Monday, May 2, 2011

Technicolor and DSLR Filmmaking

In my last post, I talked a little about Canon's announcement that Technicolor would be releasing a custom-made Picture Style for Canon DSLRs specifically designed for HD video shooting. The idea is basically to shoot with a flatter, less contrasty picture setting so as to acquire as much information as possible since the camera will significantly compress the video information before writing it to CF or SD cards. Why do this? So you have as much detail to work with when you are ready to color correct your footage. This is something that much nicer, higher end cameras like the RED cameras, the Arri Alexa, or Arri  D21 allow for as they can record or output uncompressed signals.

As I've mentioned before, I have been shooting with similar settings for a while. Specifically, I did all the cinematography for a short film back in November (directed by Raz Cunningham) using the Superflat mode that has been circulating around the Internent. While Superflat did give me plenty of detail to work with, I wasn't happy with what it did with skin tones under certain lighting situations. While the detail level might be great, now we've got even more correction work to deal with just to get our footage to neutral before we push it towards our final look. That's why as of late I have been shooting with my own Picture Style concoction I created using Canon's Picture Style Editor.

Now comes Technicolor's Picture Style just released this past Saturday. So far, my tests with the new Technicolor CineStyle have given me better results. I'll have even more intimate knowledge of how well CineStyle works soon as I will be shooting a short narrative project later this week using the new Technicolor CineStyle. If you want to read more about this new Picture Style and even download it, head over to:

Here is a quick test a friend of mine and very talented DLSR cinematographer, Bryant Naro, shot this weekend using the Technicolor CineStyle on his Canon 7D:

Like I said above, the idea here is to be able to acquire images with as much information or detail as possible. This is by no means a replacement for shooting with better motion picture cameras that can handle raw recording. One of my favorite things about working with footage from the RED One for a project a while back is that I could hop into RED's free program, RED Alert, and quite simply change the ISO of an already recorded file. The information is all there, but if we felt a shot was underexposed, we could actually bring up the ISO and still have a clean, beautiful picture. That certainly is not the case with any DSLR cinematography I've done. And this is just one of many reasons why in regular conversations I have with fellow filmmakers I stress my rather significant reservations about shooting feature films on DSLRs (never mind the fact that 20% of the films at this year's Sundance were DSLR shot).

But, let's face it, we're not all in the position to own or rent cameras like the RED One or Alexa for all of our projects. I am currently engaged in making some bold and fast short films with only the resources readily available to me. Why am I doing this? Two reason: I feel narrative storytelling is a craft I should keep honing and practicing in my pursuit of artistic excellence, and doing such projects provides me new opportunities for potentially creating something great that can be seen by more people and help open up new opportunities for further professional filmmaking. Both of these things have definitely been true of friends of mine who have done what I am doing now.

So, at this present moment, for me, this means shooting with my Canon T2i. Why? Because that's what this broke filmmaker has at his disposal. And tools like Technicolor's CineStyle are certainly very welcome!

I also plan on shooting this new project later this week using Magic Lantern on my T2i. There are several reasons for this. First of all, Technicolor recommends shooting at 160 ISO or a multiple of 160 when using CineStyle. Unfortunately, with Canon's firmware for the T2i, the ISO options are 100, 200, 400, 800, and after that who cares 'cuase it just gets too damn grainy anyway. That means I should in theory only be shooting at ISO 800 if I'm using CineStyle on my T2i. That makes exterior shooting rough, even with my ND filters. So I've opted for Magic Lantern, a third party firmware addition that runs off of SD cards. In addition to giving me many more ISO options, including the 160 multiples recommended for CineStyle, Magic Lantern also gives me many of the functions associated with normal prosumer HD video cameras I am so used to such as zebras, peeking, manual audio, and even different quality settings for the camera's video compression.

If you want to learn more about Magic Lantern, head over to: It is available for the Canon 5D and T2i only at this time. So, 7D, 60D, and T3i shooters are out of luck at the moment.

I plan on blogging more about the process of making this new sci-fi (very) short film as we shoot this week and then enter post-production. So, come on back if you're curious. I will be exploring the ups and downs of working with Technicolor's CineStyle and Magic Lantern.

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