I remember the first email I got through The Black and Blue and how excited I was about it. It meant somebody was reading the site and enjoyed it enough to contact me!
That was almost three years ago.
But the volume makes it hard to provide the kind of in-depth answers I like to give. So to help my inbox stay clean and educate those of you who may be pondering the same things as other readers, I’m launching “Raw Stock” – a bi-weekly article series in which I answer emails from you.
And to kick things off, we have 5 big questions to deal with…
Is There a Master List of Filter Tags?
I have been going through your site and searching for hours on various search engines for a proper filter tags list and I honestly haven’t came across a “full” filter tag list yet. Every time I go to a new production I seem to find out a few new filters which I need to make tags for so it would be very useful to have a list of which to print prior to making them when the cameras are seconds away from rolling.
The reason you have yet to stumble across a full filter tag list is because of the sheer number of filters out there. Multiply that by the number of variances and you’ve got yourself quite the handful of tags.
The closest thing I could find to a complete list was this FilmTools listing of engraved filter tags. If you click on the drop down, it shows you all the various options of what you can get engraved (in multiple colors, no less). By my count, there were 71 different filters on that list.
Instead, I suggest you do what I do: rather than printing the tags right before the camera is rolling, take advantage of your camera prep. Each time I get a new job and I’m prepping the camera, I make new tags (unless some magically survived the last gig) and attach them to the inside of the filter pouch. That way they’re ready to go on Day 1.
If I ever need one immediately, I don’t bother to print it out. I rip off a piece of camera tape, use a Sharpie to write the filter name, and slap it on the matte box. When I have some time — between setups or later that night — I’ll make a nice printed version. Until then, I use what works.
A list would be nice, but your time will be better served making them gig-by-gig. You’ll end up using a lot of the same ones each time anyway.
Will a Rental House Hire Me?
I’ve PA-ed on sets big and small but have always wanted to enter the camera department. I know very little about cameras and the many technical/numerical aspects of photography, but have been doing some research online. I was told that a good way to enter the camera department is by starting at a camera rental house. As far as you know, would a camera house take in someone that knows nothing about cameras? What is your advice on how to go about this?
Working at a camera rental house is a good way to solve two of your problems:
- It will help you learn a lot about cameras
- It will introduce you to crew in the camera department
That said, a rental house wouldn’t hire somebody that knows nothing about cameras. That wouldn’t be smart business on their part. The good news is, if you’re willing to start at the bottom, you don’t have to be a master of lens optics to get the job.
What you will need to know are the basic principles of cinematography — how cameras work, the pieces of a camera and how they interact, and the terms people use to discuss them. The fastest way to learn this is by picking up some books like The Filmmaker’s Handbook, Doug Hart’s The Camera Assistant (or the more advanced Camera Assistant’s Manual by David Elkins), and the ASC Manual.
This is all assuming, of course, that the job you want at the rental house is some sort of tech position or trainee. If they have an opening for a receptionist, you could always try to snag that and then hover over the techs poking and prodding them with your questions until you can be promoted.
But, if I were you, I’d dive into the information head on yourself. It’s important to know and you’ll have to know it eventually if you want to have any significant career within the camera department.
Good luck, Susie!
Why Do We Have 23.98 fps as well as Pure 24 fps?
I was driving home from work last night and a random camera question came in my head, thought you’d be the best one to ask. What is the deal with 23.97? Why is it not 24? The camera can’t take 23 frames and then .97 of another frame right?, I thought it had to do with power/hertz but not sure where this came from and how does [a] camera capture .97 of a frame.
I’ll admit, this question stumped me when you first posed it, Daniel. I had never given it much thought — 23.98 was just always there. I never considered to ask why it existed. So, as with all filmmaking questions that stump me, I turned to The Filmmaker’s Handbook to provide some clarity.
I was not disappointed:
“In 1953, color TV was introduced, and to keep the new system compatible with the old one, a technical quirk required that the existing 30 fps frame rate be lowered by 0.1 percent. This made NTSC’s actual frame rate 29.97 fps. For simplicity’s sake, when people talk about this rate they often round it up to 30. In countries where NTSC is the rule, if you see a scanning rate expressed in a whole number, that’s usually for convenience, and the actual frame rate is 0.1 percent lower. That is, 30 really means 29.97 and 60 fields per second really means 59.94 fields.”
Confused yet? We haven’t even got to the part where they talk about 24 fps:
“24 fps is a special case. In the case of most video cameras in these territories, 24 really means 23.976 (often written 23.98 fps). Unfortunately there are times when 24 fps really means exactly 24 fps (such as when shooting with film cameras or with the latest digital cinematography cameras). To avoid confusion, it helps to be as precise as you can.”
OK so that tells us 23.98 exists because of a technical quirk, but it doesn’t say why solving that technical quirk was necessary to keep color NTSC compatible with black and white NTSC.
So I did some more digging and turned up Wikipedia gold:
“For backward compatibility with black-and-white television, NTSC uses a luminance-chrominance encoding system invented in 1938 by Georges Valensi. Luminance (derived mathematically from the composite color signal) takes the place of the original monochrome signal. Chrominance carries color information. This allows black-and-white receivers to display NTSC signals simply by filtering out the chrominance. If it were not removed, the picture would be covered with dots (a result of chroma being interpreted as luminance).
When a transmitter broadcasts an NTSC signal, it amplitude-modulates a radio-frequency carrier with the NTSC signal just described, while it frequency-modulates a carrier 4.5 MHz higher with the audio signal. If non-linear distortion happens to the broadcast signal, the 3.579545 MHz color carrier may beat with the sound carrier to produce a dot pattern on the screen.
To make the resulting pattern less noticeable, designers adjusted the original 60 Hz field rate down by a factor of 1.001 (0.1%), to approximately 59.94 fields per second. This adjustment ensures that the sums and differences of the sound carrier and the color subcarrier and their multiples (i.e., the intermodulation products of the two carriers) are not exact multiples of the frame rate, which is the necessary condition for the dots to remain stationary on the screen, making them most noticeable.”
So, basically, engineers trying to make a dot pattern less noticeable on early color televisions helped bring us to the 23.976 fps standard we use today.
As for how the camera captures .976 of a frame, not all do. Film cameras wouldn’t capture a fraction of the frame because they are using an analog format. It is purely a digital phenomena that helps comply with this NTSC standard using something called “pull-down,” which is a whole other bag of worms.
Is it Good to Shoot with Vintage Lenses?
My question is actually about using vintage photography lenses instead of cine lenses — such as putting gears on a vintage photography lens so it can be used with a follow focus. Is it possible and good to shoot with vintage photography lenses or is a cine lens a must?
It is possible to shoot with any lens you want. You can even do lens whacking and not even worry about properly mounting it. No one type of lens is a “must.”
As the great Roger Deakins has said, “My way is just one of an infinite number of ways to do the job.”
Or, in other words, there’s no “right” way or “wrong” way.
With that said, you will experience trade-offs whichever direction you go with lenses. If you use cine lenses, you will lose that retro look you like from the vintage lens. If you use the vintage lens, you will lose some of the practical advantages of cine lenses such as focus markings, precise optics, and guaranteed coverage of a sensor.
Whether it is “good” to go one way or the other is up to you. Are the practical downfalls of the vintage lens offset enough by the beauty of its look? Will the vintage lens be so hard to pull focus on that everything will be soft? Are there any cine lenses available that can match the look you’re going for? Would the particular look from the vintage lens be better recreated in post-production?
Only you can answer those questions and decide which lens is best for your project.
How Can I Help a DP Choose a Camera System?
I always seem to be “guiding” DP’s on what camera they should use to suit their film since, sadly, most of them seem to only think there is RED vs. Alexa and Superspeeds vs. Master Primes. Maybe that’s because I run a rental house, but usually they come to me asking which to use when there are a plethora of others that might fit them better. I am always afraid of offending them or suggesting the wrong camera for their style. Do you ever run into this? How do you personally go about explaining how to pick a camera/lens system to a DP?
First of all, Evan, nice name.
Second of all, great question. It is entirely normal for a director of photography (DP) to consult their camera assistant (AC) about what type of camera package to go with. While a DP is expected to know camera systems, they think about them in different terms than an AC does. Remember, they’re the creative expert, but you’re the technical expert.
However, it appears from your question that you’re offering some unsolicited advice. That makes things a bit trickier.
The best way to handle this situation is by planting the seeds of whatever you think would work into their head and letting them come to that conclusion on their own. How do you do this? Ask them questions: “Have you ever thought about using the F55?” “Will the RED be able to handle that one scene good enough?”
Let them ponder those questions and you’ll challenge them to rethink what direction they were going in. Maybe it will have no effect, maybe it will. And at the end of it, lightly suggest, “I know you like this camera, but in my experience, this one also holds up really well. Just consider it.”
Ultimately, it isn’t your choice – you’re there to provide guidance and a suggestion.
Luckily in most cases for me, the camera system has been chosen. Either the DP is confident in their choice or the production has chosen for them (usually because of budget). In that case I say, “OK” and get on with it. I’m paid to work with the camera that’s given to me.
But the times where I have talked with the DP about which camera to go with, I find it’s more of a collaborative process. I like to ask them questions about what look they’re going for, what practical concerns they see rising up based on the script, and then make suggestions on that.
Your job as a camera assistant is to give them options, but it’s their job to pick the best one.
Now if they’re coming to you as a rental tech, well, be honest while still keeping their business.
Have Your Own Questions?
I read every email that comes into my inbox and will select some of the best questions to be featured here on Raw Stock. So if you have your own questions, please shoot me an email, send me a tweet, or leave a note on Facebook.
I love the opportunity Raw Stock gives me to provide better answers to emails while sharing that information with the greater Black and Blue community. Plus, it gives you the chance to lend further thoughts in the comments. The idea right now is to do this bi-weekly and see how it goes.
So don’t be shy and let’s see if together we can help this Raw Stock experiment take off.
Thanks to Chris, Susie, Daniel, Victor, and Evan for their questions!