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Zacuto 2012 Video Camera Shootout.


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#1 HDVdiver

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 04:49 PM

Last night I went to the South Australian screening of the 2012 Zacuto camera shootout. It was held at the architecturally beautiful Adelaide Studios of the South Australian Film Corporation. The 96-seat screening theatre (see photo) was completely filled and audience impressions were recorded for possible use in the final documentary due to be released worldwide in July.

Shot in February 2012 at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy in Chicago,cinematographer Bruce Logan,ASC, acted as administrator of the tests. A series of three identical shots with color/lighting/dynamic range challenges was set up for each camera. The DPs for each camera were then given the opportunity to re-light the set under strict parameters to get the very best out of their cameras.

The scene was basically domestic indoor living room with people arriving for a relaxed meeting. A large window provided a test of dynamic range (buildings across the road). The same scene was repeated for each camera with the camera tracking closer to show skin tones of the two main actors (white female and black male).


The cameras involved in the test include the ARRI Alexa operated by Rodney Charters, ASC; Sony F3 with S-log operated by Nancy Schrieber, ASC; Canon 7D with Technicolor settings operated by Michael Negrin, ASC. Also tested were the Sony F65, RED Epic, Sony FS100, Canon C300, and Panasonic GH2 (hacked). Each team did their own color grading.

No one test set-up can do it all, and this one was intended to compare the cameras in an overall, big-scene evaluation. It did nothing for pixel peepers with regards to resolution. This was fair enough, but I personally would liked to have seen a 100% blow-up of a static clip from each camera by way of resolution comparison.

As it was, the methodology was actually quite forgiving to the cameras that would be challenged by a resolution test...and acted to level the field somewhat between the enormous range of video technology (iPhone to Arri Alexa) that was evaluated.

I won't dwell further on techniques and presentation procedure other than to say the screening was in several stages with a break for discussion in between. The audience needed to formally evaluate their preference/guess which cameras when the scenes were repeated without naming which camera was used.

Things were made more interesting for me personally because I could compare reactions with my good friend of many decades, Mal Ludgate, ACS. He is one of Australia's top underwater cinematographers (IMAX Antarctica; many BBC and National Geographic specials) and is not one to be easily impressed.

I won't rank all of the cameras as I saw it (and it was a very personal/subjective evaluation for all in the audience) but just make a couple of comments:

The Sony F65 and the Arri Alexa were, for me, in place 1 and 2 respectively.

The pleasant surprise was that place 3 was the hacked GH2. This generated much discussion and even some crusty old pro's were very impressed by the GH2's image quality.

RED Epic, C300, F3 and the FS100, for several reasons, were competent but did not overly impress me...or many others going by the general discussion. As someone else commented, it's quite possible that the color grading was more responsible for this than the cameras per se. The C300 colors were poor (with a greenish cast) while the blacks on the RED Epic were crushed. The F3 and FS100 appeared somewhat "bland" for lack of a better term.

At the bottom was the Canon 7D (again several people expressed their disappointment)...and the iPhone. The color grading of the iPhone image "deserved a standing ovation" as one audience member put it. I agree. For what it was the image was decent (no one was laughing by the end of the show)...and I think better than the HDV I shot with for several years.

Technology is indeed leveling the playing field. All of the acquisition was acceptable and it was not an easy job trying to rank most of the cameras.

My only criticism of the event is that no mention was made of what hack settings were used by the GH2 operators. Indeed, many (including the MC!) had never heard of the hack...so I did my best to very briefly explain what it is and what it does. The point I made is that I suspect the GH2 could have performed even better if the 220mbps/GOP1 settings were used.

I was also interviewed after the screening and went on record as saying the hacked GH2 was bettered only by the F65 (lovely image) and the Arri Alexa. I stand by what I said.

You will be able to see the shootout for yourselves in a few weeks when the final public version is released on the web...but it won't be quite the same experience as seeing it on a large screen. :D

Attached Images

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Edited by HDVdiver, 16 May 2012 - 12:11 AM.


#2 Davide DB

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 12:20 AM

Nice report.

Would be nice knowing which GH2 settings were used.

Bye

Edit: On Personal View someone wrote that the presenter said "Quantum B" so probably the quantum v9b (130Mb)

http://personal-view...8#Comment_62888

Edit2:

The guy who prepared the camera replied:

They used Quantum V9B, Sandisk 64GB Cards, more than likely Smooth or standard dialed all the way down, etc.


Edited by M43user, 16 May 2012 - 12:29 PM.

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#3 HDVdiver

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 06:02 PM

Yes that's correct. The local Zacuto rep got back to me with confirmation that the GH2 was using Nick Driftwood's Quantum v9b @ 150mbps.

Thanks for pointing out the on-going discussion at Vitaly Kiselev's forum. Good to hear that others who have seen the screening elsewhere have come to similar conclusions about the GH2.

"The audience at my screening was floored by the GH2." (JRD, Personal-view.com).

LOL...some went even further: "After reports back from various people that I know that have seen it, the GH2 was done justice and went beyond expectations in a way that made a certain very famous filmmaker pick it as his choice of image." (Shootout's GH2 team member).

Any idea who the "very famous filmmaker" is? :D

Edited by HDVdiver, 16 May 2012 - 06:16 PM.


#4 DrMark

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 07:27 AM

HDVdiver,

Thanks for your reports on the GH2. I hope this question isn't too far off topic...

Given your experience with the GH2, which housing would you recommend? I have been looking at the Nauticam and the 10 Bar. The difference in price is very substantial (the Nauticam is almost double the price of the 10 Bar). What makes the Nauticam that much better? Are there any other housings I should be considering? I have a pair of Ikelite 160 strobes with my current camera, if that would change your answer. It is a pity that Ikelite doesn't make a housing for this amazing camera.

--Mark

#5 HDVdiver

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 06:05 PM

HDVdiver,

Thanks for your reports on the GH2. I hope this question isn't too far off topic...

Given your experience with the GH2, which housing would you recommend? I have been looking at the Nauticam and the 10 Bar. The difference in price is very substantial (the Nauticam is almost double the price of the 10 Bar). What makes the Nauticam that much better? Are there any other housings I should be considering? I have a pair of Ikelite 160 strobes with my current camera, if that would change your answer. It is a pity that Ikelite doesn't make a housing for this amazing camera.

--Mark



I have the Nauticam housing so I can't comment on the 10Bar. The Nauticam's higher price is reflected in the quality of the overall design, machining and finish. The only complaint I have is that I really would have liked the dome ports to be glass rather than acrylic (and I'd be happy to pay a significantly higher price for this).

The 10Bar is quite a bit cheaper but I'm sure it would do a decent job. I've read some negative reports on the web but this was for the first production run and it's impossible for a manufacturer to always get things right the first time. The 10Bar ports are also acrylic.

IMHO either of these housings would be preferable to one made of all-polycarbonate/acrylic.

***********

LOL...I was expecting some interesting and entirely critical reaction over at RED User, so imagine my shock when I read this comment from a senior member:

"Reports are coming in from the great camera shootout by Zacuto, Placing the Hacked GH2 in 3rd under the F65, and Alexa. and after shooting many shorts and now a feature with my hacked GH2 I couldn't agree more."

http://www.reduser.n...choice-over-RED

Edited by HDVdiver, 17 May 2012 - 06:54 PM.


#6 HDVdiver

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Posted 19 May 2012 - 07:49 PM

Just a couple of updates regarding recent developments concerning the Zacuto Shootout:


There's a well written piece by Illya Friedman, President of Hot Rod Cameras, Hollywood about his impressions of the Shootout in a screening in Hollywood. He makes a very good point that the closer the viewer sat to the screen the more likely the limitations of each camera would be obvious (i.e. resolution differences, artifacts). This explains why the one critical comment about the GH2 (regarding banding artifacts) made during the Adelaide screening was from an experienced cinematographer...who was sitting much closer to the screen. Although Illya Friedman decided not to mention this "give-away" flaw so as not to prejudice future screenings, it is no secret that "banding" is undoubtedly the single biggest issue with the GH2 image...as is the case with any current 8 bit 4:2:0 camera...it was there when I was using the Canon 5D2.

However, single color banding is mainly a problem when large areas of the scene are dominant in one color (e.g. blue sky scenes...or blue mid-water) so the Zacuto set-up was actually quite forgiving to the GH2 in this regard so it's only noticeable in a small area of the test scene (I won't say where...).

Hopefully the soon to be released GH3 will be at least 12 bit 4:2:2 and solve this banding problem.

Illya Friedman's post can be read here:

http://www.eoshd.com...hp?topic=738.30


The other interesting thing I came across is a post by Zacuto over at DVXUser forums:

"Yesterday we screened the Test Footage at SkyWalker Ranch and recorded comments of the viewers that will go into the 2012 Shootout. the audience viewed it blind not knowing which camera was which and Let me just say that many people picked the GH2 as their favorite including a special guest that I will not name--not George Lucas--but will blow you away when you see it in episode two on July 15th. It was all over the map, their were some consensus but when viewed side by side, it's hard to tell what's what, very subtle differences. To me I could tell the differences in the lower end cameras but others did not. "

I am looking forward to finding out who the "special guest" was...:lol:

#7 DrMark

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 09:50 AM

HDVdiver,

However, single color banding is mainly a problem when large areas of the scene are dominant in one color (e.g. blue sky scenes...or blue mid-water)


In your experience, how much of a problem is this underwater? If it isn't a problem for me with my current (not high-end) video camera, will I not be bothered by it with the GH2 either?

--Mark

#8 A.Y.

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 10:31 AM

The cameras involved in the test include the ARRI Alexa operated by Rodney Charters, ASC; Sony F3 with S-log operated by Nancy Schrieber, ASC; Canon 7D with Technicolor settings operated by Michael Negrin, ASC. Also tested were the Sony F65, RED Epic, Sony FS100, Canon C300, and Panasonic GH2 (hacked). Each team did their own color grading.

The Sony F65 and the Arri Alexa were, for me, in place 1 and 2 respectively.

The pleasant surprise was that place 3 was the hacked GH2. This generated much discussion and even some crusty old pro's were very impressed by the GH2's image quality.


Was the shootout conducted at the maximum potentials of each camera in resolutions and frame rates or only at 1080 24p to "level the playing field" when in fact unfairly handicapped cameras capable of high resolutions and frame rates?

I've been to enough in-house screening tests and saw the data collected to know the impact frame rates make to the overall experience of the presentations. Show these cameras at their maximum resolutions at maximum progressive "presentation" frame rates - 60/50, 30/25, or 24fps - and I suspect the voting results will be different.

Each team did their own color grading.

... the blacks on the RED Epic were crushed.


Give the same RAW footage to different cinematographers and you won't get identical results back because we all have different preferences in hue, saturation, and contrast. So the blacks on the RED Epic were crushed because of the limitations of the camera or the grading applied?

#9 HDVdiver

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 03:27 PM

Was the shootout conducted at the maximum potentials of each camera in resolutions and frame rates or only at 1080 24p to "level the playing field" when in fact unfairly handicapped cameras capable of high resolutions and frame rates?


Give the same RAW footage to different cinematographers and you won't get identical results back because we all have different preferences in hue, saturation, and contrast. So the blacks on the RED Epic were crushed because of the limitations of the camera or the grading applied?



1) If a camera is capable of 4k and high frame rates then why should using it at 1080 24p (for purposes of comparison) be in any way limiting it's potential?


2) That was Zacuto's methodology and it's understandable since the logic is the same as letting each team have its own experienced camera operators do the shooting...surely the same team has the experience to bring out the best in terms of color grading.

However, I would have liked one more "trial" in which one selected person/team did the grading for all of the acquisition. This would have minimized the variability due to personal preferences that you refer to...but could have opened another can of worms. Plus it would have been a lot more work for everyone involved in the project.

Bottom line, as far as I'm concerned, if someone's color grading is so far from mainstream expectations as to result in crushed blacks or a green cast, then that's what the average audience will see.

#10 HDVdiver

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 04:03 PM

HDVdiver,



In your experience, how much of a problem is this underwater? If it isn't a problem for me with my current (not high-end) video camera, will I not be bothered by it with the GH2 either?

--Mark



Unfortunately it is probably a bigger problem for underwater work than for topside...because of the blue mid-water we often have in the scene. It's not the single color that's the issue but the graduated shades going from dark blue up to light blue near the surface. Any camera that's 8 bit 4:2:0 will show this banding due to the very limited color information/number of colors available @ 8 bits. The artifacts are also particularly noticeable if the video is heavily compressed (as for Vimeo) and/or being viewed on a screen that's native resolution is not 1920 x 1080. The banding is somewhat less obvious when viewed at higher bit rates (i.e. 30 mbps) on a large 1080p TV.

However...your average viewer probably won't even notice the banding (particularly if the video is interesting :lol: ) since they see it constantly on broadcast TV (no matter how good the original) because of the low bit rates used by most broadcasters. If you're not bothered by it with your current camera chances are you won't be by the issue as it occurs with the GH2.
For scenes without the mid-water the HBR mts out of the GH2 is beauty to behold.

I've recently tried some editing plug-ins that some said could help reduce the banding (they didn't). But I haven't had time to try the gradfun2dbmod / avisynth approach yet so I'm still hopeful. Better still if Panasonic solve the problem themselves in the GH3.

#11 Nick Hope

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 09:23 PM

...I've recently tried some editing plug-ins that some said could help reduce the banding (they didn't). But I haven't had time to try the gradfun2dbmod / avisynth approach yet so I'm still hopeful. Better still if Panasonic solve the problem themselves in the GH3.

If you're exploring AviSynth solutions, maybe take a look at Dither too. It's cutting edge stuff and under active development.

"Why should I use it?
Because denoising and lossy compression can easily make colorbanding appear. By transdithering, it is possible to recover original gradients better than using a filter + GradFun2DB(mod). Moreover, classic error-diffusion dithering algorithms require a high bitrate during encoding, otherwise color banding appears again. Dither offers an ordered dithering (Bayer matrix), which is more resilient to data compression."


#12 HDVdiver

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 11:11 PM

If you're exploring AviSynth solutions, maybe take a look at Dither too. It's cutting edge stuff and under active development.


Quite true...that's why I went for the GradFun2DBmod instead of the GradFun2DB, since it also contains a script for Dither.

Another couple of approaches are discussed in:

http://aeportal.blog...er-effects.html

Problem is I'm heading off to Indonesia and West Papua very soon for 4 weeks and am about to become way too busy to try all of these methods. If anyone else does (successfully or otherwise) please do post your findings.

One thing I will do soon however is try a few different hack settings for HBR mjpeg...I'm beginning to suspect that the banding has got as much to do with the AVCHD encoder as it does with the inherent limitations of 8 bit 4:2:0.

Edited by HDVdiver, 20 May 2012 - 11:16 PM.


#13 Nick Hope

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Posted 21 May 2012 - 09:41 PM

I'm beginning to suspect that the banding has got as much to do with the AVCHD encoder as it does with the inherent limitations of 8 bit 4:2:0.

There could be something in that. I never see banding in my Z1 footage.

#14 HDVdiver

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Posted 21 May 2012 - 11:18 PM

There could be something in that. I never see banding in my Z1 footage.



I certainly got banding in my old HC1/HDV..and there's a been lot of discussion over the years about this including the Z1: http://forums.creati...read/162/858637 . Same cause 8 bit 4:2:0....and very low bit rate mpeg2.

As far as the GH2 goes I think there's no way of completely eliminating the banding problem given the cameras 8 bit color. Also, from my brief tests over the last 24 hrs using the AviSynth scripts and particularly Saphire Dband in AE I've also come to the conclusion that there's no satisfactory way of removing color banding in post. Each method I tried didn't really get rid of the banding but simply used various processing "smoke and mirrors" to try to mask/minimize it. I'm not impressed with the results so far...and the methods introduce other artifacts which don't help with the image quality.

However...there's one bit of good news. After being unhappy with the quality of MJPEG in my hacked GH1's I never bothered using it in the GH2 ...i.e. I left the MJPEG parameters at factory settings. So today I hacked one of my GH2's with Driftwood's Orion V4b (720 to 1080/ HBR) and was very impressed how much better MJPEG is now @ 1080p. I still need to tweak some of the deeper settings to try to improve it further but even now it's pretty close to AVCHD from a quick series of A/B scene comparisons.

The great thing is...there's much, much less banding in the same scene with MJPEG vs AVCHD. The difference is so substantial that I really had to look hard to even notice it with the MJPEG scene (white wall) where as it was all over the image in the AVCHD. So it looks like the two different encoders handle the limited color information in different ways...AVCHD might be the more efficient encoder in many ways but the 20 year old MJPEG codec seems to play less havoc with color. With the limited testing so far (and with the particular MJPEG Quantization Tables used in these hack settings) even the color reproduction seems a bit more accurate than for the same AVCHD scene.

I don't think it's simply a matter of more noise in the MJPEG acting the dither the color grad and make the banding less obvious. There doesn't seem to be much (if any) more grain/noise in the MJPEG vs the same scene AVCHD.

I need to do more evaluation (mainly to convince myself to start using MJPEG)...but greatly reducing the banding is certainly a strong motivation.

Hopefully Panasonic with get their act together and fix things with the GH3. :lol:



Update:

I just came across a similar finding that someone posted here:

http://www.personal-...80p-settings/p2


Update 2:

More tests today in bright sunlight. Conclusions:

a) The new implementation of MJPEG's image quality @ 1080p is superb! Resolution is virtually the same as the AVCHD HBR (Vibrant color setting/ same scene, tripod/manual settings 14mm Lumix). So it's not simply upscaled/interpolated 720p as was the case with the hacked GH1.

b) MJPEG shows slightly higher contrast/gamma (easily correctable using YUV) but the rendition of colors is nicer/cleaner.

c) MJPEG has about 2x the file size for the same duration.

d) Banding is reduced for AVCHD and MJPEG by selecting a higher ISO in lower light conditions...and keeping the f-stop smaller (i.e. f8 to f16). The extra gain (thus more noise/grain) probably helps...but I think there are also other encoder /color sub-sampling issues going on.

e) Downside of MJPEG: 1) 30 fps; 2) 16 kHz audio sample rate; 3) larger file sizes; 4) very occasional data lock-up during shooting...but self correcting (i.e. doesn't require camera restart).

Conclusion: Anticipating the banding issue and understanding when/where it's likely to occur allows the use of quite effective preventative shooting techniques with the hacked GH2 to significantly minimize the problem.

Edited by HDVdiver, 22 May 2012 - 10:40 PM.


#15 Nick Hope

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Posted 22 May 2012 - 09:01 PM

I certainly got banding in my old HC1/HDV..and there's a been lot of discussion over the years about this including the Z1: http://forums.creati...read/162/858637 . Same cause 8 bit 4:2:0....and very low bit rate mpeg2.

I probably just didn't notice it. Maybe my tolerance is higher before I see banding as a problem.

Downside of MJPEG: 1) 30 fps

You mean it's 30fps only? You want something else?

#16 HDVdiver

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Posted 22 May 2012 - 10:36 PM

I probably just didn't notice it. Maybe my tolerance is higher before I see banding as a problem.

You mean it's 30fps only? You want something else?



With 8 bit cameras I think the banding is only really noticeable when it's really bad and this seems to occur under a relatively narrow set of subject/lighting conditions, e.g. mid-water in low light/low ISO...or sunsets. Plus I think our expectations of image quality are changing/becoming more critical as the camera technology improves so rapidly.

I personally don't mind 30 fps, but a lot of "indy" shooters seem to go catatonic if the frame rate isn't 24p.:lol:

On a more practical level it's just a bit of a nuisance when mixing with 24p or 25p (PsF) on the time line. Fortunately, I see myself mainly using MJPEG/30fps underwater and continue to use AVCHD topside (because of the much better audio sampling frequency) so simply conforming 30 fps without needing to worry about audio sync is no big deal.

Edited by HDVdiver, 22 May 2012 - 10:50 PM.


#17 HDVdiver

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Posted 15 June 2012 - 04:56 PM

Zacuto have now released more material on the "Shootout":

http://www.zacuto.co...ootout-part-one


http://www.zacuto.co...entation-V1.pdf


An interesting article from the GH2 perspective:

http://www.eoshd.com...zacuto-shootout

#18 Drew

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Posted 16 June 2012 - 04:47 AM

I guess if one can control the environment (ie pool with lights etc), optimized conditions to make the "look" work, any camera can be made to shine.
If one checks out the uncontrolled test, the limitations of each camera comes out clearer. Then there are the feature set that makes a camera more exclusive, variable fps, high fps, RAW, dynamic range, noise etc.
That said, it is wonderful cameras costing under 2k can produce an image that is comparable to RAW output cameras like Alexa and Epic, if lit properly and under certain conditions. It certainly gives shooters of all budgets a tool to work with.
One should check out the ASC tests of the cameras listed in the Zacuto test. Unlike Zacuto, the ASC has no commercial interests in these tests other than image quality.

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#19 Davide DB

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Posted 18 June 2012 - 01:19 AM

IMHO The best and the most equilibrate comment on the Zacuto shootout come from Philip Bloom:

There was a lot of kerfuffle from a certain colourful CEO of a certain camera manufacturer about how this shootout was done, which Steve dealt with very politely, honestly and succinctly. I bloody love that camera and utterly respect the man. I miss my Epic like something you won’t believe. The irony is that what was complained about was of utter irrelevance in this test due to it not really being a “shootout,” and I actually chose the Epic as my favourite in the blind test. Why? As I said, I simply love that image and I can see it a mile off. BUT in this test you get to see how, with skill, a good DP can make a dirt cheap hacked GH2 look damn similar. As good? Of course not! I don’t recommend that Ridley Scott switches to the hacked GH2 for his Blade Runner sequel, after using the Epic for his spectacular and beautiful Prometheus, just because Dariusz Wolski is bloody brilliant. You would be tying a hand behind his back. What’s the point? A lot of it is down to the right tool for the right job. But great, if all you can afford IS the GH2 you know that with skill you can do amazing stuff with it.

Even though you can make a lower-end camera perform really well with skill, if you have access to a better camera, why handicap yourself? If you can afford an Epic in your budget and you have a crew who can light for it, then you would be dumb as hell to not use it! Likewise if you use the Alexa. Just look at how stunning Games of Thrones is and Drive was. The new bond film is being shot by the great Roger Deakins on the Alexa raw. Could he do a damn fine job shooting that movie with an FS100? Of course he could, but why would he? He famously said, when asked why he had never shot digital, that he didn’t want to use an inferior tool as he didn’t have to. Now with cameras like the Alexa giving him what film gave him and more, he is finally a digital convert.


And

If you asked me “Philip, happy birthday… you can have any camera you want on me. Which one will you have?”. My answer would be “Can I sell it or do I have to use it?” as if it’s the former then I’d pick the Phantom Flex as it’s very expensive – I would sell it to buy lots of other cameras. And if it’s the latter then probably an Epic, as I love the image and size of it and I already own a C300 which is my number one documentary camera. But hey, I have my Canon XA10 with me right now…why? It makes my life damn easy for what I am going to film here in Korea.

So really what I hope that you will get from the final documentary is that the camera is important naturally. But it’s what you do with the camera. Yes a better camera will make your life easier but as we always say, the important thing is YOU!


Full post here:

http://philipbloom.n...012/06/14/rgcs/
Disclaimer: Your new gear will not make you produce any better art than you already do.
https://vimeo.com/bocio/

#20 jonny shaw

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  • Location:Sydney

Posted 18 June 2012 - 02:53 PM

So true, is just me but these shootout things just drag on and on.

Let me see the footage, know the camera that shot it and off we go.

www.ginclearfilm.com
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GATES DEEP EPIC Based in Sydney