I’m pissed off. Say that in your head like Eric Cartman would, because that’s how I’m saying it over here…
I’m pissed off at Panasonic for letting the AF100 line just die. It hasn’t been discontinued, but it hasn’t been updated. It looks like they’re just not thinking about it at all, and to me, that’s a damned shame, because the AF100 is still one of the best workhorse run-and-gun cameras I’ve ever used. If Panasonic had continued to innovate and update the camera, then by now it could very well have been Panasonic’s “Sony FS7” and I think that’s why I’m choosing now to get riled up about it.
Sony released the FS7, and on paper, it looks pretty bad-ass. And in pictures, it strongly reminds me of the AF100 in size and form, which got me to remembering how much it sucks that the AF100 hasn’t been updated since the fake-10-bit “A” variant. The FS7 looks really, really good, but I’m a Panasonic guy. I love the way Panasonics shoot, and I love their picture quality. They look so much more organic and filmic to me than the Sonys do. Dammit, Panasonic, don’t make me buy a Sony!!!
That’s the reason why I’m so upset; I’ve admitted to myself that I really want the FS7, but if the AF100 hadn’t been forgotten, it could easily have evolved by now to what the FS7 is: a sub-$10K large-sensor, interchangeable-lens 4K camera with flexible ergonomics and overcranking abilities. I keep looking at the specs of the FS7 and I can’t find anything wrong with it, even though I really want to. The only thing that made me scrunch my face up was that ProRes recording requires an extra module and a “future upgrade.” Sounds fishy to me. And expensive. But hey! 4K DCI 12-bit RAW external recording? I’d buy a Shogun for that. For sure.
There really is no other point to this post than me blowing off steam, and begging Panasonic to surprise me with something awesome before I pay off my AJ-PX270 and start saving for the FS7. Maybe by Christmas? I’ve been a very good boy, after all.
I love to support local filmmakers, especially students and those just starting out on their independent film careers. Last night, Branden, a friend and local film student, needed some help with a camera yesterday to finish shooting some scenes for his current film project, so I brought over my Samurai and AF100 for he and his crew to use. While I was there, I snapped a few pics for fun.
The very talented Lawrence Mercado (http://notbotfx.com) was on hand to make up the lead actress to look like she’d been abused, and I must say Lawrence outdid himself. What an amazing job! The best part of the story is that she had to walk into a Walmart after the shoot, looking like that, because she needed to get makeup remover. Unfortunately, none of us had a GoPro to stick on her for that so we could record people’s reactions!
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.
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:
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’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.
While covering the NAB Show floor today with my AF100, I attended a special event where Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of hit TV show Arrested Development, talked to an audience, along with members of the Arrested Development cast (Will Arnett, Jeffrey Tambor, David Cross, Jessica Walter, and Alia Shawkat) about bringing Arrested Development to Netflix and the creation of new episodes, at the Content Theater in the South Hall of the NAB Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In the same presentation, actor and director Eli Roth also spoke about his series, “Hemlock Grove” and why he is enthused about bringing content to internet-based services such as Netflix. Hurwitz and Roth both had some really cool ideas about new ways to bring content to audiences via the internet, and I left the presentation with a few ideas of my own. I’m glad I attended!
I leave for NAB this afternoon, and I’ve just finished packing. Here is the final list of gear that I’m hauling with me in just my two carry-ons (a Pelican 1310 & a ThinkTank backpack):
Panasonic AF100 camera
Redrock Micro LiveLens Canon mount
On-Camera LED light
Sennheiser shotgun mic w/dead cat
Sennheiser hand-held mic
Nikon D3 body
Atomos Samurai kit (SSD & HDD)
MacBook Pro 15
Nikon SB910 strobe
ten pounds of batteries chargers and cables
And in my two checked bags:
Redrock Micro rails with pistol grip, shoulder mount, iKan FF, and Noga arm for the Samurai. Note I have left no room for clothing. I will probably just pack it in my tripod bag. Hey, I know what’s important.
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.