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HD Expo's Panasonic VariCam 'VariCamp'

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HD Expo's Panasonic VariCam 'VariCamp'
A Creative COW Report On HD Expo's Panasonic VariCam 'VariCamp'

James Kelty

James Kelty
James Kelty & Associates, Cambria, California USA

©2004 by CreativeCow.net. All rights are reserved.


Article Focus:
James Kelty has always considered himself more of a writer-director than an editor or cinematographer. But in today's ever-changing production world, like many independent producers working on project videos and/or documentaries, Jim is quickly becoming a skilled editor -- using a CinéWave system armed with Final Cut Pro. Recently, after a long career shooting film, he has begun using video in some of his projects. As part of this move, he attended HD Expo's "VariCamp" in Hollywood in January, 2004, where Jim began his exploration of High Definition using Panasonic's VariCam. Jim concludes that it offers new options to producer-directors and he found HD to have "the types of innovations that kept making me think hi-def is selling itself short through the constant comparisons to film, and that the technology is essentially creating new visual language and production capability all its own." Here is his report...




As a small project producer who’s been on the bleeding edge of technological change so long my accountant refers to me as “O Negative,” it was with a heavy dose of skepticism that I arrived at HD Expo / Production Group’s hi-def “Varicamp” in Hollywood in January, with my I-V cart in tow.

The Varicamp is a three-day hands on workshop where participants get to kick the tires on Panasonic’s DVCPro HD camera, nicknamed the Varicam because of the variable frame rate wizardry it places in the hands of the videographer.





“No Rules, Just Tools”
Panasonic’s goal in pushing variable frame rates was to achieve film-like motion effects (over cranking and under cranking in film speak), and the camera records from 4 frames to 60 frames per second. When used in conjunction with a digital field recording unit called an FRC or “frame rate converter,” the motion effects seemed to my eyes to go where no film camera has gone before. Picture the spinning spokes of a bicycle wheel where you dial in the precise speed and level of motion blur desired.


Full Control
Panasonic also went after film’s legendary color richness and wide contrast latitudes through the creation of, and I quote the manual, “an exclusive gamma curve for reproducing film tones by means of the CCDs.” The modes to choose on the top menu level are “Film Rec” or “Video Rec,” corresponding to the basic intention of the program, dramatic film style or ENG video style. As for the specific menus choices, that was a mine field that I, a mere producer, will never enter, but I did grasp the essence of the revolution: personalized setups that can be copied to removable media, allowing cameras for multi-cam shoots to be prepped identically. Think of shooters on the same project, one in Greenland emailing his settings to the other in Sydney.

Another advantage to this technology, as opposed to film, is of course the instant gratification that all video enjoys. Essentially, scenes are lit and composed to the field monitor in a “what you see is what you’re going to get” manner.





Choose Your Battles
These were the types of innovations that kept making me think hi-def is selling itself short through the constant comparisons to film, and that the technology is essentially creating new visual language and production capability all its own.

But it was a battle fought to the bitter end. On the final day of the workshop, campers attended sessions at the Post Group, where hi-def was thrown in the ring with 35mm in a 20-minute program produced several years ago, a contest apparently won by film in the areas of abililty to handle exposure latitudes and color depth.


The Bottom Line
The choice for hi-def over film, of course, isn’t purely an aesthetic one. It’s about money too. Clearly, hi-def is the choice if one looks at stock and developing costs. On the other hand, crew requirements for hi-def are not insignificant, set-up times also. And just try talking English to a DIT sometime (digital imaging technician). Shooting hi-def without one of these guys to pull it all together is like the Wizard of Oz with no wizard. Hey - he wasn’t a real wizard though, come to think of it.

Still, just as I learned editing after years of working with the same editor who moved to another part of the world altogether, I found myself thinking that there were many areas where Panasonic's pre-sets and menu items would be useful to an independent producer like me but with the aid of a digital imaging technician the Panasonic VariCam can do many things that I've never done in all the years I've been using film.


###


For more info about HD Expo's VariCamp please visit: http://www.hdexpo.net/workshops/index.html

To learn more about Jim Kelty’s work or to contact him, visit www.keltyassoc.com
or email him directly at jkelt@charter.net.

Jim Kelty can also be found as a host in Creative Cow's Indie Film & Documentaries forum



James Kelty, a writer/producer in Cambria, California, does not consider himself a technical person. "He's a storyteller, someone very gifted in finding the essence of the humanity in the stories he communicates," says longtime friend and Creative Cow co-founder, Ron Lindeboom. "He also has a great eye for catching the shot and with these skills, he brings his stories to life. It's one of the reasons that he's been able to enlist the help of some rather big names in some of his productions." But when the editor with whom he had worked for years moved and began working in another city, Jim realized that he better learn some of the technical side if he wanted to stay competitive among clients aware of dropping technology prices. So, after landing on CinéWave with Final Cut Pro as his system of choice, he has begun exploring camera choices and the rapidly expanding world of High Definition video -- this after spending years in the world of film.



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