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 DSLRs Category

Shoot Review: Sony PMW-500

Sony PMW-500

Operator side of new PMW-500.
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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

22: Mondo NAB ’10, Large Sensors

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Upcoming Sony consumer camcorder with interchangeable E-mount lenses and 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor.
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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

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

17: Sundancing Part 1, Reflections

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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

7: Tim Burton’s Cinematographic Imagination

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Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride (2005) was “filmedâ€? with Canon EOS 1D Mark II DSLRs adapted to Nikon lenses, and edited on Final Cut Pro.

If you’re anywhere near New York City between November 22 and April 26, 2010, you’ll want to drop by the Museum of Modern Art and visit the marvelous Tim Burton exhibition opening next week. I attended the press preview, with Burton in attendance, in advance of the madding crowds.

It’s rare, if ever, that MoMA hosts a potential blockbuster of a show about a filmmaker, but Burton’s 27-year career spans fourteen live-action and animated films as director/producer and concept artist—and often illustrator, writer, and photographer too. more

2: A review of viewing, and a superb Zacuto HDSLR viewfinder

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To a WWII combat cameraman with a 35mm Bell & Howell Eyemo, reflex viewing meant a captured German Arriflex 35mm. To today’s young camera operators, reflex viewing means a flip-out LCD.

Just as there are two camps when it comes to designing and using a handheld camcorder—compact, wrist-supported vs. elongated, shoulder-supported—there are now two camps when it comes to viewing while shooting.

The older viewing method, of course, involves putting an eye to the viewfinder cup.

Viewing a through-the-lens image, identical to that captured on motion-picture film itself, was an immense breakthrough in its day. Called "reflex" viewing, it enabled for the first time precise framing and focusing by eye at time of exposure.

The reflex viewing system commonly found in today’s motion-picture cameras dates back to the Arriflex 35 of 1937 (a battlefield acquisition prized by Allied cameramen, whose nonreflex Bell & Howells could not verify focus or exact framing). The Arriflex 35 introduced a semicircular mirrored shutter that spun around at a 45-degree angle to the film plane. As the shutter rotated into an open position, a frame of film was exposed. As it rotated to cap off further exposure, its tilted mirror bounced the image into a viewing screen. more

About

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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