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My director wants to shoot his feature with DSLRS


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#1 Brian Rose

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 02:26 PM

A director with whom I've worked in the past plans to start shooting a feature this May. It's your usual low budget affair, 10k to 15K, but he's a good guy, and we're part of a group of dedicated collaborators, so it'll be another fun experience, which money can't buy.

But the concern I have is the director wants to buy a DSLR to shoot it with. I think this is a mistake. He's after that shallow DoF, because he "wants to keep the focus on the actors." I think this is rather a weak justification to invest in all that additional gear, especially when what he's after could be done just as well and with far more artistry through lighting, composition, aperture settings, position of the camera and focal length relative to the subject, etc.

But he's still leaning toward DSLR, or getting a lens adapter and some primes to go with the EX1 he already owns. I've found the EX1 can get a nice shallow DoF without spending $$$ on adapters and additional lenses...frankly I regard that stuff as junk anyways, and anything you place in front of the camera's lens is just going to decrease image sharpness and contrast.

Next time we chat I'm going to try again to get him away from the DSLR, because I don't think it's right for the production. Gonna just give him a laundry list of reasons:

Rolling Shutter issues
The extreme shallow DoF makes tracking shots and glidecam (which he wants to use) more challenging, and demands follow focus, remote control (i.e. more $$$)
Audio is very problematic
Compression also not ideal, and will require transcoding

And in general, his money can go toward better areas than buying a camera for the production, especially one which I think would be a poor investment, given the newer models in the works, and competition from Red and Panasonic.

What all do you think? What else can I say to convince him DSLR is not the way to go to do his feature?

Best,

BR
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 03:07 PM

Shoot a comparison test between an HDSLR and the EX1 with a moving actor in a close-up under unideal lighting (like uncorrected fluorescents and hot spots) and show it on the big screen at a D.I. facility.
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#3 Brian Rose

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 03:21 PM

Shoot a comparison test between an HDSLR and the EX1 with a moving actor in a close-up under unideal lighting (like uncorrected fluorescents and hot spots) and show it on the big screen at a D.I. facility.


Great idea! I hope soon to do some camera tests with him, and it'll be a great chance to do a side by side, since he has a friend he can borrow the DSLR from.

BR
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 04:27 PM

You could see this movie as one big experiment to see how to use the DSLR for a feature, at least you'll learn something, be able to tell future directors and producers what the problems will be. Trouble is that if you succeed, everyone who wants to shoot a feature on a DSLR will seek you out!
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#5 Mathew Rudenberg

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 04:47 PM

You could see this movie as one big experiment to see how to use the DSLR for a feature, at least you'll learn something, be able to tell future directors and producers what the problems will be. Trouble is that if you succeed, everyone who wants to shoot a feature on a DSLR will seek you out!


Every time a low budget job comes up I find myself massively torn. The concept that always appeals to me most is that I could use a cinemafied DSLR for A cam (cinema lenses, follow focus, monitor etc) and introduce stripped down b-cam (no monitoring, still lenses) that matches perfectly for relatively little.

On the one hand certain aspects of the DSLR are highly tempting, on the other hand there's a lot of compromises.

The major problems I see with DSLR's are:

- Very little post flexibility. Unlike with a raw camera or film, you better come pretty close to nailing your white balance and exposure, because there's not a lot of room for tweaking in post.

- Separate system sound with no time code or lock-it boxes means slating and post syncing which can take time.

- Monitoring. This is the single biggest problem for me - Generally I find that it's nice to be able to have the director, the operator, and the AC be able to see the image simultaneously. For this to happen means using converter boxes to go to HD-SDI or dealing with non-pro HDMI spltters and cables. Either way it introduces many many connections where things can and do go wrong again and again. This has probably been the most time consuming problem I've experienced on an HDSLR shoot.

- As you said, transcoding adds an extra step to your post flow, but I guess that's fairly common.

The ultimate factor for me is always time - to properly kit out a 5d for film work means introducing a lot of fiddly bits which means that you will always lose time when something goes down - if you can afford to spend a little more time rather than money, which is usually the benefit of a low budg shoot than it may be worth while...
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#6 Chris Millar

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 04:51 PM

As you're probably aware, (depending on your requirements) the EX1 isn't immune from rolling shutter issues itself ;)
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#7 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 05:15 PM

In my opinion, the Director shouldn't be dictating what equipment is to be used unless there is a very specific reason behind it. Wanting to shoot with a DSLR because it is small and the movie could be aided by the size, is one thing. But advocating a DSLR merely because of depth-of-field is a weak rationale, particularly as you've already stated, DOF can be handled with different techniques and equipment choices better.

Does this Director also have the chutzpah to dictate what specific lights and C-stands you should use? Does he tell the Sound Mixer which recorder and mics and cables he should use?

It's the Director's job to communicate the story and what he'd like to SEE on screen and it's the DP's job (along with other crew and Department heads) to take that information and, using THEIR skill and talent and expertise, use THEIR best judgement to determine what equipment (and other supplies) will best serve the requirements of the production.

From your description of the situation, it sounds as if your Director friend just has a hard-on for the camera (from marketing he saw or some other "propaganda") and isn't really interested in hearing facts or arguments against it. If it was me, I'd have HIM use the camera to shoot the tests so HE can experience for himself what it would be like having to use it in a real situation. Afterall, it won't be HIM having to shoot with it and use it all day. It's YOU so if you can convince him that YOU won't do your best work with it, then you have a chance to talk him out of it.
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#8 Sam C Roberts

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 09:39 PM

A director with whom I've worked in the past plans to start shooting a feature this May. It's your usual low budget affair, 10k to 15K, but he's a good guy, and we're part of a group of dedicated collaborators, so it'll be another fun experience, which money can't buy.

But the concern I have is the director wants to buy a DSLR to shoot it with. I think this is a mistake. He's after that shallow DoF, because he "wants to keep the focus on the actors." I think this is rather a weak justification to invest in all that additional gear, especially when what he's after could be done just as well and with far more artistry through lighting, composition, aperture settings, position of the camera and focal length relative to the subject, etc.

But he's still leaning toward DSLR, or getting a lens adapter and some primes to go with the EX1 he already owns. I've found the EX1 can get a nice shallow DoF without spending $$$ on adapters and additional lenses...frankly I regard that stuff as junk anyways, and anything you place in front of the camera's lens is just going to decrease image sharpness and contrast.

Next time we chat I'm going to try again to get him away from the DSLR, because I don't think it's right for the production. Gonna just give him a laundry list of reasons:

Rolling Shutter issues
The extreme shallow DoF makes tracking shots and glidecam (which he wants to use) more challenging, and demands follow focus, remote control (i.e. more $$$)
Audio is very problematic
Compression also not ideal, and will require transcoding

And in general, his money can go toward better areas than buying a camera for the production, especially one which I think would be a poor investment, given the newer models in the works, and competition from Red and Panasonic.

What all do you think? What else can I say to convince him DSLR is not the way to go to do his feature?

Best,

BR


Have a look at this:

http://dslrcinema.co...1080-7d-red-5d/
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#9 Brian Rose

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 11:02 PM

Have a look at this:

http://dslrcinema.co...1080-7d-red-5d/


That's an interesting video, though he really doesn't intercut footage much, so much as lays it side by side. Even in the small window, it was apparent the Red contained more info, had better sharpness, and resolving power. It compressed a bit better than the other stuff. Ultimately, I'll have to do some tests and put them on a big screen...it's hard to make a objective decision based on a seven inch wide window in vimeo.
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#10 Gabe Spangler

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 01:20 AM

Brian, first and foremost, with a $10K - $15K budget, the project is not in the position to be buying any gear. $10K is about as small a budget as it gets. $10K films are stripped-down affairs with minimal cast & crew. Camera and grip gear is limited to what is already owned or what can be rented for super cheap.

If a 5D is being considered (don't plan on shooting below an f4.0 by the way), then you will need thousands more to have a package that could really be used. 7D has more manageable depth of field, but again, prepare to spend thousands on top of the cost of the camera body to have a useable package.

So by that reasoning alone, a DSLR is out of the question. You could spend $5K to $10K on a camera package and have nothing left, or you could make a real film that concentrates on all the departments in filmmaking (producing, audio, scouting, camera, cast, crew, art direction, production design, writing, hair & makeup, wardrobe, editing, score, blah blah blah).

The EX1 is a great camera. And I agree, adapters are garbage. Tell your director that the EX1 is an excellent camera if you use it to its strengths. Find a good picture settings that gives you some good dynamic range and turn that sharpening down, unless you want it to look like a reality TV show. Don't over-saturate in-camera, either.

Also, if you or your director doesn't have any experience shooting with a DSLR, a funded film project is not the right situation to "get acquainted with the technology" so to speak. A video camera is not a video camera. There is a world of difference between an EX1 and a DSLR. You don't want to make rookie mistakes with the format when money is on the line and people's reputations are on the line. Just a thought.
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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 01:57 AM

That's an interesting video, though he really doesn't intercut footage much, so much as lays it side by side. Even in the small window, it was apparent the Red contained more info, had better sharpness, and resolving power. It compressed a bit better than the other stuff. Ultimately, I'll have to do some tests and put them on a big screen...it's hard to make a objective decision based on a seven inch wide window in vimeo.


I posted these before, but look at these tests I did between the Canon 550D T2i, the Sony EX3, and the Red One reduced to 1080P:

All cropped to a small area to show the sharpness differences:

Canon
Posted Image

EX3
Posted Image

Red
Posted Image

You see that the Canon is not only soft but above a certain point, detail is actually just aliasing.
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#12 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 03:36 AM

Yes, don't use the production budget to buy gear in that budget range. The result will compromise the final film far more than than the gain of a shallow DOF on the DSLR. Kitted out the final cost could be pretty close to that of the EX1, if not more.

If he owns a camera, it would be better spending the money on production items that can be seen on screen. Also, he needs to feed the cast and crew (since I assume there's no pay) and insurance (given how litigious people are these days).
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#13 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 10:23 AM

Also, if he wants to go DSLR in the end, don't forget to give a look at the GH series from panasonic. The GH1 was hacked and can get higher bitrates, and I hear good things about the GH2. the 4/3rd sensor is a little smaller than APS-C in the 7D for slightly more DoF, and as it's a 4/3rds imager, you can use adapters to mount pretty much any lens; which'll be nice if you happen to have some glass you love, such as my Nikkor primes ect.
Good luck! No matter what, do it, so long as you're paid for your time, as you'll learn something at least! And even if everyone seeks you out for more DSLR work, hell that's more money, more experience, and more connections.
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#14 Christopher Husta

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 07:08 PM

If your concerned with audio check out a program called Dual Eyes. Also i have had some success with Dslrs. Where is the majority of this film going to be viewed? If this film is primarily for the big screen then yes, all the draw backs will become extremely aparent. But due to the budget I suspect that it will go straight to dvd with a few screenings, and once its converted to sd im not sure it will be so glarring. But the ligthing is an issue with dslr you have about a 5 stop range of usable exposure. But in the end they are point and shoot cameras modded for out needs. Its all about what else is in your budget. Also dslr lenses breathe... Alot so keep that in mind.
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#15 Peter Moretti

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 05:17 AM

Christopher, I don't know where you're getting that 5 stops of DR for DSLR's, but that number is widly off base. DSLR's measure between 8 to 10 stops, depending on model and settings.
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#16 Christopher Husta

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 11:02 AM

Sorry I was refering to this video:



Two stops over and you lose highlights, and after three stops below there is alot of noise introduced (it also doesnt help the dslrs cause being that test was shot at 800 iso on a 7d, the 5d handles higher iso much better). I agree with what you said above and I apologize for my lackluster acuracy in deliniating exposure range and noise introdution and mixing the two. What I meant is there is about a 5 stop range before things start to degrade. I will be more carefull in the future when answering posts and being more specific. This is a field where the specifics do count.
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#17 Ricky Cook

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 12:30 PM

On a small budget, I would think that the price of decent lenses would be enough to convince him to stick with what he already has.
Like everyone has said, For the price of a good set of lenses and all the gear needed to make the dlsr as functional as the EX1, you could put the money elsewhere in the production and make the production that much stronger. It's never DoF that makes a movie great in my opinion.
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#18 Mathew Rudenberg

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 02:11 PM

In my opinion, the Director shouldn't be dictating what equipment is to be used unless there is a very specific reason behind it. Wanting to shoot with a DSLR because it is small and the movie could be aided by the size, is one thing. But advocating a DSLR merely because of depth-of-field is a weak rationale, particularly as you've already stated, DOF can be handled with different techniques and equipment choices better.


Frequently I find directors have a lot to say about the look of their film. Opinions about what aspect ratio it should be for example, but also what format - be it anamorphic, spherical, or digital - tend to dictate what camera we will use. I offer advice and experience, as I can help them understand the pros and cons (and repercussions in the case of DSLRs) of their decisions. In the end though, it is still their choice.

In this case, however, I think the budget will ultimately decide. 10 to 15 isn't what I would consider a low budg affair, more like no budg. I would think a lot of the light and camera gear would be predominantly dictated by what people own and are willing to lend to you.

I imagine you're working for free or close to it, and so your investment of time in the film should give you a greater say as to the format then if you were simply a hired gun. If using a DSLR is going to make the process of shooting this film both unpleasant and unrewarding you should make that clear to the director.

Also, I know there are a lot of anti-shallow DOF people on this forum for some reason, perhaps because it seems like a 'cheat' or an easy way to get a professional looking image, or possibly because it is so popular right now. Regardless of that, I would think about the fact that on your budget you are probably not going to be able to afford a lot in terms of production design - and shallow focus shots will hide backgrounds and help you get away with less, so I think it has its advantages on a low budg film - ie. it can make it look bigger budget then it is.

Christopher, what that test is attempting to demonstrate is how quickly the 7d falls apart under color correction. I think it fails however, because the 7 step greyscale does not show the full dynamic range of the 7d in the first place, for that you would need something like this. Since there are another couple of stops outside the chart, the 7d probably falls apart even faster than the test illustrates - with only two or three stops manipulation total, rather then five.
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#19 Christopher Husta

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 07:08 PM

Oh gotcha! Thank you very much for clearing that up for me mathew. It makes sence to use a grey scale that spans the actual range to test.
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