I recently finished a pretty cool music video where I was presented with a couple of interesting technical challenges that required some extensive camera testing and tough decision making. On this particular project the creative dictated two requirements. Number one was to create a very deep depth of field where all of the action needed to be in focus all of the time without any focus pulling. Number two requirement required the camera to rotate “locked-off” 360 degrees continuously.
To solve the first challenge of deep focus, lighting to an F11 was not an option so my obvious choice was to use a 2/3″ CCD ENG video camera instead of a 35mm digital sensor. Inherently, smaller sensor ENG cameras provide deeper depth of field at a given F-stop. But the obvious trade off with using video cameras is the cinematic look you can lose compared to that of modern 35mm sensors and the director, Daniel AM Rosenberg, like all directors, wanted to have their cake and eat it too. By that I mean, deep focus and cinematic files. Well, we could not get or afford a Sony F23 so I had to find a video camera that retained some semblance of a cinematic look and I knew from past experience that the best choice would definitely be the Panasonic 3700. This is a camera that had a very brief cameo in the marketplace before it was eclipsed by the RED ONE. It is Panasonic’s flagship P2 Varicam and it came out just when RED was first starting to gain traction. In short, the 3700 came out with too little, too late when comparing it next to the RED at the time. But as an ENG camera, it’s picture quality is stunning even by today standards. The first issue with the 3700 was availability; no one is using them so there was none to be found locally. Jason kennedy at Sim Digital worked some magic and sourced one from the US and brought it up.
Not entirely convinced with the 3700 Panasonic, Daniel wanted me to test an adapter I had suggested prior that would allow for B4 2/3″ glass to fit with PL mount cameras. In theory it was supposed to achieve a similar depth of field to a video camera. In the first test we equipped a RED ONE camera with the adapter in 2K mode with a 2/3″ digi-prime lens but surprisingly it didn’t provide any perceivable DOF difference when compared to shooting 4K with a 35mm lens. The other test showed the DOF gained by shooting straight up on the Panasonic vs. the RED with the adapter and same digi-prime lens. Below you can see a split screen shot off the monitor with a RED + adapter and a 7mm digi-prime configuration (on the right) vs. the Panasonic with the exact same lens (left). The difference is obvious. By looking at the test chart and the boxes and conduit pipe in the background, the Panasonic is clearly much sharper with the same lens at the same F-stop. The adapter would have provided no perceivable gain in depth of field, a softer image and it would have robbed me 2 stops of exposure! The adapter provided me with absolutely no value so it was out.
To make a long story entirely less painful, we decided that increased depth of field was of more value to the creative treatment than the ability to have a more cinematic looking file that could be heavily graded. That being said, we opted for using the Panasonic 3700 with the 7mm Ziess Digi-Prime to squeeze the maximum amount of sharpness and detail out of the camera. Media was recorded straight to P2 cards internally at 10bit 1920X1080 422 colour space. We decided an external recorder would not have benefitted us that much.
The second big challenge was dealing with a 360 degree rotating camera at 3RPM (three revolutions per minute, once every 20 seconds.) Anymore and the audience would be sick and the camera’s frame rate wouldn’t be able to keep up with the fast rotations resulting in a very jittery looking image. This issue proved more difficult to solve because we tested numerous combinations of FPS / Time Base trying to find a compromise between having an image that wasn’t too jittery looking and having an image that didn’t look like the evening news. It was a delicate balance of finding the right rotation speed, fps, and recording time base.
The video consisted of two shoot days. The first was a small straight-forward green screen shoot that we recoded using the RED Epic and a Cabrio 19-90 zoom. The other photo is just a glimpse of some of the craziness that I can’t yet discuss because it’s secret until the video is released. But here is a sneak peak of some zombie babe action.