Low Light Shootout

Here’s my idea….

I want to test the mythology of the newest digital cameras being able to shoot in next to no light at all.

Several times during the production of Offspring Season 1, I was able to use the newer RED MX bodies. I shot a few sequences literally using nothing but the ambient street lighting from shops on Gertrude or Smith st in Flitzroy. Combined with a fast lens like an Ultraprime and rating the camera at 2000 ISO I was easily able to shoot without additional lighting.

I’d also shot a couple of scenes using the Canon 5D in very low light as well, again, often rating the camera as fast as 1000 ISO.

I started wondering just how far I could push this low light thing with these cameras.  I was talking with Offspring’s setup Director Kate Denis about the feasibility of actually shooting a feature film in available light.

Glendyn Ivin, also one of Offspring’s directors, was a huge fan on the 5D as well and is convinced it see things in low light better than any other camera.  Would the cameras cope when blown up to a cinema sized screen ?  And what would could I do to actually test them.

So this is what I’m thinking.

Two scenes, with a couple in a city location.  The first scene is late afternoon with deep shadows.  A simple scene that involves a few shots.  Perhaps a mix of  shooting styles in terms of shots.  Some tracking for example, some hand held, some long lens.  After devising the coverage, you shoot the same shots on the same lenses over and over swapping out the different cameras.

You then move to a night location, where there’s a good mix of ambient lighting and do the same thing.

So that way you get to cut two sequences using almost the same shots with the same action and the same lenses.  The only that will change will be the origination format.

And the formats ? (assuming shooting everything on Master primes)

Well 35mm.  It’s the one they all aspire to.  Theoretically weak in low light with less shadow detail, but still it shouldn’t be too far off the mark. Once something’s black it’s black right ?  I also want to see just how bad it really is in a low light situation comparison like this.  As such, I’m also keen to compare the shoot-ability, the ease of shooting with it.  I’m thinking of using something like a 235 or an Aaton 35 to equate the camera size.

Super 16.  In theory the grain will be a probelm.  I still want to SEE how it looks.  Again a small camera, like a A-Minima or maybe a 416 or a XTRprod.

RED MX.  The camera that got me thinking.  How’s it going to look blown up on the big screen though.

Arri Alexa…the camera everyone’s talking about.  I haven’t shot with it yet so can’t know too much.  Looking forward to seeing what it can do though.

Panasonic AF100.  The very new kid.  If I can convince Panasonic to give me one.

Canon EOS 1D.  It’s meant to be awesome in low light.  I’ve shot some tests with it in daylight but not in low light.  Love to see how it is with a PL lens on it as well.

For this test to be meaningful, it has to be finished to film…to 35mm and to a DCP.

And that’s where my very good friends at Deluxe Melbourne have stepped in and offered to not only grade and correct all my footage, BUT to also print it to 35mm and DCP.  That way, we get to see how it looks in a cinema environment.

I’m looking forward to doing this test sometime in late November.  Stay tuned.

About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
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