Cinegear update

It’s 9 days and 5 presentations at 2 conferences later ? that’s not including the panel at CG.

A shattering 2 weeks in total for me.

What is there that sticks in my memory from CG?

Not a lot really.

Lots of lenses, I’ll be interested to see how many are around in a couple of years. Major question about whether lenses can be universal i.e. S35 and FF. Personally I doubt it. Oh you’ll get decent results doing this but I’m not interested in decent results, I aspire to something better.

Just as lenses become more affordable I suspect that for serious cinematographers the use of rental companies for lenses will grow not lessen. This is good news for rental companies as I also suspect that they’re taking a hammering on the camera rental front. Too many decent cameras at affordable prices. Is an extra stop or so worth $70K+? yes I know that there are other issues involved but it seems to me that the distinguishing factor is tending more and more to the glass.

In the dim and distant past I used to swap back and forth between Ultra Primes and S4’s and of course my personal S3’s. Now there are a lot more really good distinctive lenses available. I make the point of distinctive because a bland neutral me too lens is not what I want.

This is why I mentioned rental companies and lenses, I can totally change the look of any camera with the lenses I choose, the choice of camera is becoming less important as they all get so good.

The other main memory from CG is the amount of gimbal kit available, some good and some horrendous. It’s all moving forward at a tremendous rate but I keep seeing abortions of rigs that will have you in the arms of a chiro in a very short time.

Lighting, so many LED’s and still very variable colour. I can’t wait for the Academy to get a move on with SSI, a rating system designed for us, not clothing manufacturers (CRI) or TV stations (TLCI)  but for filmmakers.

Cameras are now all getting so good that the ergonomics and operability in general is becoming a huge factor. There are still to many people more obsessed with how a camera will fit in a drone or a gimbal rather than how it handles in the majority of conditions. It’s great to see cameras that are a decent size that work without the need to hang all kinds of shit off them.

Part of the July camera evaluations will be start-up time and how many add-ons you need to make it useable. I’ll also include weight in a basic shooting configuration including recording media and batteries for X hours of shooting. The X is still to be decided, probably 12…

It’s good to see new filters appearing, thanks Schneider and Tiffen.

Back to lighting, lots of DMX control which is great but maybe not enough rugged basic docco lights with accurate colour and not excessive weight.

The event is just not long enough, there are some great panels but if you want to see the kit you have to skip them and if you want to chat to people, and CG is the best place I know for this, you have to skip the panels and the kit!

It needs to be at least another day, I know that this is a pain for the equipment exhibitors but… Maybe a day of only panels on the Sunday??

Conferences and exhibitions

I’m about to go to LA for CineGear. This show has grown and grown and for me is now the most important cinematography event of the year for gear freaks.

Cameraimage is better for the pure worship of cinematography, CineGear is heaven for gear freaks but it has a problem, it’s effectively only 1.5 days long and this is no longer enough.

Years ago we all went to NAB and IBC and that was pretty much it, maybe Photokina for those of us from a stills background.

Then Expo started in LA and then Munich and it was growing and more interesting in a lot of ways than NAB but a small side event called CineGear started up and killed off Expo in LA and Expo in Munich morphed into something else.

The problem, apart from it being too short, with CineGear is its location. Paramount studios street sets, brilliant but not big enough. Not a problem when the adjacent stages are available but this year the stages are miles away, you can’t just pop from manufacturer to manufacturer.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say here, it is after all my rant area 🙂

I think that maybe CineGear is in danger from its success. It’s problem is that it needs to be all in the same area. Unlike NAB and IBC there aren’t areas that you want to avoid or at most pay a fleeting visit to, it’s all interesting. I know at NAB I want to go to the Central hall with a short visit to the lower South hall. At IBC it’s halls 10 & 11 with a short trip to 7. I can concentrate my energies.

CineGear just needs to be longer, it’s too easy to get into conversations with people and miss kit you wanted to see. We need more time there.

Snobbery in the camera department

Snobbery is an insidious thing, I grew up in a council housing estate in the north east of england. In the UK this forever branded me.

Unfortunately the same class snobbery exists in the camera department, it’s not as bad as it was but it’s still there.

When I moved from documentaries to commercials in the mid 80’s I had issues with the crews I worked with initially because I’d come in as the DP and my experience was “only” 16mm documentaries. I was given grief by the operator and the AC. Also the fact that I’d worked in TV was a killer!

I’d moved into an area of cinematography that was only just waking up to the lighting techniques that had been used in stills for years. I benefited hugely from my years as a stills assistant and my understanding of fashion and product lighting. The people I was competing with who had only worked in the cine camera department and had worked their way up the traditional route were ignoring all kinds of great stuff.

I’m finding a similar situation now, not to do with people but to do with equipment, “that’s not professional equipment ” well it is if you use it to make a living!

I’ve posted here in the past about autofocus or digitally assisted focus and I’m amazed at how strongly it is resisted by people who will just not look at it objectively. Instant reactions about taking work away from AC’s and so on. It’s nonsense, nobody suggested getting rid of AC’s, it’s a question of making their jobs easier and giving them new tools to be used creatively.
For people who work in documentaries there’s the chance to end the terror caused by the interviewee who seems to think he’s at a heavy metal concert judging by the amount he rocks back and forth.
For the dram AC’s it’s a chance to be nearer where you should be when the director decides to shoot rehearsals or doesn’t believe in them.
Or, give you a chance when in the words of an AC asked about whether a well know actor hit his marks “hit his marks! you’re lucky if he’s in the same fíng room! ”

So, don’t dismiss a person because of where they come from or their accent and FFS! don’t dismiss kit or techniques just because they weren’t invented here.

be open to change and grab it when it works, or look for a new job.

 

Crewing

I just made a comment on CML about DIT’s and once again I get a backlash from DIT’s.
Lets get this straight, I do not wish DIT’s harm its just that I think that for the majority of shoots their’s is a job that may have been required during the transition from film to digital but that in the majority of cases it’s no longer needed.
A message to me of “that”s not how we do it in Hollywood”is utter nonsense.
For one thing a huge amount of very low budget films are made in Hollywood and they cannot afford a DIT.
Second, the working practices of huge budget films bears little relationship to what is done in the real world. Anyway, most of those huge films are no longer made in Hollywood.
Which brings me on to my third point, Hollywood is to film-making as Detroit is to the car industry. Once the great centre of production but no more.

So lets get back to crewing…

I believe that the cinematographer is responsible for the overall image and together with their collaborators is the one who creates the look of the movie.

Those collaborators include the conventional camera and lighting crew, the colourist and the production designer.
The jobs that the traditional camera crew do may have changed, ie the AC may well be using all kinds of focus assist tools that he didn’t in the past. The 2AC may be responsible for unloading rather than loading, ie simple copying of data cards to multiple HDD using something like Shotput Pro.

On movies or TV series with a budget of less than $10M there is no time or budget for onset colouring.
The best approach is to frame, light and expose it properly in the first place.
If the project requires an overall “look” then this should be created with a colourist in pre-production. Not a whole bunch of looks, a maximum of 4.

The simplest way to keep control of the image and to know what you are actually shooting is to work withing the ACES workflow. This is a predictable, repeatable way to show your images. Any post house using ACES will get the same look if your material is loaded with standard IDT’s & ODT’s.

To make it simple to reproduce thsi look on set Nick Shaw of Antler post & I have created a series of LUT’s for most cameras that takes the log output of the camera and replicates the look of the ACES workflow on a standard 709 monitor on the floor.

What you see on the floor is what you will get in post, no DIT, no onset colourist. It’s possible to create these LUT’s in such a way that they contain the look that you may have created in prep.
Personally I prefer the vanilla versions and will then use, err, oh yes, lenses, lighting and exposure to get the look I want.

ACES LUT’s for use in a non ACES workflow

High ISO-C200-EVA-URSA-MP

In this test I set the C200 & EVA to ISO 2500 and the Ursa mini pro to 1600 (its highest ISO)

I then took the rushes into Resolve in ACES cct and adjusted offset and black level only to match them.

It’s interesting how good both the EVA, noted for its high ISO capabilities, and the C200 are when pushed. Unfortunately the Ursa can’t keep up in this comparison.

C200-EVA-UrsaMP I’m going to duck and cover now

This has proved to be a much harder evaluation than I expected.

Normally it’s a very straightforward assessment of clear and defined responses. Where do they clip? What colours distort? How does the colour change with exposure? How much noise at various underexposure levels and so on.

This time it’s purely personal, how do they feel? How easy are they to use? How robust are they?

I was going to do this as a 3 stage evaluations, I’ve already posted the technical shoot material and I had intended to post general material that I’d shot but whats the point? There’s a ton of this kind of stuff on the web. So…

My overall impression of the images is that they’re all very good but there are caveats.

I’m going to split the results into categories.

1  Record formats

Canon C200 records in C-RAW Lite which is a variable compression ratio RAW codes of between 3:1 and 5:. It varies the compression ratio based on content and motion.
Canon provide software to translate this RAW material into various formats if you can’t work with the C-RAW. The range of output formats and options is good, ProRes 444, DPX 10 & 16 bit and EXR, colour gamut of Cinema, 2020, P3 & BT.709, Gamma of CLog2, Clog3, BT.709, Wide, DCI.
This is a little odd as the only gamma available in the ACES IDT is CLog3 and surely that’s a case for CLog2 if there ever was one!

EVA records in, at best, H264 150 Mbps, this is not a professional level codec as far as I’m concerned, this is a format that belongs in HDSLR’s and “prosumer” kit. They are promising 400 Mbps and RAW but when?
This is a killer for me. Right now this camera is out of the running because of this.

Ursa MP records in RAW to CDNG in uncompressed 3:1 & 4:1 compression as well as all formats of  ProRes from  4444 XQ downwards. CDNG works really well in Resolve but can be a little harder to get the best out of in some other software.

The winner in this category is marginally the Ursa MP but it’s only a hair ahead of the C200, the EVA has fallen and is struggling to get up here.

2 Overall feel and build

There are major differences here and they will probably have a major effect on which camera you prefer.
They split into 2 categories, traditional and well, I’m not sure what to call it 🙂

The Ursa MP fits into the traditional category, kitted out with the shoulder mount and the V/F it feels and operates pretty much as any docco camera that I’ve used in the last 40 years. There is a clear line from 16mm to Betacam to HDCam to Varicam to Amira. If you are used to using a camera like this then the UMP will feel “right” everything is where it should be and it all just falls into place.
It’s built like a brick shithouse and will take a huge amount of abuse and just keep on going.
The biggest downside is weight,  (camera departments seems to be filling up with wimps at the moment ) and battery life. Having said that it’s lighter than the other cameras I’ve mentioned in the lineage and it’s less power hungry. It’s only in comparison with the mini generation that it feels heavy and power hungry.
I also found the Cfast slots a bit difficult to get cards into correctly.

The C200 and the EVA are very similar on first impression but as you spend time with them you start to find the differences.
They’re very small differences, the Canon is a little heavier but it feels more substantial, the doors over the card slots are more robust, the V/F is better mounted (more about all the V/F’s later) it’s all very small stuff but I think the Canon feels overall a more expensive camera and it is, about $100 more 🙂

3 Autofocus

Well there’s a clear winner here, the C200 is way better than either of the others both of which tend to hunt. I tested with new lenses and also with 12 year old lenses.

4 Built in V/F & menus

The UrsaMP is the winner for display here it has a larger and clearer display and a wonderful menu structure that is really clear and simple to use. However, the range of movement is very limited and obstructs the dial you need to use to adjust iris. It doesn’t fold out past 90 degrees from the camera body and this can make it awkward to see the screen and the on-body controls you are trying to alter.
The EVA is in a better position than the Ursa but the mount is not as solid as it needs to be and also has the 90 degree limitation. The supplied V/F hood was collapsing when I got it and I had to remove it. It would have been a good addition if it had worked.
There are 2 menu structures, one accessed by pressing the menu button which takes you to a what I can only describe as a traditional Sony type menu, I hate it. Pressing home turns the entire V/F into an Alexa like menu which is a joy to use even though the touchscreen is a tad reluctant to respond at times.
The C200 is in the same position as the EVA but is much more rigid, it also fold 180 degrees to go flat to the camera body. It’s much easier to adjust things on a tripod with the screen at about 120 degrees.
Menu display buttons and the joystick for adjusting everything is on the V/F and it takes a bit of getting used to. There’s also a function button and joystick at the back of the camera that controls the main settings that you’re likely to need.

The C200 is a clear loser in the menu competition.

5 Workflow

The C200 works fine in Resolve and Prelight as does the EVA, the Ursa MP is a little limited in Prelight but that’s an issue between BMD and Filmlight…
I had no problems working with any of the cameras other than needing to go through an extra software stage if I wanted to use the Canon in CLog2!! However, that software stage also gave me the option of going straight to 16 bit EXR and I love that.
I’m sure that there are data wimps out there who will complain about raw from both the C200 and Ursa MP, grow a pair!

6 Conclusions

In the end it comes down to what kind of camera do you want?

If you want a traditional workhorse that produces great images and will integrate into a conventional workflow easily and that has TC, genlock etc then the clear winner is the Ursa Mini Pro.

If you want a lighter camera for drone work or observational type documentaries and all kinds of lighter more personal work then the C200 edges ahead of the EVA. The clear differential here is recording capability and autofocus.
If you want to shoot observational quick moving type jobs then good AF is essential.
There are issues with the C200, no T/C and no Genlock limits what it can be used for but that’s probably just a market segment thing from Canon. Also why no CLog2 from monitoring out?

There’s also the question of lens mounts,  The Ursa MP is user interchangeable and takes just about anything, the obvious main choices being EF & PL, the C200 can be changed  from EF to PL at a Canon service centre. The EVA is EF only.

So, you pays your money and you take your choices…

I use ACES because I don’t trust post…

OK, a provocative title for my first post of the year.
It was incomplete and should have said…I use ACES because I don’t trust post guys I don’t know. Just like I don’t trust gaffers, operators, grips, AC’s who I don’t know.

I’ve been experimenting a lot over the last few weeks/months with generating LUT’s that are meant to help the shoot, not to dominate post or impose a “look” onto the final film but to give a level of control and predictability to images onset.

The thing is that “technical LUT’s” do a great job in the hands of people I know and trust but more and more we are having to work with people and workflows that we don’t know and trust and when things go wrong it’s inevitably the fault of the person not in the room.

This is where ACES comes in to play, it gives us a fixed, international , independent reference. Just take the rushes and apply the Image Transform (IDT) and the Output Transform (ODT) and we can see what we shot without any outside help or interference. If with a standard IDT and ODT the image looks OK then the rushes are OK and anything wrong is further down the chain.

That’s it, well for the Cinematographer anyway, there are other advantages for producers but this is a cinematography rant!

Now the problem with this is that we don’t have an ACES onset workflow established, Oh there are all kinds of ways that with DIT’s and shedloads of money we can do anything but I want something very very simple.
What we need are very simple LUT’s to use onset (via LUT boxes or wireless links that will accept LUT’s or via monitors that accept LUT’s) that will show us on a standard 709 onset monitor what the image will look like after going through the ACES post pipeline.

Thanks to Prelight from Filmlight this is now easy to do. I’ve generated LUT’s for Alexa, Canon, Panasonic & Sony cameras that integrate the ACES pipeline and can be used during a shoot in a very simple way. I’ve also generated for Alexa and Canon LUT’s that incorporate the ACES pipeline with a reduction in contrast to 0.85 because that’s how I like to see my rushes!

I’ve generated these LUT’s from both captured footage and live camera input. In the latter case it’s possible to add a “look” to the output as well.
I’m testing these with the NSC at the moment and we’ll be going live with all of this on the 24th of January and after that I may well post some of these LUT’s to the CML website. That is after they have been tested and torn apart by a lot of Cinematographers and DIT’s!!

C200-EVA-UrsaMP-First files for evaluation

OK, I’ll be doing this evaluation in stages.

  1. This post which includes links to RAW or Highest quality possible QT files from each camera of resolution and various colour charts.
    All cameras are in the same position with the same lens and lit with a Fill-Lite 200
    All cameras were auto white balanced on the Abel-Cine resolution chart. Focus was first on auto and then checked manually on a Convergent Design Odyssey with focus assist activated. I was also feeding the images to an Eizo CG318 4K monitor.
  2. I’ll post location footage shot with the cameras in various situations these will be web compressed at 4K
  3. I’ll post my unvarnished opinions of the cameras and whether I’d use them and if so what for!

The test files are here bear in mind that they’re camera originals and therefore very large files.

 

The Force is with Dolby Cinema!

Wow! just Wow!
I went to see Star Wars the Last Jedi yesterday at the Dolby Cinema in Hilversum and even if the film had been complete crap, it wasn’t, I’d have been blown away anyway.

This is what going to movies should be. A totally black theatre, no extraneous light of any kind, brilliant sound, totally brilliant images from a dual laser projection system.

If more movie theatres were like this attendances would be rocketing up. I normally go to the Imax in Den Haag to get the best possible viewing experience. The Den Haag Imax is a 20 minute tram trip right to the door of the theatre from home and the Vue Dolby Cinema in Hilversum is a tram and 3 trains away taking around an hour and three quarters. It’s worth the journey.

What’s the film like, actually it’s pretty good. You just have to ignore the obviously cute marketing characters and if you can do that then it’s by far the best Star Wars film since the original 3.

It captures the excitement and thrill of the original, how much of that was the overall experience is another matter 🙂

The force is with Dolby!

Even better being the Netherlands, instead of the audience having huge containers of sugary soda and popcorn the guys next to me had beers, bought in the main theatre concession area. I love it!

Stop whingeing about kit! it’s your fault

One of the joys of IBC and shows like it is eavesdropping on conversations by accident.
This year I heard a lot of people whingeing about kit, about how it didn’t give them the look they wanted, about how cameras disappointed them or software didn’t miraculously make their images great. Lighting hadn’t given them the look they wanted or camera movement, track, crane, drone, whatever, hadn’t done what they wanted.

I wanted to scream at them “learn your fucking job!”

It’s so easy to blame kit but the reality is that it’s all, and I mean ALL, pretty bloody good. Oh there are some tools that have issues but they’re not major image killing issues. There’s kit I don’t like the feel of and kit I don’t like the marketing of but thats different. I may not like that kit but I can’t deny that it does its job pretty well.

So why are people having problems getting the images they want?

They aren’t learning their job! They expect it all to just happen without having to put the time in to learn how to do it properly.

It takes time to learn to make great motion picture images, it takes time to learn about lighting, it takes time to learn about lenses, it takes time to learn about post, it takes time to learn the language of images

There is no Google translate for image making. You have to do it the hard way.

10,000 hours to become competent, not good or great, just competent.

Learn the job and stop complaining about kit, it’s you not the kit that produces the bad images.