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Which HD for Feature Film? your choice.


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#1 kalkarman

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 02:31 PM

It looks like i'll be directing a feature film that will be released in cinemas, dvd & TV.

I would like your opinion on which HD camera could/should be considered for the job.

I will have a proper budget, but nothing on a blockbuster scale. I need interchangeable
lenses and variable frame speed.

A side question is: of the camera you advise, what is the dimension of the frame it produces?

Many thanks,

Kal Karman
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 04:04 PM

Hi,

You're not being very specific so I'll give you two options at either end of the scale. Probably the best camera system out there is the Thompson Viper, which you can use with either conventional ENG style zoom lenses. Beware the S.Two recording system that you're liable to be offered to go with it, though - I have serious reservations about it. That's a full 1920x1080 HD camera, and it can also do 1920x1080 in 2.35:1 cinemascope too. Not cheap.

My personal favourite of the current lower end stuff is the JVC GY-HD100. Look out also for the HD250, which has HD-SDI outputs; you might even choose to record it onto something other than HDV.

But really, I don't know what level you're pitching this at.

Phil
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#3 Max Jacoby

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 04:27 PM

I guess the question that begs asking is that if are you forced to shoot on HD. Because if the film is to be released theatrically, shooting on film would make sense too, especially since you say you have a budget.

As for HD cameras, I am not a big fan of 3 chip cameras, their bokeh is appaling. I hate the magenta/green fringes on high contrast out-of-focus parts. There are some 1 chip HD camera, like the Arri D-20 and Genesis that give you 35mm depth of field and don't have this problem. But if you can afford those, especially the Genesis, you might as well shoot 35mm, which still gives a better picture. Otherwise the Silicon Imaging HD camera looks like a cheaper option than those aforementioned.
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#4 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 05:16 PM

Hi,

Beware the S.Two recording system that you're liable to be offered to go with it, though - I have serious reservations about it.
Phil



Not to thread jack, but Phil, can you go into full detail about your reservations about the S.Two? I had a recent demo of the Viper and S.Two at the Camera House and I left very impressed with the set up and the workflow, however seeing that you've worked with it first hand on an extended period of time I'm looking forward to hearing your comments

Thanks in advance.
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 06:44 PM

Uses RAID-0 on the record array - so the entire system is one sixth as reliable as a hard disk (this is utter insanity). Lose one drive, lose the mag.

The control system is a windows laptop. They're very very stingy about giving out the control software, so you can't easily set up a backup on your personal lappy. Now the system is as reliable as one laptop times one sixth of a hard disk.

The control architecture is abysmal. It's an X application running under Cygwin on a Windows laptop connected via Ethernet to the recorder. This is just complete obdurate insanity; it's like they came up with the ricketiest, flakiest possible pile of software out of spite. It fails a lot. Why they don't just connect a keyboard and monitor to the recorder (which is just a PC in a box marked "NOT A PC") is beyond me. It would remove at least four single points of failure, all of which failed for me at least once and many weekly.

It's so poorly written that if you close a window - yes, just close a window - by any other method than clicking "cancel" (such as clicking the X in the top right, hitting ALT-F4, etc) it has to be restarted. There are a half dozen other bugs like this that you just have to throw the habits of a career aside to avoid. I know exactly why this happens, for what it's worth, and I know exactly what coding mistakes have been made to ensure that it happens, and... words fail me.

It runs Red Hat Linux. Not a tweaked, trimmed-down red hat linux. All of it. It runs the printer drivers. It runs the network time updater. It runs every damn thing, and therefore takes two or three minutes to restart. And it restarts a lot.

It constantly drops out of E-E monitoring when performing basic tasks like renaming slates, resulting in screams of "where's the picture" from all over the stage.

Scene/slate numbering updates do not operate across reel changes (after the first reel, all scene/slates must be manually numbered). This is a hopelessly basic mistake.

A lot of the time it crashes why trying to rename any shot over a few seconds in length. Yes, this means it crashes when you try to renumber the take that wasn't properly numbered by the automatic system.

Because it records DPX sequences (rather than obviously superior alternatives) it has to make filename and header changes to one file for every frame of the sequence. Therefore, renumbering the slate that wasn't properly numbered, if it doesn't crash, takes minutes on end.

There is no way to move takes between scenes, creating a paperwork nightmare for the sound and continuity departments if any mistakes are made. This is made more likely by the fact that the wrong scene bin will sometimes be highlighted before hitting "record".

The backup to LTO procedure is unreliable if you change magazines in the backup device once it's been cached; this effectively halves the backup speed from published spec. If this fault does occur, it's an engineering task to make the device work again.

The tarmaps are in a proprietary format, requiring every facility to produce custom code to read them. This would be OK, since there is no standard way of doing this, but it could at least be XML and thereby readable and editable by a lot of preexisting software - it's just a bunch of unmarked text.

A lot of the time it crashes on recording the first take of a new reel. Which of course is just a wonderful moment for a failure when you've just been holding up shooting to change mags.

The windows laptop is connected via ethernet to the recorder. Now the system is as reliable as two RJ-45 connectors which were designed to hold office networks together, are rated for a tiny number of insertions, and are insulation-displacement connected to a solid core cable designed for permanent installation.

In short you would be vastly better off just running a Windows PC with an Aja Xena 2Ke board in it and the Machina software that comes with it, and knock up a quick script to TAR frames as they're recorded and begin trickling them off to LTO. You'd have to be some kind of basically competent computer user to use it, but at least that much is required for S.Two. I found myself using Linux shell commands daily just to get around the faults.

The current S.Two DFRs fail doubly - they're not simple enough for non computer people to use, but they hide too much of the technology behind bad software for an experienced computer person to really be able to get much out of it. So you need an experienced technician, but you won't actually be able to use him and he'll live in a world of frustration.

There's also some other things I dislike about S.Two. They claim the system is battery-powerable, which is a pretty laughable idea for something running two Xeon processors that pull at least 80W apiece and another seven hard disks at about 15W each, which you can't turn off between takes. The manuals were written by the designer of the system, which is a cardinal error. They're claiming the term "digital field recorder" as a trademark as if they thought of it. And they don't consider the RAID-0 problem to be an issue at all, which is an approach based on nothing more than the fact that nothing bad has happened - yet.

Unfortunately the market is uncontested. God help us all.

Phil
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#6 Tom Polson

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 11:36 PM

I would suggest recording to HDCam SR 4:4:4 RGB Log. Sony camera mountable SR recorder is a much better solution than running cables to a computer. Makes it easier in post and I don't that you would lose anything. I understand on Miami Vice they ended up dumping the S.2 and going to SR because they had so many problems with it. As for the camera, you basically have F900, Viper and the Genesis. They're all 1920x1080. Genesis let's you use film lenses. I hear there are some noise issues.
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 06:31 AM

Hi,

I don't think there's any real substitute for genuine uncompressed recording, and HDCAM-SR can't give you that. That said, I hope S.Two doesn't become the de facto way of doing it, or at least, they buck their ideas up.

The difference between the F900 and the Viper is rather pronounced; Viper is not the quietest picture in the world but the dynamic range is very good.

Phil
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#8 Michael Most

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 08:37 AM

Hi,

I don't think there's any real substitute for genuine uncompressed recording, and HDCAM-SR can't give you that.


Unless you're shooting with a camera that can deliver more than HD resolution (i.e., something that's not limited to 1920x1080), there's no qualitative or quantitative difference between "uncompressed" and SR's compression, other than the fact that using SR is simpler, more portable, and arguably more reliable. Not as flexible, but more reliable. Many, many tests have been done using difference mattes on 20+ generations of SR encoding and none have shown any difference whatsoever, at the pixel level. You may have a personal issue with it due to some devotion to being a purist - and I understand that - but empirical evidence has proven that your fears are unfounded. I think the SR format would have been better off had Sony not chosen to attach the "HDCam" moniker to it, but that's marketing, not reality. Reality is that there is no similarity whatsoever between HDCam and HDCam SR other than the fact that they both use 1/2 inch tape.

Compression is a very good thing if there are no ill effects from it.
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#9 Keith Mottram

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 09:42 AM

As for the camera, you basically have F900, Viper and the Genesis. They're all 1920x1080. Genesis let's you use film lenses. I hear there are some noise issues.


Erm or a D20, which is in my opinion far surperior to any of these three, especially considering that you can use it with anamorphic lenses. I honestly don't know why anyone would choose a viper over a D20- I mean I like a lot about the viper, but do you actually want your options reduced? Gee I love that green cast, that delay in the digital viewfinder (i know its now marginal), the crappy build and weight distribution and hey lets limited my lens choices whilst I'm at it.
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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 10:07 AM

Hi,

I'd take the Viper because it's a video camera and that's where my experience lies.

What bothers me about the D20 is that it is also a video camera but it's pretending to be a film camera, thus giving you the worst of both worlds as far as I'm concerned.

Phil
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#11 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 10:22 AM

There is no way to move takes between scenes, creating a paperwork nightmare for the sound and continuity departments if any mistakes are made. This is made more likely by the fact that the wrong scene bin will sometimes be highlighted before hitting "record".
Phil



I thought there was a modification made to the S.Two that allowed you to immediately delete bad takes [due to sound, continuity, acting, etc ] and the accompanying metadata?

BTW, Phil, thanks for your detailed post.
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#12 Keith Mottram

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 11:11 AM

What bothers me about the D20 is that it is also a video camera but it's pretending to be a film camera, thus giving you the worst of both worlds as far as I'm concerned.

Phil


Why? Because it has an optical viewfinder? Is it because it is made by Arri? Dont mean to be a pain, but am genuinely interested in what aspect you dislike about this camera.
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#13 John Holland

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 11:16 AM

I had this camera on my shoulder at the 2005 B.S.C show at Elstree , loved it , never had opportunity to shoot anything with it , but love anything Arri do , have a feeling this is the one. John Holland, London.
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#14 Chance Shirley

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 12:22 PM

I heard the D20 has an optical viewfinder. This sounds like a great idea. One of my many things I hate about video cameras is the viewfinders and/or the little fold-out monitors.
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#15 John Holland

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 12:30 PM

Yes it does just like using film camera , i really hate little b+w tv pics in a viewfinder . John Holland, London.
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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 01:11 PM

Hi,

> I thought there was a modification made to the S.Two that allowed you to immediately delete bad takes [due
> to sound, continuity, acting, etc ] and the accompanying metadata?

You can delete takes, but I take a very dim view of it. Nobody but nobody is objective enough to make those kinds of decisions on set. Considering what the footage is worth, which isn't that obvious when you've just shot it, that's a decision worth deferring. There isn't really any metadata other than what's in the DPX header.

> am genuinely interested in what aspect you dislike about this camera

Not that I've used it in anger.

It is big and heavy and boxy, difficult to hold. You have to bear in mind that the optical viewfinder just means I don't know where my exposure is with sufficient accuracy, it is not a plus for me. The PL lens mount just means it takes incredibly expensive lenses and I don't have a choice about that; at least on a Viper I can mount an ENG lens if I want to.

The insistence of film camera people on a camera with as many 90-degree angles on it as possible defeats me utterly.

This is not so much an issue of what's better but what you're more used to. From my perspective, there is nothing about a video camera that causes it to be a problem when used in single-camera, feature style shooting, but there's a ton of stuff that you can't change about a D20 which means it'll always be a bear to handle.

Phil
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#17 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 02:01 PM

You can delete takes, but I take a very dim view of it. Nobody but nobody is objective enough to make those kinds of decisions on set.
>



Well, I'm sure no director besides David Fincher would have the objectivity, cajones, inclination , much more the power and control to be able to do so on a feature.



Appreciate your comments.
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#18 Michael Most

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 02:41 PM

You have to bear in mind that the optical viewfinder just means I don't know where my exposure is with sufficient accuracy, it is not a plus for me.


Maybe for you. But for most professional operators, it means being able to accurately see focus, and more importantly, being able to see beyond the photographed frame, allowing better anticipation for both getting shots and avoiding problems. It has little to nothing to do with judging exposure.
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#19 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 02:53 PM

Phil, you may find the comments/review of the Arri D20 by Steadicam operator Eric Fletcher, S.O.C. to be interesting and insightful.

Arri D 20 comments by Eric Fletcher, S.O.C.
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#20 Max Jacoby

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 02:56 PM

I doubt Phil will ;)
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