How Lens Metadata Can Save Time and Money in Post

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

By Les Zellan, Chairman and Owner, Cooke Optics

Metadata is an invaluable source of information in the content creation industry, enabling people to search, find and manage content quickly and easily. However, while the value of metadata is a given for archiving, it is largely overlooked at the acquisition stage. While some metadata from the lens is currently used on set for monitoring levels, there is so much more it could do that could save significant time and money during production and post.

Smart lenses can ‘talk’ to other pieces of camera equipment in order to automatically and instantly calibrate controls for that lens when you plug it in, saving prep time. In post, lens metadata can provide crucial information for complex VFX work, working with tracking software to solve scenes that would otherwise have to be solved manually. In addition, lens metadata detailing how footage was shot would be extremely useful for future reconstruction work.

Cooke Optics – which has over 130 years of experience in lens development and a Scientific and Technical Academy Award® among many other industry accolades - recognised this deficit in lens metadata capture around 17 years ago. It set out to create a metadata protocol that would provide the industry with a digital open standard to gather and share lens data, ensuring compatibility from acquisition to post-production. The result was /i (Intelligent) Technology.

/i enables monitoring and transfer of key lens data including focus distance, depth of field, focal zoom position and iris setting for every frame shot. It also facilitates lens calibration, lens synchronisation and post-production analysis.

On set, this means that Directors of Photography and ACs can have a continuous remote readout of the precise focus setting, T stop and depth-of-field from electronics inside the /i equipped lens, allowing them to see the actor in front of them and the focus setting on the lens without even having to turn their heads.

Users can digitally record vital lens settings accurately, frame-by- frame, all synced to Timecode, instead of having to manually write down lens settings for every shot, eliminating human error.

Digital cameras that are /i compatible can talk to /i lenses directly via contacts in the lens mount. The /i Technology provides the framework; the extent of camera data made available is the choice of the camera manufacturers via their software and hardware.

By feeding this lens data to post-production teams, they can not only save time and cost but also ensure a better quality product because the digital data provided takes the guess work out of many of their processes – the VFX artists can create effects and 3D models that are more accurate, with much greater speed.

Cooke created the /i system as an open protocol in an effort to unify lens and camera manufacturers and create an industry standard, and many leading camera, lens and post manufacturers have signed up as /i Technology Partners, including RED, Sony, Panavision, ARRI, Canon, Fujinon, Zeiss and Angenieux. In order to maximise the myriad benefits of lens and camera metadata, the industry needs to unite behind standard protocols so equipment can easily communicate across the set and into post. With the support of the /i Technology partner manufacturers, the industry can promote the uses and benefits of an acquisition-to- post workflow and also add more valuable metadata information that can benefit content further down the production chain.

Les Zellan, Chairman and Owner, Cooke Optics

Les Zellan graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University with a master’s degree in Technical Theatre. He designed theatrical stage lighting systems before becoming sales director for FERCO, a film equipment rental company in New York City. He formed Zellan Enterprises in 1979 to promote and sell film equipment. In 1998, Zellan purchased the Cooke lens division from Taylor-Hobson. Under his ownership Cooke Optics has won many awards including the Academy Award® of Merit, CINEC awards and a Primetime Emmy. Zellan is an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers, a member of the Motion Picture Academy, and lectures on the art of lens manufacture.
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