DPs’ camera mastery proven in Zacuto’s 2012 shootout

Zacuto Camera Rentals’ Emmy winning web doc, The Great Camera Shootout” is back with a revolutionary new twist.

“The Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout 2012,” coproduced with Kessler Cranes and directed by Zacuto’s Steve Weiss, aims to prove that the camera – from leading edge camera systems used to shoot Hollywood blockbusters to Everyman’s iPhone — doesn’t matter.

Rather, it’s the DP’s mastery of his camera and the overall artistic ability to light that makes for beautiful images.

How the test turned out will be revealed in the June 15 premiere of “The Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout 2012” at Zacuto.com

“‘Revenge’ is unlike any other camera test I’ve ever been involved with,” says Zacuto producer, Scott Lynch. “The tools available to us are all capable of creating great looking images, but only if you know how to use them.

Zacuto’s Steve Weiss directed the shootout“The big challenge for us was creating a test that would bring out the real world differences between these cameras.”

Bruce Logan ACS (“Tron”) administered the test.  He created the original Baselight for the set – a man walks through a full dynamic range of lighting, including an exterior window – and a specialist DP/DIT was brought to Chicago to assist with each camera. 

Shot last February at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy and graded at Filmworker’s Club, this year’s shootout features side-by-side camera systems:

Sony F65, demonstrated by Sony representatives; ARRI Alexa, DP Rodney Charters, ASC; RED Epic  Ryan Walters; Sony FS100, Den Lennie and Mick Jones; Sony F3 w/slog, Nancy Schreiber, ASC; Canon C300, Polly Morgan; Canon 7D with Technicolor settings, Michael Negrin, ASC and Panasonic GH2 (hacked and non-hacked), Jonny Zeller and Colt Seman.

Strict rules for camera testing

Since the test’s purpose was to discover how cinematographers creatively solve the limitations of their camera, “We had to create the most level playing field possible and I think the test we devised did just that. It created a series of three shots with myriad challenges for each and every camera,” Logan says.Bruce Logan ASC administered the test

“Each camera was put through exactly the same tests, was shot at a T Stop, and approved by the camera DPs and the manufacturers when participating. All of the cameras used 4k rated zoom lenses to compensate for sensor size,” Logan continues.

“The DPs were then given the opportunity to relight the set under strict perimeters to get the very best out of their cameras. The data from every camera was ‘imported’ into Baselight at native resolutions and color corrected to look as closely as possible to the original set.

“The resultant TIFF files were then resized on the Baselight and the resulting TIFF sequence was used to produce a 2K DCP package in jpeg 2000. I am excited to view the results of this very fair test,” Logan says.

Two sets of tests were devised. In the empirical tests, designed to show differences in various cameras’ abilities to capture images, each of the cameras was used to shoot an identical scene with identical lighting on a stage set.  The camera output was then graded to match a standard look.

In the subjective tests, to show how the cinematographers can take advantage of camera’s strength and weaknesses for creative effect, lighting was used to compensate for the specific dynamics of the individual cameras.

Baselight EIGHT color grading system used

The output was then put through a full, creative color grading process by Filmworkers Club Jimmy Cardenas, with additional grading by colorist Brian “Crash” Carlucci, using a state-of-the-art Baselight EIGHT color grading system.

To assure the tests were fair, notes Filmworkers’ technical director, Todd Freese, “We made sure our pipeline was scientifically perfect and that we were able to handle the output of each camera natively, without transcoding.

“This was not just a test of the cameras, it was also a test of our Baselight. Working with all these different cameras pushed our system to the limits, and it performed beautifully.”

From a colorist’s point-of-view, it was insightful to compare cameras costing in the high five figures with others costing just a few thousand dollars.

“It was interesting to see how each camera reacted to the empirical lighting,” said Cardenas. “You don’t have the same dynamic range in some of the lower end cameras. Getting some of that footage to match the standard look of a high-end camera was a challenge.”

Zacuto will hold 35 theatrical screenings in Hollywood, New York, Chicago, Nashville, Europe and Japan.  Register here for screenings.