Gear Guide: Digital Filmmaking

July 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Gear

As digital cinematography becomes the rule instead of the exception for filmmakers in the documentary, news, television and even increasingly in the feature world, there is a hunger for more diverse and lightly encumbered, i.e., tether-free, technology. Every entertainment-oriented manufacturer and distributor is getting on the bandwagon, and a few that have serviced other industries, too.

This month, ICG features some exciting new products or processes that make digital cinema a smart, creative, and production-friendly choice. Once a “film only” company, Panavision, with their Genesis camera and other HD technology, has stepped up to the plate and found a way for cinematographers to view their HD footage on set in a way that cuts time, cost, and boosts creativity. Silicon Imaging, once a source for equipment only tangential to the movie industry, has exploded onto the scene with the camera that made quite an impact on the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.

And, of course, there are recorders, wireless transmitters and even peripherals. Let’s hope that one of this month’s offerings can help make your job, whether it is a no-budget HD documentary or a mega-budget feature film, easier, faster, and more creative.


“Modern picture-making is, in many ways, all about freedom of movement — the ability to take a camera everywhere, anyplace, and the freedom to look at the world in ways or at angles never seen before, unencumbered by trailing or connecting wires. Digital filmmaking seemingly is ideal for this kind of shooting, but for many, the tangled web of cables generally connecting digital systems to directors, producers, and DPs is an unacceptable tether on complete freedom of movement,” says Tony Iwamoto, executive vice president of IDX.

“Our new CAM~WAVE wireless transmission system allows moviemakers to cut that cord for virtually any film or video shooting situation,” he explains. The wireless remote system offers the ability to deliver full, uncompressed HD/SDI video with virtually no latency – less than one millisecond – and at distances up to 150 feet. It adds less than two pounds to the camera.

Recently, Steadicam operator and now director of photography Charles Papert used the CAM~WAVE on an Internet series called The Nebula. The Steadicam was an integral part of the look of the project. For one long winding shot that moved from an interior to an exterior location, Papert brought in a Steadicam operator and synced up the CAM~WAVE to his station on the set. “Once the link was set up to my Steadicam operator, the shooter had complete mobility,” Papert explains. “I had the luxury of having a perfectly good signal without a cable. It was so much like shooting film, I forgot about the unit; no adjusting the cable or the antenna.”

The CAM~WAVE system has gained popularity with everything from movie studios to television productions, sports broadcasts and arena shots. Retail cost for transmitter and receiver is less than $6,000.

M2 Encore Cinema Lens Adapter from Redrock Micro

“Achieving film-style footage in digital video by adapting 35mm lenses has become something of a phenomenon in the last year,” says Redrock Micro’s James Hurd, and to keep up with the times, Redrock has taken its M2 Encore cinema lens adapter to new levels. “Customers said they wanted better light transmission, improved sharpness and advanced features,” Hurd explains. “The M2 Encore delivers with over 25 new features and enhancements.”

Among the improvements are a half-stop total adapter light loss, re-engineered optics for sharp images, collimating lens mount, and intelligent power management. The adapter is targeted for prosumer-style cameras such as Panasonic AG-HVX200 and AG-HPX170, Sony EX1 and EX3, and Canon XH-A1 and XH-G1 series cameras.

“Having used earlier versions of the M2, my recent experience with the adapter has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Steadicam/camera operator Dan Coplan, SOC. “I always liked the product, especially when comparing the bang for your buck. But, it was clunky and you really had to spend time and know what you were doing in setting it up to get the best results. They clearly listened to their customers and have incorporated several significant improvements which instill new confidence in my desire and willingness to use it.”

For Redrock, quality and price affordability are key to design and development. The M2 Encore starts at $995. With complete M2 Encore bundles including support system starting at $1995.00.

Digital Transfer Station from Panavision

“With the introduction of SSR recording technology for Genesis and the F23, our customers asked for a workflow solution that would transfer fully uncompressed images right on set,” explains Andy Romanoff, Panavision’s senior vice president, Technical Marketing and Strategy. “This opened a window of opportunity for Panavision to demonstrate that files can be produced in real time for delivery at the end of the shooting day. And, we could do so using the traditional camera crew within the parameters of a full union production.”

Enter Panavision’s newest product: the Digital Transfer Station. Now up to 40 minutes of SSR footage can be taken from the camera and moved to the digital transfer station on the camera truck, “away from the fury, noise and confusion on the set.” Romanoff explains, “There, a digital loader can supervise the transfer of SSR into DPX and/or Avid or Final Cut files, and because it is a real-time process he/she can watch the monitor carefully, looking for focus issues, missed cables or other things that can befall a production.

“This provides production and crew with several advantages,” he continues. “The cinematographer has someone that can really focus on the images. This digital loader not only sees that the technical process is done properly, he/she can be the cinematographer’s back-up eyes away from the set. If a problem is spotted, the digital loader can then call the cinematographer to the truck to check out the issue.”

Another advantage in using the Digital Transfer Station is that the crewmember charged with monitoring the digital image obtains a great deal of training for future work in the digital world.
“We tested the technology recently on an ASC/PGA camera assessment series at Universal,” explains Romanoff. “There were 22 cinematographers using a range of cameras and accessories to capture the same images. Shelly Johnson ASC, with first assistant Michael Martino and second assistant/digital loader Michael Yaeger operated the Genesis, SSR, and the Digital Transfer Station.

“The process worked great. Michael Yaeger was overseeing the transfer and the images were available for Shelly to view immediately on the camera truck at the end of the day. He watched the images on the large monitor, picked his circle takes, and saw the files shipped to post before the cameras were wrapped. This was in stark contrast to the other cameras used in the test, some of which took as long as two days to make their files available.”

nanoFlash from Convergent Design

“The nanoFlash was created to provide the capabilities of the Flash XDR in a more compact form,” explains Mike Schell, president of Convergent Design. “In designing the product, we were determined to give ENG and EFP (electronic film production) the ability to record 4:2:2 video, audio and time-code from a variety of cameras through a small, low-power, high-quality recorder.”

Schell says the nanoFlash eliminates the need for costly tape decks. By connecting to the HD/SD-SDI or HDMI camera output (in live mode), the user is able to send “never-compressed” video directly from the CCD/CMOS sensor to nanoFlash’s high-quality CODEC and then to high-speed digital storage (CompactFlash cards).

At 4.2 -by-3.7 -by-1.4 inches, the nanoFlash weighs in at approximately one pound and is compatible with a wide range of cameras, from the prosumer Canon HV30 to the Thomson/Grass Valley Viper. The nanoFlash records to two, low-cost CompactFlash cards giving users up to two hours and 22 minutes of recording time without changing cards.

“With the HDMI output, filmmakers can view their clips on any available HD monitor, on set or off, allowing for immediate viewing of recorded images. And the nanoFlash was designed to be rugged and withstand extreme weather conditions.”

The new nanoFlash is priced at $3,999. Initial deliveries are expected in late May from Convergent Design.

PRO-2310 Monitor from eCinema

“Professional LCD monitors need to display accurate color rendering, reasonably good motion handling characteristics, and the ability to approximate interlaced video,” explains Martin Euredjian, founder and CEO of eCinema Systems. “Our new PRO-2310 monitor addresses those issues and more. The PRO-2310 will satisfy the DP who requires precise video monitoring on set, as well as color-critical desktop and broadcast applications.”

To achieve the level of accuracy professionals demand, eCinema’s new mid-range monitor uses a native 10-bit 120Hz LCD panel that can simultaneously display any one of 1,073 million (1.07 billion) colors per pixel for accurate color image display on an LCD. The result is more precise color detail with noticeably smoother transitions between colors, eliminating color banding and other artifacts.

ECinema’s proprietary 48-bit PureStream Image Processor, optimized to eliminate image degradation and data loss to ensure that the 10-bit input signal is uncompromised, input to output, drives the 23-inch LCD.

“The PRO-2310 has been designed to work in conjunction with the latest video workflows, many of which use 10-bit or higher data streams,” Euredjian adds. “While in production mode, cinematographers or assistants can view full-resolution images that support the extended color range found in high-end video acquisition formats like HDCAM-SR, REDCODE, AVC Intra and others.  In post, 10-bit streams like ProRes 422 and DNxHD can be accurately monitored.”

In addition, eCinema’s exclusive iSIM Mode (Interlaced Simulation) uses high-rate 120hz scanning in concert with their proprietary Interlaced Display Emulation Algorithm (IDEA) to display accurate, interlaced video simulation, reproducing the image characteristics of a CRT for diagnostic purposes. The monitor also features expansion capabilities including 4:4:4, 3G, 3D LUTs, Waveform monitoring and more.

For color calibration, eCinema requires users to purchase its $695 probe that includes a feature they call Monitor Fingerprinting Technology, which saves all calibration data locally in the probe. It can then be duplicated with precise accuracy at the touch of a button on any other PRO-2310 monitor, whether it is across town or half way around the world.

“We are working on enhancements that include 2K monitoring modes and full 3D support for real-time 3D viewing using active glasses,” says Euredjian. Built-in features like still-store, graticule generator, and focus enhancement modes make the PRO-2310 a flexible high-performance production monitor that delivers advanced engineering at a very competitive price point. The PRO-2310 is priced at $7,995 for the 4:2:2 model and $9,995 for the 4:4:4 configuration, which also includes 3G and 3D LUT support.

SI-2K from Silicon Imaging

“Unlike modern HD cameras, which typically compress during image capture, the SI-2K streams 2K (2048×1152) data as uncompressed raw ‘digital negatives’ over a standard gigabit Ethernet connection. An Intel Core 2 Duo processor-based computer, embedded in the camera or tethered to a laptop up to 100 feet away, processes the digital negatives where they are non-destructively developed and colorized for preview using the cinematographer’s 3D LUTs,” explains Ari Presler, CEO of Silicon Imaging.

The digital negatives are “look” metadata simultaneously recorded to hard drive or solid state disk, using the CineForm RAW codec, where up to four hours of continuous footage are captured on a single 160GB notebook drive. “That’s equivalent to 14-reels of 35 mm film,” Presler continues, “at a cost of more than $25,000 for materials and processing. The SI-2K’s recorded files can be immediately played with the target color look at full resolution, without the need for film scanning, tape ingest, format conversions or offline proxies.”

The SI-2K MINI handheld camera became a perfect fit for director Danny Boyle and Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, BSC, DFF who needed a small footprint with extremely high quality to capture footage as they worked their way through the slums of Mumbai for the Academy Award-winning feature Slumdog Millionaire.

“Anthony Dod Mantle told me his experience with the camera was phenomenal,” says Presler. “It handled the highlights, preserved details in the shadows, and could make the viewer feel like they were in the middle of the action.”

The integrated P+S Technik interchangeable lens mount gives users the ability to hot-swap between PL, Nikon F, C and 2/3-inch B4-mounts for shooting highest quality HD with Zeiss DigiPrimes.

Band Pro is the exclusive distributor for the SI-2K in the United States and Latin America. The price for the SI-2K MINI is $17,500 and the SI-2K DVR docking recorder prices out at $18,000.


One Comment on "Gear Guide: Digital Filmmaking"

  1. panavision genesis fcp workflow « pro • active • ly on Tue, 5th Jan 2010 5:59 pm 

    [...] you have written that they are going to use the Panavision SSR bricks to record to and then use the Panavision Transfer Station to make the footage on the [...]