Filming dance performances using a VariCam LT by Director of Photography Steeve François

I've been the Director of Photography for almost three years now for performances by "3e étage" ("3rd floor"), a group of soloists and dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet directed by Samuel Murez. Each time, I'm faced with the same technical constraints, vibrant dynamic elements and scenes with different lighting effects; more specifically huge contrasts, dimly lit scenes and times when you have to hunt out the light yourself during rehearsals. That's why, when the VariCam 35 with its dual native ISO settings of 800 and 5000 was launched, I immediately suggested to Samuel Murez and Luc Bara from Panasonic France that we shoot a very short film of the production entitled "Tchaikovsky, Tales from the Kingdom of Dreams" by the star dancer Josua Hoffalt. The film was great and when the VariCam LT came out, Luc Bara suggested that we make a slightly longer film, this time of the production entitled "Disorders".

I opted to shoot it at 3200 ISO sensitivity under negative amplification on the 5000 native setting for several reasons:

  • When I used the VariCam 35 for the first time, I shot the film at 5000 ISO sensitivity and had noticed increased noise in the most light-critical situations. As the VariCam LT provides negative amplification, it has a very clean signal when recording, which means you don't have to fix the noise issues in post-production.
  • Also, before the VariCam was launched, I used to regularly shoot on F5 at 2000 ISO sensitivity, so I immediately gained a half-stop, which also helps with the real-time focusing with a large sensor and which also made it possible to properly utilize the 25/300, lent to use by Fujinon, for apertures where this type of optic reaches its full potential (between 4 and 8).
  • And, finally, 3200 ISO sensitivity works really well in very dark scenes, especially since it's easy to "brighten up" dimly lit scenes with the V-Log function.

We shot on Log in 4K 50p 4:2:2 10 bit. 50p is of course ideal for reproducing the temporality of the dancing.

The only unknown quantity was the new technology in the VariCam LT for debayering the 4K/50p and I have to say that I saw no difference compared to the VariCam 35.

In terms of the dynamics (14 factory-fitted stops), I didn't really get time to assess much, but the dynamics are actually very good.

It is half as heavy as its big sister (which you really notice when it's on your shoulder) and its ergonomics, with the sliding shoulder mount, are outstanding. It can be balanced easily and has a very practical grip. The only thing that is not well positioned is the control screen (you can no longer remove the battery) but I believe that Panasonic are already working on remedying that.

I also liked being able to send (peaking) info to a viewfinder other than that from Panasonic, which is incidentally excellent. It's great for me, as I own a Zacuto viewfinder.

I have also shot with very light, very high-quality proxies which easily allow HD processing.

If I had to come up with one criticism about this camera, it would be that it only has room for one memory card. When you're doing long shoots, it can be a real issue but I suppose that the capacity of memory cards will soon have doubled.

In terms of the images, I think that the Panasonic LUT is great to work with. The colors are all faithfully reproduced although a bit "saturated", but that's very easy to rectify.

Skin rendition in natural light is very soft and shadings in bright lights are beautiful.

Samuel Murez and I decided to correct only the shots that we didn't like when we captured the images (when placed side-by-side, it's easy to see the inherent quality of the LUT).

In conclusion, I would say that it's an excellent and ergonomic camera and, in my opinion, the most versatile on the market (suitable for use on your own or as part of a team in all lighting conditions), and what's more it produces unique images.

Steeve François

Director of Photography

e-mail: steevefrancois@free.fr

 

Samuel Murez, Director of 3e étage

I have a specific approach to shoots for my shows (which doesn't make Steeve François my Director of Photograpy's life easy): in terms of images, the absolute priority for me is for the lighting to be visually rendered exactly as it is perceived by the audience in the room. Having said that, I still require Steeve to record superb images....

What makes things even harder is that I love strong contrasts on stage, I use a lot of black, and I often very quickly link together very clear-cut, distinct effects. I point-blank refuse to do what I've seen in other contexts, i.e. to adapt the lighting of the production on the shoot days, for example by slightly brightening up the darker scenes or by using measures designed to balance contrasts, as I believe that that kind of approach only downgrades the final result for the audience.

Steeve's suggestion to shoot with the VariCam (35 then LT) was spot on as the camera's excellent capacity in low light and its wide dynamic range enable it to translate to the screen exactly what I have created on stage without adapting it (and therefore without distorting it).

We shot with an AVC-Intra 4k LT codec (we had no choice given my request for 50p, which I feel is essential for faithfully translating the quality of dancers' movements) in V-Log, and as soon as you de-log the images, it's clear that the raw result is of high quality. I particularly like the sensuality of the skin tones, and the rendition of the colors overall - in particular in terms of the costumes and the light flows - is nice, although sometimes a bit saturated.

The images captured by the VariCam are generally harmonious and organic, even carnal and quite distinctive, which I really appreciate in translating my work to screen.

What's more, the AVC 4k LT codec in V-Log provides excellent room for maneuver for making adjustments, whether in terms of correcting green peaks in the projectors found in theaters or making a particular decision regarding the level of detail perceptible in the black.

In the end, we don't heavily correct the images captured by the VariCam. Steeve knows my work very well and knows what he has to do when he captures the images. As a result, apart from the type of adjustments that I've already mentioned, we really don't have to retouch the images that much at all as we quickly achieve something that I really like.

Website: www.3e-etage.com 

Contact: Samuel Murez

e-mail: sam@3e-etage.com