Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nature, animated birds and the Sony F3

While I thought I'd spend some quality time on RnR, my good friend ZoneArt aka Zonayed Mostafa gave me a call the other day. I don't believe in fate, but sometimes I can't help but change my views on it.  He just scored a new TV Commercial gig after spending 2 years out in the wild and was searching for a DP. Somehow, he heard that I was out of the country and was regretting not having his first choice around. That same day, I saw a picture of his on Facebook and clicked on the "like" button. He immediately checked my status to see that I was in fact 1Km away from him and sent me a message to call him. Within 20 minutes of that conversation he had secured my services for his next 3 shoots. Fate?

I cut my vacation short and started pre production soon after. Since I only have my 5D Mk III with me now, we made the decision to shoot on a video camera rather than a DSLR, as the shots we had planned, had a lot of VFX involved. The compressed codec from the 5D is something most VFX artists hate. So we started making decisions on getting a proper camera. 35mm was out since there wasn't a big enough budget for it. The only Alexa in town was booked. The C300 was available for 2 of the 4 days of principal photography, but the rate for that camera is set too bloody high for anyone to justify, even though it comes with a 6 lens ARRI/Zeiss Ultra Prime set. Then came the Sony F3. While most people love the F3, it's certainly not a camera that I've lusted over. Even with the SLog and 444 out, the color rendering is something Sony missed with that camera. In fact, it contributes heavily to the so called "Sony Video Look".

I have often heard that term and slowly I've grown to hate it. What is a "video look"? Most people describe it as a sterile and clinical look found in most video cameras, even high end ones. But shouldn't a "video" camera have a "video" look? Yes and no. The best digital cameras in the market right now, be it the Alexa, Red Epic or even the C500, try to emulate film emulsions. The Sony cameras have always tried to (for me at least) tried to copy the sensor patterns of their own digital cameras, something that I felt contributed to the video look. The only cameras that broke that mould were the F23 and F35 and those cams used to cost an arm and a leg when they came out. Lately, with the release of the F65 and F55, it seems that Sony have realized their mistake and are now copying the old 35mm stocks. Apparently, the F65 and F55 even have more colors than the gamut stored in film stock. I really don't know what that even means, but hopefully its not some sales gimmick. Anyways, on to the F3 and the project at hand.

i had to choose between two F3 packages. One that came with Zeiss still lenses and the other with Sony's 3 PL mount video lenses. Being the Zeiss junkie that I am I went with the first option, even though I knew I was going to have to work with a 1.5x crop factor. I drove the ADs mad, when I called out lenses for shots, since an 18mm ZF became a 27mm, I would refer to the 18mm as an 18mm and then again as a 27mm. Oh well, he's an AD, grunt. My favorite focal lengths in Super 35 happen to be the 27mm, 32mm and 40mm. So, I worked with the 18mm and 28mm ZFs provided by the rentals and my own 21mm ZF, thus getting 27mm, 31.5mm and 42mm Super 35 focal lengths. For a tighter mid shot, I'd use the 35mm (approx. 53mm) and the 50mm (75mm) for closeups. Even though the Field of View of the lens changed, the depth of field remained the same from the full frame sensor, but since I was using wide lenses mostly, the bokeh looked very similar to Super 35.

Instead of using SLog though, I used the CineGamma profile. Why? Cause, it gave me a good REC709 version of what I could see on TV when it aired. I even changed the parameters of the "Standard" color matrix to give me a slightly warmer picture without adjusting the neutral white balance. I found this useful when I used my very old Sony EX1. The Sony camera exhibit a blueish tint to them and shifting the reds can give you a great "filmic" image. The final thing I used heavily were filters. For daytime interior shots with natural light showing, I used a Black Pro Mist 1/4. This lowered the contrast as well as bloomed the highlights. Here's what that looked like:

The raw images from the F3.

F3 footage with grade applied
For the rain and storm parts I shot mostly with a polarizer and 0.6 ND combo. Here are some shots:


The 10 bit 422 capture to an Atomos Ninja recorder made my life easy as a grader. However during the last day of shooting, Canon finally released their Clean HDMI firmware update for the 5D MkIII and so I decided to take my beloved Olivia as a B cam, to see how the 8 bit 422 captured onto a Nanoflash would hold up against the F3's 10 bit 422. We rolled both cameras at the same time. Here are some results of that, you be the judge.

F3 with 50mm (75mm) Zeiss (Custom warm profile 3200K)

5D3 with 35mm Zeiss (Neutral profile 3200K)

F3 with 18mm (27mm) Zeiss (Custom warm profile 5700K)

5D3 with 21mm Zeiss (Neutral profile 5700K)

My favorite shots of the entire TVC however came from the 5D3 when I was taking shots of the newly built Hatirjheel freeways right after magic hour. The 1600 ISO shots taken with a 21mm Zeiss ZF at 2.8, internal IPB recording, looked stunning. See if you agree.

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