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DoF converter Lens Choices

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Chris Blair
DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 21, 2009 at 4:11:36 am

We're going to rent our first DoF converter for an upcoming shoot and I need some opinions. We're looking at the P+S Technik Pro and the Letus Ultimate, and will likely go with the Letus due to budget constraints on the project.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a prime lens package vs. a high-quality cine zoom lens? We're not interested in using a zoom lens because we do zooms during shots, we virtually never do. But the 3 day shoot has a LOT of locations and a lot of setups. I'm worried that the time spent changing out lens and setting up shots will hamper us. So wondered if using the zoom (with the ability to make quick adjustments to focal length without swapping lens) will:

Compromise quality?

Limit my ability to get really shallow depth of field?

Some additional questions. We use an SDX-900 and I was wondering if there was anything we need to watch out for with either the P+S or Letus models?

Thanks for any suggestions and opinions





Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Todd Terry
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 21, 2009 at 7:19:10 am

Hi Chris...

I think I answered some of these questions off-list in a private email a week or so ago, but...

[Chris Blair] "What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a prime lens package vs. a high-quality cine zoom lens?"

In terms of image quality, primes are almost always going to be superior to zooms. In addition, primes are virtually always going to be much much faster than zooms. Remember that the DoF converters eat up a fair bit of light... and superspeed primes will be your friend. You'll probably find the average cine zoom to be too slow for interiors, unless you pump in loads of light. I sometimes use a Russian Foton 37-140mm zoom, but it is pretty much limited to exteriors only... it is far too slow for interiors, even on an HMI lit set.

Shooting with primes doesn't have to slow you down much, if you work efficiently. We've sort of gotten into the groove here where one of my crew members usually serves as a camera assistant during shoots where his primary job is handling the glass. I'll yell "Cut!" on a shot and then immediately say something like "Going to an eighty," and by the time I have a lens off he's handing me the 80mm ready to go on. If you have (or can rent) a swingaway matte box it can help with the speed. Make sure you have very specific and adhered-to lens-handling protocol. The most simple and obvious-sounding thing is to make SURE you have your hands firmly on a lens before your AC releases it, and vice versa. We always thought, "Hey, we're careful," until one day in too much of a hurry my favorite lens, a Leitz-Panavision 50mm f/1.3 superspeed, got dropped onto a concrete floor. I wanted to lay down and cry. Fortunatey my favorite lens wizard (the great Paul Duclos) was able to repair it for less than a thousand dollars. Whew. Since then we have been very careful with lens handling. Usually after calling for a lens I will flip off the matte box, cap the lens, and dismount it. Simultaniously my AC will be retrieving a lens from the case, removing the butt cap, and preparing to hand it to me. Then we make the swap. Sounds like a lot, but we have it down to just a few seconds, without dangerously rushing.

If you work well, quickly without rushing, and are organized... a lot of locations doesn't have to sacrifice the benefits of shooting with primes. Lighting typically takes a whole lot more time than swapping lenses does. My most rigorous shoot ever with primes involved a two-and-a-half day shoot, over 16 locations with 47 camera setups. Five interiors, nine exteriors, and two back here on stage. It was an absolutely exhausting whirlwind and I don't want to do it again... but we got it done and pleased our client (and scored a bunch of ADDYs for the campaign).

[Chris Blair] "Limit my ability to get really shallow depth of field?"

Yes, zooms will limit the shallowness of the DoF to a degree, because of their relative slowness.

[Chris Blair] "We use an SDX-900"

As I think we discussed off forum (my memory is fuzzy), with the SDX900 you will be limited to the P+S Technik Pro35, not the Mini35... and I doubt the Letus would work. As far as I know only the Pro35 will work with 2/3" cameras... the Letus is for 1/3" cameras.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Chris Blair
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 22, 2009 at 3:32:50 am

According to their website and a review in DV Magazine, Letus released a new version called the Letus Ultimate that will work on 2/3" cameras, including the SDX-900.

The review of it was very favorable, although I've found some forums that were spotty in reviewing the first 50 or so units that were sold in the fall. Apparently, they've fixed those issues because since about December, the forums have very little negative to say and quite a lot of positive things. Our upcoming shoot just doesn't have the budget for the P+S Technik. The best package prices I've found for it along with a set of Leitz lens is $600/day.

We need the DoF converter for a week to give us 2 days of prep and practice time and 3 days of shooting...and $3000 just eats up too much of our budget. I can get the Letus with the same set of primes for $250-$275 day, which is doable.

I can tell by looking at the websites that there's a huge difference in the ergonomics of the two units, but if the Letus will work, I'm willing to risk $1000 to get great images. One nice thing about it is that it has a flip feature that automatically flips the image for you.



Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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David Smith
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 22, 2009 at 3:29:52 am

[Chris Blair] "Some additional questions. We use an SDX-900 and I was wondering if there was anything we need to watch out for with either the P+S or Letus models? "

Take a look at this post, Chris. Steve Weiss discusses the new Letus model designed for 2/3" cameras:

http://forums.creativecow.net/readpost/54/857297




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Chris Blair
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 22, 2009 at 4:37:24 am

Thanks David...I had actually read it earlier but appreciate the info.

Todd...I should've pointed out that the Letus Ultimate doesn't by itself work with 2/3" cameras, you need their 2/3" B4 relay lens as part of the package. The rental places I talked with both had the relay and have rented it to several people using 2/3" cameras.



Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Todd Terry
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 22, 2009 at 6:02:58 am

Chris...

I'm not familiar with the "Ultimate"... in fact, I didn't know it existed. But if at all possible I suggest budgeting an extra day with it if you can, just to make sure you can get it all working perfectly for you with your particular camera... the 1/3" Letus models have a pretty well-established reputation as being fairly finicky and usually take a bit of work to make sure everything is lined up and registered working right, and stay that way (several users I have talked with also say the units were extremely noisy, although I think they were earlier models and hopefully they have worked those bugs out).

I will say that $600/day for a Pro35 and primes is a steal... it's not unusual to see a Pro35 or primes set alone going for almost that much... not for both.... and there's never any struggle with the P+S Technik units working perfectly, they simply do. But if it isn't in the budget, it isn't in the budget... ya go what ya gotta do.

And whichever unit you use, haggle with your rental house. Most pro cine rental houses will do a 3/5 deal if asked... pay for the gear for three days, and keep it for five. And if you arrange so that your five-day period stretches over a weekend, you're really getting it for seven days for the price of three.




T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Todd Terry
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 22, 2009 at 2:31:39 pm

Chris...

Something had slipped my mind, but it's relatively important...

Before getting a little sidetracked (which I think was my fault), your original question was concerning primes vs. zooms...

Unless you get lucky and can rent one that does, the vast majority of zooms do not have gear rings. Ergo, you cannot use a follow-focus unit with them. And while you don't absolutely have to use a FF unit with a DoF converter, it certainly is a huge advantage to do so... especially if you are doing any kind of tracking to moving subject at all. If you are shooting static scenes or still lifes, nah, you don't need one... but in almost any kind of conventional shooting you do.

So... if you decide you prefer a zoom to a set of primes, be sure you can get one that has been geared. Or... get one of those clamp-on wrap-around gear strips that you can install yourself.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Chris Blair
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 22, 2009 at 5:05:30 pm

Thanks Todd,

Appreciate all the info and tips...and after re-reading the emails from the folks with the Letus rentals, the 2/3" B4 relays may not be available yet. They both said "will have..." in their emails.

Zacuto makes the relay and I went to their site and it appears to be a brand-new product released for purchase just 3 weeks ago, with an 8-10 week special order delivery time. So...the P+S Technik is probably our only option.

And yes...the $600 package was by far the best available. The next best was $750, and then $900/day. It's a shame all this stuff is so darn expensive. It would seem like after technology has been around a while they'd be able to figure out ways to reduce production and manufacturing costs to bring the cost down some. I'd love to buy one but it's just not viable right now.

I get so frustrated using video lenses on shoots. In post I end up building mattes around subjects and defocusing background elements in an effort to control where the viewers eyes are drawn.

The client was very open to spending more money to do this, but I'm just not sure they were prepared to pay another $3000... so I'll float the cost of the P+S rental by them and see what they say.

Again...thanks for all the thorough information. And as I said, it's obvious to me just by looking at photos that the P+S Technik adaptors are smarter products than their competitors.

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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john sharaf
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 22, 2009 at 6:01:31 pm

Do yourself and the client a favor and use Cine-style Canon or Fujinon zooms or if you're prepared to spend a little more and they're available use Zeiss Digizooms.

Depending on your shots you might need both short and long version of both. Again cost will be significant but certainly less than P&S and Cine lens rental and advantages in functionality and lens stop are great.

I'm always in favor of keeping things as simple as possible and using the best tool for the job. In this case excellent video lenses seem most appropriate.

You will definitely see the difference between SD ENG lenses and HD Cine style zooms even on your SDX900 in terms of both sharpness, contrast and minimized chromatic aberration.

JS



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Chris Blair
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 23, 2009 at 2:03:22 am

John,

Another DP friend of mine had suggested this on another project a while back. Does it give you greater control of DoF as well??



Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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John Sharaf
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 23, 2009 at 6:27:08 am

Chris,

One must resort to the more traditional methods of controlling depth of field with lenses designed for 2/3" imager cameras when used on 2/3" cameras (like the SDX900); namely shooting with iris wide open, staging action fairly close to the camera and having as much depth as possible behind the subject. While it may take a little care and consideration it is not impossible to create shots with nice "fuzzy" backgrounds that draw your attention to the foreground subject.

Using the highest quality lenses, like those I've recommended, additionally have the effect of making the foreground subject as sharp as possible and enhancing the contrast between a sharp foreground and a soft background.

JS



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Todd Terry
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 22, 2009 at 6:46:58 pm

[Chris Blair] "it's obvious to me just by looking at photos that the P+S Technik adaptors are smarter products than their competitors."

Yeah, I'm a huge champion of P+S Technik. Their products are really second to none. Expensive as heck, but great.

[Chris Blair] "In post I end up building mattes around subjects and defocusing background elements"

Yeah, I used to do that too... tedius, sometimes. Interestingly, I got an email a few days ago from the people who make the MagicBullet software. One of the features of one of their new suites is a thingy that does just that... you define a focus area and the amount you want focus to fall off outside that area (and how much, and how much blur, and where it falls off, etc), to focus the eye and fake a shallower DoF. They said they were going to send me a NFR copy of the software to review, but it hasn't arrived yet. I saw a little sales pitch video on it and it does look interesting. Seems to work easy-as-pie and the results were pretty darn good. It works either as an AfterEffects plugin, or as a stand-alone program. I'll give it a look and shoot you some info off-forum when I get it, hopefully early next week.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Chris Blair
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 23, 2009 at 2:01:10 am

I would've bet money you'd tried that trick too. The Magic Bullet app sounds interesting...although I've never been a fan of the original Magic Bullet stuff...or Cinelook or Film Fx for that matter.

Back in 2000 we created out own preset flow in Digital Fusion that de-interlaced (if footage was interlaced), added the appearance of 3:2 pulldown, and tweaked all the gamma and color settings. It looked better (in my opinion) than any of the commercial software plug-ins, and it rendered about 5 times faster.



Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Todd Terry
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 23, 2009 at 3:57:58 am

[Chris Blair] "...although I've never been a fan of the original Magic Bullet stuff."

Yeah, me either... I completely agree. I was never a fan of MB or frankly any of the film simulation software or plugins. More of an anti-fan, actually. Painfully slow and less-than-great results. In the pre-24p days we always did our own (which we called FauxFilm®) by using a bunch of little tricks that much more closely emulated the filmstocks I liked and did a much more pleasant 3:2 pulldown than any of commercially available voodoo.

However... I was fairly impressed by what this latest batch of Magic Bullet stuff will do. I'd still never use it to add a pulldown, but some of the things this suite will do (including the DoF simulation) look pretty cool. I'll keep you posted.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Chris Blair
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 25, 2009 at 4:12:38 am

Todd,

We've booked a P+S Technik adaptor with a set of Zeiss superspeed primes, clip-on sunshade and follow-focus for our shoot. Got it from a rental place in Cincy and we're going to drive up to get a tutorial on the install and use prior to shoot.

I got 4 quotes and all were within $300 of each other, so at least rental places agree on the pricing for it..and they all do 3 day weeks....so it's not really that bad price wise.

I'm very excited about using it. I'm assuming you have to shoot 16:9 with the SDX-900 due to the lenses? Is that correct? The SDX-900's chips are 16:9 native and stuff looks better using that anyway.

Thanks

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Todd Terry
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 25, 2009 at 4:26:29 am

Great, Chris... I think you will be happy with that setup.

As for 4:3 vs. 16:9... I dunno. I've never used the SDX-900. You are free to shoot whatever it will, and whatever your project requires. I freely swap between 4:3 SD and 16:9 HD depending on the project needs, and I use very similar primes. That's got nothing to do with the lenses or adapter, and everything to do with the camera. The lenses and adapter will readily do either.

One word of warning: be careful with that setup or you will definitely get hooked once you see the images... and unfortunately that converter is not cheap (about $26,000) and those lenses probably a heckuva lot more than that. That's exactly how I got sucked in... ha. Never looked back though, it's great.

Happy shooting, tell us how it goes.. and post some frames if you get a chance.



T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Chris Blair
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 26, 2009 at 1:07:09 am

Oh I've wanted one since it came out (2002 was it?). I've actually seen some used Pro35s for around $10,000.

We're probably going to have to get an HD camera next year and I'll probably go for a 1/3" with the Pro35mini. You can get entire packages at Zacuto for around $31,000.





Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Todd Terry
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Feb 26, 2009 at 3:45:24 am

Yeah, pretty much...

The Mini35 actually came out first, P+S Technik debuted it in early 2001. I belive the Pro35 came out later that year, or maybe early next.

A Pro35 for $10K???... never seen a deal like that, but if you do... snap it up. That might be one of the older models that doesn't have infinitely variable speeds and a few other improvements.

Interestingly the Mini35 (the one I use, for 1/3" cameras) comes in about about $11,000... while the Pro35 (for 2/3") is $26,000. BUT... the one they have specficially for the Sony EX3 is $20,000, yet it's still a Pro35 with just a different relay lens specifically for the EX3. I think that probably shows there's a lot of fat (i.e., profit) in the Pro35... they do sell it for a lot more to the big-camera shooters pretty much because they can (like so much of the high-end equipment in our biz).

Still, at Rolls Royce prices I have always found everything from P+S Technik to be worth every penny (although I know that I will never be able to justify their $30K snorkle lens relay... although one can dream).

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Mark D'Agostino
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Apr 21, 2009 at 8:37:30 pm

Hi Todd,
Did you have a chance to test the Magic Bullet product? Which suite is it?

Thanks!

Mark D'Agostino
http://www.synergeticproductions.com


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Todd Terry
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Apr 21, 2009 at 9:16:35 pm

Hi Mark...

Yes, just a little...

I believe it's Magic Bullet Suite 2.0... It contains five plug-ins... Colorista, Looks, Steady, Frames, and some kind of HD upscaler whose name escapes me at the moment.

I haven't had call to use any of its "fake DoF" effects yet. I really don't have much need for that since I almost always shoot with a Mini35 and get shallow DoFs when I want them anyway... but some of the other stuff (particularly "Looks") is pretty darn good. It's hard to describe in a short post what all it does, but bascially it allows you to manipulate an image the way you would in both the shooting and post stages... but putting different "filters" in the camera's "virtual matte box," or by changing the virtual film stock, film processing effects (such as bleach bypass), and post production stuff like fairly robust color grading.

Red Giant has a good tutorial on their website that shows a bunch of the features.

On the upside, I'd say that it looks really great. I'm using it in Adobe CS3. In Premiere it works great in STANDARD def. Not so much in high-def (which I think may be an issue with my Matrox AXIO machine). In After Effects it works fine. I will say that it is a little bit sluggish on the rendering side. I use a smokin' fast machine, but the rendering is still a little slow for my taste. I'm spoiled though, usually I don't have to render anything so maybe it seems slower than it is.

It is definitely worth downloading their demo version for a test drive.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Mark D'Agostino
Re: DoF converter Lens Choices
on Apr 22, 2009 at 2:46:27 pm

Thanks Todd. I'll check it out.

Mark D'Agostino
http://www.synergeticproductions.com


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