Sony Venice - Review

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Small disclaimer: I am coming right off of owning a Red Weapon so a lot my review through the lens of a former red owner/ operator. I don’t want to spend a bunch of time bashing on Red but they need some time to get their house back in order so we decided to move on from them, for now. Also I tend to use the Arri 435 as the benchmark by which all other cameras are judged. It isn’t super realistic and isn’t totally applicable but that camera is without a doubt one of the most useable and well thought out pieces of equipment in existence.

We very seriously toyed with the idea of getting an Alexa Mini and it made a lot of sense but there were a few things that pushed us towards the Sony Venice:

Pro’s

-       Skin tones

-       High light roll off

-       Build quality

-       Built in ND’s

-       XLRs with 48v phantom power

-       Sliding top handle

-       False color

-       Magnification while rolling.

-       Movi compatible

-       S709 LUT

-       6k down to 4k XAVC

-       4k is super35

-       Buttons (you don’t realize how much you need button until they are gone)

-       Shoulder balance

Con’s

-       V-mounts (for some people)

-       Firmware

-       Offspeed (for now)

-       SXS cards

-       Hirose connectors

 

Full frame. I personally find the depth of field and noise pattern from a full frame sensor very pleasing. I’m not sure this is going to take over the industry or make a huge difference on set but it gave us a chance to do something new. I also think the implementation of full frame at 6K and still having 4K in Super35 is the best implementation of this feature. You get the resolution options you want and can still use all the Super35 lenses that you want.

  Cooke S4

Cooke S4

  Kowa Anamorphic 100mm

Kowa Anamorphic 100mm

Dual ISO. We do a lot of doc work and being able to shoot at 2500 with very little noise is a dream for us. Two exposure ratings; 500 ISO and 2500 open up a lot of possibilities in terms of shooting situations The noise difference between the two is minimal. I will also the even in the base 500 ISO mode shooting at 1250 is very clean.

10,000 ISO

10,000 ISO - Lifted in Post

8-Stops of internal ND in 1 stop increments. Really small feature on the surface. Really easy to overlook but this is going to be the thing every other camera manufacturer steals from the Venice. I never carry 8 NDs on set. I am sure real feature and episodic people do but I don’t have 3 ACs so how could I ever use them. The speed and availability of these NDs is a real game changer on set. The pacing and flexibility of an operator on set can determine a lot about how the crew and talent work together to capture the right/ desired image. Every DP I have ever known has compromised on set cause the time it takes to swap from 1.2 to 1.5 ND wasn’t worth slowing down the set at that crucial moment. Getting that flexibility back is such a relief. Also just being able to shed a ND every 10 minutes during magic hour.

I can clearly go on forever about the internal NDs but I’ll shut up and move on to some of my other thoughts about this camera.

XLRs with phantom power. Again this is something most cameras have but coming from the Red DSMC2 line getting phantom working on that camera and recording to reasonably clean pre-amps was a real nightmare.

A quick note on highlight roll off. This seems like a huge improvement over all the other sony cameras and feels very “alexa-like”. We are all still chasing film here but we are getting closer.

S709 LUT/ overall image and tone. Sony spent a lot of time on the LUT. It is lower contrast than most of the SLog LUTs I have seen and the skin tones have been very strong out of the box.

EVF. Crazy expensive but actually useable. I seriously considered not getting it but have been really happy operating with it. For most things I have been running with just the EVF and no monitor. Having false color in the EVF and being able to do 2x or 4x magnification while rolling is a real lifesaver.

 

A few things that bug me -

This camera was rushed to market to beat the Alexa LF and it shows. We happened to get ours at the same time as V2 firmware was released and that really changed everything. Full frame, dual iso, 60 fps, e-mount, and the 6K to 4K in XAVC all arrived in Version 2 firmware. 

Sony’s reputation. This is honestly probably the biggest issue with this camera right now. They have a lot to make up for after the F5/55. The Crown looks amazing and shows what is possible with that camera but for most people the F55 left a bad taste in their mouths and most DP's are just gonna go Alexa Mini out of habit at this point. We'll see if that starts to change over the next few months.

Now down into the super small complaint department. You need to hold down the menu button for 3 seconds to access the grownup menus. 3 seconds doesn’t sound like a long time but on set waiting to roll it can feel like a lifetime.

Hirose connectors. We are a D-Tap family. Not the end of the world but definitely not as common as 2 pin lemo or d-tap cables. Wooden camera is helping us out with a custom 4pin hirose to 4 female p-tap cable so that should solve it.

 

The best thing you can do is get your hands on this camera and try it yourself. See what the images do for you. Testing everything I have said and see if you see the same things I do. 

- Harvey

 

 

 

 

Affordable Cine Zoom Lens - Angenieux EZ 1

Angenieux EZ 1 - Detail

The Angenieux EZ 1 30-90mm T2 super35 zoom lens is one of a handful of lenses in the quickly expanding category of affordable cine-zooms. For a long time cinema zooms were always two things; heavy and expensive. In the past year or so we have seen manufacturers innovate and release a new group of lightweight cinema zooms. To name a few;  Zeiss 21-100mm, Sigma 18-35mm / 50-100mm, Fujinon 18-55mm, and Canon 18-80mm. As a documentary and commercial shooter, it has been great to see this huge increase in choices at a reasonable price. I find myself taking the Angeniuex on set because of its size, its flexibility, and its performance wide open.

            First and foremost, the size, weight, and handling of this lens are superb. It is well balanced and weighs in at just 4lbs. I shoot a lot of handle held work and gimbal work so weight is always a factor. Having built in focus, iris, and zoom gears is a big advantage in both keeping the lens streamlined and removing any extra weight from add on 3rd party focus gears. The EZ 1 also features rubberized grips along the lens for better control when not using a follow focus. This lens is built with the operator in mind.

            In the documentary world staying flexible on set is a must. The ability to quickly go from PL to EF to E mount on set with no tools is a big deal. Pairing lenses and sensors is a big part of cinematographers job these days both from an aesthetics standpoint and a function standpoint. This lens is equally at home on an A7S wedged inside a car as it is on 35mm Arri film camera on a dolly. In addition to the lens mount, you can also change the rear optical block to go from covering just super35 to cover full frame/ vistavision. The 30-90mm or 45-135mm FF range is a great middle ground. We just wrapped a shoot last week were it was the only lens we used over 2 days. We went from studio to location and it didn't disappoint in either. 

            There is a certain feeling imbued into lenses by each manufacturer. A subtle difference that doesn’t come across in technical specifications but is often talked about amongst cinematographers and is unique to that manufacturer. Angenieux’s reputation is amongst the best of the industry. The EZ 1 fits in easily amongst its family members and delivers the same consistent colors and pleasing sharpness that one should expect from Angenieux. It offers a sharpness that isn't clinical but is forgiving on faces and falls of nicely.     

Angenieux EZ 1 Red Shoulder rig
Tucker Macdonald Angenieux EZ RED weapon
angenieux ez 1 studio car

           

Why we believe in a mobile headquarters 

Economics on Four Wheels 

At our core, we are storytellers envious of anyone who is living a "Vanlife" or nomadic lifestyle. We have a dropbox folder dedicated for aspirational adventures, and gravitate toward stories that bring us out of our comfort zone physically and mentally. We’ve built a company that can have teams dispatched in less than 48 hours to cover an un-repeatable breaking story, and are able to maintain flexibility without losing quality on screen when a last minute location change comes up.

We can do this with the tool that we have built - the sprinter van

We believe in the sprinter model for three reasons. 

  1. It is often more economical for client
  2. We meet people and discover stories that we would have otherwise flown over
  3. We scratch the itch of being on the road in a van. 

You may be a client or a future collaborator, so lets go into reasons 1 & 2 for this blog post, starting with a case study based on a recent production in Iowa. Below you will find a cost and time comparison of one way travel from Boston --> Iowa. Note: Airfare may be more expensive because time between job confirmation and production was 3 days, and we are assuming flights were available. Want a summary? Scroll down.

Time & Cost Comparison 

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Alright so the napkin math shows the sprinter being more economical, but a large portion of that is paying accumulated time for a DP to pack / unpack when departing, returning, and over the course of the shoot. That is part of the joy of the sprinter! Everything has a home, is charging while on location or in transit, and is an arms-length away, especially if you're Harvey. 

You might be saying to yourself, "OK I can totally get on board with that, but driving to the Midwest is time consuming!" 

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You would be correct. But on the flip side, flying from Boston --> Burlington, IA would have taken about 10 hours, 4 of which I would estimate to be useful working time. Because the Sprinter is fully powered and is one giant hotspot, clients would never know we're on the road unless we tell them. Plus, our wifi is a hell of a lot more reliable than it is 35,000 feet up!

In Review

On average, we are able to save clients about 25% - 50% by taking the sprinter on location with us. Though we spend more time on the road for any given job, we are able to see the country and get B-roll along our travels to incorporate into the story or build our own content library for future projects. We are able to meet people who we wouldn't otherwise connect with and become aware of the ideals and values of people living in the Midwest and West. 

Keep in mind we have only compared immediate, foreseeable expenditures in time and money. We haven't accounted for lost luggage, dead batteries, damaged equipment, and time spent dealing with these things. We hope this post has been helpful for you, and if you would like to learn more about the sprinter, or want to do some traveling yourself please email us! 

Do Something, Part II: Strength in Diversity

Do Something, Part II: Strength in Diversity

Our life experiences, and resulting opinions and views, are pretty homogeneous. So while we strive to tell the stories of those who face systemic adversity, we often fall short in our ability to connect with them on a personal level. We'll do our best as journalists, listeners, interviewers, storytellers, but we won't pretend to have faced the same discrimination, insecurity, or injustices as many of the subjects of our stories.

Movi API - Shaker/ Vibra Box

It is my belief that strong research must exist alongside the production of goods and services. Filmmakers, especially, know that behind the pomp and circumstance of any productive shoot is a well-developed itinerary, and behind a successful rough cut is a team of driven editors. No different is what is lies behind the technology producers use in the field and in the studio; here lie the engineers, those who are willing to explore the problems of the hour, and look for answers.

From June 5, 2017 until July 27, 2017, I joined the team at Windy Films as an intern, under the supervision of Harvey Burrell. I took up the role as a developer, tackling a very specific problem that the Windy team had experienced over the last few months of shooting: their footage was too steady. Among car chase shoots, their material felt slow and bogged down, hindered by smooth camera movement. What they wanted was something that made the chase scenes feel faster, by adding action to not what was in the frame, but to the frame itself. Of course, these motions needed to be deliberate. With machinery, we had the ability to pinpoint the frame motion we desired, eliminating the human element – and likely the associated error.

I was tasked to design something functional, easy to operate, and flexible for the needs of the project. What slowly took shape was a hardware and software prototype, implemented using a basic Arduino microcontroller connected to a Freefly MōVI Pro camera stabilizer. Through written code and Freefly’s public API, we were able to take control the MOVI Pro’s gimbal motors, constantly changing their rotational velocity. This resulted in jerky pan and tilt, and visually something along the lines of a shaking camera frame.

Throughout the entire process, I found myself caught up in what it meant to do research for a small company like Windy Films, working on the development side of their team. One of the biggest problems I faced was the feeling of being so peripheral. It is hard to feel connected to the team’s core when Windy is so focused on the day the day, the what do we need right now, and how are we going to get it done. All the phone calls, all the meetings, and all the coffee cups make you wonder how you feel about being so future-focused. There is an unwavering desire to ask the question, “Where is this going? For if not today, and not tomorrow, when will this mechanism be the present, integral Windy’s day to day?”

Through my time at the studio, I have realized the importance of mindfulness when in the vicinity of these thoughts. The truth is that with research comes much failure, and a successful mechanism may not come into existence within the span of two months. As I learn to converse with failure, it becomes clearer that the success of development is ingrained within the process itself: to learn more about a piece of hardware, a programming language, to be able to communicate my thoughts more clearly, to have the means to problem solve, think critically, be creative, and work passionately. These are all successes, small and large, independent of the project’s usability, when all is said and done.

Even if this shake mechanism doesn’t make it off the tables of Studio 16, even if it proves to be unusable, research must go on. Day in, day out, we must build and break: it is this continual act that eventually takes us one step further to being a more self-sustainable company.

We are still in pursuit of the three main goals we had for the shake mechanism back in June that revolve around function, use, and flexibility. There is no doubt that accomplishing these three will take help from others. Integrating this prototype into an existing environment is our next step, making the hardware easier to interact with, and the software more direct. We want to see this motion feature in the community around us, useful to many. With any interest in the the project, we hope that you find the following links useful and informative.

For a highlight video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiPTbAjHiWw&

For documentation: https://github.com/glassb/shake-mechanism




 

Creating Creativity

Creating Creativity

It's all too easy for creatives to get caught on the hamster wheel, saying "yes" to too much or for the wrong reasons. As we navigate this process, we look to our friends at Oat for a model on how to determine success by our own measurements. They've taught us that in the long run, the most meaningful and effective way of creating value is actually by creating creativity. Setting time aside to focus on what's honest to yourself, creatively fulfilling and meaningful, not just what's profitable, will actually pay off in the long run. 

The Crash Box

The Crash Box

Hello there! Harvey here with another installment of all things gear related!

A few years ago, during the production of Endless Abilities, we purchased an underwater housing for the Canon 5D Mark II. The end of the film culminated in some very important surfing scenes and occasionally went up against some pretty serious waves as well.

Studio 16

Studio 16

It's been a lot of hard work over the past seven months. 

But all of the floor grinding and repainting has paid off. Sometimes it can feel a bit demoralizing to demolish a wall, only to rebuild it again. But we're very proud of our headquarters now, and we want nothing more than to share the space with other like - minded creative professionals now. In the warmer months, the garage door is usually open, so feel free to swing by and we'll take you over to KO next door for a pie and a pint. 

THANK YOU to all of our friends and family who had the patience to let us disappear for sleepless nights and weekends to make this possible. 

Cross Country Sprint

Cross Country Sprint

We talk a big game about the economics of the trailer, but having only driven it as far as DC from Boston, we've yet to really put it to the test. Last time we shot in LA in October, we flew with ten tubs of equipment and rented a sprinter van, and by the time we rebuilt our gear, it was realistically a day and a half affair. So for the next shoot on the west coast, we asked ourselves, is driving anywhere really more efficient?

Our Trailer

We get the question all the time: “What makes you different from other film production companies?” Our answer, though ever-changing as we learn from each project, always includes something that has been unique to us from the beginning- our 16’ production trailer dubbed the “Breeze Machine."