Roger Deakins on his journey to ARRI’s large format

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The image that the LF
and the Signature produces seems, to me, more like
what my eyes see than anything else
I have experienced so far. The thing about the design
of this, obviously, it is one of the smallest cameras,
so far, I have ever used. I used to have a BL. The lenses I used were
the Distagons or the Planars, and they would have been about that big. So, the camera would have been this big and the lens would have been that big, but now the camera is that big
and the lens is that big. It seems kind of ironic. It is a beautiful piece of design. I was surprised at the quality difference between a standard ALEXA and the LF. If you were actually studying it
on a big screen, it is remarkably, the difference in quality and the roll-off, and the subtlety of the tones in it. Yes, that was the thing that
struck me most, actually. If you shot 1600 or 3200, I know you can always underexpose, but there should be like
a 4800 or something setting, because it is remarkable, the image quality. Yes, you get a certain amount of noise at 3200, but it is only equivalent as changing from
a 100 ASA stock to a 500 ASA stock. It is probably not even that, frankly. It is a minimal amount of noise. I could quite imagine myself shooting
the whole thing at that setting, to have that little bit of noise. It is a consistent nice texture, on a certain film that would be probably
quite a good thing to have. I love the LF format, because you can shoot
a close-up on a 40, and it does not have the distortion of a 35 or 32, but it has the field of view somewhere
between a 35 and a 32, I think. Something like that, anyway. I wanted a lens that was the balance
between being able to shoot a wide shot, and being able to shoot an intimate close-up. It is just a great balance in the terms
of the depth of field and just the feel of the image. Somebody asked me the other day,
“Does that mean you will always shoot with an LF?” That one I do not know. I go film to film and think about it, but hopefully, fresh again
with all the options open. But I would be pretty tempted. As I say, somehow it feels more natural
to me, that format. Just in terms of the lens and the frame size. What I want of a lens is, I want it to be small, because I want the camera system
to be ergonomically friendly. I do not like vignetting. I do not like breathing. I am not somebody that will go to old lenses because
I like the patina of an old lens or something. I do not understand that myself. I want the sharpest, cleanest, I want a lens that shows the world or records the world the way I see it. Which is, I have got pretty good eyesight.
It is pretty sharp. So, basically, I have always used Primes. I started off with the ZEISS Distagons and the Planars, Cooke’s for years, the Cooke S4s. Then I went to the Master Primes. So then, coming to the LF, yes, we did a lot of tests with various lenses, but for me, the Signatures
are the cleanest I have seen. I like to shoot with natural light sources. I like to shoot with practicals. And often, I am shooting at something
that is very bright and might be in quite a pin source, so I want something that flares
as little as possible. I cannot stand flares. I find any artefact that is on the surface
of the images a distraction for me. The audience or I am then aware
that I am looking at something that is being recorded with a camera. Yes, I kind of shy away from that. So, the Signatures are pretty amazing
for such a large-format camera like that, and they are very lightweight. They are a bit big,
but I understand why they are big. But they are also very fast. That is the other thing.
There is no point in having a beautiful clean lens that is that size, if it is T4 or something. I like cameras to be small and intimate. I like shooting with a small crew, and I operate myself. I like things to be like this, small and intimate. I do not want the technology and the presence
of the film crew to kind of overwhelm the scene really. We went to Munich, I went there
to do a seminar at the film school. We went through all the other things
that ARRI have been developing and we saw the TRINITY. And I had not seen that bit of equipment before. One of the things that really drew me to the TRINITY, was the fact it is a very stable image. It does not float. It does not float quite like
a steadicam floats, either. There is something about it
that is a little bit more lock solid. Obviously the thing about the TRINITY, it is the ease
with which you can move up and down. You can do a shot that flows. You can, for instance,
be on somebody’s feet walking and go up to their back and around to the front, and there is an enormous amount
of things that you can do, that you cannot do with a steadicam. And, if you were doing it on an aerocrane
with a remote head, it would take you an enormous amount
of time to lay the track. The TRINITY was kind of an eye-opener. It is a move in a direction, I think,
that camera stabilizing systems is going to be moving. I really think that is the future. We used a TRINITY a lot on this last film. A lot. We have always had a back and forth about technology,
the way technology is going, the way cinematography is going, the desires, the little things that would make it better. There are always things you want to do with a camera that is probably not considered necessarily,
by the people making. What you put a camera through on a normal shoot. Let alone extreme sort of things that we would do
with it on the last shoot and a few others, really. So, it is good to have that interchange of ideas, in our case, with Franz and
many other people at ARRI. How much smaller will it get?
That is what I want to know. That is really nice about cameras, right? As I get older, they get smaller and lighter. It is kind of good, really.

 

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