Monday, September 10, 2007

Cameras and Lenses by Canon

With the exception of one set visit by a friend I think every camera that graced the set of "The Blackout" was a Canon. Whether it was the main shoot rig for the film proper, the behind-the-scenes documentary camera, or the myriad of digital SLR's, this was a Canon show.

It should be noted that Canon was also very good to us. They have been supporters of ours for several years now. But it was only within the last two years that we made significant investments in Canon gear. Our main camera, the XLH1 and all of its accessories, is owned and maintained by Starway Pictures. However, our 6x HD wide-angle lens and our behind-the-scenes gear was generously loaned to Starway for use during the course of our production. We did have one critical camera failure half-way through the shoot. The mounting sleeve on the H1 was accidentally ripped out of the base of the camera. Thanks to our friends at the Canon repair center we had a replacement camera within two hours and were shooting the same morning. Thank you Canon!

Knowing that this film will likely see a European theatrical release, we decided early on to bypass HDV tape altogether. We had in the past successfully produced projects shooting to HDV tape. But the extreme compression and reduced resolution (1440 vs 1920) wasn't going to be enough horsepower for a feature film.

We tapped into the camera's HD-SDI output and ran the feed directly to a Kona LHe card in a quad-core MacPro running Final Cut Studio 2. We captured everything using ProRes 422 HQ. The capture station was setup and configured by Promax in Irvine and performed flawlessly throughout the entire shoot. We never dropped one frame or crashed once. I think that fact shouldn't go under-stated. We setup and tore down the capture station every night. It was moved around the set/location constantly throughout each shooting day. Yet the system and FCP never skipped a beat. I think that's pretty remarkable.

We shot roughly 100GB of footage per day. Every day the footage was duplicated/cloned onto external SATA drives for backup and insurance. The film was ultimately backed up onto seven 400GB drives. A very effective, efficient and price-conscious solution to data duplication and storage.

For on-set monitoring we ran video from the Kona card's loop-through feed to a Blackmagic HDLink converter which fed the 1080P picture to a 23" Cinema Display with a Vesa mount attached to a c-stand. We setup the HDLink with a custom LUT so that our black levels on the Cinema Display were accurate. We found early on during the shoot that the Cinema Display and HDLink combo in default mode looked as if the black levels were being lifted. So we carefully calibrated all the monitors and used Blackmagic's HDLink utility to write a custom LUT.

We did not use any DoF adapters. We used primarily the Canon 6x HD lens and the 20x lens. Because of the nature of our film (taking place primarily during a power blackout at night) we knew we'd always be pushing the exposure envelope. So keeping the iris fully open and using longer focal lengths when applicable kept our depth of field relatively shallow. Additionally we couldn't really afford to lose an additional 1-1.5 stops with an adapter. Also our shooting schedule was so aggressive (and I mean aggressive!) we couldn't afford any additional time futzing with back-focus and spinning ground glass.

All of our behind-the-scenes video was shot with a Canon XH-A1 camera in 60i, HDV, and a custom preset applied. We also used Canon's wide-angle lens adapter, which surprised us to it's picture quality. We shot 30-hours of BTS! Also, the A1 is a remarkable little gem of a camera. I often found myself using the A1 as a director's finder. It's so small and so light weight that it was very easy to use the flip out LCD, find my shot, show it to the DP and AC and they'd setup the H1 accordingly.

All photography was shot with a 30D and RebelXT (nearly 2000 photos).

So this was a pretty big Canon show. That was not our intention, but it ended up that way. Both XLH1 cameras performed very well. Both exhibited the same strange Viewfinder issues. Canon's replacement camera displayed better low-noise performance than our camera, but both cameras inter-cut flawlessly.