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first feature with f900


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#1 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 12:44 PM

Hi,

...I've just been offered an indie feature (my first feature...) dop gig starting in a couple of weeks on an f900. I'd appreciate any advice you guys could give.

- I come from more of a film background but do have extensive experience on sony digibeta. I've yet to go into more detail on the kit with production but they've mentioned a preferred supplier doing a deal on the camera with adaptor and ultra primes - I've read here that that's okay for tv/dvd but not so great if it's going to print (which as yet I don't know) so am wondering about what lenses to use.

The schedule is bound to be tight with a fast turnover & it's a comedy ensemble piece with some well known tv actors in the UK. I've been told I'll have a focus puller and an assistant and am a little concerned about the lack of dit... What monitors would you guys recommend I use? I'm due to go into greater detail with production on Monday and will insist on doing some tests re setup and filtration tests etc. Any tips in relation to the f900 would be appreciated...
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 03:52 PM

I really don't understand the obsession with these 35mm adapters on 2/3" chip cameras. Quality HD Cine lenses at wide apertures look excellent and sufficiently "cinematic" most of the time, unless you need a very specific, shallow focus look. But otherwise adapters just cost you camera speed, resolution, contrast, setup & maintenance time, and so on. And to me "ensemble comedy" means "focus splits." Do you really want shallow d.o.f. with multiple characters in frame?

On set I'm fond of the Panasonic BT-LH1700W monitor. It's got a large screen, great image, built-in waveform and is lightweight. For initial camera prep you might want to use a larger CRT monitor, but once you're satisfied with the look(s) you've programmed you don't always have to drag around a big heavy CRT on set.

As for filters, settings, etc. there's no one right answer. If there's a specific "look" you're going for we might be able to help guide you in the right direction.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 04:45 PM

For feature work on a 2/3" HD camera, I think adaptors would be more trouble than they are worth. If you shoot at f/2 on an HD lens, it's like shooting at an f/4-5.6 split in 35mm, which is hardly the worst thing in the world. For tighter shots (and modern movies seem to having little else) you'll still get a soft background unless it is a wide-angle close-up.

Not to mention that if you need to use a zoom (and many 35mm zooms are limited to an f/2.8-4 split, so where's the advantage over an f/2 HD zoom?), you'll be using a big heavy slow 35mm zoom on an adaptor and getting less sharpness than a good HD zoom, which will also be lighter and faster.

The adaptors make more sense on a camera with a 1/3" sensor.
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#4 Michael Nash

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 08:01 PM

I really don't understand the obsession with these 35mm adapters on 2/3" chip cameras.


Sorry Rupe, that wasn't a criticism directed at you specifically; more at the production and others who may think that 35mm lenses are necessary to make HD footage look "like film."
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#5 Chayse Irvin

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 08:39 PM

I agree there is a lot of draw backs to a 35mm adapter and depending on the look your going for a lot of the time its not that useful. I use if often because I love using wider lenses and still having the ability to selectively focus on certain information in the frame. I think it?s a valuable story telling tool. A lot of the stories I?ve been shooting lately thrive when I can direct the viewers eye to a certain thing within the frame by focus, and I love the ability to direct the viewers eye in that way while still showing a lot of the setting. I am willing to sacrifice for that. Whenever I see a long lens in a film I get this feeling where I'm actually looking through a long lens instead of watching a movie, I think it is because in reality the human eye is a wide lens that selectively focuses on objects. I think that feeling translates on screen.

A painter friend of mine once told me that he only paints detail on his canvases where he wants the viewer to see, its a way to manipulate that viewer, then he showed me a painting of a man. I didn?t notice this at first but in the painting the man was being stomped on by a polar bear, but I couldn't see it, all I could see was the man because he was so detailed, in his clothing and body, everything around him seemed abstract, but with a closer look it told a story. I feel the same way about my cinematography.
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#6 Chris Keth

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 08:52 PM

You should check out Stuart brereton's post in the "In Production" section. He just finished a feature on the F900R and it looks quite nice. I was his 1st and I can give you the rundown on the settings and some things to watch.
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#7 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 28 October 2007 - 09:09 AM

Sorry Rupe, that wasn't a criticism directed at you specifically; more at the production and others who may think that 35mm lenses are necessary to make HD footage look "like film."


... I didn't take it as a criticism! - I'm not keen on the use of an adaptor either, if like David says it was on a 1/3" chip I probably would but thankfully it's not! - it's a little irritating when production says they've done a deal on kit when they've not asked my opnion yet but they're probably just based this on their last hire...

- I'm very reluctant to use an adaptor for a number of reasons, because I know I can can good results with available lenses and more importantly I'm shooting in the North West of the Uk and winter is fast approaching: low winter sun with shrinking daylight shooting hours (it's a 4 week shoot) aren't great and I don't want to be losing 2 stops to start with! Once I know for sure if they're planning on going for a theatrical release or not I'll make the call on glass & if there are endless set-ups and unit moves (it's going to be location driven no doubt) I don't want to be losing time changing lenses so may well end up going for a couple of good hd zooms... time will tell on this one...

Diffusion-wise I'm quite fond of rear element mounted nets with an i-ring using black or white bridal gown material. It' nice and easy to set-up and leaves me free to add nd glass to control my stop. I'll probably test some subtle warming filters like coral's etc to enhance the skin tones/overall look. I'll test these on the cameras as soon as I can...

Chris - I'll have a look at Stuart Brereton's post and may well get in contact with you - cheers... the set up of menus is one of the other key questions... I've ordered Paul Wheelers book on hd cinematography which is pretty much all about the f900 so that should help. In the past I've found his digi-beta set up's pretty pleasing on the eye...

My other main challenge is ordering lighting kit. I've focus-pulled and operated on biggish shoots and have always tried to take notes on fixture's used etc etc but on a lot of the lighting work I've done myself it's been on a smaller scale so working out what I need on a bigger scale will be a challenge to get right. I've yet to talk to the gaffer (I've got a three man lighting team as far as I know at the moment...) to see what his experience is. It's always best to be honest in these situations and I'll be looking for his advice and experience. I'll know the look that I want on set and will rely on his guidance and skill to help create it... It's all about planning and teamwork.

... I'm very excited to get this break and am determined this will be the beginning of bigger and better things. I've turned down a few tv jobs this year because I want to be doing more interesting work and not just work that pays the bills...

Cheers,

Rupe
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 October 2007 - 11:39 AM

If you are doing a final color-correction for the project and maybe a film-out, personally I think the Panavision approach is the right one, which is generally to just turn off everything -- no Detail, no Color Matrix (no Rec-709), no Black Gamma.

Rec 709 (aka ITU-709) sets the chroma levels for monitor viewing, but you get a lot of boosting of the red chroma, which is somewhat unnatural on red lips or faces in warm underexposed lighting. Turning it off gives you are somewhat muted color palette.

Black Gamma allows you to lower the contrast in the shadows, but frankly, video generally is pretty good about shadow detail -- it's the highlights that are the weak spot. And using too much Black Gamma manipulation will give you more noise in the shadows.

I used to set the Master Black at +1 or +2 to get a flatter image on tape for later color-correction, but I found that I was always adding more black back into the image, so even that wasn't necessary.
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#9 Michael Nash

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Posted 28 October 2007 - 04:19 PM

Diffusion-wise I'm quite fond of rear element mounted nets with an i-ring using black or white bridal gown material. It' nice and easy to set-up and leaves me free to add nd glass to control my stop.


In SD/Digibeta I agree, but it doesn't translate directly to HD. Rear-mounted nets soften the image quite a bit (even fine fabric like black tulle), And you usually want as much sharpness as you can get if you're blowing up to film. Definitely test, but you'll generally want to reduce the density of your lens diffusion quite a bit compared to what you use in SD.
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#10 Michael Nash

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Posted 28 October 2007 - 04:25 PM

Black Gamma allows you to lower the contrast in the shadows, but frankly, video generally is pretty good about shadow detail -- it's the highlights that are the weak spot. And using too much Black Gamma manipulation will give you more noise in the shadows.


Believe it or not, you can use black gamma to help with those highlights. By raising the Master Gamma and the Black Gamma slightly, you can close down the iris about 1/3-1/2 stop for better highlight response, while keeping a similar-looking contrast though the mids and shadows. But any "lift" in signal luminance (gamma or black gamma) does raise the noise as well.

It's definitely something you need to test before committing to it, though.
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#11 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 28 October 2007 - 04:50 PM

... thanks for your input so far... I'll know more tomorrow and have a test day and tech' recce in a week... interesting about the rear element nets from Michael... and having seen the look of Stuart Brereton's Blood River with 1/4 & 1/2 blk promist that's another possibility, perhaps a warm black promist could be good for me... time will tell.
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#12 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 07:13 AM

so... I'm going to being do a bit of initial testing with the f900 tomorrow, with a set of digi-primes and canon/fuji hd zooms. Also will look at some subtle diffusion filters - 1/8 & 1/4 black promist & maybe classic softs'. The director is keen to avoid a bluish look (and I'd expect quite a lot of overcast days with our exteriors) so I'm inclined to use a subtle coral/warming or warm black promist rather than the rec 709 menu

The director wants to shoot 2.35:1 and production do plan to go to print if they get a good response & distribution once the film is cut. There will also be some cgi content during post as there are a number of flashback scenes set in the 1950s... a post company has done some initial testing on re-creating a now demolished railway line for them. Thankfully the story is set in the autumn/winter time so I won't be fighting the weather (other than rain and cold no doubt) too much. Much of the story is set in a scrap-yard, production have secured a good (and large) working site to which some sets are being built. The other key locations all look good from the stills I've seen with plenty of space to work and light in. My main concern with the camera is getting the best image for the later film-out print re menu settings, good prime glass and control of highlights.

... Interesting reading Paul Wheelers' view on using a waveform monitor - he finds it a bit of a hindrance and reckons it can make you play too safe by keeping everything within the parameters of the waveform'. I've not used a waveform monitor before and would prefer to know I have a well set-up hd monitor and then can then trust my eye and the monitor with lighting and ratios etc. Interested to know your opinions on this?... Also normally when I've shot with digi-beta I've always stopped down 1/3-1/2 a stop. As they may go to print would this still be the best option on the f900?

One hassle is the production budget, it's being very tightly financed and they're struggling to find a local focus puller & assistant with good experience in the area. As they have no money for a dedicated operator, I suggested a recommended focus puller and assistant who are keen to do some operating and focus pulling respectively - so I can step back and work more as a dop than ligthing cameraman. I don't like the idea of getting sucked fully into both operating and doing dop duties - it's by no means ideal as its a bit of a recipy for rushing, compromise and getting too tired to do either well.......
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 10:35 AM

A slight amount of underexposure is OK, but otherwise, expose the way you want it to look but watch the highlights. HDCAM can get noisy in certain solid colors, particularly blue, so don't compound the problem by underexposing too much (like for a blue moonlight scene) and having to brighten it in post. Noise that you can't see on a CRT monitor will show up in the film-out.

I shot eight features on the F900 and only used the zebras and the monitor as an exposure guide. Worked OK. I think some small amount of clipping is sort of inevitable if you plan on using any interesting lighting that pushes the dynamic range. I'd rather have an interesting shot that has some minor clipping than a boring, safe shot.

Key word though is "minor" -- you don't want distracting amounts of clipping except in rare cases.
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#14 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 11:31 AM

A slight amount of underexposure is OK, but otherwise, expose the way you want it to look but watch the highlights. HDCAM can get noisy in certain solid colors, particularly blue, so don't compound the problem by underexposing too much (like for a blue moonlight scene) and having to brighten it in post. Noise that you can't see on a CRT monitor will show up in the film-out.

I shot eight features on the F900 and only used the zebras and the monitor as an exposure guide. Worked OK. I think some small amount of clipping is sort of inevitable if you plan on using any interesting lighting that pushes the dynamic range. I'd rather have an interesting shot that has some minor clipping than a boring, safe shot.

Key word though is "minor" -- you don't want distracting amounts of clipping except in rare cases.


... Thanks David

... with my night-lit exteriors I'm planning on more of a subtle green/grey moonlight...
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#15 Chad Terpstra

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 04:07 AM

Rupe, now that you've shot your first feature with the F900 are there any pearls of wisdom you've learned from the experience? I'd love to hear how it went both in terms of the camera and your day-to-day experiences.
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