Recent activity & shop talk.

Canon 5D Mark II

Tri-C Blood Brother Screening and Q&A

This friday, I’ll be doing a Q&A at Tri-C in Cleveland for Blood Brother. Starts at 6pm…

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Freefly System’s MoVI M10 – Not Just a New Tool, A New Craft

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I was first intrigued by the MoVI while in pre-pro for principle photography for Gennadiy, an upcoming documentary with Blood Brother’s Steve Hoover & Danny Yourd. The first thought in my mind was how amazing this tool would be for the story we were about to shoot in Ukraine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in full on production at the time and we didn’t have the cash to bring the freefly crew out. However, it’s impression didn’t leave me for one second….

I decided to make the full investment in November 2013 and started working with it right away. First thing that I realized was that the M10 is not a grab and go tool. It’s precision mechanics that requires time & understanding of how to utilize it. This is a good thing in my mind because it’s a CRAFT, not a toy. There’s a freedom with the MoVI unlike anything I have experienced. Being able to improvise on the fly with cinematic, complex movements and blocking fires me up! Especially for documentary work or small crews on commercials. In my circles of collaboration, I knew it would be a hit.

After putting it through the test on a slew of jobs of various sizes, crew, budgets, cameras and traveling across the world with it, I’ve learned a thing or two about effectively and efficiently using the MoVI…

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the day it arrived….

For starters…the MoVI really is a two man minimum operation. I am fortunate to know and work with Tyson VanSkiver in Pittsburgh. Wouldn’t want to be on a job without him. My experience with it so far has been acting as both the DP and the operator on set. Tyson takes the responsibility of tuning, balancing and maintaining the MoVI throughout the day. On top of that, he’s a killer focus puller if we’re in majestic mode. When the controller is needed, we’ll have an AC pull focus.

The MoVI is quite the technical orchestration. On top of the 3 axis stabilization, there’s wireless video, power distribution, remote focus pulling, camera maintenance, lens changing, balancing, tuning, operator technique, as well as controller pan & tilt skills (I’ll go into technical details on individual pieces of gear in near future blog posts but we’ll stay at birds eye view for now). These are all things to take into consideration when wanting “fast, cheap and good” all at once. I’ve learned the hard way a few times when people are staring at you because camera isn’t ready or malfunctioning 🙂 Treat it with respect, have a thoroughly tested set up & plan of execution, know how to troubleshoot it quickly and MAYBE allot time for a little bit of blocking.

For my next blog post, I’ll break down a few jobs we did recently and talk about the positives of my experience with the MoVI as well as the challenges we’ve learned from.

Exciting time to be a cinematographer and MoVI owner! More to come…

FYI…currently for hire (inquire for rates)

  • MoVI M10 (owner operator only at this time)
  • Hocus Focus Axis 1 Wireless FF
  • Paralinx Wireless Video System w/ 3 receiver units
  • Atomos HDMI to HD-SDI converter kit
  • Custom Controller bag & harness
  • SmallHD Monitors
  • Red Epic Run Cable for Wireless FF Control
  • Canon C300 Run Cable for Wireless FF Control
  • Red Epic, Scarlet, C300 & Canon DSLR’s
  • Experience with Canon Cinema Primes & EOS primes, zooms

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Interview with Canon USA

I had the honor of sitting down with Steve Tobenkin from Canon USA regarding our camera choices for Blood Brother. Also a reminder of which side of the camera I like to be on. Behind 🙂


Blood Brother Cinematography Nomination Cameraimage Fest 2013

BB_Blog_resizeI’m excited to announce that Blood Brother has been nominated for a cinematography award at Cameraimage Fest in Poland! I’ll be heading to Gdansk next week to represent the film.

Huge thank you to Max Rivera ( Rocky’s Bratt’s brother ) and his crew for putting together a screening of Blood Brother in North Canton, OH. It was an opportunity to not only share with friends and family but to also meet new people. Thank you kindly for your continued support!

For those of you who don’t know, Blood Brother received the highest honors this year at Sundance by taking home both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the US Documentary Category. There are no words to describe how humbled I am to be a part of a story that has moved many hearts and minds across the world.

Much more to come.


Canon C300 – The Working Man’s Review.

Shoulder rig w/ C300. Huge gloves are great for focus pulling and manual zooms! (sarcasm...just in case). Photo Cred: Kevin DeOliveira

I just got done spending four days of extensive shooting with the brand spankin’ new Canon C300. The background of the documentary can be found in my previous post about the Saxman of Cleveland. The four days included a massive amount of freezing temperature day and night exteriors as well as day and night interiors. Our mission for this part of the story was focused on capturing content. This meant we had to be quick and ready for anything. It was gorilla style film making on city streets and rooftops for extended periods of time.  Interiors consisted of bars, restaurants, theaters with villainous volunteer ushers, very tight one bedroom apartments filled with Bruce Lee & super hero posters as well as a cat on crack that attacked Kevin DeOliveira, our AC. The crew was small but full of trusted & talented colleagues.  Lighting consisted of two 1×1 LED light panels and natural light.  There’s a lot to say so I’ll do my best to make it as organized as possible.

Synopsis:

Why do I think the C300 is a great camera?  Because it allowed me as a cinematographer, to quickly get to what made me start doing this in the first place…creative and beautiful story telling. Period.

ISO 3200, F2.8, 16-35mm, Lighting = Sodium vapor street lamps, neon signs & a small LED for an eye light. Screen grab of raw footage.

Breakdown of Aesthetic Decisions & Logistics for the Project:

One of the biggest reasons I rallied for the C300 was because of its performance in low light.  We were going to be shooting of a ton of night exteriors in a dark city and I was worried from previous tests that DSLR’s weren’t going to cut it.  From what I had been reading and seeing online, this camera seemed to be the right fit for what we were doing.  With higher ISO’s that are relatively clean and fast lenses…this camera practically sees in the dark.

Another very important reason this camera was chosen was because of it’s ability to relay record and not have to cut the clip (in context of us almost having to strictly shoot DSLRS for this project due to budget constraints).  We were going to be shooting a lot of emotional content and asking someone to stop telling a story during an interview because our DSLR has limited record time was unacceptable.

Since this was a multi-cam shoot, the C300 acted as our A Cam.  Two Canon 5D’s were our B Cams.  I wanted to utilize Canon’s Log gamma mode (monitoring in REC709) which meant I would have to figure something out for the 5D’s to match the C300 as best as possible.  I had been curious about the “technicolor” look for the 5D and decided it would be the best option for the task at hand.  After some tests, it seemed that it was going to work for our purposes.  I was impressed with the Canon Log gamma and the latitude of the camera was pretty darn fantastic.  Exteriors in the city can be a big challenge because of dramatic contrast ratios but it seemed to hold up well. We shot 24 fps for the most part with the 50mb / 4:2:2 compression option on 32 gb CF cards. At 1080, that gave us 82 minutes of record time per card.

Lastly, the director Joe Siebert and I discussed the idea of using deeper DOF on this film.  A lot of us are very aware of the very narrow DOF associated with the Canon 5D’s full frame sensor.  Quite frankly, my eyes are going to explode if I continue to see obnoxiously-shallow-DOF-macro-porn plastered all over vimeo.  Sometimes its nice to be able to tell what a location looks like instead of appearing to be a complete blob of nothing behind the subject.  The C300’s sensitivity allowed for us to stop down to achieve deeper DOF.

Raw screen grab from Log & Transfer window. High contrast w/ raw sunlight and interior. Ingesting in FCP is easy with free plug-in from Canon.

Configurations on Set:

The camera work consisted of handheld, tripod and slider movement.  I used a simple frankenstein rig from Ohio HD video that was actually my favorite rig I have used to date for handheld work.  The C300 was mounted on a Zacuto baseplate, 15mm rods, a shoulder pad (not sure of the manufacturer) and the one and only O’Connor O Grips.  We did a lot of following talent from behind (ala Aronofski / The Wrestler style) and the rig was awesome for that. I also used a Zacuto EVF for daytime exteriors via the C300’s HDMI port.  FYI…I was able to use the Zacuto EVF and Canon’s LCD at the same time. The bonus with this set up was being able to give the director something to look at while staying light.  Also, I could use my other eye to peek up at the LCD to see the live waveform and keep watch on my exposure during a shot.  There were times I needed to move a lot quicker or shoot in a car interior and for that, I stripped down the camera to the body and lens which was very easy to operate with.  We also used the Kessler Cine Slider for all of our dolly work.  The camera weight was in perfect range for it.

The Good Stuff:

1. Image quality & sensitivity blew my mind with low-light / night photography.  I pushed the ISO to 3200 and was pleased with what I was seeing in the dailies.  The noise pattern was tight and provides an interesting texture.

2. Extremely sensitive camera in low light with a native ISO of 850.  I never drifted from that number until we ran out of daylight.

3. Highlight and shadow retention is impressive.

4. Moire, rolling shutter and “jello” dramatically reduced.

5. If you are used to using DSLR’s in tight spaces, the C300’s footprint is still manageable & fits nicely in that scenario without much headache.

6. Legit professional audio options (XLR, headphones..etc).  Who would have thought?

7. Ergonomics are flexible and the weight is light for shooting very long days under strenuous conditions.  Adjustable side grip and top handle are nice.

8. Magnifying for focus while recording is a nice option.

9. Live waveform and vector.

10. Professional output and monitoring options…HD-SDI…thank you Canon.  I have grown to HATE using HDMI.  That connection is horrendous and unreliable for professional film making.

11. Hi res on-board LCD is bright and easy on the eyes.  Looks great.

12. Time Code options

13. Tally lamp on the rear of the camera is a must when shooting with the on-screen display turned off.

14. Relay recording between two cards and not having to cut the clip is a welcomed improvement

15. Built-in ND filters

16. Solid & reliable performance in extremely cold temperatures. Never slowed us down.

The Bad Stuff:

1. Native ISO of 850? I’m curious as to where that number came from?  Makes reciprocity a challenge when matching exposure on multi-cam shoots.  I would imagine a lot of people will be mixing the C300 with 5D’s, 7D’s, 60D’s…etc.  I’ve been used to working in third stop increments.  Can this be changed in a firmware update??  Even if it were a native ISO of 800, it would still fall on one of the noisier ISO’s of the 5D and 7D (see this article on Native ISO’s for Canon 5D and 7D).  Currently, this is the biggest issue with the camera IMHO.

2. The Start/Stop (record) button on the rear left side of the camera is very difficult to activate.  I missed a few seconds of action a couple of times during the shoot because of this.  Luckily, the on-board LCD and side grip’s record buttons work just fine.  A handle remote on one of the O Grips is a must for the next round of shooting with the rig.

3. Unable to see the On Screen Display through third party EVF via HDMI.  This was a hassle for knowing when I was recording.  Luckily, a glance at the tally lamp does the trick.  Maybe this could be fixed in a firmware update or maybe I missed an option in the menu to enable it.

CORRECTION: During my second time using the C300, I used a Marshall 7″ LCD via HDMI and was able to see the on-screen display from the camera. Not sure why it wasn’t working with the Zacuto EVF.  

4. When using Canon glass and electronic aperture controls, the camera does weird increments “in-between” thirds of a stop.  The menu gives you options to work in either third or fourth stop increments.  But each click on the jog wheel failed to increase or decrease the light level in tandem with the on-screen aperture number.

5. Electronic aperture complaint number two:  Increasing or decreasing your aperture on the fly is not smooth and is very visible.  Only way to get around this is by using manual lenses with de-clicked aperture rings OR get the version with the PL mount and use cine lenses.  This isn’t really a deal breaker though.

6. When fully built with top handle and on-board monitor panel on top, the rig is awkwardly tall.  I probably could have come up with another configuration if I had more time but it made shooting in tight spaces a pain.  Again, not a deal breaker.  I’m sure all of the overpriced third party accessory manufacturers will come up with a million different options that they can price gouge the public with.

7. Wish the built-in ND filters were in increments of 1 stop, 2 stops, 3 stops, 4 stops (ND.03, .06, .09, 1.2). But then filtration manufacturers wouldn’t be very happy because people wouldn’t need to load down their cameras with extra glass.

8. Would have been nice to have a quick switch or user button dedicated to 60p / over-crank mode.

8. Price.  Yeah yeah…I know.  Everyone complains about price.

Additional Notes On Glass:

We used mostly Canon L glass for the shoot.  I’m a big fan of L glass because of their quality, wide range of focal lengths in both primes and zooms, availability as well as being light weight for documentary work. I’d like give a huge thanks to Mick Edmundson and Brian Matsumoto at Canon USA for hooking us up with a couple of lenses that made a significant difference in making our days as efficient as possible without having to compromise in image quality or variety.  The following glass was used on the shoot:

– (x2) 24-70mm F2.8L – staple lens for any documentary being shot on a camera with an EOS mount.

– 24-105mm F4L  IS – great range.  Only caveat to this lens is that a weird delay effect happens when zooming out manually.  Not sure what it is but it doesn’t work for me.  manual zooms have to be slow for it to work.  Other than that, this lens has an awesome range and is very compatible with the sensitivity of the C300.

– 70-200mm F2.8L IS – another staple lens

– 70-200mm F4 IS – much lighter than the F2.8L for long days of shooting handheld.  The sensitivity of the C300 makes this lens an awesome asset to any arsenal.

– 16-35mm F2.8L – 16mm is a must for cropped / super 35 sensors for getting wide angle FOV. This lens was great for walking handheld as well.  If you want the effect of full frame barrel distortion, try the Tokina 11-16mm.  Gave that effect to all the 7D / 60D users out there.

– 24mm F1.4L – awesome for night exteriors or low light interiors.  I love this lens.

– Zeiss ZF 50mm F1.4 (de-clicked) – came in handy a few times.

– Filtration used: 77mm Fader ND & 82mm Fader ND

Conclusion:

I think the Canon C300 has the potential to be one of the best tools at this time for not only documentaries but many other genres of production.  The image quality, sensitivity, flexibility & ease of use make it quite a contender. I’ll be using it again this upcoming week for a commercial shoot which means I’ll have the opportunity to dive in a little deeper.  Props to Canon for yet again making a great tool to add to a cinematographer’s arsenal.  Can’t wait to shoot with it some more!

If you have any questions, email me at john@stonekap.com.  I’m always up for talking shop.

Thumbs up to the Canon C300.

Kevin's new little pal just wants to help out.



The Saxman of Cleveland documentary to be shot on the brand new Canon C300.

The Saxman of Cleveland - Maurice Reedus Jr.

About 6 or 7 years ago, I was at a Dredg concert in Cleveland, OH.  Before playing one of my favorite songs, they announced that they were bringing up a guest musician that they met on the street earlier that day.  Out of the shadows of the stage, came a lanky, yet smooth and stylish man carrying a sax.  The intro started up and he improved with the band as if they had rehearsed it a thousand times before.  It was the most memorable moment of the concert. There was something very special about this guy.  I could just feel it.

If you would have told me that in 6 or 7 years that I would be the cinematographer of a documentary about Maurice Reedus Jr’s life, the one and only “Saxman of Cleveland”, I would have thought that you were one of those crazy sages or mages that go around saying crazy things.  No…really.  Turns out that he is pretty special and we’re about to embark on a journey of telling his story.

Another amazing aspect from a technical side is that we have the honor to be some of the first people to shoot on the Canon C300!!  This could not have been possible without some wonderful people including Scott Handel at Ohio HD Video (www.ohiohdvideo.com) and Mick Edmundson at Canon U.S.A.  Anyone who knows about the camera knows that there aren’t many available on the market at the moment.  This is very special and we’re are extremely grateful for the opportunity to tell this story on the C300.  Mick has requested that we review the camera and I will be providing lots of details both during and after our first bout of shooting.  I got an extensive look into the C300’s abilities during a recent workshop hosted by Andy Shipsides from Abel Cinetech.  Although the camera is brand new, I definitely think that it’s the right tool for the job.  In fact, I’m going to venture to say that it has strong potential to be one of the best options for documentaries of all kinds.

Canon C300 Body

Obviously, there’s much more to share but it’s late and our first stint of principle photography starts tomorrow morning in Cleveland, OH.  I’ll be posting about both the Canon C300 and the shoot itself.  This documentary is going to be shot over the span of one year…winter of 2012 to winter of 2013.

See you soon and thanks for reading!


The Real Bold Badmen to be screened at the 35th Cleveland International Film Fest 2011

The Real Bold Badmen will be screening at this year’s 35th Cleveland International Film Festival. Words provide no justice to the journey that Joe Siebert, Derek Urey and I have been on since it’s inception back in the summer of 2009.  In fact, we were recently talking about all the events that occurred in such a small window of time.  October 2009…Cowboy Len…feisty and giving his own direction to the director Joe Siebert, sat next to an 8mm film projector with Bold Badmen playing behind him and shared his story about he and his brothers making amateur western films back in the 1940’s in Canton, Ohio.  We were encouraged to see a 78 year old man sit there and speak of his films as though they were dreams that persevered through all these years .  He even  showed us lasso tricks and did some gun slinging with his older brother Ky in an alley behind the house!

During the filming, Len was in remission from his battle with cancer.  Tragically, it returned shortly after principal photography.  After assembling a five minute micro documentary for the Reelate film festival, Joe wanted to dive much deeper into the story which required going back to get testimonials from Len’s children and good friend, “Deuce”.  Even with Len’s health compromised, he still made an appreciated effort to pull it together for another shoot day.

I watched this man’s mind and body crumble before my very eyes…but it was evident that nothing could crush his spirit.  The little I knew of his life, I was sure that Len was a dreamer until the day he passed.  I’ll never forget seeing him up on stage at the 2010 Akron Film Festival in his wheelchair…speaking about his journey in film making.  The Zaleski family firmly believed he was hanging on for this moment.  Bold Badmen had finally reached an audience that would appreciate it in all its glory and in tandem, a documentary that revealed the true heart behind the men who created it.  It was an honor to share the stage with such an inspiring man who clearly left a living legacy.

After the screening, Joe, Derek, our friend Beau and myself all stood in the lobby and spent some time with Len and the Zaleski family. Deep down, I knew that we were saying our final good-bye’s to a husband, father and dreamer that graciously opened his world up to us over the past year.

Roughly a week later…I stood in a long line for Len’s calling hours.  It wasn’t a surprise to see all the pictures and video of Len, his family and his life.  It made me think about my life and what kind of legacy that I might leave behind someday.  Obviously, Len was a loved man and will be remembered that way.

His undying spirit is inspiring to this very moment and will be something that I carry with me for the rest of my life. I am fortunate to be a part of something so special…and I believe that God designed this opportunity just for us.

Until we meet again…happy trails Cowboy Len.

The Real Bold Badmen will be screening in the “Ohio Shorts” segment of the Cleveland Film Fest on Saturday, March 26th at 6:20pm.


Six Months of Insanity

The past six months have been incredibly busy…perhaps more so than ever.  It started with the epic ad campaign for Range Resources in western Pennsylvania.  The production consisted of close to a month of shooting but was broken up into 4-5 consecutive days at a time. I had the pleasure of being one of the DP’s on the shoot, taking on the visuals of barns filled with light breaking through their weathered walls, rolling midwest hay fields, an accomplished artist and his birds, farmers with endless stories in their faces, the sincerity of middle-class America and the best BBQ pulled pork I have ever had (just to name a few).  I reunited with the talented duo Danny Yourd and Steve Hoover of Endeavor Media/Animal out of Pittsburgh, PA.

A Love For Cattle

We shot on RED for testimonials / hero shots and Canon 5D Mark II & 7D for abstract b-roll / candid moments.  I had a chance to see the 5D and 7D go toe to toe with the RED on a scratch system in all it’s digital glory because we were mixing all the footage together in both the 30 second spots and web spots.  The 5D really impressed me with how well it held up in CU shots next to the RED footage. But where they really fell short (especially the 7D) were in wide, high detail shots.  Banding becomes a hideous issue when shooting fine detail and patterns with wider lenses.  Things like water, hay / straw and shingles on a roof start to fall apart with a lens like the Canon 16-35mm.  Not to say that lens isn’t usable (I absolutely love it), but knowing when and where to use it is critical.

Obviously the RED camera offers much greater control over the image both in camera and in post but I can say with full confidence that we wouldn’t have been able to get the amount of dynamic shots that we did in a day without using the Canons and Kessler Cine Slider.  It’s all about knowing the capabilities of your tools and using them for the right job.  That comes with testing and experience.

Currently, the 30 second spots are all over the television in Pittsburgh and quite a few of the web versions can be found at MyRangeResources.com

Director Kevin DeOliveira and I shot some moving pieces for Stark County Children Services involving people with various backgrounds coming up through the foster care system.  This was an extreme run & gun scenario that left us with limited time and resources…but the end result was fantastic.  We shot with both the 5D and 7D.  The videos can be viewed here.

In October of 2009, I started working on a micro-doc with Director Joe Siebert about a couple of cowboys making impressive amateur Western films in Canton during the 1940’s.

Cowboy Len

The Real Bold Badmen finished production earlier in the year and was received admirably not only at the 2010 Akron Film Festival but even more so by cowboy Len Zaleski and his family.  Len, who was battling cancer, attended the screening and received praise from an audience who was moved by his story.  This project was extremely rewarding as a filmmaker and I am blessed to know the Zaleski family and to have known Len himself. Happy trails to you Cowboy Len…until we meet again! (Len Zaleski 1931-2010). Check out The Real Bold Badmen.

Immediately following the 2010 Akron Film Festival, I conducted my first cinematography workshop at the Akron Art Museum.  The core subject material was based off of the role and expectations of a working DP as well as an overview of shooting with DSLR’s.  I was taken back by how many were in attendance!  It was a lot of fun and I hope to do more events like this in the future.  I owe a huge thanks to the patrons who participated and Akron Film for growing and maintaining the local film community.

In between Range Resources shoots, StoneKap did a fantastic VFX piece for The Timken Company.  It was a mixture of real-world environment on white and a virtual pop-up book. Shot on RED and directed by Kevin DeOliveira.
Next on the list, I shot a TV spot for the Saab 9/3, directed by Kevin DeOliveira  and produced by StoneKap Productions.  Shoot days consisted of hanging out of the back of a cargo van with the RED on bungee straps and a studio shoot that felt like sprinting a full marathon.  The end result was well worth it.

I came up with a lighting design that consisted of fluorescent work-light fixtures being arranged in a half sun shape, hanging over the car.  Gaffer, Derek Urey took on the challenge of actually finding a way to hang the fixtures.  His results were remarkably insane looking but executed with great success.  All I have to say is that my old back yard chain-link fence was hanging in the grid of the studio. What made this day so crazy was the fact that the pre-light AND the shoot were in the same day…and yes…we made our day thanks to the incredible crew.  This was another RED/5D shoot and huge part of making our day without sacrificing production quality was using the Kessler Cine Slider with the 5D.  By far, this has been the best small format slider I have ever used.  I’ll post a link to the final product ASAP.

Following the Saab shoot, I headed out to NYC to shoot an Express runway show in Manhattan for good friend and Director Andy Reale.  It was definitely run & gun/docu-style shooting but fun nonetheless. Getting some insight into the fashion industry was a great experience as well.  During the short time I was there, I had the opportunity to grab some interesting textures of the city.  I’ll post photos at a later date.

November was kicked off by a shoot at Akron Children’s Hospital for a great ad agency in Cleveland. Talk about a rewarding couple of days…We were able to get up close and personal with a bunch of great kids at the hospital and capture some beautiful moments.  The crew needed to remain small and move swiftly. Derek Urey and I shot extensively with the Canon 5D and 7D along with the Kessler Cine Slider.  Of course, everything was natural lighting with a raw approach to the visuals.

A few weeks ago, Mike Thorn AC and I found ourselves in frigid conditions under Friday night lights in Coshocton, OH.  We were shooting pick-ups and inserts for a film called Touchback, starring Kurt Douglas and directed by Don Hanfield.  This was my first time using the RED MX-Sensor, which was fantastic.  I couldn’t believe how well it performed for night exteriors, especially compared to the original sensor, which I usually rate around an ASA of 160 or 200.  I was rating the camera at 800 ASA for some of the night exteriors and the image held up pretty well in most cases.  I also had the opportunity to truly fall in love with the Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm.  What a beautiful piece of glass (and brutally heavy for “run & gun” scenarios).  I’ve used the lens before but didn’t have the time with it that I did while shooting Touchback.

Recently, director Drew Russ invited my team and I to tackle his recent music video for As They Sleep in Detroit, MI.  Legit amateur wrestlers + guys getting hit in the head with metal trash cans + guys getting hit with lumber & chairs + over-the-top scary faces + metal = a sick video.  However, unloading a one ton grip & lighting package up six flights of stairs = bad news and sore legs.  Especially after working for over 20 hours straight.  I’m currently prepping to do the color grade.  Stay tuned.

Animal called me back out for a studio shoot in Pittsburgh, PA for four days to do some table top product shots for a local hospital’s “get to know your doctor” web videos.  My time consisted of setting up small dolly shots on the Kessler with infinite configurations of Jenga-style apple box support (apple boxes are a man’s best friend when it comes to sliders).  Actually, I learned a ton on this shoot because I was challenged to make 10 pairs of running shoes, 5 sets of golf clubs, 4 sets of tennis rackets, a water ski vest, endless photos and books, Mickey Mouse paraphernalia and lots of guns all look interesting on a white void cyc.  The lighting design wasn’t super complicated.  I wanted contrast but it couldn’t be too moody because of the nature of the piece.  These items belong to the friendly neighborhood doctors so it needed to be inviting and bright.  Although I was sick on this shoot…I had a blast with Danny on set.  Mickey Mouse ears, pump jumps and shotguns to Tyson’s face…’nuff said.

The year was wrapped up with a few fun projects.  The first being an eye insurance shoot at Classic Worldwide Productions in Cleveland that involved over 40,000 watts of power to shoot some high speed green screen shots on RED and white cyc scenes on 5D and 7D.  Attaining proper exposure was difficult due to the fact that we were shooting at faster frame rates AND losing a little over one whole stop of light because we were using a teleprompter (shooting through reflective glass).  It also takes quite a bit of light to make a white cyc WHITE and not grey.  A couple of 14″ 5K Fresnels did the trick nicely.

The second project involved Joe, Beau, Derek and I traveling to snowy Syracuse, NY to shoot a marketing piece for ICM Controls in their state-of-the-art, energy efficient facility.  I actually shot with the HPX170 for the first time in a LONG time and to be quite honest…it’s still one of my favorite cameras to operate with.  It’s not always feasible or in the budget to have an AC on every shoot which made this camera along with the HVX200 the right tools for the job.  We shot this “dirty jobs” style, hosted by talent and the company’s president, which keeps what could be a very mundane marketing video…interesting.  Note:  I’m very jealous of their conference room.

Last but not least for the year…the StoneKap 2010 Holiday E-Card.  We had a blast making this one.   http://www.stonekap.net/stonekap/ecard2010/

A lot more to come.  Thanks for reading!


Panasonic AF-100 Launch Event (Part 2) – Zeiss CP.2 Compact Prime bliss

The highlight of the event was experiencing the image quality and mechanics of the Zeiss CP.2 Compact Primes.  Scott had a 50mm T2.1 with an EF mount on a 5D and a 85mm T2.1 with an EF mount on a 7D.  The 5D was feeding to a Panasonic BT-LH1710P production monitor so I was able to accurately evaluate the image.

For starters, I absolutely loved the fact that the mounts are interchangeable on the lens itself.

Zeiss CP.2 50mm T2.1

Permanently modifying my 5D is not an option because I use it for stills as well.  But if you wanted to throw the CP’s on the RED or any other camera with a PL mount, you simply swap out the EF mount for a PL mount on the lens, which is a killer and versatile feature!

The image quality of the CP’s is incredible.  Their color and contrast resolve beautifully, have very low distortion, show minimal breathing from what I could see (if any) and are color matched across the set.   The CP.2’s gave me that warm fuzzy feeling when looking at the monitor.  Sometimes you can’t explain the exact details of why a lens feels good…you just have to go with it.  Lenses can be a matter of preference and the Zeiss’ definitely have a cinematic personality of their own.

Anyone who has shot with HDSLR’s knows the challenges of using still photo lenses on their cameras.  Aperture rings that inhibit the full range of an F stop, wonky follow focus rings that get in the way, making an AC’s life a living hell with the touchy and inaccurate short focus distance…etc.  Although the Zeiss ZF 35mm still lenses are some of my favorite pieces of glass to use with HDSLR’s, they were made to be exactly what they are…still photography lenses.

Another fantastic feature is that the Zeiss CP.2 primes finally bring professional cinema lens mechanics to the HDSLR world without permanently modifying your camera.  They have silky smooth aperture rings for accurate T stop increments, calibrated focus marks and a calibrated focus barrel that has a nice long focus throw which gives your AC a fighting chance at pulling focus (especially shooting wide open on the 5D).  What a refreshing feeling to actually have this option on the Canons.

We did some comparison tests with a few lenses on hand just to see the difference between lenses we use on a regular basis and the compact prime.  The glass under study was a Contax Zeiss F1.4 50mm and a Canon 24-70mm F2.8 L Series zoom. Shot with the 5D, the settings on both the camera and the lenses are as follows:  F2.8, 1/50th shutter, ISO 640, balanced to 5500K and lighting consisted of Lite Panel 1×1 LED’s slightly mixed with natural mid afternoon daylight coming in through some windows.  Interestingly, both the Contax Zeiss and compact primes weren’t that different in their optical performance.  They both actually retained more contrast and detail in the shadows as you can see from the stills.  The color temperature is off a bit which is due to the temperature of the Lite Panels but I didn’t want to custom white balance for each lens because lenses usually vary in their warmth or coolness. I expected the 24-70mm to fall short of both lenses due to the obvious fact that it’s a zoom as opposed to a prime and I’ve never really gotten the sharpest images from it.  There’s also a considerable difference in contrast with the 24-70. Not good. Stills are ungraded.

Lens comparisons

You might ask why would you want the compact primes when you can just use Zeiss ZF’s, Canon L glass or any other higher grade 35mm still lens and achieve nice results?  Well, if you shoot professionally, you’ll know and appreciate cine lens contrast and resolution, no breathing, smooth and accurate focus pulls, durable and smooth mechanics and being color matched across the set.  Why is color matching important?  So you don’t end up with a total mess during the grading phase in post.  Lenses tend to have tints due to their coatings and sometimes it is very subtle.  However, if you have a bunch of mismatched glass…like different focal lengths from various manufacturers or product lines, chances are that you’ll run into some potential pitfalls in post with tints in the highlights, mids and / or the shadows.  Unless you’re making an artistic choice to mix lenses, I highly recommend sticking with a matched set.

Another notable aspect is that they are much quicker to work with than still lenses.  For starters, primes aren’t necessarily conducive to hectic, run & gun jobs where time is always against you.  Start throwing lens gears onto the rig and messing with lens mounts (if using anything but Canon L glass)…you start eating up precious time in the camera department.  Being a professional doesn’t just consist of pretty pictures.  You have a job to do, limited time to get the shot off and the less you have to mess with or modify…the better for everyone on the set.

Bottom line:  The Zeiss CP.2 primes are love at first sight.  A solid set of these things would run you around $20K…but that’s cheap for cine lenses.  Better yet, help out the guys in town and rent them from Scott Handel at Ohio HD Video.  You won’t be disappointed.