Vintage Lenses

In between jobs I get to noodle around.  I’ve finally pulled some frames together from Puberty Blues, a television series that I shot using vintage optics.

For any that are interested in vintage lenses I thought I’d throw together a quick gallery of images.  These are all frame grabs taken while I was shooting Puberty Blues.  As such they haven’t been graded so you’re seeing what was captured using the nifty frame grab function of the Alexa.

They are a mix of Panavisions pVintage lenses (rehoused Ultraspeeds) and the Zeiss Superspeeds.

I’ve tried to pick the images that I think best exemplify the look you can get using these imperfect wonders.

You can examine these further here on FLICKR

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URSA does Bronte

I received an Blackmagic design URSA PL mount camera late last week.

Although I’ve been involved in other behind the scenes testing at BM, this was the first chance I’ve had to take a camera out and do my own thing.

I start shooting “Hiding”, a new ABC TV series tomorrow morning so I’ve been flat out getting ready for “Hiding”, but I managed to sneak out early this morning before sunrise to the wonderful Bronte beach.

Beach Ursa

I knew the weather would probably be good, so I took myself, the Ursa and a Panavision supplied Cooke 25-250 MK3 T 3.7 zoom down to shoot the sunrise.

This clip was shot over a period of about 90 mins.  I filled three of my four 128Gb SanDisk CFast 2.0 cards and did it on two Vlock batteries. Many of the shots were done before sunrise.  Pretty impressive for 400 ISO @ T4 at that frame rate.

All shots are ISO 400, 60 FPS at 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) ProRes HQ except for just one which was 24 FPS, the shot of the sun actually rising in shot.

One thing to note.  The Cooke 25-250 zoom is a vintage lens that’s over 30 years old.  It’s quite soft on the edges even when the centre is sharp.  You’ll also see a lot of chromatic aberration.  It’s hardly what you’d call a modern lens design.  But I like it for it’s personality.

I used the True ND 9 and 1.5 once the sun was up.

Vimeo doesn’t do the original ProRes files justice either.  They are gorgeous.

I should add, single node grade in Resolve, no NR and I had to fix two shots with black sun.


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Turkey Shoot – Gallipoli

Sunset over North Beach at Gallipolli

Sunset over North Beach at Gallipoli

I was very lucky to get a last minute call up from the amazing Glendyn Ivin to pop off to Turkey to shoot some elements for his monumentally epic series covering the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Gallipoli landings.

Main unit had already wrapped and main unit DP Germain McMicking wasn’t available so I jumped at the chance to travel to Turkey and visit the Gallipoli battlefields.

It really was a splinter unit, with the crew consisting of just Glendyn and I.  We called ourselves the “Turkey” unit.  We also  had some local help with a very able camera assistant and fixer.

We were there to do a couple of things.  Glendyn wanted to get as much VFX plate material as he could at the actual peninsular.



Shooting the shipping lanes of the Dardenelles

We traveled amongst the villages and shot the local farmers doing what their ancestors have probably also done for thousands of years before them, working the land.


Tomato pickers in front of a sunflower field

To match the main unit work we had an Alexa classic shooting ProRes 4:4:4:4 in Log C on Zeiss Superspeeds but I also had a Blackmagic 4K cinema camera and a Blackmagic Pocket cinema camera.

The extra resolution of the 4K Blackmagic camera was a great help for the VFX plates where resolution mattered and the smaller 4K camera also meant we often would leave the Alexa behind when we started “bush bashing” off the marked tracks to try and shoot the topography that we needed.


Looks easy but it was actually incredibly difficult to get to places like this that were off the regular track – iPhone Panorama.

I also shot extensive tiled panorama reference plate photographs using an Olympus EM1 and their brilliant 12-40 F2.8 Zoom. Shooting RAW, I was able to shoot 200 degree panoramas for the VFX department, that they will be able to stitch together.  The camera was small and unobtrusive and it made it really easy to always have it around my neck even when we were off in the scrub.


Olympus EM1 with 12-40 F2.8 shooting tiled panoramas.

We had the relative luxury of being there for several days so we fell into a routine of photographing the locations we needed at different times of day so Glendyn will have plenty of options for selecting what he needs to match the 8 hours of broadcast material that needs a constant trickle of authentic background plates to be composited in behind the main foreground action.

It was also incredibly moving to have a chance to be there as we approach the 100th anniversary of this doomed military campaign that with every year seems to grow more and more spiritually significant.


One of the many gravestones int he many cemeteries that dot Gallipoli

Gallipoli is a 4 x 2 hour mini series and will air on the Nine network in 2015.


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Anatomy of a scene – Pollywaffle


Alexa’s on Puberty Blues Series 1 with the longer zooms on.

Puberty Blues – Series 1, Episode 7, Scene 41B 

- Directed by Emma Freeman

I thought it might be fun to start looking at scenes I’ve shot and worked on and try to do a little breakdown of the thinking behind how we staged and created them.

Rarely as filmmakers do we talk about filmmaking and the merits of looking at the coverage and staging in particular.

You always hear, “Oh I loved the photography” or maybe “great editing” or even, “amazing production design”.

I’ve never heard anyone say “awesome coverage” or “stupendous staging”

I thought I’d start with something easy.

This is a scene from the first series of Puberty Blues.  Debbie and Sue are walking up the beach at the end of the day after watching Gary and Danny surf for the day.  It’s really a way to transition into an evening scene to come and also to remind the audience about the roles girls have in this surf culture.  They’re talking about Vicky another girl in their “gang” being literally kicked by the boy she’s going around with because she ate his pie instead of waiting patiently on the beach for him to come in from surfing and eat it.

They’re talking about the fickle nature of the relationships these girls have in servitude for these boys.

You can read the relevant script pages right here.  Go ahead now and read scene 41B.

Puberty Blues Episode 7 Goldenrod Amendments 15.6.12.pdf

And here’s the scene.

Now when we got to this scene we were a little behind on the day.  We were loosing light. Fast. From memory we only had 30-40 mins of daylight left.  And on a beach everything goes super slow.  Director Emma Freeman and I had to come up with a way to shoot this scene super quickly.

As we were on a hill, you’ll also notice the sun being very low, most of the scene plays out in the shade of the hill.  At the very very end they walk up into some lovely warm and low sunlight.

I always like to have the scene play out in full.  It’s about 50 seconds long, so we decided to have the group walk towards us up the hill instead of in the beach car park as originally planned.  I knew I’d have time for two setups at most.

Steadicam doesn’t work in a scenario like this.  Going backwards up a hill of sand would be very difficult for any operator.  And to be honest, we didn’t really do a lot of Steadicam on Puberty Blues anyway.  The house style tended to favour very long lenses.

We typically had the 150-600 MK 2 on for exteriors.  I also often had a 2X doubler.

I knew we’d never have enough time for more than one setup looking down the hill so I had the B camera (my camera) with the Canon 150-600MK2 and doubler start as the closer frame and then set the A camera with the 25-250 Cooke MK3 as the looser frame.  The idea was that if the girls grew too much into my frame then the A camera frame could take over towards the end of the scene.  It would also serve as a wide shot to get into the scene at the beginning.

The great advantage of shooting such a long lens on the B camera is that it takes longer for the shot size to “grow” as the cast walk towards the camera.  So I knew I could hold the shot and it would take them a while to walk close enough to the camera to grow out of the shot.

This shot requires an incredibly skilled focus puller, in this case the legendary Frank Hruby.   The girls are walking up a hill. We couldn’t really see the ground and the wider camera is running at the same time, (not used in the edit though) so it’s hard to put marks down because they are seen. There’s no rehearsal.

So stocktake.  We have one two camera setup.  A very long lens shot (near 1200mm) and a looser but still long shot (was probably 75mm).  The sun was fast disappearing behind us so I had the cameras set on the left side of the track so we wouldn’t cast shadows on them.  This meant they were moving left to right.

The A camera shot wasn’t used in the scene.  You’ll have to imagine it.

So with literally only a few minutes of the shooting day left we raced to the bottom of the hill.  You’ll notice that the sun has actually set in the shot from behind looking up.  You can’t see it anywhere.  But I knew that I could keep shooting this angle after then sun had gone and you probably wouldn’t notice for a while .  The sky would still be hot and we could “cut” them out or silhouette them against the sky.

So basically we mirrored out first setup but this time from behind. We set the cameras on the right side of the track and therefore had the girls travelling right to left so we were still on the same side of the line.

You’ll notice the camera is zooming a in a little on the reverse. We didn’t have time to rehearse so I just rode the zoom as the went up to get the frame I wanted for the top of the hill. You’ll notice the camera isn’t rock solid either. At 1200mm any little bit of wind will move the camera and even operating it ill transfer some vibrations.

Once again in the edit they only used the “B” camera shot in the follow as well.

So it ended up being a two setup scene with 4 potential shots but in the edit they only used the tighter lead and follow size.

Lighting was “As Is” or “Oysters” as we like to say (from Oysters NATURAL)

There’s nothing like the panic at the end of the day when you’re chasing light to focus you in on getting the bare minimum to make the scene.

Can anyone else think of or show some examples of really minimal coverage with really long lenses ?


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Sony F-55…so close…


B Camera Focus Puller Jessica Clarke-Nash hides behind the Panavised F55 with the 24-275 Primo Zoom

I’ve never much been a fan of Sony’s cameras.

Whilst they are an innovative company, I’ve always found the cameras pictures a bit cold, impersonal and the cameras themselves overly complex and over-designed in the menu and control systems.

They also seem to have a sales culture that is about segregating different sectors of the market the way THEY see it and use different codecs and media to delineate these markets.  All of it proprietary.

Though I should note that they have rather promisingly announced that they will do an option for recording ProRes on the F55, which is a huge plus for episodic fast turn around TV and means a more readily acceptable file format for established post companies that are all geared to ProRes and DNx.

Still, I have been keeping an eye on them, and my interest was really piqued by the F65, which is a really interesting camera.  Of course, I’d never use it on a series because thing thing is just too big ! I don’t like the gigantic huge camera platform on set.  Even the Arri Alexa is a little on the long side for me.


Setup Director Kate Dennis lines up a frame while I pretend to know how to pull focus

When I first started work on the new Endemol TV series “Party Tricks” I knew I needed to probably look at a camera with a global shutter.  Party Tricks is a show about politicians in the glare of the public and media eye, it would mean a lot of camera flashes and production wouldn’t be fixing and paying for the fixes for when you get the half lines on camera flashes from rolling shutter cameras.

Wanting a production camera with a global shutter camera of course narrows the field quite a bit.

There’s the Sony F65, the Sony F55 and then the Arri Studio / PLUS which has a global shutter option.


Sony F55 with 19-90 Primo zoom mounted on the Gizmo Head

I really liked the idea of the F55 early on for three reasons.

1.  Global shutter, which as discussed, would be important for all the camera flashes.

2.  Smaller physical size.  The Sony F55 is considerably smaller and lighter than an Alexa.

3.  16bit files at 4K meant a lot of scope for grading and post.

So, let’s look at the pluses.  The global shutter is great.  Really great actually.  Not only does it solve the issue of camera flashes, but it’s nice to see the other CMOS / Rolling shutter artefacts go away.  Things like a fast pan and objects moving quickly though shot like a car going the opposite direction to you on a car interior.  It’s motion rendering and cadence is very sweet and you quickly get used to it and when you have to go back to a rolling shutter, you do “feel” the difference in subtle ways.


B Camera Focus Puller Jessica Clarke-Nash

Episodic TV drama series shooting  is very demanding, especially with the one thing you can never buy, time.  Having a smaller camera makes it easier to manage.  It also means we can use it in more awkward and difficult locations. “Party Tricks” producers John Edwards and Imogen Banks always prefer their shows to use real locations rather than studio / sets.

The advantage of this is the reality and truth that comes from not being able to fix staging problems by simply moving a wall out of the way.  The built-in patina of the world is real because that IS the world.  We’d be shooting on location, and especially in Victoria’s state Parliament, where as a 150 year old building it wasn’t designed with long lines of depth and shoot through for film crews, let alone easy access for lighting and just moving gear and trollies around. So a smaller footprint than the Alexa would be a big advantage to me.


A Camera / Steadicam operator Matt “Lone Wolf” Temple

I have found that the Alexa once built, with a long zoom, and transmitters and batteries ends up being a very very long camera and it’s hard to be mobile and agile in both your operating and just moving the camera between setups.

And finally high bit depth has been something I’ve really come to appreciate lately.  While many focus on the resolution, I’ve found the single biggest difference to image fidelity I can make is the bit depth of the codec. In the case of the Sony, it can shoot at 16bit when you’re shooting 4K RAW.  And that’s a huge leap over 10 / 12 Bit codecs like ProRes in the Alexa.


A Camera / Steadicam operator Matt “Lone Wolf” Temple and A camera focus puller Bryn Whitie show how it’s done

Party Tricks needed to have a slick and modern look to it and oversampled 1920 derived from a 4K file with very high bit depth files would mean I could maintain that look.  I wanted the blacks to be really deep and have a kind of solid feel.

So, in summary the F55 offered me high bit depth images with the added advantage of a RAW 4/ K workflow and a smaller footprint and relatively low cost compared to other global shutter options.

I did some testing earlier on and found that the DR was pretty close to an Alexa (though not quite as good) and that was the last thing I wanted to make sure of before committing to the Camera.

Early on I’d been talking to Panavision who have done a really nice cage for the F55, that kind of amps it up.  It means you have extra mounting and accessory options and I was also really taken with their new EVF option. More on that later.

Hook lurks in the shadows on Party Tricks

Hook lurks in the shadows on Party Tricks

I was lucky enough to have my colleague Hook working with me full time and one of the great things about the F55 is it can load a user LUT generated out of Resolve.  We were able to create a great look for the editorial transcodes that got everything much closer to the intended final look.  He also did some LUT’s that helped us match the BMCC2.5K and 4K cameras to the F55.

We did learn that the way the Sony reads the Resolve LUT’s in V4.0 had an error that caused them to not display correctly.  We were able to manually edit the LUT to work, but they’ve now fixed this with V4.1

So once committed to the F55, I then started to discover that most of the camera’s shortcomings were in it’s software…or rather in the way I expected it to operate. The biggest single issue is that there is no way to output basic exposure tool’s and overlays out of any of the camera’s outputs.  Because they have opted for a specific VF / monitor connector that means frustratingly, you can only use one or the other, that you can’t have basic exposure tools output over the SDI output.

Just a couple of things that would be really really useful if anyone from Sony is listening.

I’m really surprised / not surprised that Sony have gone with this proprietary VF/EVF cable connector.  Whilst I guess on the upside it means you can have extra buttons on the screen and they can make the screen smaller by having the graphics processing / image processing in the camera, it has some downsides.  One of them is that you can’t run more than one of these connections at a time.



A Camera operator Matt “lone Wolf” Temple takes a break from the busy schedule. Note the custom Panavision directors monitoring station in front of Matt.

So I can’t for example, run a SONY viewfinder AND run the Sony monitor (which is very good) at the same time, unless it’s running via HD-SDI. What’s frustrating though is that if you run the screen (or an EVF)  via HD-SDI then you loose some critical exposure monitoring tools when shooting 4K raw like Zebra and False Colour. Not only that but the screen is missing some basic functionality.  There have many times when using it in the last few weeks my focus puller would have liked to invert it so it doesn’t sit as high about the camera.  Most on board monitors have this basic feature. Not having basic exposure tools over SDI is a big problem.

It means for example, when using the camera on a crane, there’s no way to use Zebras or false colour for exposure.  HELLO ?!

You’re lead into a false sense of customisation because you have 4 assignable buttons and the WiFi remote.


A Camera Steadicam Operator Matt “Lone Wolf” temple braves a crane walk off

Now these damn assignable buttons.  Why the hell wouldn’t you make it possible to put the frame grab function on the camera into an assignable button….you know…like taking a picture with a single button push ?  Instead, in their infinite wisdom, Sony have made it so if you want to grab a frame from your video, then you have to dive into the menus..about 3 levels deep and then grab a frame, somehow through the overlay.

One of my favourite Alexa functions is to be able to grab a snap during a take.  I usually try and grab one for every setup I do and I can then either grade them to show the colourist later what I’m planning for, or even just as a moral boosting email at the end of the week to show everyone what we were up to for the week.


Maybe they can do a snap on extra module for the back (RED style) that at least gives you a second EVF connector….

The WiFi interface seems like a good idea.  The theory is that you can use any device with a web browser to connect to the camera and access the menus and even remote roll the camera.

The only problem is that a lot of things you want to change can’t be accessed from the web interface.  Like the VF settings for example.


Loader Jade Court-Gold tries the Panavision EVF

Sony offer two viewfinder options and I don’t think either of them are very satisfactory.  I ended up using the new Panavision made viewfinder.  They offer an OLED viewfinder which has plenty of resolution but it always kind of dim an pallid in terms of image.

Sony have been making cameras for a long time but they seem to make newby mistakes like putting all the overlays in the viewfinder on TOP of the image.  Alexa have a great way of keeping the image area free of clutter in their viewfinder.  All the status is on the outside of the image area.  On the Sony, it is instead overlaid over the image.  That means you often miss things in shot because it’s hidden behind the battery status info !  Not only that you can’t even change the brightness of the overlays either.


I’m checking the playback with A Camera Focus Puller Bryn Whitie and A Camera / Steadicam operator Matt “Lone Wolf” Temple

Rather weirdly there isn’t any return video so I also can’t monitor what another camera is doing, just to compare my frame size as we line up the frame.  Again, this seems like a rookie mistake to omit this important feature.

Multicam cameras means using timecode to sync all the cameras.  For some reason there sin’t an indicator of the presences of an external TC clock.  Even an F900 says “EXTC” when an external TC source is present.

There are lots of buttons and they can easily be accidentally pressed.  There is a lock that means they are deactivated.  I’d love to see the assignable buttons able to still be active even when the lock button is engaged.

Sony also do employ some strange language and menu conventions.  Every function you do you have a menu that says “execute” but, crucially there’s no indicator for what you’re about to execute.  In the heat of battle you might load some new media and dive into the menu to format it and it will say “execute” but you could also be doing a black balance.  It makes you stop and think about what you’re doing because you’d only have to be distracted for a second to forget what you’re about to execute.  Please can we know which menu we’re about to “execute” ?


A and B camera operators trying to be cowboys. Myself and Matt “Lone Wolf” Temple

I did find that moire could often be a problem especially going from 4K–> 1920 output, but I’ve since learned that there is a different 2K OLPF that can be used.  I’ll be testing that on the next job and good on Sony for offering the option to easily change the OLPF

Right, so now that I’ve had a whinge…

I should remind anyone still reading to this point that I do in fact really like the pictures from the camera a lot and there’s a lot that really is great about it.  It’s relatively low cost, small in size and really delivers a lovely and very malleable 4K RAW file with great looking motion cadence.

It’s just with a few small tweaks this camera could really give the current gold standard, the Arri Alexa a decent run for it’s money.  Right now, it’s a camera I can put up with for the advantages like Global shutter, but it’s in no way a very satisfying camera to use day to day because of these niggly little things.


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The Ravens


Indianna Gregg, who plays Ruby, a little girl menaced by Ravens on her daily walk to school


XL2 on a remote head for some fast moving point of view shots

One of the more ambitious films I’ve ever worked on, is the short film The Ravens.

For anyone interested in following this project you should head over to their facebook page or their blog.  They’ve been very open about their filmmaking process and it’s a great behind the scenes look at us making this special film.

The Ravens is a film about PTSD.  It’s a very personal film for writer director Jennifer Perrott who grew up in a defence force community at Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast.

The Ravens is about a soldier struggling to return to a normal family life after service in an unamed foreign theatre of conflict.  Told through the eyes of his young daughter trying to come to terms with her fathers increasingly erratic behaviour, this story looks at the challenges facing returning service personnel coping with trauma and the effects on their families, using the daughters own struggle with a pair of nesting Ravens that menace her on her daily walk to school.

I hadn’t had much experience with PTSD before The Ravens or even understanding what it was, but I was shocked to learn that more soldiers have died from suicide in recent conflicts than have actually died in combat.


A GF 6 allowed us to get shots of our Ravens Nest and Raven POV’s

When we first started discussing the film we kicked around the idea of shooting on film but I kind of didn’t think to take it too seriously.  For starters it’s expensive, but there was a bigger problem.  There wasn’t even a lab where we could get our film processed !

In April of 2013 with little notice, Deluxe had closed their doors and the last film processing lab in Australia had closed.  Shortly after, Park Road, Peter Jackson’s lab in NZ also closed their doors leaving only Technicolor in Thailand as the last remaining lab in the region, and they only do 35mm.

Shooting on film would mean that we’d have to send the film overseas just to get it processed.


Focus Puller Pim Kulk trying to look like he remembers how to lace an XL2 !

But the more we talked about it, the more we liked the idea.  PTSD is a highly traumatic condition and we wanted a way of really emotionally cutting to the core of what was happening with our characters.  Being told primarily from a young girls point of view we wanted something that would be very subjective and experiential.

Jen had also not long returned to Australia from Europe where she’d worked a lot in  the TVC world with 35mm and though we met working on season 4 of Offspring, she still felt very strongly about the emotional draw and cut through of shooting on celluloid rather than digital.

Several times we tried to talk ourselves out of shooting on film and we just ended up coming back to it.  The film was self funded so there was a substantial cost, but because of the films subject matter, we were able to secure some totally amazing deals on the film stock itself from Kodak, and also it’s processing and transportation.


We reached out to several labs around the world and LA based Fotokem offered us a generous deal on processing and scanning to 4k via the Arriscanner.  We would transfer the film to LA and then they’d send back a bunch of hard drives with our 4K rushes on it.

We also had a great sponsorship gift from Rapid Worldwide to get our film to LA from Sydney without being x-rayed !  We actually shipped our first days rushes from Sydney and had a neg report from Fotokem within 48 hours.  Kind of amazing really !

We did have neg insurance on our 6 day shoot and we only sent the first days rushes as a precaution after already doing a steadytest and lens check on the camera.


Finally Panavison were exceptionally generous and gave us access to a heavily discounted top shelf camera package, the Millennium XL2 as well as some beautiful PVintage primes that I’d just finished using on Puberty Blues 2.  It was a real joy to have access to that kind of lens and camera package and we certainly couldn’t have made the film without their generous support.


Putting the Nauticam Blackmagic housing to good use in the kiddie pool

We also had occasion to use some Blackmagic cameras and I’m interested to see how they’re going to intercut with the film as well.

With the film now in post, please follow the film at the links I’ve put above, and I’ll be sure to post something more comprehensive about the shoot once it’s complete.

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Lens Testing

Here’s some more tests for a TV series I’m in early pre on.

Earlier, I looked at the Sony F55 and the Alexa.

Having now decided to shoot with the F55, mainly because of it’s global shutter and smaller size while offering nearly the same DR as the Alexa but at 4K, I had to choose my lenses.

I knew I wanted to look at the Cooke S4’s, the Ultraprimes and the Panavision Primos.  I originally hoped to use the new V series Primos but they weren’t available despite some earlier tests I was able to do with them

I know it’s a particular favourite of the setup director that she loves out of focus lights, especially at night.  We’ll hopefully have some elevated city office locations which should give us nice lights at night so I wanted to also look at how they compared when they were out of focus as well.

I used some xmas lights for this and also had a look at the lens breathing (image size change with focus) as the lens racked through a pretty big pull.

I also looked at these at T4 and at T2.  I used a Tiffen regualr ND for this.  My collegue HOOK did the initial grade for this based on the ultraprime.  You’ll notice slight differences between the cookes and the primos and although they are small they are there. I could have balanced them out but left them with the same ultraprime “neutral” grade so you can see the differences.

You’ll ALSO notice the ND add’s its own colour cast as well.  At T4 with the ND6 in place, you’ll notice there’s a colour difference.

I’ve made it possible to download the files so take a closer look.

What other differences can you see ?








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