Tomorrow we will officially be half way through filming Wander My Friends, a feature indie comedy film based on three comic book creators. I’m the cinematographer, and I’ve learned quite a bit already about what has and has not been working in terms of camera gear. I chose to film on the Sony FS100 with still lenses. Mostly out of necessity, because of our low budget, but also out of familiarity (it’s all my own gear, and I know it well). We’re on a tight schedule, have a low budget, and the film is intended to be completely handheld (with some exceptions)—so our options were limited.
Here are some of the major pieces of my kit that make all of this possible:
Semi rigged-out FS100, for handheld work.
This camera has been fantastic. I’ve owned it for about 8 months, trading up from the Canon 7D as my primary camera. I’ve since sold the 7D, but keep my 5DMK3 and 60D as b-cams (and photographic tools, primarily). After using the FS100, I can’t believe I ever managed to shoot anything on a DSLR. I’m using Frank Glencairn’s K-Tone picture profile, because while I think this camera is a huge step up from a DSLR, it’s still plagued by a 4:2:0 subsampling. Sure, I could go out via HDMI to an Atmos Ninja (or some other recorder), but we need to do really quick set ups and the extra baggage would just slow us down (and I don’t find the higher subsampling to be much more helpful). So I opted to ‘bake in’ the look I want.
The lowlight capabilities also really help us out. The FS100 is probably the best lowlight camera I’ve seen (for its price range…but maybe ever?), which allows us to rely on smaller lighting gear. Another helpful thing for this shoot is that I can roll on both an SD card (very cheap medium, great for indie filmmakers—works for your set photographer, your sound guy, AND your camera operator! What a miracle format) and the FMU, but I’ll address that later. Another great thing about this camera is it’s battery. I can go a full day on the battery bundled with the camera and one extra one. It’s amazing how long the batteries last. Less battery changes (I mean, one a day? That’s no problem) means more time saved, and every little bit of time saved on set helps out in the long run (or the very immediate short run, depending on how tight the schedule is). Just another reason why this camera is the indie filmmakers best friend.
I rotated the LANC control piece of the FS100 so that I can hit it with my thumb while it’s positioned on the handheld rig—not the cleanest solution, but it’s saving me money from having to purchase an expensive LANC controller.
My biggest complaints about this camera would be the lack of SDI out (HDMI is slow, unreliable, short, and expensive), the plastic shell (I’d feel safer with a metallic one), and the subsampling rate for internal recording. It’s latitude is greater than a DSLR, but I’d still like an S-Log like it’s big brother the F3. But for around $5k, I’m surprised at all it has to offer. This camera pretty much makes it possible to shoot an indie feature at an incredibly low price point (even if you include the camera in the budget!).
SONY FMU 128GB
This little device is worth its weight in gold. Actually, it’s really light, so maybe its weight in platinum? I don’t know the cost of rare metals very well, but I do know that this thing rocks (I made a pun!).
A lot of folks may see the price tag and think it’s unnecessary, but what you may not understand is that just being able to record to a 128GB built-in (well, sort of—there’s a module compartment for the unit) flash drive isn’t just helpful in it’s spaciousness, its real worth is in redundancy.
The FS100 can record to both an SD card and the FMU. The first week of shooting we took up about 120GB of space on our drives. We record to 16GB SD cards (which gives 88 minutes of storage, just enough not to get in the way, but not enough to totally devastate a production if it was corrupt/destroyed/some other catastrophe). It’s nice to know that if something happens to our current back up…or both backups…or all back ups for that week, I have everything I’ve shot still in the camera. Well, almost everything: Footage shot at 1080P @ 60P won’t save to the FMU. I’m not sure why though, probably a bandwidth issue? Luckily I only over crank footage rarely, so it’s not an issue (we’re filming this feature in 24p, as one might expect).
SmallHD DP4 (and EVF)
First of all, SmallHD is a wonderful company. I was sent a defective EVF unit (magnets kept popping out, probably a defective glue), which made it difficult to keep the EVF up for using the device strictly as a monitor (which I ended up switching between monitor and EVF quite a bit). They just sent me a brand new unit, without any fuss (I can’t think of a less-old-person-sounding synonym for fuss, so you’ll have to deal with it). I strongly recommend working with this company, they actually listen to their customers!
Anyway, not only is their customer service great, it turns out that their products are fantastic too! The DP4 is a small 4-inch on-board monitor that recently went down in price (I think they’re lining up some new products for Fall 2012). I used to think the FS100’s built in monitor was plenty sharp, and that I could judge focus just fine with it. Well, that’s a thing of the past—The DP4 outputs an extremely crisp image. It really helps me pull focus, and I just can’t go back to any other monitor.
A nice feature is the LP-E6 dual power mount on the back. You can get all sorts of power adapters, but I use LP-E6s for my 60D, 5DMK3, and my Lilliput cheap-o 7″ monitor, so of course I would continue the Canon battery dynasty. I have noticed that even with two fully charged batteries, I only get a few hours of usage. The unit also gets really hot throughout the day. Those are my only complaints to an otherwise fantastic product. The EVF is great too. It’s all a little heavy, but not so much so that it’s unbearable. I like that the EVF eye piece is big enough that I can leave my glasses on and feel comfortable. I’ve added a chamois eye pad to the EVF (sweat in your eye is not a good thing) and it fits perfectly (on both eye pieces that they ship).
Rokinon 35mm ƒ1.4
Ladies and gentlemen, this is my bread and butter. This lens is so sharp, it’s criminal. I can’t believe they would sell this thing for under a grand, but it goes for far, far less. It’s sharp, it’s solid, it’s got a nice smooth focus ring, and it’s all manual. If you shoot video with photo lenses (i.e. you own gear/glass and you’re NOT a millionaire) you need to buy this one. The 1.4 is great, but I only go their for specialty shots. I’ve found it rock solid at a 2.8, and sometimes I can push it even further open, and still somehow retain lots of detail (and not a whole lot of aberration). It’s got a great minimum focus distance too, so I can really run an entire scene just with this one lens. It’s a 50mm equivalent on the FS100 (not exact, but close), which is my favorite focal point. It works great for mid shots, but also gives a nice clean wide shot. I’d wager that more than half of this film so far has been shot on this lens. In the documentary world, I never break this thing out: all of my work goes to the lovely Canon 70-200mm ƒ2.8 IS II. After using it heavily on Wander My Friends, I’ll have to re-think my documentary camera work to get this lens in there.
Great minimalistic handle for the FS100, and it’s made by a local DP! I strongly suggest checking it out. Cameras and wood are meant to be. My only complaint with this thing is that sometimes, with too much weight on the rig, the handle will twist slightly. Just make sure you don’t rely too much on it, as it’s screwed directly into the hot shoe and other mounting points of the FS100. If you really need to deck out your camera, check in with SolidCamera for some really REALLY rugged FS100/700 rigs. The shotgrip is still the best bang for your buck though. Check out the website.
Using the Philip Bloom Pocket Dolly, Photo courtesy of Raz Cunningham
Philip Bloom Pocket Dolly
This thing is pretty awesome. It’s a nice compact slider, and it looks good too. It’s smooth,a solid build, and easy to set up. I can’t make very long moves, but when I need to add one in a pinch, it’s very easy. I strongly suggest adding this to your kit, especially when you want a move, but can’t squeeze a dolly into a space (or have the time/crew).
Here’s a bonus photo of me looking awkward. Next to me is Raz, co-writer and director of Wander My Friends.
Photo courtesy of Charles Lafond
Well, that wraps up some of the big pieces of gear I’m using. I’ll post more soon, once the film wraps. Please check out the Wander My Friends official website, and donate to the Kickstarter if you can.