Down and Dirty With the Sony F65

One of the first 35mm digital motion picture cameras produced was Sony’s F35, introduced in 2008. It recorded to HDCAM SR tapes and cost over $200k. It was known both for its considerable size and byzantine menu system. Though it rendered skin tones beautifully, the RED camera and, subsequently, the ARRI Alexa soon surpassed it in affordability and functionality.

Early this year Sony released the F65, the 4k descendant of the F35. Though it owes a lot, aesthetically, to the F35, the F65 is smaller, lighter, and dramatically easier to use. In addition, it incorporates a mechanical shutter to eliminate the wobbly motion that other CMOS cameras suffer from. In a nod to the direct-to-edit workflow that catapulted the Alexa to the top of rental order, Sony included an HD mode that uses a solid-state version of the HDCAM SR codec. With a free plugin, that HDCAM footage can be dropped into Avid or Final Cut Pro, or graded natively in DaVinci Resolve.

About two weeks ago, I got an opportunity to shoot a short narrative piece with two F65′s. Written by James Landrum, directed by Nick Perlman, and expertly produced by Dylan Hume, “The Estate” follows two brothers through their unique grieving process for their brother. Though the F65 is largely billed as a studio camera, we decided to shoot on location and primarily hand-held. We had to capture about seventeen pages in two days, so shooting fast and light was important. Both cameras were outfitted with short Angenieux DP zooms, one with a 16-42mm and the other wearing a 30-80mm. I rated the camera at its native 800 ASA and maintained a T4 or 5.6 for exteriors. Interiors and inserts were shot a consistent T2.8 to separate the actors in the narrow locations. Both cameras also had Mitchell diffusion filters to create a smoother look on the inherently crisp camera.

Me with b-cam operator Matt Martin

 

The first day was all exteriors in the woods of Sleepy Hollow, NY. We sharpened the diffuse, cloudy daylight with reflectors and negative fill, and the F65 captured the range of exposure beautifully. We were able to stay light on our feet as a result of the camera’s dynamic range and functional simplicity. Both cameras also had Sony stereo mics on-board to record scratch audio, as the nearby train tracks made location sound a virtual impossibility. Easy-Rig 700′s made the day’s hand-held work more bearable.

Shooting close-ups with the Sony F65 with director Nick Perlman

 

The second day was strictly interior, with an 800w Joker HMI bouncing through a window to key the actors. A gelled 300w tungsten fresnel provided some fill inside, but the F65 had no difficulty with the dim, natural look we were trying to achieve. I used a combination of my light meter and the cameras’ on-board monitors to judge exposure, and that proved accurate upon reviewing the footage later.

All told, it was an enjoyable and straight-forward project. The grading is all being done with the HDCAM SR files in DaVinci Resolve, with no transcoding necessary. As soon as I have some material to share, I’ll post it here.

B-cam operator Matt Martin

 

Photos by Colby Moore

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PL Mount Pinhole Lens

Here’s a look at a PL mount pinhole lens I’m working on. The last version was intended for DSLR cameras, but now that the ARRI Alexa is capable of 3200 ISO, the RED Epic can hit 12,800 ISO, and Canon’s new C300 video camera will be able to reach 20,000 ISO, the motion picture possibilities have expanded.

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One-Man-Band ARRIRaw

Last weekend I had the rare opportunity of spending six hours alone with an ARRI Alexa Plus, a Codex onboard recorder, and a set of ARRI/Zeiss Master Primes. As astronomically out-of-reach as such a package might be for the individual filmmaker, I was curious about the potential it might hold for small productions. RED cameras shoot a manner of raw file that even film students can process on their iMacs. Though the Alexa cost nearly three times as much as a RED One body, might ARRI’s raw files be as accessible?

I set up the camera to record LOG C to the internal SxS cards while simultaneously feeding dual-link ARRIRaw to the Codex. I settled on shooting in available light in situation with strong highlights and deep shadows. The bulk of the footage was captured at 800 ISO and metered to protect the highlights.

Over the course of the afternoon I managed to fill the 25-minute Codex datapack, which consists of RAID drives totaling 256GB of free space. The SxS cards were quick to download, but it took the Codex about an hour to dump the ARRIRaw files and another hour to transcode those to ProRes 422 HQ clips. I used Codex’s desktop transfer station, but it is possible to download from the onboard unit through a CAT5 ethernet cable.

I downloaded ARRI’s ARRIRaw Converter (ARC), expecting something akin to RED’s REDCine-X processing software. At this point, however, the ARC software better resembles a proof-of-concept than a desktop coloring program. It is possible to adjust things like ISO, color space, and white balance, but the options appear to be limited to the capabilities of the Alexa when it first shipped last year. ISO settings cannot be changed to anything above 1600, despite the fact that every Alexa is now capable of 3200. Additionally, export options are limited to different sequence formats, like DPX and Cineon. There are no provisions for the creation of proxies.

On the other hand, the ProRes files I created through the Codex held a lot of potential. Because they were created from the ARRIRaw files and not in-camera, they retained the native 2880×1620 resolution of the Alexa sensor. Even with a direct-to-edit format like ProRes, near-3k resolution gives filmmakers a great deal of freedom to color before they down-convert to 2k or standard HD. I was able to edit freely with them before sending the timeline to Apple Color. Whatever noise or grain was retained in the shadows essentially vanished once the final piece was compressed to 1920×1080. Below is the video on Vimeo:

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Refurbishing a Bardwell & McAlister Lamp (Part 2)

When I left off in my last post, I had dismantled and cleaned the entire Bardwell & McAlister 2k fresnel light. Covered in sand and rust, the housing required a lot of careful work. The wiring was in worse shape, however, and had to be replaced completely.

When I first received the light, power was delivered to the head from a 20A twist-lock plug through three separate and identically-colored wires. Their woven insulation was badly frayed and, in some spots, completely worn away. To replace them, I settled on 12/3 SJOOW cable. 2k lights occupy a precarious position on the threshold between getting away with 12 guage cable and needing 10 guage. Mathematically, 2000 watt lights are safe to operate on 12g cable runs. The issues appear when ambient conditions become extreme. Heat, tensile stress, and run length all diminish the ability of the power cable to safely conduct electricity to its destination. If any of these are serious considerations, then 10 guage cable is the safer of the two. In my case, I am unlikely to use this tungsten light outdoors in daylight, or at the end of excessively long stingers. I also find 10 guage cable to be too heavy and cumbersome for the kind of projects this light is likely to illuminate.

Because this light was originally used in a theater grid, it did not have a switch of any kind. I purchased an Arri 2k inline switch on eBay and put it about four feet down the cable from the light. Apart from the complications arising from the tight tolerances inside the switch housing, this was pretty straightforward.

All of this work becomes meaningless, however, without a way of mounting the light to stands. Grid lights are normally hung using clamps that screw into the base of the yolk. They lack the pin receptacles that most location lights use. I found a handy adapter that both accepts baby pins and, once the tie-down is removed, becomes a junior pin for beefier stands. First, though, I had to cut about an inch of metal from the base of the yolk. This left just enough metal to support the light on the adapter.

The light mounted flawlessly on a 30″ c-stand and, with a 1000w globe installed (so as not to test the wiring in my apartment), it fired up without issue.

A little oil on the spot/flood mechanism and it’s ready for set, all for under $200.

 

 

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“Hazard” Premiere

For those in the New York City area, “Hazard” will be premiering at the Big Apple Film Festival on November 4th at Tribeca Cinemas (54 Varick St). It will play in the 7:30-9:30pm block of short films.

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Refurbishing a Bardwell & McAlister Lamp (Part 1)

Film gear is famously expensive and one of the great democratizing forces for this generation of independent filmmakers is eBay. Virtually anything found on a movie set can be purchased in the myriad auctions posted everyday. The caveat of that democracy, however, is the often shabby state of used film equipment. Nothing escapes the ravages of production.

While much of that used gear is difficult to refurbish without considerable time and expertise, lighting equipment is refreshingly simple. Even at their most complex, most lights consist of a simple circuit and rudimentary mechanical parts. The biggest challenge, in fact, is keeping track of the various screws and washers that inevitably fall out. There is also something satisfying, particularly in an increasingly digital industry, about disassembling and cleaning a forty year-old light and rewiring it to modern standards. It is a solitary and tangible accomplishment.

It was with these thrifty and vaguely romantic ideas in my head that I began, this weekend, to refurbish a Bardwell & McAlister 2k fresnel that I found in the used auto parts section of eBay. Shipped from what I gather to be a disused farm in Wisconsin, the somewhat nautical-looking light arrived in Queens covered in sand and dust. The paint, however, appeared to be in surprisingly good shape. Rust was visible, but most of it only amounted to colorful surface pitting.

After wiping down the exterior with alcohol and some oil, I began disassembling the body of the light. Some of the screws were frozen, but some penetrating oil and a firm grip got most of them free. I found that the painted surfaces inside had fared pretty well. The two plates on either side of the socket assembly, on the other hand, were badly oxidized. I wiped them both with WD40 and followed with alcohol to get the oil off. Everything else needed a dusting and wipe. I cleaned each surface with alcohol and removed rust where I found it. All told, this process took a couple of hours to accomplish.

What remains is the more critical step of preparing the light for everyday use. The socket is clean and perfectly intact. The power cable(s), however, leave a lot to be desired. They are thin and worn, and terminate in a twist-lock plug. I believe this was originally suspended from a grid, so the cables only extend about three feet from the base of the lamp. The yolk also lacks a proper pin receptacle. My plan is to replace the cables with a 25′ standard 12/3 cable and Edison plug. For convenience, an inline switch will be spliced in about four feet from the base of the light. A pin adapter will be attached so that the light can be mounted on a stand.

Even with this kind of overhaul, the total investment should still be well under $200. One would be hard-pressed to find a new light worth buying for so little.

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Back From The Break

It’s been quiet these past couple of months. I’ve been taking a break to see “Hazard” out the door and take in some normal, everyday life. Below are some photos from my recent vacation far from New York City, in rural New Hampshire.

Check back soon for upcoming projects!

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More Pinhole Lens Footage

I have uploaded another collection of clips captured with my prototype variable-aperture pinhole lens on a Nikon D7000. While the last group of clips was intended as a proof-of-concept, this footage is meant to demonstrate the resolution and overall clarity possible by finding the right balance of detail and exposure. The focal length for nearly all of it was 82mm.

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“Hazard” Completes Post-Production

“Hazard”, the short film produced by director Nick Perlman and myself, has finally completed post-production. For those who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign, DVDs and original artwork are being produced and should be delivered in the coming month. Everyone else will have to find contentment in the poster design below until we complete festival submissions and can begin freely distributing copies.

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Concert Shoot at Webster Hall

I got the opportunity on Saturday to shoot at one of SoHo’s quintessential music venues, Webster Hall. Dating back to the late nineteenth century, Webster Hall is alleged to be one of the oldest night clubs in New York City.

I was there to help capture the record release show of up-and-coming heavy metal band No Remission. It was a very low-key shoot, with our team using two Panasonic DVX100B MiniDV cameras and two GoPro Hero HD cameras and the other crew shooting with two Canon 5D Mark II DSLRs and a consumer solid-state camcorder. Because the final delivery is standard-definition DVD, all of of the source material will be scaled down to 720×480 for post.

Although there are no stills of the show itself, I did grab a handful of snapshots around the venue.

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