I've learned quite a few lessons throughout the course of my career in commercial production. And many the hard way. But you live -- you learn, and such is life. Perhaps the most important I've learned is how to surround myself with professionals who work on other high-profile projects all the time. They bring new trends from their varied experiences and expertise from a multitude of projects to our collaboration. If I stay open to the ideas and trends they suggest, I can evolve... learn...and be open to my pictures having an even better outcome. And no trend has more direct impact on the picture than the choice of camera system.
The constantly evolving camera landscape is at times confusing, sometimes maddengly incomparable, but always exciting. Thanks to partners in the camera rental community, we're able to get our hands on some pretty awesome cameras for our commercial productions. Camera rental companies get all the latest cameras in to test and spec out, and then they can disseminate the technical information down to make sense to a very visual Directors like myself. On a recent project for a financial client, we needed to shoot two television spots featuring actors interacting inside two different home environments during daylight. Because we were shooting human interaction and beauty shots, my initial thought was to shoot with either the ARRI Alexa or the RED Dragon. I like to shoot in 4K if available, so the Alexa was ruled out right away. (Sorry ARRI, love your picture!) When I spoke with the guys at Daufenbach Camera, Cinematographer Jamieson Mulholland and I kept coming back around to the new Panasonic Varicam 35.
I have to admit, when I heard the name I balked and tried to avoid the suggestion. For those familiar with production in the 2000s, the word Panasonic brings back horrific memories of P2 card data issues . When the DSLR revolution started in 2009, part of the reason it was such a revolution was in revolt of the Panasonic HVX200 and P2 cards. But they assured me the new card workflow is solid, and when I heard the specs I understood why they were so persistent.
If you're a Director or Cinematographer, you'll want to use this camera for two BIG reasons.
- In digital cinema, you want to get the highest resolution possible with the ability to shoot in the lowest light possible. These two variables have always been a give and take before. If you shoot with the Canon C500, you get great low-light sensitivity but no 4K. If you shoot with the RED Epic/Dragon you can capture up to 6K resolutions, but the low-light sensitivity leaves much to be desired. With the Panasonic VariCam 35, you get both. You can shoot in extremely low light without sacrificing image quality. Panasonic has given us a revolutionary camera with crazy-high ISOs and 4K resolution in one package. They do this by giving two bases of ISO. According to Adam McKay of Fstoppers.com in his review, "A base level ISO of 800 really isn't all that impressive anymore as it has become pretty much standard on all new cinema cameras, but the addition of a second base ISO of 5000 is somewhat of a game changer." Watch some of the night scenes in this video. Truly amazing! https://vimeo.com/117570877
- You can shoot in 4K and also record smaller resolution proxy files to edit dailies or edit offline without spending precious time reformatting in DaVinci. This is also a first in digital cinema cameras, and benefits everyone in the production chain: Directors, Editors, and Clients. Take a look and see for yourself what you think of the VariCam 35. Below are the TV spots for the financial campaign I directed. We lensed this with a combo of the Angeniuex Optimo 45-120mm Zoom lens and the Cooke Panchro 25mm lens. We edited using Adobe Premiere Pro, and final color correction was provided by Color Playground in Chicago. Sound design and music composition were provided by our friends at Noise Floor, also based in Chicago.
Jeremy Pinckert is a Chicago Director of Commercial Advertising and Branded Digital Video Content for Explore Media. His work has won over 40 Telly Awards, Best in Show ADDYs, and an Emmy Award. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremypinckert, see him on LinkedIN, or view his reel here.
STILLS FROM THE SHOOT