Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Need for Shooting Flexibility

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Need for Shooting Flexibility

Article excerpt

Working in various film formats places an added demand on the modern cinematographer-that of suiting the equipment to the specific project

As a cinematographer who moves back and forth between the documentary and feature film fields, I'm constantly aware of the cross-overs in the application of technique and style.

Though the state of art in photography is more advanced now than it ever has been in the short history of photography and cinematography, in image reproduction, be it on film or tape, photography becomes a process of image deterioration from the moment the image is transferred by light through the lens to the moment of truth when the developed film projects out on the screen. The original image has been transformed by many factors that can add to or cut down the amount of image deterioration.

Three Factors

As an image maker, I'm always concerned with minimizing and controlling image deterioration. There are three factors that affect the quality of an image: 1) the film stock, 2) the laboratory processing and 3) the camera and lens used. In all three areas I would shoot comparative tests to find the optimum quality.

There are many reasons for shooting in 16mm-production costs and size and flexibility of equipment-which especially apply to documentaries and small budgeted films. The problem for a cinematographer when shooting in 16mm is not always knowing if the project will end up in theatrical distribution, in which case it would have to be blown up to 35mm. If one had the option from the beginning with a 46% increase in picture area with Super-16, knowing you were going to blow up to 35mm, you should go the route of Super-16.

I would recommend Super-16, then, provided that your camera can be set up (as the Aaton can) and it only amounts to a simple conversion -and also if you have access to a lab capable of handling Super 16 and can locate suitable editing equipment.

But one of the problems a cinematographer faces is not always knowing if the film will be blown up to 35mm for theatrical distribution. So one should work from the beginning with the thought that the project may end up in a 35mm blowup, which brings me back to the third point of the importance of having your camera and lens properly collimated to within the closest tolerances.


After the lens and camera have been set on the bench and against film running in the camera, you should make tests and look at the results on film. That's where it counts. But after you're satisfied with the proper collimation of the lens and proper setting of the camera, your images can only be as good as the lens you're using, and in 16mm and 35mm productions, I'm always trying to achieve 35mm type imagery in 16mm. In 35mm I like to use prime lenses or a zoom lens as a prime lens. American cinematographers are all familiar with the quality of the 35mm line of Cooke Speed Panchro prime lenses and performance. They were as dismayed as I was when these were discontinued, but in Europe, Rank introduced first the 20mm 100mm 35mm Varotal zoom and then the 25mm-250mm Varotal zoom, which are becoming widely used here now. I consider them the best zooms in 35mm on the market for contrast, resolution and flare factor.

In 16mm you want the flexibility of a zoom lens-without sacrificing the quality of a prime lens, of course-so because of my work with the 35mm Varotals, I was eager to test the 9mm-50mm Varotal for 16mm to see if it held up as well as the 35mm's did to a comparable focal length in prime lens. …

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