ENTRY FIFTEEN: BEHIND THE LENS

(GUEST ENTRY – JONNO BUTLER, D.O.P on the majority of our work)

A lot of the questions we get asked on the SuperfreakMedia YouTube channel concern what camera was used to shoot that particular video. In fact, I bet if someone with much more time on their hands than I did an audit of YouTube comments on short films it would be a pretty darn common question indeed.

Although we try to respond to all of the comments I thought I’d just go over what cameras we have actually used over the past few years, the list is rather small and consists of a grand total of 3 cameras:

Canon 600D + Panasonic GH4 + Sony PMW F3

This covers the main cameras we have used to shoot our short films but for other work you can add to that list the Sony A7S, Canon 5DMkII and the RED Epic.

Now, I love new camera gear as much as the next DOP and if you were to offer me a RED Weapon I’d bite your hand off, but a great camera does not make a great video. Of course, having a fantastic image can really add a film but if the other elements aren’t there, well, what’s the point.
I think a lot of what makes our work look good (if I may be so bold) is down to what the camera sees and not its image processing capabilities. Take a look at the short film version of ‘MR CREAK’ which I shot on the Panasonic GH4 for example. The lighting, set dressing, performance and make-up all added together to make the short look the way it did. We also used a haze machine to give create shafts of light coming through the cracks in the windows and add to the sense of decay in the room.

mr-creak

It would have looked pretty good on an iPhone because all of the other elements were working in unison to create an appealing image. Would it have looked better if we shot it on a RED? Probably, but we wouldn’t have been able to fund any more films for a while that’s for sure!

Most of the films I shoot for SuperFreakMedia are shot on the Panasonic GH4. Lens wise, I use Nikon fit Samyang VDSLR lenses via a Metabones Speedbooster and a lovely 45mm Olympus MFT lens and that’s pretty much your lot.

image1

Sometimes I pair the setup with an Atomos Ninja Assassin to output PRORES 422 but not that often. When the main delivery format is YouTube I feel like the file sizes involved can be overkill and the 4K image the GH4 can record internally is lovely as it is.

In relation to the GH4 I have found that the way to get the best image from the camera is to shoot in 100mbps 4K and resize the image into a 1080p timeline. This has 2 advantages, the picture quality and detail is insane and it allows for some wiggle room in post when it comes to composing shots. We used this method to film ‘HIDE AND SEEK’ and the level of detail can really be seen in the leafy woodland we shot in.

hide-and-seek

In fact, I used 2 GH4s to shoot a Dance School show last year and because they wanted the film to be delivered on standard definition DVD the options I had were incredible. It looked as if we had more than double the coverage.

I love the GH4 but as with any camera, it has its limitations. It’s not great in low light and the crop factor, especially in 4K can be a pain but on the whole it was the best camera for my needs when I purchased it. Also, the low light issues can be combatted with correct lighting so I shouldn’t really complain.

That leads me quite neatly to lighting. I would say I have quite a minimalistic style in the sense that I don’t use many lights to get the look that I want. This probably stems from the fact that we are often shooting on a very low, even no budget where the only lights accessible are some LED light panels and practical lights in the scene.

seasons-greetings

For example, the shot above from ‘SEASONS GREETINGS’ was lit by an LED light panel adding to the effect of a practical lamp just out of shot to the left. A second, smaller LED panel was used to add a bit of fill and the string lights in the background created a bit of interest.

I also like to make the image from the camera look as close to the final look as possible, this is a way of working that Liam and I prefer but I know many directors prefer a flatter image that they can push and manipulate in post to their heart’s content.

One last point I’d like to cover is my all-time favourite camera, the SONY PMW F3. On paper you may think: Huh!? Why? But hear me out. I know we are in an era of 4, 6 and even 8K cameras being accessible so why should a humble 1080p camera that is 7 years old be worth a look? The answer is simply the image it produces. Now I know earlier on I spoke about how image isn’t everything but it is still a vital part of a film. I would describe the F3’s image as filmic.

the-copy-writer

We used the camera to shoot ‘THE COPY-WRITER’ in 2014, I also tested the RED Epic for the film but both Liam and I felt the F3 was the better choice. I preferred how it dealt with low light (especially important in the candle-lit scenes) and combined with an external PRORES recorder we were able to get images that we could still manipulate in post.

I must admit that I have been searching for one second hand ever since and am waiting for one to pop up at the right price, here’s hoping!

So what of the future? I’m really looking forward to doing some camera and lighting tests for the feature version of ‘MR CREAK’, who knows, I may get to work with the F3 again or maybe we’ll choose something else. Watch this space…

Written by – JONNO BUTLER (Check out his BLOG here)

 

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