First S-Log Test with Sony F3

Note: This article was originally published by Timur Civan and is
reprinted here with his kind permission. All photos by Chris Dowsett.

“What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” …well, not this time. I attended the 2011 NAB conference in Las Vegas Nevada this past week. Since I had never attended NAB before, my good friends Khalid Mohtaseb and Jon Bregel saw to it that I joined them on this trip. It’s great that I did. We got ourselves into an adventure that could only be described as a digital cinematographer’s dream. While visiting the Abel Cine Tech booth, our good friend Andy Shipsides was more than happy to point us in the direction of the newest addition to the Abel family of cameras: a Sony F3 with a spectacular improvement; a blue Element Technica top handle replacement… but that was the least of what made this particular Sony F3 great.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why, in that photo above, it sure doesn’t look like the Abel Cine Tech’s booth?” Well it isn’t, and let me tell you why. That camera you see above, is one of only two Sony F3’s in the world with the now famous S-Log 444 Dual link firmware update. Andy was so kind as to let Khalid, Jon and I borrow the camera for the night. With less than twelve hours to plan, coordinate, and shoot, we called in the big guns, our friends Brad Burke, Steve Birne, Tyler Ginter, Jeff Levine, Chris Dowsett and last but not least the amazing Vincent Laforet to help create a proper, effective, and true to real working conditions camera test. This crack team of some of the most talented individuals on Earth all pooled their collective resources to come up with an attack plan for this once in a long while opportunity to test a new piece of revolutionary equipment. When presented with this fantastic camera out of the blue, the reality hit us that in order to test a camera, you need certain things. The fact is we had a room full of DP’s and not a single tripod, lens or matte-box between the three of us.

First, before I finish the story, allow me to explain what S-Log is, and why its so darn significant. The Sony F3, a phenomenal 1080p HD camera already, records 8-bit 35mbps XDcam to SXS media cards. This is the standard recording media for all mid-range professional Sony cameras working right now. When Sony created the F35 camera a few years ago, they built a full Super 35mm sized CCD sensor capable of producing some of the best images in the digital cinematography world. This was a camera designed from the ground up to be a full cinema-style system that records to the highest quality footage to HDCAM SR tape (it also costs about $250,000). The standard XDCAM recording format would not cut the mustard with such a high end camera, the problem being that video systems in general are not able to capture the wide latitude of exposure that film can. Sony thought of a clever solution. They created S-Log. It’s a way of compressing a wide latitude of visual information into a video signal by flattening the contrast, and recording it all onto the pristine quality of HDCAM SR. What all that means in English its that the final product looks a lot better in the end, much more like film, and much more natural to the human eye. This feature was only available in the world of super-high-end motion picture cameras… until now. For the first time, we the common filmmakers have access to the tools Hollywood uses.

Okay, back to the story… the ideas started flowing, and we settled on a few situations that we wanted to put the camera through, to see how S-Log footage came out the other side. We decided we wanted aerial shots at twilight, night exteriors, different skin tones and sunny skies to really push the camera to its limits. Like the resourceful magicians we all are, we split up to meet different vendors at NAB and explained to them the unique situation we had before us and asked them for their support. These vendors are the real heroes behind this collaboration. Without people like Eric Kessler of Kessler Crane and Jared Abrams of wideopencamera.com, providing us with monetary support to make the realities of a helicopter shoot happen, and the simple necessity of a crew van and driver. In addition to monetary support, we received unwavering and generous support from brands like Cooke Optics, Angenieux, Carl Zeiss, Miller, Element Technica, O’Connor, ARRI, Tyler Camera Systems, Lite Panels and last but not least Anton Bauer.

Our gear list could only be dreamed about!

Imagine if you will, a Sony F3 with S-Log, recording dual link 4:4:4 into a Cinedeck, mounted to a prototype Element Technica top handle conversion for the F3, sitting on an Element Technica 19mm rod setup, supporting a set of O’connor Ogrips and Obox, next to a brand new Arri FF5 follow focus, connected to any number of Arri Master Primes, Ultra Primes, Cooke Panchros, and the biggest surprise of all, the one of a kind prototype Angenieux Optimo 45-120 — yes, that’s right, not only are we the first to use the F3 with S-Log, but we are the first DP’s to ever shoot on an Optimo 45-120!

We had the privilege to use on this project:

  • Arri Master Prime: 25mm T1.3
  • Arri Ultra Prime: 8R 8mm T2.8
  • Cooke Panchro 18mm T2.8
  • Cooke Panchro 100mm T2.8
  • Angenieux DP Rouge 16-42 T2.8
  • Angenieux DP Rouge 30-80 T2.8
  • Angenieux Optimo 45-120 T2.8

This is a dizzying array of optics. All the major players, all the major glass…

The Arri Ultra Prime 8R is simply a marvel of engineering. It literally sees almost 180 degrees with as little distortion as you can have on a lens with a focal length like that. What was really interesting was seeing all the different glass being used at the same time. It’s so rare to have Zeiss, next to Angenieux, next to Cooke. What I did find was that there is a marked difference in the performance of the lenses. However, it wasn’t a matter of “oh this lens is better.” It’s more like “Wow, that’s beautiful!” (change lens) “Wow, that’s beautiful!” but this time, for a completely different reason. There is no denying the sterile slick sharp perfection of the Master Primes, but the warm, golden Cookes just bring the image to life, while the Angenieuxs bring out a nostalgic, cinematic look that beckons to a different time.

Once we actually got down to it, the night was a mad dash of helicopter shots as the sun was setting, shooting with our wonderful model Mallory Sherrill on a hotel balcony, and in the streets of Vegas, rigging a makeshift car mount for the 8R time lapse shots, going to a wedding (seriously) and then finally as the sun was rising we shot our other wonderful model, Linda Carriel at the uber-modern Cosmopolitan Hotel. Our producers and production coordinators Brad Burke, Steve Birne and Tyler Ginter put their talents into overdrive to keep this production running smoothly, and without any major hiccups. I must stress, productions would never happen without producers, PA’s, AC’s and production coordinators. These individuals are equally important to the shoot as the camera is.

All of the work led up to this… the final product from all our collective labor:

World’s First Sony F3 S-Log Test from Next Level Pictures on Vimeo.

World’s First Sony F3 S-Log Test – Behind the Scenes from Next Level Pictures on Vimeo.

I intended to go to NAB to have some fun and maybe ogle some lenses. Never did I think I would be part of something this much fun and ground breaking!

I wish to extend my thanks to my good friends at Next Level Pictures, Khalid Mohtaseb and Jon Bregel for joining forces with Tstop Cinema and creating something that will help grow the filmmaking community. I wish to especially thank Eric Kessler and Jared Abrams for giving us the boost to get off the ground and making this whole thing happen. Thanks to Vincent Laforet for lending us his talent and expertise in aerial photography, and helping us to secure the necessary equipment for the shoot. Finally, and with every bit of importance as the names that have gone before, I wish to thank the tireless efforts of Brad Burke, Stephen Birne, and Tyler Ginter for producing the living hell out of this production, and to the crew of FreshDV, Matt Jeppsen and Kendal Miller, and last but not least, the phenomenal Chis Dowsett who took all of the beautiful photos you see above.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to comment and ask any questions (discussion thread already in progress at DV Info Net at this link). I will answer to the best of my ability.

Timur Civan
www.timurcivan.com
Timurcivan @twitter
Tstopcinema @twitter

About the Author
Timur Civan is an acclaimed Director of Photography and fine artist. He has the natural ability to take a seemingly impossible, logistically nightmarish photographic demand and turn it into an award-winning piece of art. In his years of undergrad at New York University he honed his talent for creating visually stimulating art; he left the school with an appreciation for the capacity of the moving picture.

Initially Timur was a showing visual artist. Upon receiving praise for video artistry at several gallery showings in New York and Istanbul, he was offered the opportunity to shoot his first music video. This early display of an eye for the medium led to a series of videos by acclaimed directors and recording artists. This cemented his love of telling a story with the camera. To date has several dozen short films, music videos, corporate videos, commercials and documentaries under his belt. He is currently shooting a feature film.

His clients include BCBG, NYC & Company, Emeril Live, Elle Int’l, IKM Productions, Little Marvin Big Media, Home Shopping Network, Discovery Channel, Oceana, Whole Foods Inc., Raging Nation Films, CNN, MTV, The Sundance Channel and Food Network.

Note: This article was originally published by Timur Civan and is
reprinted here with his kind permission. All photos by Chris Dowsett.

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