Category Archives: Film Talk

New Domain Name: Cinema.Camera

New domain extensions were released for registration recently, and I’m pleased to announce that the domain I requested was awarded to me. Our new URL will be http://cinema.camera

Pretty sweet…

 

Cooke Kinic 1″ f/1.5 lens (coated version) on Panasonic AF100 Camera

Cooke Kinic lens on Panasonic AF100 video camera
Cooke Kinic 1″ f/1.5 (coated version) mounted to my Panasonic AF100 video camera.

So, I did something cool today. I took an old Cooke Kinic 1″ (25mm) f/1.5 lens made by Taylor Taylor & Hobson c. 1950, and mounted it to my Panasonic AF100 video camera. The Kinic is known as the king of the vertigo lenses, as it produces some amazing swirly bokeh around the outside of the frame. Some call it nausea-inducing, and I can see their point. I’m not sure if TTH meant to do this or not, but considering that Cooke lenses are known for their exceptional quality all the way back to the 19th century, I’d like to think they did.

Taylor Hobson Cooke Kinic 1" f/1.5 lens mounted on my Panasonic AF100 AVCHD video camera
A closer view of the coated front element of the Taylor Hobson Cooke Kinic 1″ f/1.5 lens (c. 1950) mounted on my Panasonic AF100 video camera

The Kinic was originally made for 16mm movie cameras like the Eyemo and Filmo models. If anyone knows of sample footage from these cameras where the Kinic was used, please let me know; I’d like to see what the image looks like. Personally, I think the Kinic is fabulous for special effects shots like dream sequences, flashbacks, etc. I certainly wouldn’t use it for everyday footage, since the AF100’s imager is much larger than the 16mm frame that the Kinic was originally intended for, where the ultra-swirly outer edges of the picture would not be visible. // Below is some footage I shot in my front yard. This is not raw footage; it has been graded using DaVinci Resolve 9. Check it out:

On Set: “Champion” starring Lance Henriksen, Dora Madison Burge, and Cody Linley

Setting up a shot on the set of "Champion."
Yours truly setting up a shot on the set of “Champion.”

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.

Bring me the hat of Lance Henriksen
Let’s start the bad-assery here: Me wearing Lance’s hat. Well… his prop hat. It counts.

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.

AF100 cameras and Samurai recorders get tuned up on the set of "Champion".
AF100 cameras and Samurai recorders get tuned up on the set of “Champion”.

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.

My AF100 ENG Kit is Shaping Up

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.

Panasonic AF100 ENG Kit with Fujinon 10x4.8 Super-wide lens, Cineroid Metal EVF, and Atomos Samurai recorder
Panasonic AF100 ENG Kit with Fujinon 10x4.8 Super-wide lens, Cineroid Metal EVF, and Atomos Samurai recorder. Anton Bauer battery powers the ENG lens' servo zoom.

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 Atomos Samurai 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…

Panasonic AF100 ENG Kit with Fujinon 10x4.8 Super-wide lens, Cineroid Metal EVF, and Atomos Samurai recorder. Anton Bauer battery powers the ENG lens' servo zoom.
Panasonic AF100 ENG Kit with Fujinon 10x4.8 Super-wide lens, Cineroid Metal EVF, and Atomos Samurai recorder. Anton Bauer battery powers the ENG lens' servo zoom.

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.

AF100 ENG lens support stud mounted under Fujinon 10x4.8 SD lens
Home Depot Special: AF100 support stud mounted under Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens

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.

Screen Grab: Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens on Panasonic AF100 recorded ProRes422 to Atomos Samurai
Post-grade Screen Grab: Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens on Panasonic AF100 recorded ProRes422 to Atomos Samurai.Click through to see a 100% crop.
Screen Grab: Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens on Panasonic AF100 recorded ProRes422 (HQ) to Atomos Samurai
Post-grade Screen Grab: Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens on Panasonic AF100 recorded ProRes422 (HQ) to Atomos Samurai.Click through to see a 100% crop.

* 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.

Day Four of Arose The Coward

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.

Here are some shots from last weekend’s shoot:

AF100 on the set of Arose The Coward
Arose The Coward director Buddy Calvo checks playback in the viewfinder of the Panasonic AF100.
Panasonic AF100 on the set of Arose The Coward starring Anthony Guajardo of Walking Dead
The Panasonic AF100 rigged to a hostess tray to capture lead actor Anthony Guajardo (of The Walking Dead) during an outdoor walking scene.
Rigging the Panasonic AF100 onto the hostess tray
First AC Kevin rigs the Panasonic AF100 onto the hostess tray to capture lead actor Anthony Guajardo (of Walking Dead) during an outdoor scene.

Dialing in the AF100

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.

20120117-202117.jpg

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.”

More production stills to follow…

New AF100 Production: Arose The Coward with Machina Cinema

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.

Panasonic AF100 and Steadicam on set
Kevin and Scott set up the AF100 on the Steadicam
Balancing the AF100 on the Steadicam
Balancing the AF100 on the Steadicam

 

Panasonic AF100 on Steadicam
Panasonic AF100 equipped with AJA Ki Pro Mini, Canon 16-35/2.8L, Redrock Micro EF-M43 adapter, remote follow focus, and Redrock Micro matte box.

 

Panasonic AF100 on the set of "Arose The Coward"
Panasonic AF100 on the set of "Arose The Coward" starring Anthony Guajardo and Viviana Chavez from the hit TV program "The Walking Dead".

 

Yours truly setting up a shot on set.
Yours truly setting up a shot on set.

 

Setting up a shot with the AF100
Setting up a shot with the AF100

 

Setting up a shot with the AF100
Setting up a shot with the AF100

 

The New Canon EOS C300 is Pretty Sweet. But…

In my professional life, I’m primarily a stills shooter. I shoot a lot of editorial and press work for folks like the Associated Press, Getty Images, newspapers, and the like. I also shoot a lot of commercial stills work, for PR firms, agencies, etc. I shoot with Canon DSLRs (and my old Canon F-1N) exclusively, except when I’m using one of my Leica rangefinders. So, I know how badass Canon’s cameras are. For video cameras, however, I’ve always preferred Panasonics. I like their design philosophy and the professional quality of their cameras.

I was excited to try the video capabilities of the EOS 5D Mark II when it was announced, and indeed, as soon as mine arrived after they had begun shipping, I shot a feature length film on it. I was pleased with the results (especially with my Zeiss ZE primes. Wow!), save the moiré and rolling shutter problems, and once Canon updated the firmware to allow for 24p and manual audio level control, it was even better. As soon as I saw how the 5D2 was changing the face of indie filmmaking – and let’s face it, the camera was a real game-changer – I immediately predicted that Canon would capitalize on the serendipitous success of their camera and design a professional camcorder body with a large imager that would provide the best of both worlds. Right away, I knew it was coming.

I did not predict, however, that Panasonic would beat them to the punch with the AF100, followed by Sony with the F3. I wasn’t really surprised, though, because it is in Canon’s nature to wait until the other players have shown their cards and then release something awesome that raises the bar again, which brings me to the subject of the new Canon EOS C300 cinema camera.

Canon EOS C300 cinema camera
Canon EOS C300 cinema camera

Admittedly, I have not yet extensively investigated the specs of the C300. I know that it outputs a 1080 HD picture and that it uses an 8MP S35-sized chip. I also know that it shoots 4:2:2 onto CF cards at a 50Mb/s data rate (I would have expected 100Mb/s). What I don’t know, however, is why it costs US $20,000. It seems to me that instead of dropping that kind of coin on a C300, my money would be better-spent buying a Sony F3, which can record 4:4:4 out to a dual-link HD-SDI recorder. Even with the S-LOG upgrade, the F3 costs less than the C300.

Obviously – hopefully – I’m missing something, and there are actually some good reasons why the Canon C300 is more expensive than a Sony F3. Is there a reader out there who has investigated the C300 thoroughly, and can shed some light on this subject?