P+S Technik Mini35 and the JVC GY-HD100, Part Two:
The Shoot, an article by Charles Papert, SOC
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On our second day, I was joined again by Nate and also Barry Green, who made the five hour trek up from Las Vegas with his Element packed to the gills with lighting and grip gear, and Brad Littman from the Instant Films staff. We convened at the Los Angeles Center Studios who had graciously granted us permission to shoot around their facility. I had selected an area known as the “Zen Garden”, a nice little patch of green nestled into a courtyard. It’s a good spot to shoot as it is at least half in shade in the late afternoon, which eliminates concerns of hot spots in the image from direct sunlight, but with careful positioning one can make use of the sun that does strike the surrounding areas, and the bright sky canopy overhead creates nice soft edges on the subjects.
Our first setup was to intended to demonstrate the effect of the Mini35.
I placed our lovely model Amy (who, in the spirit of proper disclosure, is also my girlfriend!) a few feet away from a hot section of sunlight on the granite floor of the courtyard, which gave her a nice upglow. No additional lighting was used. We then recreated the setup with the Fujinon 16x video lens that is standard with the JVC HD100 camera. Barry had come equipped with a laptop and DVRack software and was capturing footage live via firewire, so he was able to create a split-screen which helped in matching the image size. As expected, the focal length on the Fujinon that matched the 50mm S4 lens was around 12mm (the 4.4x factor holding true). It does appear that while we were switching out lens systems, the sun level had dropped a bit, so Amy has a bit less exposure on the Fujinon image version. Regardless, the images clearly point out the advantage of the Mini35 in this situation: by softening the background, the fine details of the flowerbed are reduced, which draws the visual attention forward.
We then moved on to a more exaggerated demonstration…
…of the selective focus that is possible with the Mini35. The 100mm lens was fitted to the Mini and I selected a range of greenery that showed multiple layers, from five feet to 25 feet away. By rolling through the focus, the multi-dimensional effect of revealing layers is achieved. In contrast, the Fujinon maintained focus from the foreground to the background, and no racking was available. This is of course a function of the depth of field characteristic of 1/3″ camera systems, not the fault of the lens itself. In terms of the camera’s performance, I believe this demonstrates the advantage of HD very nicely. The individual blades of the Agapanthus plants are crisp and defined, and subtle gradations of texture are visible that would be lost in the SD world. Because we were shooting in the shade, I felt that increasing the gamma would give a bit more snap to the image, so we came out of the preset Cinema mode and dialed in a cinema gamma setting of “3.”
Next up, I had Amy and fellow Instant Films regular Robert…
…take a stroll through the garden. This clip to me represents the very real advantages of the marriage of Mini35 and HD; while watching it at home on my 42″ Fujitsu EDTV, it looked exceptionally film-like, reminding me of what I’m used to seeing on the monitor during a telecine session. While the shallow depth of field from the 50mm is not “in-your-face” obvious, as the couple approaches the camera you can see the background slowly drift into soft focus, again drawing your eye forward to the subjects. I think the skin tones are very pleasing, although they do have a slight tendency towards ruddiness in the shadow areas (such as when Robert dips his head). Obviously this could easily be rectified with color correction.
I operated this shot (on crutches; now that’s a first!) with Nate pulling focus for me. Although he was a camera assistant in his distant past, this shot still presented a pretty good challenge, since T2 on the lens with the subject moving towards you is not the easiest thing to pull off. Initially we went “film-style” with Nate marking the focus knob with a series of points and interpolating the rest, but then we decided to experiment with the focus assist feature. I flipped the LCD screen back against the body of the camera for us to share, and Nate was immediately able to dial in focus more easily and accurately. I operated a similar shot elsewhere in the shoot, pulling my own focus by using the focus assist feature, and I agreed that this was a really helpful and effective tool. Considering that the LCD display and particularly the viewfinder are not really sharp enough to confirm the fine degree of focus required by the HD image, this feature will come in very handy, especially for those using a Mini35 or similar technology and not having the benefit of a top notch focus puller present.
Now, have a look at the close-ups.
These were taken on the 100mm lens with a bit of supplemental lighting: a passive white Flexfill on one side (just picking up the ambient daylight, not the sun); and a black flag on the other for negative fill, which helped define the modeling on the faces. Again, to my eye, it’s quite a filmic image quality, but not overly “sharp and tangy” as some HD close-ups can be.
Finally, we did a magic hour shot…
…with our subject Nicolette passing through frame as we dollied in (a Spider dolly on Flextrak). This was part of a larger sequence that is not reproduced here. Because we needed to squeeze out a bit more exposure, we moved to the Standard gamma mode with a level of 3. This shot demonstrates one of the issues with using a Mini35; you experience a light loss of between 1.5 to two stops which makes night exteriors more challenging and gear-intensive. While it is possible to boost the exposure in the foreground, (we had an uncorrected 575 HMI for backlight and a Lowel Caselight as a key, with another uplighting the railings in the foreground), brightening the windows in the office buildings in the background is out of the scope of this level of production!
I should point out that while shooting at night I saw an issue that I had noticed while playing with the camera at NAB (I personally can’t stand the standard trade-show “TV-studio” demo areas, so I tend to swing the cameras around to point at the trade show floor to examine real life images). A hot street light showed up with noticeable purple (aka magenta) fringing. To my mind this was more exaggerated than I have seen with other cameras in its class. Some other bad news: it seems that other pre-release samples have exhibited a tendency for one half of the frame to appear noisier and with a slightly elevated black level than the other, split neatly down the center. Barry had pointed this out to me with the camera capped and at 18 db where it was clearly visible, but even at 0db I was able to detect this phenomenon. Also, Barry discovered a single dead pixel (red) in the lower left quadrant. It is worth stressing again that this was a pre-production version of the camera, and JVC has assured me that bugs are still being worked out. Hopefully both of these issues will be addressed. Barry tells me that there is a masking feature in the service menus that should manage the dead pixels if present. We also experienced some funkiness in playback: the image would randomly present a blue screen after pressing play, only going to picture after a period of time (which caused much consternation at first), as well as erratic results with the visual fast forward and rewind. And no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t get the hang of the skin detail function.
A quick discussion about the HD100’s ergonomics. Nate (who is also a DP) and I both feel that the camera has an easy-to-learn layout and a nice feel. Those who are accustomed to more professional shoulder-mount bodies such as the Betacam form factor should make the transition without difficulty, and those who aren’t shouldn’t be turned off. The viewfinder mount offers good adjustability. Some of the controls are a bit harder to get to than one might like, though. I found the tape transport controls tough to access at times, as they are partly behind the ear brace/speaker, and Nate wished the focus assist button was easier to find blindly. While there are timecode function buttons on the body itself, half of the necessary controls for setting code are still within menus as in the DVX100, which is a nuisance. Integration with the Mini35 is tight and as stated before, the two components make a good single form factor. We didn’t test the setup handheld but I suspect that while the fore-mounted viewfinder would allow much better balance than the rear-mounted ones on the Panasonic and Sony cameras (where it is impossible to place the camera on the shoulder and see an image), I believe it would still be quite front-heavy. The Canon Mini35 setup, with the additional mounting brackets for both the color and black-and-white viewfinders in front of the carry handle, still represents the best bet for handheld shooting.
To sum up: I do believe that the JVC HD100 when teamed with the Mini35 represents a formidable filmmaking package. I haven’t seen these images filmed-out nor projected digitally on a large scale, so I can’t comment on how they hold up under those circumstances, but on the monitor they were very impressive. I for one am loathe to get into the numbers game, debating 720p vs 1080i, ad nauseum; I prefer to judge whether I like an image or not when I see it. And overall, under controlled circumstances I do like these images. Certainly there were a few oddities and caveats, but it’s important to remember that this is a sub-$6000 camera, and it’s not really fair to hold it up to a Varicam or an F900. Would I make a movie with this combo? Absolutely, and I hope to do so very soon!
· Pretty, smooth images
· Nice ergonomics, overall good placement of buttons/switches
· Good handheld form
· Impressive amount of image controls in menu
· Solid feeling lens, very comfortable to those used to broadcast-style
· Focus assist feature very handy and intituitive to use
· Mini35 relay feeds directly to imager (cleaner optical path)
Cons (note that this camera is only a pre-production sample):
· Purple fringing around highlights
· Split-screen phenomenon in blacks
· Some controls a little fiddly to get at (VTR buttons, focus assist)
· Erratic playback
· Short battery life
· LCD viewfinder not very sharp (but helped by focus assist feature)
· HDV format not loved by all; PRO-HDV not yet supported by all NLE’s
About the author: Charles Papert is a director and camera operator based in Los Angeles with a long list of industry credits including 2nd unit DP, operator and/or Steadicam operator on films such as “Office Space”, “Crazy/Beautiful” and “American History X”, and TV shows such as “Scrubs”, “ER” and “The West Wing”. Charles is one of our DV Info Net community forum moderators and is a member of the Society Of Camera Operators (SOC). He is also a co-founder of Instant Films, one of the premier 48-hour filmmaking festivals. His favorite color is green, and his astrological sign is “whatever”.
From left: Brad Littman, Nate Weaver, Barry Green, Charles Papert.
About the crew: Nate Weaver has been working in film and video from the time he was able to drive. His first job was as a production assistant on Rescue 911; he then continued on to assistant cameraman on film productions. In 1997 he purchased a Steadicam, which jump-started the move to directing and D.P.ing music videos. He currently serves as head of video production at Kung Fu Records in Los Angeles. Barry Green is a writer and producer with Fiercely Independent Films, Inc., a Las Vegas-based production company; in addition to writing and producing corporate films and independent features, he writes books and produces training videos (and spends an abundance of his spare time on forums such as DV Info Net).
All images ©2005 by Charles Papert and may not be redistributed.
Go back to Part One: The Camera.
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See the images from specific frame grabs.
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Written by Charles Papert, SOC.
Thrown together by Chris Hurd.
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