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Old November 21st, 2013, 01:57 AM   #1
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ENG Cameras for Cinematography

We are all aware that shoulder-mounted ENG cameras which mostly feature 1/3-inch, 1/2-inch or 2/3-inch CCD or CMOS sensors are mainly used for news gathering, sports, TV programmes, etc. These cameras also feature 24P beside other frame rates. I wonder if ENG cameras are used for cinematography as well, especially when full depth of field is necessary. Is it an appropriate camera for use in cinematography with ordinary ENG lenses? Is it favored by cinematographers whenever they are engaged in producing featured films? Can anyone clarify this?
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Old November 21st, 2013, 02:40 AM   #2
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

First of all, the term "cinematography" has broadened to include many types of productions (see threads here that discuss wedding shooters now describing themselves as cinematographers). If we are talking specifically about feature films, note that with the introduction of the Sony F900 and Panasonic Varicam around 2000 there were a number of features shot on these 2/3" cameras, probably best known being the late-model Star Wars movies. It was more rare for ENG lenses to be used in this scenario, but not unheard of. I shot a feature around 2005 on the F900 and had both primes and ENG style lenses (actually cine style versions that had the same optics as their ENG counterparts but without the zoom servos), and ended up mostly shooting with zooms for speed on set.

As far as these cameras being favored by DP's--well, once the S35 chip cameras arrived (Panavision Genesis, around 2005), most quickly moved on to that format and never looked back. The advantages in recording format, accessibility to PL or Panavision cine lenses, higher sensitivity sensors and later, raw or log output have made these cameras much more suited to DP's in the theatrical realm and it is more rare these days for a smaller sensor camera to be used for this purpose unless there is a specific reason. I myself would (and do) have a hard time thinking about going back!
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Old November 21st, 2013, 03:02 AM   #3
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

Thank you for the reply. Yes I am aware that Sony HDCAM and Panasonic Varicam are intended for use in high-end feature films but what about their younger brothers such Sony PMW-400 or Panasonic AG-HPX600? Are they suitable for feature films? Are they favored by DoP?
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Old November 21st, 2013, 04:39 AM   #4
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

You can make a film on whatever you choose and some have been done on handycams but as to what is popular that is a different thing.

At the end of the day people will look at the content and much like music recordings don't get too tied up in the tools of the trade.

the 35mm size chip is popular as is the Arri Alexa and the RED but that does not say that the next big blockbuster could be shot on a PMW300 400 or even a HPX600 or an i-fone 5.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 07:30 AM   #5
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

I am sure that 35mm sensors are the best choices in the market for feature film in particular. However, with full frame sensors, DPs might run into issues of focus and shallow depth of field causing some objects in the scene to appear blur. For this reason, 2/3" ENG would be a good choices to overcome this issue and get clean results whenever short depth of field is not desired. For this reason, I wanted to know whether ENG cameras are used for feature film or not.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 08:24 AM   #6
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

The short answer is no, but that does not mean you can not use one if that is what you own or have access to.

If you are talking about real high end cinema like Hollywood major release level, the budgets are high enough to get any camera they want. They would gravitate to cameras designed for cinema production that create looks closer to what they want with high data worklows.

ENG cameras have a certain look. They are designed for television. Sure there is a fine line, but your question was about cinema production. Unless they want to create a "television" style look in their movie, an ENG camera would not the first or second choice for the production.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 08:57 AM   #7
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

I have shot drama on an ENG camera with stock lens and this short for cinema was done on a 1/3" chip HPX371:


Total budget was around 2,500 and we did the sound with one AT875r plugged straight into the back of the camera.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 09:28 AM   #8
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

Good job Gary.

I was just about to say that Cinematography is a broadly used term and usually refers to the way the finished product looks. If it looks movie like due to the aspect ratio, colour, 24p feel, then it's cinematic in my opinion.

You don't always need big sensor cameras although it does help for those shallow depth of field shots.

I use a combination of both. But then i'm talking about the wedding market which is what I cater for.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 12:09 PM   #9
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

I shot a pilot presentation on 1/3" cameras this year and really struggled with the look. I had done a lot of narrative work back in the day with this type of camera, from the XL1 and 2 to the DVX100 etc. but having spent the last five years in S35 sensor land, it was really hard to go back.

For me, the tools of S35 cameras that I mentioned above (Highlight rolloff via log profile, increased sensitivity, cine lens compatibility) are all important when it comes to creating a cinematic look. I had a tough time with the look of the ENG style lens--lens breathing is a very annoying function in a narrative setting--and the lack of depth of field control was a tough one. Yes, Haitham, shallow depth of field is not always wanted but generally it's much more desirable for a narrative situation than the other way around. When your camera can be cranked up to EI2000 or higher without much noise penalty it's easy enough to use that sensitivity to stop down a little if more depth is required.

So the short answer is that the tradeoffs of a broadcast camera to shoot narrative style are significant enough that the gain in depth of field would result in quite a bit of compromise to the overall look. The exception to this would be something like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia", which uses EX3's for a deliberately low-end feel. I'm hard pressed to think of other examples where a DP has sought out a smaller chip camera for the reasons you mentioned.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 12:38 PM   #10
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

Sadly, so many links on forums to 'cinematic' material seem to be far too arty for my liking - exactly the kinds of product I just couldn't sit through. Very narrow DoF, constantly moving cameras, although now with all the gizmos, they no longer shake so badly - and worst of all, composition that just looks thrown together. I'm not even sure that image quality is the be all and end all. The material Gary just showed is a good demonstration of how 720 on youtube can look pretty good. Blown up on a huge screen, and sure, the structure would be evident, but how much ends up on the big screen? If your presentation medium is HUGE - then shooting on something that has extended detail is worth it, but for products displayed at smaller sizes, I can't see that definition is the factor that decides what exactly 'cinematic' means. For me - it just means a style, just as documentary has a style. I try to keep technical quality separate from artistic quality.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 01:19 PM   #11
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

Artistry is always more important, Paul, but that's adding an unnecessary factor into the equation (the given is that a great DP can make a 1/3" camera look better than a crap DP with a S35 camera, etc). The question is whether a smaller format camera with ENG lenses can look as cinematic as a larger format camera with cine lenses. My perspective from experience is that it's simply an uphill battle and I for one try to avoid it.

Hopefully this won't be one of those "arty" clips not to your liking, but here's the trailer for a feature I shot 8 years ago, on the F900. At the time it was pretty radical to shoot a film noir with a digital camera but I shrugged and embraced as I had no choice. It doesn't look as good to me as it once did, because my eyes are now attuned to the subtleties provided by modern cameras, but it worked well enough and looked decent in the theatre (35mm transfer). In one instance in a night exterior the deep focus of the 2/3 chips was too much and post work was done to blur the distracting background (it's not in the trailer).

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Old November 21st, 2013, 01:52 PM   #12
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

For me, the keys to narrative cinematography are:
1) To create a audio/visual experience that sets an appropriate mood for the story, and
2) To direct the viewer's focus of attention.

S35 isn't the only way to achieve this, but it's proven to be the most widely successful.

Watch an older, expertly shot, black and white film with deep focus. How does it guide focus? With perspective, lines of action, layered lighting, motion within the scene, etc. And because lens resolution and signal to noise were only so good, the audience wasn't distracted with specs of dust and flaws in the backgrounds.

Now add color, resolution, and signal/noise and we have a real challenge on our hands. Narrow the focus and we can direct the eye very cheaply. One can use deep focus, but are they prepared to use only muted background colors, assemble/clean things perfectly, use layered lighting, and design scenes with lines and perspectives that point to your character? This is difficult and expensive. Let's just open up the aperture, please.

Recently, my wife and I have been watching episodes of Dr. Who. It's well produced, but with the combination of deep focus and a TV budget/schedule, it just doesn't feel cinematic to me. I find it far too easy to look all around the scene and get distracted from what should be the point of focus. And that makes me feel like I'm watching a cheap show, rather than truly being drawn into the story. (It can still be an entertaining romp though!)
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Old November 21st, 2013, 04:03 PM   #13
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

Good points Jon.

When the 35mm adaptors first came on the scene, it was interesting to explore and discuss what the most important factors were in recreating the cinematic look. There was a bit of debate whether it was 24p or shallow focus. I did one project with the Mini35 at 60i and found the look disconcerting; the motion cadence of news/sports/live events married to the "dreaminess" of shallow focus resulted in a look that was somehow "off". 24p with deep focus felt more cinematic, and 24p with shallow focus, more still.

I used to use a lot of layering techniques with 1/3 to 2/3" cameras to achieve the effects you described, giving foreground and background different tones and colors and letting the midground fall out. It's a lot easier when you can let the natural falloff create that separation for you, although I still play plenty of attention to the tones even if they are more blobby than anything else. I also regulate the depth of field carefully from shot to shot and will often pull ND to build stop for longer focal lengths so that the background doesn't go too soft. Usually my procedure is to dial the iris as I'm watching the monitor until I get the background to a degree of softness I like, then calculate the appropriate ND to get that to the proper exposure.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 04:39 PM   #14
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

Charles - you're safe! My weird and wonderful own opinion of 'cinematic' means yours landed bang in the middle - but I think the thing about the trailer was simply it 'looked' like cinema really ought to - big, with every inch of the frame filled with just the right things, light, shade, contrast and a proper dose of care and attention. I suspect that if you'd shot with almost any camera, the same thing would apply. It's the direct opposite of the people who don't quite 'get it'.

I'm not really sure why, but the depth of field in each shot seemed to be natural - whereas so much I see uses it without thinking. You use it creatively, not destructively, which seems far more common.
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Old November 21st, 2013, 05:47 PM   #15
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Re: ENG Cameras for Cinematography

I just watched The Perfect Sleep trailer and it simply nails the concepts mentioned above. Nearly every single shot uses multiple techniques to focus the attention right where it belongs. Couple that with a style that compliments the story and it hits the bullseye. I can see why you chose that as an example, Charles!

And I love the idea of adjusting the iris to taste and then choosing the proper ND filter - especially when balancing tight and wide shots. Too often, a master shot will have minimal to moderate background blur and will be cut with a closeup in which the background is all but lost. I find that to be a bit jarring, yet due to lens/camera/light technology we often get that, even from master directors and DPs. Some additional blur is to be expected, but going from details to mush can make it feel like the character is in a completely different space.
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