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Shooting documentary in ONE focal length.

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Mike Smith
Shooting documentary in ONE focal length.
on Jul 31, 2013 at 2:07:08 am

I'm shooting a documentary in Ibiza later this summer, interviews with DJs, shots of nightclubs, a few filler shots.

I'm looking at good prime lenses within my budget and I'm set on a Samyang (Rokinon or many other names depending on where you are) Cine Lens.

I'm not sure on a 24mm or a 35mm (shooting in Nikon DX format, essentially APS-C) but I'm going to try both out tomorrow.

However, my question is this -
Is it possible to shoot in one focal length? Is it wise to shoot in one focal length? This is a documentary, not an action blockbuster. I need a fast prime (low light in nightclubs) and can't afford more than one. I also have an f/1.8 50mm (very good, but too tight for what I'm after) and a kit lens which goes from 18-55mm but is pretty poor, but will do for a filler shot of a beach for example.

So, argue away. I've never done this before and I'm trying to learn as much as possible. I'm a big fan of primes though, I'm a big believer in moving to get your shot. That said, a fast zoom would be nice, but you're looking at thousands for a versatile zoom even approaching f/2.

Also looking for debate over whether the 24mm or 35mm is better for a crop-sensor. Looking at 35mm because the 50mm is tight, but not extremely so. I like wider shots, but the 24mm is more expensive and I don't think I can justify it for talking heads and footage of clubs and beaches.


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: Shooting documentary in ONE focal length.
on Jul 31, 2013 at 1:56:05 pm

It's possible, but only practical if you have every shot covered. The Sigma has an f/1.8 zoom for APS-C sensors.

Get the Free Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera - one guide to rig them all - DSLRs to Reds to the Arri Alexa.


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John Young
Re: Shooting documentary in ONE focal length.
on Jul 31, 2013 at 2:41:50 pm

I am a big fan of prime lenses as well, but only for situations that suit them.

Could you get away with one focal length? Yes

Is this a traditional documentary style or more of a news documentary style? If it is the latter and you have interviews and then just general B-roll over top of it, then you could make it work with just one focal length. If it is the former and you are capturing the moment as it happens in front of the lens (the DJ setting up his equipment, the DJ in everyday life, the DJ talking to fans), then a zoom is going to be very handy.

Think of it this way. If a DJ is interacting with a fan and you want to capture it 'in the moment'. With a zoom you get a medium two shot, quickly zoom in to a close up, zoom out for a wide shot. Then you can probably cut all that together to make a sequence. With a prime you are going to have to change you camera position and (most likely) angle as well. During that time you may have lost the 'moment' and the fan and DJ are just finishing their hug and the fan is walking away.

Would I advise it? No

You know your project and your equipment needs better than anyone, but I would think about whether this project, and future projects would be better served by having a nice cine lens or by having a variety of focal lengths. A variety of focal lengths will give you a variety of shots which will, by most anyone's measure, make your project more interesting, and by extension better.

I guess I assume in all this that this is a one-camera shoot. Your post didn't mention any other cameras. If it is a multi-camera shoot, then disregard everything I just said. That is where primes can be really utilized well.

John

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Mark Suszko
Re: Shooting documentary in ONE focal length.
on Jul 31, 2013 at 2:56:22 pm

Don't call it a zoom... it's a "variable prime".


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Mike Smith
Re: Shooting documentary in ONE focal length.
on Aug 1, 2013 at 2:46:20 am

Thanks for the responses, especially John, it means a lot that someone takes the time to invest such advice.

To answer your first question, it is largely the former.

To give a brief synopsis -

This is a documentary on the clubbing scene in Ibiza. I'm sure most of you have heard how it's the nightclub/EDM capital of the world. But there's no good documentary on it. There's a great docu now on Youtube (but it pre-dates Youtube by about 3 years) called "Ibiza's Children" which is very basic, but has the basic feel of what I'm after. I don't want to criticise it, but there's too much focus on just a few people talking to camera, nevermind the terrible quality after a decade of re-encoding across the internet.

So my documentary will be similar - loads of DJs (I've already got a VERY busy week lined up!) who will simply be asked to give their thoughts on Ibiza and what it means to them. I'll also be asking people out and about in the clubs, on the beaches, on boat parties, etc. For this, I just need a good lens for a "talking head" style shot. The daytime shots on beaches and boats aside, I also need a fast lens, because clubs are largely dark, and while I've got interviews lined up, some will likely be in some back room in a club, some could be very rushed depending on people's schedules. People in clubs themselves will be asked for their opinion in similar dark situations.

So aside from "talking heads", it'll be a few shots of a sunset, some of a beach, some of the clubs themselves.

And to kind of put the brakes on this - Today I bought the Samyang 35mm T/1.5 lens, and it is stunning.

I've been watching some random footage taken in my house and garden, and it has answered everything I need to know. Low-light performance is astounding, the focus is spectacular, and it's so sharp and crisp that my eyes started bleeding.

This is exactly what I needed, a fast prime. And I can't recommend it enough.

BTW - The Sigma Zoom looks amazing, and it may prove I've wasted my money (at f/1.8 across the range, that is a real possibility) but it's still on pre-order and I won't be able to get one in time.


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John Young
Re: Shooting documentary in ONE focal length.
on Aug 2, 2013 at 2:07:50 pm

Good Luck with the shoot.
Please share your results when you are finished. I am especially interested in hearing about your experience with the Rokinon Cine lenses. The 14mm T3.1 has been on my radar for a while.

Let us know what works and what doesn't for your shoot.

John

John Young
Surrounding Media
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