I am a “Film guy.” When I began shooting, everything I photographed was on film. It was simple and beautiful and you knew what you were getting. Then, the digital revolution began and you had to learn a new set of skills. I learned about crazy things that I had never heard of like, color bars, zebra stripes and waveform monitors! These simple new things that I learned enabled me to shoot video in a way in which I was incredibly confident. They gave me the skills to know that what I was laying down, at that time on “tape” was going to look every bit as beautiful on your home television set as it was on my on set monitor.
Don’t get me wrong, video did have its draw backs. At first we were only shooting in 30fps. You could light the hell out of something, make it beautiful, pick up a film camera and have a work of art, but instead we were trapped with a video image basically the same as what your uncle was using to shoot his kids on Christmas morning! Everything looking hyper real, nothing felt organic.
Some of this problem was solved when Panasonic introduced the DVX-100. Boy, did I love that camera. Suddenly, my beautiful lighting didn’t look so bad on video. 24fps and we were loving it! The motion and feel was for the first time in my life “film-like.” I along with many others felt like Neil Armstrong on the moon, “One small step for the film industry, one giant leap for Indiekind.”
This camera had me feeling like I was almost shooting film again… There was one huge drawback though, the sensor! Because of the small sensor size, we weren’t able to capture that elusive shallow depth of field that is so common today with DSLR’s. The image felt more “film-like” but EVERYTHING was in focus! I can remember shooting a commercial for director Adam Ripp in 2004. We wanted this thing to look like it was shot on film but of course we were combating the fact that everything was in focus and we weren’t going to fool anyone! So what did I do, we found an exterior location that was way larger than what the script called for which gave us the ability to move the camera, 50ft to 100ft away from set. I stacked ND filters on the camera so that I could shoot wide open and used the longest end of the lens, just so that everything wasn’t in focus! For what it was, it turned out brilliantly, but who wants to go through all of that hassle all the time?
Then came that Panasonic HVX-200 and later the HPX 170. These cameras were once again game changers. The organicness of the HVX-200 was much the same as the DVX-100, but now we were shooting HD, and even doing it in high speed!
So we now have an HD camera that shoots 24P, shoots high-speed and has all of these great features for video like color bars, zebra stripes, waveform, vector scope, HD/SDI out, and audio monitoring built in.
Then it happened, the heavens opened and Canon handed down a camera called the 5D MKII and the world was good… or was it? I believed so, I saw the footage, I read about the sensor, it had interchangeable lenses and I heard that it would soon be in 24P. I fell in love. Unfortunately, there was one gigantic hiccup. When the heavens opened up, this camera was handed down to still photographers. Us “film-guys” were just an afterthought… How does the greatest looking video image I have seen in my lifetime end up coming out of a still camera body? Something was wrong… I bought it anyway, and I shot pretty video, but it was a war. Gone were the things that I relied on to get an incredible image. Gone were my color bars, gone were my zebra stripes, gone were my wave form and vector scope, gone was my ability to monitor audio, when on rare occasions that job fell on me and maybe most frustrating of all, gone was a full resolution image to monitor focus and framing when the camera was rolling! Why, oh why, was I being punished like this? It was the DVX all over again, so close yet so far away.
As I help my beautiful images captured by my 5D in the palm of my hand (really on a CF card) I thought to myself, there has got to be a better way…
Then it happened. The heavens once again opened and the Sony F3 was handed down. This time though, it was handed to the “Film guys!”
Only time will tell, for the moment it seems that we have an affordable “film-style” camera that is HD, shoots high-speed (for the first time in true 1080P), has waveform, vector scope, color bars, zebra stripes, interchangeable lenses (with countless mounting options) 1080 monitoring out through an HD/SDI port, audio levels that you can both see and hear while recording and looks like a film body!
Director of Photography