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Making Sponsored Content Look as Good as Cinema – Q&A With DoP Thomas Hole

By associate editor Elliot Smith:

Whether they’re calling it native advertising, sponsored content, or plain old advertorial, every big online publisher is looking for ways to move beyond traditional display advertising and use their brand to appeal to both advertisers and viewers.

However you feel about the erosion of the traditional separation between editorial and advertising, it’s an industry trend that is only going to accelerate as display ad rates decline and mass market publications have to reach hundreds of millions of eyeballs to make the economics of advertising on the web add up.

That said, for shooters with the right mindset this type of project offers an opportunity to shoot with more budget and time than regular editorial might allow. But honestly, there are still very few pieces, especially in video, that make you sit up and say ‘wow.’ The piece embedded above does just that. It’s a beautiful-looking film and all the more surprising bearing in mind this is a sponsored piece for a newspaper website.

Newsshooter caught up with the film’s DoP Thomas Hole over email to find out a bit more about the project.

DoP Thomas Hole on location in Iceland

DoP Thomas Hole on location in Iceland

What’s your background and how did you come to be a DoP?
Starting out I worked in feature films for three years as a trainee then Second AC, but to be honest I wasn’t too great at it! So during that time I kept shooting jobs for free, using every opportunity to ask DoPs I was working with how and why they were doing what they were doing. Through asking loads of questions and observing them I basically got free teaching. Eighteen months ago I stepped away from camera assisting and moved to being a DoP full time; it was a super scary experience but I don’t regret it at all.

Who had the original idea for the film?
Greg Hackett was given an open brief to make a piece that illustrated Alastair Humphreys’ desire to adventure. He wasn’t once told to speak of the product or to really feature it heavily. Cartier and the Times didn’t want to shout about their brand, they just wanted a piece that explained Alastair’s motivations.

What kit were you using and what influenced your decisions as to format and style?
We knew the content was going to sit on the New York Times website as a paid post, so we wanted something that could stand out visually.

Working with Greg we decided that a documentary in a commercial style would be the best way to show off Iceland with a high-end feel to suit Cartier and the NYT.

In some respects deciding to shoot on an Alexa with anamorphics was a tough option as we could easily have used a smaller camera, possibly shooting on an Amira. A smaller setup would certainly have suited the exploration of Iceland with its huge glaciers and canoeing alongside icebergs.

However, we wanted to get the anamorphic lenses underwater and we really only had the budget for one camera setup on the shoot. This definitely turned the shoot into a bit of a backbreaker for me, but it totally was worth it in the end. Without having been so specific on the tech, we couldn’t have achieved the final look.

Arri Alexa and Cooke anamorphic  - not the smallest or lightest of camera packages

Arri Alexa and C-series Hawk anamorphic – not the smallest or lightest of camera packages

Why did you choose anamorphic lenses and what were the challenges of shooting anamorphic on location?
Anamorphics are prone to be heavy and the C-series Hawks from Arri we chose were definitely on the large side. Our producer Rupert Savage plotted the schedule and organised the transport so we could work out of the back of a Land Rover 90% of the time. This meant weight became less of an issue. I really feel that this type of pre-production, knowing where we would be and how we would get there, allowed us to shoot in our preferred style.

The main problem really was dealing with focus, as these classic lenses tend to breathe a lot and need a larger cog just to function normally. My terrific First AC Thorsteinn Magnusson used a lens control system that worked perfectly, meaning that this issue became minimal after the first day. I also managed to pack our key lenses down into an F-Stop bag so we only needed to bring camera, bag and batteries to any location.

DoP Thomas Hole on location with his team

DoP Thomas Hole on location with his team

The final big issue was how to fit the lenses in an underwater housing. I contacted Sam Spurgeon who quickly stepped in to operate underwater and help us get the kit in and out of the water safely. Greg wanted to shoot at the Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, where you can dive in between the North American and Eurasian continents. To get the shots we needed we decided to use a Hydroflex housing to accommodate the Alexa plus anamorphic lenses. This system allowed me to manually control the camera from the boat, while Greg was plugged up to a monitor viewing what was going on down below.

Hydroflex and Alexa ready to shoot

Hydroflex and Alexa ready to shoot

While shooting this sequence it was so cold that we could only do two dives! For one I decided to use a 40mm and the other a 100mm: I knew this meant we could do one dive and cover the wide shots and another with the closeups. It worked out perfectly and we got exactly the shots Greg was looking for.

Did you have a big crew?
The crew was around eight people, so not massive. We basically wanted to keep it as quick and flexible as possible! Between the F-Stop bag and the Defender’s boot space, we kept mobile and were always ready to jump out and shoot at a moment’s notice.

Thomas Hole on location in Iceland: of course the problem with a Land Rover is you can always hop out of it to get just one more shot...

On location in Iceland: of course the problem with a Land Rover is you can always hop out to get just one more shot…

What were the shooting conditions like? How rigidly were you sticking to a shooting script or shotlist?
Greg put together an extensive shot list, so we knew what locations we needed to hit and Rupert had decided on when. So we weren’t super loose on schedule. But we did tend to just pop out of the car just to shoot anything that took our eye! (which was every 10 minutes) So we did end up shooting a high ratio.

Iceland is a country with very flat light and during that time of year we only had three hours of night, which really was more like three hours of sunset. No real darkness. We would keep shooting for around 18 hours a day; everything looked incredible and it would take around five hours each way to get to a location. By the end we were all dead, but the Blue Lagoon on wrap day definitely made up for it!

Do you consider this more of a documentary or an advert?
I consider it to be both. The production level was definitely one of an advert. We didn’t want only the technology to shape the piece – we wanted the operating to play an important part too. By having a lot of small, frequent motion throughout the piece, even underwater, we make the audience feel as if they’re following Alastair across this incredible landscape.

The finished film is incredibly tight – what was your shooting ratio like?
We ended up shooting around 18 rolls, but I am not sure on times as we jumped between the codex cards and also SXS depending on situation. We definitely used every scenario in the final edit.

Each location allowed around two hours of shooting as it would take around five hours to get there. So usually the camera would go straight on the Easy Rig and not be taken off until we left the location. Sometimes when you shoot a lot it means you get bogged down in the edit, but with me looking through the eyepiece and with Greg on a monitor, we could tick off the specific shots we needed to make up each sequence and not overshoot.

Arri Alexa on location

Arri Alexa in Iceland: five hours each way to locations made for long shooting days.

What was the edit process and who did the grade?
The edit process was taken on by Phil Currie at Stitch London who did an incredible job. He had around a two-week edit, and worked closely with Greg to get the best from the visuals and the interview Greg had conducted.

The grade was conducted at the Mill by Matt Osborne who I had worked with previously; knowing his style I recommended him. We researched a few references which led us towards this ad-style grade. One influence was the Haig Club adverts which use beautiful purples in their greens and this can really be seen in the wide landscape shots.

During the shoot I would review rushes and put a 500T Fuji stock LUT on to make sure we were keeping exposure consistent. I would really recommend this to anyone who is shooting different locations and days, as it gives you reassurance that what you are shooting is what you were aiming for.

Would you have any advice for news shooters who are being asked to produce more commercially-focused videos?
Research is key. If I hadn’t gone through the schedule and checked off how and where we were shooting, I would not have thought I could have shot in this style. Pre-production helped me realise that we could shoot anamorphic and that we could bring cinema gear to each location. I personally think native advertising really allows the DoP to get creative and actually opens up a world of freedom to play around in. There is no fear going into commercially focused pieces now – lots of them want to tell the same story as the news world.

Also you need to make sure you keep that sense of communication you have from shooting news work. That sense of trust and integrity really helps push the idea you are going for. It’s great if you can communicate with the subject and explain what you’re going for and why, as once they get it they will understand why you need ‘one more take’ or for them to phrase something differently.

There really isn’t much difference between the commercial and news world now it seems. The commercial world is becoming more ‘real’ and they are looking for great stories that show how a product is connected to everyday life. The New York Times and T brand are an example of how native advertising really is the next big step for both the commercial and news worlds.

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Posted on August 30th, 2015 by Elliot Smith | Category: Anamorphic, Arri Alexa | Permalink | Comments (1)

First look: New XEEN cine lenses compared to Zeiss CP.2 and Sony CineAlta primes

By site editor Dan Chung:

We’ve had pre-production samples of the brand new XEEN cine lenses at the Newsshooter offices this week. Made by Samyang there are initially three available – a 24, 50 and 85mm all at T1.5 – with three more to complete the set following later on. All three lenses cover a full frame sensor and as such are well suited to newer cinema cameras like the RED Weapon or Sony a7S and a7R II. Price has been set at around $2500 per lens (with slight variations depending on where you are in the world) which is highly competitive when compared to brands like Zeiss, Schneider or Canon. This must of course be weighed against the fact the XEEN brand is not established and they are untested in the rigours of real production.

The XEEN FS7 on a Sony FS7 with MTF PL to E-mount adapter

The XEEN lens on a Sony FS7 with MTF PL to E-mount adapter

Each has a solid metal construction, fully geared focus and iris rings, and a common 114mm diameter lens front. The Korean-made lenses are optically the same as the popular Samyang/Rokinon video SLR primes, but with new Multi-Nano coatings on the glass that are said to improve the image. The lenses also have quite circular aperture blades and a nicely dampened iris ring.

The focus and iris rings have a standard pitch gearing for follow focus

The focus and iris rings have a standard pitch gearing for follow focus

The XEEN lens has a standard 114mm lens front that matteboxes like the Brighttangerine Misfit Atom fits perfectly

The XEEN lens has a standard 114mm lens front that matteboxes like the Brighttangerine Misfit Atom fits perfectly

Initially we thought that the lens mounts on the XEEN range were fixed, but we’ve been informed that this isn’t the case. They will be available in PL, Canon, Nikon, Sony E and Micro 4/3 mounts which will be changeable by a technician if you return them to your XEEN agent. Pricing isn’t given for the extra mounts or the installation but I expect it to be competitive.

The lenses we tested aren’t full production versions, so you might see slight changes in the final product. That said, I think that the results here are a pretty good indication of what the lenses will be capable of.

Our first test was of the XEEN 85mm T1.5 against the popular Zeiss CP.2 85mm T1.5 and a Sony 85mm T2.0 CineAlta lens. All three lenses were PL mount and we fitted them to a Sony a7R II with PL mount adapter. All shots were done using S-Log2 and both graded and ungraded versions can be seen below.

The CP.2 lenses are around twice the price of the XEENs but come with the esteemed Zeiss brandname and a familiar look and feel. They are widely used in productions and are a proven tool. They benefit from user-changeable lens mounts and come in PL, EF, Nikon, E-mount and M4/3. All the CP.2 lenses apart from the 18mm cover a full frame sensor, but unlike other more expensive cine lenses they do not all share a common maximum aperture. They are also smaller and lighter than the equivalent XEEN or Sony lenses. Expect Zeiss lenses to have a good resale value too should you want to upgrade in the future.

The Sony CineAlta PL lens line was first introduced along with the PMW-F3 several years ago. There were originally three lenses that only worked on Sony’s F3, F5 and F55. More recently they revamped the lenses completely and now offer a line of six lenses that have a standard PL mount allowing them to be used on practically any PL mount camera. The current versions have a new optical formulation and a common T2.0 maximum aperture. They are very solidly made and most are around twice the weight of the equivalent XEEN or CP.2 lens. Despite this they have not been a popular choice, even with owners of Sony cameras. It is likely for this reason that they recently received a major discount both at B+H in the USA and CVP in the UK. Amazingly, a set of three or six Sony PL lenses now works out cheaper per lens than the XEENs.

The 85mm test setup with Movcam follow focus

The 85mm test setup with Movcam follow focus

In the test the XEEN lens appeared to be warmer than the Sony or Zeiss. In 4K the XEEN also appeared to be the sharpest of the three. The Sony had a nice image and bokeh was quite pleasant, but there was a slightly strange rendition of the light on the phone. To my eye the Zeiss did look more cinematic, but you may have a different opinion. The Zeiss was also the only lens to exhibit obvious lens flares.

The test rig with Sony a7R II and Zacuto VCT baseplate, Brighttangerine Misfit Atom mattebox and Vocas PL adapter

The test rig with Sony a7R II and Zacuto VCT baseplate, Brighttangerine Misfit Atom mattebox and Vocas PL adapter

In the next quick test we pitched the XEEN 24mm T1.5 against the slower Zeiss 25mm T2.1. The XEEN lens, being a stop brighter, is obviously a good choice if you need to shoot in super low light conditions. Our test was on a bright sunny day and with the filters we had at hand, we had limited exposure choices. When the lenses are set at T2 and T2.1 it is possible to get reasonable background separation if the subject is close to the camera. It is interesting that at these apertures there is a marked difference in bokeh between XEEN and the Zeiss.

Of course, the virtues of the image from any lens are highly subjective. What one person likes, another might hate. In the case of these tests I am happy to let you decide which you like and why. If you do end up renting or buying a set of these lenses it is clear that they are all capable of producing great results.

xeen IMG_9643

The XEEN lenses are certainly an interesting proposition for budget-limited shooters who might otherwise be looking at buying high-end Canon or Zeiss stills lenses. Until there is a full lineup I can’t see higher-end productions choosing to shoot with them, but that is something that needs to be reexamined when the XEENs become a full set of six.

Posted on August 29th, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: Lenses, Sony a7rII | Permalink | Comments (3)

ReelSteady for After Effects is Warp Stabiliser on steroids. Plus can it cure rolling shutter?

By site editor Dan Chung and associate editor Elliot Smith:

There’s been a lot of buzz online this week around a new plugin for Adobe After Effects called ReelSteady. It’s a software only image stabilisation system that provides results far superior to other software not requiring additional hardware. The demo footage online shows handheld shots that, when processed, look like they might have been shot on a Steadicam or brushless gimbal. Many readers will be familiar with Adobe’s Warp Stabiliser and this looks to be much better.

The stabilised footage does look softer than the original and the image will crop slightly just like Warp Stabiliser, but one assumes that if you start with a high resolution image from a 4K camera then the end results will be much better if you aim to finish in HD. If you shoot with a 5K, 6K or 8K resolution camera then things should be better still.

Even though it’s very impressive the stabilisation function is not the only significant feature of ReelSteady. The rolling shutter or jello effect has plagued CMOS sensors ever since the dawn of DSLR video. Cameras have increasingly high resolutions but the read speed of many CMOS sensors can still be slow. The latest Sony a7R II and the new KineMAX 6K cameras yield sharp images, but they also exhibit considerable skew. ReelSteady has a function than can reduce skew and the demo below shows it being practically eliminated from RED 5K footage.

Again one expects a reduction in resolution and it will interesting to see how well it works when the camera is making more complex movements, or the focus of the subject is changing. Even if you’re using a gimbal or Steadicam this software may be able to save a shot that suffered from a slight bump or vibration and this is something we are keen to test out.

One thing that the demonstrations show is that the stabilisation takes considerable computing power and it takes time for ReelSteady to work. If after the first pass it doesn’t quite get the stabilisation right there is the option to re-stabilise just a short section instead of doing the whole thing over. This is a clever way to save time.

Another feature is the ability to remove distortions from the image and de-fish GoPro footage at the same time as stabilising. There are presets for common camera combinations and you can also perform custom calibrations if no preset exists. Check out the video below:

The obvious comparison for ReelSteady is the hardware/software based SteadXP which we have featured several times before on Newsshooter. This system has the advantage of hardware sensors that tell the camera exactly where it is in 3D space and uses this information to assist the software stabilisation. SteadXP also reduces rolling shutter as can be seen in the video here.

The DSLR/camcorder version of SteadXP on a Canon DSLR

The DSLR/camcorder version of SteadXP on a Canon DSLR

Demos we have seen show that this makes the stabilisation much faster than a purely software solution. In theory it could make the stabilisation more accurate as well – there should be less computational guess work involved. How the two compare when it comes to results will be very interesting to see in the future. SteadXP also has the advantage of not needing to use Adobe After Effects.

You can find out more about ReelSteady on their website.

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Posted on August 28th, 2015 by Elliot Smith | Category: Camera stabilsation systems | Permalink | Comments (0)

World’s fastest man gets run over by a camera guy on a Segway

By technical Editor Matt Allard:

At the recent World Athletics Championships in Beijing, while Usain Bolt was on his victory lap celebrating winning gold in the 200 meters he was inadvertently run over by cameraman Song Tao. Song, who was working for host broadcaster CCTV was riding on a segway type people mover while using an ENG broadcast camera.

While it may be funny to watch, it’s a reminder of the importance of having good individual public liability insurance or making sure that the company who is hiring you does. Imagine if Usain Bolt had been badly injured and decided to sue the cameraman for damages. If you weren’t adequately covered could be financially ruined. And if you’re working as a freelancer you should really be vigilant about whether or not the company hiring you is also covering you under their public liability insurance.


ABC Latest News | Latest News Videos

During a NASCAR race in Charlotte, North Carolina, the cable that was supporting the CableCam snapped and fell onto the track and into the stands. It not only injured 10 spectators but also temporarily stopped the race.

While technology in our industry allows us to capture some amazing footage, we should all be very aware of the dangers and responsibility that comes with using it. It’s important to always think about safety whether you are using lights, segways, drones or any other piece of equipment that could cause injury to yourself, property or others.

And although this is a serious matter, I thought it only right to show you another classic camera Segway accident involving the legendary ‘Joe The Cameraman’ from Australia.

Posted on August 28th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: Uncategorized | Permalink | Comments (0)

Anton/Bauer Announces a New CINE Series battery solution for digital cinema cameras

By technical editor Matt Allard:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 9.53.49 AM

Anton/Bauer will be exhibiting a new CINE battery series for digital cinema cameras at IBC 2015 in Amsterdam. The CINE battery series features a compact design that complements cine-style cameras such as the ARRI ALEXA Mini and RED Weapon. The batteries will be available in 90WH and 150MH versions. The good news is the company had made both versions available in Anton/Bauer Gold Mount as well as V-mount.

CINE90-G-Mount_1200x1200

The CINE series delivers 12 amps of continuous power and incorporates what Anton/Bauer is calling Fuse Link technology, which according to the company, provides protection to surrounding battery cells, preventing catastrophic damage. The battery line also features multiple sensors to detect temperature and over-current states, that is said to ensure optimal battery performance during regular use.

The new batteries look like an ideal solution for using cameras on gimbals and quadcopter systems where having a smaller footprint is important. The batteries are shorter in height than the companies usual offerings and look to be a much better match for newer cameras such as the Arri Alexa Mini. The batteries are not light though, with the 90WH version weighing in at 1.04kg (2.29lb) and the 150WH version at 1.22kg (2.69lb). For added convenience, the CINE battery series works on all existing Anton/Bauer chargers and includes a PowerTap® to power auxiliary accessories such as monitors, lights, wireless receivers and any other 14V accessory.

CINE90-V-Mount_front_1200x1200

The CINE series also includes an extremely accurate LCD that provides users with run-time information in hours and minutes. When the battery is detached, the LCD screen will display battery life as a percentage of capacity, allowing you to track usage.

Available in September 2015, the CINE series will come in a choice of Gold Mount or V-Mount connectors. A 190 Wh option will be available in 2016. Prices are $499 US for the Cine 90 and $640 US for the Cine 150. Newsshooter will be covering IBC and we will be sure to check them out in person.

This from Anton/Bauer:
“The CINE battery series exemplifies Anton/Bauer’s dedication to producing the world’s safest, smartest, and most reliable power systems for professional cinematographers,” said Neal Laneville, Product Manager for Anton/Bauer. We spent a lot of time gathering feedback from our customers and integrating it into the design of the new CINE series. The result is a battery series that combines our groundbreaking safety technologies with a completely redesigned chassis built just for cinematographers. It’s a bespoke solution for the most demanding professionals.”

Specifications:
90WH

Watt Hour 90 WH
Size 11.86 x 9.75 x 10.19 cm
Weight 1.04 kgs
Warranty MAXX II – Two year conditional warranty
Voltage 14.4 volts

150WH
Watt Hour 150 WH
Size 11.86 x 9.75 x 10.72 cm
Weight 1.22 kg
Warranty MAXX II – Two year conditional warranty
Voltage 14.4 volts

AntonBauer 7.2v battery & charter_dual

Anton/Bauer have also announced a new 7.2V Series of Li-Ion batteries and chargers designed for Sony Handycam camcorders and accessories such as the e SmallHD DP7-Pro. The Anton/Bauer L-Series batteries are available in two capacities: the NP-F774 is a 4400mAh (30Wh) and the NP-F976 is a 6600mAh (47Wh).

8675-0109_NP-F976_1200x1200_01

The L-Series batteries accompany the two new 7.2V chargers. The Single Position Charger boasts a lightweight, compact design with an LED indicator light. The charger also includes a charge control switch that allows users to switch between ECO and FULL charging speeds (for slow or fast charging) as well as a 5V USB output port for powering an extra device simultaneously. The robust L-Series Dual Position Charger simultaneously charges two batteries at once and has an easy-to-read LCD that shows each battery’s charge percentage. The charger also possesses battery testing functionalities to optimize battery life.

It is good to see Anton/Bauer making Sony L series comparable batteries, but I wish that had of included a power tap on the batteries and not a 5V USB port.

The Anton/Bauer 7.2V batteries and chargers will be available worldwide October 2015, and on display for the first time at IBC 2015 (September 11-15), along with Anton/Bauer’s other products on the Vitec Videocom stand #E55 in Hall 11.

Specifications:

NP-F976
Voltage 7.2 volts
Watt Hour 47 WH
Wattage 47 WH
Camera interface L-Series
Size 5.97 X 7.06 X 3.81 cm
Weight 0.27 kg
Chemistry Lithium-ion
Warranty MAXX I – One year conditional warranty
Price: $90 US

NP-F774
Voltage 7.2 volts
Watt Hour 30 WH
Wattage 30 WH
Camera interface L-Series
Size 7 x 3.8 x 4 cm
Weight 0.2 kg
Chemistry Lithium-ion
Warranty MAXX I – One year conditional warranty
Price: $66 US

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Posted on August 28th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: Batteries | Permalink | Comments (4)

One Quick Release to Rule Them All? Edelkrone introduce universal fit QuickRelease ONE

By associate editor Elliot Smith:

Edelkrone have announced a new universal quick release plate that they claim will work on any camera and any mount with a 1/4″-20 screw.

You leave the QuickRelease ONE attached to your camera, then clip it into the plate’s 1/4″-20 screw and tighten. The company are positioning it as a way to move between different camera support systems quickly and without having to invest a lot of money in compatible plates and mounts.

It’s certainly a novel solution and looks like it will work well with smaller cameras – the video above shows a demo using a Canon 5D mkIII for example. Not sure if you’d want to trust your shiny new Arri Amira to it though – and fundamentally you’re still only attaching the camera at a single point with one 1/4″-20 screw, so I’d be a little worried about the possibilities of simple torque making the camera twist, especially with a heavier lens attached.

It also adds to the height of the camera when compared to mounting directly to the tripod plate, raising the centre of gravity, which could make balancing a camera with a gimbal system or Steadicam a bit tricker.

Having said all that though we’re keeping an open mind at Newsshooter as we haven’t seen a sample yet, and anything that makes switching between different camera setups quicker and easier can only be a good thing.

The QuickRelease ONE is available now via the Edelkrone website for €129.99 (excluding tax)

Posted on August 26th, 2015 by Elliot Smith | Category: Camera support systems | Permalink | Comments (0)

Panasonic DVX 200 Review Part 2- V-Log L, Scene Profiles and Colour Science

By technical editor Matt Allard:

DSC00598

In the second part of my review of the new Panasonic DVX 200 I will be focusing solely on Scene Profiles, V-Log L and the colour science of the camera. Please note that the camera I am using still isn’t the final production version.

V-Log and V-Log L are Panasonic’s version of the logarithmic gamma curves that can record a flatter, more gradable image. Like the familiar Canon C-Log and Sony S-Log they retain more detail in the shadows and highlights than a regular gamma.

Many GH4 owners have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Log-type gamma curve. V-Log L (the “L” stands for Lite) is a new iteration of the original V-Log that has been designed for both the DVX 200 and GH4.

It is worth noting that while it is similar to the existing V-Log, but there are important differences. The original V-Log was designed specifically for the Varicam 35 cinema camera to best take advantage of its 14+ stops of dynamic range. The new V-Log L allows a claimed 12 stops of dynamic range to be recorded.

The DVX 200 will not be available until October and if I was a betting man, I would wager that V-Log L will be made available for the GH4 at around the same time. This upgrade has been in the works for a long time. I saw a GH4 running V-Log at Interbee in Japan last year and several beta testers around the world have also been using V-log on their GH4s for quite some time.

Even though the highlights aren't clipping, they don't have a nice soft roll off.

Even though the highlights aren’t clipping, they don’t have a nice soft roll off.

False Colour mode on the Odyssey 7Q+ shows that nothing is being over exposed in the  scene, but the highlights are getting clipped. at around 80% IRE

False Colour mode on the Odyssey 7Q+ shows that nothing is being over exposed in the scene, but the highlights are getting clipped. at around 80% IRE

So what is the V-log L like on the DVX 200? Well, it certainly is a very flat image and looks like it has more dynamic range than a standard gamma. Don’t expect miracles though – success with Log gamma is dependent on the camera’s sensor and colour science to achieve good results. I found that while the image is nice and flat, the way it rolls off highlights on the DVX 200 is not pretty. On the built-in waveform monitor, or when using false colour, the V-Log L image may well show no evidence of highlight clipping, but if you look at the image closely the brightest parts of the image have almost no highlight roll-off and appear clipped, even though they aren’t. There are no options to adjust parameters when using V-Log L. I suspect that V-Log L isn’t the culprit here; it is likely due to how the image is being processed by the camera itself.

I did a series of tests in a high dynamic range scene to see the differences between using V-Log L and the other Scene Files that are available on the DVX 200. Please note that all the Scene Files shown are set at their factory settings. You can see the results above. Note: The default Knee setting that is assigned to [SCENE1] in [CUSTOMIZE SCENE] is “93.0”.

Above are some more examples that you can download, this time shot in 4K 24p. All shots are at the base 500 ISO. I found that even at 500 ISO the V-log L image appears to be quite noisy. The problem I find with V-Log L is that if your are trying to keep your highlights well below 80% IRE to avoid clipping, then you are having to underexpose your image. Then when you adjust the V-Log L image later in post, if you have to bring up the mids you introduce a lot of noise. You can download the V-LOG V709 V35 LUT yourself and have a go applying it to the V-Log L clips.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 7.00.01 PM

Apart from V-log L, there are 6 other Scene Files you can choose from and they can all be adjusted, apart from V-Log L. There is a Matrix setting for [CINE-LIKE] and gamma settings that include 3 FILMLIKE options and a Cine-Like-V and Cine-Like-D. There are several parameters you can adjust, but please be warned that you should really know what you are doing when adjusting settings in any camera. Here is a list of what you can adjust:

Gamma Modes on the camera

Gamma Modes on the camera

Skin Tone Detail – This makes skin colours appear softer for a more attractive appearance. This is more effective if you record a person closely, from the torso up.
Master Detail – Adjusts the degree of overall outline correction in images.
Detail Coring – Adjusts the detail noise removal level.
V Detail Level – Adjusts the degree of vertical outline correction in images.
Knee APE Level – This sets the detail level of high luminosity areas (extremely bright areas).
RB Gain Control – [R GAIN]: Adjusts the intensity of red. [B GAIN]: Adjusts the intensity of blue. [GAIN OFFSET]*: Sets whether to maintain or reset the [R GAIN] and [B GAIN] settings when Auto White Balance/Auto Black Balance is used.
Chroma Level – Adjusts colour density.
Chroma Phase – Adjusts colour balance.

Matrix settings

Matrix settings

Matrix – Represents the colour during the recording. [NORM1]: Suitable for recording in the open air or under a halogen lamp. [NORM2]: Suitable for brighter colours than the [NORM1] mode. [FLUO]: Suitable for recording indoors under fluorescent lamp.[CINE-LIKE]: Suitable for cinema-like image.
Colour Correction – This function sets colour saturation and phase. It applies individual effect on 16 phases in an image. You can adjust individual hues.
Master PED – Adjustment of black level based on the image is performed.
Gamma Mode – Tone or contrast of the image is set in accordance with the recorded scenes.
[HD]: This is the video gamma feature for HD (High Definition).
[SD]: This increases gain in darker areas more than [HD] does.
[FILMLIKE1]: This feature reproduces highlight areas more than [HD] does.
[FILMLIKE2]: This feature reproduces highlight areas more than [FILMLIKE1] does.
[FILMLIKE3]: This feature reproduces highlight areas more than [FILMLIKE2] does.
[CINE-LIKE V]: This gamma feature creates cinematic images with sharper contrast.
[CINE-LIKE D]: This gamma feature creates cinematic images.

When [CINE-LIKE V] or [CINE-LIKE D] is selected, Panasonic recommend that you set the lens aperture to a level lower than the normal lens iris level (approximately 1/2 a stop) to fully utilize the feature of the selected setting.

Black Gamma – This sets the gamma curve of dark areas.
Back Gamma Range – This sets the upper limit on the compression/expansion of the [BLACK GAMMA] setting.
Knee Mode – To avoid overexposure, select the compression level of the high intensity video signals received through the image sensor.
Knee Master Point – This adjusts the knee point position in 0.5% steps when [KNEE MODE] is set to [MANUAL].
Knee Master Slope – This sets the knee inclination when [KNEE MODE] is set to [MANUAL].
DRS – Selects the DRS (Dynamic Range Stretcher) function.
DRS Effect – Selects the level of the DRS function.

So now let’s look at how the DVX 200 handles skin tones when various Scene Profiles, matrix and gamma settings are changed. I will also compare it to the Sony a7S, the Blackmagic BMPCC, ARRI Amira and Sony F35. The Amira and F35 are obviously the benchmarks here, but I wanted to see how well the Panasonic measured up. The Panasonic definitely footage has a slight magenta cast to it by default. I really did not like the look of the V-Log L image when the default V-LOG V709 V35 LUT was applied. This was the LUT that Panasonic recommend I use for the DVX 200. I also find the V-Log L image to be quite noisy even at 500 ISO. I did some basic tweaks in FCPX to get a nicer look, but I am sure a professional colourist could achieve a much more pleasing image. As far as other Scene Files go on the camera, you can get some pretty good results, but this all depends on the type of look you are after. The tests I did were not very scientific and as I was having to shoot myself, you will have to excuse the variations in exposure and focus. This test was not designed to get the best possible looking image or skin tones out of each camera. It was designed so you can see what you get out of the box without making any adjustments or doing any colour correction. All the cameras were white balanced under the same light at the same intensity, except the F35 in S-Log/S-Gamut mode where 5600k was used, and the BMPCC where white balance was set at 5600k. Skin tones are very much a personal choice and different people have different opinions on what looks good and what doesn’t. I will leave it up to you to judge for yourself.

From L-R: Sony F35, Sony a7S, Arri Amira, Blackmagic BMPCC and the Panasonic DVX 200

From L-R: Sony F35, Sony a7S, Arri Amira, Blackmagic BMPCC and the Panasonic DVX 200

I also tested how accurately the DVX 200 maintained colours when using the camera’s internal ND filters. I saw no visible shift in colour accuracy regardless of what ND was used. You can see the test below.

The colour rendition the camera produces is generally quite pleasing and more to the point fairly accurate. Where I find the camera has limitations is in the highlights – regardless, it seems, of whether you’re using regular Scene Files or V-Log L. I would have expected that a Log curve would provide more highlight protection on the DVX 200, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. You really need to be very careful when exposing to avoid getting rather nasty blown-out highlights. I think Panasonic have done a pretty good job of getting the most out of the micro 4/3 sensor in this camera, despite the obvious problems with noise and highlight roll off.

V-Log L definitely needs to be treated with some care and a lot of experimentation and testing will need to be done to get the best out of it. You can tinker with a lot of the camera’s looks, but it is good to know that you can also get pleasing colour results straight out of the box without any tweaking.

In Part 3 of my review, I will show some footage shot in UHD, 4K and HD and look at the various frame rates and codecs available in the camera.

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Posted on August 25th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: 4K, Panasonic cameras, Panasonic GH4 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Optitek Canon ProLock-i and Nikon Mounts for the Arri Amira & Alexa Mini put to the test

By technical editor Matt Allard:

Optitek have started shipping their Canon ProLock-i and Nikon Prolock mounts for the Arri Amira and Alexa Mini. These mounts allow Arri owners to use a wide variety of non-PL lenses on their cameras. This allows for increased flexibility and enables the user to go with smaller, more compact lens set ups. On the Arri Amira it gives operators the option to keep the camera’s weight down by using lighter stills lenses – some also prefer the shorter focus throws of stills glass for run-and-gun shooting. For the Arri Alexa Mini, the ability to use lighter and more compact lenses when it is on a drone or gimbal appeals to many operators.

The Optitek ProLock Nikon mount

The Optitek ProLock Nikon mount

I recently had the chance to test out pre-production versions of both of these mounts on my own Amira to see how they performed with various lenses. I wanted to test usability and build quality to see if they were a genuine alternative to going with the standard PL mount.

The Canon 50mm f1.2 on the Optitek ProLock-I mount

The Canon 50mm f1.2 on the Optitek ProLock-I mount

Canon ProLock-i
The Canon ProLock-i mount is very straightforward to attach to the Arri Alexa or Alexa Mini. Using an allen key you just undo four screws and remove the PL mount from the camera. You then place the Canon ProLock-i in its stead on the camera and attach it using the included screws. Just be aware that the size of the head on the screws that come with the Canon ProLock-i mount are a different size to those on the Arri PL mount, so please do not try to use the same screws from the Arri mount on the Optitek Canon mount.

Attaching the Canon ProLock-i on the Arri Amira

Attaching the Canon ProLock-i on the Arri Amira

Once the Canon ProLock-i is on the camera you are all set to go. You attach the lens in the same way as you would on any Canon mount camera, but you get the added benefit of having a positive locking mechanism that behaves in much the same way as a PL mount (or Canon’s C500 EF mount). I was very impressed by this feature as it securely locks your lens to the mount and you don’t get any of that nasty lens wiggle that you often see when using cheap lens mount adaptors. The mount has electronic contacts that allow for the lens to be powered and the aperture to be adjusted. The mount draws between 1-5W of power depending on the lens you have attached. If you are using a lens with stabilisation activated then it will draw closer to 5W.

IMG_2456

You can adjust the aperture via two buttons on the actual lens mount itself. By pressing it just once it goes up by 1 increment at a time. If you keep your finger on the button then it goes up by the same increments continually. The same applies when closing down the iris. Another button allows you to make the iris increment larger or smaller.

Optitek say the Canon version of the ProLock-i is compatible with most EF mounted lenses from Canon, Tamron and Sigma. I tested out some of the Canon lenses I own, including the 16-35mm f2.8, 100mm macro f2.8, 50mm f1.2, 135mm f2 and 35-350mm f3.5- f5.6. I contacted Optitek to see if Canon EF mount Tokina and Zeiss lenses will also work with the adapter and they told me that they should. Below you can see a test showing the iris control function of the Canon ProLock-i mount.

As you can see from my tests, the Canon ProLock-i allows you to have complete control over the aperture functions of Canon EF mount lenses. The iris response is never going to be super smooth due to a limitation of the actual lens itself. I can confirm that if you’re using a Canon lens with built-in image stabilisation then the function works really well. The only downside of the Optitek Canon ProLock-i mount is that it will not display a f-stop reading in the viewfinder, whereas Arri’s own version of the Canon EF mount will.

The OptiTron 2 controller

The OptiTron 2 controller

If you want to add iris control that isn’t limited to being on the mount itself then you need to purchase the optional OptiTron 2. This also acts as a remote follow focus controller and is the company’s second generation of EFF (electronic follow focus). Optitek claim: “This is the first (technically the second gen) professional device that connects with auto focus motors built into DSLR lenses and, instead of a gear /Follow Focus (external motor) combination seamlessly integrates with the lens and the camera system for accurate, repeatable, smooth and responsive lens control of focus and aperture.”

The focus drag controller on the OptiTron 2

The focus drag controller on the OptiTron 2

I found that the OptiTron 2 is very easy to set up and use. It draws power via a small connector that is located on the actual Canon ProLock-i. Another nice feature is that it allows for remapping of the very limited focus rotation on AF lenses to a nearly full rotation (320 degrees) of the focus knob. There is also a rotation direction switch for left and right side mounting of the controller, and you can remap the custom user defined focus range, that allows for full rotation of the knob if you need more precise control for macro critical focus work. An adjustable iris scale and backlit aperture and focus control are nice touches that allow you to use it at night time or in dark environments. The actual iris slider has a marking strip for felt pen, making it adjustable so the scale once marked can be reused for different lenses. Another nice feature I liked was the focus drag lever that is located under the battery cage. It lets you adjust the tension on the focus knob depending on your needs.

The OptiTron 2 with the Canon 35-350 F3.5-5.6

The OptiTron 2 with the Canon 35-350 F3.5-5.6

Below are some examples of how the EFF (electronic follow focus) worked on various Canon lenses. As you can see from my tests, not all lenses behaved in the same way. The follow focus certainly allows for a longer focus throw than if you were focusing using your hands on the actual lens. I still found that it did behave in a very electronic sort of way and lacked that nice smooth effect you get from doing it manually. Again, this is down to the adaptor having to use the electronics of the actual lens to move the focus. I found it worked well on most of the lenses I tried but it did have a lot of trouble on the Canon 35-350mm f3.5-F5.6. To be fair this is an older lens and not a lot of people own one, but the EFF would completely make the lens freak out when focussing towards infinity. Bear in mind that you aren’t limited to just controlling the focus on the actual OptiTron 2 controller. You can still manually adjust the focus on the lens by hand as well.

The nice thing about the OptiTron 2 is that it isn’t just limited to being used on the Arri Amira or Alexa Mini. It can also be used with the company’s Sony F5/55 Canon mount and RED Canon EF mount.

The OptiTron 2 Wireless reciever unit

The OptiTron 2 Wireless reciever unit

If you want to get even more advanced you can turn the whole package into a wireless EFF (electronic follow focus) and iris controller by adding the OptiTron 2 wireless kit . All you need to do is attach the wireless receiver unit to the connector port on the Canon Prolock-i adaptor and you’re all set to go. On the OptiTron 2 controller unit you then need to attach the supplied rechargeable battery back to power it up. This allows you to have the exact same control as you had when the OptiTron 2 was attached to the mount, but wirelessly. This is perfect for those who want to run Canon EF glass on an Arri Alexa Mini and have the lens controlled remotely when using it on drones, cranes, Steadicams and gimbals. I found from my testing that the response time was very fast and the range was also quite impressive. The company claims a wireless range of up to 100m which is on a par with a lot of other wireless focus systems. In my testing I found that the unit worked well even if you were in a different room or behind walls.

The Zeiss Otus 85mm f1.4 lens on the ProLock Nikon mount

The Zeiss Otus 85mm f1.4 lens on the ProLock Nikon mount

Nikon ProLock
I was excited to try out the Nikon mount as I own a lot of Nikon mount lenses and personally prefer them to Canon glass. The Nikon mount has an aperture control for G type lenses built into the adapter, as well as an iris scale that is engraved on the control ring to read the lens aperture value. The iris scale is also adjustable so it can be precisely calibrated to the lens you’re using on the camera. Another nice touch is that the iris ring features a standard 0.8 mod pitch gear so a motor can be used to control aperture remotely if need be.

Using the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8

Using the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8

I tested out the Nikon mount with various Nikon mount lenses including the Zeiss Otus 85mm f1.4 and 55mm f1.4, Zeiss 21mm f2.8, Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 and the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8. I was primarily interested in seeing how well the iris control worked to see if it allowed for smooth changes in the aperture. I was very impressed with how smooth you could make the aperture changes and it felt almost as good as using a properly de-clicked aperture. For it to work with lenses that already have a manual iris control on them, you need to set that value to closed. The only drawback is having to get used to placing your fingers all the way back on the mount to control the aperture. Below you can see my tests using the Nikon mount.

The one peculiar problem that I came across when testing the Optitek Canon ProLock-i and Nikon ProLock mounts was when you engaged the internal ND filters on the camera for the first time after attaching a lens. The electronically controlled ND filter would move backwards and forwards for around 10 seconds until it became stable and stopped in place. This only seems to happen the first time you attach a lens and power it on. I am assuming that the camera is looking for the normal Arri electronic connection information that is found on the PL mount. You can see for yourself below. Optitek have told me that they have not seen this problem before when they were testing the mounts with Arri cameras.

I was very impressed with the build quality and rugged design of both the Canon and Nikon mounts. They both fit as if they had come out of the Arri factory and the positive locking mechanism means your lens won’t wobble around. Another benefit of this mount is that you can use heavier lenses without having to resort to using a lens support. If you are going to mount something heavier than a 70-200mm f2.8 lens then use common sense and don’t rely on the mount to support all the weight. I found from testing both mounts that I didn’t run into any back focus issues and all the lenses I tried easily focussed to infinity.

After a couple of straight weeks using the Nikon Prolock mount on a documentary shoot where I was constantly changing lenses, I did find that on occasion that the aperture ring adjustment on the mount would cause the lens iris to close and I could not open it back up. This seemed to happen a lot when using the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 lens. The only way to solve this was to take the lens off and put it back on which was very annoying to say the least. The mount I was using was a pre-production version, so hopefully this has now been fixed.

The Optitek Canon ProLock-i and Nikon ProLock mounts are a nice solution for users who want to use Nikon or Canon mount lenses on their Amira or Alexa Mini. I particularly like the simplicity of the Nikon mount, but I know a lot more users will probably prefer the Canon mount. Using Canon lenses is not without its problems though. Because of the design of Canon EF stills lenses, it is impossible to get smooth aperture control. The Canon ProLock-i does pretty well given the limitations of the lens it is connected to. Arri do make their own Canon EF adaptor but the only way to change iris using it is via the menu scroll wheel on the EVF. The Arri Canon EF mount retails for around $1500 US, while the Optitek Canon ProLock-i is slightly more expensive at $1795 US. If you want the added versatility of using the OptiTron 2 controller, that will set you back an additional $1995 US. The wireless kit for the OptiTron 2 is $795 US. For the Canon Prolock-i mount, OptiTron 2 controller and wireless kit you are looking at a grand total of $4589 US. The Nikon ProLock mount retails for $995 US and presently the only other Nikon mount adaptor available for the Amira and Alexa Mini is made by P+S Technik for 700 Euros (ex VAT), but it is a mechanical mount only and does not offer any sort of aperture control.

For more information about the Arri Amira and Alexa Mini mounts, as well as the company’s wide selection of other products, head over to Optitek.

Posted on August 24th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: Arri Alexa, Arri Amira, Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Tokina, Zeiss | Permalink | Comments (0)

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