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Shooting Anamorphic with the SI-2K

Behind the scenes
with the Silicon
Imaging camera on
Celestial Avenue

Anamorphic lenses have been around for a while but its not always possible to use 35mm format anamorphic lenses.
Celestial Avenue is a short film and was
always going to be significant as one of the
last short films to be funded by Screen
Australia, who have decided to no longer
fund short films.
Cath is looking for love. Shes even
prepared to try online dating and is on her
first date with Joel. Always the culinary
adventurer, shes chosen an authentic
chinese restaurant but all Joels interested in,
is the spingies and some chicken with
sweetcorn with special fried rice. Its not
really going well for Cath when she hears a
siren song and is drawn to a beautiful singing
voice in the rear lane. Here she meets Ah
Gong, who doesnt speak english and is busy
washing cabbages for Chef Wong. Caths in
love. She returns the next day and sets
about wooing the shy Ah Gong, eventually
learning how to speak cantonese and
working in the restaurant. Joel is still keen
on Cath and returns for a last attempt to
impress Cath with his knowledge of the

Written and directed by brothers Colin and

Cameron Cairnes, we had 5 days to shoot 18
pages. The boys were also interested in
shooting anamorphic; not so much for the
wider aspect ratio, but more for the
anamorphic look.
Anamorphic lenses do have their very own
personality thats really hard to replicate. I
think of them as being flawed but in a kind of
beautiful way. Anamorphic lenses usually
work by applying a 2x horizontal squeeze to
optically compress more information onto the
film or sensor.
When the project was initially submitted to
Screen Australia, a RED camera kit had
been penciled into the line under camera
hire. However, once the boys started talking
about their love of anamorphic, I had to start
thinking of other ways to achieve this.
Although from Version 18, RED has software
support for anamorphic lenses, the cameras
sensor is still not full height so a significant
cutout is required, cropping a great deal of


The Anamorphic Adaptor

Orginally designed to fit
on the Panasonic DVX 100.


Im really interested in exploring alternatives to the usual ways of creating images.

the anamorphic image is traditional 35mm Anamorphic lenses
are used.

things out and its remarkably hard to get away from the base look
with a lot of digital cameras.

Firstly I started thinking that 35mm anamorphic would be the

simplest. At first I even fantasised about a traditional
anamorphic non DI finish. Apparently this isnt possible any
more. Cinevex (now Deluxe) have mothballed their film
grading equipment. So now its DI or bust.

One camera I hadnt considered though was the SI2K. The

Silicon Imaging camera has a 2/3 sensor so it wouldnt work with
the 35mm format anamorphic lenses. Then I remembered that
there WAS a 1.3x anamorphic adaptor that was made by
Panasonic for the old DVX100 MiniDV cameras from a few years
ago. It was originally introduced as a stop gap to create 16x9
Images from the 4x3 DVX100 sensor before they would later
release true 16x9 CCDs for their Mini DV cameras. If I used
16mm format lenses with this adaptor shooting 2K it should work.

Shooting 35mm Anamorphic with a 2K DI was going to end

up costing an additional 7K including post (on top of the
original 150K total budget). Not too big a premium I felt.
However, the budget had been under pressure from other
areas and there wasnt anyway to find that additional cash.
Instead I began to look for other digital cameras. Of course
there ARE full height sensor cameras. The Sony F35 and the
Arri D21 were considered and rejected, mainly because of
cost. Amazingly, they were actually going to cost MORE than
shooting 35mm film shooting 15:1 !

I call it MiniMorphic !

Im really interested in exploring alternatives to the usual ways

of creating images. Too often with digitally originated images,
I find they have a sameness about them. Different film stocks
have personalities and you can flash or fog them, push them,
pull them, cross process them, or even leave them in the sun.
All these techniques may not be the most correct thing to do
from a technical and engineering point of view but it does
give DOP another way of manipulating the image.
Hard drives and video tape cant be manipulated in this way.
Its either there or it isnt. If you mess around with the bytes, it
just means youll have no image ! So when shooting Digital,
Im always looking to find ways to push things outside of
normal in the same way. Sometimes of course straight or
normal is what you want, but innovation comes from trying

DOP John Brawley with

focus puller Josh Flavel



The SIs 2048x1080 DCI image would

virtually become 2662x1080 with the 1.3x
anamorphic adaptor. This turns out to be
2.46:1, not far at all from 35mm
anamorphic ratio of 2.39:1.
So now I could shoot using 16mm format
Superspeeds and get a 2.46:1 optically
anamorphic image from a 2048K RAW
camera system. A pretty good
compromise I felt. That was the theory
but I needed to shoot some tests to find
out if it would work.
Yes I could have probably done the same
thing with a RED shooting 2K, but Ive
always found the REDs 2k image to be
vastly inferior than what it should be at
2K. I must admit I never got around to
doing a 2K shootout with the RED and the
SI2K. I could have also used a regular
HD camera, but Id be back to a tape
based and/or a NON-RAW workflow and
would lose off speed camera frame rates.
P2 is still a little too compressed for my

early tests
Top: The first test
footage, shot with a MK1
Middle Frame: MK3 Zeiss
test frame just before
Bottom: Louis Pulis in
the midst of a steadicam

There were a few problems though. The

Panasonic anamorphic adaptor was only
ever designed to screw into the filter
thread of a DVX100 and is actually quite
small. This meant it had to somehow be
mechanically fitted to the lenses I planned
to use. The guys at Lemac, who currently
are one of the few companies that actually
carry the SI-2K camera, set about building
me my anamorphic adaptor.
I went for Superspeeds. I even
considered for a while MK1 superspeeds,
because of their small size and shot my
first tests with them. (see photos - left)

I ended up deciding to use MK3

Superspeeds because the size was still
useable with the adaptor and had the
added advantage that they had proper
focus gears ! In a very short amount of
time Lemac came up with a simple
mechanical holder that allowed the
adaptor to be mounted to a set of
lightweight or production rails and
centered on the lens. This way I could
simply slide it up against the front of the
I set about testing the adaptor with a set
of superspeeds. I found the 9.5, 12, 16
and the 25mm all worked fine as long as I
shot a deeper stop than T2.8. anything
wider open that and the picture just
appeared to get soft and softer.
The 50mm really struggled to hit infinity.
As the subject got closer it would start to
come good. We found though that by
taking the new homemade adaptor
FURTHER away from the front lens we
could get to Infinity, I gather because the
tighter angle of view meant less of the
adaptor was being used.
The 50mm would require a shroud to
cover the gap between the front of the
50mm lens and the adaptor, which Lemac
also promptly built for us !
Just as an extra layer of difficulty, the
minimum focus also seemed to change,
unfortunately for the worse. Some shots
required diopters to allow closer focusing.
Talk about really stacking on the glass !!




In testing we also found that the minimum focus distances for

each lens wasnt really holding focus to marked distance on the
barrel. Not only that but the actual marked distances were out
by an inconsistent amount. All of this mean that my very patient
focus puller Josh Flavel would be having to pull focus from eye
sharps done during the final rehearsals. A big risk considering
the monitoring was proving to be problematic. (He eventually
worked out a formula that enables him ti use the barrel

Josh did a great job though. We ended up blocking and

rehearsing. Once the actors were locked in he would take a few
moments to check the marks using the enlarge function and
eyeball the sharps off the monitor and mark up the disc. It
worked OK in the end if a little slowly. We often would try to
check the shots back after download just to really make sure
they were sharp. There were very few surprises so we seemed
to get through them all ok.

It was getting close to shooting by this point. I still had a RED

reserved as a backup, just in case and at some points it was
tempting to just give up and fall back to what was safe and
known. I wanted to persist though because the initial test
images looked so promising and it seemed to be worth trying to
make it work.
The cameras monitoring options are both its strong and
weakest points. Now used to such good monitoring with the
RED, it was a bit hard to have to take a step backwards with the
SI-2K. The SI-2K is essentially a windows computer that runs
inside a camera body built by P+S. As such, it supported two
monitors, one through the HDMI output and the other through
VGA. There are limitations however. The VGA feed also
displays all the camera status and functions as you navigate its
very well thought-out and useful menus. Its resolution though
tops out at 800x600. You can however do enlargements and
crops within the frame to check focus.
The HDMI monitor is only 720P. We did try converting it with a
HDMI-->SDI adaptor but it didnt really look any better than the
800x600 VGA display AND you also then lost the onscreen
menu status. Plus wed then end up with TWO on board
monitors hanging off the camera. eeww Ick.

So we decided to stick with the single VGA based output and

then got a VGA to composite converter to allow us to monitor
using a video based monitor. There dont seem to be any
readily available portable VGA or HDMI monitors designed for
on board work. A bit of a shortcoming really when your camera
is a computer and you want to use video monitors ! This is
apparently changing with some monitors about to be released
that support HDMI.

The workflow is similar in a way to RED and perhaps even a

little easier. The camera records in its own version of RAW,
which is actually in an AVI wrapped file. This means it opens in
Windows Player and in Quicktime. Various LOOKs (LUTs)
can be stored with the file but these are only metadata. Each
look can be programmed in via the camera but I didn't really get
much a chance to explore this.
There is a free download that allows the AVIs to be played back
within quicktime on even the lessor equipped macs with slower
USB drives, albeit with a slight stutter. You can also do the
same within Final Cut as well, making it very simple to ingest
and start editing. There is another free little application that
allows you to change the metadata basics like white point and
matrix etc, assuming you plan to online and finish within FCP.
Otherwise you can use IRIDAS speedgrade to do your final
colour grade natively (much like scratch for RED)


The camera records direct to a hard drive

and they use a customised caddy that
slots into the back of the camera. We
had two 60GB solid state drives and a
120Gb mechanical drive. They all
performed without fail. In fact the
camera didnt crash once in testing or
through the weeks shoot. A pleasant
surprise to me.
A single 60Gb drive holds about 50 mins
in CineForm RAW (compressed mode).
With similar data rates to the RED, the
camera records a compressed signal or
just recently, it can even record 12 bit
uncompressed straight to disk, providing
you have a fast enough disk !
I would suggest anyone wanting to use
the camera should insist on getting HD
rushes processed from their data
wrangler. It goes for any digital cameras
like RED really, but given the relatively
poor monitoring solutions that are
currently available for this camera, its
well worth looking at your pictures at full
I didnt really have time for a direct
comparison to RED, but the camera
seemed very comparable in terms of
dynamic range. It was perhaps a little
noisier in the blacks. It does also operate
a little bit differently in some regards. For
example, it has a gain function in 3dB
(1/2 stop) steps up to 12dB. You cant
change the ASA, its locked into roughly
250 Tungsten or 320 Daylight.
There are several great exposure tools
built into the camera that make it easy to
check exposure though. The histogram

shows you broadly where the bulk of your

visual information is lying in terms of
exposure. In the manual, they discuss
the idea of exposing to the right a lot,
meaning you open up to put the *meat* of
your visual information as far over to the
right of the histogram without clipping.
Theres a lot of merit in this theory. By
doing so you also reduce apparent noise
later on in the grade.


They also have a great false colour

system thats similar to RED with one
important advantage. The scale is right
there on the right of the screen as well !
Areas of clipping turn red, near clipping
yellow through to orange, green for
middle tones and greys to blues for
underexposure. Psychedelic baby ! Its a
really quick way to see whats going on
and I used it a lot. The Directors ended
up calling it the Kenny Everett check.
Ambitiously, the boys wanted a single
shot that followed a plate with the
unusual house meal, startled pigeon as
it went from Chef Wong in the kitchen to
the table that ordered it. The actual
startled pigeon was a built prop and
looked like it had come straight from a
cronenberg film.
This shot required building a custom rig
that would attach to steadicam operator
Louis Pulis sled. It held the plate
complete with startled pigeon so that
has he moved the camera from the
kitchen tot he table on its journey, it
would stay in place relative to the frame.
(see photos)

Above: Focus Puller Josh

Flavel lines up on Ah Gong
(Angus Samson).
Louis Pulis getting
hungry between takes, Note
the rig to hold the
startled pigeon prop.




The pictures were remarkably good and had a kind of softness that was very flattering and very un-digital like.
One remarkable feature of the camera, is the ability to take the
actual sensor block out of the camera body. All of a sudden the
lens is bigger than the camera !
The head can record back into the camera via an ethernet cable
or even straight into a conventional laptop. There are huge
advantages to this. The camera all of a sudden becomes very
I initially wasnt planning to use this feature, but Ah Gongs room
was very tiny and using this striped down and simplified version
of the camera proved very handy shooting in the cramped
space. You do of course lose all the camera functions which are
now driven remotely. But it will certainly enable some interesting

It was a lot of pain to go through to get the camera to actually

shoot anamorphic. Its was perhaps a bit of a risk. A camera
that I hadnt used and was pretty much unused in the country.
A cheapo plastic anamorphic adaptor built 5 years ago for a mini
DV camera that would throw out all the focus marks on the
lenses making it even harder to keep sharp ! I had to have a
very understanding Producer and scott alexander was very
Every time thought I started to doubt, i just had to look at the desqueezed graded footage and feel good again. The pictures
were remarkably good, and had a kind of softness that was very
flattering and very un-digital like. It made dealing with all the
logistical challenges more than worthwhile.
-Celestial Avenue is currently being edited and Johns looking
forward to grading his MiniMorphic pictures !