The Beautiful Lie – a love story

It’s no small thing to tackle one of the greatest literary works of all time, but that’s exactly what The Beautiful Lie attempts to do.

Those familiar with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the epic and sweeping original text that The Beautiful Lie is inspired by, might wonder how a story set in the last days of pre-revolutionary Russian aristocracy could be adapted to suit a contemporary Australian setting, but writer Alice Bell and producers John Edwards and Imogen Banks set out to do precisely that.

Tolstoy’s original book is considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written with many fervent fans.  The Beautiful Lie is a contemporary re-imagining of that text commissioned by the ABC as a six by one hour episode series. It was a heck of a responsibility to do it justice and there are also many fans of the book who would be fairly skeptical of an Aussie TV series adaptation as well !

The Beautiful Lie is at it’s heart, a story of the heart, a story about love and all the many messy flavours it can take.  And love is what makes this story as relevant today as it ever was.

This is a very long and detailed post !  I’ll cover a lot of ground but I really wanted to explore in depth and with as much detail as I could for this production.  It’s going to take you some time to get through it all.  Where appropriate I’ve also tried to include original script pages for the scenes I’m talking about as well as other reference material as well clips with specific examples.

A note on the embedded clips here. Please do them justice by making them full screen when you watch them and click on the arrows on the bottom right of each clip.

PLOT SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

It’s perhaps worth noting that I’m about to do a complete and utter plot spoil.   Maybe you’ve already read the book ?  So read on and be informed…or watch the series first before you go on !

Skeet - Played By Benedict Samuels

Skeet – Played By Benedict Samuels

 

Producers John Edwards and Imogen Banks once again put an outstanding production team together to bring this story to the screen beginning with writer Alice Bell.

Imogen had already approached me to shoot TBL but it wasn’t until setup director Glendyn Ivin signed up that I really started getting excited.  After designer Elizabeth Mary Moore joined the production, we now had the same crew that worked on the AACTA award winning series Puberty Blues together and that was already some of the work I’ve been most proud of.   The Beautiful Lie would put the band back together, so to speak.

Replacing the ignominy of a fallen aristocrat, Alice took the genius step of substituting what many Australians consider to be our version of royalty, the sporting celebrity.  And so we have Anna and Xander, both retired grand slam winning champion tennis players. Public and media sweethearts with a child to complete the picture, Anna seemed to have everything she could dream of, the fairytale life. Until she meets skeet.

Alice then took Vronsky, the original 1878 cavalry officer that Anna falls for, and converted him into the 2015 equivalent, that of music producer and DJ.  After meeting Skeet, Anna falls entirely and helplessly in love with him and despite her own best intentions and efforts to save her marriage, she’s compelled to be with Skeet once she realises she’s pregnant with Skeet’s child.  She leaves her husband Xander and they move in together. Despite choosing to be together for true love, things get progressively more and more difficult for Anna and Skeet.  The arrival of a new child complicates things as does the increasingly acrimonious relationship with Xander and her son Casper.

Interwoven into this story is the story of two other couples and their fortunes in love, Anna’s brother Kingsley and his wife Dolly, along with Dolly’s younger sister Kitty and her rural suitor Peter.

We all had different views of what the title, The Beautiful Lie even meant in pre-production.  It was fascinating to sit around the table in very early pre and hear everyone’s version of what it meant to them.  For me the title refers to the bitter sweet lie of love, the romantic ideal that we can have a soul mate out there who’s destined for us, fated to be with us.  When Anna follows her heart, to be with the one she thinks is her true love, she pays the ultimate price.

The story is timeless because the themes are timeless.  The Beautiful Lie looks at the nature of love, the cost of love and it’s betrayal.

Imogen was also keen to throw off the notion that it had to be anything like the original text.  We had a chance to re-interpret the story, to create a whole new world and look.

Glendyn really wanted the show to feel very naturalistic and present feel.  His instinctive aesthetic is also kind of raw and unfinished.  For Glendyn these are the markers of truth in cinema.  Truthful storytelling that is.  This would mean an aesthetic that wasn’t polished.  Scenes shouldn’t feel lit, even though they would be.  The staging would be organic and evolving. Spontaneous.  Locations also became very important.  They would speak to character and background, as the original text also references both rural and urban living.  We searched very long and hard for unique locations that would reflect the background and backstory of the characters, and that also looked visually unique. The right location choices can say visually more about the class and privilege of our characters than any words spoken.

Production designer Elizabeth also worked very hard on creating a restrained palette of tones for each location.  We all wanted even the day interiors to have a darker feel.  We all became obsessed with lens flares and having practical lights in shot. We toyed briefly with shooting in Anamorphic, but the broadcaster wasn’t so keen on that.

Many of the films we looked at for a visual reference are nothing like tonally what the Beautiful Lie would be,  but we all liked No Country For Old Men for its naturalism and darker moodier interiors and I especially liked John Wick for it’s outrageous use of practical lights in shot and mixed colour temperature lighting.

VISUAL REFERENCES

Glendys main visual reference for us was the work of photographer Nan Golding.  Nan is known for her vivid and super saturated colour work and that in combination with the access and personal intimacy really spoke the Glendyn.  Her work has a lot or emotional power.

Here are a couple of the reference grabs we looked at in pre-production.

 

No Country - Pracs and dark interiors

No Country For Old Men – Pracs and dark interiors

No Country

No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men - Pracs

No Country For Old Men – Pracs

John Wick - Lit with pracs

John Wick – Lit with pracs

John Wick Dark moddy interiors with pracs

John Wick – Dark moody daylight mixed colour temp interiors with pracs

John Wick - Visual reference for moody day interiors and pracs in shot

John Wick – Visual reference for moody day interiors and pracs in shot

 

Lighting

Here’s a link to the lighting gear list.  https://johnbrawley.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/gear-list-a-beautiful-lie.pdf

Lighting was would be naturalistic and we strived for raw beauty.  Something that “appeared” to be found and lit from within the scene, either using practical lighting or the apparently natural lighting from windows within the scene.  Often times we helped the natural lighting along by building either passive bounce from outside the windows or by making them active bounces.  By active I mean either lit by a lamp or by a hard mirror bounce.

Lighting naturalistically meant we wanted to try really hard to make it look like we hadn’t tried hard at all !

I’ve been moving towards using larger and larger softer ambient sources of late and then doing accents with harder light.    For me I wanted to light the space itself rather than lighting where the actors staged.  Then the actors could stage within the space, they could light themselves by moving in and out of those lit spaces.  I used very small pracs in a lot on interiors, working with designer Elizabeth to get the best looking ones and then using very large sources, even if there were only small lights into them.

In this simple three hander, Kitty is unwrapping engagement presents from her now failed engagement to Skeet.  Peter’s gift seems particularly moving and her parents come in to ask her what she’s going to do with herself.  We also used a split eyeline for this triangle coverage to get across the idea that her parents are ganging up on her.

The lighting was simple here.  It was a grey Melbourne day, but you’ll notice that using the edge of a 5K tungsten molebeam, we just lightly kissed the “offside” of Kitty, played by Sophie Lowe.  The beam is actually focussed onto the table itself and wall opposite Kitty and there’s a nice warmer bounce ambience in the room.

Her parents walk into the Molebeam’s light but on this coverage we softened it somewhat with a 4×4 frame of 250 inside the room.  You’ll also notice a second molebeam at play in the hall behind to give some more highlights and shape to the wall.

You only have to freeze on the profile shot of Kitty and take a look out the window to see what a miserable and grey day it was.  Now, the lighting isn’t really “right” if you want to be picky to the truth of what was there, but in story terms it was meant to be morning.

Once you start to scruitinse the image you’ll find all sorts of sins, but I hope you don’t end up questioning them too much and that because they support the story you don’t even notice them !

This was the first show I’ve done with Gaffer Steve Price and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other’s lighting likes and dislikes !  I love it when gaffers show me a new trick and Steve has a great eye.  Like myself, he’s also a fan of much larger sources.

He introduced me to the 20×12 bounce.

Normally a 20×20 is just too large to use safely as a bounce for a window outside a house for example.  It’s large size it takes a lot of rigging and manpower.  It’s a big sail and even a small amount of wind makes it really unmanageable, let alone the real estate it consumes.  Often we just don’t have the time do that kind of rigging on a TV schedule.

But a 20×12 could be far more easily rigged safely and meant we could have a larger bounce source outside the windows of locations we were using.  Sometimes this was what I like to call a PASSIVE bounce.  It’s just using the natural bounce of the light that was available or sometimes we made it into an ACTIVE bounce by using a couple of Arri 6K lamps.

In the original text along with Alice Bell’s version it was important to mark the differences between the country living with the urban.  We tried to use colour in our night lighting to mark the country and the city.  Urban environments would have a sodium or mercury lighting feel.  Country night would have a more traditional moonlight feel of Cyan 15 or Cyan 30.

I also asked Steve in pre to make up some actual practical sodium and mercury lights.  We carried four lamps, two 300W sodium light fittings and two 300w Mercury fixtures that we could easily dress into shot and they look the part.  I wanted it to look like like the council put them there !  There’s something much more authentic about using the actual lights that create those colours rather than trying to match their colours with correction gels on film lights.

I also wanted to really push mixed colour temperature.  The Alexa is such a tolerant camera for mixed lighting and I wanted to try and work as much of a mix as I could get away with.  So daylight exteriors with tungsten prac and lit interiors were the norm.

Another technique was to use 5K tungsten Molebeams and use them for sunlight accents in a room whilst still letting the daylight ambience float through as well.  You saw this in the Kitty clip above.

 

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Skeet’s House – Lit with 2 x Dinettes with Rosco Urban Vapour exterior plus pracs

Skeet's Bedroom

Skeet’s Bedroom

Kitty - Played by Sophie Lowe and lit by tungsten Molebeams and daylight

Kitty – Played by Sophie Lowe and lit by tungsten Molebeams and daylight

Sometimes we’d make our own practicals.

In this scene where we meet Nick Levin for the first time from episode one, Peter goes to see his unwell brother at his down at heel apartment.  You’ll notice the lighting here is very simple.  There’s two tungsten practical lamps, one in the deep BG and one on the table Nick is sitting at.  We then also rigged a single fluro batten in shot very roughly just above the door ! I asked Steve to find me the worst colour tube he could.  I wanted the flat and horrible anemic look you get from a stock standard tube.  There are some miscellaneous friends that are hanging around outside that are kissed by a bit of urban vapour for an exterior night feel.  This scene was actually shot day for night and we built a tent for the exterior of the location to hide the daylight.  And that was it !

Staging for lighting.

I like this clip because it’s pretty much lit by pracs, very carefully placed after we’d blocked the scene and with mixed colour temperature as well. And that’s an important note.

When blocking the scene with the actors I always am trying to figure the line.  In this case it’s what I call an inside triangle.  Peter was the apex, with a majority eyeline to his brother Nick.  There was also an eyeline between Peter and Nick’s partner Crystal.

Here’s a mud map. And the scene from the script  TBL Ep1 BUFF AMENDMENTS Full Script

So you’ll notice that Peter and Nick do most of the talking and the scene is really between them.  We see Nick’s’ girlfriend Crystal in passing but she’s incidental and there’s a reference to some other people just outside the door.

Peter And Nick Graffle Eyeline

I’ve drawn on the first mud map here the eyeline between the actors.  These are the dotted lines.  So when an actor talks of looks to each other we can draw an imaginary line between them.  With a three hander like this the staging fell in that peter would walk into the room and awkwardly do his lines to Nick who would be sometimes sitting or sometimes standing.

This triangle layout is something you’ll often encounter in the three hander and you have to try and figure out if you want the camera on the inside of the triangle or outside.  This time I opted for the INSIDE, and it was probably because of the way the small size of the room falls in.  It would be physically harder to get a camera on the outside of Peter and Nick (A and D) and it would also make the Wide shots (E and  B) the “wrong” side of the line.

When we first run the lines in the space I try to listen very carefully to the actors and try to figure out what and who is important to the scene.  Usually the actors are also trying to figure out the same things !  So you can listen in on the conversation with the director and actors and between them all it’s usually not too hard to figure out what’s happening.

With the eyelines established, which then tells me where to put the camera I can start to think about lighting.  With the inside line established between our most important characters for the scene, Peter and Nick, that becomes the most important relationship.

Normally I like to be able to enable a cross shoot, meaning we’d shoot both angles at the same time, but the geography of the room made it physically impossible in this case. So instead we shot “down the line” meaning that both my cameras would shoot angles along the same eyeline.  This could be a tighter CU say on Nick from  camera D and wider shot like camera E.  For sound we try not to do wide and tights so in reality I probably ran the D shot and the F shot at the same time. Notice too that even though we have an eyeline between Nick and his girlfriend Crystal, we haven’t drawn camera positions here, and in fact we didn’t shoot their eyelines to each other.

 

Peter and nick lighting

Because I now know the important eyeline to light for, I ask the art department to dress a prac lamp onto the table that Nick is sitting at.  This puts my lightsource on the “outside” of the triangle, which means I get better modelling on both Nick and Peter.  If the camera staging was on the outside of the triangle, it’s likely I’d try to put the prac lamp on the inside of the triangle.

You’ll also notice that once Peter gets inside the door he put’s his weight onto his right foot, meaning the fluro is now more coming over his left shoulder.  Again, we’ve put the light on the outside of the triangle.

In the deeper BG behind Peter we placed another prac lamp for depth and also behind Nick we have some extras that are meant to be on the outside of his room.  This scene was shot in the middle of the afternoon, and we’re on the first floor so we had to build a tent on the balcony to turn it to night.  Nick’s friends were lit by a 1K through some rosco Industrial vapour

So even though this is a simple scene, I hope you get a sense of how it is constructed and is then reactively lit to make it look like it’s only lit by pracs and available light.

Skeets House / Studio

The whole idea of Skeet was to make him into a music producer / DJ.  Glendyn really wanted for him to live in the same house he was recording an album in, that he’d moved in their for acoustic reasons !

L1009863

We ended up in a beautiful old historical mansion in Kew called Villa Alba. No one had really shot there before and those that were trusted with looking after the precious national trust building were naturally worried about letting a smelly old film crew in there !  It look a lot of very careful negotiation on behalf of the production.  We had to wear protective booties and we weren’t even allowed to touch the walls.  There was a conservator in every single room watching us and making sure we didn’t lean on anything.

It was a difficult location in terms of logistics but it was such an amazing location to shoot in.  This sequence is the first time we see it in the series, the first time we Skeet doing “his thing” and also introduce Marlon would would end up singing in each episode as the album is being made.

A_20150511_213728_R4QT_l

Interestingly, Glendyn wanted the recording of the album to be authentic, so of course we ended up setting up the real thing !   When you see Marlon singing in The Beautiful Lie, he is always singing live, and not to a click track or playback.  We shot him for real and recorded him using the actual equipment you see in the shots. They aren’t just dressing !

Lighting in the main recording space on this scene was a couple of 12K Dinettes, 12 x 1K park64 bulbs that Americans would know as a Maxi Brute that were un-corrected.  You can see them playing as harder shadows in the wider Shots.  On the other side we had some fill from a 4K HMI ultrabounce.  You’ll also notice most of the pracs are on as well.

Peter’s House

Peter’s house would try to be the opposite to Skeet’s house.  While Skeets would be urban and in the middle of the city, Peter’s house was very much in the country.  The thinking was that it was once a grand old estate but it had not fallen behind a little on the up keep.

Peter was now an equine veterinarian.  In this hilarious sequence from Ep2 you get a sense of the house as Peter tries to find some reliable wifi.  Production Designer Mary had the idea to use lot’s of Mirror in the house to help increase the scale of the location.  I always find them painful and fun to shoot in, and in this rather rude clip you’ll see that the mirror was a great way for Peter to realise how ridiculous he was being when he got take a look at himself from the outside.  We seeded a lot more prac lamps in here as well, but mostly I lit this sequence with uncorrected 5K tungsten Mole Beams while the camera was set to 5600K.  You’ll notice later in the clip when he’s standing against the bay windows you can see the real sun streaming in from the opposite direction to the fake sun direction I’d introduced in the first few shots.

 

In rural locations I tended to go for the more traditional moonlight feel of cyan 15 through a daylight source.  We sometimes also used a more green version of on Dinettes, a 12 x 1K tungsten lamp.

Night is always a problem for me and day for night even more so.  We had to do a lot of day for night at Xanders.  TV shooting schedules, especially with such a big cast also mean you kind of have to deal with the cards you’re dealt.  Usually the schedule is the least flexible time and one that you have the least control over.  So that often means you’re asked by the first AD to shoot night scenes in the middle of the day.   I always try to accommodate this and sometimes it’s easier to black out one part of the location than others.  At Xanders for example, you’ll notice there’s a lot of floor to ceiling windows downstairs and you’re also always expecting to be able to SEE what’s outside those windows as they’ve been established.

DAY FOR NIGHT

Up stairs however at Xanders, the bedroom was a fairly simple day for night treatment as the windows on both sides had balconies that we could tent and props we could dress in so there would still be something outside the window.  In this scene from Ep 1, Anna is sneaking home at dawn after having just had sex with Skeet in the front yard of a house adjacent to Kitties engagement party.  There are two parts to this sequence that was shot over two days.  We tried to  shoot at dusk all the interior dusk shots where Anna is skulking about downstairs on a separate day so we could use the natural dusk ambience for dawn.  I had the camera WB set to 2800K.  Then when she’s upstairs and climbing into bed we were able to time the wide shot for the end of the second day at the same rough time (after shooting a bunch of other non related scenes of course) so we could still see out of the window outside but by the time we flipped the shot over to look at Anna, it was too dark and we had to recreate the dusk ambience.  Of course it’s dawn, so it should be getting lighter when in fact while we were shooting it it was getting darker !

Steve built an 8×12 frame (large for an interior bedroom !) with grid and then we used a single 4″ daylight kino tube with Cyan 15 on it bounced into the 8×12 frame.  That’s a very large, very soft and very dim light source.  On the camera, I’d been using an “ikea” light.  These are actually a little USB powered LED light designed for plugging into a keybaord which you can get for about 10 bucks at Ikea ! I’ve been using them for a few years as little eyelights mounted on camera or on the mattebox in closeups.  They’re about 3000K.  You can see the source reflected in Anna’s eyes here as she looks back towards Xander in the bed.  The camera again was probably set to 2800K.

Night for day

Night for day can also be a spanner.  We had a major sequence in ep 5 for Kitty and Peter’s wedding (told you I’d plot spoil !)  We had a wedding to shoot and it took the entire day to shoot it.  From memory there were 40 extras and 8 main cast.  Kitty herself, played by Sophie Lowe as a bride took a long time in wardrobe and makeup as you’d expect so we didn’t have enough daylight to shoot the call sheet for the day.  We had a small scene to do with Kitty and Dolly after Anna has shown up un-invited to the wedding and almost ruined Kitty’s day !  So it was scheduled last and done night for day.  I used the 20×12 with two 6K Pars, plus we used an additional couple of 6K’s to fill in some of the shadows.  You can see from the staging we’re trying to avoid shooting outside too much, but you can see on Kitty’s side of the coverage that there is life outside the windows, it’s not just blown to white.

Day scenes also tended to be treated the same way using larger bounced sources, or often a large bounce wedge.

For the final sequence of Episode 4, director Peter Salmon really wanted to show the devastation for Anna who has to leave her marital home with her newborn daughter Vivianne and drive away from her  6 year old son Kasper at the end of the episode.  In the big print of the script it was intended for there to be the reflection of Anna’s car as she and Skeet drove away with his new sister.  Peter really wanted to honour that in the script but the logistics of shooting in the already established Xander house meant that there would be no way to make the car reflection a practical effect.

Instead we made it a composite.  First we shot Kasper looking from his bedroom and asked him to imagine his mother driving away.  Seperately we shot two additional plates.  One from the same balcony that Kasper’s bedroom was located which had the lights of the suburb and a tree that had been lit.  Second plate was actually shot out on the road where Anna’s car could be shot driving away.  So the car driving away and the lights and tree reflection where then composited back into the shot of Kasper looking out the window.

Here are the script pages for this scene.  Read them first, then watch below.

 

The very final harrowing sequence in The Beautiful Lie sees a kind of overview of all the characters we’ve met in the series as Anna sinks deeper into despair, finally throwing herself in front of a train.

I’d like to take this moment to direct anyone who’s feeling that they are in a similar state of despair to consider this link.

This scene will take some time to go through, so if you’re interested, carefully read the pages of the script. They’re linked below.  It’s a complex intercutting of timelines between present day Anna who’s coming to a decision to do something reckless and end her own life as we see both scenes from the romantic beginning of her affair with Skeet from 2 years ago in story terms as well as contemporary vignettes of the other families and characters we’ve met along the journey of this series.

Perhaps try to imagine yourself as the director or DP pulling this together !

This sequence starts with Anna leaving her new born child Vivianne at the steps of Vivianne’s grandmother, the mother of Skeet with whom she’s had this affair.  She then finds herself in a full blown anxiety attack and returns to the same spot we saw early on that Skeet took her to as their romance was beginning.  She tries to recreate the magic and understand why her relationship with Skeet has now also failed.  She finds herself walking to the nearby train tunnel.

Anna narrates this in the past tense as she has all through the series.  As she walks through the tunnel we sense a train starting to approach.  Anna moves to kneel and face the oncoming train. One thing we talked about at great deal was if we wanted to have the audience question if she really wanted to go through with this drastic and desperate act. In the last minute would we sense that she actually wanted to live ?

It’s exceptionally difficult to work anywhere near trains on a film set.  They are very dangerous as evidenced by the tragic death of Sarah Jones.  There would be no way we could put an actor or even crew near a working train or in an actual live train tunnel.

So we had to improvise !  This was one of the most difficult sequences to visualise because it was not only the very final sequence for this series, it would have to feel as realistic as posisble.  But we wouldn’t have a real train or a real train tunnel to work in !

As often happens in television, the final episode wasn’t written when we started shooting the first episode and would have a different director.  So while we knew we’d have to shoot some version of this scene it was still a bit up in the air.  Glendyn chose the early romantic lookout knowing there was a nearby train tunnel and second block director Peter Salmon then worked with the writers to fit the scene to our location limitations.

We needed to take Anna back to this location, except she now sees it in the cold hard light of day.  All the flashbacks were evening so that nicely counterpointed her distance and distress.  She sees the nearby train and tunnel and moved towards it down the road.

At this point we had to get our actress Sarah into a train tunnel.  And we did this with some careful location fudging and a bit of a combination of art department dressing and digital set extension.  Our locations department managed to find a long tunnel at the Caulfield racecourse that was normally used to drive horse floats and mounted horses from the nearby stables into the race course.  It had kind of the right curve though was realistically too wide.  So we chose to use only the one side and I worked with the art department to calculate where to dress some bunker lights for the walls along with some train signalling lights.

The art department costed building some actual train track we could walk Anna along. Turns out it was really expensive !  We could only afford about 3 meters worth of real train track.  This would be used for Anna to walk or stand / kneel on and then for set extension and replication.  With some careful framing that cropped the ground out we tried to avoid seeing the “missing” track behind Anna.

Using a large 20×20 grid frame at the end of each side of the tunnel I used that to blow out seeing outside the tunnel.  Scott Zero from Blue Post added some CG train tracks in the background as Anna was walking deeper into the tunnel.

All we had to do then was create a train ! Working with gaffer Steve Price we mounted a 2K Blondie to the roll bar of a utility truck and put a small generator in the back.  There was about a 75 meter run that the car could drive along so we used that to mimic the oncoming train.  By driving the car towards Anna with the light burning above it, we could replicate the light of a train approaching anna.  It would get brighter as it got closer and the height would change relative to her as well.  This meant we could easily shoot the profile and frontal shot’s of Sarah using this simulated train light to interactively work on her face.  By carefully adding some wind that also changed velocity as as the pretend train approached we were able to very realistically mimic the train’s approach.

For the over shoulder shots we firstly shot Sarah against a green screen in the same position, using some smaller tungsten lights to edge her.  The preference from the VFX supervisor was for the lighting NOT to change during this as he wanted to add those himself.  We then took Sarah out of the locked off shot and then shot a plate of the car with the blondie approaching to give him some reference and to enable him to use the spill on the tunnel walls.   Director Peter Salmon really wanted the train to come from around a corner as well, so that meant the whole tunnel would be re-built in 3D.  A CG train was also used to finish the illusion. All of the train tunnel sequence was shot using only a single camera, simply because of the amount of set extension work that had to be done.

So here’s your homework !  Read the script pages carefully, look at the storyboards and THEN watch the harrowing final 5 mins of The Beautiful Lie.

Here are the scenes from the final episode, scenes 72-77.  And for you nerds that are into formatting rules for scripts, it’s also worth noting the formating of these pages.  TV script amendments can get complicated once the script is locked ! You can tell by the colour of script pages that this scene was re-written a  few times to take account of the difficulties in visualising it.  You’ll notice that this the “lilac” version. Any lilac coloured pages were updated from the last version.  If you look at this link you’ll see how this code works and that Lilac means it’s the tenth amendment to this scene ! (Lilac = Lavender).

Here are director Peter Salmon’s storyboards for this sequence.

 

 

Glendyn was also very attached to the global shutter of the Alexa Studio.  He’d first used the Alexa Studio on Gallipoli,  and he really felt he could see the difference onscreen in motion cadence and I’d be hard pressed to argue, especially when we were going to be shooting most of the show hand held.  I think this is when the global shutter of the Alexa studio comes into it’s own, because hand held means you’re more likely to see some of the subtle artefacts of a rolling shutter.  For an example of the on-screen visual differences between a rolling shutter and global shutter, you can look here.

The Beautiful Lie is almost exclusively a hand held show.  This was something we talked a lot about in the beginning. I think there are probably only two locked off shots and they were both VFX requirements.  A hand held feel was put on them afterwards.

I didn’t really relish the idea of hand holding an Alexa Studio.  In pre, we weighed the camera and fully loaded with a Zeiss superspeed prime it was pushing 17Kgs.  Not really lightweight.

I did have a slight help though.  I’d just purchased a new handgrip.  I was always a fan of the old Aaton walnut handgrip.  Wood is such a wonderful material…it doesn’t get slippery as your hand perspires and warms up and it fits so well to the shape of your hand.

Taking that idea to it’s extreme, Shooting Machine have developed a more mature version of that idea.  They’ve made the actual grip much fatter.  By making a larger fist you actually find it less fatiguing to hold and operate the camera for long periods of time.

The cinegrip also has a lot of customisation options about where you can place it in space relative to the camera.  I’ve been experimenting a lot with putting my right hand almost in line UNDERNEATH the lens.  By using their clock arm and then tweaking I could get my hand and wrist to the most comfortable position.  Basically making a fist and pointing right up vertical into the air with my elbow tucked into my side or resting sometimes on a cinesaddle I strapped on.

And after a few weeks the grip developed a lovely patina and it really felt great in the hand.

Considering how much time one spends cradling and using a handle to literally guide the shot, it occurs to me that any help that can improve that connection to the camera and the way you guide has to be a help.  The more easily it becomes and extension of you the better your shot.  The cinegrip felt like it made it easier to hold the camera in a more natural way.

I didn’t really bother to explore the features, but you can program the grip.  It has 4 buttons and you can even chord them together to get more functions.  I think at present tends to work best with Sony cameras where more of those function, but I personally prefer just using it for operating the shot rather than driving camera functions.

Luckily, they make smart and dumb versions.

I should say too at this point that I was lucky enough to have a great amount of support from my Key Grip Craig Dusting.  You might think that being all hand held there wouldn’t be much to do for a grip but that of course is far from true !  Craig did a magnificent job with a great deal of blacking especially in some really tricky locations.  Always attentive too, you really want to offload the Alexa Studio as soon cut is called so you need someone who’s always there to share the load.

L1009828

In addition to the Alexa Studio I also had a Sony F55.  I’m quite fond of the Sony too, and it was mainly used for any Movi or highspeed shots we had to do.  The Alexa Studio would never make it onto the Movi as it’s way to big and heavy and only had a top speed of 75 FPS.  The F55 was a good match because it too has a global shutter.

Here’s a Movi / F55 sequence intercut with the Alexa. The Movi is used for the lead and follow down the corridor but also the two shot this sequence resolves into at the end.  The shots at the top and the CU’s at the end are Alexa studio. The little push into Sarah’s face when she hears her baby’s heartbeat is also F55.

Also note the two 5K tungsten uncorrected mole beams for the sunlight in the bedroom with the daylight bounce ambience and the tungsten “cube” light half way down the corridor before we move back into daylight and pracs in the recording studio room.

(The Cube light is a bunch of ES tungsten 100 w globes in a simple frame made of grid cloth and ultrabounce.)

Alongside the Alexa Studio and Sony F55 we also used another small camera for especially tricky and intimate shots, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II.

I’ve long been one to practice camera agnosticism, that is, I try to use the right camera for the job.  Usually what it means for my long suffering crew is that i carry and use a lot of different cameras.

Size is one of the things that means I will often choose a different camera to get a certain kind of shot or a certain kind of shot intimacy.  Sometimes the Alexa is just to big to shove in someone’s face ! And I say that because sometimes you’re called on to shoot scenes that for actros are going to be really difficult.  And I see it as part of my role as the DOP, to create the right tone in the room to let the actor’s do what they have to do without fear of judgement or having to worry about what they look like.

So here’s a simple example of a sequence from Episode 1.  See if you can pick which shot’s are from the Olmypus when you’re watching. And why ?

Kitty is having a meltdown because she thinks Anna has stolen her fiancee Skeet at their engagement party ! We move to see peter driving home through the empty streets.  Driving is the kind of setup AD’s and production manager hate because it ties up main cast but it’s kind of out of control too, and there’s a whole crew sitting around twiddling their thumbs while a car goes for a drive with the director and maybe a camera assistant and script supervisor and grip following in another vehicle.   Because it’s so “small” the first AD naturally schedules for last in the day so other people can be wrapping, but when you’re a bit late to get to it, then you’re really pressed for time !  We only had about 10 mins in the car with Alex to shoot this.  So we had Alex driving, Glendyn was in the back seat with the Olympus OM D E-M5 MarkII and the SLR Magic 25mm T0.96 Prime.  It meant I could just hand him the camera while I shot with the Alexa Studio profile.  THEN, while we were driving, we swapped cameras.  Glendyn now had the Alexa Studio in the back and I had the Olympus in the front shooting profile.  I was able to lean in and get some super tight shots.  The Olympus was great in this scenario because it was so small and light and it has an amazing image stabiliser, perfect for stealing in car shots like this !!

In this next clip I must advise some viewer discretion.  It’s a very intimate scene between a couple, but it’s precisely this reason I chose to shoot some of it on the Olympus OM D E M5 Mark II.

Anna is pregnant and she’s now living with Skeet in his house after leaving her husband Xander and her first child Casper.  Things aren’t going so well, but they’re trying to be intimate and re-connect with each other.  As Sarah would be wearing a fake pregnancy belly to fake her being pregnant we had some wardrobe issued we needed to be mindful of.  The big print called for Skeet to be going down on Anna and performing cunnilingus.

Sex scenes are always tricky with actors and I’ve found the best approach is to try to reduce as much as poisble the number of people in the room.  For this sequence we had only the director Peter Salmon looking over my shoulder mostly and a boom swinger for sound and the two cast.  Everyone else was kicked out.

So we had a few takes where shot the wider shots with the Alexa studio, and we needed to come in closer.  I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’d find a little still camera a lot easier to work with compared to a fully rigged Alexa !

And you know the thing is, because the camera was so small I could put it in places where I’d never get an Alexa.  I could do this very quickly in the middle of the shot without inturrpting the actors action.  This meant they could just perform and I could just react and also get shots that more easily protected the modesty of the actors as well as being visually unique.

Of course the Olympus is never going to stand up against the visual acuity of the Alexa Studio, but that’s not the point ! I was able to out the camera exactly where it needed to be and because it was hand held and has a great stabiliser we got some greats where there would imply just be no other way to get these kinds of shots.  We were able to make the actors feel as comfortable as we could at the same time.   With scenes like this I think it’s way more important to get the stprytelling informstion delivered while making the actors feel as safe and protected as possible.  We can still make it look great but just adapting out approach.  I think it worked out great !

 

A Camera operator - Sam Chiplin

“A” Camera operator – Sam Chiplin, wearing his cinesaddle hand held camera support.

My A camera operator was also a potentially unconventional choice.  Sam Chiplin is a terrific cinematographer in his own right and has many high profile commercial credits to his name.  Glendyn suggested him after we started talking about getting an A camera operator who had less of a traditional drama background and more of a documentary or even sports coverage background.

Sam had mostly done TVC work and hadn’t done much drama, so we threw him into the very deep end as the A camera operator.  He did a great job and brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the job and I loved the way he threw himself into it !

Thanks for reading this far.

The Beautiful Lie was such a tremendous shoot and I’m so proud of the great television we made. I couldn’t have done it without my outstanding crew, especially in the camera department.  My “A” camera assistant Jessica Clarke-Nash lead a great bunch and put up with me shooting wide open, hand held and moving without a lot of rehearsals, as did my B focus puller Matt Dobson.. My excellent loaders Mirek and Corey also really stepped up, especially when I would have Jess sometimes operate a third camera.

I also want to acknowledge the producers Imogen Banks and John Edwards along with Alice Bell and Glendyn Ivin who really encouraged me to make this the show it is.  Second block director Peter SAlmon also did a great job with bringing the show home.

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.

 

 

Camera package

Alexa Studio x 2

Sony F55 (Movi and Highspeed)

Olympus OM D E-M5 Mark II (small intimate and hand held work)

Zeiss Superspeeds 18, 25, 35, 50, 85

Zeiss 20mm standard

Zeiss 16mm standard

Zeiss CP2 Superspeeds (28 35, 50, 85, 100, 135)

Zeiss CP2 50mm Macro

Posted in Anatomy of a scene, Philosophy, Production, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Hunters – First Look

Hunters - Julian Mc Mahon

Hunters – Julian Mc Mahon

I’ve been working on Hunters for the last few months, a new Universal Cable Productions / SyFy series from Gale Anne Hurd (Aliens, Terminator, and Walking Dead) and Natalie Chaidez (12 Monkeys)  from a Novel by Whitley Strieber.  Now you get to have a taste with this first look trailer !

http://au.ign.com/articles/2015/10/08/nycc-2015-syfys-hunters-trailer-debut

Posted in General | Tagged | 2 Comments

Lensing about

In a second lot of tests for the TV series I’m currently in pre-production for, my colleague Bonnie Elliot and I tested a range of different cinema lenses.

We set about creating a bit of a torture test.  Our set will have a lot of practical lights built into it by design so we started off with a dedo pointing right down the lens against black.  Then as the shot pans we find another couple of fluro tubes in shot, one at the same distance as the cast and one deep.  I find, against black, it’s a good way to reveal chromatic aberration where the colour fringing starts to play on the edges.

By panning the shot we can also look at how the lens flares move and travel.  I find the way a lens flares can be quite different when the source is on the edge of frame, in frame and just outside of frame.

In the deep background we have some xmas lights which are great for revealing how the lenses render out of focus highlights and an object at minimum distance that allows us to rack focus to minimums before going to the deep background and then back to mid ground.  This should show us what kind of breathing the lenses are exhibiting.

The fluro tubes at close range also reveal how the contrast is affected by what I call veiling flare or the milkiness in the blacks when a hot and broader light source is in frame.

We were also interested to see how the skin tones rendered and compare the geometry of each lens, that is, how they render a face !

The setup director, himself an ASC accredited cinematographer, had a predilection for the Cooke S4’s.

We also tested the Panavison Primos, the Panavision Ultraspeeds, the Zeiss CP2’s, Zeiss Superspeeds along with a Panavision 11:1 Primo Zoom.

We shot a T2 take and a T4 take of a wider lens, the 32mm/35mm and a longer 75mm/85mm lens of the same action.

I’ve cut the shot’s up, repeating them in bits a few times over.  this way you get to see and lock in each lens in that area, before moving to the next one.

I’ll endeavour to upload the T4 version, but this is the T2 pass.

Camera was an Amira shooting 23.976 1920 ProRes, and we have our WIP production LUT applied.

 

 

Posted in Equipment | 6 Comments

How dark is dark ?

I love testing at the beginning of a new show.  It’s a time where you can try things out and explore new ideas.  Anything can happen !

I’m testing along with my co-cinematographer Bonnie Elliot on a new U.S series and we started talking about darkness in the context of this new series.

I’ve always thought that there’s real DARK and Film DARK. A lot of directors ask for something to be dark, but of course they still want to be able to see what’s happening.

We came with an idea of shooting a darkness scale with a view to having a starting point to discuss it with the rest of the creative team.

In creating this test we designed it to have constant lighting and to only reduce the “fill’.  We started with the fill at the exposure level that matched the exposure on the lens, and then reduced it in 1/2 stop steps.  We also started with our model, Marianne Carter standing against black before progressing to a background that was white.  You’ll also see a couple of pracs we were testing for the art department.

I’ve always found too that the image doesn’t appear as dark when you have a bright source in frame.  This might be the pracs or it might actually be the back light in this case.  We used a 100W dedo to edge Marianne out.  This remained constant throughout the sequence. Using two of my new favourite KICK lights, iPhone controllable LED  lights by Rift Labs, we set a cyan colour that sort of matched the OSRAM LED prac that was in shot to give us a little colour separation.

The fill was a tungsten parabeam which we then reduced in 1/2 stop increments.

Darkness Scale

 

A NOTE !  To really get the most from this, you should be watching this on a TV, as in a TELEVISION and not on a computer screen.  If you’re looking at it on a computer screen, then you’re probably wasting your time looking at it !  The way this file is graded was designed for the colour space and gamma of a Television.

Here is a downloadable version.

https://www.amazon.com/clouddrive/share/8aZRSaQMpZz0bktbtsd4QGIRTqik5W1myByzChflzwZ?ref_=cd_share_link_copy

 

Shot using an Amira with a Cooke 100mm @ T 2 1/2 at ISO 800.

 

 

 

Posted in General, Production | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Olympus comes in from the filmmaking wilderness….

Olympus E-M5 Mark II all taped up for covert operations.  Behind is my original E-M5 and the E-M1.

Olympus vf-M5 Mark II all taped and covered up for covert operations. Behind is my original E-M5 and the E-M1.

This one’s long…you might want to settle in…there’s a lot of ground to cover….

This is a kind of review, but more kind of my first impression of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II.  The firmware I shot all these samples with is V0.9 and I have been using several pre-produciton cameras.  It’s very likely performance will improve once they start shipping production units. The images and clips I share with you here will improve as the sensor calibration improves. Mainly I think you’ll see this as improved noise performance and better colour reproduction / matrix.

I’ve been working with Olympus Australia for the past few months on their new E-M5 Mark II camera,  a replacement for their hugely successful E-M5.  This is an important camera for Olympus because it’s a signal of intent.  It shows they are finally moving towards taking video more seriously, seriously enough that they’ve now made a camera that has some pretty unique and compelling features for a cinematographer.

The biggest leaps for me are the fact it can now finally shoot at 24 and 25 fps and it has their next generation image stabiliser that is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else that I’ve seen in stabilised imaging. It’s really that good.

The best way to test any new camera I figure is to actually shoot something with it.  It’s all good and well to point it at some test charts in a studio (which I did as well), but its only when you’re actually using it in the field and trying to get to an end result that you can really say it’s gone through it’s paces.  That’s when you audition not only the image quality, and subjective imaging result but the actual utility of the camera and it’s workflow both on set and off as well learning it’s shortcomings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

George Washingmachine fiddles about while I try to stay dry.

Curiosity is the short film / music clip I chose to do with local musician George Washingmachine for his original track “The moon has left town”.  It’s a very simple romantic chase scenario.

I enlisted two actor friends of mine Ash Ricardo and Ian Meadows and at the last minute I roped in Director / Editor Tony D’Aquino to help me flesh out the scenario and edit this all together !  I’m in pre-production for a feature film called Scare Campaign at the moment in regional Victoria so it’s been really interesting to try and pull this shoot and edit together in Sydney, grade and finish it across two states on a short turnaround !

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We shot this over three days last week and in some really terrible weather, but luckily on the final day on the beach the sun came out for us. We had three E-M5 Mark II bodies and they all worked without fail, despite getting literally DRENCHED in rain and sea water and being on all the time.  We had no overheating and no “crashes” or problems with the end footage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ian doesn’t look so happy about standing out in the rain. The camera didn’t mind.

 

All footage was copied at the end of each day onto a Lacie 1TB Thunderbolt drive pair and I took one with me to Victoria and left the other behind in NSW with Tony to edit with.  He was cutting in FCP X as was I.  Luckily Olympus have made it pretty easy to manage roll numbers on the SD cards (YAY !) so I could customise that before we started shooting and it made the conform so much easier. I think in total we shot about 250 GB of rushes from three camera bodies plus stills.  The first two days were really only half days and we didn’t shoot a lot, but the last day was pretty big, with three locations and a late finish.  Final grade was done in Resolve, before I rendered a ProRes 4444 file back out which was then uploaded to Vimeo via FCP X.

One of my first blog postings ever was about my love of Olympus cameras.  In fact it was kind of about how un-cool it was to use Olympus cameras when your day job was as a cinematographer.  That was October 2010, before even the original EM 5.

I also wrote about my impressions of the Olympus OM-D E-M5, their first foray into the m4/3 market.  For a long time the E-M5 was my mainstay on-set camera for the same reasons I liked all of my Olympus cameras….their smaller physical size, less intrusive shooting stance and near indestructibility combined with the remarkable Zuiko Olympus lenses. One of my most favourite personal lenses is the Olympus 45mm F1.8 prime.  It’s a mid range inexpensive prime lens but that lens at F2.2 has some special mojo. (most of the images in the above linked E-M5 review are with this lens)

I currently have a lot of Olympus cameras. I still own three of the legendary E-1 bodies and as recently as last year was shooting with them for timelapse shots on The Ravens.

During the production of the latest Sony / Playmaker series for the ABC,  “Hiding” I also used the OM-D E-M1 as a kind of special effects camera to show a character’s heightened anxiety at being discovered whilst in witness protection.  It wasn’t shooting video, but actually shooting RAW stills with the E-M1 held in close proximity the the actor shooting bursts of frames to capture that mood.  I also did a lot of lens whacking as well to get close ups of documents and photos in a way I could never have done with a motion imaging camera.

So while I’ve always loved my Olympus gear for photography, it’s always kind of let me down in one really important way for my work as a cinematographer….but not any more….

Video

It’s funny how ubiquitous video is now on a DSLR, and m4/3 cameras which are really technically called MILC.  To be fair Olympus have been doing video for a while.  It’s just that it’s never been very well implemented for the needs of more professional users like…errr…me !

The biggest problem with the way Olympus has implemented video up until now is that they’ve only had one frame rate, 30 FPS to choose from (or 60 in some cases as an option), and it’s been highly compressed in a way that’s not very robust for post production.

And that’s made it totally useless for most professional or even indie filmmaking sets because we all shoot at 24 or 25 fps for most narrative drama where sync sound is used.  A camera that only shoots 30 fps isn’t much use on those sets.

The global standard frame rate for nearly 100 years has been 24 FPS….end of story.  A camera that doesn’t shoot 24 FPS isn’t really a camera that will ever find a lot of use with narrative and sync sound motion work.  In 50 hz countries, which is basically everywhere except the US and Japan, we tend to shoot for TV at 25 FPS and for cinema at 24 FPS.  Even in the US the cinema standard is 24 FPS, so having those two frame rates was the most important step Olympus had to take in order to move in this direction.

30 FPS is only good for home movies in the US and Japan.  Even here in Australia where we have 50Hz power, shooting at 30 FPS meant you would always get lights flickering in your shots.  Even for home movies it was pretty hopeless.

24 FPS, 25 FPS 30 FPS

The E-M5 Mark II now shoots 24 (really 23.98) 25 and 30 FPS in an all intra 77 Mbits codec as well as 50 and 60FPS in their older style of codec, IPB, topping out at 50 Mbits.  Big huge tick for introducing industry standard frame rates Olympus !

Any old lens can be stablised !

I already mentioned the image stabiliser and let’s just spell it out again.  It’s freaking amazing.   But there’s more !  One of the the really cool features of this amazing next generation Olympus image stabliser is that it works with any lens you can get on the camera. And the MFT mount allows for lots of lenses to be adapted and I’m usually a fan of older vintage cine lenses. I can now use those lenses with the added benefit of the incredible sensor shift stabilising technology they’ve developed and I think that’s really neat.

Rolling shutter is also something most DSLR’s and hybrid stills video camera shooters are especially sensitive to and to be able to use IS with older lenses means you can great reduce the apparent skew and jello and make use of an almost limitless range of lenses.  It means I can use almost any lens on the camera, and have it stabilised. If you look at the clip Curiosity, I didn’t once use a tripod and for only a few shots  I used a camera stabilising gimbal.

The in camera stabilising means I can keep lens consistency and therefore look consistency on a TV show where I might have a set of primes for the main hero production cinema camera bodies but I can also now have the choice to use an E-M5 Mark II for insert shots and to steal a moment here and there and I get to use the exact same lenses as my full production camera, with the added benefit of incredible image stabilising.

I think that’s really awesome and one of the reasons I like the m4/3 mount so much. It’s an open consortium and there are now so many companies making lenses for this mount, and it can be adapted to almost any already existing lens.  It’s so flexible !

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Zeiss 16mm standard lens with Hot Rod MFT–>PL lens adaptor and Arri LW mattebox

 

In the making of Curiosity, I wanted to do some tracking shots, but we’d deliberately chosen locations where we’d have to shoot as a very low footprint.  Most of the locations didn’t require a permit if you were shooting with a small crew and didn’t have a lot of gear and I wanted to be able to walk in only with what we could carry.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Adjusting the Defy G2 gimbal frame with the Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II in silver with the Olympus 12mm F2.0 lens fitted.

 

Why use a Gimbal ?

I have been trying out a Defy g2 Gimbal as well which I used really in place of a dolly / slider.  Now you might be wondering why I’ve used a gimbal when I’ve been raving about the stabiliser being so good on the E-M5 Mark II. I’m glad you asked !

There’s a difference between a hand held shot and a need for a smooth tracking shot.  We were shooting in locations where it wasn’t possible to lay dolly tracks or even sliders so for example across water of on the beach.   I’ve used the Movi before with a larger EPIC package and found it to be good, but very tiring to hold for long periods of times.  What I really loved about the G2 from Defy was that it was much smaller and lighter with the E-M5 Mark II on board AND, it has a terrific little thumb controlled joystick which means you can make small corrections and override the gimbal’s ideas of what you’re wanting to do in terms of framing.  This really simple device makes such a  difference to gimbal moves in my opinion because it allowed me to feather out the moves a little more….I basically fell in love with this gimbal !

So having a gimbal meant we could do some lateral tracking shots while I was up to my waist in water for example at the beach and there’s no way we could have done those any other way.  If I was trying to rely on the IS in the EM5 Mark II alone then it probably would have been almost as good, but the G2 just gave me more assurance for bigger moves.  It also meant I didn’t need to lay tracks or sliders that at best would only give me a small 3 or 4′ foot move at best.

I look at it like this…Don’t expect the IS to allow you to throw away your slider or dolly for tracking shots.  You can get very good hand held tracking results with the IS, and maybe you’ll get lucky and jag a shot on a wider lens that looks like a gimbal / steadicam shot but it’s real advantage and power is in it’s ability to simply hold a static frame still enough that it feels like it’s being operated form a tripod without having to rely on a tripod….

So in my head now philosophically, I know I can rely absolutely on the IS of the E-M5 Mark II for long lens shots where I’m not trying to track, but just to hold a frame.  But if I want to do tracking shots or more than simple shot corrections like pans and tilts, then I can get away with it in certain situations, but I’m still going to get better results with a gimbal or traditional slider or tracks.

So below here’s an example of a shot where I was shooting with a 16mm Zeiss Standard 35mm format lens using a Hot Rod cameras MFT–> PL adaptor…

Note in this instance, I’m using the wordpress video here which does appalling things to the image, but you can download these camera original files at the end of this article and see for yourself.

Using the IS set to mode 1,  which does a combination of sensor shift and digital stabilising, and manually setting  to the focal length of the lens you can get some really great results, BUT you’ll notice on a really big orbiting move like this where I’m moving pretty quickly the IS can ‘jump” once it gets out of range and you’ll see that in the final result.  Now you can get away with it, but you can see how the shot is much better with the Gimbal.

Interestingly in my preliminary testing with the camera, I found it was better to leave the E-M5 Mark II’s IS switched ON even when the camera was on the gimbal.  As great as the Defy G2 gimbal is, it doesn’t take away all the big movements and I could still see a little judder as I moved with the gimbal so to have both on it was really locking down the shot, and to my surprise they didn’t seem to be fighting each other.

The I.S comes in three flavours when shooting video. You can have it set to OFF, then mode 1 which is sensor shift and digital stabilising, with some slight additional crop, but I never saw any when shooting video, and I’m struggling to see any IQ hit in video to be honest. Or if you wish there’s also mode 2 which is sensor shift only with no digital stabilising. In both mode 1 and 2 you can override the default focal length setting which if it’s an Olympus lens is set automatically, and set your own focal length. I actually found that there were some skewing artefacts when shooting on wider lenses, especially below 20mm where on a static frame it could sometimes bend the image, a little bit like what rolling shutter / stabiliser correction looks like in FCP X.  You can see this happening in a few clips of the behind the scenes clip below…

Heres a clip from the Defy G2 gimbal, camera is in IS mode 2 with an Olympus 12mm Lens at F5.6 ISO 200, 1/50th  custom profile of my own setup

Now here’s the same just hand held with a 16mm Zeiss standard lens, same settings..

Shoot Silent.

Taken at an intimate Jazz venue in the middle of a solo using the new silent shutter mode.  Olympus 75mm F1.8 prime at 1250 ISO.

Taken at an intimate Jazz venue in the middle of a solo using the new silent shutter mode. Olympus 75mm F1.8 prime at 1250 ISO.

Olympus have for the first time introduced an electronic shutter option.  This means no more shutter click sound for one thing !

Without a physical shutter mechanism active, this enables me to shoot silently which will be a great boon on set. I’ve always felt for stills photographers on movie an television production  sets because they’re forced to use blimped cameras so they can take photos during a take. The new shutter in this camera is already super quiet, but you now also have the option for totally silent.

The other upside of the electronic shutter is it also allows for a much higher maximum shutter speed of 1/16000 the of a second. Otherwise top shutter speed is a still impressive 1/8000.

It also means a smidgen faster top frame rate is possible at a crazy 11FPS in stills mode.

Now I presume there is some tradeoff in using the electronic shutter and I’m going to guess it means probably increased noise and incised noise probably means less DR. I’m only guessing though based on my knowledge of how sensors work and haven’t really tested it in any kind of scientific or empirical way, and my Olympus contacts haven’t been able to confirm my hypothesis.

Still, it’s wonderful to have this option for sound sensitive environments and I’ve found myself using it more than I thought I would.

 

Mt Friend Giovanni Lovisetto, a stills photographer, taken o the set of Offspring.  Check out his Canon 5D MK2 in a customised pelican housing blimp used to silence the shutter

My Friend Giovanni Lovisetto, a stills photographer, taken on the set of Offspring. Check out what he’s resting on…his Canon 5D MK2 in a customised pelican housing blimp used to silence the shutter.  Not required any more with an EM5 Mark II

 

Exposure Tools

Exposure tools in video are minimal but adequate enough.  You have a histogram and you can also get an exposure clipping indicator as well which shows purple in highlight clipping and dark magenta in shadow clipping, but it’s not an indicator that works once you’re rolling, only histogram does.

Peaking is very well implemented, you have a choice of a few colours and even three strengths of sensitivity.  I was able to assign it to the Fn1 button so I could toggle it on and off while I was rolling and it worked well in both the viewfinder and on the screen.

There was one thing that REALLY annoyed the hell out of me.  When in manual mode using Olympus lenses and once you’re rolling, you can’t actually change the exposure using the dials like you would if the camera wasn’t rolling.  Instead, once it’s rolling, you have to access a silly menu on the touch screen and then scroll to an exposure tool and THEN dial it up or down on the touch screen.  It’s insane and totally impractical to do while you’re shooting.  Even the best IS in the world won’t get rid of the jolts as you stab the touch screen trying to quickly get to the right menu to simply close the aperture down !

I’m trying to cut them some slack as it’s their first attempt but I’m screaming loudly right now that the camera in manual mode needs to be able to let you change shutter speed or aperture on the fly using the exact same dials you use when it’s not rolling.  I guess they think it’s a safety feature of some kind to stop you accidentally changing the exposure.

It does have a nifty Auto ISO feature and for a few shots in the clip I put the camera into shutter priority (movie mode) and locked the shutter and let the camera ride the exposure.  In shutter priority mode (Movie) i kept the same shutter speed and it used both Iris and ISO to ride the exposure so I managed a kind of way to change it seamlessly on the fly, but it’s far from ideal.

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25mm Zeiss Superspeed with Hot Rod PL–>MFT adaptor and Arri LW mattebox

 

Sound…Testing one two three…. 

Well.  It has sound.  To be honest I leave that to the sound recordists.  It has VU’s which is welcome always, and it has microphone inputs as well, so no problem to plug a microphone in now.  There is also a headphone jack on the new handgrip, and this is one of the reasons they have had to go with a slightly revised version of the grip.  The bottom part that holds the battery is the same for the E-M5 and you will be able to buy them separately now.

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Custom Profile

As the camera is only shooting 8 bit 77 Mbits files, I replicated something I used to do routinely on the 5Dmk2 and went into the custom picture mode and tried to flatten out the image as much as I could in order to try and squeeze every last bit of dynamic range from the shots. Olympus default pictures are actually really good though and there’s a great choice of preset ones, or you can design your own. Plus you can even use a lot of their art filters too.

So in the Olympus custom profile menu I set the contrast to it’s lowest, (-2) and the sharpness to it’s lowest (- 2) and the saturation to -1.  This essentially gave me a “log-ish” images that meant i could try to protect the highlights more.  Interestingly, Olympus have a great cuve editor function as well where you can individually shape the highlight roll -off and shadow detail as well, but I didn’t have a lot of success with actually using it in the field.  I tended to stick with the custom profile I set up instead of trying to tweak each shot.

Really for this to be better, Olympus need to develop their own LOG format and up the bit depth.  10 bit files would make such a huge difference.

Slow Motion

The camera now has not only 24(23.98) 25 and 30 fps, but using a slightly lessor IPB 52 Mbit/s codec it also has 50 and 60 FPS.  Plus in a very convoluted and to my mind illogical contortion of menu language you can also set 3x, 2.5 X to get 8 FPS, and 12 FPS as well.

The camera’s 50 FPS shooting was actually pretty good and there’s a couple of those shots in the edit as you’ll probably notice…I was surprised at how well the lower data rate codec held up.

Batteries

The E-M5 Mark II takes the same batteries and I had a mix of old orginal batteries and some new ones.  They seemed to last the same amount of time to me. Or maybe even a little longer. I was shooting a lot and using video a lot and always had it on it certainly didn’t seem to me that we were going though them any faster.   I certainly never worried about preserving power and we had ten batteries between three cameras. There’s my scientific analysis

Underwater

Originally, we wanted to open Curiosity with a shot of Ian swimming from below through the rays of sunshine in the Ocean, but for various reasons we had to shoot on two days that the Weather Bureau posted  “dangerous surf” warnings, so we had to adapt our plans. We were still very keen to try out the awesome and very compact underwater housing, but I dind’t really get to dive with it as we planned.  You can see that we weren’t aware of the warning and were smashed in the behind the scenes video below.   Luckily we decided not to put Ian in the water !

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Framing up on Ian’s feet with the OM-D EM5 Mark II in its’s underwater housing.

 

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Taken from inside the underwater housing using the Olympus 9-18 lens. JPEG out of camera.

 

One of the great things about Olympus is that they’ve always been very well protected from the elements. Even their PRO lenses and they have always been so since the original E1. I can attest to how rugged they are because I’ve always been a little loose with my stills cameras and they’ve always stood up well to the abuse. Yes I may have lost a rubber eyecup here and there but by and large the Olympus gear is close to indestructible.

And their weatherproofing is second to none. We were shooting Ian and Ash at the Maroubra sea pool and the cameras really did get tested.  My assistant Jess was shooting with one camera and tells me her camera body got close to immersed in swell three times.   we didn’t loose a frame and it didn’t skip a beat.

Still, even in difficult surf conditions I managed to get some pretty nice shots I thought. The great thing about the Olympus made housing is that it’s very simple and quick to set up and is super lightweight and small compared to much bigger and clumsier housings for other larger cameras.   The Olympus housing was a breeze to work and shoot with and made it easier to get shots on the surface.  They’ve pretty much made every menu and button accessible too, which is kind of amazing considering the camera has so many custom programable buttons.

One problem I faced when shooting puberty blues was trying to find a way to shoot surfers and dialog scenes in the surf and near the surface. I needed something better and more waterproof than a splash bag but most dive housings are so heavy and cumbersome to use you can’t really get very useable shots just out or just under the water.

I can imagine those shooting surfers will totally love this housing.

We also had some terrible weather on a ferry trip we took across Sydney harbour so again we decided to use the heavy rain and keep shooting.  Ian was a trooper for keeping up the good fight while getting soaked through. It was TEEMING ! But it was no problem at all for the E-M5 Mark II. The biggest problem was keeping the water off the front of the 15-40 F2.8 zoom !

 

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How many K’s is enough ?

I like to think I’m kind of camera agnostic. On a larger narrative TV drama show it’s not unusual for me to have 12 cameras, because I like using different cameras for different jobs. I can now easily see many situations where I can shoot with an EM 5 Mark II for broadcast.

Olympus have reputedly been used in studio films. Oscar winning DOP John Seale ASC ACS apparently used them on the new Mad Max film, Fury Road (along with many other cameras).

If the older 30 fps only 1920 x 1080 Olympus is good enough to use in a 100 million dollar studio film like Fury Road, is it a problem that it’s not a 4K camera ?

It would be fair to think that 4K resolution would be a minimum requirement these days judging by the fact that every store that sells Televisions only seems to sell 4 K televisions.

Like the megapixel race, having more resolution is more of a marketing pursuit than one of any actual usefulness to the end consumer.

How many ways are there to deliver actual 4k content ? Anyone tried YouTube in 4K lately ? While Vimeo have just added 4K, the fact is there is a real problem with delivering 4K content to the end consumer.

Netflix, for only a few select shows is doing it. But guess what…

I know of no TV drama shows that shoot in my part of the world that actually MASTER in 4k and very very few that shoot in 4K.

In fact the most popular cinema camera by far would be the Arri Alexa and guess what the sensor resolution of that 60k+ camera is ?

I think of 4K as mostly being a bigger bucket but there’s not a lot in that bucket because almost none of the Television you watch right now is even mastered in 4K and I would imagine only the Hollywood studio films would be mastering 4K for cinema, even though the majority is shot with “only” 2.7 k sensor imaging.

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The green cast is coming from the Tiffen IR ND filters used with the Zeiss Superspeeds. They are terrible and I try to avoid them, but it’s all I could get hold of for this test !

 

Far more important to me is bit depth and dynamic range. I’ll take those before 4K recording please.

Of course I’m not saying that 4K wouldn’t be really nice to have, but I honestly don’t think it’s a deal breaker to not have 4K because most of the content I shoot is only distributing and delivering as 1920 anyway.

Yes it could be 4k, yes they could have used 10 bit recording and a higher data rate, but look at the upsides. You get the worlds best I.S in a very small and discrete flexible camera that won’t stop in the rain, won’t overheat and allows you to use the brilliant zuiko native lenses or even vintage and top end cinema lenses whilst still retaining that amazing IS technology.

I know that some users like 4K shooting simply because they can get a better still image from the camera. To be honest that’s the dumbest thing to me because it means they will both look terrible. That’s because you have to compromise on shutter speed. So the shutter speed for motion will mean you’re at 1/50 (should be 1/48th) so any still is probably going to have to much motion blur or you shoot your videos with. A higher shutter speed which makes your videos look terrible. Don’t do it !!

The EM 5 Mark II does let you take a RAW still photo while rolling anyway if you want shoot RAW rather than a frame grab but you’re still limited by the shutter speed dilemma.

 

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Ergonomics

One thing that’s also very different for Olympus this time out is the flip out articulated screen.  I loved it and found it great for shooting at different heights and even for shooting sideways when I couldn’t get myself in the best position.  On the Ferry I could hold the camera out over the railing and still see the picture.  It’s sharp and bright and I could use it in all but the most glareful of sitations.  Late sunset looking into the sun with water doubling the reflection because difficult but I was able to then switch to the EVF. The EVF too was great and sharp and is apparently the same as the Olympus flagship camera the EM1.

The camera feels nice in the hand and tactile.  I couldn’t imagine it being fun to use without the grip, but my hands are on the larger side.  I love the fact that there are 4 customisable buttons.  I had peaking programmed to Fn1, and there’s a switch as well which I had programmed to switch the dials from Iris and Shutter to Wb and ISO.  So you could very quickly change the camera settings all while you’re looking through the EVF.

HDMI and Clean Feed 

Olympus have done the right thing and provided for a clean HDMI feed ! Yay !  Even better it’s 4:2:2, but I’m 95% sure it’s only 8 bit.  Still, from version 1 they’ve gotten that right I hope.  I say I hope because my V0.9 software didn’t have a functional HDMI for clean feed recording so I couldn’t test it for you.  The new firmware which only JUST came though is now 1.003 and that version my friends added clean feed 4:2:2 at 24 25 and 30 fps.

This means using external lesser compression and higher bit depth recorders we can get much much nicer pictures to grade from !  I can’t wait to test this out and I hope to do that for you really soon now…

When going clean feed over HDMI though, you apparently won’t be able to record internally at the same time.  It’s one or the other.

Timecode 

Rather promisingly, there’s a menu called “timecode”.  Indeed it has timecode, however, it defeats the point if you can’t actually jam sync to it !  I’m hoping I could in the future feed some TC into the microphone input and then “jam” sync the camera so that I can then sync it to another camera that i’ve jam synced and and maybe a lcoation sound recording device !  There are many jam sync sources these days, and some are even doing them as apps on smartphones.  A wee cable and you could be away jam syncing your camera….

It’s like they’ve only halfway done the Timecode, but again, a great step in the right direction that just needs to be finished.  In the meantime, I can simply record TC on the audio track of the camera and then use Resolve’s nifty Aux TC feature where it will detect the TC on the audio track and then re-stripe your file with that TC to do any multicam sync work.

Lenses built for motion work

Some Olympus lenses have this really awesome manual focus capability.  Most auto focus lenses on any camera having the endlessly circulating focus by wire focus knob for manual focus override of the AF.  On some lenses Olympus have designed it so that you can calso pull the whole focus ring back and then it’s in manual focus without having to go into a menu, BUT the cool thing is that it now has HARD STOPS on infinity and minimum focus.

This means you’d have a chance at using a follow focus and doing repeatable focus pulls !  Really brilliant engineering on their behalf and a great function to add to the lenses.  This amazing feature can be found on the 12mm F2.o and their two pro zooms, the 12-50 F2.8 and the 40-150 F2.8.  Nothing beats a manual focus lens for feel when shooting video, but these lenses come close.

The lenses also have a great function button that’s programable.  Iv’e asked Olympus to make it so that I can de-activate the I.S in a single axis.  This way I could pan a shot and hold the button in to de-activate the stabilising in the horizontal axis while I hold in the button and then turn on again for when I let go.  I can then feather the IS for when I need a static frame or if I want to pan deliberately.

One shortcoming of the I.S is that is can sometimes not know what’s an intentional move and whats’s camera shake.  This means you can start to get a bit of “float” in the image, but being able to overide the I.S momentarily in one axis would be a great way to minimise the issue.

Low Light

I did shoot some nice images up to ISO 1600 that were very useable, but I haven’t been able to do any proper low light testing.  Stay tuned for more in the near future.

Codec

They’ve gone to a better acquisition codec, using a 77 Mbit/s all-I Intra frame compression. Though the data rate isn’t spectacular it’s a really important architecture change because we’re not using a codec designed for distribution that uses temporal compression. Each frame exists in its own right with the file so it makes it much much better for editing.

Moire and Aliasing

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II doesn’t have an OLPF. Like Blackmagic choose to do with their cameras, this can mean that you’re more likely to be bitten by moire and aliasing. And as expected, I see these issues at play with my footage from the E-M5 Mark II. Is it a deal breaker ? I guess that’s for you to decide. I think the two clips here have a range of good examples of where it might be a problem. My hat and shirt is certainly a good test ! it was interesting shooting in amongst the bricks of the Paddington park aqueduct as I would have expected more aliasing in those shots, given how wide we were and how much fine detail there was.

Personally, I’ve never really found it much of an issue the way many others do.   I’ve been shooting with the Blackmagic cameras for some years now and I can count on one hand the number of times it’s really been a genuine problem in my shooting. I guess it’s a subjective kind of problem and you either hate it or you don’t. I feel a little for Olympus here because they want to make a really nice sharp stills camera and one way to get that apparent sharpness up is to have a low or even no OLPF and that’s the choice they’ve made. Unfortunately aliasing/moire will show up more in video than in stills. In stills it’s usually a pretty simple fix …not so much in motion ..

How’s it look ?

You should be the judge but I’m impressed by the inherent look of the E-M5 MarkII.  The 8 bit files and the dynamic range in video mode are probably it’s biggest hold-backs, but it’s no slouch when you can get the conditions in your favour.  It’s never going to like high contrast and only having 8 bits to work with in the grade certainly doesn’t help the course.  I’m quietly hopeful that with clean HDMI recording this can be greatly improved.  The IS really helps to minimise the perception of the rolling shutter and the motion cadence seems nice.  Olympus are well known for their base look and this should be extended into video.  The default profiles are great for a baked in look, (just like shooting JPEGs) and if you want to shoot for the grade, the custom profile gives you some range to work with.

I will confess I did have some trouble in some situations with Ash’s skin tones, but I feel like it may have been makeup related or perhaps the earlier matrix / colour calibration of the V0.9 camera.  Ian was no problem though so I think it may have just been her make up.

I used the worst IR ND filters ever, the green TIFFEN’s but it was all I was able to access to use in the mattebox on the Zeiss superspeed lenses.  I was usually on a 1.8 (6 stops) and I always shot at 1/50th of a second except for the 50fps scenes which were 1/100th.  Mostly shooting around  T 1.3-2.8

For the Olympus lenses though I had the fantastic Hoya PRO IRND filters and they are very good, very neutral. A little birdy tells me they are the same heritage as the Mitomo True ND filters, which have already proven how truly neutral they are.

In the grade NO SHARPENING was applied and NO NOISE REDUCTION either so you’re getting a fair idea of what it looks like.

Final thoughts

Olympus are officially in the filmmaking game and this is only their first serious effort at making a camera with appeal to those of us that want our stills cameras to also shoot motion. Although the headline specs might not seem all that impressive compared to others at first glance, you should consider the total package and with their IS it starts to become a really interesting camera for certain applications.  There’s certainly nothing else like it.

Olympus have got a lot right. The biggest step was adding frame rates that at least means we can use cameras in professional cine and TV environments. This next generation I.S has to be seen to be believed. It really is that good. Click to the end of the BTS clip below for examples. Adding those frame rates and adding a more robust editorial all intra codec are both great leaps for Olympus to make.

Now many of you would know I’m a big fan of the Blackmagic pocket cinema camera and have been using them for several years. They give me awesome DR and high bit depth files that are still pretty hard to beat in terms of base IQ. But they don’t have sensor IS and you can’t take a decent still with them either . They also don’t have an EVF, nor do they have good exposure tools and an articulated screen and fast AF.  Olympus does get a lot right with their long heritage of making unique cameras that stand proud in their own way.

Am I going to shoot an entire TV series using only one of these ?  No, probably not, but it’s definitely going to have a place in my arsenal of cameras on set. To my camera agnostic thinking I tend to like to have a camera for every situation and I can think of plenty of times where I’d be reaching for the E-M5 Mark II over my usual production camera…getting in a car and shooting from the back seat (or front seat) would be the first, but really anywhere I can’t get a full size production camera like the Alexa and want image stabilised shots.

There’s still plenty to annoy and irritate, but I’m hoping they can address these kinds of things in firmware.  For example 24 FPS is really 23.98 which is fine if you’re in the US and Japan, but once again, in 50 Hz environments we actually use 24 fps that actually is 24 fps.

It really is a problem that you can’t change the exposure once you’re rolling.  That’s a crazy thing to do, and I hope they address this post haste in their next firmware update. A small thing too, but the frame rate being at 24 FPS, means that the ideal flicker free window in my part of the world is 172.8 / 180 deg shutter, but there isn’t any cine mode as such so instead I’m limited to 1/50th of a second for both 25 and 24 fps.  Now it’s pretty close, but it’s not exactly sitting in the flicker free window that we have so there’s a slightly larger chance there may be issue with lighting flicker with certain lights…

So for Olympus this camera is more a toe in the water rather than a headlong dive into the deep waters of cinema cameras, but I for one am very excited to see Olympus at least moving in this direction.  I’m standing up and cheering them on loudly because they have a long and proud tradition of innovation and that’s got to be good for us cinematographers.

Panasonic have had this m4/3 video / stills camera space with their GH series cameras and Olympus certainly have some catching up to do but I can’t wait to see what they bring to the video market of these cameras and I’m really excited for Olympus to be moving in this direction. Olympus have such a long history of making their own path so I’m expecting great things.

I want to thank those who helped me out with this shoot. Our actors Ian Meadows and Ash Ricardo, along with the band, led by George Washingmachine. The track is his own, “The Moon has Left Town”.   Tony D’Aquino for directing and editing  and also Quett from Olympus Australia who nervously watched on as I pretty much attempted to trash his new pre-release cameras.  Quett also shot a lot of the behind the scenes and took a lot of the photos you see here and for download. Thanks also to Jessica Clarke-Nash for assisting me along with Roberto Tarrants.

Here are the Clips.

Firstly, Curiosity.

This is the behind the scenes but it also has some great examples of the I.S working.  All the shots that have crew in them are ungraded out of Quett’s camera.

And here’s some camera original video files along with some RAW stills. You need to download Olympus Viewer to access the RAW files as the updates for other photo processing applications is still to come.  I make these available to you for your evaluation only.  Please do not re-purpose or re-distribute.

https://copy.com/MbehnWj2I8GX32ny

 

Posted in Equipment, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 101 Comments

50mm Lenses Compared, plus 4444 ProRes for the URSA

Blackmagic URSA

Maddy shot with URSA 4K RAW

I was lucky enough a few days ago to receive the brand new first production run of the SLR Magic 50mm T2.1 APO PL mount lens and I was keen to try it out on some skin tones.  By way of comparison I also had the Zeiss CP2 50mm T1.5 Superspeed.

I’m afraid I only had time test these lenses at T4 so they’re both probably at close to their best.

Lens Tests

The key was two 2K blondies and two LUPOLIGHTS which are a daylight fresnal source I’ve not used before. I believe they were 575w.  I generally prefer tungsten for skin tones rather than LED and discharge light sources.

Behind camera I had a 1k tungtsen bounce onto a 6×4 foamcore panel as a kind of fill and eyelight.

I had a bare Tungsten Kino tube in the background behind our model Maddy and I placed it half against a flippy, or black drape.  The idea was to look for any chromatic aberration. and veiling flare.  I also draped the bare tube on a nice chromed CEE stand so again, looking for those colour fringes in highlights.

Right up close to camera on the far left you’ll see a lighting stand which I put at minimum focus.  The CP2 focuses a few inches closer at about 18″ than the SLR Magic 50mm which is about 24″ so that stand is there for a focus pull to check for breathing you’ll see on the motion clips.

To my eye the SLR Magic 50mm T2.1 APO stands up really nicely, considering it’s half the price of the CP2.  It’s certainly sharp, it doesn’t flare as much, especially around the Kino tube, and it has good geometry and dimensionality, Maddy seems to seperate nicely.

It’s also a bit warmer, which I liked.  it reminded me a little of the Cookes…

It’s also a bit darker, and there could be a couple of things going on…perhaps I wasn’t as accurate with the iris, or one of them isn’t correct at T4.  The slightly darker image of the SLR Magic might also explain why it’s a smidge warmer.

There are some Blackmagic URSA 4K RAW frames here, and I invite you to take a close look and compare and comment back here what differences YOU notice.

I also took the chance to at the same time shoot some stills with the same lenses on an Olympus EM1.

I wanted to try my Leica M 50mm APO as a comparison and I also have an Olympus 45mm F1.8 that I’m very fond of as well.

In the same linked folder below you’ll find the stills for each lens and I’ve tried to match the frames as best I could.  once again, peep away and tell me what you see.  Once you compare the prices of those lenses, I think you’ll agree it’s amazing how close they all actually are….

If i was doing this again, I’d change the shutter speed as I matched the exposure time of 1/50th but I was handheld with the camera and didn’t use a tripod.  I did turn IS off as well, so sharpness will be harder to compare.

I’ve also included some ProRes 444 files shot at the same time and I’ve also included 422HQ as a comparison.

I like that the URSA now has this option, not so much for the colour sampling, but for the fact that 4444 ProRes is a 12 bit file vs the 10 bit 422 HQ.

Interestingly though the data rate for 4k RAW 3:1 is a little less that 4444 ProRes…I wonder if people will choose RAW over the 4K 4444…

So here is the link to all the still files and the motion files.

Please be aware that these are only for illustrative purposes only and the copyright shall be retained by me.

A very big thank you to our model Maddy and to Sassy Entertainment for the late notice booking, and to Dragon Image who supplied the studio and lighting.

And HUGE thanks to my assistants Jessica Clarke – Nash and Roberto Tarrants !

And finally, here are the ungraded files. Please be sure to come back and tell us what you think !

URSA was 24 FPS, 180 Deg shutter at ISO 400.  You’ll also notice the LED xmas lights are pulsing at this frame rate / shutter angle.

https://copy.com/t1JUMFBCZJCtpDcg

Posted in Equipment, General, Lighting, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

SLR Magic 50mm APO T2.1 PL mount lens

SLRMagic 50mm APO T2.1 lens

SLRMagic 50mm APO T2.1 lens

I’ve been excited about this lens ever since I was lucky enough to meet Andrew from SLR Magic about a year ago.

Andrew was very keen to move into more high end cinema lenses and he came and spent an afternoon with me on the set of Offspring watching us work.  He was especially interested in looking at the way we work with lenses and grilled both my focus pullers on features they’d like to see.

Andrew also wanted to make something that would perform exceptionally well optically.

This 50mm lens is the end result of those efforts.  So far it looks like SLR Magic have delivered.

I have been using SLR Magic’s MFT lenses for a long time on both my Olympus OMD and Blackmagic MFT cameras.  I have found them to be great lenses, and I am a huge fan of the 10mm T2.1 lens they recently released.

I’ve also read on many forums that they are somehow re-purposed CCTV lenses.  This lens is a brand new design that Andrew has spent a lot of time refining.  He’s passionate about delivering something no one else is really doing at the moment.

Mechanically it’s very well made.  The first thing I noticed was the solid aluminium rear cap, It’s a work of art in itself !

The markings look very accurate and so far on my PL mount camera are pretty much spot on across the focus range.  Andrew also changed the initial rear PL mount from aluminium to titanium which is more thermally stable.  He also plans to make it easier to adapt this lens to Canon EF in the future with an EF mount option.

If necessary, like any good PL mount cinema lens, you can also re-shim it, though Andrew recommends only trained technicians do this.

The lens is quite compact for a lens of this optical performance but it feels very well made and solid.  The focus action itself is very smooth as well and minimum focus is also an impressive 2″.

Like the Leica – C’s, it has a shroud and witness marks for both the on and offside.

I’ve only had the lens in my hands for 48 hours and I’ve only seen one little test shoot, but from what I’ve seen optically this lens looks beautiful.  I think it has a very beautiful subtle look, it’s sharp without being obvious and drawing attention to itself and the bokeh looks controlled, contained and consistent.

Andrew tells me he’s worked really hard at the edge to edge sharpness so that the lens performs equally well in the corners.  So far that seems to be the case though I haven’t really punished the lens with charts just yet.  The APO designation refers to the superior optical performance which should be revealed in higher contrast situations, again something I’ve not had a chance to specifically test for just yet.  He’s shared privately with me some measurements that look very very good.

I’ll post some more shots soon hopefully with faces and skin tones but I wanted to share my first impressions and publicly congratulate Andrew and SLRMagic on this very very impressive lens.

Here’s a link to a few JPG and Tiff exports from Resolve shot with a Blackmagic URSA shooting 4K RAW.

https://copy.com/naVMCvhiSVYDAuQV

This lens will be selling for $1999 from SLR magic themselves

Posted in Equipment | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments