VETUS is a new multi-platform Australian sci-fi/fantasy/horror live action web series, comic book and video game set in 15th century Romania. Directed by Alan Chen and starring Mia Pistorius (Wonderland, Spartacus) as Rosa and Jai Koutrae (Terminus, The Half Dead) as Vlad that used Videocraft as an equipment partner and a Sony F5 camera and Fujinon Cabrio lens combo to shoot its live action.
Producer and cinematographer on VETUS Benjamin Shepherd explained, “I have been working on-set with the Sony F5 for sometime now, so much so that I fell in love with it and had to add it to my kit. It’s such a versatile camera, you can spec up or down depending on the type of project and its requirement. I have found it serves as a great camera for about 70% of my work. I am still a big advocate in picking the right tool for the right job so my approach to each project is the same. That said it’s great to see the Sony F5 come up as often as it does.”
Shepherd had a number of technical considerations as joint cinematographer and producer when selecting the right camera and lens package for the VETUS series teaser and four character clips.
He continued, “Without giving too much away the teaser film is broken up into two distinct visual styles which I wanted to achieve in camera. My approach to achieve this was to shoot the ethereal world sequence with vintage anamorphics and the rest of the sequences with spherical lenses. Anticipating that the films, especially the teaser, were to be treated with heavy VFX I needed a camera that would ideally be able to deliver at least 4K resolution and RAW. I intended to shoot the ethereal world sequence with anamorphics so the camera of choice needed to be able to handle the 2x anamorphic lenses along with a range of spherical glass. Another technical requirement was shooting the character clips off speed and doing so while at 4K RAW was an added requirement.”
Shooting out on location at Oberon in a pine forest Shepherd and the VETUS crew were dealing with rough undulating terrain and also a tight shooting schedule. The camera and lens package needed to be small and nimble as they had a reduced camera crew and didn’t want to jeopardise the Steadicam operator’s safety running with a large camera rig.
Shepherd continued, “The versatility and quality of the F5 for the price point is fantastic. It can be built as a run and gun ENG style camera but then also spec’d up to a 4K RAW cinema camera. These days we are spoilt for choice with so many camera options, but I feel the Sony F5 is one of the best bang for your buck cameras in the market. The evolution of the F series has been really impressive, Sony are keeping their promises and even listening to users on their online community which says a lot considering the experiences users are having with some other camera manufacturers. The F5 is sitting in a position in the market where it can be considered for drama, documentaries and ENG productions, all without too much compromise and it won’t break the budget.”
The workflow on VETUS was simple and efficient. Dual recording 4K RAW on SSDs and 2K XAVC on internal SxS cards meant Shepherd walked off set with proxies ready to go. Offline was done in Adobe Premiere CC with Cutting Edge grading the teaser.
As well as choosing the right camera Shepherd had a choice of equipment partners to consider. His choice was a straightforward one as he explained, “Videocraft and Panavision are my go to rental houses for the VETUS project. Videocraft being Sony specialists supplied me with specific Sony gear and also the Fujinon lenses. The Videocraft team are delightful to work with and with a relationship ongoing for close to 10 years now, they are one of my favourites. I have bought and hired plenty of gear with Shane in sales and Nick in rentals, as they have been very supportive and unknowingly a key factor to my growth as a cinematographer in the industry.”
With camera and equipment partners chosen all that remained was his choice of lenses. The result was surprising according to Shepherd due to the quality he ended up achieving for the price. He added, “The Fujinon Cabrio series are such a neat set of lenses. My criteria for the spherical lenses was resolution, clarity, speed, look and feel and practicality of on-set use. When researching my options I knew I needed to produce an image that maintained the 4K resolution but at the same time wasn’t overly sharp. Pulling references and reading various articles I found that the Cabrio lenses performed at their sharpest at T5.6, but for my purposes it was too sharp, the image contrast and resolution was looking a little too harsh so I shot the with the Cabrios around T4, as wide open at T2.9. They are a touch softer compared to T4 but once closed down by half a stop the image settles nicely.”
Comparing the use of primes versus zooms brought in the two criteria factors of lens speed and practicality of use. Ultimately the shooting schedule and reduced camera crew in rough terrain meant we needed a swift and nimble setup, so the zooms were chosen and the Cabrio 19-90 and 85-300 lenses were able to pull through with workable speeds of T2.9 and T4 respectively. The Cabrios did such a great job and have a really nice look. For VETUS stylistically I decided to work with more mid to longer focal lengths, the Cabrios bokeh had a really nice look and the colour rendition was very natural.”
On-set Shepherd set about using his F5 and Cabrio combo to the best of its capabilities. He added, “I also underrated the native ISO (2000EI) of the sensor by setting my light meter and in camera monitoring LUT to hover between 640 and 800 ISO. By over exposing the RAW I could take full advantage of the sensor’s dynamic range and data but also make sure my shadows were super crisp and as noiseless as possible. Being a dark film I wanted to make sure the image was going to have as much flexibility in the grade and VFX. I opted to use the slog3/sgamut3 as my gamma and colour gamut setting with a hypergamma as my monitoring LUT.”
The Sony F5 had two basic setups for two different scenes in the VETUS teaser. When the crew were shooting the ethereal world sequence they were using vintage Lomo Anamorphic lenses with the F5 configured to handle the 2x squeeze factor of the lenses which meant Shepherd could watch a de-squeezed image on-set – something he found a real bonus explaining, “That was such a great feature to have even though the Super35 sensor is a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. When shooting the rest of the sequences I was shooting with the Fujinon Cabrio spherical lenses. These lenses took advantage of the full frame of the Super35 4K sensor, therefore in camera we ran anamorphic guide frames so we could match all footage for the final aspect ratio output of 2.35:1. When we approached the VFX live action plates I ran the viewing monitor naked without any guide frames, framing with the full 1.85:1 image which meant I could give VFX as much resolution as possible.”