By Keith Bernstein
Earlier this year Castel Film Studio in Bucharest, Romania, underwent a dramatic makeover. The studio’s backlot streets, previously the location of a Gothic horror movie, were re-modelled into 1900 Milwaukee, the setting of a new movie set in the American Midwest at the turn of the century. A cast of American and British actors filmed over 3 months, helped on a daily basis by up to 500 Romanian extras and backgrounds actors.
As the stills photographer on the film, I took the opportunity to use the X-Pro2 on set for the first time. Stills cameras on movie sets – usually SLR’s – have to be silent to prevent any shutter sound being picked up by microphones or disturbing the actors during a take. To silence the shutter the camera and lens is housed inside a blimp – a soundproof housing that lets you shoot during the filming of a scene. Heavy and slightly awkward to use, the blimps have only limited camera controls on the outside; changing camera settings necessitates opening the housing. The silent shutter mode of the X-Pro2 was immediately attractive; and shooting without a blimp meant saving 1.4 kg of weight around my neck.
I used the X-Pro2 extensively to photograph the extras and a lot of the set decoration, often switching the format on the X-Pro2 to a 1:1 ratio. This allowed the pictures to be quickly uploaded in square format on to social media to market and publicise the movie. Light levels on set, especially the interiors, were often very low, and the X-Pro2 at ISO 4000 with the XF35mm f1.4 lens worked amazingly well, even when shooting at maximum aperture.
There are a number of great features on the X-Pro2; the format change option, live view when changing colour temperature selection, and the silent electronic shutter are among many outstanding choices. One irritation I have with the camera is the battery life – it’s not the best so I always carry spares.
I am currently working on a film in Germany, and am now using two X-Pro2’s with 23, 35 and 56mm lenses. So have I given up on the heavy blimp and SLR combination and switched over entirely to X-Pro2’s? No not yet; there are still some on-set circumstances where the SLR & blimp combination works better for me; but the size, weight, electronic viewfinder and options such as format change of the X-Pro2’s is pushing me ever closer to the edge of change.
Based in London, working on film sets throughout the world; recent productions include the last 6 Clint Eastwood films, (Sully, Sniper, Jersey Boys, J. Edgar, Trouble With The Curve, Invictus) ; Long Walk To Freedom with Idris Elba; Argo with Ben Affleck and Gunman with Sean Penn
Well I am right behind my esteemed colleague with Fujifilm cameras on set. I am using the new XT2 and love it. So much that I am buying a 2nd Body and set of primes to go with my zooms. Im not retiring my SLRs yet as they still have there niche of what they do well. But I have to say I am doing about 80% of my work on film sets with the XT2 now…for many of the reasons Keith Mentions and more. Its a proper photographer’s camera and very organic to work with. I first started working with the XT2 on my current project which is the TV series Knightfall for A&E History Channel and then will really put it through its paces on the upcoming Feature or Lionsgate; Robin Hood Origins. The XT2 is really suited to my style of shooting on film sets which is decidedly reportage and, journalistic in feeling and approach. Working with the XT2 on set is such a liberating feeling.
Thank you so much for this story. This is a dream job of mine actually so I extra enjoyed his insight.
Hi there Keith, thank you very much for your input for shooting set stills. I am shooting stills in Northern Ontario and I REALLY want to get the Fuji X-Pro 2 for set stills rather than buying a sound blimp (I’m still starting up). I was hoping that you could give me some insight in the matter…
I know that even some blimps still give out minimal sound. During very intense emotional scenes, or during scenes where you could literally hear a pin drop, you’re still probably gunna get the sound guy beating on you with his boom pole if you took a shot with a blimp on. Is the silent mode make the camera completely silent? Or is there is still a small sound that may be picked up by audio? Thanks!
Nice shots btw. 🙂
Hey. I wonder why hese big files are full of compression artefacts? At 100% the details are gone. only blothes and stuff.
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