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‘HDSLR’- Convergence Cinema In The Making

Over the past 5/6 years the emergence of High-Definition cinema has
catapulted an array of different formats on to the Cinematographer.
For many, the challenge was to try to recreate the ‘35mm filmic’
look. This in itself was testing, as decades of technical advancement
in film negative, equipment hardware and the arrival of the DI
process in post had taken film to a level where the look is deemed
unsurpassable.

As the new HD formats vied for position it seemed that every 6 months
a new platform would be presented to the Cinematographer with new
techniques developed to get ever closer to a 35mm substitute.
Initially depth of field was a major issue as the ‘Sensor’ the data
was captured on was tiny. See FIG_1

FIG_1: Frame / Sensor sizes of varying formats.

Arri’s D20, Panavision’s ‘Genesis’ and Sony’s F35 all occupied the
top end of the market, making inroads into this new medium when a
brash, new, heavily marketed upstart was thrust into the arena. RED
seemed everywhere. As with the other key players, 35mm lenses were
deployed to help the visual aesthetic get ever closer to film, and
with its fiscal advantages over film the RED camera quickly became
popular. Even with a complex post workflow to extract the RED RAW
code and TK graders bemoaning its failings, it seemed like it was
destined to take over the HD market and replace the other tape and
drive formats. Suddenly the choice of which format to shoot on was
being eroded.

Enter HDSLR, a convergence format born out of the mix of stills and
HD technology. Canon released the 5D MKII 9 months ago - the first
widely available DSLR camera to build in a full HD movie mode aimed
at the ‘Prosumer’ market – albeit recording only at 30fps, which
limited those working in PAL format (25fps). Suddenly a watershed
moment had arrived. Canon engineers had attained the ‘Holy Grail’ of
capturing motion onto the largest chip on the market and achieving a
look that benefited from using 35mm lenses. The result is an
incredibly streamlined digital package that can finally come close to
the technical benefits of 35mm.

This by no means is a replacement for film, and this article does not
intend to sideline the analogue format in any way. However this
represents game changing technology whereby we now have a camera
format that is not only visually enticing to cinematographers but
also one that is incredibly affordable and accessible to meet the
budgets and needs of the new media outlets, independent low budget
productions, documentary filmmakers and music videos that have all
become so financially squeezed in recent years. Already there are
even features in production, shooting on HDSLR as more and more
people recognise the potential of this new technology.

The announcement of the Canon 7D – which utilised a smaller cropped


sensor and includes the ability to shoot at 25/50FPS at Full HD
resolution – is the latest advancement in the HDSLR market and the
camera that I have used now on numerous projects. Arguments still
abound re sensor noise, when projected at full HD in TK; noise on the
7D is minimal even at ISO_800. Until Canon release a firmware upgrade
to allow the 5D to shoot 25/50FPS the 7D certainly is becoming the
PAL workhorse.

FIG_2. A Canon 7D with a Panavision Zoom allowing full feature production potential

Technically the codec produced by these cameras is the highly


compressed H264 apple codec. However the results that I seem to be
having once integrated into the correct workflow are very positive.
Somehow the gamma curve implemented in the camera has TK operators
excited, to the point that the HDSLR look certainly is raising some
heads.

This convergence in technologies has opened a completely new way of


thinking about how projects can be implemented as well as conceived.
The whole etiquette in approach can be rethought. In using it I can
see that these smaller units could be incredibly effective on a
drama, allowing multi camera shooting at a cost effective level
whilst capturing the action in an immensely efficient and new visual
method.

Having just completed a 3 Week global project for UNICEF, these units
combined with a full set of stills primes allowed my team to capture
footage that may not have been possible with conventional equipment.
Because the subjects believed they were ‘stills’ cameras our access
to remote locations as well embedding ouselves within the communities
allowed us to capture stand alone moments.

FIG_3 Mark Patten: Phnom Penh railway slum UNICEF

The efficiency of the system is truly liberating, the ability to use


both original stills lenses combined with Cine lenses lets the
cinematographer explore once again the visual medium that we have
been trained in. Story telling is not in any way compromised due to
the technology, and is in my opinion readily enhanced. It seems that
as we are all being pushed to become more economically viable, this
platform does not impose the constraints that a large production may
impose; in fact the opposite is achieved allowing the user to once
again explore stories through a very exciting and personal medium.

Below are some grabs from the UNICEF project, technical details
below:
Canon 7D 25FPS T1.2 ISO_500

Canon 7D 25FPS T2 ISO_100


Canon 7D 50FPS T4 ISO_100

Canon 7D 25FPS T2.8 ISO_100

Mark Patten is a London based DP; he is represented by Independent


TG.