Friday, September 10, 2010

The Golden Age of Cameras

My feeling is that virtually any feature can be shot with an 85mm and a 35mm (or their equivalents in the format one is shooting in) and a macro lens. Sure, there will be features where you totally need that 200mm or 400mm lens but you know what I mean.

I shot Clonehunter with a 35mm, an 85mm, and a macro attachment for super closeups just to prove it. And it worked. That was on an HVX200 and a Letus adapter with Canon S.S.C. lenses (mostly, we used some Nikon lenses too).

The satellite defense system is taking out your camera.
Nowadays the GH1 is doing right by us. When I first hemmed and hawed about what camera to get I looked at the various Canon cameras (I don't even remember their names or what order of expensive they're in 7D, 5D, 300i... whatever) and settled on the GH1 because even though the imager was smaller (and therefore the depth of field was greater) and the lens that came with it is slow (f5.6 or so when zoomed all the way in), it had working auto-focus in "movie" mode (nobody at the time, and even now I think, likes the autofocus on the Canons while shooting in "movie" mode.)

The GH1 has plenty of range in its stock lens. 28mm to 280mm is roughly like a... er... mmm... well it's a 14mm to 140mm if the baseline were 35mm still imagery but it's actually more like 25mm to about 120mm compared to 35mm Academy frame. I think. Look. I don't know. I'm a sound guy for cryin' out loud.

We have only used Canon lenses with the Panasonic GH1 once. And that was late at night outside and I needed to shoot 1600 ISO with an f-stop of something in the f1.4 to f2.0 range. It looks great but manual focusing those walk-and-talks is a biotch!. All the rest of the time I've only used the stock Panasonic lens. The Canon FD to four-thirds adapter I have is just some cheap adapter off of eBay.

The other downside of the GH1 was the compression. It smashes the image down into teeny-tiny files. But not anymore. The boys over at DVX User hacked that bad boy and turned it into a 30MB/s filmmaking machine (I bet that secretly Panasonic released the hack to the pro video people).

But you know what? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you shoot 35mm film, on the Red, with the fanciest of the Canon cameras, or an HVX with a Letus adapter, or the GH1. You know why? 'Cause your script sucks.

Ha! See what I did there? Ha! I amuse me.

Seriously, I shot a feature on the GH1 (Day 2) completely stock (and converted to ProRes using Neoscene), and now I've almost shot a feature (all but the last two days of principal photography on Earthkiller) using a hacked GH1 and... I haven't seen a frame of image where I know there's a difference between the hacked and the stock version of the camera. There may be one. I may have more room in the shadows for details or something. I just haven't shot anything and looked at it and been able to say "A-ha! That part of the image would be all yukkity if it weren't for the hack!" I suspect that the people making tests where they show the difference are more concerned with making tests than they are with shooting stories.

Because really, you have a lot of room in the quality of your image to play around. There's a pretty wide range of what's acceptable visually. Have you seen those Zacuto tests where they test all these DSLR's against 35mm film? Exactly. They all work. Would I rather shoot on 35mm? Sure. I would also like a unicorn with Pegasus wings and the magical ability to eat all the chocolate I want without ever gaining weight. But I don't have those things. And it doesn't matter.

I'll use our good friend Chance Shirley to illustrate why this is true. He is releasing a picture called Interplanetary that he shot on 16mm. Yup, Chance is one of the last of the True Believers. ;-) He's also an excellent cinematographer and makes his images look freakin' fantastic.

And none of that really matters because if Interplanetary weren't so brilliantly written no amount of painting with light would have saved it. Instead, the script is so good that I could have shot the movie inside a shoebox with GI Joes on a camera phone and I'd be walking around without pants on calling myself a genius all day long.*

We live in the golden age of video cameras. We live in a crappity age of trying to make money making low-no-budget movies ;-). But at least they aren't automatically costing a hundred thousand dollars just for film and processing.

*It remains to be seen, I may very well do that already.


thomas said...

You are so right. I was just reading about the new Nikon D3100 with full-time AF, 1080p/24 and a price of $699, including kit lens. But then I saw that it has AE-lock but no manual controls. There went that hard-on.

So while I wait to see what the D7000 and the GH2 will bring to the table, I think I'm going to shoot my next short on my Canon SX20, which is 720p/30, but has AF and I can control the things that I need to control.

Andrew Bellware said...

I find myself switching from AF to MF during shots. So yeah, ya gotta have both AF and MF. And the cameras out there can make some be-U-tiful images!