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Image quality: Zoom vs primes


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#1 Alex Opdam

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 05:50 AM

I'm planning a low budget super16mm feature shoot in the next couple of months (think 'Primer' budgetary wise) and one of the decisions yet to be made is whether to go the direction of primes or a zoom.

For reference, I'll be shooting on a s16 modified Russian Kinor @ 25fps, which has a 10-100 zoom, although only the longer half is usable at super16 (vignetting).

This is the weigh up as I see it:

Zoom (Canon 7-63mm F2.6):
+ Easy/quick framing, no lens switching
+ Comes with a clip on mattebox
+ Can zoom in and focus quickly (without measuring)

Primes (Probably a basic arri kit):
+ Better quality
+ Extra 2~ stops, down to F1.4
- I'll need to rent a mattebox/baseplate combo aswell

Now the DP I've been talking to about working on this has said that if we can go primes he thinks it would be worthwhile, though admits it would slow things down a little and he would have to have a dedicated assistant (rather than just a general lighting assistant) to help with measuring focus and so forth.

I guess my question to you guys out there is how much difference I'm looking at quality wise from using a basic set of primes against what I figure is a relatively decent zoom lens. My post path is pretty much aimed at ending up with a graded master on HD from which I can go to DVD/TV or _maybe_ theatre (an off chance admittedly).

Lets assume that I don't *necessarily* need the extra 2 stops and could live with F2.8 (although the F1.4 could be handy obviously).

Thoughts and suggestions?
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#2 Stephen Williams

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 06:23 AM

Hi,

If you wan't a narrow DOF I would go with the primes wide open. You will need a good focus puller in any case!

Stephen

I'm planning a low budget super16mm feature shoot in the next couple of months (think 'Primer' budgetary wise) and one of the decisions yet to be made is whether to go the direction of primes or a zoom.

For reference, I'll be shooting on a s16 modified Russian Kinor @ 25fps, which has a 10-100 zoom, although only the longer half is usable at super16 (vignetting).

This is the weigh up as I see it:

Zoom (Canon 7-63mm F2.6):
+ Easy/quick framing, no lens switching
+ Comes with a clip on mattebox
+ Can zoom in and focus quickly (without measuring)

Primes (Probably a basic arri kit):
+ Better quality
+ Extra 2~ stops, down to F1.4
- I'll need to rent a mattebox/baseplate combo aswell

Now the DP I've been talking to about working on this has said that if we can go primes he thinks it would be worthwhile, though admits it would slow things down a little and he would have to have a dedicated assistant (rather than just a general lighting assistant) to help with measuring focus and so forth.

I guess my question to you guys out there is how much difference I'm looking at quality wise from using a basic set of primes against what I figure is a relatively decent zoom lens. My post path is pretty much aimed at ending up with a graded master on HD from which I can go to DVD/TV or _maybe_ theatre (an off chance admittedly).

Lets assume that I don't *necessarily* need the extra 2 stops and could live with F2.8 (although the F1.4 could be handy obviously).

Thoughts and suggestions?


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#3 Logan Schneider

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 11:24 AM

I think having a camera assistant is a fundemental need on narrative work. Any money that you think you are saving you will lose in time. You will also lose a lot of money on out of focus takes.

As for lenses, I would suggest primes. The quality is better. Also, the extra speed will save you time and look more like 35mm (assuming you have a focus puller).

Good luck. Tell us how it goes.
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#4 Alex Opdam

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 12:00 PM

I think having a camera assistant is a fundemental need on narrative work. Any money that you think you are saving you will lose in time. You will also lose a lot of money on out of focus takes.

As for lenses, I would suggest primes. The quality is better. Also, the extra speed will save you time and look more like 35mm (assuming you have a focus puller).

Good luck. Tell us how it goes.


Thanks for the replies - I guess this means I'm going to need to rent a follow-focus attachment aswell..
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#5 Alex Opdam

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 12:10 PM

So I guess the general concensus is that even though it's going to cost me extra to rent a matte box, follow focus attachment and a focus puller, the primes are a worthwhile direction picturewise, even if they are just a basic arri kit?
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#6 Stephen Williams

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 12:34 PM

Thanks for the replies - I guess this means I'm going to need to rent a follow-focus attachment aswell..


Hi,

For many years people managed with ears on the lenses, so if budget is very tight it's not impossible without!

Stephen
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#7 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 01:03 PM

Primes are always nice, but, if the money is tight ... Canon makes a really nice zoom; I think it's 7.8mm-56mm, T2 (???) If you're going w/ just a zoom, be careful about the minimum focus distance. Don't get stuck w/ a 5' minimum!!

If you look at my reel on my website (see my signature), you'll see the first film w/ the depressed people in it was shot super-16 and those same super-speeds. Optically, they're beautiful lenses, but they're physically so small, that our follow focus ring couldn't reach the barrel of the lens unless we removed the matte-box (or something like that). Of course, if you're doing a bunch of static shots, you can live w/ that. I think there's a mini follow focus out there somewhere, that screws in to the hand-grip screwhole on the side of the SR ... Note, that the film was pushed to make it grainy, that's not a characteristic of the primes.

The second film represented is also super-16mm shot entirely on the Canon zoom I mentionned. I think we had the superspeeds w/ us, but - again - it was such a pain to match up those little lenses w/ the matte box and follow focus, so we just went w/ the zoom the whole way, and it looks great.

If you can put the zoom on the camera at the rental house, (or wherever you're getting it) and it's pleasing to your eye, I would say get the zoom. Think of that 1 or 2 kinos you can rent w/ the money you save! Is the clip on matte box able to hold a couple of filters? If you can get them, you can help your image quality by getting a set of hard mattes.

Come to think of it, the "suspense film" clips near the end of the reel were also done super 16, primes, normal processing.

Good luck.
Jon.

Edited by Jon Rosenbloom, 04 May 2007 - 01:05 PM.

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#8 Tim Carroll

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 01:40 PM

Jon,

Nice reel. I really loved the black and white images towards the end of the woman on the street.

I see a pretty distinct difference between the first shots of the depressed people and the shots following the image of the woman with the Apple laptop computer on the veranda. What film stocks did you use for each. It might be just the film stocks, but the second set of images (I am guessing these are the ones with the Canon zoom) don't have the warmth of the images of the depressed folks. The second set of images almost have a "video look" compared to the first set.

Now I admit this is strictly a matter of opinion and a matter of taste, and is totally subjective.

And I may have misunderstood your description about the clips, but if I understand the the clips before the woman with the Apple laptop were Zeiss Super Speeds, and the clips after the woman with the laptop were the Canon zoom, then to me, there is a marked difference between the look of those lenses, if everything else being equal.

-Tim
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#9 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 05:47 PM

"And I may have misunderstood your description about the clips, but if I understand the the clips before the woman with the Apple laptop were Zeiss Super Speeds, and the clips after the woman with the laptop were the Canon zoom, then to me, there is a marked difference between the look of those lenses ..."

That's correct.

"What film stocks did you use for each?"

7218 (vision 2 500t) for the down-beat movie, 7205 (250d) for the rooftop comedy. Another variable:The first was transferred on Technicolor's Shadow, unsupervised; the second on a Rank, supervised, but older technology never-the-less.
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#10 Alex Opdam

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 08:04 PM

Thankyou all for all the helpful points!

I must admit I'm with Tim in that I much prefer the look of the 'depressed people' footage to the 'rooftop comedy' footage that follows. The general feel of the rooftop/zoom footage actually reminds me a lot of the footage I shot recently on a canon zoom - I too had it telecined on an older Diamond URSA machine so I guess it's hard to say what exactly causes the look. I guess it seems to point towards the zoom though.

Jon, would it be possible to know what lenses/telecine (if you remember) were used for the other portions of your reel?

The 3 singers and the lady who drives to a shopping centre both had a bit of a videoy look to them I thought, were they with the zoom?

I really like the footage towards the end of the guy in his house, outside on his mobile, and then the hand washing in the sink - I gather those were again done with the primes? To be honest that is pretty much spot on the look I'm going for with this project so I'm very interested to hear.

Edited by Alex Opdam, 04 May 2007 - 08:06 PM.

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#11 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 04 May 2007 - 09:47 PM

Thanks for the compliments.

"The 3 singers and the lady who drives to a shopping centre both had a bit of a videoy look to them I thought, were they with the zoom?"

--DVX-100a for the 3 singers, SDX-900 w/ the standard Fujinon news gathering lens for the shopping centre (dvcpro50 transferred to miniDV) ... The little bit at the end in Times Square w/ the woman waving good-bye is regular 16mm w/ the zoom. (A friend of mine has the zoom and the primes, so I just call him every time there's a need.)

"I really like the footage towards the end of the guy in his house, outside on his mobile, and then the hand washing in the sink - I gather those were again done with the primes?"

-- Yes, super-16mm, Zeiss super-speed T1.4 primes. Must have been 7218, or 7279 for the night stuff, 7205 for the day stuff. That probably went through Technicolor's Shadow as well ... In general, I overexpose everything 1/3, and if I have to shoot wide open, I close it a hair.

Good luck, and let us know what you end up doing.
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#12 Alex Opdam

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 02:34 AM

Thanks for the compliments.

"The 3 singers and the lady who drives to a shopping centre both had a bit of a videoy look to them I thought, were they with the zoom?"

--DVX-100a for the 3 singers, SDX-900 w/ the standard Fujinon news gathering lens for the shopping centre (dvcpro50 transferred to miniDV) ... The little bit at the end in Times Square w/ the woman waving good-bye is regular 16mm w/ the zoom. (A friend of mine has the zoom and the primes, so I just call him every time there's a need.)

"I really like the footage towards the end of the guy in his house, outside on his mobile, and then the hand washing in the sink - I gather those were again done with the primes?"

-- Yes, super-16mm, Zeiss super-speed T1.4 primes. Must have been 7218, or 7279 for the night stuff, 7205 for the day stuff. That probably went through Technicolor's Shadow as well ... In general, I overexpose everything 1/3, and if I have to shoot wide open, I close it a hair.

Good luck, and let us know what you end up doing.


Thanks for that Jon. I'm going to make my way into some rental houses next week and see what sort of deals I can get for the superspeeds with a follow focus and mattebox. Do you recall whether you used MK1 MK2 or MK3s for that 'guy in the house segment'?

I think I'll actually show those few shots of yours to my DP as a rough idea of the lighting style I might go for - were they complicated setups for the through-the-window shot or the kitchen sink? It looked like you were going for a fairly naturalistic use of practicals etc which I intend to do.
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#13 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 09:18 AM

I think the kitchen sink was just a small kino and maybe a bounce card, and the bigger shot was just more kinos inside and a couple of 1kw's outside. Couple of flags here and there. I remember being really impressed by the 7218's range because we didn't switch any of the practicals to lower wattage bulbs, but they don't blow out.

I didn't realize you're planning a feature: go for the primes.

Edited by Jon Rosenbloom, 05 May 2007 - 09:19 AM.

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#14 Alex Opdam

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Posted 07 May 2007 - 02:53 AM

I think the kitchen sink was just a small kino and maybe a bounce card, and the bigger shot was just more kinos inside and a couple of 1kw's outside. Couple of flags here and there. I remember being really impressed by the 7218's range because we didn't switch any of the practicals to lower wattage bulbs, but they don't blow out.

I didn't realize you're planning a feature: go for the primes.


Well I guess that sort of seals it then. I'll be dropping by my local rental houses to try out lens/mattebox combinations shortly.

Thanks again people!
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