Tuesday, 29 June, 2010

CAS Day 2

Day 2 at the CAS show was one of seeing the same shots over and over again and watching for differences between one camera system and another. It mainly was focused around film vs. each of the other digital cameras.

If you don't know what CAS is, or haven't about CAS in Mumbai, head over to my earlier post on CAS. For a report on CAS day 1, head over here.

My broad conclusions from these tests may or may not match those of a cinematographer, because I ain't one. I saw each camera's output from the point of view of, can this tell a story. Whether it (anything digital) looks as good as film is something I stopped looking for a while ago. Nothing looks like film. But some digital stuff looks rather good.

So, some random observations...

There was a handout distributed at the start. It listed in a table the basic characteristics of all 8 cameras that were tested. Some of the stuff there could be contested. For instance, F23 and F35 are shown as uncompressed. Neither can record uncompressed to tape.
The Arri D-21 is shown as edit ready. But if you shoot ArriRAW then all that stuff needs to be converted to Quicktime before you can edit it. Just like with Red. But if you shoot D-21 to tape, then it is edit ready, but then, its not uncompressed.

These tests were shot in Jan 2009. And post completed in April 2009. Some changes have happened in digital cameras since then. Red one has been superseded by the Red M-X, and the Epic is near completion. Arri introduced the Alexa. And, of course, there are HD DSLRs.

On the test methodology and workflow...

Manufacturers were asked to do the conversion of their digital material to 10bit log DPX. And all work was done in this medium. In a real world situation if one is shooting digital, one may wish to work in the camera's own format. Or another linear format. 10bit log DPX is the preferred medium for film scans, not necessarily suited to digital.

Also, in these tests, the film shots were graded first. Then the 10bit log DPX converts from all digital cameras were graded to match the film as closely as possible. Only simple colour correction was used and no windows, or no sharpening or noise removal was performed. So in that sense it was a clean test.

One thing someone from the ASC mentioned was "Editorial was ignored". I guess that meant that the shots were simply plonked on a timeline with no relation with one another. In a real world situation, one always builds a scene as a series of shots. And maybe in this respect, digital is much more uniform than film. Meaning shot to shot variations are far less in digital than in negative film. meaning. Film absolutely has to be graded in some manner. The editorial factor has to be be part of the testing, As has sound.

Another observation I had was flicker was common across all formats. I mention this because I've lost count of the number of hours I've been debating this with commercial film-makers when the camera pans across a bright surface and it strobes and flickers. They blame the telecine, the colourist, the DigiBeta VTR, the FCP, even the editor. The CAS showed that ALL cameras flicker during pans.
When showing the tests, there were some observations expressed on the voice-over. I thought them to be leading, and it highlighted some defects that a cursory observation would have overlooked. After all no one watches one single shot over and over again, unless they are editors.

Archival in the digital age

It was narrated how, during the CAS shoot, one entire shot shot on the Viper camera erased because of a wrong interpretation of an alert message. This was used to highlight how in the digital age, its very easy to lose work. Whereas with film, it can't be erased.

I agree. Digital data is far more 'fragile' than film, when it comes to clumsiness and callousness. But out here, producers often skimp on hard drive costs, so they buy the cheapest one they can find. So archiving of digital data while production is on-going is a neglected area.

But, here in India its just as easy to lose film. We have lost negatives of films shot in 2003 to bad storage. We have this serious problem of heat and dust. And spotty electric supply. So, outside of Mumbai, even if you store your film in an air-conditioned chamber, where will you get 24x7 electricity? 
On the other hand, huge amounts of data are securely stored for extended periods in India. The Indian Railway reservation system is the world's largest database. The Census and UUID program, the largest database of human beings. Our IT boys store data for the world. Hollywood may not have the answers to data storage, but the Indian computer industry might know. We probably should ask.
On a side note, for most of the trash we produce on television and even in movies, do you really want to store that? Will people really watch any of it? Wouldn't you wish you could erase all that film and reuse it for something better?
Just go over the list of flops of this year and you'll see what I mean.

But yes, our classics, they need better storage, and digital is probably not it.


The overall feeling I got was that the differences between film and digital cameras of Jan 2009 was marginal. Cinematographers will debate on the finer points, but the truth was out there on the screen for all to see.

And, the reality of this test between film, Red, Viper, Genesis, F23, F35, D-21, 3700 for us in India could be summarised as film vs Red. We simply don't have any of the other cameras in large enough numbers (like exceeding 1-3 all India) to matter for film making.
On day 1 we saw film vs Arri Alexa. And day two was film vs Red. Then there are HDDSLRs which were not tested. So, in India, we need to make our choices between these. Film, Red, Alexa, HDDSLRs. For TV you can add EX1/EX3 or F950 type of cameras as well.

In the end, Kodak showed a film highlighting their new Vision 3 stock. it looked impressive. But the film also highlighted the role of cohesively edited material, a story and good sound to the overall film experience.

For the future, I wish the Cinematographers Combine, and some camera rental company, and a well equipped post house in Mumbai do a film vs digital test based on cameras we have here. And make it a fuller exercise with a story, direction, acting, sound, and editing. That's really real world.

I'm available. 

Sunday, 27 June, 2010

Mumbai CAS Day 1

The Cinematographer's combine CAS event got off this morning at a packed Imax theatre at Wadala. For a change the participants got there before time and the hall was packed with time to spare. I take this as a sign that digital is ready to be received. Or, that there was very little traffic in Mumbai this morning.

The first session was on the new Arri Alexa digital movie camera. I wrote about this camera on this blog a few weeks age and you can find it by looking through the links in the margin to the right. Or here.

The day began with a talk by Henning Radlein of Arri. I've been hearing Henning for over 5 years now. At various trade shows and demos, even a guided tour around Arri that he kindly gave me some years ago. And he delivers, with the manner of one of my professors of Classical Mechanics at Physics post-grad University class. Simple, concise and technically perfect.

There were some features that Henning spoke about that are not there in their brochure or web site. There was also a hands on demo of the Alexa, played out live on the big screen with a live camera. A rather good way of showing a device to a large audience.

Later we saw tests that Arri shot on an Alexa. These were shown as Digital, from the (presumably) Christie 2k projector. At 2k, or maybe 1080p24, I forgot to ask.

To my untrained eyes, the tests looked awesome. And I didn't find anyone who said anything derogatory about them, and most seemed suitably impressed. Until we saw the Indian tests later in the day.

The Indian tests were shot by two leading Cinematographers - Sudeep Chaterjee and Amit Roy. They had both shot some typical film scenes with props, actors and the like. And they both shot to film and Alexa and showed both one after another, as a film print.

I'm no cinematographer so a lot of the figures about shutter angle and aperture were just numbers to me. So I just saw it as one picture compared to another. From the general murmurings around the house, it seemed there were many who were doing the same.

One set of tests had a freeze frame in every shot with animated supers showing what seemed to be some kind of exposure level. I found that a trifle disturbing. I wonder, even among those who understood what those numbers meant, how many could retain that info. I think a set of stills on the Cinematographers Combine website would have been a better idea.

The tests were shown as a film print. On a film projector that was weaving and vibrating. So that was a bit jarring. So it was decided to see them as a digital print or DCP. One astute person in the audience asked for the Arri tests to be also shown right after the Indian tests.

For me that was an interesting watch. Seeing tests shot here, vs those shot by Arri both on a clean bright digital projector. What a vast difference in the sheer quality of images. Amazing. I don't mean to slam anyone here, but I think for quite a few persons in the audience the truth was before their eyes.

There was also a Q & A with some of those associated with the tests. Unfortunately, out of the two cinematographers who shot the local tests, only one could attend and answer tests on the shooting. And, as far as post was concerned, the colorist was absent too. And Ken, who filled in, did a reasonable job of providing info.

I found the workflow for the Alexa tests locally done to be... well, 'interesting'. At Reliance MediaWorks.

They scanned the film at 4k. On a Spirit 4k. Graded at 4k on a Baselight. and recorded back to film at 4k too.
The Alexa shot to SxS cards as ProRes 4444 as well as HDCamSR as 444HQ. In the logC colour space. But Reliance chose to capture the tape. This was captured to Clipster and exported out as uprezzed 4k DPX, for grading in Baselight.

So, the film images were presumably 4096x1744 pixels during scanning, grading and recording.
The Alexa images were shot at 1920x1080, cropped to 1920x817, Scaled up to 4096x1744, graded at that size, and recorded to film.

So, if my presumption is correct, we were shown native 4096x1744 film vs 1920x817 size digital images side by side but on film. All those who debate on 4k vs 2k for film DI need to take careful note of this in relation to what they saw on the screen this evening.

To be sure, I asked Henning whether the camera provided to CC for tests was capable of shooting ProRes. He said Yes. So, the decision to use the tape instead was taken by Reliance. Maybe because they don't have a Mac at Reliance with the latest FCS 3 which is needed to open ProRes 4444. Or maybe they feel tape is better.

I also checked with Henning if the Arri tests that we saw earlier were shot to HDCamSR or ProRes. He told me which were HDCamSR and which ProRes. He also explained me their workflow, which was radically simpler and arguably more edit friendly that the one Reliance adopted.

For me, the highlight of today was how different our shoot looked compared to the one done by Arri. Exactly why, is something I'll ponder about.

Later, there was a presentation from Sony on the SRW 9000 camcorder. Actually, calling that somehow puts it in the same league as an EX3. but not really. This is a digital movie camera with an HDCam SR recorder built in. The SRW 9000 is based the F23. And there will be a SRW 9000PL based on the F35.

The SRW9000 will have a memory card recording option in some months. This is a flash memory card that will be 1 Tb and record uncompressed. This memory card option will also work with the F23 and the F35. There is also a 4k upgrade path for the camera section. Which makes sense as this special 1 Tb cartridge will be capable of 5 Gbps.

Sony and Arri are adopting similar approaches, that of recording to a know medium and format. Easy to store, edit and manipulate. Both are good cameras and I wish there was a Alexa vs SRW 9000 comparison instead of film.

For us in India, unless post houses use the Direct to Edit Apple ProRes function of the Alexa, both will become HDCam SR cameras. So rentals will be similar. It will boil down to which camera cinematographers prefer.

Eventually the 1 Tb SR2.0 card will be introduced. And some may demand the raw recording capability of the Arri Alexa or uncompressed for the SRW 9000 over ProRes or HDCam SR. But both these approaches take up huge amounts of disk space so they might be non-starters in our context.
The rushes of an average Hindi movie, uncompressed (SR 2.0) or ArriRAW will take up 12-15 Terabytes disk space. I know exactly how hard it is to get someone to invest Rs 35,000 that it costs to get one secure hard disk to store just one ad film's a Red rushes, so asking for Rs 12-15 lakhs ofr a hard disk array for rushes... forget about it.

There was a very basic test of some shots with the SRW 9000 shot a couple of days ago. These were shot as S-log. The camera played the tests directly with and with a 'linearizing' LUT applied. I felt the test was playing at double speed. Meaning, they were shot 1080p25 or 1080p24 and the camera system was set up for 1080p50 or 1080p60.

If it was, then that shows how careful we need to get with these HD formats. 

By the way, where does Red figure in all this? It does. And I plan on doing a compare, very soon.

I've written on the Arri Alexa, SRW-9000, and SR 2.0. Check it out. And please, if anyone is using this info for any commercial gain, consider the donate or subscribe button.

Thursday, 17 June, 2010

Film vs Digital - the CAS tests

Will you shoot your next film digitally? Thinking about it?
You need to see a fair comparison of Film vs Digital.

Come to the Camera Assessment Series

Film and Digital Cameras Compared

Produced by the American Society of Cinematographers.
Shot by a group of internationally acclaimed cinematographers

Presented in India by
Cinematographer's Combine

Come and watch, the exact same scenes
shot on

Arri 435

Red One

Arri D-21

Panavision Genesis
Panasonic HPX3700
Sony F23 and Sony F35 

All presented side by side on the big screen.
As a film print and digital.

Make up your own mind on this Film vs digital debate.

How digital translates to film.
How digital looks compared to film.
How digital looks on film.
Seen side by side with film.

June 26-27, 2010
Imax Wadala

Entry is Rs 1500.
The best 1500 you've ever spent.

Wednesday, 16 June, 2010

Canon 5D MkII directly to FCP

Canon has released a plug-in to enable FCP users to directly import Canon footage into FCP via Log and Transfer. This works for the 5D MkII. It is available at Canon's web site.

Imported files appear as clips in the browser and QT movies in the Finder. They have time code derived from the time of day contained in the clips. I'm going to try this out and see for myself.

Wednesday, 2 June, 2010

Sony SRW-9000 digital movie camera

At NAB Sony showed the SRW-9000PL, a single body HDCamSR camera cum recorder. A digital movie camera, about the size of a 35mm film camera.

Detailed discussion and the actual camera here

The SRW-9000 is actually a Sony F23 with a HDCamSR recorder built-in. So, it has the same imager size as a 16mm film frame. You can use PL mount lenses from 16mm cameras to make this a digital replacement for 16mm. Well… as far as depth of field is concerned.

What's interesting is that eventually this camera will be upgradeable to a Sony F35 sensor - so you'll have 35mm imaging and DOF characteristics. And there will also be an upgrade to the tape deck - a 1Tb flash memory card recorder that will make this format tapeless too.

And with the addition of a few boards you can record 4:4:4 HDCamSR and also S-log curve on tape. S-log makes the image more 'filmic'. And tape takes out all the conversion and storage issues with current tapeless formats.

There's more. There were hints that this tapeless HDCamSR (called SR 2.0) can be scaled up to 4k. if the number 4k has some magic for you.

The rumored price for a SRW 9000 body with option boards is US$ 1,20,000. When it gets to India this would amount to the equivalent of Rs 70-80 lakhs with duty for the body only without lenses. That puts it at a higher cost than an Alexa or a Red.