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416 vs D20, Film vs HD


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#1 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 30 November 2007 - 11:33 AM

I had an interesting Steadicam experience two days ago that I thought you might enjoy.

I was doing an Amstel beer spot. It was a fairly high budget job paying full rate with proper crew and equipment. We had me, my rig, a Super Techno Crane and two 416?s. I think the 416 is the greatest camera made. It?s compact, well balanced, has fantastic optics, fantastic integrated video and integrated Arri Focus. It?s a light little camera that can fit almost anywhere and do almost everything and it shoots good old 16mm film. One 400? mag seems to last half a day. I had my PRO post all the way up, the gimbal about 1 inch below the top stage and four blue springs turned way down. We were shooting on a big yacht so the compact nature of the set up was perfect for expensive and tiny wooden doors and fragile luxury yacht parts. I think the two Hytron 50?s that power the camera lasted all day. That in it self would just make for a nice day of rig flying.

We were scheduled for a 12 hour day, 5:30AM to 6:00PM and we finished on time.

However, at about 1:00PM, I got a call to do a night shoot, that night. Without asking too many questions, I said I was on another job and not available. The producer asked when I would wrap (and I told him not until 6 or 7) he said they could wait for me and would I still do the job. Really not wanting to do a 24 hour day (on unfortunately only about 2 hours of sleep) I referred the producer to my agent. The second we hung up, I called my agent and told him, ?full rate, not a penny less?, hoping against all hope it would be too expensive for what I assumed was a low budget job.

As it turns out, it was a multi million dollar Gatorade commercial staring Dwayne Wade. They didn?t even question the rate and although they had a 4:00PM crew call they would wait until I got there. Fcuk!

The last few shots on the beer commercial were product shots so I was let go at about 5:00PM and made it to the Gatorade set at about 6:00PM (two hours after their call and about 15 minutes from, ?Ready for Steadicam?). I hadn?t had any food to speak of since about 12:30PM but figured they had a 4:00PM call so lunch was only 4 hours away, I could wait?

So I begin to build the rig with my (and here is the point of the story) Arri D20. I?ve used the camera before and wasn?t too fond of it but it was on an easy job so not really that big of a deal. This job however was not what you might call easy. It was the D20 (and that awesome hunk of cable it drags along with it), Master Primes and a seriously Steadicam intensive fast paced set. 50mm, 75mm, 180mm lenses on a professional basket ball players feet and face as he cruises through down town Miami at night and drinks Gatorade.

Now obviously the second job was going to suck a bit compared to the first job regardless of the camera system just because of the fatigue of the day but the D20 made it (in my opinion) suck exponentially worse.

The camera is pretty heavy but more than that it?s bulky. With a Master Prime the thing is as long as my arm; it?s just not a very sporty camera.

It?s got a tail. Please god, can we wait to use HD cameras until somebody invents a 50 terabyte solid state recorder the size of a match book and an equally small, broadcast quality, HD video transmitter so everybody can sit around the 32? LCD and discuss in great detail what color they want to paint the actors socks in post while they sip their cappuccino without me having to design a shot based on how much frickin cable I have!

It?s a battery hog. If you remember as far back as the beginning of my post you?ll recall 2 Hytron 50?s lasting all day on the 416. With the D20 we were barley keeping up with 9 almost new batteries and 2 dual chargers. Part of the problem may have been that there is a sequence for powering up and down the camera not unlike the sequence NASA uses to launch the Space Shuttle. I thought I had stepped on a land mine the one time a carelessly pulled my three breakers after I docked the rig and the whole camera department screamed, ?NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?

Don?t forget, first power the rig, then the camera, then the Arri Focus, then roll the camera and then you can see, try to actually use the monitor before that and I think the camera explodes and simultaneously erases the whole days work.

The look. Well, super 16 looks pretty frickin good. HD looks? Pretty frickin good? Maybe you get more background detail on an unlit set at night with HD? It?s a bit sharper?

OK, yea, it is sharper but how sharp do we want it? I would hate to be a focus puller with a D20, long Master Primes, on a Steadicam, on a moving actor, at night and shooting at about T1.3. What?s the depth of field, half an inch? I mean I hit my marks but if the actor breathes heavy the focus shifts from his eyes to his nose.

It must be a money thing. Had we used a 416 instead and shot lets say ten 400? rolls of super 16 would it have cost more? If you factor in the processing, the transfer, the cost of the film and then weigh that against the additional cost of the D20 (plus the 235 we had on set for high speed) and the extra set time required to re-boot, re-cable, re-power and re-whatever that we wouldn?t have had to do with a film camera did we really save any money?

Now this particular spot was going to have a ton of CGI done to it in post. Lots of graphics and a computer generated basket ball court paving the streets and walls of down town Miami. And, 35mm would probably have cost more money. So for this particular shoot, maybe the D20 was not such a bad idea.

Having had the opportunity to use the two cameras in a real work setting on the same day I have come to the conclusion that I cannot for the life of me figure out why, as a general rule, anybody would shoot HD over super 16. Half of me thinks the directors just want a pretty image at video village (maybe somebody needs to invent an HD video tap for film cameras?).

As it turns out I ended up working for about 25 hours straight and not eating more than some fruit from craft service (oh, and lots of Gatorade) for about 12 hours straight. They asked me to do another day on the same add campaign next week. Of course, as I?m a shameless whore, I said yes. I wonder if my spine will have uncompressed itself by next week?

mm.
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#2 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 30 November 2007 - 01:29 PM

It?s a battery hog. If you remember as far back as the beginning of my post you?ll recall 2 Hytron 50?s lasting all day on the 416. With the D20 we were barley keeping up with 9 almost new batteries and 2 dual chargers. Part of the problem may have been that there is a sequence for powering up and down the camera not unlike the sequence NASA uses to launch the Space Shuttle. I thought I had stepped on a land mine the one time a carelessly pulled my three breakers after I docked the rig and the whole camera department screamed, ?NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?



It's NOT a battery hog, it's a 2amp camera, I've flown it and I've measured the amp draw while flying it. I also find it to be a reasonable camera to fly on the rig. MUCH better than the Genocide and FW900
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#3 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 30 November 2007 - 09:49 PM

I'll agree that its better than the Genesis and the 900 to fly but in comparison (overall) to the 416 its no contest imo..... and again, in comparison to the 416, 2 hytron 50's lasted an entire day powering the rig vs completely cycling through my 9 hytrons in the second 12 hour day so its hoggishnes is relative.

I can see a preference to the D20 vs other hd cameras but I'm guessing if you had a preference you would still take a 435 or another similar film camera if given the choice?

mm.
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#4 Lawrence Karman

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Posted 30 November 2007 - 11:32 PM

Thanks for sharing your experience, Mike. Though it seems you are comparing apple to oranges here. Clearly the 416 is a much lighter camera than the D20 and less of a pain to fly. However the depth of field on the super 16 camera is twice as great as the D20 and the result is a very different look. And judging by the lenses they asked you to use I would guess that was important to them. Would I prefer to fly a lighter camera most of the time? Definitely yes. But the heavier cameras have their place too, they fly so smoothly. I do agree with you that the tether is a major PITA. Perhaps next week you could insist on a thin fiber optic connection which I'm sure Eric could recommend.
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#5 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 30 November 2007 - 11:48 PM

Yes, I would like to know about a thinner tail, that would help a great deal....... A longer tail as well.

I guess my point was (and was made super clear to me using both cameras in the same day) is the overall advantages/dissadvantages between HD and 16 make me wonder in general why such a push in the last few years to shoot HD. I just prefer a film camera system on almost every level and dont quite get the advantage to HD.

I'd be super happy to hear more input, perticularly from the operators who have spent a great deal of time with both systems (I'd call myself an 80/20 film/hd).

tnx,

mm.
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#6 Lawrence Karman

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Posted 01 December 2007 - 07:20 PM

Clearly the pig push towards HD is motivated by simple economics. Film and developing isn't cheap. Tape is. Memory chips are getting cheaper. Still cameras have gone away from film, the ultimate High Definition medium, towards digital and it's just inevitable that film cameras will go the same way. Add to that the post production stream that has become almost all digital (editing, DI etc.) and it makes the change over inevitable. Certainly the light weight needs of a few Steadicam operators is not much of a concern to the big manufacturers. Come on RED!
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#7 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 02 December 2007 - 12:00 AM

^^ And there in lies my question. How much cheaper is it?

I guess there might be 3 main points:

How much cheaper?
How much better (the look)?
How easy is it to work with (not just for steadicam operators but the entire crew from prep to post)?

My somewhat limited HD experience would answer the three questions like this:

Dollars for donuts when you include prep, rental, lighting, set time (the most expensive part of the process?), processing, transfer, edit, post, et. I can't say I've seen a significant cost benefit in shooting HD. In fact, I'd argue that occasionally it is significantly more expensive to shoot HD (higher rental cost and greater set costs in both crew and hours on the clock).

The look as I said above is in my humble estimation of similar quality between 16 and hd with 35 being slightly better quality. And yes, I recognize that its like comparing water color and oil paint but as 99% of the world population couldn't tell the difference between 65mm and super 8, I think it's fair to at least put 16 and hd in the 'similar quality' look all be it slightly different.

The final point, ease of use. Obviously the producer has not care one about how much harder or easier it is for the steadicam operator or the crew in general but again, in my limited experience, it doesn't seem as though the overall work flow of hd is anywhere near as simple as that of film.

So what are your thoughts? Somebody tell me I'm totally off base? Is hd in fact, way cheaper, way better looking and way easier to work with? If so, please explain it to me as I'm clearly missing the boat.

And, if it is cheaper and better looking and I'm just being a bcith about the weight, work flow and the darn tail, I'm happy to be told to cowboy up and quit complaining. :P :o :rolleyes:

Thanks for the replies so far,

mm.
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#8 Lawrence Karman

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Posted 02 December 2007 - 12:47 AM

How much cheaper? I was once told it was $20,000 cheaper per episode of a series to shoot on HD, despite the higher rental costs than super 16. About 5 years ago I worked on a series for Fox where since we were shooting tape and not film they were able to get the actors on the AFTRA contract and not the SAG contract. This was a significant savings for the studio. I remember they had to give a force call to one of the day player actors. Under the SAG contract this would have given him $1500 or something close to that. Instead he was horrified to learn he was receiving $15/hr more per hour. It's stuff like this you don't ever hear about that makes the HD shit preferable to the studios.
Hopefully there will be a lightweight HD transmitter developed that will make the tether a thing of the past.
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#9 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 02 December 2007 - 07:00 AM

So what are your thoughts? Somebody tell me I'm totally off base? Is hd in fact, way cheaper, way better looking and way easier to work with? If so, please explain it to me as I'm clearly missing the boat.

mm.

I think we've all asked these types of questions at one point or another. Mine was always, "What's so great about HD?" I think the truth is, a lot of the time we don't see what's so great about it, other people in higher positions than us do. Like you said, the producers don't care if it's harder on us. They have bigger fish to fry.
The truth is, HD is here to stay, whether we like it or not. So we may as well get used to it and make the best of it, since we'll surely be working with some version of HD for some time to come.
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#10 Steve Fracol SOC

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Posted 02 December 2007 - 12:13 PM

Mike,

Although I understand what your complaint is (I think), you need to get a grasp on the HD thing. Nothing is going to stop it.

You?re way off base on comparing 16mm to HD as a general statement. 16mm is great, I love it, I miss shooting it (still do sometimes) but you can only compare 16mm to HD of the 2/3" format. (Sony CineAlta, VariCam, Viper, etc). The Arri D20, Genesis and most of the other larger image HD cameras clearly take on the look and dof of 35mm film when handled properly.

The "handled properly" part comes with knowledge of that particular HD camera. The latitude, exposure values, Gamma set up, black levels, matrix set up, LUT's (look up tables)....understanding how to deal with all that as a DP. Not our job. But my point is that many DP's I know are taking these cameras and making them look every bit as good as 35mm. Yes it usually comes at an extra cost....but not always. With the image of the camera being tweaked much closer to what the DI or Telecine transfer will look like but at acquisition, Producers and agencies get a perceived savings and it just feels like they are making progress. It is very political believe me. No one can explain how and why money is spent the way it is in our crazy business. I have worked on many HD sets and with the right crew it goes every bit as smooth as a film set. I have also been on a few that did not go so well. More often than not it is usually a DIT (digital image tech) that does not know the camera very well.

I am not trying to bust your chops here but I guess I am saying like it or not HD is here and it is not going away. Yes, I think it will get much better and very soon...but it is here to stay.

I also prefer to shoot film however, a VariCam set up on the sled with the right lens and matte box is a beautiful thing. So is The Red.

My point is that it is in everyone?s best interest to get out and learn as much as you can about HD. Take workshops, go to rental houses, also talk to the post guys. I have found that I know more about HD than a lot of the people posting things I shoot. I am not bragging, but I have found this to be a fact. I took it upon myself several years ago to learn all I could about HD and the cameras I use and yes even about post. You can learn a lot about HD from a good post house.

But getting back to your original post... I think your point (if I read through the lines properly) is just simply that you prefer Film over HD. I think most of us agree with you.

That said...HD is not going away...deal with it...learn how to use it!

Best,

Steve Fracol
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#11 RonBaldwin

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Posted 02 December 2007 - 02:21 PM

Maybe someday the cameras will be more user friendly (for handheld as well as for steadicam), pulling the cable to do a steadicam shot won't create panic, we'll get our crew chiefs back from the detached world of "the tent/truck," we'll get our camera dept best boy back to the truck from the piles of cable, it will again feel like making a movie instead of shooting a multi-camera tv event, and "HD" will actually mean "High Def" instead of "Huge Delay."

I have to admit I have limited hd experience (half a season on an hd episodic, an hd pilot, and a day here and there) but so far it's been a real pain in the arse. Luckily I've had plenty of Lisigav with me.

here's to getting the future here sooner than later, and bending over to welcome it.

rb
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#12 Steve Fracol SOC

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Posted 02 December 2007 - 03:27 PM

tv event, and "HD" will actually mean "High Def" instead of "Huge Delay."

here's to getting the future here sooner than later, and bending over to welcome it.



HAHAHAHAAHA!

Now that is funny Ron!
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