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A New Way to Fake It

Doc-makers seeking the creative possibilities offered by film - depth of field, focal length, angle of view - but who are operating on a video budget no longer need to choose between the two. Munich-based P+S Technik, a cine equipment manufacturer founded in 1993 by engineers formerly with Arri, has developed the P+S Technik Mini 35 Digital Adapter, a device that allows 35mm film lenses with an Arri pl, Nikon or Panavision mount to be attached to Canon XL-1 and XL-1S digicams. The on-screen result lies somewhere between film and video.
February 1, 2002

Doc-makers seeking the creative possibilities offered by film – depth of field, focal length, angle of view – but who are operating on a video budget no longer need to choose between the two. Munich-based P+S Technik, a cine equipment manufacturer founded in 1993 by engineers formerly with Arri, has developed the P+S Technik Mini 35 Digital Adapter, a device that allows 35mm film lenses with an Arri pl, Nikon or Panavision mount to be attached to Canon XL-1 and XL-1S digicams. The on-screen result lies somewhere between film and video.

Housed in a little gray box that fits between the camera and the lens, the adapter creates a 35mm image on ground glass that rests where 35mm film would sit. ‘Behind that glass are optics that pick up the image and relay it back to the DV camera,’ explains Les Zellen, president of ZGC in Mountain Lakes, U.S., the adapter’s exclusive North American distributor. ‘While it does that, it reformats it from the cell size 35, which the ground glass is, to the size of the one-third inch chip. Basically, it takes a picture of a picture.’

The Canon models were chosen in part because the lenses are removable. (The company is considering an adapter for DV cams with fixed lenses.) According to Zellan, placing the adapter behind the lens allows for greater control and a higher quality picture. ‘A lot of what people are looking for when they wish had the film look is control of depth of field,’ he explains. ‘People think this is a lens issue, but it’s format related. You’ll never get the same depth of field in DV as you can in 35mm. Imaging the image is the only way to pick up depth of field characteristics. Once you image it, you’ve frozen all those characteristics in space. You can then control them the same way you would in 35mm.’ The adapter also features an iris behind the ground glass, operating independently of the one in the camera lens, enabling the amount of light reaching the dv chips to be controlled without affecting depth of field.

Zellan admits that adding the adapter (US$7,500) and a lens (possibly $12,000) to the price of the camera (about US$4,000) substantially increases the cost of shooting on DV. ‘In a perfect world, if you could afford to shoot 35mm, you would,’ he says. ‘But, if you need to shoot as inexpensively or as small as possible, either because of the type of shoot or the budget, this is a solution.’

Cinematographer Keith Iceberg of Film Inc. in Marina Del Rey, U.S., opted to use a DV cam outfitted with the Mini 35 Digital Adapter for his current project.

‘I recommended the format simply because of the filmmaker’s budgetary needs,’ says Iceberg. ‘He wanted a quality project, but he couldn’t afford film. I believe using prime lenses adds a higher production value. The quality of the image that goes onto film depends on the quality of the optics it goes through. It’s the same when you move to the digital mode.’ In addition to controlling depth of field, Iceberg says the adapter helps to soften the look of video.

Producer/director Aladdin Pojhan, co-founder of the Bauhaus Entertainment Group in L.A., used the adapter to shoot a triathlon for My Adventures with Rudy, a $500,000 feature doc using Digi Beta and Super 8. Says Pojhan, ‘The Canon DV camera is very light and the adapter is not heavy. Adding a prime lens creates a manageable, hand-held weight. I took the camera on a mountain bike, holding the camera with one hand and the handlebars with the other. It was an amazing experience to have that flexibility.’

Pojhan believes footage shot with the adapter could blend seamlessly with footage shot using 16mm film. Since a 16mm magazine runs only 10 minutes in length and a DV tape runs 60 minutes, Pojhan and Iceberg see the adapter as an ideal tool for recording interviews and live events. However, both filmmakers will continue to use film when shooting controlled situations. Says Iceberg, ‘The [adapter] doesn’t give you the film look, but it doesn’t give you the video look. It’s somewhere in between.’

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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