Ok, firstly I’d like to apologize for the length of time its taken to write this second part of Shooting with DSLR’s .. Its been a bit of a busy summer!
So in the first article I went over camera bodies and lenses I use along with the basic kit you need such as a viewfinder/ND filters. For part two I’m gonna go over extra bits of kit you might use along with post production processes.
Companies like Zacuto, Redrock, Cinevate and CPM Filmtools all offer rigs designed to hold your DSLR whilst shooting which gives a feeling and form factor of using a traditional shoulder mounted camera. Most importantly they are there to steady the camera and offer a good level of stabilisation.
I have the Zacuto Crossfire, the build quality is fantastic (its guaranteed for life!!) but do I use it? … not really. Y’see for me, the beauty of using a DSLR is their size; it allows me to get in amongst whatever I’m shooting without feeling like I’m intruding. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for rigs, obviously they can hold additional kit, monitors, batteries etc .. But for the most part I really do prefer shooting completely handheld with just a viewfinder.
Redrock Shoulder Mount
As with most things DSLR related which rig you might choose is entirely budget dependant, the likes of Redrock produce the Shoulder Mount which is a good price, CPM film tools are similar in terms of pricing with Cinevate being a little more expensive.
A Follow Focus unit is designed to offer you pin point accurate focusing and on scripted shoots, where your shots are rehearsed, they are an essential piece of professional equipment. A big advantage of using a FF unit with DSLR’s is they stop your hands touching the barrel of the lens, which given a lot lenses have no image stabilization is a very good thing.
Zacuto Z Focus
Do you need one though ? .. Well it depends on what types of shoots you are planning on doing. If your films are largely scripted drama type shoots then a good follow focus unit will be a fantastic investment, if however your shoots are more guerilla, documentary style then they really aren’t necessary at all. In fact using a FF on this type of shoot can sometimes be a pain, particularly if you tend to change lenses a lot as it WILL slow you down.
Which units would I recommend? … Welll I’ve used Shoot35′s, Redrocks and Zacuto’s.. Zacuto’s system is hands down the best however it is more expensive than the others Value for money wise I’d have to say the Shoot35 system is very good indeed at around £400.
Shoot35 Follow Focus
There are cheap units out there made by the likes of Cinecity, please please please do not waste your money on kit like this, the whole point of a FF unit is its accuracy, the cheap units are hopelessly inaccurate which really defeats the object. Lastly bear in mind that you have to factor in a set of rails when buying a ff unit.
Over the last couple of years support equipment such as cranes/Jibs have started to become more affordable and companies like B-Hague (in the UK) and Kessler (in the US) offer excellent crane packages to cover all budgets. The possibilities of shots you can get with a crane are endless, they can be very precise and are extremely steady so can be a fantastic investment.
You can have a simple set up or you can throw money at it and go for a full powered head and monitors.. It really comes down to your budget and how much use you’ll think you’ll get out of it. Do bear in mind though these are big heavy pieces of kit, you will almost certainly need a couple of people to move and carry this kind of gear around.
Offering similar ‘flowing’ types of shots to that of a crane are Glidecam’s .. Glidecam produce lots of versions however I would recommend the HD4000 as its works very well with DSLR’s.
The HD2000 will suffice but with a DSLR and lens mounted its right at its weight limit. A word of warning with these, you must put time and effort into using them, you have to learn how to shoot with a Glidecam so please don’t just expect to place your camera on the unit and suddenly have super smooth shots, that’s not gonna happen. I promise you.
The other problem I have with Glidecams is on all but a few films I’ve seen Glidecam shots just stand out .. Its like the film jumps out and shouts GLIDECAM !!!!!!! at you.
Lastly is the slider/track …. There are a ton of companies doing these now, two of the best are Glidetrack and Kessler.
Kessler Pocket Dolly and Glidetrack HD Hybrid
These little pieces of kit offer you the ability to do smooth lateral tracking shots where previously this would have meant using a full track and dolly. Add a good fluid head on top and you can come up with some real trick moves .. Just don’t over use them !!!
PICTURE PROFILE SETTINGS
This is a personal thing and it really depends on how much work you want to put into your images during postproduction. All of the presets in the camera’s picture profiles will add contrast, add colour, add sharpness etc … Ideally you don’t want the camera sharpening anything, or adding anything, you should be doing that in post yourselves.
If you plan on grading your film then at the very least head over to your menu, create a custom profile setting and knock down the sharpness by 2 clicks, the contrast down by 2 clicks, saturation also down by 2 clicks and the colour tone down by 1 click. This will allow you to get more out of your footage when colouring.
If you’d like to take it a step further and shoot with a ‘super flat’ profile then there is the brilliant Technicolor Cinestyle Profile. You simply head over to Technicolor’s site and download the profile however be warned, this will give you a VERY flat look. It is designed with a proper grade in mind so I’d only suggest using this if you know how to get the most out of your grading software. Here is an example of a pre and post grade on footage shot using the Cinestyle Profile.
Technicolor Cinestyle Profile can be found here : - http://www.technicolor.com/en/hi/cinema/filmmaking/digital-printer-lights/cinestyle
This is obviously the Achilles heel of these camera’s. You have one option if you want to record proper sound and that’s to do it externally on one of the many recorders available. RODE video mic’s are fine to a degree but it still gives you mono sound, just slightly better mono sound which in my opinion is pointless. You are better spending your money on a ZOOM H4N or equivalent and recording proper sound.
SHOOTING SLOW MOTION
I get asked a lot about Slow Motion … using the overcrank feature on these cameras can give some amazing ‘fake’ slow mo. Just make sure you shoot at the highest possible shutter speed you can get away with, 1/4000 is ideal, 1/2000 is minimum. You also have to make sure you shoot with your edit in mind, your subject should be against the cleanest/simplest background possible, if there’s going to be a lot of movement within the frame then try and narrow the angle, reduce the movement etc .. If a person is running from hard left of frame to hard right you aren’t going to be able to slow it down too much, however if the person is running towards camera you’ll be able to slow it down much more. I don’t use TWIXTOR … don’t even own it. I just use Optical Flow in Apple Motion. I have to say though, if slow motion is crucial to whatever project you’re shooting then hire a proper high speed camera.
Do you need to storyboard your films ? .. I guess not but I do. Even if it’s the bare minimum such as opening/closing shot, general look and feel of the film this will pay dividends in your edit. If you are just starting out then try storyboarding your shoot, eventually you won’t be able to do a shoot without one, I promise you.
The single most popular question I get asked is ‘What software do you use to make the films’ which is an odd question. Software just assists you, it doesn’t make the films, YOU make the films. There are lots of different edit packages out there, Final Cut, Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, Avid Media Composer etc .. I have a fairly simple set up and just use parts of Final Cut Studio … Final Cut Pro to edit, Motion for the odd graphic and then Color to grade. The only plug-in I have in Final Cut Pro is Magic Bullet Looks which I occasionally use for effects, I don’t use MBL to grade as I personally don’t get on with it as a grading tool … Lots of people do though, I just prefer Color.
The introduction of video into DSLR’s has been incredible for film making .. Will they die off or be replaced ? .. Not in my opinion and even if they do I cannot see it happening anytime soon.
What are your options if you are thinking of upgrading ? Well in terms of pricing, the next cameras up from a DSLR are the likes of Panasonic’s AF101 and Sony’s FS100 however I’m not really sure they are an upgrade as such. Yes you have things like inbuilt ND and stabilization but I’d argue that a 5D would give both these cameras a run for their money.
Camera’s like Sony’s amazing F3, RED’s Scarlet and the new Canon EOS C300 are exciting but are aimed at a completely different market so for the moment at least the little Canon’s offer incredible value for money. Make no mistake though, they are not without their problems .. Horrendous line skipping / moiré patterning and aliasing and of course the sound problems but as long as you learn to shoot round these issues you will be fine. I have to say though, no matter what camera I shoot on I still absolutely love the images I get out of my 5D.
Having said all that …. It’s not about the camera, It’s the person operating the camera, that’s who makes the film.