About six years ago, my friend Jae Song, a filmmaker, told me, in
abject astonishment, that with the new HD cameras just coming on the
market it was possible to fit the camera and lighting package for a
feature film into the back of a station wagon.
Today, he's shooting feature-quality HD video in New York bars with
equipment he can fit into a backpack.
The center of his current package is a Canon 7D still and video camera,
fitted with a Canon 1.0 lens. That lens, no longer in production and
hard to find, and the sensitivity of the camera itself allow him to
shoot with ambient light (in bars that aren't too dark to start with)
and come up with footage that looks as good as most stuff you see in
Hollywood movies — better, as often as not, because Jae has an
eye, artistically speaking.
The camera shoots HD video at 1080 resolution and uses the h264
compression codec — an o. k. codec, as far as Jae is concerned but not
Final Cut Pro friendly. He suggests transcoding it before editing.
The key to the look Jae gets, however, is a custom gamma contrast curve
that can be downloaded from the Internet for the camera. Out of the
box, according to Jae, the camera's images are too contrasty, looking
like bad video. The contrast curve he uses gives more info for
highlights and shadows, and thus more options in ambient lighting
situations and in post. The downside, for some, is a softer image than
the one Canon thought people would prefer, but with care it simply
gives the footage more of the feel of film. It works especially well
for Jae in
the bar settings, where the lighting can be harsh at times.
Jae shoots with the lens wide open to 1.0 at all times, at 24 fps,
sometimes varying the ISO and shutter speed slightly according to
Jae doesn't manipulate the images in post — what he gets at the
location, trusting his own instincts about the light and the capacities
of the camera, is exactly what he wants.
A series of short films Jae shot with this camera will be appearing
soon on the Internet. You simply will not believe how good they look.