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Untitlied DSLR feature


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#1 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 11:39 PM

Just started a pre-principal day on a LA based ULB feature. The pre day is due to one actor's schedule.

Camera is a 7D fitted with Nikon primes and basic FF, base plate, etc. I wanted Zeiss but the Nikons have worked out better than I thought, so far. For this night no monitor was available.

Settings I ended up using were simple: Sharpening turned all the way down, contrast all but one notch down and saturation down two notches. This seems to give at least some options in post for the little bit CC work that can be done to an 8bit file. At the least, make sure your sharpening is off so you can mess with that in post. The line skipping all of these (as of mid 2010) DSLR's do can get you in trouble, esp. when sharpening in camera.

There is a lot of talk about the dynamic range of these cameras but I haven't found it to be a big deal and it is certainly not as bad as reversal film like I had heard early on. Range isn't everything and sometimes lots of it isn't a benefit anyway, especially when you can see what you are getting.

I am balancing everything toward the warm, usually with the custom color balance tool. I'm hoping to keep things very "low-pressure sodium" and dirty overall.

The story revolves around an illegal US immigrant who joins the military to get her green card. She was the only female to excel in a sniper training program but is soon dishonorably discharged due to some fighting and sent back to LA to a dying mother and hungry children. She is offered a job taking out people on a crime boss's hit list. As her kids starve due to her not being able to work as an illegal, she finds it hard to resist the offer.

I only have a couple of grabs for now. These are re-compressed jpg's, uncorrected. Hopefully more will come later when shooting has started back in June/July.

slr.jpg
This was mostly available street light. Slight fill comes from a Biax that can be seen hitting the table at left, indicating an open restaurant that they would be entering though they hadn't quite walked into that yet. I believe this was at 1000asa at T2.8 on an 85mm. I was trying hard to stay away from 1250+ as the noise becomes exaggerated over that, depending on several factors, but when there is noise it often has a film grain look to it. The actors were moving pretty fast so there is some motion blur. They walk into a close-up in this shot so I was trying to stay at a 2.8 at the least.

slr2.jpg
This is once again the 85mm. I had little to no time to set up anything in this restaurant. A small china ball provides the key and I got a little bounce off of a menu for the eyes. I wasn't allowed to replace any bulbs which would have helped a lot at this location. I wanted the eye sockets a little dark as these are some pretty shady characters. I would greatly prefer to key it via the underneath bounce alone but, beggars can't be choosers.

The lighting goal on this feature is to try to use all available light and keep it real and not at all pretty. I'm only bumping it up when really needed and only with very small lights, some bounce or a well placed table lamp. A few flags, a 2ft. Mole Biax and a 250w china will probably light 90% of it. (somehow)
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#2 Andrew Poland

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Posted 31 May 2010 - 11:06 AM

I believe this was at 1000asa at T2.8 on an 85mm. I was trying hard to stay away from 1250+ as the noise becomes exaggerated over that, depending on several factors, but when there is noise it often has a film grain look to it.


Believe it or not, the native ISO settings for the 7d/5dmk2/1dmk4 are 160,320,640,1250. This basically means that if you are shooting 1000 ISO, you are better off bringing the ISO up to 1250 to avoid extra digital noise from the sensor pushing down to the 1000 ISO level.

A video of a duder talking all about it. Hope this helps for future shoots especially since you are looking to achieve an unlit look.


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#3 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 31 May 2010 - 03:15 PM

Thanks Andrew but I looked into this quite a bit before starting. It appears to me that its best to keep the setting as low as possible, most of the time. There is talk of less range outside the native numbers but, I don't always need it or care about it. I had set up a test shot with many different levels of dark cloth and shadows, along with some almost blown out highlights, and did shots at 800, 1000, 1250 and 1600. The lower the number, the less noise overall in problem areas. Admittedly all we had was a 23" HD monitor and little time but it was enough for me to go on in this case, on top of reading probably every article written by pro shooters that have used these cameras.

Also, as was the case for that ext. shot, I may want my stop to land at a certain place and dialing in the best setting helps me do that. At 640 the exposure might be too far under and I'd have to shoot wide open (not good on a Nikon prime) and at 1250 I may start losing the highlights a little too much and have to go to a T4. We are keeping things fairly shallow most of the time and a T4 was a little too much for that shot. This was grabbed very quickly, as were many other shots, and the mattebox and ND were packed away and I was without an AC on it.

This film allows for some low noise levels if needed, loss of focus and harsh lighting. I'd rather shoot it the way we want to, rather than worry or be encumbered by some issue that will allow only some slight increase in image quality.
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#4 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 02:54 PM

For the record, I'm off this "movie". The new principal dates were pushed back till August last I heard, though now no one seems to know anything. I have a feeling it is falling apart for some budget related reasons but I have to move on to other things.

Judging from the small amount of footage I shot with the 7D, there is no doubt that these cameras have a place. Learning their limitations isn't too tough and shooting with it isn't as much a pain as some have made it out to be. Getting a decent monitoring set-up is key, as is watching how the video is handled in post. We used a simple little set-up that came from "Indie Rentals" and the producer seemed very happy with the deal they got.

Notes:
The 7D proved to be a lot easier to work with in this case, than the 5D. The huge sensor size/FoV issues of the 5 really causes some focusing nightmares.

The overheating issues that I kept hearing about didn't arise. I was going from one battery to another at one point with lots of on-time and never had a problem.

If you go hand-held and are over a 35mm lens esp., try adding weight or using a full rig to help ease the micro vibrations. Adding length to the rig seems to be the key.
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#5 Richard Boddington

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 04:02 PM

How is the audio handled on a shoot like this?

How do you record it? How do you synch it?

R,
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#6 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 12:00 PM

It was being recorded separately. Slated like film. I recorded sound in-camera but it was just for reference. All the SLR's suffer, as of this date, from auto gain and non-pro inputs, etc.. There are work-arounds out there like that's being offered from AbelCine where a "box" will trick the AG with a low Hz tone, it also allows for XLR and monitoring. This might be ideal for some simple applications, interview set-ups, etc. I assume you'd be at the quality level of all the HVX-like cams out there at that point.
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 12:50 PM

I've got something that may or may not be in the works which would, from the budget and desired-result sort of standpoint, be a shoo-in for DSLR.

However, there's a couple of fight scenes, and I'm a bit concerned that all the fast movement may come off slightly odd with rolling shutter.

Any ideas?

P
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#8 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 03:11 PM

Yeah there seems to be some legitimate concerns with fast movement, and the compression and shutter issues. You can see some wobble or jello effect sometimes in posted footage though it is tough to pinpoint what might cause that to happen exactly. On the other hand, nothing I personally shot so far had that issue that I can find. Also, I just watched a quick little hand-held, fast-motion "audition/reel" clip that seemed to suffer very little from any of this and it came from a 7D being handled with no rig, even while running a few times. I will PM you an HD Youtube link when I find it.

I think it's a great idea to just go out and start shooting with one of these things and see for yourself. I got too caught up in the tech articles, supposed professional opinions and seminars and found it a huge relief to just see for myself. Hopefully I will get to do something with it again, though with a little better support/time next time.

Opinion: The 7D seems the best of all worlds to me, for now. If Canon or Nikon upgrades the compression a notch and tweaks the sound issue, I can't see much of a reason for some of those other mid/lower-end digital cameras coming out to exist at all. The lens choices you have are endless with these things and even the stock L series Canon glass is pretty amazing alone. (less the short focus travel of still glass)
I'm shooting a few FX plates for an CGI trailer in a couple weeks and we decided on some L zooms and a 7D actually.
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#9 Scott Bullock

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 05:26 PM

Hi Vincent,

What Nikon primes did you use and where did you obtain your adapter?

The grabs look pretty good. I think doing a feature on one of these cameras is completely doable.
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#10 Scott Bullock

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 05:37 PM

I meant to add, I've noticed slight motion blur in some fast action stuff, but as for wobble and jello effect, I've only noticed that when doing whip pans and things of that nature. The images seem to hold tight under most "normal" shooting situations.
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#11 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 08:19 PM

The Nikons are what you usually see at smaller rental houses for low budget projects. They supplied this kit to me from Indie Rentals and are the older Nikon AI still primes and came with an adapter in the case. I used the same ones on a recent RED shoot and it was amazing how well they held up against a Zeiss kit that we also used, though wide open isn't a good idea on the Nikons.

I don't know the brand of the adapter. One of those cheap ones are worthless, by the way. Expect to pay for anything decent. Samy's camera sells a nice one.

Some indie features have already been shot on the SLR's. I know of at least one that did well at the 2010 SXSW fest and it was shot all on a 7D. Can't recall its name though. I'd definitely go with one of these over one of those ridiculous 35mm lens adapted HD cams, which I've luckily been able to avoid. I've already run into a few indie projects that were budgeted with red money but decided on an SLR so they can (and rightfully so) put more money into sets, food, costumes, etc.
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#12 Scott Bullock

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 11:31 PM

The Nikons are what you usually see at smaller rental houses for low budget projects. They supplied this kit to me from Indie Rentals and are the older Nikon AI still primes and came with an adapter in the case. I used the same ones on a recent RED shoot and it was amazing how well they held up against a Zeiss kit that we also used, though wide open isn't a good idea on the Nikons.

I don't know the brand of the adapter. One of those cheap ones are worthless, by the way. Expect to pay for anything decent. Samy's camera sells a nice one.

Some indie features have already been shot on the SLR's. I know of at least one that did well at the 2010 SXSW fest and it was shot all on a 7D. Can't recall its name though. I'd definitely go with one of these over one of those ridiculous 35mm lens adapted HD cams, which I've luckily been able to avoid. I've already run into a few indie projects that were budgeted with red money but decided on an SLR so they can (and rightfully so) put more money into sets, food, costumes, etc.


I need to find myself a good adapter then, since I have a whole host of Nikon primes - every popular focal length from 15mm to 300mm. So far, I've only been using a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens, and the results with that sucker are pretty darned good. I have no idea why it didn't occur to me to adapt my Nikkors until I read this thread. I've been using them on Super 16 productions for a long time.

That's cool to know that indie features are being made with these cameras, and really, why not? I agree that the money is better spent in front of the camera.
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 11:42 PM

That's cool to know that indie features are being made with these cameras, and really, why not? I agree that the money is better spent in front of the camera.


That's sort of a gross generalization, isn't it? Sure, a "Clerks" probably could be shot on anything, but a widescreen landscape movie like "Northfork" (or "Baraka") needed a certain level of resolution.

Surely how you shoot a movie is often part of its production value -- what's the point of spending more on locations, costumes, etc. if your format doesn't show them off well? I mean, you wouldn't have spent all that money on the sets and effects for "2001" only to shoot it on a DV camera, would you? If I were talking a tiny crew into the Jordanian desert or Yosemite Valley, etc. I might consider using a shooting format to take best advantage of that location even if it meant I had to spend less money elsewhere. I'm just saying... you can't always say that it's worthwhile in terms of raising production value to shift money spent on the shooting format into other aspects of production, because the shooting format is part of the production value. So it really depends on the particular project as to how to spend your limited funds wisely; starting out by picking the cheapest shooting format possible isn't always going to be the best plan of attack.

I've just been hearing this "the money is better spent in front of the camera" for over a decade now, ever since DV cameras started being used for indie features. It was not always true back then any more than it is always true today: sometimes it's worthwhile to spend the money on the shooting format, for the right project where image quality and resolution is a primary storytelling tool.
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#14 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 09:10 AM

May I rephrase David's argument, and say that film is a visual medium. It goes in through the eyes.

That said, we all want to do the best we can as photographers, but it's the producers who decide on the format.

That said, do we consider it progress that the operator no longer looks through a viewfinder?
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#15 Rob Vogt

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 09:18 AM

David... You should have shot Public Enemies!
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#16 Scott Bullock

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 01:24 PM

That's sort of a gross generalization, isn't it? Sure, a "Clerks" probably could be shot on anything, but a widescreen landscape movie like "Northfork" (or "Baraka") needed a certain level of resolution.

Surely how you shoot a movie is often part of its production value -- what's the point of spending more on locations, costumes, etc. if your format doesn't show them off well? I mean, you wouldn't have spent all that money on the sets and effects for "2001" only to shoot it on a DV camera, would you? If I were talking a tiny crew into the Jordanian desert or Yosemite Valley, etc. I might consider using a shooting format to take best advantage of that location even if it meant I had to spend less money elsewhere. I'm just saying... you can't always say that it's worthwhile in terms of raising production value to shift money spent on the shooting format into other aspects of production, because the shooting format is part of the production value. So it really depends on the particular project as to how to spend your limited funds wisely; starting out by picking the cheapest shooting format possible isn't always going to be the best plan of attack.

I've just been hearing this "the money is better spent in front of the camera" for over a decade now, ever since DV cameras started being used for indie features. It was not always true back then any more than it is always true today: sometimes it's worthwhile to spend the money on the shooting format, for the right project where image quality and resolution is a primary storytelling tool.


Hi David,

Yes, it's absolutely a gross generalization. Then again, our definitions of an indie movie are probably much different. An indie movie to me might be 30K to 100K, whereas to you it might be 1 - 10 million. Format is absolutely a consideration and I never meant to undermine its significance in a given production. Some indie features can afford to shoot on any format they want because the production can sustain it. If an indie film is being shot for 3 million, for example, then it can shoot on RED, 35MM, Super 16, or whatever format they deem to be the most aesthetically pleasing to the project. On the other hand, if one is doing a 30K movie, its probably rarely, if ever, going to be worth it to spend 95% of that money to shoot 16mm. Anyway, that's what I meant by the phrase when I said, "the money is better spent in front of the camera." Again, it comes down to how one defines an "indie film." There probably aren't a lot of 30K indie films venturing into the Jordanian desert, whereas you might see a 6 million dollar film doing that. So yes, I agree, picking the cheapest format possible *isn't* the best plan of attack. I've heard of producers using that phrase ('the money is better spent in front of the camera') stretching much farther back than the advent of DV though. Sean Cunningham said the same thing about the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT when trying to decide whether to shoot on 16mm or 35mm. Anyway, I never meant to imply that choosing the cheapest format possible should be the *first* consideration on an indie feature, just that, when money is limited, it's worth exploring what money is being spent where and why.
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#17 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 01:46 PM

David... You should have shot Public Enemies!


Yeah, good example of picking the wrong way to do something. I'll second that.
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#18 JD Hartman

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 07:58 PM

Lots of Sodium streetlights in that area? Or is it a post production effect. Skin tone of the male at the table (to me at least) seems almost orange.
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#19 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 23 June 2010 - 02:19 AM

Lots of Sodium streetlights in that area? Or is it a post production effect. Skin tone of the male at the table (to me at least) seems almost orange.


Yes, lots of them outside but not in the close up. Don't know what to tell you other than it was warmed up slightly in-camera and the key was a 3200k halogen photo flood. There were some small tungsten bulbs in the place that added a little to the room overall and as you can see, the orange walls could be a factor there. It is important to dial in your colors as close as you can with these 8 bit files since you can do little later on compared to "raw" files so I was always trying to stay on the warmer side.

Like was posted, those grabs were not corrected. It doesn't appear overly orange to me although I've seen that frame on three different computers and the way it varies on each monitor makes me not want to post anything again. Add to that how more and more people seem to scrutinize not only cameras but finer details of people's work over the extremely variable and compressed internet. Plenty of people now, for some reason that is beyond me, even try judging motion picture cameras, stocks and lenses by looking at one posted frame, but that's another thread I guess.
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#20 Noah Yuan-Vogel

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 01:56 PM

Believe it or not, the native ISO settings for the 7d/5dmk2/1dmk4 are 160,320,640,1250. This basically means that if you are shooting 1000 ISO, you are better off bringing the ISO up to 1250 to avoid extra digital noise from the sensor pushing down to the 1000 ISO level.

A video of a duder talking all about it. Hope this helps for future shoots especially since you are looking to achieve an unlit look.



From what I understand, isos 100,200,400,800,1600 are all native (hardware gain only), whereas 120,250,500,1000,2000 use the same hardware gain as the lower native step plus 1/3stop of software gain and 160,320,640,1250 use the same hardware gain as the higher native step plus -1/3 stop of software gain. Hardware gain increases are able to increase sensitivity with minor noise increases, whereas software gain can only appear to change exposure by shifting midpoints and throwing away shadow or highlight detail. The -1/3stop software gain levels appear to have the least noise because they simply throw away shadow/noise detail. for example isos 160-250 all have the same clip point with different black and mid points, so if a practical is blowing out at iso250 and you lower 2/3stops to iso160 to compensate, the practical should still be clipping but the rest of the image will appear darker and image noise will appear lower. Whereas if all steps were implemented with hardware gain, the practical that just clips at iso250 might not clip at isos 200 or 160 but the difference in noise level would be less dramatic. If someone has evidence otherwise I'd be interested to see it as I dont believe Canon has verified any of the theories out there.
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