Varicam LT on its first factual series in Canada

Two episodes in, I am so happy to see that TVO’s new series Political Blind Date, is being so well received by viewers and critics. When Mark Johnston of Nomad Films approached me to be the Director of Photography on the series, I knew that the potential for success for the series was really high, as long as we could get the authentic interaction using natural light and minimal disturbance of the moments. We did everything in our ability to let the politicians not think about what the crew was doing and let them concentrate on being present with each other.

Going through all the regular suspects of cameras during the idea stage of the show, I had the chance to use the (then new to Canada) Panasonic Varicam LT on a no budget music video. For me, the best test of a camera is to actually use it in real conditions and the music video was a perfect stress test. In an afternoon and into a fall night, we ran through the entire range of frame rates and ISO’s.

I immediately fell in love with the camera’s dynamic range and skin tones, but soon understood the power of the dual native 800 and 5000 ISOs. After some further low light tests to show the producers of PBD, everyone was convinced this was the camera we wanted to use.

VaricamLT from Russell Gienapp on Vimeo.

Looking at those tests at Eggplant Pictures with colourist, Mark Driver, we did some very quick grading of the footage in his suite. Mark couldn’t stop pointing out the amount of colour information in the shadows and the robust codec that he could really lean on. The first part of the above test is the Varicam shot at 800 ISO in a “challenging” natural window light situation, and the last sequence is shot way in the back of the bar, far away from the only source of light (the front window). I was going for an impossible scenario that my subjects went somewhere that you just couldn’t shoot and expect to get a clean picture. By pushing the 5000 ISO to 6400 and turning off the shutter, I couldn’t believe the detail in the shadows that I couldn’t see with my naked eye.

I knew then that I wanted to shoot this doc series with the LT.

jagmeet_doug.jpg.size-custom-crop.1086x0Leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh and Doug Ford ride together in downtown Toronto.

I also quickly started to appreciate the dynamic range of the Varicam and how easy it was to shoot in the most demanding lighting situations of sun and shade. The LT has simply changed the way that I work in documentary and now find myself having more brain power to think about the story in front of me rather than other camera related concerns. Arguably, it is hard to take a bad picture with any professional camera these days, but for me the LT is the best documentary camera (price, ergonomics, picture) that is on the market today.

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The reverse shot of the politicians above with me sitting on the back of a cargo bike. The only way we could follow their trip on the bike lanes and react quickly if they stopped and did something unexpected. Of course they did…

For years, I always found a reason to only rent cameras. They were too expensive, too cumbersome, needs to have external recorder, not robust enough… Nothing inpired me to make the leap and buy a professional grade body. From the first time I used the camera, being the first person to buy the Varicam LT in Canada and now a year later, I know that I found the right tool for me. I look forward to shooting with and learning more about this camera and what it can do.

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Lunch Break after our bike ride

More projects coming and more interesting places to bring my Varicam LT sure to be coming in the not too distant future.

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