Panasonic AU-EVA1; my next cinema camera?

The big preview of Panasonic's newest cinema camera, seated comfortably between Varicam LT and GH5, happened at Cine Gear Expo in Los Angeles Friday afternoon. Introducing the Panasonic AU-EVA1. I am astounded at how many of my needs EVA1 checks off my list for a cinema camera upgrade. She also added a few things to the list I couldn't have imagined I'd be able to personally afford in a new cinema camera. EVA1 winds up being a miniature Varicam LT, without the Varicam badge, price, or weight. The specs previewed so far are jaw-dropping.

EVA1 will feature Varicam colorimetry, proper V-Log and V-Gamut. It's DCI 4K will be subsampled from a bran-new 5.7K Super 35 sensor, recording to an internal 10-bit 4:2:2 Intra codec at up to 400Mbps on SDXC cards (I will probably want to invest in the new V-class). It will also, eventually, output 5.7K raw over SDI and/or HDMI. It will work with DVX200 batteries. It will do 4K up to 60fps, as well as 2K up to 240fps. Still being tweaked, EVA1 will have some flavor of dual native ISO, probably close to Varicam LT's settings of 800 and 5000. It has built-in ND, EIS, and a swing-away IR cut filter. The top handle, LCD, and side grip, are removable and repositionable. It also sports an active EF lens mount that most likely will be able to communicate with most fly-by-wire EF lenses and be able to control them with buttons on the camera body for iris and auto focus, if you're into that sort of thing. Also, EVA1 is not bad to look at. The button layout is nice and the black-with-red-trim motif is sexy.

My teeny-tiny complaint is that the EF mount is not a positive-locking one. Would that keep me from favoring EVA1 over, say, Blackmagic's Ursa Mini Pro? Nope. Not at all. In fact, the only thing BMUMP has going for it now is it's interchangeable mount system. That's about it. Every other tick goes in EVA1's favor. With the EF-mount, I will be able to utilize my set of SLR Magic APO Hyperprime Cine T2.1 25/50/85mm PL-mount lenses as I have a lovely EF-PL adapter that works extremely well. As I am also a stills photographer who uses Canon equipment, EVA1 should work beautifully with my little collection of medium-fast EOS "L" zoom lenses.

EVA1's price, which Panasonic says will be 'under $8,000', is enticing. Ursa Mini Pro's price ($5,995), plus Shoulder Mount Kit ($395), 256GB Cfast2 card ($580), V-mount battery plate ($95), and a 14.8V 95Wh battery ($247), comes in at a bit more than $7,311 as a working system. "Under $8,000" could literally mean "$7,999," but everything in the box is what I'd need. All I have to buy at that point is a few V90 SDXC cards which are far less expensive than Cfast2 cards. The batteries I already use with DVX200 will work for EVA1, as will my custom shoulder mount kit I slapped together with components from SmallRig and Zacuto.

Speaking of "competition", Canon recently announced it's new EOS C200. Basically an 8-bit 4:2:0 35Mbps camcorder that primarily shoots 4K in a compressed version of Canon's proprietary raw format, utilizing the EOS C700 sensor, at a measly 150Mbps. The lackluster announcement was, for me, a momentary diversion for a product which I don't find appealing. Later, Sony announced they had a thousand personnel working on a new 135-format ("full frame") sensor CineAlta that'll come out at some point in a few years, be really expensive, and will prove to be a PITA to pull focus on. No thanks.

It's also no small thing that EVA1 is petite: less than 7" long, and less than 6" wide and tall. She also weighs less than 3lbs. She's pretty much perfect for jib and stabilizer work, as well as being outfitted for heavier rig work, but with a total rig weight of "not very much" since EVA1 already is light as a feather. A few extra pounds won't make a lot of difference, I don't think. I'm sure she'll be quite strong as I've always been impressed with Panasonic's build quality. To put it bluntly (and to echo a joke from the movie "Airplane"), I like my cameras the way I like my women: petite, smart, strong, and black...with red trim. Joking aside, I think EVA1 is an absolute winner.

A few niggles: it's unclear at this point what the exact dual native ISO specs will be. We also have no idea what the new sensor's dynamic range will be, or if AU-EVA1's image quality will be anywhere near par to the AU's sister Varicam line. We also don't know what the actual MSRP or street price will be. Some other people are very interested in EVA1's ability to auto focus with EF lenses, as well as what it's OIS compatibility will be. I'm not personally interested in either of these functions, so it's not really a thing, but some people are concerned so, for them, it's worth mentioning. What is of concern to me is how the internal codecs will all play with each other, as well as what sort of sensor cropping are we looking at depending on codec, recording format, frame rates, etc. But, these are all little things that Panasonic is tweaking and will disclose in full before the camera ships this fall. Again, I'd prefer a locking EF mount, but having a bayonet version is not a deal breaker.

Is the Panasonic AU-EVA1 my next cinema camera? I believe EVA1 could be a stellar addition to my small family of motion picture cameras, partially retiring my Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and allowing my Panasonic AG-DVX200 to focus on what it does best: reality/ENG work. It would be my intent for EVA1 to handle the TVCs, music videos, shorts, and feature films that come my way. I can't wait to see what EVA1's official specs will be when they are announced later this year. Panasonic says EVA1 is on track to be released by the end of 2017. I still need to see footage to be sure, but I'm looking forward to holding her in my hands soon and seeing what she's made of. That's when I'll really know.


Siempre Natural TV Commercial Shoot

Earlier this year I was asked by Jerry Medina, principle of advertising agency Aviso Media Group, to photograph a new campaign of television commercials for Siempre Natural, a quick-service restaurant franchise, in Mexico and Texas, with a menu they describe as ‘American with a Mexican Flair’. Siempre Natural serves wraps, pitas, yogurts and salads with natural fruit drinks. To promote the healthy (and tasty) brand, the new spots would need to be as colorful, fresh, and fun, as their food. After discussing the desired style of the spots with Jerry, we began prep. It was decided we would need at least three bilingual employees, plus 15-20 extras.

DVX200 with GenusTech mattebox, Atomos Ninja Blade, and SmallHD AC7-SDI, on a Sachtler head.

This past Friday evening, I met with Jerry and representatives of the client at the North 10th location in McAllen, Texas. We discussed our intentions for the weekend shoot and formulated our plans. I scouted the location with my iPhone 7 Plus, Cadrage, a director's finder app, Cine Meter II, a light meter app, and Sky Guide, an app very useful for predicting the travel of our sun. Cadrage, a French word meaning 'framing', is very useful as it can emulate the field of view of any combination of camera and lens. Once the pre-viz images have been recorded, a PDF shot list can be created and emailed to anyone on the production team. Production would commence Saturday morning from 7 to 11 AM, and Sunday morning 9 AM to 12 noon.

6x6' butterfly, a redhead kicker and a mini flood exposing the background. Note the black muslin severely cutting the outside light.

When I arrived Saturday morning, I ordered the front, Eastward-facing windows and glass door, covered in black muslin to avoid fighting color temperatures and morning shadows. Unhappy with the weak punch and short throw of my available LED lights, I had recently created an old-school tungsten light kit for use on an upcoming short film. Consisting of three Strand Ianiro 1000 'redheads', as well as the Strand version of what Arri calls a 'mini flood', I immediately put the new-to-me kit to use on the production of these TV spots.

Two redheads punch through the artificial silk, plus a third with 216 as a kicker.
I can't believe all this stuff fits in my Nissan Sentra.

The Ianiro redheads are proper 1k tungsten open-face focus-flood lights and need to be softened for flattering closeups. I would generally punch two redheads through a 6x6" butterfly of artificial silk. On closeups and direct-to-camera standups I would use a small, bi-color, LED Obie light set at 3200º Kelvin with just enough punch to lighten up the shadows. Backgrounds would be lit with the mini flood, plus another redhead through 216 for a kicker.

DVX200 with GenusTech mattebox, Atomos Ninja Blade, and SmallHD AC7-SDI, on a Sachtler head.

I opted to shoot the footage with my Panasonic AG-DVX200 video camera. Needing at least 1080/24p ProRes 422 10-bit to pull a grade from the camera's Varicam V-log L and 10-bit 4:2:2 output, I recorded the footage externally to my Atomos Ninja Blade, and monitored the footage with my SmallHD AC7-SDI on-camera field monitor. Preferring physical filtration, I used DVX200's built-in neutral density for exposure, plus a Tiffen Black Pro-Mist 1/2 to take the digital edge off.

Harley delivers her lines in a closeup. I used an LED Obie light to soften up her shadows.

We did not have the time we needed to sweeten every shot as much as I would have enjoyed, but I think the photography is dynamic and colorful enough to squelch any nags. Also, I believe the 12 stops of dynamic range afforded by the DVX200's V-log L, as well as the 10-bit 4:2:2 recording via the Atomos Ninja Blade, help by giving me plenty of room to grade the footage reasonably well in post.

The spots will be cut and graded in Final Cut Pro X. Overall, I am happy with how they are turning out.

Working With LUTs

A member of DVXuser posted a question about LUT workflow and this was my answer.

My basic workflow is prep, shoot, ingest, edit, mix (sound), color (where you apply the LUT and do your coloring), deliver and pray. It is more complicated than that, but I want to keep things simple. Well, actually...

First, what is a LUT? A 'Look Up Table' is a way of ascribing to a digital image the way colors are mapped or those values are assigned. They can describe how 'yellow' orange is, for example. Colors evoke a mood and it is part of the psychology that goes into setting the tone of a show using the visual language of that show which is a combination of production design, lighting, composition, blocking (both talent and camera) and stage direction, performance (including timing, expression and blocking), even goes as deep as the 'flow' of the show; i.e., where the cuts go and how they relate to the performance and the camera moves, etc...since those should be planned and shot for on-the-day. This whole 'fix it in post' thing is a crutch, but I digress. Also, 'flow' is part of 'tone' and is different from 'workflow'.

Speaking of 'workflow': there are a lot of different ways to go about this and answers are generally subjective depending on a bunch of parameters. Basically, you need to find a workflow you prefer and one that keeps your clients happy. Some folk like the look of logarithmic footage without processing of any kind. Other folk grade it so much it looks like terrible, cheap consumer video. Most of the professional stuff you see in broadcast media and movie theaters are graded in some way. Only occasionally do you come across some old-school film peeps who create the look both on the day via filmstock, filters and gels, and in the lab, avoiding a DI process altogether. That's 'Digital Intermediate', by the way: the phase the edited footage goes through the coloring process, usually with the colorist in some combination with the show's DP, producer or director. 'Digital' because it's done on computer, and 'Intermediate' because it is the process between editing and duping – 'duplication'...lots of stuff newbies need to look up.

The basic workflow stems from the idea that you generally shoot something with the intent of it looking a certain way which is planned between the script-writing phase and the production phase; usually to help the visual language of a show (read: movies, music videos, TV series with any number of different styles or genres on display) evoke an emotional response from its intended audience. The visual language of the show as a whole, or sequences within the show, or scenes within the sequences within the show as a whole, or individual shots within the scenes within the sequences within the show as a whole, can be treated visually different from each other, but generally a show develops its basic look and style within its first few seconds to ground the audience and establish something we like to call 'tone'. Establishing the show's tone goes a long way to help suspend the audience's disbelief and allow them to either enjoy your show or change the channel. That is why you can not start watching a movie from the middle and why comedies are generally broadly lit with saturated colors and dramas usually have a lot of shadows with muted colors.

Sometimes you want to break up sections of your show (like dramatic acts or sequences or scenes) with different palettes but the general tone of a show should be consistent throughout. I shall use the classic fantasy adventure film "The Empire Strikes Back" as an example. It starts with a cold environment with lots of whites and blues; the good guys have bits of orange intercut with the militaristic bad guys' grays and deep blacks. The second act has deep greens, reds and oranges, with the third act becoming much colder, all intercut with those grays and deep blacks of the bad guys. All of it has a slightly cool look with desaturated highlights and midtones with shadows that like to dip into blue. It is a generally blue-ish movie: cold and subjective, which aid the film's anxious tone...but without becoming depressing. When our heroes finally admit their love for one another, the camera is closer and the orange and reds of the room penetrate the scene. "Empire" is the most dramatic of the Star Wars movies, and a terrific film by itself (how I prefer it) which I encourage you to watch with the sound muted. In fact, you need to start watching everything with muted sound. If you can't follow along, then it's not good storytelling.

"You have to learn why things work on a starship." – Captain James T. Kirk

Once you have the tone in mind and have established what sections should look like what without betraying that tone you want the show to establish, then you go about testing different films, cameras, lenses, filters, lights, gobos and intermediate processes (where LUTs come in) along with production design such as wardrobe, the colors of the sets, makeup, props, etc...and combinations of all of that – with talent, or at least stand-ins – to ensure the tone you're going for will be served. Or, you watch a movie or two and decide that you want your movie to look like someone else's movie, but better-er-er. Whatever. Point is: come up with the show's tone before you shoot.

Nowadays it is all very simple because you can have video reference monitors with the ability to import LUTs so you can pretty much see what the final show will sorta look like on the day. You generally light with a style that considers the tone and look and feel of the show and the LUT is a part of that. Seeing it on the day in the monitor is nice but should not be the only thing. It is merely a guide for everyone else except the DP who should know better and understand that, despite the base LUT, the show will still need to be properly graded and shots individually tweaked or corrected.

There is this neat vignette on the collector's edition of David Fincher's excellent "Seven" where his go-to colorist shows examples of coloring that special edition of the film for home video release in what film critic Jeff Shannon described as "a fascinating exploration of the audio remixing and video remastering process, demonstrating the subtleties of digital color and tone manipulation." It uses the final scene as an example: shots done days or weeks apart and show with various lenses and lighting conditions all need to match so they look like the scene takes place all in the same place at the same time. That's what coloring is all about. A LUT will help you get there, but you still need to have an understanding of what's going on outside.

A LUT is simply another tool in the box.

What I am saying is you can not shoot something and then apply a LUT willy-nilly like it is a magic potion that will make everything look legit. You have to plan, you have to shoot for that plan and then execute the plan. You marry into it...even if it was the wrong decision; you commit. Because you would rather spend two years making a movie than two hours watching one. I digress, and no it is not a simple answer at all. A LUT is simply another tool in the box. Logarithmic profiles are another tool. Variable frame rates, DCI 4K and servo zooms are other tools. They all work together to serve the show – whatever it is – whatever message you are trying to say, story you are trying to tell or feeling you want to make the audience feel.

They are only tools and you need to learn them.

Once you know the rules, then you can start breaking them and that is where the fun begins. That is when you can tell a story backwards or use visual metaphors or whatever. That is why experimental films are usually shot by amateurs simply learning their craft, whereas when an established filmmaker creates an experimental film they are usually more coherent. They are better at using their tools to do what they want them to do; build the house that they want to build. Then we can prattle on about foundations like concept, idea, story, script, etc.

It is true the best LUT in the world can not fix broken footage, but also the best footage in the world can not fix a bad performance, bad direction or a bad script. They are all pieces to this enormous puzzle...even when you are just shooting a few interviews, stuff needs to be considered. You need good sound, good light, good composition, good answers, good questions, a motive. You do not simply show up and shoot without looking at the location and deciding whether to use the windows or not, the desk or not, that lamp on the table or not. Movies do the same thing except they consider that on paper and then design and build their sets with the intention of it all serving the style and tone of the movie that helps tell the story in the most appropriate way. That is what it is all about: being appropriate in regard to how the story is told.

That is what it is all about: being appropriate in regard to how the story is told.

Getting back to it: you can certainly ingest your footage, apply your LUT and color, export the graded footage and import that footage into your editor and go from there. Or, you can round-trip by editing the footage, exporting the timeline into a grading software where you do the coloring and then take that back into the editor to tweak and export deliverables. Or, have a one-app solution where you can both edit and color at once on the same timeline in the same app. Apple's Final Cut Pro and Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve come to mind.

I use FCPX 10.2.3 which does not natively support Panasonic's V-log (Varicam) or V-log L (DVX200, GH4) at this time, though you may use another flavor of log-to-REC.709 it does support, such as Canon's C-log. Regardless, you still need to process your footage. For more precise controls there are a number of plug-ins available to grant FCPX the ability to assign LUTs and subsequently correct and grade footage. I use LUT Utility with FCPX's Color, or Color Finale Pro from Color Grading Central.

"Beach Cop" Kickstarter video delivered

Fifty Oars is pleased to deliver the amusing promotional video for independent film Beach Cop. A production of Pump House Films, the producers of Beach Cop are seeking financial backers to appropriately shoot and finish the family-friendly movie this summer in south Texas. Check out their Kickstarter page for more information and to see the video.