Thursday, April 21, 2011

Depth of Field

You know what I don't hear about anymore? Depth-of-field.

There was a time when distributors and buyers would complain about people shooting on video vs shooting on film because of the noticable difference in depth-of-field (in other words, how out-of-focus the background is) in 35mm. Shallower focus is "better".

And distributors and buyers could actually recognize that video "look" of an all-but-infinite depth of field caused by the tiny imagers the video cameras use(d). They prefer(ed) the look of 35mm where the subject is in focus and the background falls out of focus.

So then a whole bunch of companies like Letus made adapters so you could use 35mm still lenses with video cameras -- with similar depth-of-field results. Those things were clunky as all get out to use, but they looked great. The result was big portrait-like looks where the background and lights would get soft and bloom in a way that cinematographers (and buyers) liked.

And then Nikon and Canon and everyone and their grandmothers made DSLR's that had the same (or even larger) imagers than 35mm motion-picture cameras. And those cameras look even more awesome.

Here's a picture of Pushkin. Taken with an iPhone.
And the end result of all these advances? Nobody cares about shallow or deep focus anymore. Nobody cares if you shoot on a Red, or a four-thirds, a Canon 7D, or a Panavision with Kodak 500T. No buyer or distributor cares what you shoot on anymore. Sure, if you shot on a video camera from the late 1990's they might say "this looks like poo" but other than that, you can pretty much do what you want.

Which is good, because pulling focus is a major pain in my chops on set. Shooting with deeper depth-of-field makes the picture look a little more in-focus all around. I mean, even when I miss a focus mark, it's still in focus. And the slightly smaller four-thirds imager on our Panasonic GH1 (slightly larger than 16mm motion picture film) works out great for that.

Now we have the best of both worlds -- a nice balance between shallow depth-of-field and blowing focus all the time. It also means a lot fewer retakes. Just ask our actors how many times I have to do another take because I blow the focus. Probably no more than a half-dozen times a day. Right?

OK, maybe a dozen...


Chance Shirley said...

From now on, I plan to use shallow depth-of-field to hide problems with art direction and production design. Or to just hide the lack of art direction and production design. Focus be damned!

Maybe I should upgrade to the 5D Mark II...

Andrew Bellware said...

Hiding production design is why I use so few lights... or I have all the lights pointed right at the camera. Flares do a world of good for low-budget sets.
Ha! What am I saying? Now that we have these awesome sets by Joe Chapman the flares and lights make it even BETTER! ;-)