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Stephen Baldassarre

Do Current Cameras not have Viewfinders?

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I keep reading that the main reason many people want to shoot UHD or 4K is for re-framing in post. Now, I would like to change SOMETHING about just about every video/film I produce, but framing is seldom one of them. Why is reframing so important that it warrants 4x the storage and processing power? I could only conclude that a lot of DPs have a hard time making decisions when put on the spot or that their viewfinders are inaccurate. Am I missing something?

 

Not trying to be rude, just genuinely curious.

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For me, the extra data is completely worth the ability to crop in for a quick fix without losing detail. Also helps for things like post stabilization. Especially handy when doing a single camera web series or something.

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I don't believe in post reframing as a general principle, the original composition must have some authority and be respected... however, occasionally a shot has to be reframed, hopefully mildly... post-stabilization is one reason, or the best performance take has something on the edge of frame that shouldn't have been there, maybe the mic dipped in or the operator caught the movie light or flag during a move, or someone mistakenly stepped into the background, etc.

 

If you are finishing in HD then maybe shooting 4K just for post-stabilization is a bit overkill but not many cameras offer something in between like 3K.

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There are also often major political reasons on set you shoot a shot (or don't) in a certain way and moments where the "we can punch in in post" comes up in serious conversations between people on set.

It's not that a single individual has a problem making choices, but film and framing isn't generally an individual act (least of all with cameras as made today where you have an audience watching each shot "through the viewfinder")

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I'm constantly re-framing in post. It's not a "cinematography" thing or has anything to do with the photography side of things, it's all about post production.

 

As someone who edits most of the time, I can attest to the countless hours I've spent re-tooling scenes in post. Generally directors first go-to, is to re-frame because it allows them to maybe use a better performance in the wide, to a medium where it seems more intimate.

 

Shooting in 4k doesn't really matter, most movies are distributed in 2k anyway, so shooting at 3.2k with an Alexa is fine. You just want a little bit of wiggle room so you can work the image in post, that's all.

 

The point's above are all very accurate as well.

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Not a fan of the notion that the original composition made on set has no value -- considering the thought and care I usually spend to create that frame -- plus I don't think in general that most shots that get punched into look well-composed, they just look tighter. Imagine if someone took "The Godfather" and zoomed into it and created a bunch of new shots; it would not have the visual power it currently has. Nor would a John Ford movie.

 

Filmmaking is more than chopping a bunch of close-ups together -- and it's today's inability by many directors to learn to love wider framing that drives me nuts.

 

Plus if you need a medium shot, then shoot a medium shot, and if you need a close-up, then shoot a close-up. Creating all the coverage in post by zooming into a master is just lazy directing, like they couldn't figure out how to cover the scene on set.

 

The occasional reframing, for a variety of reasons, is not unexpected but no one becomes good at staging and composition by not practicing that skill on the set, but leaving it until post, any more than you become a good still photographer by not thinking of your composition until after you take the picture. Imagine how poor an actor would be if they never made any choices but just gave you a dozen versions on every set-up and then told you to create whatever performance you wanted later in editing.

 

To me, that's what all art comes down to -- making choices and learning from them. If all your choices can be easily changed in post, then you never learn what works and doesn't work because you never suffer any consequences for your choices.

 

So for pragmatic reasons, I accept the occasional need to reframe, but hopefully minimally, but I don't think it should be the way you should approach shooting a scene, to leave the art of composing until post. In post, you can't adjust the angle of the camera and the arrangement of objects, all you can do is enlarge what was shot.

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I view it far more as a technical trick in the bag as opposed to a creative method. Like cropping out booms/equipment. Or if doing a documentary, trying to emphasize a subject in the frame a tad bit better.

 

If I could ask the OP, is your work primarily narrative shorts/features? If so then I understand the confusion.

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I think also there is a big difference between narrative films and documentaries, interviews, industrials, etc.

 

In narrative filmmaking, action is usually blocked to the camera. There's time to discuss the shots and to design compositions into a sequence. Almost everything in the frame is intentional. So to re-frame these compositions is to effectively re-design the sequence in post.

 

Sometimes, that's necessary to make a sequence work. But usually not very often if the scene has been shot and directed well. If a shot has been re-framed in post, 99% of the time that is not the DP's choice - it's usually either the editor or the director making that call.

 

On the other hand, in documentary work and especially interviews, you often cannot control the frame to the same degree. Actions are not repeatable. And if you do not have multiple cameras for interviews, punching in is sometimes the only way to cut without resorting to b-roll or jump cuts.

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Totally agree with the Sat.. as above..

 

If I were a DP or operator on narrative /commercial where time and consideration has been spent to set up a shot.. I would be furious if it was changed and it would reflect very badly on a director who didnt have the courage of their own convictions.. any film doing that in post is in big trouble already.. (except getting rid of stands /mics etc)

 

Its frequently done in corps.. mostly for interviews.. and stabilization .. but even on that level I get pissed off to see small creep zooms .. or little pans for no reason that have been put in in post.. doesn't matter so much there are no credits.. but if I were a DP on films and my name was on it.. I wouldn't want someone changing the damn frame from wide to mid shots because the dir couldn't judge a good performance from his/her actors..

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I'm a big fan of adding a little zoom in or out in post to heighten a moment. And for interviews in particular, I think having additional resolution to crop into is a huge boon for editing purposes.

Greater resolution has some specific advantages. I hardly think it undercuts the importance of composition though.

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If the trend for watching on phones or other tiny screen devices continues then I suppose it could be possible to reframe the movie for a phone version where it is mostly close ups! hah hah!

 

I think the trend at the moment is to shoot more close ups as the big screen experience seems to be becoming less significant sadly.

 

Freya

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Oddly enough, in narrative television, the trend has been to frame wider than in the past due to the fact that so many people watch on large TV monitors, so the framing is now more or less the same as for features. Plus shooting a bunch of tight close-ups is considered to be too "TV" by a lot of showrunners and producers so directors are actually discouraged from doing that.

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Plus if you need a medium shot, then shoot a medium shot, and if you need a close-up, then shoot a close-up. Creating all the coverage in post by zooming into a master is just lazy directing, like they couldn't figure out how to cover the scene on set.

See, that's what I feel (though I'm starting to find that not many people know what a "medium shot" etc. is anymore). I was electrician on a feature a few years ago and the DP was really angry that zooms and crops were done in post (which he only discovered at the premier) rather than being asked to shoot that way on-set. Just because there's more pixels than the output medium doesn't mean the glass has the resolving capability either, so even something like a 1.5:1 crop can yield a softer look than having used a 1.5x longer lens, despite being shot with 2x the output resolution.

 

 

If I could ask the OP, is your work primarily narrative shorts/features? If so then I understand the confusion.

For the last few years, it's been 95% documentary work. Before that, it was narratives and commercials.

 

 

Its frequently done in corps.. mostly for interviews.. and stabilization .. but even on that level I get pissed off to see small creep zooms .. or little pans for no reason that have been put in in post.. doesn't matter so much there are no credits.. but if I were a DP on films and my name was on it.. I wouldn't want someone changing the damn frame from wide to mid shots because the dir couldn't judge a good performance from his/her actors..

Digital zooms/pans are usually fairly obvious, depending on the resizing algorithm used. You can see the pixels changing. Even with something like stabilization, you can get rid of the shake but not the motion blur and rolling shutter artifacts from the shake. It's better to shoot a stable shot. I imagine a lot of stuff being shot on small, lightweight equipment is part of the problem there, because people do some amazing things with hand-held 35mm or 2/3" 3-CCD cameras that needed no tweaking in post.

While we're at it, I know a lot of DPs are pissed about all the stupid things people do in grading, often to the point where it doesn't look real anymore, certainly not what the DP intended. I understand correcting minor exposure errors or difference in color between one lens and another, but not changing the entire look of the movie without the DP's involvement.

Edited by Stephen Baldassarre
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Well its 4K for HD delivery so these little zooms,pans.. although I dont like them myself .. are not really doing any noticeable damage to the image.. actually I was going to post the same comment as Dave re Freya,s post.. doc,s too we often now tend to shoot wider angles and very wide landscapes due to the average tv now being huge... compared to say 5-10 years ago the you would never do it as all the details would be so small..

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If it's a very slow and short zoom-in, I'd almost rather it be done digitally these days -- then I don't have to switch to a slower zoom lens and hope that the zoom kicks in at the right moment of the performance and zooms smoothly enough. I've gone through many zoom motors and microforce controls on some shows just trying to get a creeping zoom to start smoothly, and have had the best performance take marred by a rough or mis-timed zoom start.

 

Of course, anything other than a minor creep-in I'd rather do optically.

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Oddly enough, in narrative television, the trend has been to frame wider than in the past due to the fact that so many people watch on large TV monitors, so the framing is now more or less the same as for features. Plus shooting a bunch of tight close-ups is considered to be too "TV" by a lot of showrunners and producers so directors are actually discouraged from doing that.

 

 

Wow, that's really cool to hear. It must mean there's some sort of evidence that the majority of people aren't watching this stuff on their phones, which is very encouraging.

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I've gone through many zoom motors and microforce controls on some shows just trying to get a creeping zoom to start smoothly, and have had the best performance take marred by a rough or mis-timed zoom start.

I wouldn't even try to do that with a motorized zoom. Smooth starts are always a problem. I prefer to dolly when possible rather than zoom (I don't even have a zoom lens for my 35mm camera and the zoom for my S16 camera stays at home) but if I must do a zoom (like for 2/3" doc video work), it's via purely mechanical control.

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For the interview-based videos I've done, I usually shot the interviews in 4K and finished in 1080 so I can add slow zooms or punch in for close-ups. For narrative work a post-zoom would only be a last resort to be used rarely, if at all.

 

If you want the benefits of oversampling without having a ton of data, you could use a camera with a higher resolution sensor that records at 1080 or 2K.

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I don't think I'd done a production in the last 10 years that hasn't included some sort of post reframe. In my case its usually minor since I do always strive to shoot it on set in the best way possible and plan the compositions carefully. So in my case its less about cheating coverage with a massive punch in.

 

However I've found due to the limitations of time, budget, talent, skill - there are always a few shots that would benefit from work in post to resize. Working quickly on a DLSR with a rubbish viewfinder on run and gun doco, I'm not going to respect the frame if I can make it better in post.

 

4k helps you do a better job + the ability to oversample why not. I've certainly jumped onto 4k on the shots I know I have to resize - when i want a big close up and I'm sitting on the MOD of a lens thats not long enough - I plan for the crop in post.

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It's a bit humourous to hear how spoiled everyone has become. Complaints about slow zooms, zooming in/zooming out

that was not smooth enough even with motors, etc. Think of all the legendary movies shot with T3.9 25-250 zooms, 50 ASA

or 100 ASA stocks, and hand zooming or more primitive zoom motors, and no one bitched back then.

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Wow, that's really cool to hear. It must mean there's some sort of evidence that the majority of people aren't watching this stuff on their phones, which is very encouraging.

 

 

Sadly that might be a bit of a jump but some stuff is destined for TV and the movies and some stuff is made with internet and phones in mind, so I get the impression it is going in two directions with stuff like Netflix and broadcast TV trying to be more cinema like and a lot stuff made with more internetty ideas in mind (I'm not sure there is a word for what I mean) being made with an eye to smaller devices.

 

Freya

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Well its 4K for HD delivery so these little zooms,pans.. although I dont like them myself .. are not really doing any noticeable damage to the image.. actually I was going to post the same comment as Dave re Freya,s post.. doc,s too we often now tend to shoot wider angles and very wide landscapes due to the average tv now being huge... compared to say 5-10 years ago the you would never do it as all the details would be so small..

 

 

It's a really good point that you and David make and TV's are likely to get even bigger I suspect.

 

I also like the way that everyone neatly stepped over the really awful and horrible thing I said or implied at the start of that post... but lets not go there! ;)

 

Freya

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I saw today a 55 inch 4K TV for approx $500 !! .. not a well known brand.. at least not one of the usual suspects.. although they are no doubt made in the same factories in China, till Sony et el put a sticker on the front in Tokyo and jack the price up.... but these things are getting cheaper by the day.. and the 55 inch was looking small in the show room.. !..and the picture look fine to me..

 

There has to be a limit I guess.. but now 55/65 inch tv, s are pretty much the norm it seems.. my kids watch youtube rubbish stuff on their phones.. but films or drama on at least a computer screen.. and mostly a TV.. I think even kids don't want to watch a film on their phone.. so far anyway..!! and seems like cinemas might have to get way bigger screens to keep their audiences too...

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I don't believe in post reframing as a general principle, the original composition must have some authority and be respected.

 

Totally agree with David. Movie cameras with elaborate viewfinders, an image aspect ratio chosen for composition, there is nothing to doctor with. If there is something old school about filmmaking, something of consistency, it is perspective, focal length, distance, and framing. Everything else belongs in the modern times basket, even sound. I’m an old fart but no fool, everything modern times is not good per se. To explain myself more clearly: you cannot shoot a classic like The Third Man or The Lady From Shanghai in 16:9 or reframed by somebody else than the DoP. One can’t even enjoy Chaplin’s Modern Times on a pixel screen. One kills films with computers.

 

I said films.

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It's a bit humourous to hear how spoiled everyone has become... Think of all the legendary movies shot with T3.9 25-250 zooms, 50 ASA

or 100 ASA stocks, and hand zooming or more primitive zoom motors, and no one bitched back then.

Many movies were shot without zooms. I also know of some classics that were shot using a single prime lens, like "20,000 Leagues..."

What about "Barry Lyndon" which had scenes lit entirely by candles on 100 ISO film? I'm not a fan of that movie but there's no doubt of its cinematic beauty.

I actually think being stuck with lower ISOs can have advantages. It forces people to compose and light better rather than what a lot of people do now, which is show up on-scene with little/no lighting and relying on electronics to make the image work. I said it elsewhere my go-to stock for indoor AND outdoor shoots was 7217 because it was so sharp and low-grain. I really miss it. The last shoot I did on location was with a camera that was NATIVELY 800 ISO, and not "marketing ISO" like BM but the actual ISO. It was an F16 day so I was really struggling to get in the sweet spot of the lens, even with an ND filter.

On a side note, I can't for the life of me figure out why 400+ ISO still film would be daylight balanced. If you want to shoot indoors, you have to use an 80a filter, effectively making it 200 ISO.

 

I saw today a 55 inch 4K TV for approx $500 !!

More evidence that marketing is more important than quality. I gladly paid a lot more for a mere 1920x1080 TV because there simply wasn't any denying it had the best image. Most people simply think "more pixels is better", like why cell phone image sensors have 12-20MP when more than 6MP or so is actually detrimental to quality due to dynamic range and limitations of the lens.

 

 

To explain myself more clearly: you cannot shoot a classic like The Third Man or The Lady From Shanghai in 16:9 or reframed by somebody else than the DoP. One can’t even enjoy Chaplin’s Modern Times on a pixel screen. One kills films with computers.

 

I said films.

You sort of touched on two big pet peeves of mine: One is producers etc. changing the DP's content in post, often without his knowledge or input. I've witnessed it first hand at premieres when the DP goes "that's not how I shot it!" or a grip saying "it looked so good on the studio monitors, now it looks like an Instagram filter."

 

The other is people who aren't even competent at video production calling what they do "films". I cringe every time I hear one call themselves a "filmmaker". I want to go "You have no idea what being a filmmaker means. You don't have the basic knowledge or equipment required to do a proper job. Have you ever even touched film? You don't understand the workflow and you cheapen the entire industry by claiming to be a part of it." Of course, I don't actually say that. I just keep referring to their work as "video" and watch them get annoyed. I don't really care, they harm the industry by producing inferior product while cutting into clientele that could have gone to reputable businesses. I spend countless hours cleaning up their messes too. I recently had to prep a video for projection in a 400-seat venue. Not a single shot was within legal values and the dialogue AVERAGED -6dBfs RMS. Nothing would have made it look/sound good but at least I could get levels within standard. Most of them don't understand lighting, none of them understand audio. They'll spend five hours on location and 30 hours color correcting/reframing/denoising etc. when an extra hour on location would mean only needing a few hours in post, yielding a better final product in process.

 

Call me an elitist if you must (and some do), which is odd because I make a lot of quick and dirty videos. The difference is I don't call that film, nor do I call myself a "filmmaker". I think that brings up another point. Film costs money, so you better be sure you get it right. Video costs virtually nothing, so who cares about a bad shot?

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