I could be about to make a horrible mistake…

When I started CML nearly 24 years ago there were some basic rules that we have pretty much stuck to.
The basic concept was a chat in a pub where I was the landlord.
Members could say anything about or related to cinematography as long as they had first-hand experience of what they were saying. No”I heard it on the net” or “a friend of mine said”. Just the facts man 🙂
We would be tolerant and reply to the message and not the messenger. We lost our way a little on this when I was losing my way but we got back to this many years ago.

The final rule was no religion or politics.

This is why I’m nervous.

I’m about to break the no-politics rule on the web discussions, not on the discussion lists. The rules all apply as usual there and I will be hard enforcing them. My bar managers shillelagh will be in full use.

I’m breaking the rule on CML web discussion because I’m more and more concerned at the effect that identitarian politics is having on us all.

I am not an old white male straight English cinematographer.

I am a cinematographer.

In a time when the very existence of Cinematographers is threatened by the mediocrity of democratisation and the needs of production during the CV-19 crisis, we need to stand together.

Identitarian politics wants to split us into smaller and smaller interest groups.

Divide and conquer, a lesson through the ages.

I don’t give a shit what your race, religion, colour, sex, place of origin, sexual preferences, food allergies or any other bloody dividing line people are trying to impose.

My only questions are, are you good at your job, can you work as part of a group? and if you are unbelievably good at what you do the second question may be bypassed.

Be a cinematographer, nothing else.

Bring on the hate…

Webinars – they could be good/useful

There are an awful lot of webinars out there at the moment because of the Covid-19 lockdowns and people needing something to fill their time.

They vary from those with great content and awful tech standards and presentation to those that are slick as hell, out to grab your money and vacuous and stupid.

It’s unfortunate that some of the worlds best, and most interesting, cinematographers seem to have no idea how to light and film themselves!
Of course their knowledge of sound seems to be less than zero.

Some basics:-

  1. Don’t shoot with your back to a window, auto gain in a webcam will make you a featureless silhouette
  2. If your laptop has the webcam at the bottom of the screen then please put the entire laptop on a box or a pile of books. I really don’t want to look up your nose and be reminded of the dreadful nose hair ads on Facebook.
  3. You may want to think about lighting! it’s what you do for a living and if you can’t light yourself…
  4. Don’t rock back and forth like some kind of deranged chimp, I can’t believe the number of times I’ve seen people do this.
  5. Think about the sound. An echoey Dalek is not the best way to communicate. A clip on neck mic cost about $25 from Amazon, or the Logitech gaming mic is also good. It really helps if people can hear you.
  6. Don’t waffle, get to the point! I’m bored, we are all bored at the moment. We don’t need you adding to the boredom.
  7. Finally, don’t plug your company, just don’t. Some of us have had to sit through your presentations at conferences and have learned to sit at the end 0f the aisle so we can make a rapid exit as soon as you go into corporate drone mode.
    It’s so much easier just to click “leave session” and we do.

This has been a public health warning on behalf of bored camera crews everywhere.

LED V Cameras lighting test

This was a test that was provoked by my experiences with LED’s that led up to my presentations at IBC 2018 https://cinematography.net/Skin%20Tungsten%20V%20LED.html

The more I looked at this the more I wanted to see what improvements had been made in the last 2 years.

I realise that there is a large element of “we could make the lights perfect but you wouldn’t be willing to pay the cost” involved. We ask a lot of manufacturers and maybe we have been pushing them too hard on the price.

Anyway, we tried to do as neutral a test as possible, the details are all on the relevant webpage, and whilst one light was substantially worse than the others there was a degree of consistency.

They were all much better at Tungsten than Daylight which was a shock to me.

They all varied from camera to camera, except the reference: “real tungsten”.

It’s very hard to mix LED’s from different manufacturers. On their own, they may look good but mixed they are difficult.

After matching the Kodak grey reference there were still considerable differences as to how the different lights responded, look at the CML stress chart.

There are videos and meter reading and charts on CML https://cinematography.net/LED-Camera/LED-Camera-Index.html

Have fun 🙂

Cameraimage 2019

I’ll start by saying that I love Cameraimage, there’s nothing else like it.
I was nervous about the move to Torun but I needn’t have worried.

There were however some issues with the move and the growth of the event.

First, the projection, both in the main conference centre and at Cinema City.
Cinema City maybe had an excuse because they’re a working multiplex that switches to showing event films for one week of the year.
The main screen, however, should have been immaculate and it wasn’t.

The poor black levels worked fine with a film like The Irishman because it fitted well with the period feel of the film.
Terminator deserved a full Dolby Cinema presentation. After watching the making of session I left rather than watch the film there with its grey blacks I decided to wait until I got home and see it in a real Dolby Cinema which I did on Monday. I’m so glad I waited, it had an impact that would have been totally lost in Torun.
They have to get this sorted for next year, talk to Dolby for God’s sake!

The equipment exhibition area was much better than in the past, apart from the lack of ARRI coffee 🙂

The seminars were generally much better than in the past with manufacturers taking a much more informative and less sales approach than in the past.
They were spoiled by the number of children coming in late and leaving early. I realise I’m being offensive by calling students children but if your behaviour is childish…
I had it hammered home at the start of my career that if you weren’t 15 minutes early you were late. That’s not wandering in during the first 15 minutes of the presentation and after a while realising that it wasn’t a star fucking session just real hard tech info and walking out in groups.
Shocking behaviour and very distracting, this needs to be dealt with in the future.

This behaviour was echoed in the film presentations and also in the booking of seats resulting in people being turned away but not turning up for the booked seats resulting in cinemas “fully booked” but with 30% of the seats empty.

It’s vital that we encourage students to attend events like this but some way has to be found to moderate their behaviour and make them more professional in their approach.

Maybe next year I’ll photograph everyone arriving late and leaving early and publish a wall of shame “never hire these people”.

The dissemination of information about events was bad this year. Lot’s of blocks with no info about times or contents. Events added that weren’t in the App.
There is so much happening there that good information is vital. I missed a number of events I would have been interested in because of this.

Finally, I may be complaining but it’s just because I want to make the best better 🙂

Full Frame Lens tests

I’ve just about finished the full frame lens tests that I intended to do in January.
I was delayed by another tumour that necessitated having half of my right lung removed, that unfortunately didn’t go well as soon after they removed the drains the lung collapsed. Fixing that involved a really painful insertion of a drain and another week in hospital. They managed to nick my vocal chords in the process and half of them are now paralysed.
Anyway, they lens tests are finished and are at https://cinematography.net/CML-FF-Lens-Tests-2019.html 

The navigation at the top of all the pages will also take you directly to individual lenses.

The colour differences are interesting 🙂

Slowly losing my mind

I’m trying to speed up cinematography.net.

It’s a continuous process, the rules keep changing.

I’d love to change all the images to a more modern format than GIF, PNG or JPG, something like WEBP. This would speed initial load by about a second. I cant because Safari doesn’t read WEBP.
Chrome does, Edge does, Opera does…

The real killer is my PC rating, err I mean accessibility rating.

We are listed as bad for accessibility because a lot of our images don’t have tabs that can be read by text converters for blind people.

It’s a fucking cinematography website, we don’t have a hell of a lot of blind users!!

 

This has been a public service rant.

Grumpy Old Cinematographers

I worry that Grumpy Old Men In Black, ie older cinematographers,  tend to discourage young crew when they think that they’re helping them.

“The business has got much tougher” is a typical comment that I don’t think is true. OK, there are more people out there competing for the work but there’s a lot more work out there!

I’d like to start by saying that this is a great way to earn a living, I’ve travelled all over the world and got to see all kinds of things and places that people just normally don’t get a chance to experience.
Yes some of it has been bad, very bad, but most of it has been amazing and in the bad cases I mostly knew what I was getting myself into and made that choice.

Do most cinematographers get paid as much as we were getting, in a relative sense, 30 years ago? absolutely not but we were very well paid then and people still make good money now.
I heard all kinds of tales about how we weren’t be treated as well as we used to be, maybe people just have rosy memories.

Is it a struggle and will it always be? yes, but you make a choice not to have a steady job and income and you live with the downsides as well as the upsides.
I was once told that I was freelance because I was unemployable. That’s probably true 🙂

What I’m trying to say is that you should just get on and do what you want to, don’t get discouraged by disillusioned old men. Do listen and try and learn from others experience.

Ultimately it’s your life and your choices, make them wisely if you can but most of all try and enjoy your work.

Don’t get hung up on not shooting your first movie yet or not shooting “glamorous” things, some of my best experiences were on corporate jobs. Some of the best fun and memories come from those jobs.

Don’t get hung up on kit, there’s a lot of great kit out there, maybe you can’t use the camera that was used to shoot the Oscar winning film but actually is it the right camera for you anyway?
There are some great cameras at “affordable” prices and anyway, what’s wrong with renting? that way you can have the perfect kit for every job.

Learn as much as you can, read, read more, watch YouTube videos, (of course you will have to learn to filter out the crap on there) it’s not enough to think you can look it up using Google, you need to know and understand stuff that you don’t think you’ll ever need because it’s that stuff that you pull out of the bag that makes you stand out.

Can’t afford Lights? one of the best most colour accurate softlights out there is the IKEA FLOALT that costs about $80. It outperforms some lights that cost 20 times as much.

Don’t talk about it, do it!

Science or Art?

I spent an interesting evening at Antwerp University last week, I’d gone to do a short presentation on HDR & WCG.

The main presenter was a scientist who was comparing raw with log and “baked in”, he went on to “Prove” that you can grade “baked in”just as well as you can raw, in fact it could be better he implied.

Well excuse me! that may be true in a theoretical world where we have infinite bit depth but in a real world situation that just isn’t true. 
The limitations of the formats we use will cause damage to the image unless we are very careful.
I tried to point out that raw was always better in a real world because the camera output required processing and the processing we could do in camera was limited compared to what we could do in post. The cameras inbuilt processing was limited both by size and heat generation.
Apparently not from a scientific point of view, he could prove I was wrong, here was the proof on the whiteboard.

Well excuse me but I make pictures not numbers on a whiteboard and I can clearly see the difference. We briefly touched on compression and “lossless” compression, I gave up, the argument would have taken the whole evening.

2 stories for background to my point of view…

I was shooting test footage for Kodak at their plant in Chalon France, I had my entire commercials crew with me and we were looking at 2 prototype films compared to 5294 and Agfa XTR250. The reason we were including the Agfa was that it was starting to eat into their sales and they wanted an emulsion to beat it. I was a heavy user of XTR 250 as were the 11 other DP’s shooting tests worldwide.

One of the prototypes was just awful but one of them was looking good. I used the XTR because it had much greater latitude than the ’93 which was popular at the time, a lot more latitude and it fitted my lighting style.
We set up a final scene to stress the stocks which involved a model moving through light and dark in a Chateau and tested highlight colour separation.
Looking at the results projected it was very quickly clear that ’93 just couldn’t cope but that the good prototype had better highlight and shadow detail than the Agfa and more accurate reproduction of the very saturated red dress the model was wearing, it also coped really well with the subtle highlight colours.
After I’d said all that the Kodak guys said “so you’ll switch to this when we introduce it” my reply shocked them, “no, it’s not as pretty”.
My job is not to make accurate pictures it’s to make pretty ones…

Next story, years ago I was at NAB and it was all getting to me so I escaped to the sports bar in the Hilton next door (it was on you right as soon as you left the convention center) as usual it was full of other escapees. Also as usual I got chatting to a guy at the bar, I didn’t know who he was because his badge wasn’t showing, he was just Ray.
We had a great conversation about compression and he obviously knew what he was talking about. We talked about lossless and visually lossless. The first being what it advertised and the second depending on the judgement of the mathematicians who wrote the algorithms used.
I took away the clear point that anything over 3 to 1 was not true lossless and therefore depended on someones opinion.
As we were leaving his badge appeared, yes, his name was Ray, Ray DOLBY! I kinda thought he knew what he was talking about 🙂

Now, is someone who is a mathematician/scientist as aware of what makes a good picture as I am? why would anyone make that assumption? they don’t assume I know as much about maths as they do, how would they react if I came along and told them their algorithms were wrong and altered a few lines of code?

Treat me with the same respect I treat them, I accept they know their business better than I do, maybe they should accept that I know more about how to make a good image than they do…

If you’ve got no ambition why bother?

I’ve been involved in another of those wonderful Twitter/Facebook threads about exposure and again I keep getting told that you don’t need a meter and using a waveform is far more accurate.

Well yeah, if you have absolutely no ambition and are happy shooting single camera on corporates and weddings with the odd bit of news thrown in but if you have any ambition at all you’ll need to learn how to use a meter!

You may never get the chance to go for “the big one” but I promise you, if you don’t know how to use a meter you will fail if you ever do get the chance.

How do you recce a big interior location where you will have to enhance the available light without a meter?

How do you work across multiple locations/sets and match everything if you don’t have a meter?

How do you prelight a set or location if you don’t have and understand a meter.

Once you move beyond the perfectly good work in single camera you will not be able to have a camera and a monitor with you at all times. It’s just too bloody expensive.

My personal record for pre-lighting, recceíng or shooting, is seven simultaneously in a day. How do you do that with a camera and a monitor? ONLY a meter will work.

To use a meter properly you have to learn how meters work, you have to learn how visualise how scenes will appear on a monitor or screen. You need to understand what brightness levels need to fall where.

I use both spot and incident meters, the incident to get an overall level reading and the spot to look at individual areas. You need to know where skintones will fall, what the key to fill ratio you like is. You need to be able to measure that ratio. 

As we move to HDR you need to use a meter even more. There will be a temptation to use all that extra range but that will only lead to pain, as is clear with some of the HDR series currently on Netflix.

You can let specular highlights go but you need to be aware of areas that may well hold detail in HDR but regardless of this they’ll be too bright and distract from the main scene. A meter will help you hugely with this.

On the other hand you can ignore this and go on with your single camera and monitor and in later life look back and wonder why you never moved on…

Personal comments on the 2018 CML camera evaluations

I want to stress that these are purely personal impressions and that you should check out the raw files at  https:/cinematography.net  and also get your hands on a camera to see how it feels for you before making any decisions.
When we were shooting we used an Odyssey and a Canon 24″ monitor to see what we were doing.

In all cases the EI mentioned is what was required to give a “correct” & neutral picture in Resolve with no tweaking. Highlight response is the point where the small grey square within the white square on the CML chart disappears.  Shadow level is where I find the noise to be unacceptable beyond this point.

Alexa Mini: Ours came with open gate and raw licenses and an Amira V/F, it fired up quickly and had very clear and easy menus.

I would rate this camera at an EI of 1000 with a highlight latiude of 5 stops but the shadows only give 2 stops. I’d set the camera too EI 800 and my meter to EI 320-400 to get the best compromise between highlights and noise. DR beyond the charts is 7 stops.
Note:- Bear in mind that yellow clips a little before any other colour.

BMD Ursa MP: We didn’t have the V/F for this and used the swing out monitor that is built in, it fired up quickly and had a very clear and easy to use menu.

I would rate this camera at EI 800 with a highlight latitude of 3.5 stops and a shadow level of 2 stops. I’d set the camera to EI 800 and my meter to EI 500 to get the best results from this camera. DR beyond charts is 5.5 stops.
Note: Yellow again clips earlier than other colours.

Canon C200: We used the touch screen V/F that comes with the camera, it fired up quickly but the menus do take some getting used to! There’s a lot there but it’s not all easy to find.

I would rate this camera at EI 800 with a highlight latitude of 3.5 stops and shadows of 2.5 stops.
I’d set the camera to EI 800 and my meter to EI 500 to get the best results from this camera. DR is 6 stops beyond the charts.
Note: Once again yellow clips earlier than other colours.

Canon C700 FF 6K to 4K in camera: We had the full V/F on this and it’s a lovely one 🙂 the menu system was a little easier to use. Recording to XF-AVC internally was easy but recording the RAW output to 6K and 4K relied on using an external Codex recorder which results in a camera that is too big and ungainly to use. No issues with startup time. We had all the usual issues licensing the Codex reader, it shouldn’t be this hard. I think Canon really missed a trick here by not releasing a FF camera that included the raw recording from the C200.

I would rate the camera at EI 500 with a highlight latitude of 3.5 stops and shadows of 3.5 stops.
DR is 7 stops beyond the charts.
I’d set the camera to 800 and my meter to 500 to get the best from this camera.
Note: Again yellow clips early.

Fuji X-H1: I’m not going to comment on the V/F, it’s a DSLR…same for the menus 🙂 lots of them but if you’re a DSLR user they make sense! we used flog recording at 200Mbps the best it can do and although I’m not impressed with the amount of sharpening and NR that was present in the standard setting it is possible to reduce these considerably and I’m experimenting with this at the moment.

I would rate this camera at EI 1000 with a highlight latitude of 3 stops and shadow limit of 2 stops (see notes). DR 5 stops beyond the charts.
I’d set the camera to 800 and my meter to 500 to get the best from this camera.
Note: this camera clips hard in the yellow and red well below the 3 stop point so be careful.

Kinefinity Mavo: it fires up pretty quickly but some of the menus are very confusing, separate settings for EI and ISO?? It’s not ready for general consumption yet, they need to get their post workflow sorted. When they do it could be a very good camera.

I would rate the camera at EI 800 with a highlight latitude of 4 stops, I’m not sure what the shadow latitude is because of post issues but it looks like it could be very good indeed.
Note: I haven’t been able to do a full and good assessment of this camera or the Terra because of the post workflow issues.

Kodak 5219: Checking on a few things about the scans before I post but by far the best highlight latitude of anything we tested, about 6 stops, but that’s where our tests ran out, it could be more. I’d rate it at EI 320 to get the best from it but that’s what I’ve found with all film stocks. They respond well to 2/3rds over.

Panasonic Varicam:  I asked for a Pure and got a V35 with a Codex recorder added to the back, nightmare of a huge ungainly camera, the Pure solves this. A clear and sensible menu system. Once again the Codex system proved difficult. It may be wonderful with a specialist DIT but for an ordinary DP it’s a pain.

I’d rate this camera at EI 800 with a highlight limit of 4 stops and shadows of 2 stops. Thats 6 stops beyond the chart DR.
I’d set the camera at 800 and my meter at 400 to get the best from this camera.

Panasonic EVA: We recorded this on an Inferno in ProRes raw so you’re going to have to wait! what we can see looks good but what we see that is bad could be due to the post process.

RED Gemini: We used this camera with the 5″ V/F mounted on the front and it was easy to use and setup.
I’d rate this camera at EI 800 with highlight latitude of 3.5 stops and shadow latitude of 3 stops. That’s 6.5 stops beyond the charts DR.
I’d set both the camera and my meter at EI 800 to get the best from this camera
Note: The red chip  at 25% clips as a hard orange at half a stop below maximum latitude so be careful with reds with this camera, overall I really like it.

RED Monstro: We had to stop for lunch to black shade this camera, it is very much the RED camera look that I don’t like.
I would rate the camera at EI 500 and highlights clip at 2.5 stops with shadows going at minus 2.5 stops.
That gives 5 stops beyond the DR of the charts.
Note: Reds and Yellow clip hard at plus 2 stops so the overall latitude is really 4.5 stops unless you’re very careful. I’ve had people say I could get better results in RedCine but this is a test on a level playing field.

Sony Venice: It fires up quickly, changes modes quickly, has an easy menu, is compact and balanced.
I’d rate this camera at EI 400 with a latitude in the highlights of 4 stops and 2.5 in the shadows.
this is 6.5 stops beyond the DR of the charts.
I’d rate both the camera and my meter at EI 400 to get the best from this camera.
Note: The highlights clip slowly and smoothly and the colour is not that “Sony Look” it also has the most consistent colour across the exposure range.

Finally, check out the raw files if you care about images https//cinematography.net/Digital-Cinematography-Camera-Evaluations-2018.html