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 🙂

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…

What do I want in a camera?

Not a lot actually.

I want to be able to use it without a caravan of kit and crew.

I want to be able to take it out of the box and be able to shoot within 5 seconds.

I want preset colour temperatures to be accurate.

I want the indicated ISO to be accurate.

I want a camera that has a simple recording system that doesn’t require contacting the NSA or GCHQ to get my rushes!

I want a camera that doesn’t veer from magenta to green or vice versa with exposure.

I want a camera that doesn’t do weird things at the extremities of exposure at either end of the scale

I want to load it into a post program and get good images without having to fiddle around.

ACEScct should do this, if the camera is good it will give me a “correct” image at between 22 and 28 on the offset dial in Resolve.

That shouldn’t be hard.

The only problem is that with a few exceptions it seems to be bloody near impossible!

Price has no reflection on the issues.

I find myself getting more and more angry with manufacturers who keep on making the same mistakes year after year.

I’m pausing the camera evaluations to go off on my bike and cycle along canal sides through beautiful countryside and watch ducks and swans and storks and geese and wildlife generally.

RAW camera files available now

I’ve just setup and new CML site that is linked to the main one.
The new site is specifically for the camera raw files from the Digital Cinematography Evaluation sessions.

At the moment raw files from the 2017 sessions are available, once we have finished the 2018 in a month or so the new files will be uploaded and these will be removed.

The new system is insanely fast with multiple SSD’s and also multiple processors.

I would like to point out that this is a site for grownups, if you don’t know what you’re doing please don’t waste your time.

The files are large, very large, averaging 8GB per file.

I will not be answering queries about these files unless the query is from a CML subscriber.

https://www.cinematography.net

“Filmlook” or TV standard?

I’ve been asking for peoples opinions about what needs to be included in the next camera evaluations but the answers are highly contradictory.

It comes back to the old which do you prefer, the look of film or the look of TV. The majority of people will say film.  Or at least digital images which emulate the look of film.

They then insist that camera evaluations are done using TV charts and to TV levels.

Given that the original rushes will be made available and also 16 bit EXR files the only people looking at the processed results are either those who can’t use the original files for some reason or other and those who can’t be arsed.

The second group can… The first group don’t need to look at something designed to make the cameras look like TV cameras. They need to know that a workflow to get the best film look has been followed. Let’s not get into the pointless argument of what the film or TV looks are, we all know what we mean by those terms.

We then get to the question of where do we put the levels, there are all kinds of answers varying from 30% to 50% but lets make this clear, I’m working within ACES so log levels on a waveform don’t apply. Once an IDT has been applied and we are in ACES space we are working with an environment that has an inherent toe and shoulder and straight middle gamma.

So I’ve gone back to basics. All the years I sot commercials on film and scanned the neg into a video or later digital environment I used a simple reference. The Kodak Gray Scale Plus. They tell you where to put the mid grey part of the chart in very simple terms. I’m looking at the back of one now and it clearly says 122, 122, 122 in 8 bit values. In the past I’ve used 128, 128, 128 and I’ve had a lot of grief about it. It turns out I was bloody close to the recommended Kodak level and far closer than any of the corrections I was being given.

I will not use TV limited charts.

I will try and produce evaluations that look more like the best film that you have seen and less like NHK.