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BERLIN at NIGHT With a VariCam LT Camera

How good is the Panasonic VariCam LT camera at night? Well that is what Tobias Mennle wanted to find the answer to, and here are his results.

EXT BERLIN – NIGHT (Varicam LT) from Tobias Mennle on Vimeo.

Shot on Varicam LT, mainly at ISO5000, with available light. Ethics statement: I was part of a team comparing 11 cameras for two days, sponsored by a couple of companies. Panasonic hired me as the Varicam LT operator. Test results will be published soon. I got this footage mainly while our model was waiting for the next camera setup. Except the second shot which is underexposed I went for optimal skin tones and shadow protection when needed. I can always let highlights blow out because the roll off is totally filmlike.

I was very interested comparing the Varicam LT to the Amira and C300II from shoot to final image. Ironically, the Canon C300II to me looks best with the Arri lut. I suspect since the firmware update Canon uses a stronger noise reduction combined with sharpening, so images look less filmic than when I first tested the C300II. But it is a very small and compact camera, and Canon should really push a compact design as far as they can, attacking the Arri Mini instead of competing with outdated Amiras/Alexas with their C700 design.

The Arri Amira feels twice as heavy and bulky as the Varicam LT, at about twice the price, and images were clearly inferior to the Varicam except at 100/200p. Even in 3.2K in ProRes444 and ISO800 the Amira had a much softer image with less colour differentiation. Probably the AA filter and image processing in the Amira is optimized for 2K, as the 3.2K does not seem to significantly increase image sharpness. Arri really needs to innovate fast and thoroughly offering better 4K. I recently had a disastrous shoot with an Arri Mini, with six groups of dead pixels turning up in my footage which nobody had ever noticed before, wondering if this was connected to the super compact body of the Mini (which is a thing of great beauty).

But, the Amira offers the best slow motion in 100/200fps, with crisp 1080p where the Varicam only yields good 720p due to sensor crop. In this case -1080/2k slomos – the Arris have a clear advantage due to their 2K nature. It is probably not trivial to downscale a full, crisp UHD/4K image from the Varicam to HD/2K generally and especially in slomos, but I do hope Panasonic will manage to offer this as soon as possible.

At higher ISOs the Varicam LT´s native ISO5000 is quite simply a game changer. I also enjoyed working for hours in the drizzle without worries when some other cameras needed to be protected under plastic covers. What a great idea to have ventilation slots at the top of the camera, fully exposed to rain (hello RED Raven and Ursa 4.6K…).

Lenses: Canon Cineprimes CN-E 24/T1.5, Canon CN-E 50/T1.3, kindly provided by Dirk Fobker/Canon Germany. Plus, Olympus OM Zuiko 50/2 macro (watch out for hexagonal Bokeh highlights), Olympus OM Zuiko 90/2 macro (two close ups of her eyes). These two Canon cine primes are dream lenses. Very sharp, but with lovely bokeh, good threedimensionality and much more organic and pleasing in skin and face rendering than the Sigma Art 24 and 50. Slightly warmer and more vivid in colour than their EF versions. Most probably the very best value for money in cine primes. It will be thrilling to compare them to the coming Sigma cine primes – which could be even sharper wide open – but in the end it´s all about how good people look like, and the Canons deliver that with a lovely glow. Canon should really add a S-35 18mm/T1.5 to the set soon (like they did with their now legendary K35 lenses in the 1970s). The Olympus Zuikos are all time favourites of mine.

Published 3-11-2016. Last update: 4-11-2016.

Cinematography, editing and grading: Tobias Mennle

Music: "Motel Lucky" by R-hive, licensed via audiojungle.

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