Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Blog; Mario and the RED ONE CAMERA

An old director buddy of mine Gary P., called me recently and asked me if I would come down to Florida and shoot 5 commercials for a restaurant chain there. I had shot his first feature film "Jacob's Cry" a few years ago and asked him more about the commercials. When he said that we would be shooting on the Red One Camera I immediately said I was in. The Red One is a digital cine camera that shoots higher quality images than a 35mm film camera. At least that was what I read and had been told. This is the first digital video camera that has a resolution that exceeds 35 mm film, while the dynamic range is coming very close to traditional cameras. At its core, the camera uses a Mysterium CMOS sensor: The physical resolution of this monster is 4900 x 2580 pixels, for a total of 12.64 million pixels. The sensor measures in 24.4 x 13.7 mm (334 mm2). This area covers 4 separate HD frames 1920X 1080 each. I found that the RED is a stills camera on steroids. Since I do a lot of still advertising work and only shoot RAW, this camera was really easy for me to figure out. The reason why I love this camera is that it gives you the look of 35mm lens - that narrow depth of field look. You can't get that today with regular video cameras that operates using 3 chips.The Red shoots 4k RAW(4096) and 2k(2048) supports the industry standard HD resolution of 720p and 1080p, both using HD-SDI or the REDCODE codec to memory or hard drives. Shooting 4k is incredible. The diagram below shows the different size ratios.

Why shoot HD anymore when you can shoot something that is way bigger and has better resolution? There are several advantages to shooting in a higher resolution format. The higher resolution gives more options in post. Assuming you've good focus, the extra resolution can be a lifesaver when zooming in on shots in post. Shooting RAW means raw means the camera captures uncompressed sensor data, allowing more flexibility in post by giving the option of adjusting things such as white balance and doing some basic image adjustments, from a very clean source. When you zoom in, the resolution becomes a major issue, and the image can fall apart very quickly. Also, images tend to look better when down-converted. I have shot for years on HD(Panasonic or Sony), and usually did my post in Standard Definition. You could always see the difference between the original HD footage and the SD downconvert. Shooting 4k RED images look incredible even in SD mode. There is also the fact that the footage you shoot in much more flexible. If your film gets picked up for theatrical distribution, even if you posted in HD, you have 4K source footage you can go back to. The biggest drawback to 4K is generally the size of the files. Uncompressed 4K is ungainly at this time and not practical for most of us. The REDONe shoots 4K at roughly 27MB a second. That's double the HD DVCPro codec and means that you really have to have huge hard drives to accomodate it. With hard drive capacities increasing all the time it starts to become manageable. Another great feature of this camera is that it creats 1K or 2K proxies which allows the editing to be faster. So you can edit with the proxies, the go back and cut the RAW footage. Saves a lot of time. There is also the advantage of shooting RAW. Most higher-end digital SLR still cameras have a raw format option, so a lot of digital still photographers are familiar with the advantages of raw. But for those who're new to concept, raw means the camera captures uncompressed sensor data, allowing more flexibility in post by giving the option of adjusting things such as white balance and doing some basic image adjustments, from a very clean source.

The way I look at it is this - you shoot with the biggest baddest gun you have and create the biggest baddest negative or RAW file then you've got all the information you wanted to achieve. Then you can down sample to whatever format you need. What I mean here is that if you shoot 4k and you are down sampling to 2k, HD , film-out or SD, your image will have all the original data, will be sharper and show less noise when compared to shooting straight HD. Also, it will have that sweet 35mm depth of field look. Operating the REDONE was a breeze. I used the histogram on every set up. Image histograms are found in many of the advanced digital cameras. An image histogram acts as a graphical representation of the tonal distribution in a digital image. Each tonal value is plotted by the number of pixels. When you look at a specific histogram you can judge the entire tonal distribution at a glance. The histogram is usually in the form of a graph where the horizontal axis represents the tonal variations and the vertical axis represents the number of pixels. The left side of the horizontal axis represents the black and dark areas, the middlde represents the medium grey and the right hand side represents the lighter and pure white areas. I use the histogram to calculate the distribution of tones captured by the sensor and whether or not the image detail has been lost because of blown out areas or too dark areas. If you are interested in more detailes information, check out Ed Sutton's book; "Histograms and the Zone System." Or check out; Great diagrams there. The histogram display in the Red was incredibly detailed and I used it to great advantage in my images. Another great feature is a viewable grey scale in the EVF - Electronic View Finder - in other words the eyepiece. By either adjusting the iris or the shutter speed I was able to make sure my exposures captured the image correctly. Here when I overexposed the white end of the scale started to burn out and visa-versa with the black.

I'm looking forward to shooting with this camera more and more.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


We have a natural pond in our backyard. No pumps. No source of water except the rain. It's a typical wilderness pond that is naturally sustaining. It has native plants such as water lilies and native fauna such as snails and water striders.  We inherited this pond when we bought the house and are in the process of figuring out what plants and animals are here.  I at first thought it was a swamp.  I was simply amazed at the amount of life that was in it.

I've been photographing the pond for over a year now and have been amazed at the life that's in the water.  One major event that occurs on a yearly basis is the mating of the American Toad(bofus americanus).  They come in droves and for two weeks saturate the night time air with their mating calls.
Here's an example.  

These toads are amazing.  We had about 20 breeding pairs.  The funny part is watching the unpaired males trying to get in on the action.  Like this one.

One thing about photographing mating toads, at least these guys and gals, they really don't mind.  I had a 50mm Nikkor micro lens about and inch away from the mating pairs and they didn't even budge.  Trying to catch the fighting going one was a different story.  The unattached males were doing everything they could to dislodge the attached males. It was quite funny to watch.  The females were constantly being jumped by 3 to 5 males all the while the proper attached male was kicking them off.  Many times the females went under with all the weight.  My wife vowed that if she ever saw that happen again that she would separate them and give the female a break.  I said that this is a natural process and shouldn't be interfered with. Besides, what female American Toad wouldn't like 3-5 male studs vying for her attention?
That's a typical male perspective of course.  Interesting conversation to say the least.

The toads come, use our pond to their delight, leave a few million tadpoles behind, then just up and leave. No thank you.  Nothing.

Well it's good to know that our backyard pond is helping these toads survive. If scientists say that frogs and toads are a good indicator species that show us the quality of our environment, at least there are a few million(maybe thousands) of little toads soon to be showing the way.
You can see the trail of eggs in this shot.

We like the night time calls and will be looking forward to it for years to come. One caviat though;  I'll have to find a way to mow the small lawn that we have without hurting the little guys.  Maybe it's time to get rid of the lawn.

I'm looking forward to photographing the little guys as their lives progress. It will be a family project to figure ways of protecting them.  Maybe I should invent a "toadsafe" lawnmower.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mario's Po Man Underwater Housing, Mexico

Hello out there.  Just started my blog today.  I'm a photographer/cinematographer and work on projects worldwide.  I've set up this blog to keep people abreast of where I am and the things I'm shooting.  I will also include interesting production details that may be of interest.  Some of these are funny, some are no so.

This shot is of my Po Man's Underwater Housing.
I just recently did a shoot in Si'an Khan, Mexico.  I'ts a world biosphere managed and run by local Myan families.  They guide you through the jungles and tell you about the flora and fauna.  They show you the ancient Myan ruins and then they take you an a swim down some rivers that were originally dug out by the ancient Myans as trade routes.  These rivers are incredible.

I was using a Panasonic HVX200 with a Firestore FS4 hard drive as my tool of choice.  It produces great HD images and is a light camera to operate.  I built a underwater housing for it using a fishtank.  The idea was for me to float behind the unit and shoot people having fun in the river.  So  I built a flotation device that had an air bladder that could raise the lens higher or lower into the water.  The whole rig worked great, but being that we were under Mexico's intense sun, the internal temperature of the fish tank got so hot that the Firestore drive stopped working.  I didn't know what to do.  I had to get the shots...  So I figured that if the hard drive was shot anyway,  I could try something drastic.  I put the drive in a zip lock bag and put it into an ice cooler that we brought to keep our water cold.  Ten minutes later,  I pulled it out and started it up.  Couldn't believe it - it worked.  I started calling it, "The Little Drive That Could."  We were really lucky.  I gave up on the fish tank and put the camera directly on the support platform with the air bladder.  I floated down the river with the talent and got the shots that we needed.  It was frightening in a few places where I actually was floating with the thing.  One false move and the camera would have been toast.

The  shots worked out fantastic.