Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Medium Format Digital Backs at the Beach

Friday we arranged a shoot. Chuck Jones from Mexico was in town on vacation. He and David Kipper had just picked up matching Leaf Aptus 75 digital backs to go on matching Contax 645 cameras. Craig Hildebrand from Fort Myers drove across the state to bring his Hasselblad 501CM with Imacon 528C back. David came down from Melbourne.

Andre and I arranged the shoot. We got some great models, Rachel, Chantal, and Oona, as well as a great makeup artist, Valerie. Craig brought an assistant. Meir Israel joined us so he could experiment with his Rebel XT he had converted to Infrared. Amy and her daughter Alex were also slated to join us. Needless to say, we had a lot of people. We also had a ton of gear.

Besides the three medium format setups, Chuck and David both brought Leica R9/DMR setups (one of which I ended up shooting), Meir brought his Canon 1DsMkII and lenses. Chuck's wife had a Rebel XT. We brought along a D2X for behind the scenes shots, and I ended up leaving my 503CX in the car in the vain hope of trying out the 528C back on it. And then there was the lighting gear. Between all of us we had four Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS packs and three Profoto 7B packs. I can't even remember how many heads and ringflashes we had. Add in to the mix half a dozen steel lightstands and assorted light modifiers and we were carting around a circus. So, was the greatest show on earth worth it?

Before we left Dale Photo & Digital to head out to the beach, the sky just opened up and the rain came down. Summer in Florida. We waited it out, about an hour, then the sky turned bright blue, and we made our way to the shore. Spent another half hour just getting gear unloaded from all the vehicles.


Deciding where to set up

Because the models had to leave at 3:00PM and it was already noon, I decided that I'd start shooting. Did a quick setup with Chantal while Andre got Chuck and David set up at a different location. I was keeping things simple. Just using David's R9/DMR with our 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit and 100mm f/2.8 APO-Macro. What I didn't do was check that the camera was set to manual and not aperature priority. I got lucky and the lighting setup I had chosen played well with the ambient light, but I'm still a bit miffed at myself for making such an oversight. I did make the change in the next setup when things looked off on the LCD. Saved by digital.

Me setting up a light, Meir looking on
Me shooting Chantal

While setting up for shooting, a few things became clear. The Contax 645 (and others, like the Mamiya 645AFD) have a flash sync of 1/125th. While this is fine in studio, we were curious to see how this would play out in the big room (outdoors). Sure, they could shoot ISO 50, which would save them from having to stop all the way down to f/32 or f/64 just to get the same as f/22 on the DMR/D2X/30D/RZ67/503/etc. But, this required twice the power. I figured in order to achieve 80/20 lighting ratios or better, they'd need to use full power on two packs and shoot at 1/125th at f/22, ISO 50. I could get the same look shooting at 1/250th at f/22, ISO 100. Remember, in terms of light, you need double the light to equal one f-stop.

Andre helping Chuck and David meter a 2-light shot

Chuck shooting with the Aptus, David setting up his Neotec tripod


For Chuck and David's first setup with Rachel, this is exactly what they ended up doing. Even with the fast recycling on the Elinchrom and Profoto packs, three seconds can seem like an eternity.

Another interesting quirk of the MF back came up in that first setup. The Aptus 75 has a huge 6 by 7 cm screen (3.5" LCD). It's a touch screen, creating a very flexible and changeable interface.

David shooting Rachel

David checking the LCD in shade

It is invisible outside. The guys had to run to the bushes and hunt shade to see their LCDs. Not just for chimping, but to format cards and change settings. If it were me, I'd expect a little better screen or anti-glare coating for $30k. Leaf said they are working on some type of hood to help the situation. Of course, the DMR screen is just as clear outside in bright sun as it is indoors. So, no problem there.

Then, the rain came again. We all ran for cover. Chuck's Elinchrom head with 27" beauty dish came crashing to the pavement. And of course, the Ranger packs got soaked once again. No major damage, except for a little dent in the dish. Love the Swiss.

Andre and I wet after retreiving the gear, Alex watching two goofballs
Chantal, Oona, Rachel, and Valerie enjoying/hiding from the rain

A few minutes later, the rain was gone, the sky was great, and we were off shooting again. Everyone except me went down to the ocean.

The reason Meir had wet pants and shoes, metering Oona

Craig in foreground with rare Hasselblad 350mm SA


I stayed and worked the location. A while later, the troop came back to base camp. Craig had a wave get up close and personal with his Imacon. Meir was wet from the waist down. Everyone was hunting for bottled water. It was extremely hot and ridiculously humid that day. I finished up the last headshot of Oona and we packed up the gear and headed back.

Me shooting a headshot of Oona with the 100mm
Craig and Andre bringing gear back to the cars


A/C and cold bottled beverages were apt rewards for a crazy day in the sun. We headed up to the conference room at Dale, whipped out laptops, and started looking over the day's work. Meir's infrared shots were pretty freaky, and I was happy to get some good shots.


Some lessons learned:
  • 33MP is a lot of detail.
  • The DMR and the 100 Macro are still a force to be reconned with.
  • Don't forget bottled water (I did) or sunscreen (everyone else did).
  • 17lb Elinchrom packs, while not feathers, weight a lot less than 26lb Profoto ones. 9lbs in 90+ degree weather feel like 90lbs.
  • Assistants are nice to have.
  • Maybe think to bring an umbrella of the non-lighting kind.
  • Hasselblads have 1/500th sync speeds and that's a good thing.
  • Clean the sensor before shooting and save a lot of Photoshop.
  • Too bad Andre and I didn't get a chance to shoot with the MF systems, but that's already in the works.

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