After much debate and after buying/selling numerous 35mm and 16mm cameras over the last two years, I finally settled on what "packages" would work best for me. The 16 package was easy, I scored an amazing deal on an XTR Prod and already owned Optar S16 glass, so that package was already a "no brainer" in my view.
The problem was 35mm, what to do about it. I wanted a sync sound camera no matter what, but weight/size were also troubling. There are really only two decisions, buy a cheap but bulky 4 perf camera and break the bank (and your back) every time you use it, OR... buy something for more money that's smaller and uses less film. Unfortunately, there really aren't very many "small" sync sound 35mm cameras. In fact... there are only TWO that I'm aware of and one (Aaton Penelope) is unobtainable and the other (Aaton 35III) seemed to be more available in my price bracket.
So when a colleague and fellow board member Vince and I talked about a spare 3 perf 35III camera he owned and wanted to sell, I was all-in. It took me months to find the money, selling this, trading that, basically anything I could do in order to get the cash for the package. I traveled out to see it one afternoon and fell in love. It was the same size as my XTR and amazingly enough, had the NP1 battery kit already installed. This was a huge investment and when I saw that, I was ready to roll. Few weeks later, the camera was at my house and I was ready to shoot... but I had a small problem, no experience with the camera and worst off, no lenses.
With only a few grand left to spend, how was I going to buy a few cinema primes? Just as I felt all was lost, I found a used set of Rokinon Xeen's someone local was selling. He had an entire kit for sale, but was willing to part with two of them, a 24mm and a 50mm, which are basically my two favorite focal lengths. I brought them home and immedietly went to reel good, bought around 5000ft of various stocks and was ready to shoot.
Now, I don't do "camera tests" I think they're worthless and it angers me to even watch them. When I test a camera, I shoot something that has some value to it. Doesn't need to cost a lot of money, doesn't need a "crew" just needs to be something more then some buildings and birds, if you know what I mean. So I wrote a little script called Happy Anniversary about a couple's breakup. It was 7 pages and something we could shoot in a day. This would give me a great opportunity to test the camera and see what worked and didn't work about my new little package. With the van loaded up, the next day we all got together and started shooting.
Of course, I made a rookie mistake from the get go. I bought film that was a bit over 400ft and didn't realize that even if it fitted properly into the magazine, that it wouldn't fit into the take up side. So after a few minutes of shooting, the first magazine jammed and we were down to one magazine for the rest of the day as no matter how hard I tried to get the film out, it was stuck .
The rest of the day went a lot smoother. We had a few hiccups here and there, mostly logistical, but when you try to pull off 4 locations in one day with no crew, anything can happen. My favorite location was the ever-changing sun at the cafe that we spent most of the afternoon at. This posed a real problem as the light was always changing through the trees, but luckily for us it came out great.
We wrapped up the day on Zuma beach here in Malibu, just in time to catch the sunset and get a few great moments basking in the beautiful light at the end of the day.
Over-all I was very impressed with the Rokinon Xeen's and my new 35III camera. The Xeen's performed way better then the DS glass that I use for my digital still cameras. The metal housings, focus rings and focus numbering worked great and seemed to be spot on. The lens barely fits on my Aaton 35III as the handle for the PL mount, is a bit big and the clearance is just enough for a piece of paper to slide in, pretty amazing. I was able to perform pretty close focus shots with the glass, which was very nice. Not once did I feel the lenses wouldn't close focus enough for my work. I didn't use any filtration, but I will be using filtration on the next shoot as I'm going to be buying a dedicated mattebox for the Aaton 35III. My XTR mattebox and 3x3 filters, don't work on the Xeen's unfortunately.
As a scripted test shoot, it was a great experience. I needed to work out all the kinks with the camera and lenses because I needed to make sure I was ready to go on bigger shows, which today I feel pretty secure in shooting, thanks to this shoot. Outside of the magazine issue, the Aaton 35III worked flawlessly all day to the point I could load a mag in under 90 seconds and was very quick at cleaning and prepping the body. I was very happy with the results for the amount of time we had and the lack of crew. Unfortunately, there was a lab issue that prevented me from finishing the film, as around 600ft of it was damaged beyond use. The lab has been very gracious and is going to process the rest of the film for no cost once I re-shoot stuff. The material that was processed properly, did look great. These frames have a very quick color on them, but nothing outrageous. They do have a "warm" tone, but that's what I'm trying to invoke with the look of the final piece. So I don't have a finished product to show, but we are going to continue the shoot in a few weeks and having another day to shoot will make a big difference on the outcome in my opinion. So I'm really looking forward to revisit the locations, revisit the original shoot and fix what we got wrong.
Since this shoot, I've done two other back to back shows on 35mm, both will be out very soon and I will post pix when I can. Neither of them used my glass though, but the fact the ol' Aaton 35III worked so well was just great. I'm impressed with the camera very much so because even though it's a bit clunky in a few ways, once you get to know it, it's everything I could ever hoped for. Small, compact, pretty quiet, easy to work with and most importantly VERY portable. Every week when I bid on jobs, I try to push people into shooting on 35 and I've got a few in October and November, so fingers crossed!