Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996
Published : 28th August 2003
Okay gang, I need some advice. I'm taking on an HD project that is the total opposite of the HD projects I've done in the past. If anyone has any advice for me I'm dying to hear it.
I've signed on for a one or two day (not yet determined) documentary shoot with both an F900 and the Panasonic DVX-100. I'll be doing plenty of research on the Panasonic camera, not having used it before, but I'm more worried about run-and-gun with the F900.
My major question is: How good is the viewfinder, exposure-wise? Basically the same as any other Betacam? When in doubt, underexpose? I've never used this camera outside of a relatively controlled setting, complete with monitor and waveform.
Focus will be interesting. I don't even want to think about that. I usually try to shoot video as close to wide open as I can. I don't think I'm going to attempt that with an F900. Lots of wide shots at T16.
Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"
Don't be afraid of the F900 in run and gun shooting. The only fear is enduring the weight of the camera, batteries, etc. I would strip it down to the essentials: no 901 back, no matte box, Hytron 50's or Dionic batteries (or similar). If you've worked with Digibeta or Betacam in this kind of shooting, the 900 will be much the same. When I'm in doubt I under expose a little, but I find I can trust the viewfinder for correct exposure 99% of the time. And you're right, you don't want to shoot wide open if it can be helped. Most lenses sharpen up if stopped down to 2.8 or more. If you find the right setting on VF peaking and detail level (2 separate settings) then focus will be fairly obvious.
I've done a fair amount of docu-style shooting with the F900 lately and if I can help, feel free to contact me off list.
Randy Miller, DP in LA
The method using the viewfinder for exposure in the F900 is no different than using a Standard def viewfinder on any Digibeta or Betacam sp camcorder. It is completely trustworthy once you comprehend where the sweet spot is (when using zebras) to suit your exposure preferences.
I would be much more considered about relying on the LCD monitor on the mini DV 24P camcorder instead of the F900. Most LCD's take a certain amount of getting used to and understanding how much you must offset your exposure values.
A quick test I highly recommend to be completed during your prep at the rental house is to set up the two zebras patterns to your preference based on what is essential information in the scene. One zebra set to the level where you want skin tone to be at (minimum or maximum) and the other for highlights. In addition program some black gamma settings into the scene files for extreme contrast settings.
Do this with a monitor and if possible a waveform so you are not forced to wing it in the field. It takes a little getting used to relying on the viewfinder instead of having a video controller to watch your back but documentary shooters having been doing this for years.
Good luck and always remember to practice "Safe HD"- never go out on a shoot without knowing your camera intimately both inside (I mean menus by that) and outside.
Anything else is planning for failure.
P.S - Regarding your film out questions : Turn Matrix off!!!! Do not use 709 unless you have done a film out test with 709 or any other variation you arrive at. You need to see the end results first before committing to any detail, gamma or matrix setup that looks great on a CRT monitor but looks unsatisfactory on film.
Personally I turn detail off for film outs based on my own personal experiences on film projects I have completed. Keep in mind you have nearly twice the vertical resolution in progressive scan as you did in interlace. So take advantage of this. Enhancement can be added back later in post.
> My major question is: How good is the viewfinder, exposure-wise?
I find the viewfinder the be as good, if that can be said, as other Sony high end cameras. I often shoot HD outside without monitor with only the zebras as an exposure aid. Never seriously blundered...so far. Personally I like my zebras at 60% and 100%. I like caucasian skin tones with some highlights at 60 IRE. But anything goes. It's just me
Daniel Villeneuve, c.s.c.
Directeur-Photo/Director of Photography
One thing I will add, having just come in from a shoot where I ran into this situation again. I can count on one hand the number of times I tried to improve the white balance of a scene using the Auto white circuit of the 900 and felt that the result was better than Preset. It seems no matter what the situation, if I light a shot knowing the sources are off a little and then try to let the camera find its own centre by white balancing, I usually end up flicking the switch back to preset and pulling the trigger.
I'm sure if we had a VC on set a better white balance could be achieved but this is not usually an option budget wise. I also know I could use the matrix in the menus myself to massage the WB, but it's a somewhat awkward procedure and tries the patience of the director who likes preset just fine and wants to shoot already.
Since you've done a lot of shooting with the F900 already, you probably have your own take on this issue. But this has been my experience and as a result I'm cautious about white balancing without a monitor. I'd love to hear from others if their experiences with white balancing have been similar.
Randy Miller, DP in LA
>I'd love to hear from others if their experiences with white balancing >have been similar.
I find HD white balancing is a bit more sensitive and doesn't always produce what I expect. I carry around a Lee Cinematographers swatch book. With it HD white balance is never a problem.