Here is some background for Producers, a short guide for film DPs and ACs using HD digital video plus reminders that everyone should doublecheck. There are entire books on this stuff but here are a few notes.
Call it "HD24p" but shoot at 23.98p frames per second! Make this distinction clear to your crew at the start of the shoot. The 23.98 rate is now standard for almost all HD production and is done for easiest downconverting and later audio editing in 29.97 standard NTSC formats (also called 60i) and standard definition non-linear systems like Avid and Final Cut Pro. If you shoot 24p that is ok too, but the HD vtr slows it down to 23.98 anyway, just like a telecine actually plays your film at 23.98 when transferring to video. This keeps all the audio post people much happier. If you output to film there is still an exact frame to frame correspondence, the audio for the optical track just gets changed by .01%. If you are shooting 60i interlace use the 59.94 fps setting. Shoot 24fps if you are doing PAL downconverts and mixing footage with PAL.Avoid 25 fps unless your only use ever will be for converting to 1080/50i. You can shoot 30p or 60i if you know you want to slo mo a shot later, but avoid shooting 30p otherwise. Do not mix frame rates on an individual tape. If you shoot 60i for later slo mo in post, always change to a new tape and label it boldly as 60i.
Don't worry about the flicker you see in the viewfinder and on the monitor. It is normal and goes away later when 3:2 pulldown is added on your dupes. Do be careful of judder by panning the camera too quickly, just as careful as you are with shooting film at 24fps.
Video Levels The F900 has an excellent automatic exposure system but there are always peaks and highlights that need to be controlled. The DP will use the auto setting for a starting point, but runs the iris in manual mode and uses his Zebra level indicators in the viewfinder to guide him. ZEBRA1 is usually set at 70% and ZEBRA2 at 100%. Try to minimize the quantity of the 100% peaks, but a few spikes of 100% level are usually okay and unavoidable. Very slight 70% zebras on the cheeks of the talent is an excellent guidline A waveform monitor and a RMP150A camera control unit are nice to have if you have a skilled operator, but they are not necessary for an experienced video shooter. The HD color monitor can be your guide, but all too often someone on the set may crank up the brightness and contrast so be careful. Make sure it is properly set up. (see monitor set-up). However, when shooting night exteriors, or say in a dark nightlclub, be careful because if you are viewing the monitor in a very dark environment it seems very bright and you may end up with very dark footage when the scenes are viewed with the monitor in normal ambient light. Trust your zebras and if available, a waveform monitor. If you are working with a larger crew and veteran feature DP who has years of film but little video experience, you can probably afford an AC or operator who has video tech experience and the extra expense for a waveform monitor and RMP150 camera remote.
In very bright environments, or scenes where the wide dynamic range is a challenge, when in doubt the DP should underexpose slightly, 1/4 to 1/2 a stop less than the auto iris if there are highlights that are blown out and you want to retain the detail. We can recover detail in the dark areas in post easier than from blown out areas. This is the opposite compared to film where you want to overexpose your negative if you are not sure. For difficult scenes you can shoot an HD test chart with gray scale and color chips, it helps as a starting point for level setting and color correction in post.
Gain For locations with lower light levels it is fine to use +3db Gain virtually at will without seeing any noticeable grain in the final video. Even +6 is ok, higher levels are available but only use them when there is no other solution. Do not use extra gain just to simulate the grain of film. Film grain moves anyway and gain noise does not. A gritty grainy effect can easily be added in post under controlled circumstances. Otherwise if you record too much you have to go to a high end facility with digital noise and grain removers. The same goes for recording "blown out" video by overexposing. There is no excuse for blowing it out in the field because "I like that look". You can adjust that more safely in post too. Normally you should not use negative gain, (-3dB), it does not give a better picture and it reduces dynamic range which is a lot of what you are paying for with the F900. If you need a wider F-stop use neutral density filters instead.
Other Settings (see DP notes on website) You may hear you should raise the blacks and lower the highlights in the camera settings. This advice is usually from a post house that owns a DaVinci 2K, and if you shot this way all your footage would look muddy on the monitor on the set, and you are guaranteed that you will have to pay for level correction later. Try to get it right on the set. Try to have something white somewhere in the scene, and light part of the frame so there is an area of black. A good guidline is that the actors' faces should never be the brightest part of the scene.
Lighting - Lighting - Lighting Good lighting is essential for dramatic narrative programming. This contributes to a "Film Look" much more than any other factors except grain and the motion blur of a 24 frame rate. Do take advantage of available light and use much lower wattage instruments in combination with available light. Kinoflos and the new 150 and 200W HMI lights are really great. Low current demands will save money that you would spend needing an electrician for tying in, or spend on bringing in air conditioning, or worse believing you need so much light you have to use a generator and hire a truck and driver to pull it. Gel your windows with neutral density. Solid state dimmers for both tungsten and low wattage HMIs are now very affordable and are a lot quicker for adjusting relative light levels in a scene. For "higher" budget ($1M +) features, if you have a DP or engineer versed in using the Sony RMP-150A camera controller, he can very quickly adjust the scene for optimal white and black levels and then let the DP tweak the important details. This can save a surprising amount of crew time adjusting different lighting levels.
Greater Depth of Field can be good. HD cameras and lenses have the same angle of view and depth of field as Super 16mm equip. The depth of field is much greater than 35mm. For years until faster but not grainy film stocks were available, DPs pumped huge amounts of light on a set to get a more natural depth of field with a higher F stop.
However there are of course many times you want a soft background, and this adds to the "35mm film look" as opposed to the "Super 16 film look". Use longer focal length, shoot almost wide open indoors, and use ND filters outdoors for a Shallower Depth of Field. Soft focus backgrounds are another reason to use less light since you will use lower F or T stops. It is also true that the lower F stops result in images not as sharp as other settings, but many people still complain that HD is too sharp already so this effect works in a good way.
Movement Try to move the camera wherever it will add dimension and visual interest to the scene. This is another important part of your motion picture having the quality a feature film audience is expecting. Jimmy Jibs, lightweight track and dollies and Steadicam are all very affordable and should be a part of your production.
Lenses We offer Canon and Fujinon ENG style lenses as well as CineStyle lenses, which have a greater focus rotation so your 1st AC has an easier time pulling focus. Awide angle lensis especially useful when shooting indoors in real locations. You can rent prime lenses for the Sony HD cameras. The first sets of primes for HD were not that great, but the latest from Canon and Fuji are very nice, and the Zeiss Digiprimes are now available and deliver superb images. However, if your production line items budget is under $100,000, spending several thousand on prime lens rentals is not always a good idea. This money may be better spent elsewhere like better wardrobe, props, makeup and hair, or other visual elements that concern production design if, say your total feature budget is under $150,000. For budgets above that Primes may be an option. Panavision Primo lenses for HD are nice, but they are very large and heavy requiring beefier camera support, (no hand holding!) and can only be used on a Panavision modified F900.
Focus + Monitoring High Def video will show any out of focus shots very clearly if that makes sense. Turn up the peaking in the viewfinder if that helps you, but do not let it fool you by masking an out of focus shot. 24" HD CRT monitors are good for verifying focus, but they are expensive to rent, very heavy, and fragile in shipping. The new 20" and 14" HD CRT monitors from Sony are much more affordable to rent, and they will be adequate for checking focus. We offer for rent a Panasonic 17" HD LCD monitor that has higher resolution than the CRT monitors so are better for evaluating focus, but CRT monitors should also be on set to properly evaluate color and black levels.
Back Focus Checking this is a standard procedure, don't assume after a camera is shipped that the back focus on the lens has stayed where it is supposed to be.
AUDIO Always record your sound onto the HD camera! You will want to play back your takes and hear them in sync, right? No, it will not hurt to play your HD master tapes, even 4 or 5 times. Also recording sound direct to the HDCAM tape will save thousands of dollars in post syncing costs. Use a wireless transmitter/receiver if the camera is on a steadicam, jib or dolly.
While the portable analog mixer levels peak at 0dB, when you feed 0dB tone out of the mixer into the analog mike/line inputs of the camera, the TONE LEVEL on the camera VU meters should be set at -20dB. If there are any dialogue peaks over -20dB on the camera, it is very likely they can break up and not be usable. The quality is 48kHz with 20 bits/sample which is every bit as good as a DAT recorder.
For low-budget independent filmmaking, particularly recording voices not multi-track music, it is a waste of money to pay for syncing DAT tapes to picture. Your soundman may try to insist on you renting his DAT, just DO NOT let him talk you out of feeding the camera. It is slightly inconvenient for the sound recordist to have to go to the camera to unplug between setups, but comparedto weeks of syncing audio in post that is nothing.
DAT as "Backup" If you have bad audio on your HD tape you will know the first time you check playback. In the digital world if you don't have digital audio you probably don't have digital picture so what good would the backup audio be anyway? There are legitimate uses of DAT as "backup; if you want to record extra mikes and the channels on the video are already dedicated to other mikes; or if the camera is really far from the action, or on a crane and you don't want to trust wireless mikes.
If you still are recording double system only because "that's the way it is done" we have seen incredible convolutions of time code feeds and slaving in every direction, audio delays to compensate for video delays in downconverted signals that fed video assist and so on. Huge messes have happened and I will just have to refer you to the producers who show up in post with syncing nightmares to let them tell you their sad stories. It all can be kept very simple.Make sure the soundman is monitoring the return audio from the camera, not his mixer or his DAT.
Slating It is still essential to shoot a slate for each scene of course , but you no longer have to use a clapper or time code slate and beep unless you are also usinga DAT or other double system audio recording. The slate is very important for scene identification. Don't do it in real time, a good time is while the AD is reblocking the talent. Shoot a nice clean framing of the slate then stop the camera. Now you frame for the actual scene, and you don't have to break the mood the director sets by running up and smashing a clapper in the faces of the talent. If you keep rolling while starting over to retake a scene don't worry about the slate, just have a PA make a specific time code note for the editor.
AUDIO POST It is totally okay to use the digital audio from your HD downconverts to Digibeta or DVCAM. There is no need to dub off to DAT tapes for later re-syncing, you are already in sync as you load picture into your off-line system, and an OMF export with handles gives your audio post engineer all the latitude he needs if he is using ProTools. You can do an OMF export of the audio from Avid or Final Cut Pro using Digitranslator which gives you a big head start and cost savings for your mix. If you are shooting and recording pristine original music in a performance and releasing a DVD or CD nationwide with this music you would want to go back to the original audio on the HD tapes. But it is more likely you would have done a digital multi-track recording for that kind of performance. Otherwise dialogue and natural sounds on the downconverted tapes are of very good quality and you should use the OMF export of the edited audio tracks out of the Avid or FCP non-linear system.
Time Code On the F900 there is a DF/NDF switch, to set recorded time code to drop frame or non drop frame. The switch position does not matter when shooting 23.98p or 24p (or 25p). It only works when the camcorder frame rate is set to 29.97P, 30P, 59.94i or 60i. Drop frame is used to synchronise the actual clock time (i.e. as you measure the recorded duration with a stopwatch) and the time code reading in 29.97P or 59.94i recording mode. It does this by dropping 2 frames (frames 00 and 01) at the beginning of each minute except every tenth minute. Fordownconverts it is very important that your record deck is set to NDF though.
Record Continuous Time Code Use "record run" setting NOT time of day. Once you preset the time code for a new reel switch to REGEN. If you review a segment, press STOP within .5 second after the end of the previous recording, then press the RET button on the lens, or the assignable switch on the side of the camera is easier to reach. Now you are ready to hit the vtr start on the camcorder or lens. Broken time code causes many problems in post. If you batch digitize a tape, the edit software may not recognize a clip with t.c errors and it will cause time and expense in the final on-line conform to correct the problem.
Check playback by hitting RET button on the lens to see the last 3 seconds of tape play and the camcorder is ready to record again. (You need at least a 3 second shot for this to work.) This lets you check your tape quickly and keeps the time code continuous.
Framing There is no safe area or underscan in HD or digital television. Especially watch for boom mikes at the top as it is likely the footage will be letterboxed and every bit visible. There are lots of options for setting markers in your viewfinder. See the manual for detailed instructions.
Use "VTR Save" position as much as possible instead of the “Standby” position to avoid draining batteries and head wear in the vtr. Start re-charging drained batteries as soon as possible.
Use "DCC" in the on position most of the time for the best dynamic contrast control, you can turn it off for special scenes or when using a RMP-150A remote camera control unit, in which case the "Auto Knee" button is used (auto knee is just another name for DCC) if not manually adjusting the gamma curves.
Use the White Balance on the camera for mixed lighting, or use Preset for natural early and late afternoon looks. It is usually a bad idea to white balance in a different light that where you are shooting to create "an effect". In general don't try to adjust the colors on the set or location for a warmer or colder look unless you have an engineer, you can always do that in post except for extreme day for night shooting. Do shoot gray scale and color test charts for critical set-ups. Do make sure you set up the monitor to color bars to assist in judging your exposure.
link to HD Cinema 24p Video Post Notes