Monday, August 22, 2011

The Big Ole' Lens Test Party, 2011

Last week, Rick Macomber told me about a lens test that was going to be happening over the weekend and asked me if I was interested in going; Well, sure! And so it was that I found myself at a get together of camera pros this last Saturday, soaking up the knowledge and trying to keep my mouth shut so that I only appeared stupid.

The event was hosted by Ben Eckstein, and was the brain child of Ben and Chris Loughran, who had been having a discussion about the differences between the expensive and budget lenses, and whether you could really see the difference in most situations. They decided to resolve [no pun intended!] the issue by shooting a short scene with different lenses on the same camera, and then see for themselves how different the results were. And thus the 'Big Ole' Lens Test Party of 2011' was born.

They begged, borrowed and rented from Rule Boston Camera a variety of lenses, including a Cooke S4 35mm, Zeiss Superspeed 35mm, and Zeiss CP2 35mm, as well as some more everyday lenses like a Nikon 17-55mm, an Olympus 4/3 14-35mm, and even a Canon 17-55mm. They also rented a Hot Rod PL mount and Ki Pro Mini, and hooked everything up to a Panasonic AG-AF100.

The event started with a bar-b-cue and beer; what a nice way to start a shoot! Then Ben and Chris set to work lighting the scene, ably assisted by Ben Pender-Cudlip, Brandon Vincent, Matthew Stappleton and Rick. It turns out that events like these can be useful in answering existential questions like: how many DP's does it take to change a light bulb?

Keith Wasserman had been roped into the project to act as the "talent," and he did a tremendous job improvising a scene, with Brandon bravely stepping in to play a part as well.

While the test itself was shot on a single AF100, there was no shortage of photographic gear present; Brandon was shooting some Behind-The-Scenes with his Sony NEX-FS100, Rick was shooting with his Canon 60D, and I shot some stuff with the Canon HF G10. Even Matt and Ben took out their cameras for a while, though I think they quickly realized that actual work needed to be done by someone.

The original plan was to do a couple of setups, but we didn't start work seriously until about 2:30, and with setup, rehearsal, adjustments, and then running through the different lenses, we didn't finish the first setup until 6pm.

Chris was acting as focus-puller and really had to work hard, as the different lenses are very different in operation; some have very short throws, others are very long. For some he was using a follow-focus, and on others he was simply twisting the lens barrel itself.

I'm not going to give away the results today; Ben and Chris are editing together the video and will be posting that next week. In the mean time, here's some pictures from the event, along with a few observations.

Some of the lenses

Those Cooke lenses are huge!
The Zeiss Cp.2 lenses are pretty massive (bottom right), but the Cooke lens was even more so. And, it had a huge travel on the follow focus. Chris really had to crank to keep focus on that lens!

Directors Ben Eckstein (left) and Chris Loughran

Ben Pender-Cudlip works the iPad clapper

The iPad FilmSlate app is mostly useful
They planned to slate each shot with a little dry-erase board, but then I remember I had my iPad with the FilmSlate [$4.99] app with me. I think this was only the second time it had been used as a slate, and it proved pretty useful; except that it's sound sync function didn't always work accurately! Fortunately we weren't doing dual sound, so that wasn't really an issue!

Never assume
I had brought along a Canon to E-mount adapter I'd been sent, and was going to try it out on Brandon's NEX-FS100. But I never actually checked that I'd received the correct adapter. Only when he opened the box did Brandon discover that it was a Canon EOS to 4/3 mount! So much for that experiment!

Smile, you're on (multiple) cameras. Brandon Vincent with the NEX-FS100

Keith Wasserman makes a banana call

Can you see a $25,000 difference? - reviewing the output
(clockwise from bottom left) Chris Loughran, Ben Pender-Cudlip,
Brandon Vincent (behind Ben P.), Ben Eckstein and Rick Macomber

It's dangerous hanging out with nice gear
Don't hang out with the pros; it can get really expensive. Both Matt and Brandon were talking up Vinten tripods, like the: Vinten VB-AP2M Camera Support System. Matt had one set up, and yes, it has a really nice fluid head! But it costs over $1,100! I went home thinking seriously about buying one. Fortunately, I lay down for a while and the feeling passed.

A really nice large monitor is required
Ben had a Panasonic field monitor set up, and it proved vital to be able to review a take and see whether everything was okay, particularly focus. They'd shoot a take, review it on the large monitor, then shoot again, or move on to the next lens. Small monitors might be useful, but you really need a large one to see everything that's going on.

The Panasonic AG-AF100 is a nice camera
With all the attention that the Sony NEX-FS100 and PMW-F3 have been receiving over the past six months, it's been easy to overlook the Panasonic AG-AF100. It's perhaps too easy to forget how good all these cameras are now, especially if the scene is lit correctly.

Stay tuned for next week when Ben and Chris will be posting the videos, Rick has a Behind-The-Scenes video he will be posting, and I may have a BTS video as well!

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