The first thing producers should be aware of when transitioning to High Definition shooting formats is that the process is not only easier than you may have originally thought, but that for many, it becomes a tremendously enjoyable and often passionate experience. Moving to high-resolution widescreen is, for the most part, an exciting and rewarding experience for a producer. The biggest problem you may have is shooting on NTSC again — most don’t want to go back!
Aesthetic differences between Standard Definition and High Definition
Many first time HD users get hung up on technical issues before making their first HD production, but the truth is Producers usually end up more focused on the dramatic aesthetic differences they experience shooting in HD. Amazing life-like imagery and shooting on a bigger canvas changes the way we shoot things, the way we tell stories and the way our audience views the high definition experience compared to a standard definition experience.
Producers should be aware of the power of HD and should experiment before heading out to do their first “real” shoot. With widescreen HD, highly detailed images give the audience a much more cinematic experience, which in turn allows you to use to use your camera in new and more interesting ways. For instance, Producers often report that a scene they would have done in a 5 or 6 shot sequence can now be covered in two or three shots because there is so much more information in the frame.
However, you need also to remember that, for now, while we are shooting in HD 16:9 format, you can’t forget that you may also be making a 4:3 version for standard def, so make sure both versions work!
While this information is covered in the “format” section of the site, we cannot stress enough the importance of understanding your choices in working in either interlace or progressive format and picking a frame rate that best suits your project. Do your homework. Talk to your camera team and post team to make sure your format works with your workflow. Don’t leave it till post. HD is more expensive than standard def, and you don’t want to pay to fix mistakes that could and should have been avoided. Check your broadcasters’ deliverables.
Shooting 16:9 widescreen
While shooting in the16:9 format is easy to get used to, it still takes some time to adjust. Make sure you carefully consider composition on every shot, especially if you are making both 16:9 and 4:3 deliverables. Most HD cameras have a 4:3 guide built in to the viewfinder or in the monitor so either the cameraman or the director can carefully preview the framing for both 16:9 and 4:3 versions.
To truly understand the best ways to work with widescreen framing and understand the broadcasters’ requirements, we highly recommend that you read the CDTV guide to widescreen to consider all the issues.
More detail means taking more care
If you’ve been shooting in NTSC for years, you are no doubt aware of the things you can and cannot do with your camera, particularly what you have to worry about regarding the amount of detail in a shot. The incredible detail of an HD picture changes all that… the footprints in the sand, the mark on the desk, all these may all show up with surprising clarity. With critical material and shots (such as historical documentaries) we feel that it’s important to have a good-sized monitor on set. Bigger is better: 9” or 14” will not show you nearly the level of information you’ll need to properly examine your shot.
One of the original arguments that crops up often, particularly with dramatic filmmakers switching to Digital High Definition, is the use of a monitor on set. Some love it, others don’t. In most cases it really is a choice based on overall shooting style and director preference.
If you choose not to have a monitor on set, it is highly recommended to monitor your footage at some point during production, if not personally, then by your editor or transfer house. Again, HD detail will not let you get away with very much. For instance, a small back-focus problem becomes a big problem when viewed on a 50-inch plasma.
Shooting Film vs Shooting HD
Many Producers who normally would have shot film are now starting to shoot with Digital High Definition Cameras such as the Sony F900 or the Panasonic Varicam. There are many arguments for and against this transition but ultimately it is up to the producer and his team to find the tools that best work for them.
CDTV remains somewhat agnostic on this debate; providing you have mastered to an HD format, you are still in the digital game!
The one thing you should be aware of is that while 35mm is still very popular and transfers very well to HD, many broadcasters are not accepting 16mm or Super 16mm in HD productions. Its lower quality is not considered an acceptable acquisition format. Many broadcasters such as Discovery HD Theatre have written this into their technical specs.
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