P+S Technik Mini35 and the JVC GY-HD100, Part One

P+S Technik Mini35 and the JVC GY-HD100, Part One:
The Camera, an article by Charles Papert, SOC

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there was DV. And yea, its proponents found they could carry focus from the most distant landscape all the way down to within arm’s reach. In ancient times, such a magical thing required an arsenal of weapons and the burning of bright, massive torches to conjure this elusive effect. And yet lo, behold; the Tribe of the Third-Inch Chip were restless, as they felt their images were not “film-like” enough…

the mighty Mini35, which brazenly smote those razor-sharp backgrounds, leaving but a dreamy haze behind; thus for a time, all was peaceful throughout the Valley of the Prosumer. And then began rumblings, and these words uttered in the street: “that which is meant to be soft, is good; yet that which is meant to be sharp, is not sharp enough”. And the Numbers of the Beast were marked again and again upon the boards: 720p, 1080i. Forsooth! There was much doubt and discontent throughout the land…

Yes, gang, the bar has been raised once again. The JVC GY-HD100 will be showing up on doorsteps any day now, and as the first camera to feature HDV, true 24p AND interchangeable lenses (a feature set many would have first expected from Canon), it’s a hefty contender. As for me, I first saw it at NAB this spring in its various configurations, but one in particular caught my eye: a then non-operational pairing of the HD100 and the Mini35 Converter.

The HD100 with the Mini35 as shown in the JVC booth at NAB2005The Mini35 is an ingenious device designed and built by P+S Technik in Munich, Germany and distributed in the U.S. by ZGC (www.zgc.com) out of New Jersey, who, incidentally, will be offering the HD100 by itself, or bundled with the Mini35 at a special package price. It is an outgrowth of the video viewfinder, which is used on film sets to walk through a scene and replicate exactly what it will look like through the lens of the film camera. The video component of this setup is a small DV camera mounted within a beam-split optical path that facilitated the recording and play back of rehearsals. When DV cameras became more formidable imaging machines, the same concept was used to create a direct optical path from the 35mm ground glass into the DV camera, allowing the camera to capture the exact same field of view and corresponding imaging characteristics of 35mm cine lenses (or inexpensive still camera lenses). The texture of the ground glass was made to disappear visually first by rotating and more recently by oscillating the ground glass via motors built into the Mini35. This resulted in a greatly reduced depth of field (by a factor of 4.4 times), producing the beautiful soft backgrounds that we are findly familiar with from 35mm productions, but that are impossible to achieve with small-format video without resorting to extreme telephoto shots.

I’ve been a long time Mini35 fan, since I was involved with the Jerry Seinfeld/American Express webfilms a couple of years back. I was impressed enough with the latest model (the Series 400, aka Oszie) to buy one last year along with a Panasonic AG-DVX100A, and have shot a number of commercial and narrative projects with the combination. When the XL2 was introduced, I had considered switching platforms but since each camera used on the Mini35 requires a unique optical adaptor and mounting base (generally around $2600), I felt that it was worth waiting for the next generation. Of course, one of the compromises I had to live with was the more pure optical path presented by the XL2, in that the Mini35’s relay presents the image directly to the imager rather than through the additional numerous elements of the DVX’s built-in Leica lens.

Left: Canon XL2 with Mini35  Right: Panasonic AG-DVX100 with Mini35.

When ZGC contacted me with an opportunity to demo the first working version of the HD-100 and Mini35 combo, I was delighted. For narrative projects, it really is time to seriously consider the archival necessity of working in HD vs SD, and since I have some projects in the pipeline, I was keenly interested in seeing how this camera shook down. JVC sent over a camera body with ZGC’s Mini35 and a 27mm Cooke S4. Clairmont Camera donated a 50mm and a 100mm to fill out the longer end of the stick as well as a 14″ Sony HD monitor. Since I am currently on the mend from a broken ankle and hobbling around on crutches, I enlisted several fellow intrepids to help out with the tests and could thus become something of an armchair quarterback (a lifelong dream for this long time camera shlepper)!

It may be worth mentioning here that while I am a Director of Photography and a bit of a techhead, I’m not an engineer and greatly prefer to work with a good DIT, or Digital Imaging Technician, on HD shoots. My evaluation of this system was not oriented towards testing every permutation of image control available within the camera, nor provide a review of every feature and button on the body. There are already a few of those out there, and there will no doubt be more to come once the camera hits the streets. This session was primarily to examine the combination of the HD100 and the Mini35, and to create the best looking images we could within the timeframe; my personal goal was to determine whether I would consider this package viable and worthy of consideration for upcoming feature projects.

Nate Weaver joined me at Clairmont Camera for the checkout. We built the camera first with the Mini35 (and I spent a while answering questions for a stream of interested parties who came over to gawk). The setup is similar to the Canon XL series, in that a small relay with an integrated iris control mounts directly to the lens mount of the camera, rather than the large shrouded version that mounts to the front of the fixed lens of the DVX100 or the Sonys (for illustrations of these configurations, visit the Mini35 section at zgc.com). Backfocus is easily accessible on a ring just fore of the iris control on the relay. Fit and finish with the Mini35 is a no-brainer. This is a professional product crafted with classic German engineering, thus it is built like a tank with a high level of precision. The Mini35 looks good on the HD100 (or is it vice versa?) and the long, low profile of the camera integrates nicely with the similar profile of the Mini. As usual, the Mini35 setup requires a second camera battery to power the ground glass motor (out of habit, I still call it the “spinner;” I just can’t seem to get used to this “oszie” business)!

I decided to mount my Anton Bauer adapter on the Mini so we wouldn’t have to worry about changing the included battery, since only one was supplied with the camera. I had this adapter built for me to solve a number of issues. It consists of a standard Gold Mount plate with a custom back to mate with the Mini’s support rod tubes, plus a breakout box that sandwiches between the mount and the battery (admittedly, it’s inspired by the Firestore FS-3). This box sends a regulated 7.2 volts to both the camera and the spinner.. err, the oszie. It has an integrated video distribution amp that outputs two BNC’s as well as two additional video / 12-volt power outputs for onboard monitor or transmitter; and an Arri-standard Fisher 11-pin 12-volt output for film-style accessories, such as a Microforce zoom control. I also had a second box built that allows me to use the Canon FU-1000 CRT viewfinder with any other camera on the Mini35, although we didn’t use it on these tests. In the near future I will probably write another article with pictures of this complete setup. It may be worth noting that P+S Technik appears to have read my mind; they showed their version of the same thing at NAB (right after I had finished mine… much gnashing of teeth over that one)!

The Anton Bauer modification for the Mini35, which Charles describes above.

After building the camera, we ran through the menu options to tweak the image. After some exploring, we selected Cinema mode which uses a preset gamma curve and color matrix; and we chose 720p24 and a 1/48th shutter.

One of the more widely discussed features of this camera is the Motion Smoothing function, which is visible only on playback and purportedly creates a more pleasing image during motion. We did a series of pans at varying speeds both with and without Motion Smoothing engaged. I personally felt that I liked the image better without the Smoothing function at this juncture. We also evaluated the faster pans to see if there was any of the feared HDV compression artifacting present, but I was unable to detect any noticeable breakup with the pans. Of course, the usual strobing that is present in any 24p system is evident at certain pan speeds.

All images ©2005 by Charles Papert and may not be redistributed.

Go on to Part Two: The Shoot.
See the images from behind the scenes.
See the images from specific frame grabs.
Download HD video clips which accompany Part Two: The Shoot.
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Written by Charles Papert, SOC.
Thrown together by Chris Hurd.

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About The Author

Since this article was written, Charles Papert has moved on from Steadicam operating to working as a DP and director, with credits such as Key & Peele, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Teachers. Although he no longer dons the full size rig, he still will try on a small rig from time to time for nostalgia’s sake.

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