"It's all in the glass."
If you're a Director/Cinematographer, you have probably heard this phrase, and perhaps recited this hundreds of times throughout your career. While there is great truth to this, there is another crucial element to consider that we cinematographers may sometimes forget--It's also about what goes in front of the glass.
It's sunny, it's hot as a bastard, and you want to stop down to achieve a shallower depth of field. You drop in your Neutral Density filter and the director behind the monitor says, "Wait a minute, why is everything so green?" You panic. What you really want to say is, "Had your producer not skimped on the budget we wouldn't be using these crappy ND filters." But you of course say politely, "One moment please, while I adjust the color temperature." You fiddle around with that for a bit, it's still not perfect, and your secretly hoping that whomever is color correcting your footage will fix it in post (another term often used on set that makes most of us DP's cringe). 3 weeks later, you look at the final product and wonder if you're cut out for this business.
I learned this the excruciatingly painful way while filming a car commercial. We were shooting on 2 Red Dragons. Our A Cam (land camera) had a beautiful set of vintage Angenieux primes, coupled with a set of Firecrest ND's. Our B Cam (drone camera) was built with cinemoded Leica R's to match the vintage look of the Agenieuxs, while keeping the weight and size down. So far so good.
If you've used Leica R/Cinemoded still lenses with a clamp on 4x5 matte box before, you might have found that it causes the focus gears to bind (even when using ultra light-weight Bright Tangerine Misfit or Atom), so we rented a last minute set of cheap 4x4 filters in attempt to reduce this problem.
The rig is built up and ready to fly. We dropped in some ND. I jumped behind monitor and immediately wondered, "Why is everything so green?" The white balance matched our A-cam. All settings checked out. Did we forget to calibrate the sensor? We pulled the camera off the gimbal and went back to the van, calibrated it, popped the camera back on the gimbal, and the image was still wonky. Now I'm starting to sweat. I'm watching the sun drop before my eyes, so I made that heart wrenching call. The call that made the DP and entire camera team's blood run cold. F*ck-it, we'll fix it in post. The drone took off. We just barely made our day, called wrap and everyone was happy. Until of course, we reviewed the dailies.
Our A-Cam footage was beautiful. After a bit of color, it looked like 1970's Kodak film. Our B-Cam, however, was green, soft, milky, and just plain ugly. We might as well have been flying an action camera. I wondered if I purchased a junk set of Leica R's, but that seemed dubious. My colorist said he could correct the image, but we still couldn't figure out where we went wrong. The following day I ran a camera test using my Leica's and 4x5 Firecrests, reviewed the footage, and it looked beautiful. Then it dawned on me...it was those crappy ND we rented.
3 weeks later, I'm looking at the colored car commercial and I simply love the colors we captured using our Firecrest ND filters, however, even after all the love my colorist gave to the drone footage, it still isn't perfect. No, the untrained eye will probably not notice the difference, but if you're a perfectionist like me, these things matter.
Lesson learned: It pays to have quality ND filtration.
The fantastic final commercial is below and you can read more about Formatt-Hitech Featured Cinematographer Doug Quill HERE
Firecrest ND is a revolutionary new type of ND filter from Formatt-Hitech. Rather than dyed resin, Firecrest is a rare earth mineral coating used to create hyper neutral NDs. The filters are made from 4mm thick Schott Superwite glass, and the multicoating is bonded in the middle to increase scratch resistance. Firecrest Filters are neutral across all spectrums, including UV, visible, and infrared.
The Firecrest Soft Edge ND Grad uses Firecrest technology to create the world’s most neutral grad filter, and is the perfect complement to the Firecrest ND filters. Soft edge grads are versatile filters used to balance the luminosity of a bright sky with the terrain below. The soft edge makes it easy to place the filter in the scene, especially over undulating horizons (such as mountains).
Firecrest is a revolutionary new type of ND filter from Formatt-Hitech. Rather than dyed resin, Firecrest is a rare earth metal coating used to create hyper neutral NDs. The filters are made from 4mm thick Schott Superwite glass, and the multicoating is bonded in the middle to increase scratch resistance. Firecrest Filters are neutral across all spectrums, including UV, visible, and infrared.