‘East of Broadway’ 5D to 35mm Film-out Test: Part Two – Post

As Dave’s earlier blog post will tell you, shooting camera tests for a feature film is no easy job. While I was kicking back in the editing suite with a latte and a stack of comic books, Dave & his crew were out beating the streets, putting the 5D through its paces to see if it could survive the demands of shooting a gritty feature film on location in NYC.

I was very excited to see the results, and I’m sure you are too–so without further ado, take a look at the test shoots. I’ll be going into all of the tests in more detail right below.

Now, I know there’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s start at the beginning:

LENS COMPARISON TESTS

As you can see, we started the video by alternating Canon & Zeiss lenses at roughly equivalent focal lengths. One of the critical points Dave wanted to test was lens sharpness–from his observations in the field, he felt that the Canons tended to be a little sharper than the Zeiss lenses. Since we were using a modified version of the ProLost Picture Style to shoot with (more on that later!), we had the sharpness turned all the way down in camera and were able to clearly evaluate only the sharpness of the glass. Surprisingly, we found that both brands of lenses seemed to have almost exactly the same level of sharpness. The real differences came in the color representation.

While I was able to grade the lenses to match fairly well, I found that the Zeiss lenses exhibited a more prominent cast toward the green than the Canons did. (Obviously, green is not a color you usually want showing up in your skin tone.) That said, a quick grade was all it took to pull out the cast. Once we had finished correcting the footage, I found myself liking where the skin tone sat in Zeiss lenses a little more than the Canons–although this is just a personal preference. Skin tones in the Zeiss lenses were a bit easier to get to that “chocolate” tone that many colorists like. This is evident in shots like the one at 1:17 into the video.

 


AN ASIDE ON ASPECT RATIOS

As I’m sure you noticed, the aspect ratio varies from shot to shot. Since we’re printing these tests to 35mm film, Dave decided to frame for 1.85:1, using the frame line guides on our trusty Zacuto EVF. But once we got the footage back into the suite, we decided to play around a bit with matting even further, and pushing a truly cinematic look with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. (Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham’s 2010 feature film, was shot on the 7D and cropped to 2.40:1 with great results.) Although we have since decided to shoot East of Broadway in 2.40:1, we tried different aspect ratios for different shots in the test footage, just to get a sense of how it might look on film.

 


CONTRAST TESTS

The next section of the video is a series of somewhat unscientific contrast tests–we just wanted to look at how dark we could make the shadow side of a face before losing all detail and getting those ugly, inky, “chunky” blacks that H.264 compression is prone to. What we found surprised me. I’m used to seeing a lot of 5D footage where the shadows in the images have been severely compromised; however, we found that when you use the ProLost Picture Style and make sure you have a proper starting exposure on set, you will protect a lot of the detail in the shadows. Notice how you can still see a bit of our intern & AC Dominika’s eye on the shadow side of her face in the shot at 1:41.

The next shot in the video is the same lens & camera settings, but captured with the Technicolor Cinestyle instead of ProLost. As you can see, we can dig even further into the shadows, but I feel it comes at the expense of the overall color representation in the image (I know I said it before, but seriously, lots more on this later!).

 


DAY EXTERIORS

You might have noticed that the next section of the video is marked “Ungraded.” We wanted to send both graded and ungraded footage to film so we could get a sense of how the transfer affected the original footage and footage we had manipulated in post. (Also, the footage looked pretty darn good right out of camera if I do say so myself!) There’s less white in these frames than in the interior shots, so the green cast in the Zeiss lenses is less noticeable, and the skin tones are right on.

As we moved into the tracking shots, Dave went out to our widest lens, the Zeiss 21mm, to get a sense of how the distortion might affect the feel of the shot. East of Broadway is a gritty, dark, almost doc-style drama, and we decided that even though the 21mm tracking shots are cool, the distortion is a little too severe for the type of film writer/director (and test shoot model) Bandar Albuliwi wants to make.

 


DEPTH OF FIELD

Another important consideration for us regarding the tone of the film was the extremely shallow depth of field the 5D gives you because of its full-frame (“Vistavision,” as Shane Hurlbut likes to say) sensor. This can often be a wonderful tool for a filmmaker, but we feel that super-shallow depth of field can become distracting in a narrative film. Because we’re trying to draw as little attention to the filmmaking as possible with this project, Dave decided to set up on a street corner in Times Square and incrementally stop down to see how the DoF was affected.

On the Zeiss 35mm at a 2.0, the background is extremely soft–it almost has a music video look (and not just because Bandar’s rapping!). Once we get to a 4.0 or 5.6, however, things start to look a little more “real.”

 


ISO TESTS & NOISE REDUCTION

Now it’s time to have some fun! As Dave mentioned, they made a point to find the darkest block they could in Hell’s Kitchen for shooting these ISO tests. Starting at 800 and going all the way to 6400, we wanted to really see what the 5D was capable of with almost no light (and I’m especially excited to see how these shots hold up on the big screen).

The impetus for these tests actually came from the aforementioned Tiny Furniture (shot on the 7D). Dave & I went to see it at the IFC Center last year, and while most of the film (projected digitally at 2K) looked terrific, there were a handful of low-light sections that had so much noise it looked like a different film!

Without getting too technical about it, I had an inkling that the smaller sensor of the 7D had something to do with the enormous amount of noise in the footage. (A smaller sensor means smaller photosites, which means the sensor collects less light. It stands to reason that they had to push the 7D further for night shots than they might have were they using a 5D).

Happily, my suspicions proved to be correct. At 800, I found that we had a usable exposure without too much noise–it’s still a little under, but I think it would be acceptable for the (are you tired of this word yet?) gritty look we’re going for. The really exciting stuff came when we bumped it up past 1000. Armed with Neat Video, the awesome noise reduction plugin that Philip Bloom swears by, we were able to get usable shots at up to 3200 ISO!

6400 seems to be the wall, though–the skin tones are so noticeably noisy and messed up that I would never go past 3200 ISO for a narrative project.

 


TECHNICOLOR VS. PROLOST

Now this was a test I was really interested in seeing. When the Technicolor CineStyle first dropped, there was a lot of buzz around the office, and we decided to play with it right away. After some very, very unscientific testing (see: running around the office with a camera shooting people eating lunch), I found that the CineStyle, while protecting the shadows and highlights admirably, desaturated the image to such a point that trying to return the saturation to skin tones resulted in a kind of unpleasant look–as if the footage had been pushed too far.

By its nature, the CineStyle will also take a longer time to grade–the more you flatten the image in production, the more work you’ll have to do to get the contrast and saturation back. While we’re probably talking a matter of minutes or even seconds per shot, when you’re dealing with a feature film, those minutes and seconds can add up quickly.

Based on these observations, we felt that shooting most of the feature in our modified ProLost style (which is the same as Stu Maschwitz’s recommended settings except that the contrast is one click higher), would be a better choice for us. However, maybe there was still a place where the Technicolor CineStyle could help us out…

We talked before about shooting in almost no light–well, how about literally, actually, completely, totally no light at all? That’s what we did for this test, sending Bandar into a pitch-black phone booth where the only light source was his cigarette lighter. Here’s what the shot looked like in ProLost:

First thought: “Um, hey Dave… lens cap?”

And here’s what it looks like with the Technicolor CineStyle:

Hey! There’s a person in there! Pretty impressive results, and they gave us a good idea of how to use the CineStyle during production: when you absolutely can not even get an exposure in ProLost, flip over to the Technicolor profile to get a fighting chance. Sure, it might take a bit more time in the grading suite, but you’ll have a shot where before you had none. Magic!

 


SUBWAY SHOTS

The last few shots in the test reel are some that Dave picked off without a rig, to see how it might work trying to shoot on a subway with a very abbreviated crew. We wanted to see how severe the rolling shutter artifacts would be, and what we might be able to do with the heavy green cast caused by those nasty fluorescent lights. Dave’s got a pretty steady hand, and there were enough usable shots to make handheld subway shooting plausible (although not advisable–we’ll be using at least a small rig for the actual shoot), and, as you can see in the shot at 3:20, we found a lot of room to push the skin tones back to a more pleasing place and away from that harsh, ugly green color (although the director did contend that the green makes for an interesting look–we’ll see where we want to take it creatively when it comes time to grade the actual film).

 


IN CONCLUSION…

While we won’t have the full story until we’ve seen these tests projected from 35mm to the big screen, after putting together this reel we feel even more confident in the 5D as a great tool for narrative filmmaking (with the right support, monitors and lenses, of course). At one of our office soirees–I don’t mean to brag, but we throw some great parties–a bunch of camera & industry folk came through our suite and took a look at the reel. Everyone came away as excited as we were at the possibility of shooting a feature on location with this camera.

I hope you’ve learned as much as we have from this footage–we’ve been using a longer 12 minute version of the reel as a teaching tool in our 5D Seminars and find it to be a really good representation of the 5D’s strengths. The film print of the 6 minute version should be coming in any day now, and then it’s off to Goldcrest to see how the 5D footage looks projected on a 75′ screen–if there are any problems, we’ll surely see them there!

To stay up to date on East of Broadway, Endless Picnic’s forthcoming feature film, be sure to like the Facebook page.

STAY TUNED FOR THE THRILLING CONCLUSION TO OUR EAST OF BROADWAY FILM-OUT TESTS!

 

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