For me early Summer means airshow season and there are a couple of events that I shoot every year. The first is Flying Legends at the Imperial War Museum site at Duxford and features vintage aircraft predominantly from the second world war. The following weekend is the Royal International Air Tattoo, one of the largest military air shows and is all about the latest fast jets and military hardware. For the last 3 years I have been tasked with shooting aircraft being prepared for flight at both shows and for this I have been using a variety of cameras, but almost always some kind of ENG type camera. I’ve used PDW700′s, EX1′s and EX3′s. This year however it was decided to try and use one of my PMW-F3′s in order to take advantage of the shallow Depth of Field and give the footage a higher quality, filmic look.
Of course using the F3 for a shoot like this brings many challenges and one of the reasons for using it on these projects was to discover exactly whether the trade off between ease of use and shallow DoF was worth it. Thankfully, producer Steve Connor (flying machinestv.co.uk) is willing to let me try new things on his productions.
So how was it? Well it was hard work compared to running around with an EX1 or EX3. You have to check, check and double check focus all the time and this slows you down a little. The other thing is the lens. A camera like the EX1 has a 14x zoom lens giving a great range of focal lengths from a good wide angle to a nice long telephoto. With the F3 your lens choices are currently much more limited. While there are some very nice zooms like the Optimo 24-290mm (12x zoom) these just are not practical for run n gun. The Optimo weighs a whopping 24lbs/11kg . The other alternative to PL lenses is to use a DSLR lens. One of my favourites is the old Tokina AT-X Pro 28-70mm as this does not telescope, has a nice big focus scale and proper iris ring, but it’s only a 2.5x wide zoom, not much use for longer shots. The upshot of all this is that you end up doing a lot of lens swaps going from a wide zoom to a longer one (Sigma 70-300mm in my case). In addition the DSLR zooms are varifocal so you can’t zoom during the shot as the focus will shift.
So… I’m running around with the F3 and a rucksack with a couple of lenses and my favourite Vinten 100 tripod, swapping lenses many times for different shots. There’s no one-push auto iris confidence check, no image stabiliser and the batteries don’t last as long. As I said, compared to an EX1 it was hard work. But, I was able to be creative. It was easy to introduce some nice foreground or background soft focus objects. To do gentle pull focuses and to generally get good looking shots as opposed to just getting ordinary looking shots.
When an aircraft is started things can get very busy. There are spinning propellors to be aware of, or dangerous jet blasts (not to mention the noise). Aircraft can taxi with no warning. At these moments I was able to stop down the iris a bit to give myself greater depth of field for a little bit focus tolerance. This is what I like about the F3. It’s got sensitivity to spare so you can pick and choose how much DoF you have.
By the time the second airshow (RIAT) came around I realised that constant lens swapping was costing me shots. So for RIAT I used a Nikon 18-135mm zoom. This 7.5x zoom gave a much better focal length range, but its a rather nasty lens in so much as it’s f3.5 – f5.6 so the aperture changes as you zoom and it’s not particularly fast. It also telescopes and extends a lot as you zoom in, so you can’t use it with a matt box. The focus ring has no scale and iris has to controlled using the MTF adapter iris control. So all in all not my favourite lens, but for this particular shoot it worked out quite well. One thing that did become apparent is that not having a super fast lens, on this particular type of project was not an issue. I could still get reasonable shallow DoF shots when wide and at f3.5. At longer focal lengths the DoF decreases anyway, so shooting at f4 or f5.6 still yields pleasing results.
The footage from the shoots does look good. It has a much nicer look to it than conventional ENG video. The shallow DoF adds a quality feel to the material. While I didn’t shoot as much as I would have done with a more traditional camcorder due to the extra time required for lens changes, focus checking and the need to use the tripod more often, what I did shoot looked better overall so a higher percentage of what I shot will probably make it into the final production.
So as for my original question.. was it worth the effort? Well I think the answer is yes. The F3 can be used for run n gun, but it’s hard work, however the results are worth the extra effort.
I recently helped shoot a 3D cinema commercial for the Wimbledon Tennis Finals which will be shown in Cinemas and on TV in 3D. There were two 3D rigs used, an Element Technica rig with a pair of Phantom HD Gold’s, shooting at 1000 fps as well as one of my Genus Hurricane Rigs equipped with a pair of Sony PMW-F3′s with zeiss ultra primes recording onto a Nano3D as well as to the video village. The F3′s were used at both 1080P 25fps and 720P 50fps. We had a wide variety of Chapman grip (no relation) equipment including ride on dolly’s and sliders. The commercial was shot at a tennis club in Kent, dressed up with fake scoreboards, green backdrops and umpires in original wimbledon uniforms to make it look like Wimbledon over two days.
The weather was fantastic and the shoot went very well. The Zeiss Ultra primes worked very well on the 3D rig with each lens pair being very well matched and needing only minimal re-alignment each time we changed focal length. The F3′s were set up with no added detail correction and using cinegamma 1, S-Log not being available at the time of the shoot. My main role was as second unit camera operator/stereographer to shoot some of the main tennis player 3D shots at 25 and 50 fps as well as 3D blue screen effects shots including flying dirt and grass as well as various spinning tennis ball shots. For the 1000 fps shots with the Phantom HD Gold’s we used pairs of 18Kw lamps to light the players, and this on a bright sunny day!! In order to keep a similar look for the F3 shots we took full advantage of the cameras built in ND filters to keep the foregrounds bright with the background dark.
For some of the blue screen tennis ball shots we used some older Arri PL mount macro lenses. Below you’ll find a 2D version of the commercial. If I come across a 3D version I’ll post it here.
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