D.W. Leitner has more than 50 directing, producing, and cinematography credits in feature-length documentary and dramatic films produced in the U.S. and abroad.

Archive of the Cameras Category

25: Requiems


All photos by D.W. Leitner

I write this as Halloween looms once again, lining neighborhood stoops with scary pumpkins and pint-sized goblins targeting a sugar rush. Halloween is our Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which Mexicans celebrate as an embrace of the role death plays in life, both as last stop and final transcendence.

Which got me to thinking: in a way, life is like a reel of film on a projector. There’s a beginning, middle, and end. Then the reel runs out and the projector’s empty gate flashes white. more

Shoot Review: Sony PMW-500

Sony PMW-500

Operator side of new PMW-500.

A couple weeks ago at the first Vimeo Festival—a showcase of digital shorts based in the curvy, white-glass Frank Gehry headquarters of Vimeo’s parent company, IAC/InterActiveCorp, run by Barry Diller and trendily located near Manhattan’s Chelsea art galleries—I moderated a keynote discussion between two of the brightest stars in the HDSLR firmament, Vincent Laforet and Philip Bloom.

The discussion was entitled “DSLR Cinema: The new dawn of filmmaking?” and took place in the IAC Building’s narrow, futuristic lobby. Behind the dais were multiple images of the three of us on a 118 foot-long video wall reminiscent of Blade Runner, while seated before us were several hundred young filmmakers, clearly evangelical in their fervor for all things HDSLR. more

24: To 3D or not to 3D, no longer the question


Large outdoor 3D display at Sony’s NAB booth in April.
All photos by D.W. Leitner

Last November I wrote a column, EX3 x 2 = DIY 3D, about two talented and resourceful New Jersey filmmakers who fashioned a homebrew 3D rig from two Sony PMW-EX3s in order to film a striking 6-minute paean to Newark in the mold of Paul Strand’s classic Manhatta (1921) for the Newark Museum.

What a difference a year makes.

Avatar hit theaters in December, becoming, in one month, the highest grossing film of all time.

April’s NAB waxed giddy with 3D fever. Nothing like a box office bonanza to plant dollar signs in the eyes of broadcast manufacturers, consumer electronics giants, Hollywood, anyone seeking the next big thing. more

22: Mondo NAB ’10, Large Sensors


Upcoming Sony consumer camcorder with interchangeable E-mount lenses and 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor.
NAB photos by D. W. Leitner unless otherwise indicated

Announced just yesterday, May 11, half the world already knows about the NEX-5, Sony’s impossibly slim new HDSLR (in-depth review here) and upcoming AVCHD consumer camcorder based on the same sensor and lenses.
Such is the contagion of the Internet that nothing is bottled for long, as Apple recently experienced to its chagrin. Heated rumors of affordable (no bank loan) large-sensor HD camcorders from Canon, Panasonic, and Sony have been circulating for months. While much of this speculation has been dodgy, Panasonic and Sony did fan the flames at NAB with sneak-peaks at nonfunctional mock-ups of large-sensor camcorders.

At its traditional press conference on Sunday prior to the exhibition opening, Panasonic surprised journalists with the AG-AF100 (photo below). It will feature a 12.1 megapixel Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor and lens mount, with capture to SD cards using AVCHD compression (24mbps max). Available by end of 2010, it’s expected to sell for about $6,000 without a lens. more

21: Mondo NAB ’10, PL-mount Primes


Fast T1.4 Leica Summilux-C 21mm prime lens on a Canon EOS 7D modified for PL mount by BandPro Film & Digital.
All photos by D.W. Leitner

Shrinking in the rearview mirror like a signpost whizzing past at 80 mph, April’s NAB pointed to no less than four approaching upheavals in production technology. You had to have your polarized glasses on backwards at NAB not to see evidence of them everywhere. For those unable or unwilling to attend NAB, I’ll attempt a recap in my next columns.

These four areas of advancement involve not digital compression or recording but first principles of photography and sight itself: the light that falls on a subject, the lens that captures that light, the sensor that registers the image, the binocular experience of spatial depth.

Racing towards mainstream use, for example, LED production lighting is not only cool-running and energy-efficient but durable, lightweight, and compact. Much of it carry-on size in an era of airline luggage-charge gouging.

I’ll devote an entire column to LED lighting, at NAB and beyond, but for now suffice it to say, with the advent of innovative LED fresnels from industry leaders Litepanels and Gekko, LEDs are red hot (so to speak). Hot enough for Chinese manufacturers to festoon their NAB booths with shameless rip-offs of Litepanels 1×1 luminaires… but I’m getting ahead of myself. more

20: Sundancing Part 4, HDSLR Rebellion in Park City

Illya Friedman of Hot Rod Cameras at Sundance, previewing prototype PL-mount adapter for Canon EOS 7D. Dual Grip Hand Held kit is in foreground.

Illya Friedman of Hot Rod Cameras at Sundance, previewing his prototype PL-mount adapter for Canon EOS 7D. Dual Grip Hand Held kit is in foreground.
Photo D.W. Leitner

Before the lights dimmed at each Sundance premiere this year, a ribbon of text resembling a CNN news ticker marched across the lower third of the empty screen: “This is the recharged fight against the establishment of the expected.� “This is cinematic rebellion.� “This is the renewed rebellion.�

Virtually identical ad-speak marked the launch of Red Digital Cinema’s Red One in 2006. Red honcho Ted Schilowitz’s business card even read “Leader of the Rebellion.â€? Which raised eyebrows in an industry skeptical of H. R. Giger design if not pointed abandonment of conventional camera technology.

Calling yourself a rebel is like calling yourself a maverick—an exercise in preening if not brand marketing. Insurrection is serious business. Breaking with convention risks breakdown of convention, revolution sows chaos; both inflict unforeseen consequences. Which brings me to HDSLRs.

With Sundance receding in the rearview mirror and the gravitational pull of NAB upon us, I want to share one last bit of business from Sundance concerning these small cameras with supersized sensors—a topic that will figure prominently in any discussion of new digital cameras at Las Vegas two weeks from now. more

17: Sundancing Part 1, Reflections


Wait-list line in front of the Eccles Theatre.
Photo D.W. Leitner

Sundance remains the preeminent festival for independent filmmaking anywhere. I ought to know. I’ve attended virtually every one since 1987.

In past years I’ve written daily blogs from Sundance for Millimeter, but this year, with a dramatic feature in the New Frontier section (my sixth Sundance premiere as producer), reporting wasn’t in the cards. So I’ve decided to dedicate the next four columns to a look in the rear view mirror at Sundance 2010.

In these paragraphs I’ll note tech trends and shifts in the culture of indie filmmaking, last-minute techniques invoked to finish our own super low-budget film, differences between cinema and video as elaborated by legendary editor Walter Murch before a packed morning session at the Filmmakers’ Lounge, and a brunch on Main Street I had with Illya Friedman of Hot Rod Cameras, for a sneak-peek at his Canon EOS 5D Mark II mod for PL-mount lenses.

Sundance was once a laid-back gathering of the indie film tribe in a declining 19th Century silver mining town. Then came Miramax, Hollywood, a dot-com bubble, the 2002 Winter Olympics, major corporate sponsorship. As quaint Main Street was doubled in length, development exploded in the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. A local library, a high school, a hotel, a racquet club, even a synagogue were pressed into service as screening venues for the ballooning festival. more

16: Adventures in Auto Back Focus, Part 2


Manual back-focus adjustment on a Sony HVR-Z7U, using a 46in. Samsung LED TV to verify the results. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Photo D.W. Leitner

I began my last column with the question, What is auto back focus?

I compared depth of field to depth of focus and described the lens factors that impact both of them. I defined correct back focus as a function of precise lens mounting, accurate to within microns of spec. And I made the case that for any given angle-of-view, the smaller the sensor, the shorter the lens focal length—and therefore the less depth of focus available at the sensor surface.

Less depth of focus always means tighter tolerances in lens mounting, which is why 1/3in. camcorders are far less forgiving of back-focus errors than 2/3in. camcorders.

Ironic, isn’t it, that smaller, consumerish camcorders require tighter tolerances in lens mounting than larger 2/3in. cameras.

So, what is auto back focus? more

15: Adventures in Auto Back Focus, Part 1


The author at DuArt Film Laboratory in New York in the early 1980s, demonstrating the first lens test projector in New York.

The term “back focus� gets thrown around a lot, mostly by people who little understand it. What, then, is auto back focus?

First let’s cover some lens basics.

Lenses are two-way streets. Light can enter or exit either end. That’s what makes lens test projectors possible—the type you encounter in camera rental houses. They’re basically slide projectors, with a super-precise focus chart deposited on a glass slide. The camera lens takes the place of a projection lens.

What’s great about a lens test projector is that you can fiddle with focus, iris, or focal length (in the case of a zoom) and see with your own eyes what sort of optical gremlins reside within.

For instance, stopping down the iris, even slightly, often crispens the image by choking off residual spherical aberration—which you can easily notice as an improvement in contrast and edge sharpness. more

14: Sony HXR-NX5 Brings Choices

Sony HXR-NX5

Sony HXR-NX5. Think Sony HVR-Z5U with slots instead of tape, for 1920×1080 capture instead of 1440×1080.

Yesterday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m., Sony announced a new tapeless handheld, HXR-NX5, the company’s first professional camcorder to capture video to AVCHD, also known as MPEG-4 H.264.

(Note: “prosumer,� that flimsiest of marketing categories, won’t be cited in this column, ever. How can a camcorder with SMPTE 292M full-bandwidth HD-SDI output be anything but professional? Give me a break.)

Sony also announced a list price: $4,950—same as the HDV-based HVR-Z5U, which it closely resembles.

I wrote about the upcoming NXCAM line in Leitner’s Cinematography Corner #8. If you read that column, you’ll remember I was astonished that this camcorder would dock to a detachable 128GB flash memory module the size of a MiniDV videocassette and record well more than 11 hours of full 1920×1080 at AVCHD’s highest-quality bitrate, 24Mbps (VBR maximum). more

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Leitner's Cinematography Corner is a new destination for reviews, blogs, notes, and opinions from longtime millimeter Contributing Editor David Leitner, who also happens to be an award-winning director, producer, and cinematographer of independent films showcased at film festivals like Sundance and Berlin. Leitner argues that since everything's now digital outside of cameras and projectors that shuttle celluloid, "digital" has lost its cachet. Leitner's Cinematography Corner will instead frame innovations in production gear as the latest advances in the long march of motion-picture technology, well over a century old. And never lose sight of the fact that technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.


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