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The Importance of Camera Tests

Many of the tests that I do on specific film stocks, cameras, etc. are not always available to share because of studio policy. I do my best to give you as much info as possible on the new tools and the best way that they can be used. The purpose of this blog is to educate you on how important it truly is to do the tests yourself and not just take someone else’s word for it. There is so much information to go through with social media recommendations and other educational blogs, but you have to find your style, your emulsion.

 

Push and Pulling, Stretching and Baking

Before the digital age, as cinematographers we tested new and old film stocks; we pushed them, pulled them, baked them, took them to the breaking point. Cross processed them, ENR’ed them, skip bleached them, developed color film with a black and white fixer. You name it, we tried to do it to get a unique look that would assist the story. I once developed my own super 8mm footage in my bathtub for a Smashing Pumpkins video. I bought the chemicals, read about how to do it, put it on some makeshift reels and developed an image. It was crazy. I quickly found out that by slowing down, I overexposed it, and when I went faster on the reel, I underexposed it. Chemical burns ensued, and the smell took some time to leave the apartment. Lydia was not happy! Ha, ha!
 

 

OZ Process

For Terminator Salvation, we wanted to infuse a steely look to the image. I tested different film stocks with the OZ process, which two very talented photochemical artists from Technicolor came up with, Mike Zacaria and Bob Olson. They saw the potential of this unique process, which processed the color film normally. Then they sent this baby through a black and white fixer that added 100% of the silver back onto the negative, which de-saturated the hell out of the image. It was like a silver coating over the color, and the contrast increased.
 
ENR
 
The process of ENR was also developed by Technicolor to make the process adjustable. The more silver left on the negative, the more de-saturation and contrast. You could do any level you wanted in percentages.

ENR process was used on Saving Private Ryan

ENR process was used on Saving Private Ryan

 

Too Extreme

On Terminator Salvation, we loved the OZ look but thought it was too extreme with skin tones. So we chose to do this process in the DI bay where we were able to infuse the silver quality on the image without making everyone look like cadavers. The Resistance needed to feel alive, with warmth in their skin. They were fighting the silver machines. I started with photochemical first, before I went into the digital color correction bay. That grounding in the organic helped the unique look of the film. Stefan Sonnefeld was our colorist out of CO3, and he did an amazing job delivering this look.

Remember, the reason cinematographers were doing this was because we didn’t have that Davinci Resolve bay back then. I hope I am not dating myself! This was photochemical. You had to get it close, very close.
 

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation

 

Find your Emulsion of Choice

I guess where I am going with all of this is that we have so many new digital tools at our disposal that you cannot just pick them up and start shooting with them. It is a disservice to the tool as well as to you, the cinematographer. Let’s think about it in a totally new way. Treat your new digital camera like a new film emulsion that needs testing. Why? Because every sensor is different. They have unique qualities, different latitudes, color spaces, log files, BIT depth. How it rolls off with over and underexposure. If it has aliasing, or moiré, just to name a few.

The cameras have pros and their cons. Your job as a filmmaker is to find a way to show the pros in the camera that you discover, not the ones that others find. Hide the cons, those quirky things that might give away whatever is not ready for the screen, whether it be big or small. To each his own. One person’s compression might be another person’s digital grain.

 

99 Rolls

In the coming weeks, I will take you through the best way to find your new emulsions characteristics. This is what I do on every film I shoot. I remember that on The Greatest Game Ever Played, we shot 99 400’ roles of tests. We fell one short of breaking the bottle of champagne out, which you do when you shoot your hundredth roll on the production of the film. It is not usually done on tests, but the look we were going for was so extreme that we needed to especially test wardrobe. This required us to go back to the drawing board many times when the clothes colors would not work with the process.
 

The Greatest Game Ever Played

 
Originally, Harry Vardon was going to wear an olive suit. We immediately found problems with that. He was dissolving into the forest background. He needed to pop; he was the best golfer in the world. Yellow became Vardon’s color of choice.
 

The Greatest Game Ever Played

The Greatest Game Ever Played

The Greatest Game Ever Played

The Greatest Game Ever Played

The Greatest Game Ever Played

 
Find your voice and your new emulsion and figure out how it will best assist your story. Remember, you are part of a big creative team. The look at me, look at me photography might be good for your career, but is it best for the story that your director wants to tell? Does it bring out the best performance from your cast?

I have studied and continue to be inspired by my peers in reading about their process, but that is exactly what it is, their process. Make it your own!



Author: Shane

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18 Comments

  1. thanks so much Shane for this information … and yes I love doing tests and lighting situation .. trying some new Ideas and figured out how the light gonna work with your story … and the most thing is how to work with available sources small light set up ..(hard work = groin up your talent) like Bruce Logan said talent is a 90% hard work and 10% luck

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  2. Shane ,

    Once again a great blog! It is posts like this that keep me coming back, informative and inspirational! Going out to go test something!

    Thank you,
    Bill

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  3. Awesome and informative as usual, Shane! This article is a great motivator to get out there and be creative. Thanks!

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  4. Super Inspiring, I’ve been doing so many tests just trying to push my camera setups to the limit seeing what i can make them do lately it feels weird not telling a story. But I kept telling myself this knowledge i’m doing right now that is what is going to pay off when i use it to tell the story i want to better. You reaffirmed my feelings triply so with this post. If your ever in Las Cruces New Mexico (south of Albuquerque, north of El Paso) I owe you a drink.

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  5. “Treat your new digital camera like a new film emulsion that needs testing. Why? Because every sensor is different. They have unique qualities, different latitudes, color spaces, log files, BIT depth. How it rolls off with over and underexposure.”

    Wow, I was JUST having this conversation several hours ago too. I guess I’m on the right track after all. This article is awesome, Shane. Constantly learning; thank your outlook this way.

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    • KahL, The timing was right. Love it!!! Thank you so much for all of your kind words and continued support.

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  6. It’s so easy to get caught up in the pros/cons of all the new tech and what other people think (I get far too much tech info from reduser when I should test myself). Shane I imagine it was a big deal in the community when you chose to shoot Act of Valor primarily on dslr. Other than the standard tests to see if it would hold on the big screen, did you do any specific “look” tests for the film?

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    • Pablo Gustafson, Yes you can. The biggest look test we did was our Dark Energy/Cinnafilm process which stripped all the compression, after that we added grain texture. This really improved the 5D footage and gave it a really filmic look. Shooting on mainly Panavision Primo Primes helped as well.

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  7. Also, this is more a lighting question but in the stills above from Terminator, do you know where your key light is in relation to your shooting stop offhand?

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    • Pablo Gustafson, I would over expose their key lights about 1 stop

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  8. Interesting thoughts Shane. You’re right in that what works for one man won’t work for all. I’ve never really had the luxury to test a new camera system extensively before I’ve used it, but if you had a set of absolute priorities that you would look for in a test, what would they be? Would you go beyond the usual suspects of latitude and highlight roll-off etc? Thanks.

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    • Oli Kember, with the immediacy of our media now, we can shoot the test while your prepping the camera and play back in camera. In the coming weeks I will take you thru what I test for. Stay tuned.

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  9. Shane,

    I really enjoy and appreciate you taking the time to share your wisdom. Reading your blog has really help me become a better filmmaker.

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    • Brian Bradley. Glad to hear it and thanks so much for the kind words and support.

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  10. Hey Shane!

    Thank you so much for you posts! I’m currently doing some tests on the F-65 with the Zeiss CP2s for a graduate film at Chapman University. What you’ve written has inspired and helped me greatly.

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    • Nicolas Aguilar, that is great to hear and thank you for the kind words

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