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Rainforest

Shooting motion in the Brazilian Amazon is always challenging, but the photographic rewards are high. 
We were there at the end of the rainy season and, true to form, it poured down regularly. This combined with high temperatures made for enormous, crushing humidity, a bit like filming in a sauna. Rain covers, poly-bags, dry-bags, silica gel, umbrellas... Of course without these conditions, it wouldn't be the Amazon.





Brendan McGinty


Brendan McGinty

Logistical challenges aside, the Brazilian jungle always provides a wealth of visual stimulus. This was the first time that I had taken the Epic Dragon sensor to a jungle environment. The extended latitude of the sensor was noticeably more responsive to the high contrast demands of shooting there. I was using the Low Light OLPF which dug deep into the shadows whilst still holding the occasional shafts of daylight that broke through the overhead canopy. The sensor's colour purity was also a marked improvement in the jungle. Here, on 8 or 10 bit camera systems, I have previously encountered a colour palate that would reduce to an unremarkable muddy green. But not with the Dragon's rich 16bit colour fidelity. Nuanced, rich gradations of greens, a wealth of fine texture and delicate occasional pops of saturated colours.












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Street Art

I have been soaking up the vibrant street art of San Francisco and London.



Banksy celebrates it:
"Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing"

David Lynch hates it:
"Graffiti is ugly, stupid and threatening – there's more creativity in crochet."

And Roland Barthes dissects it:
"We know that what constitutes graffiti is in fact neither the inscription nor its message but the wall, the background, the surface (the desktop); it is because the background exists fully, as an object which has already lived..."

Think I like it.

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Studio and Verite

Simultaneously prepping 'Studio' and 'Verite' Epic Dragon camera packages for a shoot.
The mechanics of the camera system determine so much of the language that they will be used for... primes or zooms, remote or operator focus, handheld or grip. Visual obstacles and possibilities in either direction.



I am reminded of the fascinating dialogue between Jean Luc Goddard and Aaton's JP Beauviala about the need for a 'Paluche'... a seemingly mythical, small, fully automated handheld camera that Goddard hoped would do everything:

https://cinemagodardcinema.wordpress.com/interviews/genesis-of-a-camera-jean-pierre-beauviala-and-jean-luc-godard/

Needless to say the Paluche never materialised.
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The American Road

No filming in the United States is complete without soaking up its intoxicating landscape of roads and cars.















Home of the Road Movie

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” 
Jack Kerouac, On the Road 

"I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object."

Roland Barthes, Mythologies

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Arri UWZ 9.5mm-18mm T2.9

Having a play with this extraordinary lens.

It's completely rectilinear even at 9.5mm, no distortion, no breathing and sharp as a tack.

As none of the usual wide-angle visual cues are present in its 'look' the visual effect is startling. A subject up-close to the lens looks flat and undistorted... as if shot on a much longer focal length.


It will cover a image circle of 34.5mm, so no problem with coverage on the Epic's 6K sensor... all the wider on the 9.5mm end too.
Its physically fairly big, 335.5mm from mount to front. It also flips the image upside-down by 180 degrees. Both of which suggest that Arri has employed some fairly unconventional optics to make it all work.
Cant wait to use it.

"I photograph what I see in front of me, I move in close to see better and use a wide-angle lens to get as much as possible in the frame"
William Klein



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Symmetry

Just completed what has been an extraordinary month of filming. A month of exacting, balanced, and largely symmetrical composition and camera movement.
Photographic symmetry has long been used by film makers to denote order, to foreground systems or patterns, to highlight cinematic artifice, or to underline the geometry of context. 







And to move the camera within the axis of symmetry requires Grip. This is not a style of framing given to verite camera work, but rather a more steady fluidity. Precise tracking shots, gliding slider movement and controlled jib moves. 















 We also made use of the Satellite Crane, courtesy of its inventor Tony Hill. Its a crane arm which rotates precisely/optically 180 degrees around a fixed point. Camera movement as a sort of rotational symmetry... its effects quite hypnotic.







A compelling visual journey, helmed by director Luke Wiles.

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50mm chart comparison: Luma Tech Illumina (Mk2), Cooke S4, Zeiss Ultra Prime, Zeiss Super Speed (Mk3)


Although there is far more to a lens than shooting resolution charts, these tests are helpful for looking at certain performance characteristics. I charts below are from four spherical 50mm lenses, shot first clean and then with lens flare. The flare was provided by a fairly aggressive Dedo spot-light hitting the lens from the left of the chart.

All lenses were first shot wide open, and then again when stopped down to T2.8

Luma Tech Illumina Mk2 50mm T1.3

Luma Tech Illumina Mk2 50mm T2.8


Cooke S4 50mm T2



Cooke S4 50mm T2.8


Arri/Zeiss Ultra Prime 50mm T1.9 


Arri/Zeiss Ultra Prime 50mm T2.8


Zeiss Super Speed Mk3 50mm T1.3


Zeiss Super Speed Mk3 50mm T2.8



I was surprised by the noticeable difference in sharpness and contrast between the two T1.3 lenses. The Super Speed was far softer than the Illumina wide open. Perhaps one might expect this in lenses built 30 years apart, but the lack of resolution was striking. The Super Speed's contrast 'smearing' wide open (particularly evident in the far left of the grey scale (0.2 grey) was a bit more alarming.

The resolution impact of the lens flare was most evident in the Illumina, whilst the Ultra Prime fared best under the flare. I have always liked the Ultra Primes' contrast performance under flares... and unlike the un-flareable Master Primes the UP do still flare dramatically whilst retaining contrast. Although I have used the Illuminas for spectacular lens flares, its always at a heavy cost to the rest of the picture.

Although the Cooke S4 and the UP do not reach to T1.3, by time all of the lenses were stopped down to T2.8 you do begin to see why these two are the more premium choices. At T2.8 the UP and Cooke out-perform the faster lenses. 
Both the UP and S4 also deliver a far more 'useable' image wide open than the Super Speed. Albeit at a slower stop, they deliver a far more acceptable photographic result.
The Illumina fares better at T1.3 than the Super Speed, but then the addition of the flare is most noticeable in the Russian glass which seems to have almost no flare suppression.

Overall, for the purposes of this test, I would say the Ultra Prime 50mm fared the best. Given that I would need to stop down a half stop on the Super Speeds to get a more useable lens, it would always be preferable to shoot wide open on an Ultra Prime.

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On Super Speeds in the States


A weeks shooting across LA and Seattle with two different sets of Zeiss Super Speed Mk2s.



It is interesting how these lenses, now 30 years old, still attract so much attention. A set now costs more than it did back in the 80s, when production ceased. The two sets I used both seemed to cover 5k on an MXEpic... With some slight vignette ( or maybe 'port holing'?) on the 18mm.

                            

The regular set is the 18mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm, these all F1.2/T1.3
And its at this stop is where the lenses are the most interesting, yielding soft, diffused shallowness. Don't look too closely though, as these 30 year old aspheric lenses do exhibit a fair bit of chromatic fringing and some spectral distortion. Good for portraits, but you wouldn't want to shoot a pack-shot on them wide open, particularly when close- focused.
By 2.8 they are radically different lenses... And herein lies their problem. These lenses look quite different at different apertures (something Zeiss addressed in their Ultra and Master Primes) By T5.6 they offer an overly sharp/zingy look in no way resembling the softness of the T1.3

Their age is also an issue for their optics and mechanics. Zeiss will no longer service or supply parts, so lots of wear on the helical screws ( meaning one of my 18mm was too tight to follow focus) and inevitable scratches and compromised coatings on the optics. The focus throw of these small lenses is also way too accelerated ( something addressed in the rare Mk3 set) so good luck to the AC asked to do any intricate work at F1.2!

These issues aside they are still an interesting set of lenses and the list of films shot on them is legendary. When conditions are right they yield memorable images... what some refer to as the 'magic' that happens between wide-open and T2.

                          





Also got to try out the Dana Dolly in Seattle. An interesting proposition for tracking over obstacles and rough terrain... two scaffold tubes supported on stands. Works great till you get it at height...where its lampstand/central support begins to struggle a little with stability.



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Morpheus 80-200 T2.8



Developed initially for the Bourne and Bond films, this TLS (True Lens Services) rehousing of a stand-out Nikon zoom is mechanically superb.
The focus throw is smooth and steady and the build quality feels like something Cooke might have offered.


I was testing it alongside an Angenieux 45-120 T2.8 and the results surprised me. I expected the Angenieux, at many times the price, to dominate...and it did. But the Morpheus performed better than I had imagined.  

Brendan McGinty

I have always liked Nikon glass, and for the most part preferred it to the Canon offerings in the same class. The 80-200 was considered an exceptional zoom in the stills world. But then the stills world does not have the same demands as the motion world, and it's full frame glass was never designed to hit a S35 target.

A surprising side effect of this optical crop is the geometry of the Morpheus. It yields very flat reproduction with no signs of either barrelling or pin-cushioning. The colour rendition was also good, similar to my Nikkor primes...falling somewhere comfortable between the warmth of the Angenieux and the coolness of an Ultraprime.

Shooting wide open made the price tag difference immediately apparent and, as you might expect, the Angenieux was sharper at T2.8. These differences had disappeared by T5.6 where the Morpheus looks rock solid once again.


Its 5' close focus feels a bit shy at the 80mm end, but it makes up for this by maintaining it at the 200mm end, where it feels pretty close. The 80mm CF was optically good but the 200mm end starts to look a bit 'smokey' by comparison. I had expected the lens to be weakest here, as its where you are asking the most of the zoom optics. 

The flares were of the pointed star variety rather than the orbital blooms of the Angenieux. These stars extend out into warmer orbs.

Brendan McGinty

Overall it's a great piece of glass offering a very useful focal length. The 80-200mm range so common in stills is relatively uncommon in motion. At 2.3 kg it's reasuringly heavy for a lens that was developed for handheld shooting. 
Designed for a full frame sensor the glass comfortably covers the Dragons large 6K sensor.

For its price tag its exceptional.

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DJI Ronin

My first test of the Ronin and I am impressed!

With the addition of an Easyrig I was up and running in SmoothTrack mode in minutes, delivering a fairly intricate unrehearsed follow shot on a 16mm lens (this at 6KHD, so fairly wide).





I found it very intuitive to use... still need to get used to its visual signature and 'quirks.'
Always exciting to expand the vocabulary of camera movement tools out there. The 'handover' potential of this system is particularly exciting.

Next challenge will be the addition of a trimmed down mattebox and remote focus unit... whilst not maxing-out the gimbal's motors!

Update:

Here pictured with Arri LCS remote focus, wireless video, full HD monitoring, Duclos 11-16mm and an LMB15 mattebox.
The 'quirks' are ironed out and now, together with the addition of Flowcine's 'Serene-Arm', I am getting motion stability on a 32mm lens! (this with a set of UltraPrimes which work equally well for weight/balance)



brendan mcginty

And for the more studious, a fascinating analysis from the 'Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience' of camera movement and cognition... where smooth Steadicam-like motion comes out on top:
http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/jocn_a_00602
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