Camera kits

Dare the Unknown with the F55 in neon-lit Hong Kong

Dare the Unknown with the F55 in neon-lit Hong Kong

Fashion brand Palladium wants you to ‘Dare the Unknown’ in a new promo featuring rule-breaking New York-based super model Jazzelle (Zanaughtti), London Grime artist Octavian and Arthur Bray, a Hong Kong-based DJ and a founding member of the Yeti Out collective.

Directed by Vivek Vadoliya, the short film challenges us to be brave, forthcoming and courageous in everything we do and for Benjamin Thomas that applied to his cinematography for the project too.

It was producer Shimmy Ahmed’s friend, the director Lucy Luscombe, who suggested Thomas for the London, Paris and Hong Kong legs of the shoot.

“The NYC portion of the project with Jazzelle had already been shot on the Sony FS7 with vintage Leica lenses,” explains Thomas. “They wanted to use a similar camera package for continuity.

“Balanced against this my task was to film in an ad hoc documentary basis, often without a recce, in challenging shooting locations where additional lighting would often not be possible. They wanted to film mostly at night as Hong Kong tends to be lit by eye-popping neon that would add to the visual language of the film.”

Thomas’ go-to camera when working on a digital project is the Alexa Mini, or -  if resolution is of significance - the RED Helium: “as I aspire all my work to hold up if shown in a cinema,” says Thomas.

“However, the budget we had available to us was a limiting factor, so the challenge was to get the best camera package we could afford while matching what had already been shot.”

He continues, “For several years now I have been working with Barry at VMI, as his knowledge and stock of the latest film equipment available is all-encompassing. He suggested the Sony PMW-F55 for a number of reasons: a global shutter, internal NDs and a fast native ISO.

“A global shutter is handy for handheld shoots with fast camera movements and internal NDs are time saving to allow you to maintain the aperture you want while moving quickly between different lighting scenarios at will. The F55 has a base sensitivity to light of ISO 1250 making it favourable for documentary filmmaking when working with available light.”

Thomas knew that the Sony PMW-F55 shared the extended colour gamut of its bigger brother, the F65, so the F55 (installed with latest v9.0 firmware) won his vote over the FS7.

The project’s 1st AC, Michael Hobdell, echoed this decision as the F55 VMI provided came complete with an Anton Bauer battery plate with D-tap (“powering our wireless video and follow focus would not add unnecessary bulk”), and a PL lens mount to “provide maximum flexibility when choosing which vintage lenses I wanted to go for,” explains Thomas.

In addition, the option for DNxHD recording meant the project’s editor (David Graham) could cut in Avid without having to transcode all the footage if time was in short supply.

For lenses, Thomas opted for Cooke S2/3 Speed Panchros. “They have a unique look and they save me the extra faff of using creative filters,” he says. “The Speed Panchros naturally produce a slightly softened, diffused image which means when I’m looking for a flare or to minimise the size of the camera when in a tight space, I can lose the lightweight clip-on matte box without changing the look of the footage.”

Since VMI have had its set of the lenses professionally rehoused by TLS, there would be no issue when used in conjunction with a wireless LCS.

“I had considered both Canon K35s and the Bausch & Lomb Super Baltar lenses, having used them both on feature films with great success, but I was seeking a different aesthetic, and having tested and compared all these vintage spherical lenses - and several sets of vintage anamorphic lenses - I knew that the Cooke’s would most closely match the Leicas already used.”

Footage was recorded internally at S-Log 3, S Gamut 3.cine ISO 1250 XAVC 2K (2048 x 1080) 25/50P with the exception of some product and driving shots that were captured at XAVC 4K (4096 x 2160) 50P.

“Since we had to bottleneck our grade with the FS7 footage, we opted against RAW capture as this would have necessitated the use of an external recorder,” he says. “Although VMI stock both the AXS-R5 or AXS-R7 external RAW recorders, this is an optional extra for the F55 and would have increased the footprint and form factor of the camera as well as increasing our hire cost and post budget.”

The production was able to save further on costs by using a Petrol carry-on bag and camera coffin when travelling to Hong Kong, a portability “which took the pressure off significantly,” Thomas says.

The shoot was split into two sections: with three days in London and Paris beforehand, and some days later, flying to Hong Kong for an additional three shoot days spread over a week.

“Barry was able to let us hang on to all the kit for the entire three week duration at a keen rate to make the project work. In short, we could not have made this film without the generous support of Barry and the entire team at VMI.”

The film was graded by Caroline Morin at Cheat in Hackney and can be viewed at Vimeo


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