CCW Expo, Low Light Examples

One of our camera backers, Josh Apter of Manhattan Edit Workshop, invited me out to a panel he was moderating on Digital Cinema: Past, Present, and Future at CCW Expo at the Javits Center in New York yesterday.

It was a real pleasure to check out this show, which is kind of like a mini NAB East, and features a ton of cool gadgets and broadcast gear. It’s amazing how much new broadcast technology is aimed at prosumers–small production companies and individuals working from single cameras, laptops, etc. without a studio of equipment to deal with.

The panel itself was a lot of fun. My co-panelists were Jem Schofield of TheC47, Terry Brown from Mega Playground, and Andy Shipsides of AbelCine.

We started with the evolution of digital cinema from mediums that were barely acceptable to present (and featured a lot of crude 35mm adapters!) to how the myriad choices of cameras currently on the market allows artists to create the types of images they want to make, rather than what they’re forced to based upon technical/budget limitations.

We also discussed the role of the DP in the changing technological environment, and how important it is to have producers, directors, and DPs who are educated about new technology–the days of hands-off cinematography are rapidly coming to a close. At the same time it’s becoming more and more important for new DPs to have a deep understanding of traditional filmmaking–that lighting is more than pushing ISO for a “natural” look. Because what is “natural” when you’re telling a story? What does a “natural” look tell you about the mood, the setting, the characters? When we focus so much on specs, we often lose perspective of what the point of using a camera is all about: recording an emotion.

One interesting question we got was in relation to producing 4K content and its theatrical and home-theater presentation, essentially. Terry cut right to the chase–resolution doesn’t tell a story. And it’s true. As eager as we camera nerds have become to push resolutions as high as possible, many of the “pros” of 4K are pretty lazy–the obsession with “punching in” just in case, being a huge pet peeve of mine, in that this mentality brings “I’ll fix it in post” onto the set in a scary way, and takes away from the planning and construction that is imperative to creating an excellent film. Terry also pointed out that higher resolutions can even be distracting and unflattering, so in our race to create the largest images possible, we have to be aware of the pros and cons of that kind of detail.

As part of the panel I showed an example clip of our raw footage: the deleted exterior night scene from ONE SMALL STEP. The scene wasn’t deleted for any reason other than it didn’t fit the final narrative of the film, but I know a lot of people have been interested to see what raw files from our sensor are capable of in low light situations. I’m going to show you the tail end of that clip (ungraded), two specific stills from the footage that have been quickly overexposed to show their detail, and one more still of Destiny (Jordyn Lucas) from the finished film, where she’s under the sheets–this scene was lit almost entirely by a practical flashlight, with a little bit of a work light in the distance. You can really see how much information is preserved even in areas that seem pitch black.

I know that there have been some fears about our 400 ASA limit on the camera, and I hope this will put some of those fears to rest.

5 thoughts on “CCW Expo, Low Light Examples

  1. Elle,

    Glad to hear your experience at CCW was a good one. It’s always good to see there are some kindred spirits out there. Like you said, we all like having the latest toys but resolution and story are not the same thing. That should come printed on a nice glossy card inside the box of all next generation cameras.

    Also, thank you so much for sharing the footage and stills. Any questions I might have had about low light performance have been answered. Can’t wait to see more footage as things progress on the camera. Good luck!

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