with Robots & a Phantom Flex4K Camera
Alfonso Cuarón has mastered the long take.
Like a Russian doll, every cinematic technique contains smaller techniques within it. There is no one technique, for instance, called “the close-up.” There are extreme close-ups, in which you can see every pore on a character’s face. (Think of Tom Cruise’s perspiring visage in Mission: Impossible.) Alternately, there are medium close-ups, in which we are allowed to watch a character thinking, but we don’t feel we’re barging into personal space.
The long take, similarly, must be qualified. There’s the long take a la Orson Welles in A Touch of Evil, in which the camera twists and turns, the viewer’s tension slowly building as we wonder, "where are we being taken?" Or there’s the long take of Goodfellas, for instance, which amounts to a celebration of an entire demimonde, frolicking at the Copacabana Club; by the end of it, you feel as if you’ve met everyone in the room.
There’s also, as this thoughtful and wise video essay by Nathan Shapiro shows, the long take of Alfonso Cuarón.
In this interpretation of Cuarón's technique, this focus is less on the camerawork in the scene than on what we can learn about characters by simply looking at them for a while. The camera follows the action, but Cuarón’s goal is not so much to draw attention to the camera as a tool as to show us something about characters’ interactions and personal history—something about what we might call their chemistry.
In Y tu Mama Tambien, one very long take shows us the growing relationship between Luisa and her two teenaged escorts; in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a long take shows us the developing confidence between Harry Potter and a mentor; in Children of Men, one particularly long take builds tension as the protagonists run through a war zone, bombs falling and shots firing all around them.
And as if that weren’t enough, consider the 17-minute long take that opens Gravity. As we watch an astronaut spinning through space, the hapless victim of flailing machinery, we find ourselves wholly empathetic. Cuarón’s approach demonstrates that the long take can help to develop a story’s underpinnings even as it makes a film more thrilling to watch.
Author: Max Winter
Looking For An Alternative To The Arri Alexa? These 3 Cinema Cameras Have You Covered At A Lower Cost
I don’t think I’ve met a single filmmaker in recent years who hasn’t marvelled over the Arri Alexa. Even with so much competition in the digital cinema camera market, there is no denying that the Arri Alexa is still without a doubt the camera to beat. In many ways, the Alexa look has even replaced film with regards to the base-line aesthetic that most of today’s filmmakers strive for. I’ve outlined this sentiment in more detail on a previous blog post here.
What makes it so great though? For a long time people chocked it up to dynamic range. When the Alexa was first introduced, very few cameras delivered anywhere near the DR that the Alexa was capable of. But today, there are many cameras that have dynamic range capabilities that are at least within arms reach of the Alexa – yet still none of them look as good.
The reason why is simple: Color science. In my opinion, color matters more than anything else when it comes to the visual perception of a cinematic image. Resolution, dynamic range, grain, motion cadence, and many other factors play an important role too… But color science is at the very top of that list. A camera with less dynamic range but better color science will look more “filmic” than a camera with high dynamic range and poor color science. I believe that many of Sony’s recent offerings prove this point clearly.
Unfortunately for the vast majority of independent filmmakers, the Alexa is simply a far too expensive tool to own. Even Arri’s lowest cost offerings (such as the Alexa Mini and Amira), will cost anywhere from $35K – $45K as base price, and will jump up significantly once the accessories are added. Inevitably, this has led many low budget filmmakers into a desperate search for affordable Alexa alternatives that can deliver similar image quality at a lower cost.
It’s worth stating up front that the only way to get the exact “Alexa-look” that you may be after is to actually shoot on an Arri Alexa (or Arri Amira). That said, a few select cameras in recent years have come reasonably close to emulating the Alexa’s legendary image quality, and should be considered as viable alternatives for filmmakers that don’t want to break the bank.
Below is a short list of three cameras that in my opinion render colors and images that are most similar to the Arri Alexa. Keep in mind, the list below doesn’t necessarily reflect usability, features/specs, ergonomics, reliability, and many other considerations. Rather, these cameras have been chosen based on the characteristics of their image quality – specifically color quality – and how strongly they hold up next to the Alexa.
Here we go. In order of most expensive to least:
PANASONIC VARICAM LT – $16,500
With a price tag of over $16K for the body, or over $27K once fully accessorized, the Varicam LT clearly makes for a pricey investment. Even still, at minimum it will be 2 – 3 x less expensive than a brand Arri Alexa, depending on how each camera is configured. Not to mention, as a rental item, the LT is going to cost far less than the Alexa and will generally be much more accessible to lower budget filmmakers.
Let’s take a look at some of the specs:
- Single Super 35mm MOS Sensor
- Interchangeable Stainless Steel EF Mount
- Dual Native ISO 800/5000
- 14 Stops of Dynamic Range with V-Log
- 4K Up to 60 fps, 2K/HD Up to 240 fps
- Simultaneous Dual Codec Recording
- Selectable Gamma Curves
- Removable IR Cut Filter
- AVC-Intra, ProRes
- 3.5″ LCD Control Panel
Obviously, this camera boasts some incredibly powerful features, namely it’s dual native ISO capabilities which allow users to choose between ISO 800 or ISO 5000 as their base. But most importantly, the subjective image quality of the LT is absolutely incredible, and is arguably one of the best out there today.
The Varicam LT shares the same sensor as it’s bigger brother (the Varicam 35), which has been used to shoot some really gorgeous looking content – including the Netflix original series “Master of None”. Both cameras not only feature beautiful dynamic range capabilities that allow them to create detailed, rich images, but they also render extremely organic colors. This is what ultimately helps them achieve that Alexa look above all else. While footage from the Varicam LT might not be an exact match for Alexa footage straight off of the cards, the files are very flexible in post, and once graded they can easily hold their own.
CANON C300 MK II – $11,999
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Canon for a long time, and presently don’t own any of their cinema cameras. With that in mind, I can’t deny that the Canon C300 MK II excels in the color department, which is really no surprise. Over the years, Canon have fallen by the wayside as other manufacturers have run laps around them with higher frame rates, more resolution, and better overall specs, but Canon has always delivered some of the best colors out there, which is largely why they are still relevant.
Before we go on, here are some specs on the C300 MK II:
- Super 35mm CMOS Sensor
- 4K,1920×1080 60/50i, 23.98/25p True 24p
- Canon XF AVC H.264 Codec
- EF Lens Mount
- Dual Pixel CMOS AF Technology
- Rotating 4″ LCD Monitor
- 2x 3G-SDI Output, 2x XLR Inputs
- 2x CFast Card Slots
- Timecode I/O, Genlock In & Sync Out
- Canon Log 2 Gamma
Canon’s C-series cameras have a long history of under promising and over delivering. Their cameras never look great on paper, but they always seem to deliver really strong images that far exceed what you might expect of them based on their spec sheets alone. Canon have also been accused of overpricing their cameras (I’m sure I’ve called them out on that myself), but with the recent $4000 price drop, the C300 Mark II is now more accessible than ever. And while their colors might not always look Alexa-like right out of the box, Canon has a new trick up their sleeves –
The C300 MK II now comes with a “Production” camera profile that is designed to mimic the color science of the Arri Alexa. When combined with Arri’s Rec. 709 conversion LUT in post, the resulting images between the two cameras are almost too close to call the difference on. For this reason, the C300 MK II is often used as a B-Camera to the Arri Alexa or simply as a cost-effective alternative for the A-camera.
For those of you that don’t think you can achieve great narrative results on the C300 MK II, I’ll remind you that the 2013 Cannes Palm D’or winner (Blue Is The Warmest Color), was shot on the original Canon C300.
BLACKMAGIC CINEMA CAMERA 2.5K – $1995
By far the best bargain on this list, the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera was hailed as the “Alexa Mini” when it was first released, and for good reason. Although the ergonomics, build, and overall design of the BMCC couldn’t be more different than the Alexa, the overall image quality is amongst one of the best matches to the Alexa to this day. The subtle colors, high dynamic range, and natural texture of the BMCC’s images are just a few of the reasons why this camera disrupted the cinema camera industry in such a dramatic way.
Here are the specs:
- 2.5K Image Sensor
- 12-bit RAW, ProRes, and DNxHD Formats
- 13 Stops of Dynamic Range
- 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30p Frame Rates
- Canon EF Lens Mount
- LCD Touchscreen with Metadata Entry
- SDI Video Output and Thunderbolt Port
- Mic/Line Audio Inputs
- Records to Removable SSD Drives
- Includes DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope
The fact that the original BMCC even shot at 2.5K (very close to the older Alexa model’s 2.7K ARRIRAW capabilities), made it even more compatible with the Alexa as a B-cam or C-cam. But as I stated above, the most important consideration here is the color science, and the 2.5K BMCC has some of the strongest color science I have seen on any camera to date. I am a big fan of Blackmagic and currently shoot on their URSA Mini 4.6K (also a fantastic camera), but it has a distinctly different look than the BMCC 2.5K.
With the URSA Mini 4.6K, Blackmagic have started to really define a “look” for themselves, much like RED has with their camera lineup. It goes without saying that the 4.6K generates beautiful images across the board, but they have a personality of their own, whereas the original 2.5K BMCC comes closer to an exact match for the Alexa – at least to my eye.
Arri have managed to strike gold with the Alexa in the color-department, and as stated at the top of this post, the only way to get a perfect Alexa look is to actually shoot with an Arri Alexa or Arri Amira. That said, the cameras on this list can get you really close when treated right on set and in post. Once you know the quirks and limitations of these cameras (or any camera for that matter) you will be able to squeeze the most out of them from a technical standpoint.
Post-production and color processing are also huge. Shooting with a color chart on set, and balancing your shots effectively in post are two of the most crucial steps in ensuring that you achieve the best possible results. In the end though, your skills on set and in the color suite will be the biggest factors in your overall ability to achieve a cinematic look, and that is something that should never be overlooked.
Author: Noam Kroll
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on social media using the links below for more content like this!
The age of drones is upon us. Aerial photography and videography is now as simple as playing a video game, and innovative manufacturers are taking advantage. Drones have become the platform of choice for those looking to record high-quality footage in the wilderness, and the market has exploded over the past few years. With 4k video and 3-axis camera gimbals becoming commonplace, drone manufacturers have begun to step their game up, introducing never-before-seen features such as collision avoidance and customizable flight pathing. Whether you’re looking to film a car commercial or simply record yourself shredding through some fresh powder, these five drones have you covered.
Man’s best friend just got a lot cooler. AirDog, the aptly named drone developed for action sports junkies, is part of a recent paradigm shift in drone technology, which is moving away from clunky, dual-joystick control mechanisms and toward something much simpler. The AirDog, a fully functional UAV, is designed such that an enterprising surfer — or skier, skater, or wakeboarder — can head into the wilderness alone and easily film themselves without any additional help. This is because the AirLeash, a water-resistant control panel that fits on your wrist like a quarterback’s playbook, allows for a selection of pre-programmed flight patterns unique to your individual sport. You can also control the drone manually, if you desire.
Although the AirDog doesn’t come with a camera, its gyro-stabilized gimbal fits a number of third-party cameras. Its lightweight frame also makes it as close to a grab-and-go toy as any drone, though the price might make you think twice about playing football with its folded-up body. It can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, too, and depending on how you fly it, can last anywhere between 10 and 18 minutes on a single charge
3DR Solo $784
For those who want complete command over their aerial footage, California-based 3D Robotics created the world’s first “smart drone,” aka the 3DR Solo. The Solo offers more control over aerial videography than any drone before by isolating the camera movement from the movement of the drone itself, thus allowing the user to choose exactly how they want to film. Powered by dual 1 GHz Linux Companion computers, the Solo can pilot the drone along a predetermined flight path while you control the camera (or vice versa). As for compatibility, the Solo works with GoPro Hero4 cameras.
The Solo also brings a number of unique features to the table, not the least of which are the selectable flight modes. Cable Cam mode allows you to select two different locations, and pilot the drone along an invisible line between Point A and Point B. The aptly-titled Orbit mode, meanwhile, allows you to select a single location, one which the drone will encircle at a specified distance. Follow Me mode is pretty self-explanatory, as is the Selfie mode, which sees the drone close in and out on your location.
The Solo does all this while streaming live video directly to your mobile device using a remote control that’s designed to feel like a video game controller. The remote is HDMI-compatible as well, meaning you can stream live footage to any monitor or VR. Sadly, the price is a little misleading, as the 3DR Solo doesn’t come with a camera or a gimbal mount. If you’re looking to purchase both accessories to complement the drone, you’re looking at a total price of about $1,500.
Yuneec Typhoon H $1300
The Typhoon H, the newest offering from Chinese manufacturer Yuneec International, utilizes the power of six rotors to help keep the itself aloft, automatically switching to five-rotor mode should one of the rotors give out. The Typhoon H also offers unparalleled video and photo resolution from its native 3-axis CG03+ gimbal camera, which is capable of capturing 4k footage at 30 fps or 1080p footage at 120 fps. The camera captures vivid 12-megapixel stills in 360 degrees, and conveniently streams 720p video to the 7-inch display housed on the bundled remote control.
The Typhoon H’s carbon fiber frame and collision avoidance system, which is powered by sonar sensors located on the front of the drone, combine to make this one of the sturdiest drones currently available. Moreover, it also features some flight modes similar to the 3DR Solo. “Orbit Me” and “Point of Interest” mirror the 3DR’s Orbit mode, and “Curve Cable Cam” takes the 3DR’s Cable Cam mode to the next level, allowing the drone to fly from point to point along a series of preset coordinates while you control the camera. The Typhoon H is capable of flying for around 25 minutes on a single charge, and is currently available for pre-order.
DJI Phantom 4 $1399
The Phantom 4 is the newest edition in the best-selling drone series of all time. DJI’s latest offering introduces a few new features to stay ahead of the game, and they don’t disappoint. The Phantom 4 comes equipped with automatic collision control, which alerts you and automatically stops your drone if you get too close to an obstacle. The all-new Sport Mode, on the other hand, disables the collision detection and transforms the Phantom into a bat-out-of-hell racing drone capable of reaching (and recording video at) over 45 mph.
The Phantom’s new ActiveTrack technology allows the user to select any moving object — i.e. a car, a cyclist, another drone — and the Phantom will automatically follow the object without any assistance from a beacon or tracker. The integrated 3-axis gimbal camera captures 4k footage at 30 fps and 1080p video at 12 fps for slow-motion shots, and captures 12-megapixel still images in Adobe DNG Raw. DJI claims the Phantom 4’s battery lasts for 28 minutes on a full charge, but we found that 20 minutes is more accurate if you spend a lot of time on the throttle.
DJI Inspire 1 Pro $3,899 + DJI Inspire 1 RAW $5,999
If you thought the Phantom 4 was cool… you were right. But the Inspire 1 Pro, the flagship drone from DJI, ascends to another plane when it comes to aerial videography. The Inspire 1 Pro and Raw editions include Micro 4/3 cameras, the Zenmuse X5 and X5R. The X5, which is capable of recording in lossless 4k resolution and snapping 16-megapixel stills, produces some of the most pristine footage in the consumer drone world, making the Inspire 1 a great choice for photographers and videographers alike. The X5R, in particular, is capable of capturing 4k raw footage — a feature no other drone-compatible camera can boast.
While the hefty price tag may dissuade some from considering both the Inspire 1 Pro and Raw, their recording power is second to none. The DJI app, available on Google Play and the App Store, features remote focus technology that allows for quick one-tap focusing on any mobile device. If you get your hands on a second remote control, the Inspire 1 is capable of dual-operator control, meaning one user can control the camera while the other user flies the drone. With all this power, though, comes a short list of drawbacks. The Inspire 1 takes much longer than most drones to set up and fly, and its heavier frame makes transporting this guy a little tougher than its little brother, the Phantom 4. The sheer power of the cameras also reduces battery life, too, with the X5 clocking in at around 18 minutes and the X5R around 15.
Parrot Bebop 2 $499
If you can’t manage to cough up the cash for the Inspire 1 Pro, the Parrot Bebop 2 might be for you. The Bebop, like the other drones profiled here, features an integrated 3-axis camera that’s capable of recording 1080p footage even at speeds over 40 mph. It also features a litany of sensors, gyroscopes, and stabilizers that help the drone stay balanced in most wind conditions. Although the Bebop 2’s ultra-light frame is composed of ABS plastic and reinforced with glass fiber, it can still handle wind speeds of up to 40 mph. The accompanying mobile app for iOS and Android also features an auto-land button in case things get too crazy. The drone’s battery life is one of its strengths, too, and allows it to achieve 25 minutes of flight time.
The Bebop’s default control mode is accessible through the aforementioned app, though for a cool $250 extra, you can purchase the Parrot SkyController remote control, a more traditional joystick-powered gizmo that allows for video streaming via a compatible smartphone or tablet attachment. Optional in-app purchases also serve as a way to unlock waypoint functionality for the drone, but otherwise, the drone is only as smart as its operator. The Bebop 2 — though a refinement of the first iteration of the Bebop — remains a far cry from DJI’s more expensive drones in many ways, but for first-time drone users or anyone who isn’t looking to spend their entire life savings on a flying camera, it’s an excellent choice.