Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996
Shooting With A Varicon
>I'm using a Vericon filter that I got from Clairmont for the first time. I was wondering if any of you have used this filter and have any suggestions or comments about it.
I'm looking to use it to desaturate several scenes I'm about to shoot.
Call Arri in NY at 914 353 1400, and ask for them to send you the Varicon kit. We have some sample images and other info on the Varicon.
Marc Shipman-Mueller, Technical Representative
Arriflex Corporation; 1646 N. Oakley Ave, Suite #2, Chicago, IL 60647-5319, USA
>I used the Varicon for a couple of commercials last year and really liked the results we got.
We adjusted them by eye to match, we were using 2 cameras, although we also had the device that should match them.
I found that I could succesfully use a lot more than I at first thought I could.
We reduced the contrast hugely with the Varicons and then wound it back in in TK, this gave us more "cartoon" colours.
The biggest problem was that they get very hot and have to regularly turned off to cool down.
Really liked them, it was weird to look at the camera from the subject and see this glowing front!
>I'm planning to use either the Panaflasher or a VariCon for a feature in June so I have been reading up a little (I also plan to shoot some tests).
The best article was on the original "Colorflex" device invented by Gerry Turpin for "Young Winston" - unfortunately, I've misplaced the issue of "American Cinematographer" that covered it.
A.C., March '73 has a good article on Vilmos Zsigmond's use of flashing for "the Long Goodbye", complete with photos.
A.C., March '74 mentions flashing briefly in conjunction with "Nickel Ride", shot by Jordon Cronenweth.
A.C., Nov. '78 covers the use of the Lightflex for "The Wiz", including discussion on color flashing combined with diffusion filters.
A.C., Feb. '86 has an excellent article by Woody Omens about using the Lightflex to obtain a painterly period look for a TV movie, "Evergreen".
Definitely read that one...
A.C., July '90 has an article by Isadore Mankofsky comparing the Panaflasher to the VariCon (first design).
And finally, "International Photographer", Nov. '97, has a technical article by Mark Woods about the Panaflasher and VariCon.
The old A.C. article about "Dune" is not really worth reading, although the film itself has some excellent use of the Lightflex - there is finally a new widescreen transfer on laserdisc that looks pretty good.
I'm sure Arriflex can send so some pretty good material. I few weeks ago I asked Isadore Mankovsky about the differences between the Panaflasher and the VariCon - he said that he preferred the VariCon slightly but said that because it uses an UltraCon filter for its glass, it does slightly soften the image compared to a Panaflasher.
>David Mullen is clearly the best researcher here on the CML! I am always impressed with what he digs up!
>I'm sure Arriflex can send so some pretty good material. I few weeks ago I asked >Isadore Mankovsky about the differences between the Panaflasher and the VariCon >he said that he preferred the VariCon slightly but said that because it uses an >UltraCon filter for its glass, it does slightly soften the image compared to a >Panaflasher.
So the glass in a Varicon is an UltraCon? What grade? Interesting!
Jeff "flash me" Kreines
Having never used the Varicon system, can someone explain how it works?
>The biggest problem was that they get very hot and have to regularly turned off to >cool down.
Indeed! The best solution for the overheating (learnt from a DP friend John Berrie csc) is to put it on when they call "roll camera" and off when the director says "cut". It usually takes some 3 or 4 days for the AC to get used to this.
>Having never used the Varicon system, can someone explain how it works?
Very simple to use: The Varicon (filter+lamp housing) is inserted into a matte-box like the MD14. It is attached with a power cable to the ballast which you'll have to place near the camera (usually not so convenient for the operator). The ballast has two settings, high mode and low mode. If the setting is wrong, it will look too hot or too faint. Then you power it through an external battery (usually same as the one powering the camera).
The on/off switch runs between the ballast and the Varicon which we velcro it next to the on/off switch of the camera so the AC will run/stop them together to avoid overheating. Next comes the instensity dial. When you turn the dial, a set of rectangular shutters open or close inside the lamp housing. There are numbers on the dial for reference, but I wouldn't trust them much because the mechanics between the shutters and the dial is not quite accurate. Finally, there is a little rectangular slot for color correction gells situated between the lamp housing and the optical glass. The clear optical glass has tiny particles inside to ensure uniformity of brightness throughout.
The best way of knowing what it does to your image is obviously to test for desired effect. After a while, you'll just do it by eye, and almost always will look fine. It is important to know that one setting of the dial doesn't work for all shots (here lies the difference between fogging the film and using Varicon). You should reset that dial everytime you have a different lighting setup. Basically, the Varicon acts on the blacks in the image while the bright areas remain mostly uneffected. You can also experiment with adding color gells in the slot. One trick that helps me a lot is to judge the desired intesity by looking into the viewfinder at a very black object in the dark areas of the image.
That is all I can remember now. Hope this helps.
...One trick that helps me a lot is to judge the desired intensity by looking into the viewfinder at a very black object in the dark areas of the image...
Very helpful explanation. Never used it but have heard about this system or one like it for years. A few questions though. Do you change the intensity based on lens length as well as on lighting? I know that I would tend to go with a lighter diffusion on a longer lense and vise versa. Is the same true with the Varicon?
Also does the effect seem very apparent and milk out the blacks too much? Or can it be subtle? The color idea seems interesting. And is there anything similar is post for this effect?
> Do you change the intensity based on lens length as well as on lighting? I know that >I would tend to go with a lighter diffusion on a longer lense and vise versa. Is the >same true with the Varicon?
In general, yes, the focal length and contrast ratio are big factors. It doesn't make much sense to use it where you have little or no contrast. It can also cause softening or flaring with very wide lenses where it may collect uncontrolled light coming from brightly lit scenes, skylight, windows, etc. It's mostly useful in low lighting situations like night shoots, or to fill in the shodows when the sun is overhead, or to bring up the folliage of dark trees, etc. It basically acts like a fill light.
It gives definition to blacks where you could swear your meter read "E". On the other hand, I've seen an impressive shot John Berrie did where he recreated an Arctic snow blizzard during a sunny winter day here in the townships. He used wind machine, some snow powder, and of course the Varicon to flatten the contrast drastically. He loved it so much that he bought one. BTW, it is a bit overpriced.
As I mentioned above, the Varicon acts like any additional frontal element. Beside softening the image a tiny bit and collecting light from the environment, it also creates double shadows when you shoot against practicles, bright windows, etc. So if you're shooting in a situation where there is not much contrast, ask yourself if the Varicon is really needed?
>Also does the effect seem very apparent and milk out the blacks too much? Or can it >be subtle?
Varicon can be very subtle; if you find it is not subtle enough for your desired look, just add an ND .6 or .9 inside the gel slot. Then you'll have more control on intensity. Yes, you can easily get milky blacks if
>The color idea seems interesting. And is there anything similar is post for this effect?
Anything you add to the gel-slot will show up in the blacks. Any color gel will more or less act like a filter except that it mostly effects the blacks. In post you can do almost anything, but it is not the same as
correcting your image in camera.