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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.



Comments

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.

Comments

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
Comments

Wild Weather

A year in the making, taking me from -50 to +50 and back again.

http://youtu.be/BK4GaqzYutk


Comments

Phantom 4K

Shooting with a Phantom 4K camera at Sunbeam studios. 
925 fps at 4096 x 2304.
The resolution aside, its the 'look' and latitude of the new sensor thats so striking. We were shooting at 800 ISO and the picture looked very clean, with a shadow detail and a highlight roll-off unlike earlier Phantom incarnations.








The piece required two distinct visual approaches. 
For the second of these we used a Red Epic Dragon shooting at 6K.
The glass for both cameras was UltraPrimes but the filtration differed, diffusion filtering for the Phantom and Streak filters for the Epic.
I found all but the lightest grade of the Streaks too heavy- handed... but a touch of this gave us the aggressive horizontal flares we were after.




The lighting required the usual high speed volume, provided by large flicker free daylight sources.
This was augmented with hard in-shot flares and DMX controlled shutter dimmers.






Great team work from the 16oz crew, gaffer Martin Smith, Jason at LoveHighSpeed and the assured creative hand of director Michael Lindsay.


Brendan McGinty
Black and White 'behind the scenes' shots by Mauro Carraro

Comments

Flare Test

Looking at prime lens flare signatures for an upcoming spherical shoot.

I tested the Zeiss/Arri Ultraprimes, The Luma Tech Illuminas and a set of cinevised Nikkor AIS lenses.
I shot wide open against black to show the flare characteristic at its most extreme. 
All shots are with a Red Epic MX sensor at 4KHD (so S35 sensor scale) 
The camera was set to 6000 kelvin with the Flare provided by a Dedo DLed4 and the Key light a Cineo Maverick (5600K).
There is motion blur on the flare shots as these are screengrabs off 25fps camera moves.
Thanks to AC Dan DiMartino for stand-in duties.

UltraPrimes 32mm and 85mm, both at T1.9





The UltraPrimes held the most contrast whist providing a distinctive 'ordered' series of red and green orbs... predominantly leaning to red.

Illumina S35 mk2, 35mm and 85mm both at T1.3





The Illuminas provided by far the heaviest flare with more smoking and streaking than the other sets. Multiple large signature orbs leaning more towards green.

Cinevised Nikkor AIS 35mm and 85mm both at F1.4





The Nikkors sat somewhere between the other two sets. Less contrast than the UPs, less streak than the Illuminas. Large orbs mixing red and green.

Will probably go with the Illuminas on this job.



Comments

Zambian Heat

Punishing heat in North Luangwa. 
We measured 58 degrees C in the sun, but as this would be a world record I suspect we were wrong. 
Very, very hot.
The landscape was scorched, the Mwaleshi river evaporating more each day and all electronic gear was left struggling at these temperatures. 






Whist the Red Epic soldiered on, the fans would run noticeably higher. DSLR's shut down, monitor fans were screaming, a hard disk recorder and a laptop shut down. The best approach in these conditions is shooting dawn and dusk in the low flaring warm light. And then hiding from the harsh relentless overhead heat of the day. Sun umbrellas are your only defence at midday.

A distinctive hard light burnt throughout the shoot, as the water sources became dramatic battle grounds for survival.












The performance of the Selex Merlin TI thermal camera at night was impressive, this utilised by our two Natural History teams. The only one of its type in the world, it looks like a prototype, but delivers breathtaking monochromatic night scenes. Heat patterns and fine textures were made apparent in trees, grass, water and sky. The detail and subtlety of its thermal image are unlike any I have seen. Its not destined for any sync-shooting though as the fans raged audibly in order to cool its sensor to sub zero operating temperatures.
Comments

Great Lakes on the Sony F55

Shooting in Canada on the Great Lakes. Beautiful remote waterways, untouched islands and big sky.






The camera package was a Sony F55, shooting 4K in its Raw mode at a base rate of 59.94P. 
For glass I utilised 3 new PL zooms for the first time. The Fuji Cabrio 19-90mm T2.9, the Fuji Cabrio 85-300mm T2.9 and the Canon 15.5-47mm T2.8. 
Whilst providing an interesting focal range the 85-300 proved quite difficult to focus, its accelerated throw more reminiscent of a stills lens than a cinema lens. This I found a bit debilitating on a long lens, where subtle focus following is usually the order of the day.



The two wider choices were far more versatile. I can see why the Cabrio 19-90 has proved so popular as this extended focal range is great for fast doc style work. The 19mm doesnt quite get you there on a S-35 sensor however... so I lived a lot on the Canon 15.5-47. 
Swapping between these zooms regularly made me realise how big a part is played by 'muscle memory' in operating, as the differing focus throws and gear orientation from Fuji to Canon was distracting. 


Both of these lenses offer slightly extended focal ranges over many of the zooms out there, and both seem to resolve well. But I must admit to having been spoilt by the Angenieux zooms that I so regularly use. The flair quality, the 'bokeh' and the general 'look' of both the Canon and the Fuji I found diminished by comparison.
But good workhorse documentary focal ranges. 



A great shoot with a great team, travelling as fast and light as this package would take us.
Here with some more 'verite' grip choices:







The data challenges of shooting 4K Raw on the F55 were fairly sustantial. Sony's Uncompressed Raw is very data hungry! 26 minutes of record time on a 512G card. We shot an average of 5Tb a day...and over 100Tb across 3 weeks of shooting. This necessitated a back up to LTO and a DIT- heavy approach. 6 laptops, 4 LTO decks and tireless work by the fantastic team doing this.
But its not a solution particularly suited to a documentary workflow. I would say this enormous data flow combined with the 3 second delay in recording when shooting Raw(yes that was 3 seconds!) makes this the wrong choice for anything other than a drama style shoot... and this with a robust data team.


As a cost effective HD solution the F55 is interesting. Its low light performance is great and the ability to change mounts from PL to EF at speed is a plus (although I do worry about 'play' in the Sony PL mount.) I did find the 960x540 viewfinder tricky for focus, this with all of the peaking tools active.

 

As a 4K solution I would definitely look elsewhere.
That the camera delivers less than 4K after debayering with this truckload of data makes the Red Epic significantly preferable for 4K shooting. Throw in some slowmotion (none available on the Sony at 59.94P 4K Raw) instant recording (rather than 3 seconds later) pre roll if you need it and 6K resolution and the Dragon is a 'no brainer' all day long!

Comments

Color

After desaturating colour for much of my career, its great to occasionally embrace its vibrancy.








  Ungraded Epic Dragon screengrabs.

The extended colour depth of the Epic Dragon sensor proved essential for this piece. The camera's skin tone rendition, given this much disruptive colour, was remarkable.



The 'look' was achieved with a mixture of heavily gelled Cineo TruColor remote phosphurs, strong Blacklight, the magic of 16oz Studios...and the genius of director Michael Lindsay.
Comments

City Rain

Filming rain in London. 
Night city rain always provides a photogenic mix of water and light, where every surface turns into either mirror or lens. Shooting at 50fps and 100fps helped to bring some 'weight' to the fall of the rain. Defocused headlights, store front reflections and silhouettes... all movement seen through a mist of tiny liquid lenses.






The large Epic sensor at 5K mixed with close focusing primes at F1.4 lent a more abstract look to the piece.

Red Epic, 5K, Nikkor AIS 85mm F1.4 and 35mm F1.4.
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