The current state of the world has posed challenges for all of us. As filmmakers, our challenges have been extra unique. Budgets are reduced, crews need to be smaller, and we are generally expected to work with less resources. That’s why we created the free Ninja Filmmaking mini-course: to show you how to create big results by outthinking your challenges. We’ll break down exactly how to plan out your story and be a far more proactive, stealth and intentional filmmaker.
Graphic courtesy of Muse Storytelling.
Graphic courtesy of Muse Storytelling.
The Muse Storytelling folks have launched a free online short course under the title Ninja Filmmaking that is aimed at helping moviemakers cope and survive if not thrive in this pandemic-affected world.
If things were difficult enough for independent self-funded documentary moviemakers before the arrival of COVID-19, they are even more challenging now with personal income and resources radically reduced and yet even more need for us to produce compelling visual storytelling to production standards that are constantly growing higher and higher.
Luckily, we are in the post-DSLR filmmaking revolution era, the now well-established mirrorless hybrid era with high quality, affordable cameras that can record excellent stills as well as video footage to current UHD broadcast and cinema projection standards.
Moviemaking remains, however, a predominantly white, middle-class occupation except in places where those of us locked out of the system have banded together in cooperatives with the support of donors and mentors to equip and teach ourselves to tell our own stories.
The last such organization located in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Paddington shut its doors several years ago after charging high fees for equipment rental and training during its later years.
Any free or affordable training by well-qualified moviemakers is welcome and I am for grateful Muse Storytelling’s ‘Ninja Filmmaking’ online course and advice on what for current production standards by one-person bands.
Moviemaking remains costly here
As Drew Turney of Filmism.net shared in a recent newsletter:
We all know moviemaking is an inherently expensive exercise. Even the amount of money we’d consider low (or no) budget filmmaking would be enough to get the average middle class family out of debt for the rest of their lives.
Drew bounces between Perth in Western Australia and Los Angeles, and is doubtless aware that moviemaking is an even more costly exercise in Australia than it is in the USA, with our exchange rates, lack of importer and retailer competition and local unavailability of many key items as well as non-representation of a number of useful, even essential, brands.
Nonetheless the equipment list shared by the Muse/Ninja folks is a good one based on the currently most affordable and versatile feature-quality Super 35 hybrid camera, the Fujifilm X-T4, supported by microphones from Australia’s own world-famous audio equipment maker, Røde Microphones, along with other currently popular lighting and grip products.
Production hardware recommended by Ninja Filmmaking
Fujifilm X-T4 with Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR zoom lens.
Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR professional Red Badge standard zoom lens.
Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 with Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 Aspheric wide to standard zoom lens.
Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 Aspheric Power OIS zoom lens mounted on Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5, water-splashed to demonstrate weather-sealing on lens and camera. Image courtesy of Panasonic Australia.
Panasonic Lumix DC-G100 mirrorless digital camera with Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Aspheric zoom lens and Panasonic DMW-SHGR1 Tripod Grip.
Blackmagic Design’s Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K aka BMPCC 4K.
Blackmagic Design’s Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K aka BMPCC 6K with Meike 35mm T2.1 Super 35 cinema prime lens.
Sigma fp L-mount 4K 35mm sensor hybrid video and photography camera.
Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 with Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens and Atomos Ninja V 5″ 4K HDMI Monitor/Recorder.
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art EF-mount fast zoom lens can be adapted for a range of Super 35/APS-C cameras or for cameras with larger sensors that can be set to Super 35/APS-C.
The Olympus M.Zuiko Pro professional prime and zoom lens collection as of late 2017, all with manual clutch focus, invaluable for fast, accurate and repeatable manual focusing as well as linear focus-by-wire and autofocus.
Meike 35mm T2.1 Super35 Cinema Prime with EF or PL mount.
Miller Air Carbon Fiber Tripod System.
Sachtler System FSB 4 Fluid Head with Sideload Plate, Flowtech 75 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Mid-Level Spreader and Rubber Feet.
Rotolight Aeos 2-Light LED Kit for video or stills photography.
The Muse Storytelling team’s Ninja Filmmaking gear list is a good one and in the best of all possible worlds would be affordable and findable at local retailers, had COVID-19 not arrived to disrupt supply chains and global air freight not to mention Australian and US postal reliability, or rather, the lack thereof.
As underlined by the Ninja Filmmaking list’s reliance on Røde Microphone’s products for audio recording, Australian brands such as Atomos, Blackmagic Design and Miller Tripods are highly regarded in video production around the world for their affordability and durability under challenging conditions.
While Fujifilm’s X-T4 Super 35 hybrid camera is an impressive performer and the company’s Fujinon prime and zoom lenses are justly respected by cinematographers, there are other approaches to video production.
Panasonic has been making strides in its S-Series 35mm sensor hybrid cameras with the Netflix-approved Lumix S1H while the recently announced S5 looks like a respectable and affordable lower-specced alternative A or B camera.
Panasonic’s G-Series Micro Four Thirds hybrid cameras like the Lumix GH5, GH5S and even the G9 have impressive video capabilities, excellent IBIS and a documentary-style Super 16 4K look and feel, though many moviemakers regret the company’s reliance on DFD contrast-detection autofocus when autofocus rather than traditional manual focus-pulling is becoming increasingly important for one-person bands.
While Westcott’s Flex Lights are impressively versatile in combination with the company’s Scrim Jim bounce and diffusion system, I have long relied on industry-leading Rotolight’s LED lights for stills and video.
Sachtler’s Flowtech tripods are reportedly fast and efficient to use on location by solo moviemakers while Miller’s solo user tripods are solid performers and prove great investments, lasting for many years in the trenches.
Independent stills and now video tripod maker 3 Legged Thing continues to expand its range with constant innovation in a field where innovation was sluggish for years.
Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro manual clutch focus cum fly-by-wire autofocus professional lenses are benchmarks of lens design in any sensor format whereas Meike’s expanding collections of affordable geared cinema lenses show real promise in independent production compared to the exorbitant prices usually charged for cinema primes.
The question is, then, what look and feel, what visual and operating style suits you, your personality and your personal circumstances best?
Hardware and software Ninja Filmmaking forgot
The Muse Storytelling folks have assembled a great core list of hardware recommendations but they left out some essential items of hardware and software for the “proactive, stealth and intentional filmmaker.”
To date no hybrid camera other than Fujifilm’s X100 series comes with built-in neutral density filters so one must invest in sets of fixed value neutral density filters or the variable neutral density filters that are most appropriate for one person run-and-gun moviemakers.
Quite a few documentary and video journalism cinematographers have matching variable NDs permanently attached to each lens in their kit to avoid exchanging filters on the spot.
Brands to look out for include Aurora-Aperture, Breakthrough Photography, Formatt-Hitech Firecrest, PolarPro, SLR Magic and many others.
If you are collecting filters with industry-standard diameters of 77mm or 82mm then you need step-up rings to attach them to lenses with smaller filter diameters.
Brands I use and recommend include Breakthrough Photography, Heliopan, PolarPro and Sensei, but I lean towards hardened aluminium or better yet brass, and look for knurled step-up rings for ease of use, and fast removal and attachment in the field.
Lastly, whatever camera you are using, you cannot go wrong with Paul Leeming’s Leeming LUT Pro system for creating perfect colorimetry and colours indistinguishable from what your eye sees.
Expose your footage using Mr Leeming’s recommended ETTR aka expose to the right method, demonstrated on the Leeming LUT Pro web page, and your footage will be eminently gradable to feature film standards in editing and grading software like Final Cut Pro and DaVinci Resolve.
3 Legged Thing – “The most technologically advanced tripod system in the world.”
Blackmagic Design – DaVinci Resolve – “DaVinci Resolve 16 is the world’s only solution that combines professional 8K editing, color correction, visual effects and audio post production all in one software tool!”
Leeming LUT Pro – “Leeming LUT Pro™ is the world’s first unified, corrective Look Up Table (LUT) system for supported cameras, designed to maximise dynamic range, fix skin tones, remove unwanted colour casts and provide an accurate Rec709 starting point for further creative colour grading. The Pro II LUTs are designed for perfect Rec709 colorimetry and have a linear luma curve, with an average measured dE(2000) of less than 1, meaning they are visually indistinguishable from reality to the human eye.”
Rotolight – “From the very first LEDs to offer the shoot what you see benefits of continuous lighting and High Speed Sync flash all-in-one, to the brightest 2×1 soft light ever made, Rotolight LEDs streamline the workflows of imagemakers across the world.”
The Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR wide-to-long zoom lens has been one of the most long wished-for, long-awaited optics for Fujifilm’s APS-C/Super35 system cameras in recent years, and early reports from Fujifilm X-Photographer have been positive, especially regarding its apparent parfocal lens design.
But then one might well expect brand ambassadors to wax lyrical and skip over possible pre-production and early firmware defects given reasonable expectations that Fujifilm will get it right in the end or at least in time for offical product release date.
Not quite this time, apparently, as Fujifilm recently issued firmware version 1.02 for this now-shipping lens and some reviewers are already hoping that further firmware updates are in the pipeline.
I was lucky enough to have a short time with a preproduction version of the Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR zoom at a recent Ted’s World of Imaging touch-and-try event for the Fujifilm X-Pro3, and found it worked well enough when shooting event stills on a Fujifilm X-H1 unequipped with firmware updates for the lens.
The lens is situated price-wise in-between the pro-quality, pro-priced red badge Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR and the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS kit zoom, and there was some speculation that the Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR might be bundled with later-release Fujifilm X-T3s or the coming X-T4 as a higher-specced kit lens, especially for video production.
The 16-80mm’s parfocal focusing is especially attractive for video use as well as the lens’ apparent 6 stops of optical image stabilization that helps make up for its f/4.0 maximum aperture when handholding in low lighting when used on non-stabilized cameras like the X-T3, X-Pro3 and the coming X-T4.
Questions about the Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR’s optical qualities throughout its focal range were bandied about during the long pre-release period and I have yet to find a complete set of in-depth tests of the lens’ image quality and focusing performance.
In the meantime, pal2tech’s initial and subsequent video reviews have rather dampened my enthusiasm for the Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR.
Are what he is seeing in action when shooting video in particular early production model teething problems, uneven quality assurance, limitations in current firmware or the outcome of too many design and engineering compromises?
Zoom lenses are a set of such compromises compared to prime lenses and a certain amount of them are to be expected, especially in a lens with a longer-than-usual focal length range, but has Fujifilm compromised way too much?
pal2tech’s videos may help you make up your own mind, but I would recommend going off in search of more reviews by video professionals before definitively deciding against the Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR.
While some optical and autofocusing problems can be compensated for via firmware and during processing of raw stills images, video is more demanding of lens quality given that shortfalls in optical quality cannot be corrected in video non-linear editing software.
My experiences with Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses, as well as Fujifilm’s APS-C/Super 35 gear, have amply proven the advantages of having a stabilized zoom lens in one’s kit when shooting documentary stills and video in trying conditions and available darkness rather than available light, so the Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR would, theoretically, fill a yawning gap in my Fujinon lens collection.
Provided that it is as good for video as it seemed to be for stills during my all-too-short time with the Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR at Ted’s.
Like many others, I have had high expectations for this lens given my longtime need for a gap-filling zoom lens for video and photography, and given the poor Australian dollar and consequent high price in local online and bricks-and-mortar stores.
Should I be reconsidering the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS kit zoom lens instead, and go off to ebay to look for the latter secondhand?
FUJIFILM X-H1 Mirrorless Digital Camera Body with Battery Grip Kit – B&H – bundled with the unstabilized Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR, this stabilized camera may still be the current best option for video despite its older generation sensor and processor.
“It’s been a while since Fujifilm released a wide to medium range zoom lens, especially with both OIS and WR. Previously, the only general range zoom lens that had both features was the big and bulky XF18-135mm lens. My hope was that Fujifilm would re-make the XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS lens to be XF16-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS WR. Instead, Fujifilm decided to keep the original kit lens and create the new XF 16-80mm f/4 R OIS WR. Who is this lens for? It really depends. If you own the X-T3 and you really want a mid-range zoom lens with both OIS and WR, this is the only option you have. However, if you own the X-H1, would you be better off with the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 and put up with the size and weight of a professional lens? “
Good to see that photographers are receiving pre-production copies of Fujifilm’s Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR and, as usual, even more reviews will be appearing when production versions of the lens make their way into the world.
When I was photographing the climate strike rally in Sydney on September 20, I found myself wondering how the 16-80mm f/4.0 zoom lens might change and even improve the way I cover such subjects.
See my personal Instagram account for documentary photographs of the rally and other events, recently mostly using prime lenses on Fujifilm cameras as Panasonic Lumix camera and lens loaners have been in short supply.
bigheadtaco – First Impressions: XF 16-80mm f/4 R OIS WR for Video – video – “This is my first impressions video test using the new Fujifilm XF16-80mm f/4 R OIS WR. Because this is a pre-production unit, I can not give my final thoughts on image quality, build quality or stabilization. I can give you a general idea of how this lens behaves and works with various bodies, including the X-H1, X-T3 and X-T30.”
John Armstrong Photography – FUJIFILM 16-80mm F4 Lens Review & Fujifilm Cap Giveaway – video – “In this video I review Fujifilm’s newly released 16-80mm f4 R OIS WR lens. Included is comparison photographs taken with my prime lenses shot at the same focal length, distance from subject and aperture.”
“In my last video I went through my bag of lights. For this video I walk you through my bag of cameras and lenses. I’ve spent a lot of time streamlining my gear to the essentials and it has really helped clear my head and make life easier for me. I was constantly moving from bag to bag and one set up to another depending on the job at hand. I wanted to simplify my photographic life to a bag of cameras and a bag of lights.
While I feel my bag of lights is complete, I’m not so sure yet about my bag of cameras. I’d really like to add the Fuji GFX to this kit to be a back up to the Phase One and to be my run-n-gun camera. I’m still trying to decide if that will be the best option for me and the work I do….”
“… 3. To be eligible to claim the applicable cash back amount, an eligible individual must purchase one (1) of the selected FUJIFILM X series cameras AND one (1) of the selected lenses listed in section 9 of these Terms and Conditions in a single transaction (an “Eligible Purchase”) from an authorised Australian participating dealer/retailer during the period commencing 1 st June 2017 and ending 31st July 2017 (“Promotion Period”). For the avoidance of doubt, this promotion does not apply to any of FUJIFILM’s X series cameras or lenses that are not listed in section 9….”