March 29, 2010

3D film – in glorious Technicolor

The rise of interest in 3D is mainly due to the success of Avatar, which gained about 80% of its revenues, so far, from 3D screens, and showed that consumers are willing to pay more for 3D. However, there are very few 3D cinemas. This hasn't mattered too much so far as there have only been 25 major studio movies released in 3D since 2005, but there will be at least 19 in 2010. Currently, only about 6-7% of screens in North America and Western Europe are digital AND can display 3D (about 3,000 screens in each region).

In response, Technicolor has created an "affordable" system for displaying 3D 35mm film, without any of the sync or registration problems that would normally entail when using two film projectors. It has developed a way of putting both the left and right eye images on a single frame of film (one on top of the other) and using a new split lens to project them.

The only investment exhibitors need to make is in a silver screen (which would also be needed for digital projection). Technicolor provides the lens on pay per use. It already has support for this from seven of the major studios, and is now deploying it to about 150 initial screens. The first release on this format is Dreamworks' just-released How to Train Your Dragon, with Warner Bros' Clash of the Titans next.

By David Fox

March 28, 2010

Graeme Beck: HD DSLRs and hybrid cameras

Graeme Beck is an Australian cinematographer, and inventor of the Hyper 35 – a mash-up of an old Sony Betacam camcorder and a Canon 5D Mark II, which makes the Canon easier to use and a lot more ergonomic (as it can act as a shoulder-mounted camcorder). The 5D can also be taken out of the Hyper 35 and used on its own.

I interviewed Beck for an article on HD DSLRs for TVB Europe magazine, but was only able to use a little of what he told me in that. However, he had a lot of interesting stuff to say, so here it is, in full:

"The Canon 5DMKII with its large capture area is a breakthrough in cinematography. Its large capture area is similar to Panavision's 35mm Anamorphic system and a little under 70mm, but by being able to use spherical lenses that are over a stop faster, it is capable of producing shallow focus pictures that have not been seen in motion pictures before," he said.

The Hyper 35

"The Hyper 35 rig is a hybrid of the 5D and a Sony Betacam and it brings the speed and accuracy of ENG style shooting to 35mm. The rig supports the Canon 5D and taps off a video feed to the rig's viewfinder and monitors. Audio can be recorded by the camera directly or fed into the Canon 5D where the leads are protected by a light aluminium frame that surrounds the camera.

"The electronic viewfinder is essential for the critical focus required for HD and especially the shallow focus of full frame 35mm. It is the peaking circuits that help you snap focus quickly and accurately during a shot.  Having a rotating viewfinder is also essential for everyday shooting.

"The Hyper 35 rig is about half the weight of a Betacam and balances nicely on your shoulder with Canon's zooms and prime lenses or clicks straight back onto the tripod. The 400mm [lens] needs the support of the rails.

"The Canon 5D is attached to the rig via a Sachtler 'touch and go' plate for quick release of the 5D body. The 5D can be 'click' attached onto a Merlin Steadicam, either the handheld or arm version, or clicked straight onto a tripod.  Other 'touch and go' systems could be easily adapted to the 5D and Hyper 35 rig.

"The Hyper 35 rig doesn't leave the client bewildered as the Canon 5D on its own invariably does. I also use the 5D on its own with or without a loupe [magnifying viewfinder attachment] on the back and it is excellent for gorilla shooting. "

For more information on the Hyper 35 go to - It is also possible to purchase the Hyper 35 (for $4,850 - less if you already have a Betacam SP camera). 

- What sort of projects have you shot using the DSLR (hybrid or otherwise)?

"I have been shooting a lot of Corporate and Industrial videos with the 5D and have a film to shoot next month. If the 24p upgrade had been around last year I would have been able to shoot a feature then. I did some tests on the big screen and was blown away the results. We projected it alongside the RED and I couldn't see any difference. Although the RED is cleaner in noise while comparing the pictures on a monitor, the 5D has more 'life' similar to the random grain of film. At times I also operate the camera for other DPs."

- Why did you chose to use a DSLR instead of (or alongside) a conventional video camera?

"The full frame 35mm produces images that have a more three dimensional quality to them when compared to smaller format cameras like 1.85 and other 35mm digital cameras. By looking at any picture now I can tell what format it was shot on. Even 3D movies would benefit by using a larger capture area which increases the three dimensional depth.

"The first time I saw images from this camera that was it for me. I find going back to smaller format cameras annoying, as they are just too flat. Its low light capabilities leave any camera for dead. It is a clear three stops faster than any camera I've used. As a cameraman for the last 30 years I've just about used every camera made and this camera literally sees in the dark. "

The following two photos show the difference between a Sony XDCAM wide open and at 9db of gain compared to the Canon 35mm sensor at 6400 ISO – click on photos to enlarge.

- What problems did you face that you wouldn’t normally face using a video camera, and how did you overcome them?

"The main problem with DLSRs is that they are difficult to use for general shooting. A loupe on the back of the camera helps, but as focus is a lot more critical on HD and 35mm, without peaking circuits it is not good enough. Although the 5x and 10x blowup [magnifying display on the Canon's LCD] with the touch of a button is handy for setting focus, it is difficult to adjust critical focus during a shot. Also a non-rotating viewfinder makes operating difficult with varying camera heights. The Hyper 35 rig with its electronic viewfinder overcomes this problem.

"The Canon 5D also has electronic iris control that is lumpy in 1/3 of a stop increments. When needed, I use two high transmission polarizing filters with one reversed or set the ASA  [ISO] setting to automatic to overcome this problem." If you don't have a mattebox, you could fit a Light Craft Workshop Fader ND adjustable ND filter, which does the same thing, but is a lot smaller. We have one and it seems to work well.

- How do you set up the camera (in terms of menu settings, 24/25/30p or 50/60p, highlight tone priority, etc.)?

"Apart from using the extended highlight range, which gives you an extra stop in the highlights at the expense of 1 stop in ASA [ISO] rating, I leave all the other settings pre-set. I also find recording in 1/30th second fine on motion when shooting in 30fps or when using reverse pull down to 25fps. In projected tests in the cinema it actually helped a little in motion blur, but it goes against convention for progressive shooting. Maybe it is not true 1/30th of a second, must find out what is going on there."

- Did you have problems with aliasing or moiré patterning?

"With Adobe Media for editing and transfers I don't have any aliasing or moiré problems and find it is similar to any other video camera I've used. "

- How do you use the camera (lens choice, rig, follow focus, viewfinder, Steadicam, etc.)?

"I have a set of Canon's zooms for general shooting and a set of Canon's super speed prime lenses, which really separate the subject from the background when used wide open. I also have the 400mm and a wide-angle shift and tilt, which is great for bringing low angle wide shots into better perspective. Also you can do some creative effects with it. The 5X macro brings up an Ant into full frame for that occasional macro shot.  I also have three camera bodies, extension tubes, doublers and extensive filter sets. 

"Having the lightweight Merlin hand held Steadicam in a small box brings great production value and I will be equipping this with wireless focus control in the future. I can also attach the Merlin to its vest, which looks a bit more impressive and takes the weight off your arm. Both systems produce much better results than hand holding the camera. I have never used follow focus much with video cameras as you are generally shooting with a lot less light and the focus marks cannot be drawn fine enough at times.

"The peaking circuits in the [Hyper 35's] electronic viewfinders are accurate and easy to use. At other times I have had two assistants working the focus, one calling out the marks as the other concentrates on the lens. This system has been more accurate than a single focus puller."

- What were the advantages of using a DSLR?

"Shooting with the Canon 5D full frame sensor brings the look of 35mm Anamorphic to the small or big screen at no cost. The images are outstanding and jump off the screen."

- What other features would you like to see added that would make shooting video easier?

"I would like to see the camera shooting in 10-bit. Panasonic 3000 series, HDCAM SR and Digital Betacam are the only other cameras shooting in 10-bit. All the rest including XDCAM, HDCAM, P2 and Blu-ray are 8-bit. That extra bit depth in acquisition helps a little in the final 8-bit release."

- What was your post-production workflow? How did it differ from normal, and were there any choices you made on the camera that proved particularly successful or unsuccessful in post?

"When the camera first came out in was shooting in 30p only, which is a great speed for the web (and an ideal speed for the cinema). I extensively tested a variation of the 2:3 pull down as used in converting 24p to the NTSC system. A variation of this process produces a nice compromise between the fast look of 50i (25i) and the staccato look of 25p as two progressive frames are followed by three interlaced frames. Sound is perfect and frame accurate over an hour's shooting next to a DVCAM. It is time consuming in post so the new 24/25p upgrade will be used more often here. On some projects I will still be shooting in 30p as it is great for the web, and universal for NTSC and PAL without any pitch changes. 

- How successful were the results?

"Even my wife can see the difference in the pictures you get from this camera."

By David Fox

March 27, 2010

nano3D launches at NAB

Convergent Design is introducing a 3D recording package, nano3D, at NAB. It consists of two standard nanoFlash solid-state recorders, plus a nano3D kit, which provides for synchronized 3D recording from two cameras with high quality “Pixel Synced” playback.

The Pixel Synced playback enables easy, on-set playback of 3D with the proper monitoring equipment. The nanoFlash has already been used for 3D recording, but this will make it easier to use.

The nano3D can also be used with a single camera for redundant recording, or simultaneous High Quality and Proxy Mode recordings - the quality is good enough for high-end recordings (the picture above shows it being used with a Grass Valley Viper digital cinema camera), so extra redundancy is a good thing. It can also be quickly separated into two independent recorders. The nanoFlash records from HD-SDI or HDMI camera outputs at bitrates up to 180 Mbps (Long-GOP) or 280 Mbps (I-Frame), 4:2:2, in various QuickTime, MXF or MPEG formats, onto Compact Flash cards.

The nanoFlash has also received new firmware that allows it record up to eight uncompressed audio channels for 5.1 and 7.1 audio or Holophone recording. It also adds variable frame rate (over/under cranking), loop recording (where it will continuously record for as long as the power lasts - overwriting the oldest video on the card) and expanded XDCAM Optical support for 50Mbps HD 422, 35 Mbps HD 4:2:0, and 30/40/50 Mbps SD IMX formats.

Related post: HD video recording in a nanoFlash

By David Fox

Solo to so high

Miller Camera Support has extended its Solo DV tripod range with a new three-stage version with a 75mm bowl - we use the older two-stage version, which is a very nice tripod. The carbon fibre model has been designed with Miller's recent Compass 15 and 20 fluid heads in mind and now goes up to 187cm (plus head), to give a lens height of about 2m. It's minimum height is just 22cm (which is shown in the hands of Greg Neal, Miller's General Manager, above), and it packs small for carrying.

It retains the Solo's foam "leg warmers", which make it a lot more comfortable to carry on your shoulder (although there is also an air-cushioned carrying strap), and has rubber feet with a retractable spike. It can carry up to 20kg and needs no spreader.

By David Fox

March 26, 2010

New lens options for budget camcorders

Many people who buy camcorders with interchangeable lenses only have one lens - mainly because video lenses can be as expensive as the camera itself. Now a small British company, Adaptimax, has brought out a range of adapters that allow you to fit stills photography lenses from Canon and Nikon to 1/3-inch or half-inch camcorders, such as Sony's PMW-EX3, HVR-Z7 or HVR-S270, JVC's GY-HM700, GY-HD 100 or 200, and Panasonic's HPX300. The Canon converter only works with Canon EF lenses and the EX3.

It previously had an EX3 adapter for Nikon lenses, but only old lenses that had an external aperture ring (a limitation that also applies to its new 1/3-inch bayonet adaptor). However, its new Adaptimax Plus (for the EX3 - pictured right) can use all Nikon lenses, including DX and G-series models, and allows users to open and close the aperture using a thumb screw.

It opens up a whole array of interesting lenses to camcorder users (a Nikon 55mm macro lens can be bought for as little as £50 on e-bay - one is pictured top fitted to the Z7). "You can also add very long lenses. When you factor in the crop factor of an EX3 (5.4), a 1000mm lens becomes 5400mm," explains Steve Shovlar, Adaptimax' sales director. "You don't lose any light, so you can stop right down." Prices range from £195 to £235.

By David Fox

March 22, 2010

First DSLR drama series in production

Norway's TV2 is believed to be the first broadcaster to shoot a complete drama series on a DSLR. The ten-part (23-minute) Dags Univers is a dark comedy about a marriage therapist who wants people to live alone. It is currently shooting in Olso and is scheduled for prime-time transmission in the Autumn.

It is being shot with two Canon 1D Mark IV cameras, which were chosen mainly as a matter of timing. Håvar Karlsen, the B-camera Operator/2nd Unit DoP and Canon DSLR consultant on the series, "had used the 5Ds for some time, and from what I could see the results were quite promising, and when we heard news about the arrival of the 1D Mark IV we got in touch with Canon to be part of an early arrival testing […] taking a calculated risk that the 1D would arrive in time for our production to start," explained the Director of Photography, Pål Bugge Haagenrud.

"Shooting under incredible low light levels was an advantage we wanted to take use of, since we are shooting in practical locations." The lighting has been planned with the option to use Venetian blinds to control daylight coming through windows, and includes a few KinoFlos, a Dedolight 400 Par, a Dedolight 400 Octodome, a Dedolight 200 HMI, and 200 Dedo Octodome (with the option to use 200W HMI Tungsten globes and Daylight globes). "In addition we have found great use in a small shiny board with flex fill to bring out the eyes," he said.

"But we discovered through a hectic week of testing (as we got the cameras one week prior to principal photography) that since we have such a compressed file, we had to light the way we wanted it to look, and with my background from more than 25 years as a cameraman, shooting 16mm reversal as a starter, the allegory was simple: light it like you are shooting good old slides or reversal film." What you see is (more or less) what you get.

Canon Norway helped out, and supplied a range of prime lenses and three zooms. "We were able to shoot at T1.4, but we have discovered that focus is then so limited that it is hard for our seasoned veteran for more than 25 years as focus puller, Anders Legaard, to be close to hit the focus target on moving objects, but we have managed to nail it on designed shots with fantastic results," added Haagenrud (pictured right).

Having been used to carrying large cameras, such as the Arri BL4S with 1000-foot magazine and a 25-250 zoom, he saw this as "an opportunity of a lifetime to work fast with small and lightweight cameras – grab shots from impossible angles – but at the same time treat the camera as a single camera film camera, with good old Ronford Baker F15S fluid head and solid baby and standard [tripods] and a lightweight dolly."

Haagenrud loves the size of the camera, which makes it easy to put "in impossible places. Actors love it, but it must be mounted to look like a camera or people won't take it seriously."

Depth of field

The option to use 35mm lenses with the shallow depth of field was also a reason to use DSLRs – as was the budget. "I would love to shoot on RED or even Panasonic 3000, but now I'm not so sure. This show, done 65% on controlled locations, with exteriors in the low light period of winter in the Nordic light, harsh contrast is not a problem, so we can easily control the exteriors, and have been blessed with clouds on our exterior days," said Haagenrud.

Prior to production, they did a week of testing and Legaard decided to take the Red Rock Cinema package and totally strip it down and build it the way he would want a film camera to work. "We tried for a few days pulling focus from the lens, but eventually brought in the Scorpio follow focus, and Anders is now pulling focus from a 17-inch TV Logic monitor, and also a great help to control the exposure from his dark tent," he added. "Since we are shooting with Canon Primes there is a great challenge to pull focus since the pull is so short on the barrel of the lens."

They use Black Magic HDMI-to-SDI converters and encounter a few seconds delay from when the HDMI signal leaves the 1D to arriving at the video village (where it is also recorded onto Panasonic AVCAM solid-state recorders) and the on board monitor. "We do also encounter quite a bit of static electricity that make us lose the signal to the onboard monitor, forcing is to turn on/turn off the monitor to get the image – a little bit like rebooting the RED, but still hard to cope with the instability of this problem."

There was a corrupted file in the first week, "which we do believe can have to do with a long take," but 39 days into the production that was on the only file problem they had experienced.

They mainly use the 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses, plus the 200mm and 14mm. While there is a Scorpio remote focus on the A-camera, the B-camera operator pulls focus on the barrel.

Haagenrud says that the Marshall 7-inch monitor "works great". It is powered from a Red Rock V-lock battery holder, equipped with Globalmediapro batteries that also run the Black Magic converter.

Getting the look

They shoot 1080 25p with no HLT (Highlight Tone Priority). Karlsen had read a lot online about HLT: "People were really uncertain about the pros/cons. After all, it's just a minor tweak in ISO settings to protect highlight. As we shoot mostly indoors, there's no need to complicate things." They also use 50p for slow motion work, and have selected a neutral picture style with sharpness, and contrast turned way down.

"The production house we are using are using Avid, so offline is being done there. I think the codec they went for is DNxHD 120, because of faster transcoding times. I did some online tests with some shots in H.264 and DNxHD 120, and after seeing more noise patterns etc. in the 120 version, we decided were going to assemble a H.264 online based on an Avid EDL. The online facility will then use uncompressed HD or DPX to the final master," explained Karlsen (pictured left).

In grading, "we're going to apply noise reduction and sharpening as a general rule. We took off all sharpening in the camera to reduce moiré, and we are adding this in post to get the punch in the focus back," he added.

"The main battle we are fighting every day with these cameras is rather focus than moiré. Since we have pulled the sharpness down in camera, focus can appear soft if not viewed in a proper full HD monitor. We know we have some moiré issues in certain scenes (background), but once the problem is identified, we always try to open the lens to hide the problem. In post (and especially in an SD master) we also have tools to reduce the issue. It remains to be seen how bad the issue is, but during shooting we haven't noticed too much," said Karlsen.

"We have put the image through grading and feel confident when aired we will deliver a notable new visual approach to TV drama, and that the heightened easy access to camera placement will increase the speed of production," added Haagenrud.

Making improvements

Improvements that Haagenrud would like to see to the 1D Mark IV are the addition of zebra patterns, colour bar, controlled sound levels (which has recently been added to the 5D), XLR inputs "in the bottom of the 1D", and lenses with film style focus options.

The mini HDMI cable coming out of the D1 should have an angled mount or some kind of lock option, they feel, as it has a tendency to slip out – and this will increase with more wear and tear.

The menu controls are easily accessible, but it would be nice to easier be able to view the right colour temperature and change it more quickly and "if Canon should choose to launch a lens series with a longer focus range (like Zeiss) that would be great."

He advises anyone contemplating using a DSLR to "treat it like a film camera, as much as possible. Light it like reversal film. Enjoy the loss of weight on your shoulder. Grab the frames it used to take hours to rig. Think multicamera."

Equipment list

Both cameras have been equipped with a complete Redrock DSLR Cinema Bundle package - including mattebox, follow focus and V-mount battery plate.

Both cameras have 7-inch Marshall on board monitors powered by Panasonic batteries and/or from the Globalmediapro V-mount battery pack.

The HDMI signal from the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV body is routed into a Black Magic Design HDMI/SDI converter to supply the video village with an SDI signal into a 17-inch TV Logic monitor and also input to a mini Panasonic AVCAM SD card recorder with 3-inch monitor.

Canon Norway supplied a prime lens set consisting of a Canon 14mm, 17mm TS, 24mm f1.4, 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.4 and f1.2, 85mm f1.2, and a 200mm f2 telephoto lens. It also gave them three zooms 16-35mm f2.8, 24-105mm f4 and 70-200mm f2.8.

Karlsan has an excellent post on his blog detailing all the equipment used, with model numbers and photos, and lots more information about the production techniques they are using.

By David Fox

March 21, 2010

Video: The Future

At BVE 2010, we took part in an interesting seminar about the Future of Digital Video, organised by Rick Young of Also taking part were Larry Jordan (Producer, Director, Trainer and renowned Final Cut Pro guru) and Matt Davis (Producer and Director).

Rick recorded the session with four cameras, and has put the resulting videos on the site - Part 1 and Part 2.

Topics covered include: how to adapt and meet the changing requirements of clients and broadcasters; how to make the right investments in kit; the importance of efficient workflows; how to make the right format choice; what codecs to use; and how to reach your audience.

It was a very good session, which got a double time slot, although we could have carried on talking for a lot longer - it must have been reasonably interesting as I can only remember one person leaving during it (maybe the others had dozed off...).

Thanks to Rick for organising it and inviting us along.

David Fox

March 02, 2010

Framerate upgrade for 5D Mark II

Canon has announced a mid-March update for its EOS 5D Mark II, full-frame 35mm HD DSLR. The free firmware update finally adds 24 and 25 frames per second recording to the camera’s video functions (it had been limited to 30fps previously), as well as several other improvements.

Users will now be able to shoot full 1920x1080 HD footage at 24fps (actually 23.976fps for cinema compatibility), 25fps at both HD and 640x480 resolutions for European broadcast use, and the update will also change the existing 30fps option to the NTSC video standard of 29.97fps.

Users will also get a new histogram display while shooting their movies in manual exposure mode (rather than having to hope it is correct and checking the histogram when they stop recording – it doesn't have video exposure aids such as peaking or zebra stripes, which require an add-on HDMI monitor, such as those from Marshall). Shutter-priority (Tv) and aperture-priority (Av) for video have also been added, and exposure modes will now be available in movie mode.

Audio has also been upgraded, to allow users to set sound recording levels manually using a sound-level meter displayed on the LCD screen. The audio sampling frequency has also been increased from the 44.1kHz CD standard to the 48kHz broadcast standard. However, the camera only has a mini-jack connection (typically requiring an add-on box, such as a Beachtek, to add XLRs, or a separate audio recorder).

The key attraction of the EOS 5D Mark II (besides its attractively low price) has been its full frame CMOS sensor, excellent low-light ability, and the wide range of lenses it can be fitted with (giving users the choice of minimal depth of field if needed). It had only been the lack of 24/25p that frustrated European users (in particular) who wanted to shoot for broadcast or cinema.

Extreme sports photographer Richard Walch was one of the first to use the new firmware, shooting a snowboarding video at Lax, in Switzerland. "The addition of the new frame rates opens up a whole new range of possibilities. If you’re a cinematographer, independent filmmaker or just enthusiastic about making your own movies, get out there and give it a try," he said.

The video is viewable on the Canon site, along with a 'making of' video showing off the camera's new features. The firmware will be available to download from mid-March from the Canon website.

[UPDATE: The 2.03 firmware came out, mid March, the audio didn't work correctly, it disappeared, and new 2.04 firmware came out a few days later].

David Fox