Super-16mm...where to begin?
I'm looking to get into super-16mm cinematography and was hoping to get some advice. I'm on a limited budget, and don't expect to get a feature film ready pro package, but am looking for something solid, reliable, and appropriate for cutting my teeth. There's a lot of stuff out there on the used market, so any help navigating through that world would be great. This would mainly be for personal projects, cinematogrpahy study, and possibly some short films (narrative and documentary). Though it doesn't have to be quiet enough for synch-sound initially, it would be great if it could be upgraded at some point (blimp, etc.) in the event that I would want/need to record sound.
My only previous experience has been with an Arri S and a Canon Scoopic. This was way back in film school. I have done a lot of still photography and videography, but have much more limited experience with motion picture photography using film.
My research thus far has shown things ranging from a K-3 for less than $1000, to packages $35,000 and beyond and everything in between both new (i.e., ikonoskop) and used (Arri SR) . So...Arri, Bolex, Eclair...?
Thanks in advance for any help you send my way.
Editor - Composer - Professor
The real expense of shooting super 16 film is the film, processing, printing and then cutting negative, answer and release prints. Of course you could telecine and finish in the digital (video) domain, but then the question is why shoot film in the first place.
Granted there are some really cheap film cameras available in the used market, some like the Aaton's are self blimped and very versatile, but The cost of the film and processing make this a dubious choice.
I'd recommend that you consider a used Varicam, which can be had for about $10000 plus an appropriate HD lens, and the tape is essentially free ($22/ 32 minutes). You can import into an Apple laptop with Final Cut Pro ($1299 for the software) with a firewire cable and you're editing and finishing in native high def.
The picture quality with this 2/3" imager at 180 degree shutter at 24fps rivals any 16mm camera and film stock at a fraction of the working cost and is the reason that film had all but vanished from the scene, and why the used cameras fetch such a small price.
If your goal is to tell stories or otherwise communicate important thoughts or messages this scenario lets you do so with beautiful pictures at a manageable price.
I must respectfully disagree with the statement that a Varicam will take pictures as good as super 16mm. There is as yet NO digital video camera that matches or surpasses film, though Sony's F35 begins to come close. The reasons are that video cannot handle the range of light-to-dark that film can, and that film records much more visual information than film. Where this difference shows up is in highlights of high-contrast situations as well as in the subtle shade differences you see in the human face.
The comments about the "true" cost of shooting film are perfectly true. Post is extremely expensive, to say nothing of processing and work prints. Going direct to telecine, when performed on a first class machine operated by a first class colorist, is the best route if the final film will be seen on TV or the web. (You will see a significant improvement over the image you get by shooting super 16 and going to tape over the image you get shooting any video camera. It's not the tape that's the problem, it's the ability of the video camera to record fully.)It is possible to telecine everything in a way that tracks key codes so that later the negative can be cut to match the video edit. In fact, most feature films still shot on film are handled that way. The days of cutting on the flatbed or the upright Moviola are almost gone, and I say, having cut millions of feet that way, good riddance.
For post, the dominating software these days is Final Cut Pro. However, a less well known but much loved software is put out by Sony: Vegas Pro, currently version 8. Either one has a somewhat steep learning curve. Those who use and know both tend to prefer Vegas. But if you are thinking eventually of working as a freelance editor, better go with FCP. (For a rundown on a comparison between the two, Google the topic. Here's one answer from the Cow: http://forums.creativecow.net/thread/24/875617 Vegas costs about half as much as FCP. I use it and love it.
As for which film camera to buy, any one will do for starting out, provided it has been retrofitted or made to shoot super 16mm, and you also buy lenses that cover the additional width. If you can get one with a PL mount you can rent additional lenses as needed. I believe there are even wind-up Bolexs rigged with PL mounts and retrofitted to super 16.
An alternative approach would be to buy one of the better prosumer cameras and one of the 35mm adpaters. Or, buy a Red and a set of lenses, though that will end up costing around $50,000 before you are done. Currently in the prosumer range, Sony's EX1 and EX3 are the only cameras recording to 1/2-inch tape and the images they make are to my eyes remarkable. The EX3 has interchangeable lenses.
Since you are on a tight budget, I don't see how it's possible to shoot film, but perhaps you have factored in the post equation and are determined to shoot film. How about renting a camera for a while? You can probably get a pretty good deal on an Aaton Xtrprod on a month-to-month, or else an Arri SR. Since you are trying to learn, I highly recommend you start out with at least 3 fixed lenses: 10mm, 25mm ("normal"), and 75mm. Learn to shoot well with these three before adding more, or a zoom. Starting out, avoid the zoom as you will never learn about the characteristics of different focal lengths with it.
Finally, to repeat a truism said here and everywhere the pros hang out, it is not the camera that makes the film. It's the filmmaker. You can make a truly world-class film on a $300 video camera, and you can make something no one will ever watch on a $300,000 system. As a still photographer, I imagine you know that.
director of photography
Hi Mr. Wise, Your are a pro for-sure. Film rules. I personally want my masters to be in film stock.... eventually we all haft to go the digital domain, However if your master is film stock and you have a lab with a really good tellcine; A person is much better off doing it that way if they haft to put their work on cable TV..... Thanks Rick, I live in San Rafael just across the bay from you. I am an ARRI man, I own three ARRI 16sb/st one ARRI 2b/c and 12 other machines.
My Best: Dale Robertson DP
Dale Robertson DP
I too strongly disagree to the sentiment although JMHO's advice was well-intentioned. The "why shoot film in the first place" question is stunning and it's answer astonishingly personal.
I think that Trip already has the answer which is aesthetic. Video (HD- RAW- Otherwise) is very different from film in its process and look. It would not be very arguable wether video is constantly striving to achieve the resolution of film. or aesthetic 'feel' but electronic resolution is not the same art as photography with film, light and emulsion. Did you see the Winter Olympics? HDTV managed to make 16 year old kids look like crap.
Technically and economically JMHO's answer was well considered, but sort of answering a different question, namely, whether or not to shoot on film. Seems that Trip had already decided.
"...but then the question is why shoot film in the first place."---- REALLY? Shoot film because the latitude is better, color rendition is better, one can push or pull film, and get different looks from different stocks just for starters. Also, depending on the camera package one shoots it can be the same price as shooting HD if not cheaper. Varicams are by no means "cheap." A Varicam package is gonna run you about $1000 a day, more or less, with some ENG lens, not a proper set of prime film lenses. Don't believe the lies. HD is not necessarily cheaper than film. The cost depends on many factors. Many people prefer HD because they simply lack the skills and patience necessary to shoot film. Yes you do have to wait for it to be processed, and yes you do have to transfer it and digitize it to digitally edit, but if you don't need quick dailies it's worth the wait. Also, if your telecine op is any good you have little if any color correction to do after you have picture lock on your film. Don't let HD fan boys talk you out of shooting film. Go for it and good luck!
Kirk D. Morrison, MFA
You mentioned the K-3, which is good for bare-bones, but to take a big step up to a much more professional rig but without killing your wallet you might consider another camera from Mother Russia....
The Russian Kinor 16mm camera is excellent, and the LOMO optics in Russian lenses are on par with just about anything out there. There is also a well established "commiecam" users groups of folks who shoot with the Russian cameras... the Konvas and Kinor 35mm cameras (which is what I use) and the smaller Kinor 16mm.
These cameras used to be very plentiful (scads of them on eBay) but the market for both Konvas and Kinor cameras has dried up a bit as more and more people are discovering them.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
You'll also need a meter.
I also am a firm believer in the "it's the filmmaker not the equipment" sentiment. The first feature film I ever worked on was NOVEMBER. It was shot on a first generation DVX100 and went on to win best cinematography at Sundance. It certainly wasn't the "prettiest" picture when compared to 35mm or HD stuff that was out there, but it told the story, and that's what cinematography is about.
My intent for these projects would mostly be to telecine and finish in post. I am an editor by trade; mostly docs, but some features and short form stuff. I'm really looking to study the film cinematography not because I think I could make money doing it (I'd probably do better off getting an EX3 for that), but just for a love of the art. I still shoot 35mm still film from time to time, despite the fact that I think DSLRs are fantastic (I'll probably be picking up a 5D Mk ii someday soon). I also think HD is fantastic. I'm amazed at some of the stuff shot on even little cameras live the Canon HV30. I'm not anti-video by an means, just as I am not anti-DSLR. There are many situations where I would take video over film in a heartbeat and never regret it for an instant.
Anyway, as I said, this is more for the pure study of the art form. I appreciate all of the feedback so far and will definitely look into more of the Russian cameras.
Editor - Composer - Professor
I agree with Terry, I own a K3 and while I have had some good shoots with it, it is a little too primitive to really do quality work on.
The loads are very small, the windup key will break or sprain your thumb if you shoot a lot of rolls in one day and the gate weave gives your shots a very nice Super 8 "Zapruder film" quality, in other words, tons of gate weave. It is also noisy as heck and makes a racket so forget shooting sync sound with it.
Terry, is the Kinor quiet enough to shoot sync sound with?
Anyway, I would check out the Kinor and the Cinema Products CP16R and the Eclair NPR are also available for reasonable prices now that S16mm is not shot very much anymore http://www.whitehouseaudiovisual.com/04multi_camera.html
I love shooting film but I have to say that carefully shot footage from my HPX170 looks about the same to clients, or sometimes even better. I think that many of us who are in the business can see the difference but shoot with a quality camera and add some Magic Bullet and few clients will know that they are not looking at film. But if you are doing it for arts sake, yes, S16 looks amazingly cool, I used to shoot it a lot and miss it but budgets are just too low these days to shoot much film anymore.
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The Wrestler by Aronofsky was shot on the Arri 416 with 7219. I believe lots of TV is shot s16 also. It's a long way from a "dead" format.
I can't really speak to the Kinor's usability as a sound camera with a lot of authority.... actually I haven't used the Kinor 16mm... unfortunately all of my Russian camera experience has been with the 35mm Konvas and Kinors.
My guess is that it probably can be, if done with care... even though strictly speaking it is a MOS camera. BUT, most of these cameras do run fairly quietly, and most have crystal-controlled motors as either standard or as an option. I have used my 35mm Konvas 7M on countless sound shoots. It's not totally silent by any means, but especially for exteriors it has never posed any sound problems at all. For interiors, it's a bit more work, but I've always been able to solve the issues with good camera and microphone placement, or use noise sampling/reduction tools such as ProTools or Adobe Audition to remove the camera sound. A few times in a very live and small room the camera sound could not be completely eliminated... in those cases I record a clean take just for audio imediately after the camera take, and use VocAlign to create a perfectly clean looped track that syncs with the dirty camera track. People have also created padded barneys for both Konvas and Kinor cameras.
Yes, shooting film can be expensive, cumbersome, and a lot more complicated than shooting video. However, I applaud Trip's efforts to do so. No one ever became a worse shooter by learning to shoot film first. Quite the opposite. Let's face it, these days any yahoo with $300 can become a "videographer" (which I still contend is a made-up word). But learning to become a cinematographer and shoot film and shoot it well takes patience, skill, a lot of effort, and a dedication to develop one's talent. Cinematographers who can shoot killer film can usually shoot great video as well.... but not always (or usually) the other way around.
Film shoots don't have to be budget busters. I've shot countless pretty low-end (budget wise) television commercials even for small mom-and-pop businesses on 35mm... by learning how to do it within their budgets. I do that with maybe $15,000 worth of good camera equipment, not $150,000. I do it by planning and blocking very carefully. I rehearse and don't waste takes. Sometimes I call "action" before actually pulling the trigger. I tail-slate only good takes. I shop around for filmstock bargains (once we bought 50,000 feet, the entire stock of unused 35mm recans from the third season of The Sopranos, for less than a nickle a foot!). I have a good relationship with a great lab that takes care of us without killing our budgets. It can be done.
That being said... I haven't shot a frame of film in, oh, probably 18 months. Sadly, since moving to shooting HD with a P+S Technik converter the film cameras haven't been out of their cases. But, I credit my ability to shoot decent-looking real film with allowing me to shoot and light for DoF-converted HD that still looks like film.
And yep, there is still lots of network television still shot on s16mm. Some of the older stuff (Walker, Texas Ranger anyone?) doesn't look that great... but watch some of the newer stuff such as My Name is Earl or Scrubs on HD on a good 1080 monitor and the quality will blow you away. And it's 16mm. And of course the COW's own Todd McMullen shoots Friday Night Lights on s16mm as well.
Shoot film. You'll learn a heckuva lot. And it's fun.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Anyone have any experience with B&H Filmos? There are a few on ebay with lenses for less than $400.
Editor - Composer - Professor
The Filmo was a workhorse back in its day (although that day was a pretty darn long time ago).
You'll still see them used now every now and then as a crashcam.
If you want to shoot some short shots of wild MOS footage, it's probably ok to play with... but I wouldn't consider trying to use one for a serious project.
The downsides to the Filmo would be 1) very noisy, 2) short run times, I'm not sure but probably 30 seconds a pop max, 3) non-reflex, 4) limited I believe to C-mount lenses.
Also, a Filmo of course is regular 16mm, and you initially specifically said you were looking for s16mm. I seriously doubt a Filmo could be converted to s16mm, and no one would probably ever attempt to do that since the conversion would cost many times as much as the camera is worth.
If you are just looking for a cheap wind-up camera, the K-3 is probably a better choice. You'd still have the same issues of noise and short run times, but at least most of those already come with what is actually a pretty darn good lens for the money. K-3's can be converted to super 16mm, although it's a little pricey (s16mm conversion of a regular 16mm camera requires a lot more than just puttiing in an s16mm gate... that's the easy part... they also require re-centering the lens which is the much tougher and more expensive part).
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Hey Trip, just a thought....
I'd completely forgotten that I have an unused K-3 kit sitting on a shelf somewhere. I bought it about 10 years ago as a B-cam on a whim, but moved pretty much exclusviely to 35mm before I ever even used it once. It was new then (well, new-old-stock, never used) and pretty complete (Krasnogorsk-3 body, zoom lens, lens hood, pistol grip, shoulder brace, carrying case, and a few non-descript mystery filters).
I never get rid of anything... but I'd probably let it go pretty reasonably, it's just taking up space.
If you're interested in it yell at me off list (don't wanna turn this board into a swap meet)... click on one of my profile links and you can get contact info.
Film cameras were made to run film, and I'd rather see it in the hands of someone who would actually use it for that... rather than sitting unused.
All that being said, I'm not trying to push you to the K-3... I think you'd be better off and happier with a "real" camera... but if you don't want to spend much and need something to learn with it might be an option.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
All very good points here.
But why the need to purchase a camera? There are so many available for rent, for free to nothing, that you could put that money into film, processing and post and not have to worry about maintenance, accessories, etc...
As you may know as well there are many places that sell short ends and unused film around.
Keep us informed of your progress.
Flip Flop Films