Thursday, November 12, 2009
#3 Correct Exposure:
Having the correct exposure is one of the most critical aspects of getting the best-looking super8 pictures. There are books written on this subject where you can learn the nuances of lighting and exposure reading. The fundamental issue for super8 filmmakers today is that too many filmmakers are relying on their aging super8 cameras internal exposure system to make this critical setting. Some of these systems were not even that good when they where new, let alone 30 to 40 years down the road. Photography is after all, painting with light. To get your best results, you have to learn about light, how it relates to different film stocks, and how to choose the best exposure setting. My super8 images improved dramatically when I bought an inexpensive light meter (About $75.00) and started taking some readings and doing some experimentation. I found that even the factory settings prescribe by the manufacture of both the film and cameras were not always optimum to make the best-looking Super8 pictures. So many factors affect your exposure. Did you know that your best exposure would be different based on if you are in wide or telephoto on your zoom? For your camera’s internal system to work, it has to be able to recognize the notch system in the super8 cartridge and be calibrated for it to work well. The ASA notches were designed to cover a wide range of ASA original films from 10 to 640 ASA measure in 2/3 stop increments. Some Super8 cameras can only recognize a single setting where others can read all six. None of this means much if the system has not been calibrated in 15years. Once you own a light meter it is possible the do some comparisons if only to understand how your system is working. I use my cameras internal system all the time but I always have my light meter to check and compare settings.
Focusing a lens was such a standard fundamental procedure to taking photos or shooting movies that it is difficult for those of us that grew up with this tradition to understand that today many filmmakers do not need or know how to focus. Good super8 filmmaking depends on good manual focus because there are no auto focus systems. Filmmakers need to spend some quality time understanding it, practicing it and learning when it is the most critical and when they could let their guard down. In the “good old days “a lot of photography was restricted to outdoors because of the slow ASA. Today you can have Super8 with 500 ASA so you can film in some pretty low light. This makes seeing focus more difficult. The original design of super8 cameras did not consider this. If you are going to get good super8 footage, you need to understand focus and depth of field, and practice.
To focus a camera with your eye, the system starts with the correct setting of the cameras internal diopter. Everyone’s’ vision is slightly different so the diopter in a camera calibrates your eye to what the camera is seeing. There are many methods prescribed for setting the diopter. I learned using the infinity approach. You set the focus ring of the lens on infinity and then looking at something far away, you focus the diopter to your eye. There are numbers on every super8 lens that should correlate to the focus distance between the camera and the subject. These make great reference points to check if you are really getting the correct focus by “eyeing” it.
Most super8 cameras (except for Beaulieu) use a range focus systems. (Range Finder) This is not the easiest system to use and without the diopter, set correctly there is little chance of getting correct focus. The difficulty for modern super8 users is that when you look through the super8 camera you do not see all the information for easy focus. In particular, the F-stop or aperture and 85 filters are after where the focus optic is, so you do not see the effect of this on focus.
The other way to approach focus is to understand when it is critical and when its not. When you shoot at full telephoto, (the most zoomed in) and at full aperture (F the smallest number) on a big 10 to 1 super8 zoom the focus depth is less then an inch. This mean if your focus setting is wrong by even the slightest, or you move the camera as little as a few inches, you are out of focus. On the other extreme if your at full wide on the zoom and the smallest aperture (F the largest number) the focus depth is huge, maybe 50 feet or greater. In this situation it doesn’t’ matter where you set the focus you will be in focus.
Since most super8 film is shot in available light, you cannot change that. If you back off a little on that gorgeous lens to a wider setting and use slightly higher ASA film you will find focus to be much easier. At minimum, always make sure to vary your shoots so even if you are wrong you have a chance of having some focused material.
(c) Pro8mm 2009 www.pro8mm.com
Monday, November 9, 2009
A Few tips can go a long way
Parts of my job as senior colorist at Pro8mm, is that I get to scan about a million feet of super8 film each year. In doing so I get to see what is happening in the super8 world with some vantage point based on volume. I look at my work as a two-part job. One, as a creative colorist, trying to get the most information off of the frames for our customers, and second, as an inspector looking for bugs in the over all super 8 process. When I see something that needs improving, I try to see what I can do with the technology at hand to facilitate a positive change. Internally, I can talk to my employees who are the people most responsible for each area and together we try to attack the issue. Externally, it is much more difficult. You have competitive concerns to address, and some companies just do not see these problems as issues the way I might. In addition, there are things that are totally beyond my control that can play a major roll in great looking super8 footage. These things are up to the filmmaker. Each year the technology for scanning film to digital seems to improve, resulting in more things that I can fix. Native 1080 HD film scanning now provides me with tremendous processing power to do many things that were impossible just a year ago. There are new things on the horizon as well, which will give us even greater ability to improve an imperfect image. However, there are a few things that if the filmmaker does not get right, there is very little that can be done to remedy the problem, no matter how much technology you have at hand.
As the years progress the problems seem to change and evolve with each new generation. For those who grew up with film as the main picture-taking medium some things were learned at every juncture of the photographic process. Things such as focus were so common knowledge of that generation that we often forget that this is knowledge that you have to learn. A colleague of mine who teaches filmmaking here in
# 1 Hair in the Gate:
Because of the nature of film and the way it travels through a camera and exposes each frame, the system will build up debris in the gate that if it is allowed to accumulate, and this will block some of the image. The metal gate frames the film with what should be a smooth black border. Because you are running film over metal, it tends to leaves tiny deposits on the gate as the film passes over it. This emulsion residue is a gummy substance that is barely visible to the naked eye. If this is not cleaned, from your camera, from time to time you can have several problems. First, the gummy glue can trap foreign
Substances like hair, lint, and dust and hold it firmly, often where the image is taken in a camera. The result are these ugly black globs which start around the boarder that blocks some of your image usually on the edges but sometimes big enough to block a lot of picture. Depending on the size of these foreign obstacles, a hair in the gate can ruin a shot. In addition, the build up of emulsion can get so bad that your camera can physically scratch the film. The fix for these problems are very simple. Go to the store and purchase a child’s toothbrush. Gently brush a few strokes between every cartridge. Every, single cartridge! It is amazingly simple but incredibly effective. Do not use compressed air as all that will do is blow dirt around and it might blow debris into somewhere you cannot get it out. In addition, compressed air does not often have the force to move the object because remember, it is stuck in place. Do not use a Q-tip, as the chance of leaving a fiber of cotton is greater then the good you will do by performing the cleaning.
If your camera has never been cleaned, you might need to do some more extensive work. Once it is clean, the brush trick is all that should be need to keep you hair free.
#2 the 85 Filter Situation
In the beginning, all super8 film was Tungsten Balance, which means that the film will produce true colors under tungsten light. If you wanted to get correct colors in daylight, you had to use an orange filter called an 85 (sometimes called 85A). For convenience, every Super 8 camera was built with an internal 85 filter. The filter was usually ??? in place because most filming was done outside in daylight. There were some clever ways to take out the filter when you were filming in Tungsten (Interior Light). The filter removal system could be activated by the super8 cartridges notch system, or by a switch, or by sticking something into a place in the camera to take it out or some combination of these things.
Every super8 camera manufacturer had their own idea as to how this should be done. Today, you have dozens of super8 film stocks that can be either daylight or tungsten color balanced. When you film in daylight with daylight film, you do not want to use an 85 filter. At Pro8mm we. have been taking the internal filters out of super8 cameras for many years now. When this is done correctly, it can greatly improve the optical performance of a camera. Today because you can buy daylight film, it is actually inconvenient to have the internal 85 filter. Some film manufacturing companies prescribe to the cartridge notch for 85-filter removal and some do not. The standard for dealing with this 85 thing are a mess, so it is up to you the filmmaker to understand what how you camera handles this and that film you are using the correct film for your filming environment, daylight or tungsten to get this correct. Although you can do some amazing color, correction in post if you do not get this right you will never achieve the brilliance in color your images can have. In addition, all this correcting takes time, which cost money.
(insert photo EXAMPLE: Pro8-85 shot correctly Daylight no filter Shot on New Pro814 Wide. Pro8-80 shot incorrectly attempted fix in post)
What make this a little challenging is in most super8 cameras the 85 was placed behind where it can be seen with the viewfinder optics. If your camera has a switch or you toggle between the two setting for filter in and out you will not be able to see the effect of having the filter in by looking in the viewfinder. The major exception to this would be Beaulieu cameras that have a reflex viewfinder where the entire image path is viable in the viewfinder.
If you do not own a Beaulieu you must open up the camera door where you insert the film and look through the camera body. Put your eye in line with what the film will see. You must run the camera to see through. It also will help if you point the camera at something dark so the exposure system is open, or manually set the camera to exposure wide open. Once you find a position where you can see light through the camera body flip the switch that goes between the 85 filters in and out. You should see the light turn a darker orange when the filter is in. However, you are not done. Take the super8 cartridge you are about to use and put it in the camera. While doing so, look to see if it is flipping and if there is a type of lever in the camera. Now go back to check your camera and make sure that the position the cartridge has not effected the switching. The other approach is to make sure all your settings are correct and the cartridge has the correct notch for the 85 filters. A cartridge with a notch for the 85 filters will not remove the filter. A cartridge without a notch will automatically remove the filter. In some cameras, an external switch can override this, but in others, if the notch removes the 85 filter it cannot be returned with the switch.