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Friday, January 30, 2015

••◊ Why it's all going back...

Last night I wasn't sure if I was getting old and conservative or old and wise.  I was sitting there on my couch with $5-6k of gear, reading through the manuals, and doing tests with my editing software and realized this isn't going to work for out shoot this weekend.  A few years ago I would have showed up on the day of the shoot and fudged my way through, hunt and peck style, to use fancy expensive equipment.  Now...well equipment alone doesn't impress me.  It's what it allows me to do that impresses me.

The equipment in question is the new Atomos Shogun and Sony A7S camera.  It's not that any of this equipment is bad...far from it.  However the usability and firmware isn't quite there yet for what I need to accomplish.  I'll explain why.

One thing I've wanted to test for a while is the impressive 14-stop dynamic range of the A7S camera.  Essentially that means shooting S-log on the A7S with the Shogun.  Since S-log requires a great deal of color correction in post production this poses a few issues.

First, the Prores footage of the Shogun requires Premiere CS5.51.  I'm only on CS5.  All the Prores footage from the Samurai and Ninja load OK into CS5, but the Shogun must support a new and more advanced form of the codec.  So I can't load the footage into my existing NLE, even if I record in Prores HQ in HD - same as the Samurai and Ninja.  I know, I know...get Adobe CC.  If I have a paid gig I will someday.

In order to record *usable* S-log footage it requires either the Shogun recording in Prores or the A7S recording in XAVC-S onto an SD card.  The A7S requires a minimum of a 64GB SDXC class 10 or UHS-1 card to recorder footage into the XAVC-S codec.  I don't have these cards, much less a budget to just go buy them for a no-budget shoot.  We all know the downside of highly compressed AVCHD.  No need to go there.

I spoke with the producer last night and he has FCP-X, but he wasn't comfortable with doing the color correction.  Since I can't do the color correction myself and hand him "baked" footage, recording in S-log was a no-go.

Another problem with this system and S-log is that there is currently no viewing LUT on the Shogun nor the A7S.  So what you see while recording is the contrast-less, de-saturated, S-log look.  The firmware that allows you to use an S-log viewing LUT isn't available until late February - too late.  So we would have to switch back and forth from Cine3/4 to S-log to gain confidence that we were actually recording with correct exposure and a reasonable lighting.  On the C100, for example, when you record in [Cinema Locked] mode you can use the "View Assist" function so the camera applies a viewing LUT to the C-log footage.  That way you know you're recording exposure correctly and you have a reasonable idea what the final lighting will look like.

I also wanted to try out the A7S 4k output with the Shogun recorder.  As I mentioned before the new Prores codec isn't supported by my older editing software, so that wasn't going to happen.  The producer would be able to load the footage, but he doesn't see an advantage to having 4k just for the sake of 4k and I can't analyze the footage for my own reference since I can't play it back.  4k was a no-go.

Another issue is the very fragile micro-HDMI port on the A7S.  The camera comes with a add-on cable lock to keep the cable from busting the micro-HDMI port.  The add-on didn't fit the cable in this case so I keep feeling like I was going to destroy my friends camera.  Neither the A7S or Shogun come with an HDMI cable...come on guys!  It's like $1 to throw it in the box!

It's all going back to the respective owners tonight or tomorrow morning.  Technology is cool and I still love gadgets, but at a certain point I'd rather be productive with tools that "just work."

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