Freitag, 27. Dezember 2013

mixing 5D Mark III and 7D footage

Working in Libanon on a documentary project we had to interview several people in different living conditions, light setups etc. Although all the shots should look "familiar" and have a strong "recognition" from scene to scene, we also had to preserve the natural feel and look and make it look very much like a documentary rather then a high gloss head shot.

Most of the interviews were supposed to be longer then the traditional broadcast "soundbite", so we decided to bring in 2 cameras to have a dynamic wide-close-up option during editing.
Although we weren't sure if we rather would stick with one or the other shot, we felt more comfortable having both options.

Unfortunately, we didn't have the luxury of having two same camera bodies. That is actually a real problem and in general should be avoided. But for the fact that it wasn't essential to have both shots and if something would have gone wrong, we would have been ok with just sticking with one of the cameras in the post production.
The only other cam that came close to the looks of the A-Camera ( 5D Mark III ) was my old Canon 7D.

This camera, although it was very good and for its time far ahead in some elements, it shows nowadays its age. Having a natural crop factor, we decided to make it the close-up camera.
For sync we just let the internal microphone record while the 'good' sound was recorded directly on the 5D, which is much better suited for sound recording.
Thanks to modern waveform analysis, it is barely necessary anymore to have a sync signal (clap) or similar old-school tools, when working with a multi camera setup.

The first thing that strikes you is, that it is general not easy to match the look of the images from both cameras. Sharpness, color etc. can be quite different. You have to invest some time to play around with the white balance and ISO settings to come as close as possible. Especially the noise can be a pain for the 7D producing quite a substantial amount of it. When seeing it on screen, you might not notice right away, but in the editing room you see pretty fast that those 2 cams have years of development between them.

For light we brought one Kino Flo setup that normally delivers pretty balanced, even and color neutral lighting. Despite that, we spent a good amount of 30 mins of trying to sync the general look and feel of the cameras at the beginning ( it sped up in later shoots but it was surely not perfect ).

Shooting on AVCHD and H264 you also don't get so much out of it in the post production. The codec falls apart pretty fast and especially the 7D files where a headache occasionally. But we had to touch pretty much each video in the post to match them...if you have the time, no big deal, if you are in a tight spot, maybe rather stick to one cam then going all "fancy".

Conclusion: Well, apart from the fact that it is always preferable to shoot on the same camera with similar performing glass when shooting on a multiple cam shoot, there are times you find yourself in the spot having to make do with what you've got. When shooting with DSLR's, the fast development of new chips, sensors and algorithms can have a significant impact on the looks of your video. Cameras too far apart on the R&D timeline I would rather not mix up.
For seasoned camera operators that is pretty much a no brainer, but all your broadcast folk that just switch from stills to moving pictures etc. it is worth a thought.

Freitag, 15. November 2013

Retrospective: Shooting wildlife with a DSLR

So, as promised here is a retrospective look on how it was to shoot wildlife with a 5D Mark III.

First of all, I'm not an accomplished wildlife shooter with 1000+ hours of wildlife videography. Before going out I got some advice from friends who did more often wildlife photo- and videography. Shooting Lemurs I was told, wasn't that difficult, cause they usually are busy either eating or sleeping.

For very fast moving objects, DSLR's are in general no good. The low encoding rate of the video ( even with an external recorder ) plus the rolling shutter problem is definitely in the way.
But in exchange you get a lightweight kit, great shallow field ( which can help separate the animal form the twigs and bush you find them in ) and awesome low light conditions.
That I was mainly shooting in dense subtropical forest, I knew form experience that light will be an issue. Under the dense leaf cover sometimes its as dark as night.

For Sound I did mainly on camera recording, which is not so ideal, but I also brought a separate ZOOM and tried to record natural sound on it by positioning it somewhere far away from where I was shooting and operating. I used that sound mainly to "repair" sequences, but it was very valuable to have.

Lemur's in Ranomafana are generally easy to shoot. The fact that hordes of tourists run through the the most accessible area of the park most of the days, leads to the circumstance that most of the animals are used to humans. They even don't bolt if a 30 man strong tourist group rampages through the forest underneath them. 
So if you positions yourself close to them and wait for some time, it is quiet easy to catch them close up, cause one human is no distraction to them at all.

It also shows that the extensive tourism industry has converted Ranomfana national park ( at least the easy to access areas close to the main road ) have deteriorated a little bit to some kind of "petting zoo". Animals have adapted to it to a certain extend but of course their behavior in this areas can't be really considered "natural".

But on the other hand it allows to get pretty close up shots of the animals, if you stay calm, take your time and not try to rush it ( I guess which counts for every form of wildlife visual production ). In general I would have to loved to spent much more time and to get some real unique shots,  but the production timeline was around 5-6 days, including travel.

Getting so close to the animals, I could shoot mainly with the 24-105 and occasionally brought out the 70-200. But to be honest, I would have loved to have a much longer lens.
Also with a smaller aperture number. The light conditions where at times very weak, so I had to crank up the Iso quite a lot. On the big chip as the 5D's that might be alright, but for other cameras with small sensors, it could create serious problems. I also would have brought an ATOMOS Ninja next time. Especially in the post, you can get so much out of it, when working n the images that have a lot of greens, trees and bushes in it. More detail, bigger colorspace ... makes at times the difference.

With DSLR it is almost mandatory to use manual focus. I generally don't mind, although for following unpredicted movements of animals, it can be sometimes a challenge. I didn't use a follow focus though, cause focus had to be set at times with different pace. A magnifier like the Z-Finder is definitely necessary to find the sweet spots. I also was very pleased with the focus assist that the EVF provided. I never really used it before that extensively, but it came in quite handy.
A EVF with different angles is a plus, especially in uneven terrain, when you have to crouch or tilt the camera to shoot between logs and bushes.

The biggest caveat with DSLR lenses is the zoom. Doing slow, non-jerky zooms with a big lens, need sometimes a lot of patience and separate zoom wheel if you want to make it easy. Traditional video cameras have very often a zoom-by-wire feature which kinda evens out the jerkiness that a human hand will come up with. That is something I was desperately missing. Although I decided in the end to not use such visual features, there was the occasional moment where I wish I had the option.

What is absolutely necessary is a tripod. I didn't use a traditional video tripod, but a phototripod with a video head ( this one ), cause the separate legs made it much easier to set it up between the twigs, stones and rubble that covers a forests ground. Also the fact that in Ramonfana most areas are quite steep and hilly you need at times extreme leg length differences. Shooting out of hand, which I do very often during normal assignments as a video journalist, was out of question. The standard for animal videography is set already very high, so you have to provide the most stable and professional image you can plan for.
Try to get also very fluid and easy to move head. You might have to actively pan around your cam on all three axis while following unpredictable movement patterns. So if your head is not playing along, you will end up with very jerky movement patterns of course.

Can you use a DSLR for wildlife filming ? Yes....and No.
Like an other camera, it is a tool that is always as good as the guy operating it. If you are a seasoned and experienced video operator, you will create some decent results. The lenses are genuinely sharp and the depth of field features provide you with a great possibility to do some more sophisticated framing.
Unfortunately a lot of the established broadcaster for wildlife don't accept DSLR material. Mainly it has to do with the low encoding rate compared to the 50Mbits that the EBU recommends. Also the rolling shutter issue, as pointed out already at the beginning, is generally a deal breaker.
Over the years wildlife photography and videography have been pushed to true amazing limits and the best is mostly just good enough. Its a highly competitive market and the material has to be fresh but also flawlessly shot and presented.
Although DSLR's are used to shoot feature films and can be found pretty much in any field of videoproduction today, for nature and wildlife its maybe still to early.
A Sony PMW300K1 might be a better choice on the long run. A complete package, with exchangeable lenses, full EBU certification and a lot of ressources from a the EX3 scene would make this my wildlife camera of choice right now ( for the price I'm willing to cash out ).   

Donnerstag, 14. November 2013

Showcase: Calamity Calling

Calamity Calling from Marc Hofer on Vimeo.

Finally, after some month of waiting, GlobalPost put my latest video project online. Calamity Calling is part of an ongoing bigger reporting project by the GlobalPost about the Climate Change situation around the world.

All the video was shot on my trusted 5D Mark III. Although not the perfect camera for wildlife, Lemurs are in general not that difficult to shoot. So it was sufficient. What I really liked was the that the camera and my setup was small enough, to walk longer periods of time, withstood rain and high humidity.

I was working with my fixer who used to work for IMAX productions and BBC before and he told me of long and painful processions of equipment bearer down the valleys of the Ramonafana national park. By listening to his stories I was glad I only had a backpack and a little tripod with me.

Mittwoch, 23. Oktober 2013

Good equipment: woodencamera

First I want to say that I have no affiliation with this company except that I own equipment of them, but I want to just share that with the readers of this blog:

If you ever need to extend your DSLR kit with rigs, cages etc. go to .
This stuff is the best built, lowest profile gear I have come across for a long time. Its exceptionally well built and designed. It comes to a price, I admit, it's not really cheap. But from the first moment you put your beloved DSLR body into one of those nifty rigs, you will realize why and that you are going to use them for a long time.

Compared to many other rigs its not a bulky junk of metal that sticks around your camera. It fits nicely like a glove and you can still run-and-gun with it.
The components are extremely well crafted and sturdy. You get the quality you need for field operation for the money you spent.

I treated to buy a cage for a long time and I was not often happy with the solutions I found on the market. My little cage carries a microphone, a Zacuto EVF and a Atomos Ninja 2 and it's still lightweight and mobile enough to operate in the field.
If you need to give your rig a boost and to add more functionality without having to compromise on the mobility, the cages and accessories by wooden camera are definitely a good choice.

Samstag, 12. Oktober 2013

Montag, 7. Oktober 2013

Using the full frame: shooting in super low light

I'm currently working on a longer assignment in Lebanon for the UNHCR, depicting the live and existence of Syrian refugee's who wait out the devastating war in their homeland in neighboring Lebanon. Lebanon's authorities don't want official refugee camps to be set up, based on the fear that it could lead to a similar outcome as Palestinian camps had back in the 70ies ( from 1975-1990 a brutal and very destructive civil war was raging in Lebanon which even drew in Israel and Syria ).

So, pretty much left on their own, these refugee's try to find a place in a society that is made up of only 5 million people but also oscillates between compassion for the blight of the Syrians and the fear that they get overrun ( estimates put the refugees to about 1.5 million ).
The political landscape in Lebanon stays unstable after a short war between Hezbollah and Israel in the mid 2000's and the refugee influx makes many Lebanese fear for the stability of their country.

A week ago we heard about a little unfinished trading center, that was converted into an underground shelter for several hundred Syrians south of the capital of Beirut. The owner of the building decided to let the refugee's use it as shelter and temporary home. A photographer was there before and the visuals looked bleak and frightening. But being an underground shelter I could immediately see that there was very little light to work with. The little bit of light that was coming, could be used for effects and to illustrate the bleakness of this place.

Although we had more standard broadcast cameras to our disposal, like a Sony PMW200, I decided to go for my trusted 5D Mark III. I believe that only a DSLR with its shallow field of depth and its low light capabilities would have been able to capture the scenes. I refrained from bringing extra light, cause out of experience I know that this refugee places are always swarmed with curious children and having to babysit a set of lights next to keeping the children out of the frame would have been a pure nightmare.

The shelter turned out to be some underground storage facility that was refitted by the refugees to house families in little compartments, where up to 10 people had to live in a 7x7 m square , which a little kitchen had to be fitted it.

There are two main tunnels, big enough to fit a car through, which constantly created a lot backlight in most of the shooting scene. That ended up in quiet a lot of changing of angles and positions. But it also enabled us to come with some nice back-light shots that gave nice silhouettes, increasing the eerie look of the scene.

Although the 5D Mark III is pretty good in low light and I brought lenses with wider Apertures, I had to go quiet high on the ISO. That results at times at very grainy images, so NeatVideo has to do a little bit of work here. The results are mainly for broadcasting, so a little bit of grain is not going to do a lot of damage to the end product, but with a low end compression you can have some funny looking artifacts that might be overall distracting. Normally I would not use NeatVideo a lot, cause it increases the render time quiet significantly ( which is bad for news broadcast ) but for features with a not immediate deadline it can be very helpful.

Another element is the sound. In a closed space like this, getting clean sound is very difficult. You better bring some very directional mic's, and even then, you will get some sound reflection on your track. Somebody is always doing something, kids screaming, people shouting...with all this tunnels and caverns, this sound elements will get amplified or carried over longer distances.
So, during interviews, we had to get the people into their "homes" ( which are just compartments with plywood door ). Here we had almost no light except of some weak light bulbs ran on a car battery ( if it would have been a generator you had to take car of that noise source as well).

That is when the 5D Mark III really started to shine. I doubt I could have shot that interviews on anything else then a full frame sensor. The amount of light I needed to get any image was pretty crucial and thanks to the big sensor it didn't look too flat either ( something that happens a lot with the 3 chip cameras ).

Interview shot pre-post. You can see that the sensor struggles with the blacks, after having to lighten the blacks a little...
Now we fixed it thanks to some Luma corrections.

I think true low light work is something that is the true strength of the 5D Mark III, even the bigger guns like a C100 or a PMW200 will struggle with such setups.
Although I have to admit I haven't really figured out to tune my backscreen properly for such extreme low light situations. Despite using a EVF with Zebra exposure simulation, its sometimes hard to find the right exposure.

Sonntag, 8. September 2013

production diary: Madagascar , shooting nature on a budget with a DSLR , part 1

Teaser: Paradise Lost from Marc Hofer on Vimeo.

Last month I traveled to the island of Madagascar in the Indian ocean filming Lemur populations in the Ranomafana national forest for a climate change story commissioned by Global Post.

Madgascar lost most of its natural forest over the last couple of centuries through human expansion and as the trees went, so did quite a big junk of the natural wildlife. Many species on the island are unique to this place and developed on its own over a long period of time when the Island broke away from the Indian sub continent, drifting all the way to the African east coast.

Especially the Lemurs, a species of primates, struggle with the fast slash and burn process that happens on the island. Now this already endangered species is coming under more pressure as effects of climate change are more and more visible on the weather patterns on the island. Increasing strength of cyclones, extended dry periods and raising temperature has profound impact on the fragile environment. I visited US scientist who take a closer look at the impacts, fallouts and reasons for changing climate patterns and its influence on the Lemur population.

frame of a lemur at Ramonafana national park

Before I went out there to shoot, I collected some infos about the Lemurs, their habits and the terrain to shoot in.
First of all, the Ranomafana national forest, is a generally wet, dense subtropical forest that expands of a hilly region in the center-south of the island. I had to be prepared for some hikes under not always favorable circumstances. I didnt really have a lot of budget to hire carriers, so I had to prepare to shoulder all the equipment myself. Luckily I could stay with the scientist in the research station, so I figured that I had a fairly stable homebase where I could dumb most of my equipment that I would not need on a day to day shooting situation.

I took a photo tripod that I modified for video use with me. It needed to be compact, having the possibility to have 3 legs that can be adjusted separately to help with the uneven terrain. It also needed to be light and compact to make it easier to carry over 1 or 2 hours on a walk. Being stable of course is a much more important feature when you do continuous shooting, then just snapping away stills. So it needed also to be heavy and stable enough.

I generally opt for fewer gear then most people would use. The last thing I want to do is to miss a shot or not able to access certain areas because I get hold back by heavy backpacks and cumbersome pouches and bags.

I have had worked in dense sub-tropical forests before and the thing that I remembered is the need for having a light sensitive lens ( or a image sensor that can handle low light well ). At times the canopy gets so thick that almost no direct sunlight is hitting the ground. I hoped that my 5D Mark III would be able to deal with it. But I also took my 7D with me, cause I figured I might would use the crop-factor. The only tele lens that I own and that I use is the 70-200mm and that tends to be too less for animals I figured. I was planning to use a teleconverter to get some extra zoom in the worst cases, but after it turned out that the equipment wont arrive in time, I knew I had to make do with what I had.

Lemurs live mainly in the upper parts of the trees, so to get close to them I had to be very patient and/or climbing a lot higher grounds.

frame of a lemur in Ramonofana national park
Ranomfana is a also a main tourist spot. So the access to the animals in general I heard was quite easy. At least for tourist purposes. I couldnt be sure about how close I could get with a camera (with limited zoom ). It also raised the issue tourist interference and therefore longer walks outside the "tourist zone".

Another element is mobility. Animals tend to move quickly without notice. If they do so in a flat area it might be not such much of a issue, but in hilly, thick forests they can vanish out of view very quickly.It also needed to be fixed tight, by using mainly long lenses, reducing camera shake was very important. DSLRs have the big advantage of being relatively compact. They are quite easy to carry and if you refrain of adding a lot of extra gear on the side ( EVF, rods and focus wheels ) it stays that way, though it makes the operation of the camera a little bit uncomfortable at times.

I opted of taking in a utility belt, where I could stash extra batteries, my 7D body, an extra lens and microphones. A utility belt as it is provided by i.e. Newswear has the advantage of keeping everything on you, even when you have to climb some trees, without being overall in the way.
And you need the extra possibilities. Shooting with DSLRs require a lot of extra batteries. To go into the field I took at least 6 spare batteries with me. I knew I would return in the evening to a place where I could recharge, that helped keeping my load reduced. Otherwise I would have had to carry all that extra equipment on me.

It also is a good idea to have a small towel with you to clean the camera and lenses from moisture which in this subtropical environments arise.

In Part 2 I will talk about the active filming.