I've been shooting with RED pretty much exclusively for more than three years now, but when I pre-ordered my RED Scarlet-X back when it was released, it was THE ONLY affordable RAW recording cinema camera on the market. The one reason I put down more money than I actually had was for 16-bit RAW moving images...not 4K (or let's be honest, 3.2K)...not because red-fan-boys told me to and certainly not because I wanted brand recognition. I still love my RED and I'm still trying to master the thing! But I never planned on being a "RED SHOOTER"...the plan was, and still is, to create images that express what I can't say. It's a wonderful thing :)
In the past few years, more and more camera companies have been motivated to produce cameras that deliver similar specs, and this is exciting :) Although, the first chance I've had to shoot anything other than RED, in RAW mode didn't come until Magic Lantern hacked the 5D Mark II (amazing!)...but then recently, the opportunity to play with a Sony F55 came up when Grass Valley asked me to shoot some content for the NAB Show in Vegas. With 3 days and no notice, a tiny, tiny budget (after camera & lens rental I had enough for a tennis racket, a ball, some food and transport) and no idea what to shoot....I began brain-storming, but specifically brainstorming how I could make the most of the camera and it's capabilities.
Let's take a brief look at the cameras specs for a second, because as much as I hate "this camera is better than that camera" debates, there really are some great things about the Sony that attracted me to it, and motivated me to shoot slow motion specifically- things that RED (and I'm talking RED Epic-X in this case) just doesn't quite deliver.
When it comes to latitude, detail and bit depth, the RED Epic-X and Sony F55 are pretty close. Close enough not to worry about, as far as I'm concerned. I know I can get beautiful images from both cameras but let's look at some of the things the Sony address's when comparing it to a RED Epic-X, especially since the content I chose to shoot for NAB was slow motion, and my camera options weren't huge considering I didn't want to shoot anything higher than 300fps (this time round).
This by far is my biggest annoyance with RED. Even when I put my deposit down for the camera years ago, I remember thinking "Man, I won't even need to worry about shooting 4K. 2K is plenty enough! This camera is gonna be freaking awesome!". And no doubt, the camera is awesome, but the way it records different resolutions is not. When you switch resolutions on a RED, any RED, it literally crops the image to record a smaller portion of the sensor. This sucks for many reasons....larger noise pattern, less resolution and detail, and let's not forget that literal CROP! For example, a 50mm lens shooting at 2K on a RED Scarlet-X (or RED Epic-X) see's the same field of view (roughly) as a 173mm lens!! That's a crop factor of 3.46x!!! And sure, it is POSSIBLE to shoot with such a crazy crop, but let's not forget the other more significant pitfalls - larger noise patters (like seriously....much larger) and less detail (like seriously, way less detail).
The Sony on the other hand has the option to either crop in like the RED (which can be useful for extra reach), or down-sample (in camera) the full resolution image to 2K. The crop factor doesn't change, noise patterns are now SMALLER and detail is now SHARPER...plus...there's the ability to record more frames per second...10-times more in fact :)
Although RED came up with the motion mount, which is an ingenious invention, their sensors do suffer from rolling shutter - although be it quite minimal, it's still noticeable when shooting hand held on a long-ish lens or when strobes go off in frame (camera flash for example). The Sony on the other hand, uses a global shutter, so you don't get these artefacts. Just another thing I don't have to worry about!
Shooting with quality ND filers is definitely something I encourage and I myself have spent stupid amounts of money on a set of Schneider 4x4's for my own kit. But sometimes, having to change ND can be a pain....especially when your camera is wrapped in plastic, you don't have an AC around and it's raining...
For times like that, the Sony just wins because it has ND filters BUILT INTO the camera, as standard. I utilized that feature on the day when brief moments of sun popped through the rain clouds. It was great :)
Okay, so enough RED bashing for one blog post. My biggest problem with the Sony was the post workflow. Their RAW processing software is LAME compared to REDCine-X Pro and their RAW codec (although thick and beautiful) is SO DAMN HUUUUUGE. I think compression is 3:1 (which cannot be changed) and the resulting file sizes are ridiculous. Also, with RED I love how in REDCine-X Pro you can "trim" the RAW files into smaller RAW files. I couldn't find an option to do that with the Sony clips. It would be great to be able to share some RAW clips on the blog from this shoot, but some of them are 65GB! Crazy! So instead, I've made the hero shot available in 2K, 10-bit uncompressed YUV...click on the DOWNLOADS section above and have a play :)
So! after researching the Sony F55 and learning as much as I could on-line about how to operate the beast (thanks to Magnanimous Media [video HERE] and this dude [video HERE] :) I learned that I could shoot 240FPS without windowing the sensor, RAW. This got me super excited! But what the hell was I going to shoot!? I had no money and no time and I really wanted to maximise these few days and get some awesome footage. The problem for me though, is that when I think slow motion, I think of how many LAME videos I see on-line where people shoot slow motion stuff.....and yeah, it looks good, but only because it's slow. I don't want to shoot good footage, I want to shoot AWESOME footage. Now, that is subjective of course, and for me to declare that my own footage is awesome must make me sound like a complete dick...but hey, I'm okay with that. As far as I'm concerned I got ONE awesome shot (maybe two), but I certainly couldn't have done it without the help from my lovely Mum (Karen Scott) who secured the locations and helped with everything else, AND, the talent in front of the lens, Simmone Duckmanton. On the day of shooting it was cold and raining - then we got the hose out and made it colder and rainier. Simmone didn't complain once, even though her lips were blue and her hands were shaking. Although she wasn't the best tennis player in the world, she nailed the brief :)
So, mum organised (in one hour) the perfect location. A tennis court with a hose, a change room and a heater. I drove like a maniac to get there on time, first stopping off at K-Mart to get the bat and balls. Even though it was raining, I felt that the REAL rain just wasn't dramatic enough - I wanted BIGGER droplets and more of them. The correct wobble and angle of that garden hose wasn't easy to master! But the results were worth the effort.
Did I mention that I had the luxury of shooting on some of the most beautiful glass in existence?
Anamorphic Mode ON!
Shooting on the Sony F55 in "ANA" (anamorphic) mode, means that the camera will record the full projection of light from the lens onto a 16x9 sensor. Then for viewing purposes it de-squeezes that image to correct the distortion so that you can view it correctly. The result is an image (as you would expect from 2x anamorphic lenses) that is twice the width of a 16x9 image. Imagine trying to focus pull/frame (with all that negative space) when looking through your viewfinder and seeing this! (see recording window above). I managed to get most of what I wanted in focus, but I had no idea if I was actually in or out until I got back to the edit suite.
Other camera's (like the Arri Alexa PLUS, Sony F65 and just recently the Panasonic Gh4) have 4x3 Anamorphic recoding mode options. This mode really makes the most of 2x Anamorphic lenses because then you're not having to crop the sides off after the de-squeeze - meaning you get to keep the maximum resolution for 2.4:1 Scope. The other alternative I had (well, not really) was to shoot with 1.3x Anamorphic lenses. This would have squeezed the image less, meaning I wouldn't have had to de-squeeze it as much, and wouldn't have had to crop the sides off.
So what's the point of all this squeezing and de-squeezing? Why not just shoot with normal/spherical lenses and crop the top and bottom of the frame off in post? Well, you can do that! But the result is quite different. Even though the aspect ratio ends up being the same, the "look" is very different.
The way I like to describe it is to think of a wide shot that requires a 16mm Spherical lens. Now, image using a 35mm lens but getting the same shot, without moving the camera! That's exactly what 2x Anamorphic lenses allow you to do. It's awesome! So, now that your 16mm shot is using a 35mm ANA lens, you've got less distortion, shallower depth of field*, larger bokeh and if the camera moves, more parallax.
*technically, depth of field does not change with focal length, but that's another blog post!
Another way to describe it is imagine you could use TWO 35mm Spherical lenses, side by side, doubling your field of view! That's essentially what's heppening with 2x Anamorphic glass. Below I've photoshoped two single shots together, to give you an idea of what I'm trying to explain. This example is quite wrong though, because the lenses are already anamorphic to begin with, but hopefully you get the idea.
Also when shooting anamorphic, you may notice that out-of-focus areas of the frame reveal oval shaped bokeh. This is awesome - maybe because it's not what we're used to? I don't know, but it's not just that. There's some sort of magic going on there...it's hard to explain why it's so pleasing to look at (but not focus on) hehe ;) And finally, LENS FLARES! I didn't get to play with them this time round, but typically wider anamorphic lenses exhibit a streaky horizontal flair like the one below (Logan's Run).
Everyone's searching for that "cinematic" look, and for the most part I'd say the lens has little to do with it. However, the anamorphic look is definitely associated with cinema and has been for a long time. Check out this guys awesome study on the history of Scope (thanks to Ryan Thomas for the link) THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF CINEMA SCOPE.
It's all very confusing but all very exciting. Exciting because I've been wanting to shoot anamorphic ever since I created the cinematography break-down of Inglourious Basterds (that's not a typo), where a lot of that film was shot anamorphic. This technique of shooting is slowly but surely becoming affordable...that's right, we haven't spoken about the cost of these lenses or where they came from yet. In fact, the entire camerea kit and lens kit was lent to me for the three days by the wonderful team at Lemac Film & Digital (www.lemac.com.au), where Brett Dwyer really looked after me. I was lucky enough to take the whole kit too!! (32, 40, 50, 75, 100) - not to mention any and all of the extra kit I required to rig the camera. The service at Lemac is excellent. Brett himself is extremely knowledgeable (much more than I am), super friendly and although it was a sad day returning it all, my experience with Lemac was one to remember :) I should also mention the huge favours and support I got from the guys at Corsair Solutions too (particularly Mark Lampard)...this shoot wouldn't have happened without him :)
As for the cost of just ONE of the lenses, I'm finding it difficult to locate an exact "new" price, but I've been told anywhere from AUD$20K-$30K...EACH! Holly shit. Talk about exclusive. Thankfully rental houses like Lemac have them at affordable rates, so all is not lost :) In the mean time, I'm looking at THESE!
Okay, so my short time with this camera & lens package got me thinking about framing and making the most of the "wide screen". Just looking through the view finder made me question my own compositions..."how else could I use this frame" is what I kept thinking. I really keen to see how I can use this aspect ratio more effectively to tell stories. I want to move the camera less and learn more about blocking effectively. Ryan Thomas and I are working on that exact thing right now actually, with one day left of shooting for his next short "Next Door's Mail"...no ana and no f55 on this one though, but still, we're excited :)
Anyway, here's an edit I put together today with the best of the clips I got. This was surely not intended...in fact, I was literally just trying to capture a bunch of cool shots in the short amount of time that I had, but, it could almost pass as an ad for something, right? ;) I also briefly show you the breakdown of how I coloured the hero shot. I might make a tutorial for this one...if I get time.