Filming in the dark
Filming in the dark
with video. Richard had met Dick at Wildscreen 2014 and they got talking about filming otters. Dick had tried unsuccessfully to film otters in Holland so Richard offered to share his knowledge of English otters in exchange for further filming tips. This resulted in a productive four days of filming.
How to retrain later in life
captured with a VariCam LT
GTC member Richard Hopkins has combined a passion for photography with a scientific interest in the behaviour of small mammals ever since he was a young boy. As an adult, he has continued to pursue these interests as a relaxing counterpoint to his demanding work as a consultant radiologist. A few years ago though, one photographic trip led to a chance encounter with a team from Outline Productions and the opportunity to begin to expand his natural history stills photographic experience into video work. Since then Richard has been avidly taking up every opportunity to increase his filming experience and his knowledge through training, ‘work experience’ and investing in broadcastquality camera gear. A self-generated film recently led to the BBC Natural History Unit asking him to film badgers with his brand new VariCam.
ichard Hopkins has studied the behaviour of UK mammals, such as otters and badgers, since he was a small boy and has been photographing them as a hobby since the age of 8. For many years this enthusiasm remained purely an enjoyable spare-time activity fitted in whenever possible around his training, and then career, as a consultant radiologist. However, a couple of years ago, while out on a photographic trip shooting images of otters in Dorset, Richard bumped into a crew from Outline Productions and got chatting to director/cameraman David Heath. Impressed by Richard’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the lifestyle and activities of these creatures, David asked him to come 48
onboard as a Scientific Adviser for Outline’s project Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival, a six-part series for BBC1, which aired in 2013. The deal was that Richard would share his knowledge and understanding of the otters in return for expert tuition in how to convert his stills photographic knowledge into video technique. Richard would shoot ‘B camera’ footage on a Sony PMW-200 to supplement the main images. And so, the desire to learn all about natural history filming, as opposed to stills, was sparked. After this, a period of ‘work experience’ alongside Dutch wildlife cameraman Dick Harrewijn followed, through which Richard continued to build up his knowledge and familiarity Autumn 2016 ZERB
So, the next stage was to choose a suitable camera and one to consider was the new VariCam. When Panasonic launched the latest incarnation of the VariCam range, the VariCam 35, it did so with both drama and natural history in mind. The VariCam has a modular design, enabling the change of the front end from a 35mm 4K unit to a 2/3 high-speed unit, depending on creative needs. However, taking out a camera weighing in at 5kg (and that’s before the lens and base plate) on a one-man natural history shoot is often not ideal. So, in February, the Japanese manufacturer answered the ‘call of nature’ by providing a shoulder-mounted version of the VariCam, offering almost identical performance to its bigger brother, but in a much more manageable form factor. The VariCam LT retains the ability to shoot in both 4K (4096 x 2160) and ultra high definition (UHD) (3840 x 2160) and features high sensitivity, low noise, a wide dynamic range and cinematic depth of field.
A couple of years ago, Richard decided to bring together his medical knowledge with his interest in the life of badgers, to self-generate a film about the controversial issue of TB in these creatures (at the time trapping and vaccination was taking place near his home in Gloucestershire). He pitched this film to the BBC team behind Springwatch. The topic proved not quite right for the show but the producers were impressed enough by Richard’s knowledge and skills to instead ask him to film badgers in a context and style appropriate for Springwatch. The brief was to shoot around a week’s footage of badgers in the Cotswolds and would be a perfect opportunity to try out his newly acquired VariCam LT, using the native 4K AVC IntraLT codec. For this shoot, the camera was paired with a Canon CN20x50 PL mount lens with its extraordinary 50–1000mm range and 4K quality.
Low-light performance With badgers being largely nocturnal creatures, low-light performance was key and the camera did not disappoint: “Some of the footage was just astonishing and I managed to capture Female otter: the best time to film is just after dawn and a lightweight, portable kit is essential
Filming badgers attracted towards the camera by peanuts, 2015
When Richard started to consider which camera to invest in, he was one of the first wildlife specialists to take an interest in the VariCam: “I looked at the VariCam 35 a year ago at Visual Impact but at the time decided to go with the ARRI AMIRA as the VariCam 35 was a bit bulky for what I wanted, although its spec was very appealing. It was sod’s law that Panasonic then released the VariCam LT, so I ended up buying two cameras.” www.gtc.org.uk
The secret life of badgers
A camera for wildlife work
Since then, Richard has been taking every opportunity to attend whatever training courses he can find (although says there is a shortage of relevant courses available, hence one of his reasons for joining the GTC, especially after its affiliation with the IAWF). Last year, he went as far as to negotiate an agreement to take a year-long sabbatical from his work at the hospital to study Wildlife Filmmaking at the University of West England in Bristol. In the end though, sensing that it might feel strange to be on the course at such a different stage of life to the other younger students, Richard decided instead to invest the resources that would have been involved in the year out at university in attending as many short courses and workshops as possible (such as those at Wildscreen) and in buying the best camera he could for wildlife work.
Richard has been taking every opportunity to attend whatever training courses he can find (although says there is a shortage of relevant courses available, hence one of his reasons for joining the GTC, especially after its affiliation with the IAWF.
In order to maintain the VariCam ‘look’, the VariCam LT is equipped with a 35mm single-chip MOS (metal-oxide semiconductor) sensor, originally developed for the VariCam 35 and with a similarly wide dynamic range. This ensures accurate image rendering over the entire image, from dark areas to highlights. Having two dedicated analogue circuits means much higher sensitivity without increased noise. The ‘V-Gamut’ in the VariCam LT gives the camera a wider colour gamut than traditional film. The ‘V-Log’ gamma curve has evolved further to extend the dynamic range to 14+ stops. RICHARD HOPKINS
Filming in the dark
Filming badgers with the Varicam LT and Canon CN 20. Although badger cubs may emerge in reasonable light, often the most interesting behaviour occurs a bit later in twilight when the elusive shy adults emerge
In order to maintain the VariCam ‘look’, the VariCam LT is equipped with a 35mm single-chip MOS sensor, originally developed for the VariCam 35 and with a similarly wide dynamic range. things I’d never been able to film before because the light disappears just as the badgers come out. There’s no doubt that in the past I would have been unable to capture some of the fascinating behaviour of the badgers because light levels were too low. The VariCam has a dual native ISO and I selected 5000, increasing this further to shoot some of the footage at 10,000. There is a bit of noise as you’d expect, but it has facilitated what I think is really nice, usable behaviour footage, shot in virtual darkness. I also captured quite a lot of slow frame-rate footage, again in low light; it has been a game-changer for me to capture the type of animal behaviours I’m interested in. With the large-sensor cameras I have used in the past, I have struggled to capture the motion of birds and moving animals because of the shallow depth of field. Using the VariCam at 5000 ISO gives that extra depth of field, making focus that much easier, which can be especially important when you are a single operator.” The VariCam LT, a more nimble version of its big brother, VariCam 35, was launched early in 2016
Badger cub in foreground, adult behind; badgers have an extremely good sense of smell and the key to filming natural behaviour is regular visits
On the job training To get the most out of his new camera, Richard took up the offer of a comprehensive training session with Rob Tarrant at Panasonic, something the company is always happy to offer to camera crew members ahead of shooting with a new Panasonic product for the first time. Richard explains: “I’m still very much learning on the job, so training in optimum use of the new camera when I went to collect it proved extremely helpful. Having never used Panasonic before it was great to have the opportunity to learn all about the menu structure and some of the other features.” As with all cameras, there are some niggles and, for Richard, the main one is that he finds the menu setup a bit fiddly for anyone not familiar with Panasonic. There were also a few compatibility issues as regards one of the codecs and the edit workflow of the production on a small amount of the footage – so it’s always worth confirming this ahead of the shoot. However, in general, the footage provides fascinating and rare coverage of a notoriously hard to film species. For his next project, Richard will follow badgers in woodland near Painswick in the Cotswolds, filming a single group over a year. So, should the VariCam LT become part of the documentarymaker’s toolkit? In Richard’s view: “I couldn’t be happier with the pictures I’m getting. Especially in low-light scenarios, you’ll not find anything better.” And that’s doctor’s orders!
Fact File Contact GTC member Richard Hopkins on: [email protected]
See more about the Panasonic VariCam LT: http://business.panasonic.co.uk/professional-camera/ varicam-lt-1
Autumn 2016 ZERB
The cinematic Varicam look 14+ stops of wide latitude Dual native sensitivity ISO800/5000 Expansive colour gamut EF & PL exchangeable mount In-camera colour grading sensor crop mode for 2K/HD up to 240p Infrared shooting (IR) Multiple codecs 4K/UHD/2K/HD in AVC-Ultra / ProRes* Full HD proxy recording External RAW recording capability * The Apple ProRes format is licensed from Apple Inc.