Archive for November, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Shooting in Near Total Darkness

It seems to be the latest trend among hip cinematographers. Shooting wide open with Ultra Primes or Super Speed lenses at light levels so low they barely register. Yet this is the style these days shooting in near total darkness and it is getting many DPs a lot of work.

With the advent digital cinema cameras with functional ISOs of 5000 or higher the prospect of shooting at ultra low light levels is becoming a reality. On my recent feature shoot EQUALS the young great cinematographer John Guleserian captured scenes on the sound stage with LED lighting pegged at a mere 2% on the dimmer. Yes there were flicker issues to struggle with and excruciating difficult focus to wrangle, but living on the edge delivering gutsy aggressive images at the constant risk of failure reflects in my mind a very high level of craft and confidence.

My Panasonic PX270 1/3 type camcorder shooting behind-the-scenes could not register a usable image under such low, almost-no-light conditions, but no matter the Alexa could at 1600 ISO with VERY sophisticated built-in noise reduction. And this is the key. Yes the camera optics are critical and sufficient dynamic range is essential, but it is the vast improvement in noise reduction technology that is the most main factor. The current fashion to shoot with minimal depth of field in very low light could have only been enabled by the substantially improved noise reduction algorithms.

Looking now to the 4K Varicam 35, the camera looks sensational at 5000 ISO, a legitimate rating that extends the low-light reach of shooters of feature films and high-bend projects even further. The 3X advancement in low light sensibility in a digital cinema camera means that we most likely are looking at yet another wave of projects captured still lower light levels.

Then again the alternative to ever lower light levels on sets might be simply utilizing a  smaller stop so assistants can finally find and keep critcal focus especially when shooting with 85mm and 135mm lenses which is also very much in vogue. I for one would welcome this particular development as we look ahead to 4K image capture that owing to sharp focus actually looks and feels like 4K.