The New York Times called me yesterday about shooting an interview of San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, who will be making the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in a couple of weeks. The shoot, which was this morning, went really well. Mayor Castro is always nice, respectful, and reserved. Plus, he’s a great interview. I can see why the Democratic party is grooming him to be a future superstar. As a San Antonio native, I have to say, he’s arguably the best mayor we’ve ever had. I enjoyed this assignment very much, and of course the AF100 was awesome.
I used my Nikon glass for this one, and a three-head fresnel kit. It was a very basic setup, but the results were great. I wanted to roll to the Samurai, but since I knew I was likely going to have to transmit this footage, ProRes422 was right out, and instead I opted to record to AVCHD. I didn’t mind, since it was destined for the web, and also I knew that the footage wasn’t going to have any large color moves applied to it. Note how dirty my camera is from filming outside for thirty days during a very hot and dusty South Texas summer. Maybe I should do some detailing this week…
As some of you may already know, I started working on a new feature film called “Champion,” as Dir. of Photography/Cinematographer. It stars Dora Madison Burge (Friday Night Lights), Cody Linley (Hannah Montana), and… wait for it… Lance Henriksen (every awesome movie, ever). I’ll cut to the chase: I’m approaching 40, and had no idea who Dora or Cody were before they signed up for this film (but it turns out they’re awesome). But Lance Henriksen?! How effing sweet is it that I get to have one of my all-time favorite actors in front of my lens? I never would have thought I’d get this opportunity. Strap in, because I’m going to gush about this for a while.
Like many people who are about my age, I first saw Lance in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” and again in “Aliens” in 1986, as the android synthetic human called Bishop. We all know how bad-ass the knife scene in that film was, and so far, everyone on set has been able to keep their cool and not ask him to do it. No-one wants to be “that guy.” He really did do it, BTW, and he said that Bill Paxton didn’t know about it beforehand; Paxton’s surprised expression while Lance was stabbing the knife between his fingers was authentic.
Since “Aliens,” Lance has been one of my favorites. His roles are always just so cool. But what I really love about working with him is the fact that Lance Henriksen the man is simply a dream to work with. He’s incredibly nice, laid-back, professional, and his experience really adds to the production. All of us on the crew of “Champion” will be better filmmakers after working with him. During breaks on set, Lance can often be found “holding court” as the crew gathers around him to hear his stories.
Now, on to the tech: We’re shooting “Champion” on two Panasonic AF100 cameras capturing footage to Atomos Samurai recorders. Day One was a test of our patience, however, when one of our Samurais kept spontaneously turning itself off. After a firmware update failed to fix the problem, it was determined by the Atomos LA office that it was a faulty unit. They overnighted a new one to us the next day. I call that some pretty sweet customer service. Since then, both units have been flawless. Using the Samurai in the field is a dream. I wish they had brighter screens, though.
Both of our Samurais are running AtomOS 3, which adds some awesome and much-needed features to the unit, including peaking, zebras, false color, and the ability to not only mark clip ins and outs during playback, but also export XML so you can then open your rough cut in Final Cut Pro. Talk about a time saver: you can do your rough edit in the car on the way back from the set! I still wish the screen on the Samurai was brighter, but I can live with it, since I’m using my Cineroid most of the time anyway.
Since our MacBook Pros do not have eSATA ports, one piece of new technology that has made life easier on set is the new LaCie Thunderbolt to eSATA hub, which makes things flow much faster and allows us to save a lot of money in the storage budget. Footage can be backed up on multiple eSATA drives by our dailies editor without wasting any time. Before, we had to use USB 2.0 or FireWire docks, which was excruciating, considering we’re shooting about 100GB of ProRes footage per day. Yay for Thunderbolt. I just wish the Thunderbolt architecture would mature faster with third party suppliers. There aren’t many Thunderbolt products out there, which really confuses me, considering how fast it is.
I’ve been dialing in my ENG-ized AF100 for some time now. Recently, I added a Varavon lens support to relieve some tension from the not-so-robust Micro 4/3 mount. The Varavon works really well, and I especially like that it has a rubber strap that holds the lens down onto the post suport. This not only provides negative-G stability, but also prevents the lens from torquing the mount when I’m using the ENG hand grip.
On July 4th, I was hired by the San Antonio Scorpions professional soccer team to shoot some b-roll before and during their game against FC Edmonton. I thought this would be the perfect chance to try out the new rig. I wanted to make it as light as possible, so I elected to remove the Anton Bauer plate and battery, which powers the lens’ servo zoom, and just roll using manual zoom instead. The total package consisted of AF100 body, Fujinon 10×4.8 Super-wide ENG lens, rails, Atomos Samurai, and a Cineroid Metal HD-SDI EVF.
The client wanted 720/30p for web and broadcast use. I set the Samurai to record ProRes422 LT and it looked great. A lot of people overlook LT but it’s superb when you want to save space and you’re not going to be doing heavy color moves in post. Even though it’s “LT” it’s still a heck of a lot better than AVCHD. I recently switched to Intel X25 SSDs in the Samurai, and I couldn’t be happier with them. Fast and tough. That’s all I can ask for. I was using a Corsair SSD, and after three RMAs from failed drives, the switch to Intel was needed.
Here is a two-minute reel of raw clips from Wednesday night. These are ungraded, straight from the camera:
I ran across this old blog post at ProVideoCoalition.com that features a fairly comprehensive comparison of the resolving powers of the Panasonic AF100 and the Sony PMW-F3, among other cameras such as the Sony EX3 and EX1, the ARRI Alexa and the RED Mysterium. It’s a pretty interesting and tech-heavy read.
I’ve been modifying my Panasonic AF100 to work with ENG lenses, and it’s finally taking shape. The only thing I have left to install is a Y-cable that will power the lens as well as connect to the camera’s LANC port in order to activate REC start/stop from the lens. Abel Cine makes such a cable, but it’s 260.00, which is considerably more than I was hoping to pay. However, I don’t think anyone else is making it, so it looks like I’m going to have to fork over the cash to them.
The latest addition to the kit is a Cineroid Metal HD-SDI electronic viewfinder, mounted on a NOGA articulated arm. The Cineroid arrived a couple of days ago from B&H and it really makes all the difference regarding usability of this rig in the field. Prior to getting the Cineroid, I pretty much had to mount the camera on a tripod to shoot anything. Moving the entire rig back on my shoulder and using the EVF makes all the difference, obviously. When I mounted the Cineroid, I moved the AtomosSamurai recorder from the front-left rail to the right-rear since I no longer needed to use it as a monitor when shooting. In its new position, it can serve as a secondary monitor for the director, and also provides some needed counter weight to the right side of the rig, since the EVF made everything shift left a bit. The Samurai is very reliable, and the battery life averages ten hours on a full charge, so I’m not too worried about not being able to see it while shooting hand-held footage. I know that if the camera is rolling, the Samurai is rolling. It tucks in nicely next to the Anton Bauer battery. You may recognize the AJA accessory plate and rail mount that the battery is bolted to; it used to hold my AJA Ki Pro Mini, which I ditched in favor of the Samurai. BTW, if anyone wants one, I’m selling a Ki Pro Mini…
To mount the ENG style Fujinon lens, I ordered an adapter from eBay user ciecio7. I highly recommend his adapters, as they seem to be very well built. In fact, this B4-M4/3 adapter is the highest quality I’ve yet seen from any of the adapters I’ve ordered for my AF100; I wish I’d found him earlier. Ciecio7 offers two flavors of this adapter; one with and one without the tripod collar. I ordered the one WITH the tripod collar, as I knew I was going to have to fashion some sort of lens support, since the camera’s lens mount is only rated at four pounds. Otherwise, it’s a sure bet I’d rip the mount right out the first time I used it in the field. I initially feared that it was going to be costly to get a really good lens support that would secure the lens in all directions so I could use the ENG grip, but as it turned out, the threaded 3/8″ hole in the mount adapter’s tripod collar (it also has a 1/4-20 hole) aligned perfectly with a threaded 3/8″ hole in the Redrock Micro M2 baseplate, so all I had to do was get a threaded stud from Home Depot and hacksaw it to 2.75″. That was $1.75 well-spent.
I really, really love having a proper ENG lens to use on the AF100. It really takes this camera from being quirky and odd to being a serious camera for pro video work. When Panasonic released the AF100, I was elated at the thought of what was basically a large-format HPX170 (although without my beloved P2 media), but then I was immediately puzzled when they kept demo-ing the camera with those horrible, slow, M4/3 stills lenses. What?! No servo lens? Unbelievable. So, for a long time, I used my Canon EF 16-35/2.8 L zoom with the Redrock Micro Live Lens adapter as my go-to run and gun lens, and it worked great. Not much reach, but it had the wide-to-medium area covered fairly well, and it was just fast enough to use in low light. It sucked not having a servo zoom though. With this ENG setup, now I have the best of both worlds. Granted, with all of the kit, it makes the AF100 about the same size as my HPX2000, but it’s still lighter.
So, what about image quality? ENG lenses are designed to be used on three-chip cameras, which means the glass projects onto a prism that separates the image into red, green and blue paths. There are two methods of adapting your ENG lens to a Micro 4/3 camera: the “cheap” way, which is to use a lens with a built-in 2X extender that will double the size of the image circle to cover M4/3, or the “proper” way, which is to use Abel Cine’s HDX2 adapter, which not only doubles the size of the image circle but also optically corrects for the three-chip projection so you don’t get color fringing in your highlights. Considering that, it seems to be a no-brainer on which method you would choose, until you consider cost. I got my B4-M43 adapter from ciecio7 for 240.00. That’s the entire cost of the “cheap” method. The “proper’ method is going to belt you for $5500.00 for the relay lens plus the cost of a PL adapter, because – btw – the HDX2 relay lens only comes in PL mount. SO, including the cost of PL/rails support for your AF100, we’re looking at a total cost of $7000.00 to be “proper” if you go with the HotRod-esque option. Ciecio7 also makes a PL-M43 adapter if you already have rails that would work, like I did.
I figured from the start that I was just going to put up with a little color fringing in my highlights. But then, I had a pleasant surprise. The Fujinon 10×4.8* is a really high quality piece of glass, and also considering that it’s so wide, fringing is very minimal. In fact, I don’t notice it at all unless my highlights are totally blown out, and even then, not all the time. In short, the picture looks pretty damned good. I’m sure the “proper” method is better, but I’m not positive that it’s $7000-better. Note that if you use the cheap method, your ENG lens MUST have a built-in 2X extender. With the HDX2, your lens does not need an extender, as the HDX2 doubles the size of the lens’ image circle.
* A note about the Fujinon 10×4.8 ENG SD lens: Some variants of it have a 1.7X extender and NOT a 2X extender. These will NOT WORK. You must have a 2X extender to expand the image circle to 22mm in order to cover the Micro 4/3 sensor.
If you’re looking for some information on scene files for the Panasonic AF100, here is a cool page at Abel CineTech that tells you how to achieve several different looks with your camera. Filmmakers should check out the RANGE scene file.
Last weekend was full of intense shooting for “Arose The Coward” using the Panasonic AF100, of course. Sunday was a particularly long day. Since I started using the AJA Ki Pro Mini, there has been an ongoing problem with it; every so often, it would freak out and delete clips, or spontaneously rename them. I FINALLY figured out why it has been doing this, and corrected the problem.
I thought of the solution while I was driving to set on Sunday. I was thinking about what could possibly cause these issues, and it hit me. When I bought my Fuji X100 stills camera, there was a known issue regarding downloading images from the camera to an iPad. When the SD card was reinserted into the camera, it would cause the X100 to freak out and become unresponsive for about thirty seconds. This was due to the fact that Apple iOS was saving hidden files to the SD card when it was inserted into the iPad’s card reader. This is not a new issue; Mac OS has always saved hidden files to media that is mounted onto the system. However, the Fuji didn’t know what to make of them, and this caused problems.
Habitually, when I’ve used the Ki Pro Mini on set, instead of reformatting the card in the unit, I would simply delete the files and then empty the trash on my Macbook Pro, because it was a lot faster. It dawned on me this weekend that that was probably what was causing the Ki Pro Mini to freak out; hidden files left on the CF cards by Mac OS.
So, I made it a point to always reformat the card in the Ki Pro Mini after dumping clips, and sure enough, the problem hasn’t resurfaced. Yay me.
After using the Panasonic AF100 on a few productions now, I’m finally getting mine dialed in to where it is comfortable to use in a cinematic environment.
With the addition of the AJA rod mounting plate on my Ki Pro Mini, the rig finally feels stable enough to use in daily work. Before, the recorder was affixed to a Noga arm and simply rested on the rods. Now, it is securely fixed to them, and the Anton Bauer Hytron 140 battery is now secured to the second accessory plate on the Ki Pro Mini, and not zip-tied to the rods like before (hey, you gotta do what you gotta do on set sometimes…).
I’ll get a chance to try the rig out again this weekend when we continue filming for “Arose The Coward.”
Last weekend saw the start of my latest project with Machina Cinema, a short entitled “Arose The Coward,” which is being filmed on my Panasonic AF100. I’ve recently made some upgrades to my system, and I’ve been looking forward to putting them into service. I switched out the Kipon Canon EF to M43 mount for the new Redrock Micro LiveLens mount adapter that allows electronic interface with the Canon lens aperture. It’s pretty cool, although it doesn’t work with all the EF lenses. Not sure why. It works great with the lens I need it for most, though, which is the 16-35/2.8 L. It also works with my 70-200/2.8L IS, and my 300/2.8 L IS. However, it does not work with my 24/1.4L, which is a serious bummer, as that’s my go-to low-light lens.
For the start of production, I outfitted the AF100 with a Ki Pro Mini ProRes422 recorder, which I’ve tacked a Hytron 140 battery onto for field work. A fully charged 140 will power the Ki Pro Mini for at least 5-6 hours… pretty handy on set.
Below are some photos from the first day on set. Friend Kevin Sloan recently acquired a Steadicam Provid and was looking forward to trying it out on set. As luck woud have it, the entire first day called for Steadicam.
The more I use my AJA Ki Pro Mini, the more annoyed I get with it. It doesn’t do anything wrong, per se, or even anything poorly, but its workflow requires a little too much effort for my tastes.
For instance, I really wish it recorded to SSD instead of Compact Flash. I would be happy with one SSD port. But, the thing that really bothers me is how it is so easy to lose recorded clips if you lose power to the unit or if the CF card gets pulled before it has been unmounted. Essentially, the cards mount just like a Mac volume, and if they get yanked without first unmounting them by hitting the SLOT button, then you will assuredly lose at least the last two or three clips that were written to the card. This means that you have to unmount and remount the card after every take if you want to make sure you never lose a file. Too much trouble on a busy set. Plus, someone will inevitably pull power to the unit on occasion, which also really hoses it up.
I think I’m going to order an Atomos Samurai when they start shipping this summer. I glanced at it and talked to the dev team at NAB earlier this year, and the little box shows great promise indeed. I can’t wait to get my hands on one. Has anyone used the Atomos Ninja with an AF100 with good results? How do you handle recording 24p thru the HDMI port? Do you have to do a pulldown in post, and if so, do you see motion jutter? Please let me know, and if you can, send a link to some clips. I wonder if the Ninja would be a good substitute until the Samurai comes out.