How we made an indie low budget movie look like 65MM

Our short film “Together” was shot in 12 hours with six people – three actors and three crew members.

We took each shot with only one person operating a DSLR, but the footage is roughly 65mm.

The film premiered today on Short of the Week, and I’m here to tell you how we did it. Check out the short ones below to see for yourself. More details after the jump.

Large format cinematography has become very popular recently. Full-frame cameras like Sony Venice, RED Monstro, and ARRI Alexa LF have enabled filmmakers to capture footage with larger sensors, resulting in a crisp appearance and aesthetic improvement over traditional Super 35 formats.

In the cinema world, the next step towards the full screen is the Alexa 65, which can be prohibitively expensive for a low-budget production. However, after doing some research, I noticed something else. This camera is by no means unknown – it’s very popular with high-end commercial photographers – but I hadn’t heard much about it in the mainstream filmmaking community: the Fujifilm GFX 100.

The Fujifilm GFX 100 connected to a follow focus and an external recorder. This rig is compact, durable and much cheaper than comparable theater setups.Recognition: Brett Cramer

In the picture above we have a build that consists of the Tilta Nucleus Follow Focus. Atomos Ninja V. with 500 GB Angelbird AtomX SSDmini, gold mount battery, 12-inch rods, Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 65 mm 1: 1.4 lens.

The feature that excited me the most was the massive 44×33 sensor, which is an improvement over the 36×24 sensor found in most full-frame cameras. Despite its classification as “medium format”– –An old term for photography – this one is actually quite larger than full screen and comparable to the Alexa 65 when used in 16: 9 mode.

Recognition: pCAM Pro – Film + Digital

You can see the helpful comparison of sensor size between medium format, full frame and Super 35 GFX 100The sensor is almost twice the size of the Super 35 and even larger than the full-frame sensor. The sensor range roughly corresponds to that of the Alexa 65 in 16: 9 mode.

The GFX 100 offers countless video-specific functions such as 4K 10-bit 4: 2: 2 with an external recorder. (A recent firmware upgrade enabled ProRes RAW on a Atomos Ninja V..) It also features in-body image stabilization, audio recording tools, HFR options at up to 60 frames per second, and fantastic color profiles based on Fujifilm’s proprietary “Eterna” footage. When I found a camera to rent at a nearby photo shop, I knew this camera would be the right choice.

You may have seen an article I wrote last December detailing how we made a compelling and polished indie film on a budget. This time, I’m going to explore the basics of creating an impactful large format image.

Lens with a medium format sensor

The first thing you will notice when using such a large sensor is that all of your lenses will behave differently. They don’t produce the same angle of view as a full-frame or Super 35 camera. It is important to become familiar with the focal length conversions so that you can compensate for them appropriately.

I recommend you the “pCAM Pro – Film + DigitalApp on your phone. It’s available on the App Store and is very useful for calculating focal length differences between different sensor sizes. Take a look at the following example.

Recognition: pCAM Pro – Film + Digital

These are focal length comparisons for a 45 mm lens between three different sensor sizes. To get a similar angle of view on a Super 35 sensor, you’d have to use a 24mm lens. However, the depth of field would still look different.

While a 45mm lens is considered a mid-range lens on the Super 35, it is quite wide on the GFX 100 due to the larger sensor. In fact, it creates a viewing angle closer to 24mm. So you basically get a wide view of 24mm, but with the compression properties of 45mm.

Recognition: Brett Cramer

We took this shot with a Fujinon GF 45mm f / 2.8 lens wide open. A much larger angle of view was created than with a smaller sensor. We also used a 2.00: 1 aspect ratio to keep it as close as possible to the 1.90: 1 aspect ratio used in digital IMAX.

The 65mm Prime was our workhorse for most of the shoot, as it roughly corresponded to the 50mm viewing angle for full screen and 34mm for Super 35. Check out the focal length calculations and visual example below.

Recognition: pCAM Pro – Film + Digital

There are focal length comparisons for a 65mm lens between three different sensor sizes.

In my opinion, this is the sweet spot for medium format cinema.

Recognition: Brett Cramer

We took this shot with a Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 65mm f / 1.4 lens wide open. Note the nice drop-off and shallow depth of field, some of which resulted from a 34mm (or 50mm full frame) viewing angle with the compression properties of a 65mm lens.

I’ve found that the best focal length range for the medium format is 35mm to 85mm, with 50mm to 65mm being the sweet spot that creates the best three-dimensionality. The following shot was also taken with a 65mm lens at F1.4.

Recognition: Brett Cramer

We used the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 65mm f / 1.4 lens again for this shot. Notice the unique depth of field and compression properties that separate the foreground from the background in a very appealing way. The closer you move the lens to your subject, the more dramatic this effect becomes.

Because of the use of a longer focal length to get the same angle of view (a 65mm medium format lens versus a 34mm super 35 format lens), I got a shallower depth of field. The diameter of the blur circle of a blurred object is almost twice as large on the GFX 100, so that the background appears blurred.

Placement of the camera

There are many advantages to using a camera with such a large sensor. It naturally harvests more light, which allows it to perform better at low luminance levels. You can increase the ISO value without noise. Most importantly, it creates a more vivid and three-dimensional image. This becomes more apparent when you consider the placement of the camera.

In my movie TogetherWhen the priest asked Anna about her relationship with God, I wanted to show visually how uncomfortable she was. To do this, I moved the camera all the way to her face – so close that it almost reached the minimum focus distance on the lens. As a result, the depth of field changed very dramatically. I also changed her eye line so she could stare directly into the lens, which added tension to the scene and emphasized the feeling that all attention was on her.

Recognition: Brett Cramer

We pushed the 65mm lens as close to her face as possible. This created crazy bokeh around her head and an image so flat that even her ears were out of focus. This is usually not ideal for most shots, but it has helped add to the uncomfortable feel of the scene. We would not have achieved such an effect with a smaller sensor. Only light color correction is applied to this shot.

This effect was created entirely with the placement of the camera and the size of the shot, rather than moving the camera around while shooting.

Exposure and depth of field

This is where things get a little more complicated. This will likely require a more extensive breakdown, but in short, your lenses will behave up to a point easier when working with a medium format sensor. There is roughly a difference between medium format and super 35 and a half difference from full screen.

This means that exposing a lens with F1.4 on a medium format sensor produces the same depth of field as exposing it with F1.2 on a full-frame sensor or about F0.9 on a Super 35.

Recognition: Brett Cramer

To create a comparable image on a smaller sensor, you would have to compensate for both the focal length and the exposure. A shot taken with a 65mm lens at F1.4 on the GFX 100 would need to be taken on a 50mm lens at around F1.2 to match the full frame. This means that your medium format lenses are even flatter and more sensitive to light.

That takes a lot of math. Without getting too technical, here is a rough breakdown between three different sensor sizes. This time, let’s use a 45mm lens exposed on the GFX 100 F2.8:

Recognition: pCAM Pro – Film + Digital

The numbers don’t match 100%, but the calculations are very tight. This means that F2.8 is pretty flat in the medium format as it is roughly equivalent to F1.8 in the Super 35.

A camera with a massive sensor like the GFX 100 is a great advantage in low-light situations. I hardly had any equipment, so I mostly had to rely on natural light. I used F1.4 for most of the shots to keep my image bright enough at ISO 200. For a Super 35 camera, F0.9 would have been required. Another solution would have been to increase the ISO, but my goal was to get the cleanest image possible.

There are certainly many other factors to consider when shooting large format, but these are my biggest takeaways and suggestions that I believe will add a unique visual style to your filmmaking, at a fraction of the normal cost.

It’s also worth noting that Fujifilm recently released the GFX 100SThis includes the same features in a smaller camera body for only 60% of the price.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me on social media. I am happy to answer as many questions as possible. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the movie. Have fun shooting!

Read the Short of the Week article over Together.

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