film world. Using a certain filter softens skin tones suddenly serves its purpose when you see an actors face projected 5ft wide.
(Below, one of the actors gets ready for a take in the studio)
Apart from learning to light, you also pick up a lot of film making techniques. Being a lighting cameraman I have always pulled focus for myself looking at the monitor. Pulling focus for someone else, I learned to make measurements and feel the pace of the action and look at the distance marks, rather than looking at the monitor. It felt odd at first, but once I gave up looking at the monitor and relied on the marks everything fell into place.
The following scene is shot with a 10k coming in through the blinds and a 1k inside the room pointing away from the actors bouncing off the wall.
This next scene has a 5k coming through the blinds with very little internal light to give a dark moody feel.
Each of these scenes is ungraded (shot at LogC 444 with a REC709 LUT added in post).
For more information on the short courses on offer from the NFTS check out their website.
Here is the situation: you have been given a room to shoot an interview in, you have never seen the room before, you can't change and move to a different room. Sound familiar? This is the bread and butter work for a lot of cameramen. Sometimes you can move to a different spot, sometimes you have a small recce, but often you just have to deal with what you have been given.
Here is an example:
The interview setting above needed to be nondiscript. It was filmed in London, but for the purposes of the documentary, it could not be identified as such. The room was empty and so there was a chance the shot could look a bit dull.
In order create a more interesting background, I decided to use the overhead chandliers as a backdrop. I needed to use the entire length of the room to do this. If I was too close to the overhead light, I would end up shooting at too extreme an angle. Fiming from below is rarely a good idea, you end up looking up their nose. So in order to get the chandalier in shot I needed a slight angle and a long room.
I then position the camera so the chandalier was lined up in the mirror. The light on the far left of the image is the chandalier, further right is its reflection and further right still the rainbow of light is where the reflection hits the join in the mirror. (This was a lucky find).
That gave me three practicle background lights, all overhead. The rest of the shot looked dark by comparison, so to even it up I lit the bottom left back wall with a dedo, highlighting the gold pattern on the wall.
The end result I think is an image which could be anywhere.
Here are a few tips to get the most out of a room:
1) Start and the far corner of the room as this gives you the biggest aspect, the most depth and the most options. Look around from here in each direction trying to envisage what a small section of that shot will look like.
2) Use what is around you to break up the background and give interest.
3) Your subject needs to be the focus of the interview. Typically people's eyes will be drawn to odd shapes so try not to make the background too busy.
Acurate colour rendition verse a beautiful look.
I recently worked on a programme filming famous paintings. Colour reproduction in these works of art was obviously very important. With a normal scene an editor or colourist can change the picture and grade the scene how he or she likes, with a work of art there is a very clear right way and a wrong way, and what is more, the editor might not have a reference image of how the picture should look. You might think this would be easy, surely a camera will acurately reproduce colours, but this simply isn't true. Cameras have a certain "look" or feel to them, this is done by the way in which they interpret colour. This is true of all colours but it is particularly noticable with green. If you point your camera at a colour chart like a colour du monde and turn on your vector scope, you will notice some colours are more acurately reproduced than others.
If you point your camera at various sections of the chart it will quickly become obvious which sections of the chart refer to which sections on the vector scope. Regardless of which CP profile your camera is set to I bet the colours running across the top row and down the right side of the chart come in fairly acurately and the colours down the lower left corner of the chart do not. If you flick through the various picture profiles on your camera you will see how the vectorscope changes. The most dramatic change will be from the CINEMA Clog profile, giving a very flat reponse.
Remember when reading a vector scope it is important to look at the vectors the colours are on, and not just whether the colours sit inside the box or not.
Lets take the colour red for example. Red is located top left on the vector scope. In the image above the red is sitting exactly correct in the box. If the response from the camera was slightly left or right of the box the hue of the colour would be different: slightly more yellow if it was left and slightly more magenta if it was right.
Being further or nearer the centre mark represents chroma. Typically any gamma curve desinged to hold highlights is going to move those marks closer to the centre, however, the colour hues might still be correct i.e. on the right vector.
It is important to note that on the C300 when you change your picture profile you are changing both the gamma curve and the colour matrix. These have the same names "normal 1" "EOS standard" "Cinema" etc, however, you don't have to use the two in conjunction. You could easily choose the Colour matrix of "Normal 4" but have the "Cine 2" gamma. The gamma of course protects the highlights and deals with luminance rather than effecting the colour.
Before this gets too technical, here is a real world example. A director and I noticed that on the painting we were filming the green was wildly different in the monitor, but the other colours we pretty accurate. I quickly spun through a few picture profiles on the camera and strangely the one which gave the most acurate green was "EOS Standard." However, I don't like filming with EOS Standard as I find the colours pop out way too much: red goes insane jumping off the picture and highlights blow out really easy. I then remembered the matrix setting. I dialed the matrix setting to "EOS Standard" and then I set the gamma curve to "Cine 2" as this preserved the highlights without creating an overly flat image.
This was just a quick fix on the job, but it seemed to do the trick. It got me thinking though, what happens when you need very acurate colour, not just a pretty picture? What if grass fills lots of your screen or you a doing a commercial involving limes, do you want to send mustard coloured grass or blueish limes to the edit? I am picking up green specifically here as I am aware that green is the colour that cameras often treat unusually, not just C300s. Cameras on the whole are designed to shoot acurate skin tones, as far as other colours and hues go, cameras are on the whole aiming to create a beautiful over all look rather than acurately reproduce each colour.
I later had a play around with the various colour matrix too see which produced the most acurate results. I used the SMPTE colour chart below as I found this a bit simpler to read.
This backed up thoughts I'd had before about the EOS matrix. The green colour does get a bit more acurate, and the chroma on the red does jump up. Of all the profiles I had loaded up on my camera the one which looked the most acurate on the vector scope was from Ablecine. (There is a link to download this on a previous blog I wrote about gamma curves on the C300.)
Having descovered this, I am not now going to shoot everything I do on the Ablecine profile. Getting beautiful pictures isn't about simply recreating colours exactly. However, there are times when you look though the monitor and feel that you aren't getting the image you want. Going through the colour matrix settings and then selecting a gamma curve afterwards seems like it could be a good fix. You can of course alter the values of all of these colours to produce your own matrix settings, however, this isn't something I'd like to do without a dedicated vector scope and I am happy just to download a few profiles from trusted sources.
Having some kind of macro capability is often handy to have on a shoot. Maybe you are filming a watch being made or you are watching the reflection of the object in someone's eye, and you only want the eye in frame, I have done both of these shots more than once and for this you need a macro. (Below is a gratuitous macro shot I took in my garden)
I thought I'd compare the macro capabilites of the following lens combinations and see how they did. All of these images are taken on the Canon C300.
1) Canon 70-200mm L 2.8 IS
2) Canon 24-70mm L 2.8
3) Canon 100mm IS macro
4) All of the above with the Canon macro extension tube.
This first image was taken using the 24-70mm at the closest focus range at 70mm. I had never used this as a macro lens before, and was surprised by how good it was. You can really get in there with it, and it gives you a way bigger image than the 70-200mm which I hadn't expected. The note covered is about 8cm across, filling the screen.
This next image is from the 70-200mm at 200mm
The image below is 70-200 again, this time with the macro barrel, which allows you to focus that bit closer.
This next one is the 24-70mm with the macro barrel attached. Really amazed by this one.
This is the Canon 100mm macro lens IS. As you'd expected, it is the closest of the bunch. The across section filling the screen is only about 2cm wide.
Just for interest I thought I'd chuck the Macro barrel on the 100mm macro lens. Apologies for this terrible shot, I was doing this all hand held and struggling with light so it all looks a bit soft, but you can get this close if you really need to.
The Canon 100mm macro is obviously quite a bit more expensive than the macro barrel. This is hardly surprising when you consider that barrel is really just air - there is no glass in it, the barrel just transmits the info from the lens to the camera and creates a gap, so your closest focusing distance becomes nearer.
So what do you get for your money when you spend the extra on the Canon 100mm macro? Firstly the lens gives you the best macro cababilities and you get the closest images. Secondly it is image stabilised, this is really handy when shooting this close to something as the slightest woble is magnified. Thirdly 100mm makes sense for macro work more that 70mm on the 24-70mm. To get the shot I have above with the 24-70 and the macro barrel I had the lens centimeters from the object. This can cause a few issues when you are shooting - you could quite easily block your light source, and if you are shooting a person - their eye for example, the lens would be almost touching their face, which would be a bit weired.
One final pluss point for the macro lens is it is quite a bit easier to focus than when using a barrel. The barrel also gets rid of the infinity end of the focus spectrum.
Here are each of the lenses used in this little test including the barrel.
EF25 ii Extension tube
EF 100mm macro 2.8L IS
One of the things about learning to do something the "correct" way is that it can easily become such a habit that you never look outside these rules. With composition, we get so conditioned to placing objects in the screen using the 2/3rds rule that it becomes second nature. Often, when I see something that I feel is shot beautifully it is because it breaks these rules. In the clip below there are some great shots, but it is worth looking at the portrature, the way people faces and bodies are framed.
Faces aren't always where you expect them (occupying 2/3rds of the screen looking into the space section of the frame). Sometimes just the smallest part of the body or face is shown, just an eye or even the back of someones head, but you get the sense of it and you don't need to see the entire face or body on a standard mid shot.
I love this shot of the man below. Reflexively, most cameramen, myself included, would pan right and a touch down on this image and end up with a very standard shot. It takes a bit of forethought and concentration to mix things up and get these kinds of compositions.
Again, the temptaion is to show more of what is going on, but we dont' always need it. The actual amount of in focus face here is tiny, just and eye in the furthest 6th chunk of the screen and the vast majority of the screen is just one out out of focus colour. The image is beautiful because of the composition.
Another one that breaks the rules. Loads of head space, subject in the middle of the screen, most of the face missing everything you are taught not to do when you first start composing photos or filming interviews, it is breaking these rules that make the image work.
There are loads of other shots within that clip that break the rules of compostion in a similar way. Most of them just flick up on the screen for a few seconds and yet that is plenty of time for us as a viewer to relalise what is going on.
Recently I have been trying to inject a bit of creative framing into a couple of the projects I am working on. It is really good to stop and re asses the rules we have been taught.
I have worked on a few projects lately that rely heavily on negative space. It seems odd to be employing the same shooting technique on completely unrelated projects, but I guess this is something of a trend at the moment. I thought I'd outline two of the projects here. The first is a branded video, and the second is a promo/advert both of the projects employ a technique of double exposure to make them work.
This image is a good example of double exposure (with the tree element there are actually three images at play)
This next image is a frame of one of my images (just an ungraded shot)
Here the workers face is used as a canvas, but you could just as well shoot this wider to make the head smaller, and then use the negative space as a canvas if you prefered. This isn't a green screen shoot, the worker is in his normal work environment, but his head is easy to cut out as it is heavily differentiated from the background. This differentiation can come from either using a tiny depth of field and seperate the background, or extreme lighting to create contrast.
In this shot we got most of the light using what was already available. The lift and the area just outside is brightly lit and so contrast well with the darker walls. All we had to do was light the worker as he came out of the lift and we have an image that can be used for double exposure. Here it is the framing that works, shooting this tight would mean you only have a lit area with no contrast, the wider shot gives us darkness.
In the above examples contrast is used to pull out a feature of the picture and seperate it from the background. However, you can also use a small amount of contrast, especially if there is a large area of darkness onto which you can comp your second image. In the next image the negative space takes up most of the screen. Here I stopped the camera down heavily and used a shaft of bright light to give to illuminte the model's face. This is for a different project, but the basic concept is similar.
There are other shots from this sequence with even smaller amounts of light, where literally only one eye is lit. Sometimes I had the model stand by the window into the blazing sun and stopped down, to throw the background into total darkness, and sometimes I shot in a blacked out room and just used a tiny shaft of light from a dedo to highlight a small area.
Before starting this project the Director and I found images we liked from videos that we thought looked beautiful or had an interesting textural quality and that we knew would lend themsleves to the double exposure treatment.
This is a shot that I love from director Eliot Rauch's film Remember. Here the light drifts down the actors body with the camera. Eliot Rauch is the guy who came up with that incredible film "Last Minutes with Oden", if you aren't familear with it, it is definitely worth checking out. It's a film that came out back when many of us where getting into shooting with DSLRs and it let me know what was possible.
Another image here is worth something that just works well, it looks visually interesting and you automatically have that high contrast with no lighting needed. These shots are useful as they are so quick to shoot, it can get you out of a whole when you are pushed for time.
Here is another shot which again just relies on natural light. This one is from a short called Gravity. The framing and contrast here would give you something to use for double exposure without having lots of complicated keying work to do in post.
To sum up, here is a quick list of stuff that I think works and stuff that doesn't.
1) High contrast.
2) Shallow depth of field with close foreground and distant background.
3) Objects that are large and fill most of the screen.
4) Objects that are very small and use only a small amount of the screen with a uniform background.
5) Unusal framing where our intest is drawn to edges of the screen.
1) Busy scenes with too much going on.
2) Even lighting
Finally, the title sequence to The True Detective. A peice that without doubt drives the trend along.
I have been filming lots of art work recently for a BBC strand and an independent production company. Although it is relatively straight forward to get this right, I thought I'd write a few notes up, as many people get this wrong and make a mess of it.
F-stop: It isn't a good idea to shoot paintings wide open as it is very easy for the edges of the paintings to be out of focus, while the centre is sharp (due to the relative distances from the lens). Stop the camera down a bit, 5.6 tends to be the sweet spot for most lenses, if you have enough light you could go further.
Framing: Set your tripod up so the head is right in the centre of the painting, from both a height and width perspective.
White balance: Light the painting and then take a reading from a white card right infront of the painting. It is essential to get this absolutely spot on. Experts will be used to the colours used in a painting, get it wrong and you'll know all about it. Usually there are no true whites on paintings, so the editor will have no reference point, meaning colour correction afterwards will be very tricky.
Lighting: Having filmed in lots of galleries over the past month I can safely say most gallery lighting is horrible. Typically painting are lit with harsh spot lights from the cealing giving very harsh hot spots. Get rid of these lights, turn them off if you can, point them away from the painting if you can't. Light with something very soft, I used a kino flo with a flozier over the top, which worked well.
Reflections: The hardest bit about filming paintings is dealing with reflections. Even without a glass frame, glossy paint will reflect a bit, so the light source needs to be a soft as possible. If the paintings are in a glass frame you could ask the gallery to remove it. If this isn't possible there are a couple of work arounds: 1)You can try filming the painting from a distance on a longer lens, this way you won't be able to see the camera in the relection as easily. 2) Another option is to film behind a black drape and just poke the lens through a gap.