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Canon XL H Series HDV Camcorders
Canon XL H1S (with SDI), Canon XL H1A (without SDI). Also XL H1.


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Old May 11th, 2006, 12:54 PM   #1
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"film look" ironies

Let me preface these comments by stating that I, too, prefer the look of 24p or f or whatever. Several years ago that preference led me to the Panasonic 100A, with which I shot several films. I then acquired an XL-2, and shot a 30 minute documentary that is currently being projected in a museum theater to rave revues..

Here's the first irony. Although I primarily make documentaries, I also occasionaly shoot commercials in film - 35mm or 16mm. When I shoot larger budget spots the client usually wants the film to be originated at 30 fps so that there will not be any judder in the transfer to tape... So much for "film look" there.

Additionally (and I've commented on this before) most of what I shoot ends up on television - particularly on PBS. The tech people in broadcast standards are still very nervous about 24p originated video for NTSC. As a matter of fact I've had several pans arbitrarilly cut into (without consulting me, by the way) because they felt that the judder was objectionable.

Here's the second irony: Depth of field. I, like many here, try to shoot with the lens as wide open as possible so that the chosen subject is in focus and the stuff in front and behind falls off, thereby drawing the eye to the subject. Film look, right?

Well, take a look at some of the truly classic films from the '30's and '40's. Especially the old standard film-school icon, CITIZEN KANE... What stands out is that everything is in focus from foreground to background - as a matter of fact cinematographers like Greg Toland and James Wong Howe fought with slow film and huge, hot lights to achieve that look.

Point is - working with the scene files (which are now downloadable from this site) and finding something that feels like film to you is something that can be done today, this afternoon, without waiting for technology to catch up with tastes...

Transfer to 35mm for projection is another issue altogether. I know that 24p is the way to go in that scenario - but I also know that the possibility of it ever happening is slim (very, and I mean VERY, expensive unless a major distributor jumps in). I'm not trying to discourage anyone, but I've seen some people lose their homes for a dream - and, yes, one or two I know succeeded, although those were shot on 35...

I chose to not fight the issue. The H1 delivers an outstanding image at 1080i and, for now, that's good enough for me..
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Old May 11th, 2006, 02:08 PM   #2
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I read you loud and clear, Steve. Agreed right down the line.

There's a great book by Robert L. Carringer, "The Making of Citizen Kane," which describes the lengths that Toland went to in order to achieve deep focus. The most famous deep-focus shots in Kane, such as The Bottle In The Foreground While Kane Breaks Down Susan's Bedroom Door (you know the one) were the result of multiple compositions with in-camera mattes. I can understand how some folks equate shallow DOF with the "film look," but here's the most famous (American) film in history going out of its way to get deep focus. Go figure. I think what's really happening in this business is that people aren't trying to emulate a "film look" so much as they're wanting to get aqway from the "video look."

I've always understood it this way: the ultimate goal of video is to look as real as possible. The ultimate goal of film is to look better than real. These days the camcorders are capable of producing that "better than real" look, with the variety of custom preset parameters in the XL H1 providing a very easy and immediate way to do that.

You mention James Wong Howe -- that hits close to home as "Hud" is one of my favorite movies of all time. Not just the Larry McMurty story or the cast or Ritt's direction, but the visual style as well, which is all JWH.
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Old May 11th, 2006, 02:29 PM   #3
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I think progressive video looks great, but I've never gotten the 24 fps thing either. It looks too jumpy to me in way that I never notice in a movie theater. Something's just not quite right there when playing back on an NTSC monitor. I don't really get the obsession with getting the narrowest depth of field possible either, although I do wish it was possible to get a little more control of it using prosumer camcorders. Deep focus photography can look great for some subject matter, but it is a little annoying to be stuck with it all the time.
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Old May 11th, 2006, 03:40 PM   #4
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Steve,

That's so funny that you should mention Citizen Kane as I watched it again a couple of nights ago (really studying b/w composition and lighting) and it struck me that the depth of field was wide in most shots except for the ones where he was trying to convey intimacy and emotion.

People I know tend to pick one thing (like shallow depth of field or 24fps) and assume they will have an instant film look. There is a reason hundreds of people are involved in making a film, there's a lot more that goes into it than the lens and temporal cadence.

Anyway, I'm wasting my time because I'm preaching to the choir over here...

:)
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Old May 11th, 2006, 04:26 PM   #5
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The Beach is a recent film that comes to mind with a lot of deep focus technique. It looks as if a lot of compositing took place and I think it looks fantastic. Both shallow and deep DOF have their place, and 35mm adapters are here to give us the flexibility to choose which one we want for each shot. Ironically, the cheaper 1/3" HD cams are the most flexible solutions here, because if you do choose to have deep DOF for a particular shot or scene, the smaller sensor helps a lot. Larger sensor cameras might have to be stopped down way too much, softening the overall image because of diffraction and pushing down their "superior" sensitivity even below that of the smaller cams.
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Old May 11th, 2006, 05:06 PM   #6
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Kurosawa also liked to use deep focus shots. His DP used to complain that they used more lights for their day shots, than most movies ever used for their night shots.
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Old May 11th, 2006, 05:42 PM   #7
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"I chose to not fight the issue. The H1 delivers an outstanding image at 1080i and, for now, that's good enough for me.."

Steve,
Are you saying that you prefer shooting in 60i on the XLH1?
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Old May 11th, 2006, 07:04 PM   #8
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Bruce: What I'm saying is that that is what is working right now and I accept it.. as progessive compatible TVs and HD players begin to dominate the marketplace, things will change...

The TV world is still holding on to NTSC standards, even the networks that broadcast HD - reason? playing to the lowest common denominator - it's similar to 4x3 - many good folks with beautiful big Sony CRTs do not like losing real estate with black bands top and bottom... That has been transitioning for ten years or so... I won't even get into the black level thing...

But I don't like people I've never met cutting into my shows because they have personal issues with 24p... This too shall pass...

As I said, I personally like the look of (good) 24p acquisition because it has a more tactile film-like feel - but it's really psychological - if you asked the man (or woman)-on-the-street he or she wouldn't know the difference - unless it looks bad - then you'll hear it for sure...

By the way, HUD is one of my favorite films too.. I was lucky enough to take a cinematography seminar with James Wong Howe at UCLA in the 60's (as well as having Haskell Wexler as an instructor) - did you know that Paul Newman shot the hand held stuff during the greased pig contest?
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Old May 11th, 2006, 07:30 PM   #9
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I did not know that! Nice Hud triva there Steve. Kinda coincidental, The Day The Earth Stood Still was just on AMC over here a little while ago, I walked in just as Gort abducts Patricia Neal, and I said to Kelly, "now we know the real reason why Alma left town and headed west to keep house for the Bannons."
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Old May 11th, 2006, 07:56 PM   #10
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Steve,
Did you ever run into Haskel Wexler's son,Jeff? He's a well known production sound guy who has worked on many BIG movies. In addition, he regularly posts and answers questions on ramps, and is a helpfull, down to earth guy.He answered one of my questions, and a local sound guy/friend told me to google his name.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 09:29 AM   #11
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Bruce: No, I haven't - I moved to Monterey to shoot my graduate thesis film, an environmental documentary titled DDT - KNOWING IT SURVIVES US, in 1968 - after that I sorta turned my back on all my LA contacts - something I occasionally regret (hard to raise money in the hinterlands - especially back then), but it was sure better for my physical and mental health... It was the "turn on, tune in and drop out" era - and I definitely dropped out...

The "independent film movement" was only a gleam in people's eyes then - this current technology has made the process available to everyone - which is viewed as having both it's good and bad points... I like to think that it is the democratization of the story-telling process...
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Old May 12th, 2006, 10:49 AM   #12
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Essentially to echo what Chris said, shallow focus will help video look better. The other way to capture moving images is film, thus making video look better makes it look more like film (or, I would say, FEEL like film).

Deep focus video, particular from 1/3" cameras, looks nowhere near as good as deep focus 35mm. It's just something about the way each medium resolves a background full of detail. While I've always been one to trot out "Kane" as an argument for why one should not discard deep depth of field as an artistic choice, I do feel that the extended depth of 1/3" video is not a particularly attractive look, unless it is being exploited in an obvious way (extreme closeup on one side of frame, full figure on the other etc).
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Old May 12th, 2006, 11:11 AM   #13
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I'm sorry Charles but I just don't agree with this particularly with the advent of cameras like the XLH1. Depth in a deep focus shot is all about creative sculpting with light. If a DP knows what he is doing, even with 1/3" cameras, I think it can look very well.

The amount of creative lighting that went into the sets of Kane is quite obvious. There is a painful attention to details when it comes to expressing shadow and light and it's that, in my opinion, that makes it look so good. Flat lighting in the same shot would make a dramatic difference to the perceived "quality" of that footage.

There is no question that film trumps video every time but there are many creative ways to make video look really good.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 11:26 AM   #14
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Also Charles, the thing that makes deep focus not look good is what is included in the frame... if everything is in focus you have to use an Art Director's eye to draw attention to the desired subject, using color or texture or light..

If one just aims a camera at a scene without taking into account the entire composition, then you end up with a junky looking image, like having old car parts on the lawn in front of a newly painted front door (unless of course that's the look you're going for)...

To be honest, and I don't mean this as a put down to anyone, I think the "film look" has more to do with composition - shapes, color, textures and the quality of light - than it has to do with internal mechanics.. much video is shot by people who have never even studied art or photography (I know, because I've taught several college advanced video classes and have been astounded by this fact)...

The thing we have now is the ability to tweak those internals to our liking - that is a GREAT thing to have at our fingertips - and we can thank Panasonic for that breakthrough, at least in the realm of affordable cameras.

So, when you combine a good eye with good technology, what do you get? As has been said many time before - it may not be film, but it isn't what we think of as video either - it's a whole new ballgame-
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Old May 12th, 2006, 11:28 AM   #15
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Actually I don't think we are disagreeing. My first time shooting with an XL1, I put a lot of time into creating layers of depth via the lighting as I saw the immediate need to do so. However, that's not of much help when shooting day exteriors (and I've never been much of a fan of shooting arbitrarily extended focal lengths just to soften a background, unless it is an interview).

I do agree that the HD/HDV breed of 1/3" cameras are an significant improvement over DV in this area, but I still see tendencies towards "twittery" backgrounds, especially in foliage.

So yes, well-shot 1/3" video can look quite good. Often it needs more attention than film would.

I'm a big believer of making whatever medium you are working in look as good as possible. There's not much use in shaking your head and wishing you were shooting something else. But my preference with shooting narrative on 1/3" video is to use a Mini35 whenever possible...and 24p.
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