CAMERAS: Food Fights with the FS700

You want 240fps 1920x1080? I've got your high-speed HD right here... for less than $10K.
Art Adams
By Art Adams 05.16.12

When Adam Wilt and I shot "Fire and Ice" together on a prototype FS700 we had no idea that it would be shown at NAB... and that it would be hit. We wanted to do more, so we pitched Sony a commercial concept for a local company that involved high speed "veggie baseball." Guess what: they sent us an FS700 again. Edible baseball never looked so good.

A while back I shot a spec spot/demo piece with director Ian McCamey and a prototype Arri Alexa. After the success of "Fire and Ice" I approached Ian to see if he had any ideas for future projects that might take advantage of affordable slow motion. As it turns out, our timing was excellent: Colin Stuart, star of the Alexa demo video, is CTO of a company called Betabrand, a boutique clothing company that makes a lot of very cool and unique fashion items, and they wanted to shoot an offbeat promo for their new line of vegetable-dyed clothing. Ian had a discussion with Colin and CEO Chris Lindland, and the upshot was that they decided to shoot a slow motion food fight in a San Francisco park.

Our plan was to capture all of this at 240fps, the highest speed at which the FS700 can record in full 1920x1080 HD.

The camera arrived last week fitted with a Nikon lens adapter, and Adam Wilt volunteered himself as camera assistant along with his collection of Nikkor zooms (12-24, 17-55 and 70-200) and Vinten sticks to shoot the project. We both invested in garbage bags, drop cloths and full-body Tyvek painting suits as I expected to be quite close to the action and we didn't want to destroy a camera that hasn't been officially released yet. I like to get the camera close and wide in order to enhance depth in action shots, and this paid off in a big way for at least one take.

We had two location options for our shoot day (Friday, May 11) and we opted for the second. Our first choice had a baseball diamond but was up on a hill and high winds made it unusable. Our second choice, Precitas Park in Bernal Heights, was considerably less windy, so we rallied there. As we financed this shoot ourselves we didn't bother with permits and such; we just showed up with a bunch of fun people and a new camera and littered a park with food. (We did clean up afterward, which was a bit of a chore.)

Ian and I set up our first shot. Note that we are not yet wearing any protective clothing. Ah, we were so young and naive then...

Initially we hung back on longer lenses and got some pitching shots, but before long we felt the urge to destroy food with a bat so we wrapped the camera in a garbage bag, taped plastic drop cloth around the legs, and gaffer-taped my Formatt ND .30 filter to the front of the lens as an optical flat. This made operating quite difficult as I had to cram my head under a garbage bag and pull the bag taught so the wind didn't blow it between my head and the on-camera monitor. I operated a couple of shots by instinct as the bag occasionally blew in front of my face at just the wrong time.

We started with hot dogs and quickly moved into half gallon containers of milk, chocolate pudding, balls of frozen ice cream and, at one point, a whole baked chicken. You'll have to wait for the final spot to be completed to see most of this, but there will be a piece cut specifically for Sony to show at CineGear 2012. (We'll see if the chicken makes it into that cut. It's one of those shots that causes hysterical yet guilty laughter.)

Let's start with a simple tomato:

Colin Stuart takes aim at a ripe tomato, technically turning the park into a salad.

Slow motion is a tricky thing. It almost always looks better when the camera moves, but the moves are hard to accomplish because everything happens incredibly quickly. We captured eight second "bursts" at 240fps, which is a bit over six times normal speed and plays back over about 80 seconds of real time. Part of operating a shot like this is getting a feel for the range of motion by watching rehearsals, and trying to decide whether to move the camera to make the shot more dynamic (or save it if it goes wrong!) or to just let it play in a static frame. In this case I framed the shot to play out over time: by keeping Colin on the right of frame and anticipating where the strike was going to happen I created a composition that started "off balance" but then achieved balance when the strike occurred. Compositions happen over both space and time, and by starting with an off-balance frame and letting the action within the frame complete the composition I created a much more interesting shot. The beginning "off balance" composition creates a subtle tension that is released when the composition is balanced.

This is probably how most people would frame this shot anyway, but in my case there's an extra bit of thought that goes into it. (According to some people I "over think" things like this. I prefer to think of it as "Doing my homework and ensuring results." It also helps me communicate my techniques to others, which helps when teaching or giving instructions to second unit cinematographers.)

I should mention that I set the camera's shutter at a hard 1/1000th of a second. I don't like to use degrees to set a digital camera's shutter because degrees are relative: the exposure changes depending on the frame rate, whereas I'd like to choose a shutter speed and know exactly what the camera is doing at any given time. For example, shooting 24fps with a 180-degree shutter results in a 1/48th of a second shutter speed, which is not always safe to use with sources that have magnetic ballasts (like overhead fluorescents, LED-lit signs, etc.). I prefer instead to choose a fraction, such as 1/60th, and know that I'm getting an exact shutter speed of 1/60th of a second, which is a very safe flicker-free window for HMIs under 60hz power.

I mentioned that we recorded shots in eight second bursts. The FS700 operates very similarly to the Phantom, which captures data in a buffer before transferring it to a storage device. The reason for this is that the buffer, which is solid state memory, has a much greater write speed than does removable media.

First, though, let's distinguish between modes:

Slow and Quick mode allows the camera to record at speeds between 1 and 60fps directly to the SD card. Rolling the camera is as simple as pushing the record button to start and pushing it again to stop.

Super Slow Motion routes image data directly into the buffer. Once this buffer is full the contents can then be written out to the SD card at 60fps, which is the fastest speed at which the data can be written to the card. There are several ways to initiate recording:

In Super Slow Motion mode the camera is always writing to the buffer--shoving images in the front and discarding them out the back--so it's possible to set the record button to capture whatever is in the buffer when the record button is pushed. This turns the record button into an "end trigger" where the data that is currently in the buffer, the previous eight seconds at 240fps (the time buffered varies depending on the record speed), is captured and saved. Hitting the record button after an event captures the previous eight seconds of time, which (hopefully) contains your event.

The record button can also be configured for simple start and stop operation: pushing the button once tells the buffer to start accumulating data, and pushing the button again stops this process immediately. If the record button isn't pressed before the buffer fills then the camera will stop recording automatically when the buffer is full.

Once the shot is captured in the buffer the camera immediately starts laying it off to the removable media. During this process the shot plays back in the on-camera monitor, which offers a great chance to review the take and see if the important action was captured. (The shot is played back at 60fps during lay off, not 24fps, in order to minimize down time and get the camera ready to capture the next shot.)

After lay off was complete we were able to play back from the SD card and view the take at 240-for-24fps, but doing so took the camera out of Super Slow Motion mode. It's important to remember to hit the S&Q button after playback to put the camera back into slow motion motion before rolling again.

NOTE: The S&Q button can be set to toggle through both S&Q and Super Slow Motion modes, or it can be set to bypass one or the other. In our case Adam set the S&Q button to bypass S&Q mode and go directly to Super Slow Motion whenever the button was pushed. After playback, when the camera dropped into normal recording mode, this setting allowed me to hit the S&Q button and return immediately to Super Slow Motion mode.

Surely there are better ways to toss a salad...

There's more whacky food-fight goodness on the next page...

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Disclosure, to comply with the FTC’s rules 16 CFR Part 255 This article was either written by Sony employees or for Sony by an outside contractor. It is intended for the Sony Channel on ProVideo Coalition, which Sony sponsors.