Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Lego Letters

I have been thinking about this for a while but have finally gotten underway with a project to animate some titles using good old Lego bricks.  Im going to give this a go with my own name and try and make some titles for my show reel.  I did consider using multicoloured bricks but decided in the end to go with classic black on white print style.  If it works well I may well suggest it for use on future projects I work on.

Im just in the planning stage so far but will post more as things progress.  As you can see from the quick iphone snap of my desk its  turned into quite an organisational task trying to design different letters that will build stably and at a similar speed!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The New F's - Previewing the F5 and F55

NOTE - For those who shuddererd at the size of this post here are the two New F's key specs in a nutshell.

  • New S35mm Sensor S-log Colour space 
  • Min 14 Stops DR (RAW) 4K 60fps 16bit RAW recording (via optional recording module) 
  • 2k and 1080p 120fps 16bit RAW recording (via optional recording module) 
  • 2K and 1080p 120fps 10bit recording internally 
  • Records in XDCAM 422 50Mbps 8 bit and XAVC 10bit 2 SxS Pro+ media slots 
  • FZ Mount with PL adapter
  • 10bit SDI out
  • Genlock, Timecode in/out etc
  • As the F5 But Including
  • 4K 1-60fps 10bit recording internally
  • 2K and 1080p 180fps 10bit recording internally
  • 2K and 1080p 180fps 16bit RAW recording (via optional recording module)
  • Records in HDCAM SR 12bit
  • Records in XDCAM 422 50Mbps 8 bit and XAVC 10bit 2 to same card simultaneously
  • Wider Colour Gamut
  • Global Shutter

Phew, Just got back in from an exciting day at the Sony The Future Is In Your Handsroadshow in London. There were some fascinating new technologies on display including the new PMW-200 which looks a very worthy replacement to the EX1 and finally records in 50Mbps 422. The new OLED display and reference monitors look absolutely stunning and the diminutive HXR-NX30, despite looking a bit like a sci-fi Iron, seems to be sporting an all new image stabilising system that could potentially become a big player in the fixed lens camcorder market. Sony are calling it Balanced Optical SteadyShot™ and it seems that the entire optical block of the camera can move around and compensate for camera movement. From the outside this function makes the Zeiss branded lens look rather grotesque, a bit like an eye lolling drunkenly in its socket. It seemed fairly effective though with slower movements and I think will definitely be a technology to watch.

 Floppy eyeballs aside, the real news was of course 'THE NEW F' that we have seen reference to over the last couple of weeks. It turned out, in-fact, to be F's in the form of the all new Cine-Alta badged PMW-F5 and its slightly beefier brother the F55. Despite the fairly limited hands on access I had it was clear to see that these are intended to be serious challengers in the independent film and promo market and Sony have managed to squeeze in some of the technology from the incredible F65 at what should be a lower price point. Both cameras have the same modular body which can be built up with recording unit, audio inputs, viewfinder and even 12v power distribution. They are constructed with robust feeling metal and plastic (they seemed sturdier than the F3) and have an 'Alexa' like LCD on the side displaying all the key shooting settings with operational buttons above the relevant information for quickly changing things. The lens mount is the same as the F3 (FZ mount with supplied PL mount adapter) and seems to be the only discernible difference between the two bodies as the F55 has a slightly jazzier silver locking ring in comparison to the F5's plain black one.

Now for the exciting part - both cameras sport brand new S35mm sensors and can shoot 4K, 2K and 1080p with variable framerates in 1 frame increments. They can also record in a variety of codecs including 4K 16bit RAW! Yup you heard right! The sensors are 4K Native and the other resolutions are down-sampled from this so there shouldn't be any annoying crop factor implications when selecting lenses.

The RAW recording comes via the AXS-R5 proprietary recording module that connects neatly to the rear of the camera body and uses Sony's new recording media the AXS card. Larger than an SxS but smaller than an SSD and will come in sizes up to 1Tb. Now, this is where we start to see differences between the two models, the F5 will only Record 4K via this RAW recorder. It can not do it internally or output it via the 3G SDI output. The F55, on the other hand, can record 4K internally to SxS cards (a new faster SXS Pro+ version of the media has been introduced for this purpose) using a new, and again currently proprietry Codec, XAVC. This Codec looks like a high quality I-frame h.264 implementation like ProRes and has been designed specifically for recording high resolution and high speed video. The F5 Records it to SxS as well, but only at HD and 2K resolutions. Im sure many people will wonder why Sony chose not to go the ProRes route like the Alexa and Black Magic Cameras but they seemed confident that the Codec was more than up to the Job and will be implemented across all major NLE's at product Launch.

On the Subject of Codecs here lie more differences between the cameras. They both record internally to SxS, SxS Pro and SxS Pro+ in S-log colour space with 8bit Mpeg 2 50Mbps 422 (XDCAM) and the new 10 bit XAVC as well as offering the 16bit RAW via the external recorder. This on its own is fantastic but the F55 goes one step further and includes HD CAM SR for Recording of HD resolutions in 12bit 444 (Im not sure about 2K in SR but I think the 4K is only recordable using RAW or XAVC). If this is not enough, by using one of the new SxS Pro+ cards you can record 4K XAVC and 50Mbps Mpeg2 to the same card - simultaneously! This opens up unparalleled flexibility on the F55 and essentially means you can capture proxy recordings in a broadcast acceptable format alongside the 4K masters.

Another Difference between the two Cameras is in there high speed framerates. Both will do 1-60fps 4K RAW with the attached Recorder and internally the F55 will also record 4K RAW at 1-60fps. Like many cameras the higher speeds are at lower resolution but this is nothing to be sniffed, however, as both deliver incredible performance. The F5 shooting both 2K and HD at up to 120fps and the F55 pushing it further with 2K and HD at 180fps. If you add the RAW recorder things get even more exciting as the F5 maintains its 2k 120fps frame rate but in 16 bit RAW whilst the F55 can deliver a staggering 240fps in RAW at 2K. This sort of performance is phenomenal and although it comes wuth the caveat of only being possible through a proprietry recorder and media I think if it delivers like they told us it is going to it will have people salivating across the globe. It also seems like a serious blow to Canon in the large sensor camcorder war as they are still fairly Lack lustre in the high speed department.

Terrible iPhone photo of the PMW-F5 on Display

The Sensors are brand new designs and we were told will deliver a minimum of 14 stops dynamic range as well as delivering great high iso performance. The F55 has a slightly more advanced sensor with different pigmentation that is claimed to deliver a wider and more natural colour gamut than the F5. They both looked great and really clean on the monitors at the show but this was just crappy indoor lighting so we will have to wait for some decent footage to become available before it is possible to discern how overall Image Quality differs between the two Cameras. There is no reason to believe it will be nothing short of fantastic though on both models as sony is making phenomenal sensors at the moment and we only have to look at the FS100/700 and F3 for credentials not to mention the chip in the new A99 DSLR and Nikons D800 which also sports a sony CMOS chip.

The final major difference between the pair lies in the shutter system. The F5 has the usual CMOS rolling electronic shutter so will still exhibit rolling shutter artefacts, although we were told great attention has been taken to keep these to a minimum. The F55, however, sports an F65 inspired Global Shutter for true film emulation and complete annihilation of rolling shutter nastiness. Its a shame this isn't included on the F5 but I guess they needed to keep the pricing structure sensible for the lower-end of the two models. On this matter all the Sony reps were particularly reticent - pricing was not finalised and would not be discussed. The only hints we were given were that the F55 would obviously be more expensive and the pair would sit somewhere between the F3 and F65 on the scale. I think this leads towards a guestimation that the F5 will probably be be somewhere in the £15-20K Realm and the F55 probably around £25Kish. Its possible the F55 will be higher as this still leaves quite a gap between it and the F65 but you are going to get a lot more with the F65 which is also getting updated to v3.0. Rather incredibly it is going to include new de-mosaicing to deliver 6-8K capability even on footage that has already been recorded at 4K Raw!

Exciting news for anyone who's budget will not stretch to these lofty heights is that the 4K RAW recorder developed for the F5/55 is also going to be the means of unleashing the mysterious 4K potential of the FS700. They are currently working on a version that will connect to the 3G SDI out and deliver true 4K RAW recording although whether it will be 10,12 or 16bit seemed uncertain. This will not be available until later in 2013 bet will provide a fantastic entry level gateway to 4K acquisition and allow adopters of the FS700 to really expand their system rather than seeing it become obsolete.

As well as the announcement of The RAW recording module a number of other accessories were announced alongside the new cameras. A new battery module that is V-Lock mount but about half the size of a traditional V-Lock battery whilst offering the same sort of performance. It also delivers twice the life-span of other LiIon batteries and can be charged in 60 minutes making a 2 battery outfit a real possibility. The other major piece of kit was the choice between a new LCD viewfinder (much improved over the F3) and an even better 1280x720 OLED EVF unit that offers a 1000:1 contrast ratio. We didn't see the OLED unit but the new LCD looked very nice and both are fitted with an adjustable arm that allows differing positions for a variety of shooting setups.

All in all these new cameras look to be incredible film-making tools and a real commitment to making 4K recording a possibility for many productions. I certainly cant wait to use them and its going to be fascinating to see how the other major manufacturers respond with their technology.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Fancier Than Pigeons

Ive been a bit quiet recently as Ive been working on quite a big editing job for the Zabludowicz Collection and a couple of music video shoots that I cant talk about just yet! Its only going to be a quick one today too as I just thought I'd post these pics I snapped this morning while I was trying to capture a time-lapse clip of the paralympic clock in all its count down splendidness.

The pictures are of one of the pair of Harris Hawks (I dont know whether it was Liam or Jack?!) That patrol the popular pigeon roosting spots around Trafalgar Square.  I knew that this happened but had never seen them in action before, swooping around nelson and flapping over the rooves fountains and pausing for a quick preen on the 'dont feed the pigeon signs'!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Line Describing a Cone Causes a Crisis

B and I headed down to Tate modern to check out the new Tanks galleries last Sunday and in particular to catch the special screening of Anthony McCall's complete Cone films. The films are part of what McCall calls his Solid Light Films and are an exploration of cinema in a purely physical form. The films step aside from the image we are used to seeing projected on a flat surface and remove all sense of narrative, focussing instead on the projection of light and its journey through space. The screen is in essence expanded; no longer are time and action unfolding at the screen plane, instead the audience are stood either side of them as they aoccupy the centre of the theatre between projector and screen.

The first of these expanded cinema films is Line Describing a Cone 1972. A beam of light is projected onto a black screen and gradually begins to draw a line, clockwise, until it has gone full circle and created a large hollow cone. Obviously the atmosphere needs to be quite dense in order for the light to be visible and so theatrical smoke is employed to delineate it. The result is a minimal and ethereal work blending sculptural form with the intangibility of projected light, existing in the space for only the 30 minute duration of the film. The four works that followed were Conical Solid (1974) a blade of light that rotates from a fixed central axis at varying speeds. Cone of Variable Volume (1974) a projected light cone that expands and contracts at varying speeds and Partial Cone (1974) which creates a range of surface qualities through a half-cone of light by blinking and flashing.

The films were beautiful and both inspiring and relevant despite being 40 years old.  The only downside was the somewhat ropey presentation by Tate.(B saw them at the Serpentine and informs me that they were much better done.) First of all there was some unknown delay in getting into the space followed rapidly by evacuation as the fire alarms went off having not been deactivated for the event that involved the production of smoke!  After an hours wait, however, it looked like we were finally going to get to see the cone films after all.

On entering the room a second time it was obvious that, despite its valiant effort in triggering the fire alarm, the puny little hazer on the floor was not going to cope with the cavernous back hall of the new Tanks space and unfortunately the films struggled at times to be as clear as they could be. When the little machine was puffing its hardest there were some beautiful textures developing within the crisp edges of the cone but these tailed off the closer you got to the projection screen.  The final film that was supposed to be more about the textural qualities projected was barely visible at all.  It led the two of us to think, and me to overhear another couple say "imagine how good this would have been in the 70's when everyone was smoking!"

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Wrong Kind Of Ring

On Wednesday I headed out to do a bit more shooting on the time-lapse project Im currently working on. This time my aim was a couple of shots of Tower Bridge as there were a some old sail barges due to come through.  Initially my plan was to shoot on the Canon 85mm 1:1.2L II I had hired for another job.  This is a stunning piece of glass with great milky bokeh and stunning sharpness even wide open, I wanted to see how it performed stopped down a bit though in daylight shooting.  I set up on London Bridge and got a good mid shot of Tower Bridge in the centre of the frame.  It was at this point though that I realised my schoolboy error, the filter thread was 72mm diameter and therefore not compatible with the 77mm adapter ring I was carrying for my ND filters. This meant that I couldn't get the shutter speed slow enough to use with my Little Bramper intervalometer and had to abandon my plans of shooting the 85 and switch to something wider. (incidently the Little Bramper is a brilliant piece of kit that allows you to change iso and ramp both shutter speed and interval times over a defined period. Check it out here if you are into time-lapse).

The second "ring" related element to my afternoon came from the sheer number of people that kept coming up to me to ask why the Olympic rings were turned upwards on the bridge.  When I told them that they moved to allow the bridge to rise so boats could pass through they turned their noses up and one woman exclaimed "I hope they don't stay like that for long.  It's much prettier with the rings showing!"  Now I'm used to having weird conversations with unknown members of the public, its all part of the territory that comes with standing in one place too long with a camera, but I was astounded by how many people could overlook the engineering wonder that is Tower Bridge to be more concerned with temporary Olympic marketing. Really people, really!

The rest of the afternoon was an unfortunate washout as the weather got progressively worse and I ended up returning home with one very short clip and very wet feet.  It looks like the images have some good dramatic light to start with but unfortunately get a bit diffused towards the end.  There are some nice moments but I think I may try again in a couple of weeks when there are some Tall Ships due through as part of the Olympic whimsy fest.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

East End Film Festival #6

Last Saturday B and I checked out another one of the EEEF events in Spitalfields market, this time a screening of the classic silent horror - Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror) usually just shortened to Nosferatu. The film was directed by German Expressionist F. W. Murnau and released in 1922 as an unofficial film adaptation of Dracula.  It seems the rights to the story were never formally purchased and so it follows the general theme of Stokers classic but names and details have been changed e.g  Count Dracula becomes Count Orlok (played most creepily by Max Schreck).

Max Schrek as Count Orlok

In this instance the film was accompanied by an incredible soundtrack by Minima, featuring the soaring vocals of Paul Ayres’ Queldryk Choral Ensemble. There was also a projection based installation by artist Lucy Jones.  The film was great, I hadn't actually seen it before and it really is a classic and bizarre bit of surrealism as well as a beautifully shot film with plenty of moody chiaroscuro delivered by Fritz Arno Wagner's cinematography.  The score was also excellent and the 60 strong choir definitely brought a chilling edge to the performance that worked brilliantly in the cavernous market. I was however, a little dissapointed in Jones' installation which seemed lack-lustre and was positioned too high to make any real impact.  I really liked the idea; shadows and silhouettes of scenery from the film moving slowly across a series of banners suspended above the audience (this is my kind of thing). It  really lacked in execution though and looked more like an after-thought rather than the "walls of the market being alive with creeping shadows" as it was advertised.  In fairness to Lucy Jones though this is something quite difficult to pull off and I cant help but wonder if there were budgetary and administrational complications that led her to water things down.  On the whole though another great event, good work EEFF!

The classic shadow of Count Orlok climbing the stairs

Shiny Shard

Im not sure whats happened to the last week and Ive got a bit behind on the 'ol blogging.  So,  a week ok today for those of you who were unaware was the official opening of the tallest building in Europe, London's Shard.  To affirm the presence of the collosal structure (just incase you had failed to notice it already) all 309.6 metres of of steel and glass were illuminated with multi-coloured lights, green lasers were blasted out from the sides and search lights swept around the perimeter in a light show extravaganza that began just after 10pm.

I decided that this would make a good subject for a timelapse project that I am currently putting together detailing London over the summer months and featuring some of the unusual sights of "2012" alongside more mundane occurrences.  Unfortunately, I was shooting elsewhere in the evening and couldn't make it down in time to get a great position, ending up at the west side of The Tower walls.  All the same it was definitely an interesting experience and posed a couple of unique challenges, namely how to capture the lights moving smoothly but still with that time-lapse feel.   I settled for a 2.5 second interval with an exposure of 1 second.  Looking at the footage I think I should have gone for a shorter interval to make things a touch smoother but the buffer on my 20D combined with the low ambient light meant that this was about as quick as I could go.  The results are still pretty exciting though and it is certainly not everyday you see something like this so when I finish processing it the shot will definitely find a spot in the edit.