COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 20:
“The most powerful weapon in the world, as far as I’m concerned, is the camera.” — Paul Watson
The purpose of camera tests are to put a camera system through it’s paces to expose (if you pardon the film pun!) its strengths and weaknesses, thus creating a library of footage that will serve as a reference for your production.
The principal of camera testing obviously originates with testing different film stocks – but like each film emulsion, each digital sensor is different. With so many new digital cameras available on the market it’s difficult to know the pros and cons of each… and whether your preferred camera fits your preferred shooting style. You don’t want to just pick a camera and then hope it’ll work nicely in low light if you’re shooting night scenes. Or hope that it’ll be great at handling highlights if you’re filming in the midday sun.
Obviously most indie filmmakers don’t have the luxury of choosing from a range of cameras (or film stocks!), but it’s still vital that you test the camera you’re planning to use for your shoot – familiarising yourself with its optimum operating settings allows you to showcase the camera’s strengths while hiding its weaknesses — and in turn making your cinematography appear more considered and crafted.
Here’s a really cool video from KODAK that features an elaborate camera test designed to showcase improvements in the VISION3 Color Neg Film 5219/7219. Clearly you don’t have to go to such lengths but it’s a great template to help you design your own camera tests.
A great place to learn about camera testing and the process a professional cinematographer goes through is at Hurlblog.com – Shane Hurlbut, ASC. runs a brilliant personal website that welcomes you into his world, sharing some really in-depth thoughts and working principals.
Hurlbut has shot Terminator Salvation and The Greatest Game Ever Played (which is one the Greatest Films Ever Photographed!) but has also pushed Canon cinematography with ground-breakers Act of Valor and Need for Speed – all of which can be read about on his site.
Below are two Hurlbut camera tests comparing the Canon C500 and 35mm Kodak film stock. Very interesting. Very insightful.
For COSMOS we have chosen the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, for both aesthetic and practical reasons – although the economic reasons haven’t gone unnoticed!
70 percent of COSMOS will be shot inside of a car, and although a large Volvo estate it’s still a tight fit for cast, crew and camera kit! We do not want to film from outside the car, through the windows… we want the camera to actually be within the car in close proximity of the actors, putting the audience right in the scene. So a camera as small as the BMPCC is very practical.
“Size matters not! Judge me by my size do you!?”
… forgive us Master Yoda, we must unlearn what we have learned.
We are very excited by the “look” that the BMPCC produces, we feel it is very filmic indeed, particularly when matched with the low-key lighting we prefer.
We have used our BMPCC on several projects with differing lighting styles; from interview setups with large soft source lighting to open fields in the hot and hard midday sun. All the while trying to familiarise ourselves with the different characteristics of the camera.
But to really get to grips with the BMPCC for COSMOS, we shot a short film, called Assault on the Senses, as a test. We were planning on making this short anyway but it seemed the perfect opportunity to test the camera in low light. We are very pleased with the look and detail of the image, although some shots are a little noisy, we find it a very attractive almost film-grain like effect. We shot this film at 800 ISO (with Speed Booster) at 3000K. We did very little colour correction, just upping the contrast to add extra punch to the image.
BMPCC / Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera + Metabones Speed Booster
Super-Takumar 28mm + Pixco wide angle converter & macro 0.45x
Tamron Zoom 18-200mm
We’ve done a few other camera tests here and there, but we are extremely satisfied with our work on Assault on the Senses which has given us full confidence in our camera moving forwards with COSMOS – which is of course the aim of the game! You can read more info about the camera setup for Assault on the Senses here.
So there you have it. Camera tested. Onwards and upwards.
We both hope this insight into the production of COSMOS, our first feature film, is both entertaining and informative. We only want to share the fun and experiences with other filmmakers. You can follow more day-to-day progress via our twitter @CosmosMovie