Noose Bouquet
August 23, 2012 3:55 AM   Subscribe

Paul Mason of Newsnight writes in praise of bokeh.
posted by beshtya (36 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
This piece was excellent, but lacked detailed background context.
posted by jaduncan at 4:00 AM on August 23, 2012 [48 favorites]


I was listening to this really excellent interview with Mason the other day, which I think complements this.
posted by Grangousier at 4:09 AM on August 23, 2012


Instantly relieved of carting a lighting kit around Manhattan, everybody in the team (producer, cameraman, reporter) became happier.

Except for the lighting person.
posted by pracowity at 4:09 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Woah.
posted by Mezentian at 4:34 AM on August 23, 2012


If you're sharp-eyed you will notice bokeh has suddenly splattered onto your TV screen,

This might actually be one of the most awesomely meta-humorous lines I've ever read in an article like this.

Or it might just be a coincidence.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:38 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except for the lighting person.

Jeez, get a grip.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:39 AM on August 23, 2012 [43 favorites]


^ Nice
posted by nathancaswell at 5:19 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Except for the lighting person.

Bless. With field news budgets what they are, I think you mean "including the cameraman, because s/he has one less job". Did you miss the bit about doing reporting via Skype?
posted by jaduncan at 5:22 AM on August 23, 2012


Mason says:
"My cameraman, Peter Murtaugh, used a Sony video camera called NEXFS100. Basically a square box that takes SLR lenses and can shoot very high quality video on a 35mm sensor (so every frame it takes has the same quality as a 35mm film shot)."

"video on a 35mm sensor (so every frame it takes has the same quality as a 35mm film shot)". Ummm, no. Doubtless Mr. Murtaugh would have adjusted this phraseology if consulted. Otherwise, mildly diverting piece.
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 5:41 AM on August 23, 2012


It's interesting to see the film styles for news catching up with what I've seen for a while by indy filmakers. Instead of low-depth-of-field shots of mountain bikers shooting past leafy backgrounds or baristas making espressos, you've got factory workers with cool bokeh sparks.

The article was surprisingly technical, which I appreciated. Watching the car documentary straight afterwards made the bokeh incredibly evident, and probably over-done, but all the more interesting because of it.

I know the effect will be over-used, just as with any historical filter or technique (I can't wait for the Top-Gear style mega grad filters to go away again), but it's fun to see in the meantime.
posted by milkb0at at 5:59 AM on August 23, 2012


So the current wisdom is "if it's not bokeh, don't focus it?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:03 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


The medium is the message.
posted by j03 at 6:17 AM on August 23, 2012


I suppose one effect of shooting with mixed available light is a restricted ability to control white balance. There are some fairly skylight-blue faces in that auto industry video.

I haven't yet seen Barry Lyndon, but I understand the use of ultra-fast lenses in the making of it required actors to hold poses and postures exceptionally rigidly, on pain of going out of focus. Some have criticized the performances as wooden as a result. I wonder if similar unintended consequences might crop up in reportage and documentary video-making. How is an interview affected if the interviewer has instructed the not-a-professional-actor subject to remain very still during the interview?
posted by Western Infidels at 6:33 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


In five years the news will be Hipstamatic & Instagrammed. OH BOY CANT WAIT.

Actually I wrote a short story some time ago about this sort of visual overdrive reporting and advertising, also the headlines and stories and copy were all written in iambic pentameter with a simple rhyming scheme so they were really catchy, like song lyrics. A machine did it, people just fed in regular prose and it recomposed it into neurologically tuned sing-song that was basically impossible to resist.

Everything was perfectly tuned to simultaneously overdrive our human senses and dive underneath our normal conscious supervisory review of information before it gets assimilated.

It was a horrible horrible world.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:38 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's one place on TV bokeh has been around since forever though: cooking shows.
posted by destrius at 8:25 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everything was perfectly tuned to simultaneously overdrive our human senses...

Reminds of Ted Chiang's "Liking What You See," in which [SPOILER] corporations deploy a software filter that adjusts aural and visual cues within recorded speech such that any spokesperson can be rendered supernaturally charismatic. Run Todd Akin's interview through the filter, and he'd come off like Martin Luther King on a good day. The only obvious way to combat the filter is to use artificial brain lesions to give yourself a kind of Asperger's.
posted by Iridic at 8:47 AM on August 23, 2012


I haven't yet seen Barry Lyndon, but I understand the use of ultra-fast lenses in the making of it required actors to hold poses and postures exceptionally rigidly, on pain of going out of focus. Some have criticized the performances as wooden as a result. I wonder if similar unintended consequences might crop up in reportage and documentary video-making. How is an interview affected if the interviewer has instructed the not-a-professional-actor subject to remain very still during the interview?

Fast lenses should allow more light which should allow smaller apertures which should provide a greater depth of field. Now, if they are using that extra light-passing ability of fast lenses to eliminate properly lighting a shot, then yeah.

Here's what I don't understand: if a $4500 Canon with a $500 lens can shoot decent video with no lights, why can't the professional television camera that's an order of magnitude or two more expensive do the same thing only better?


(I'd also like to quibble with the expansion of the definition of bokeh. It's not simply the blur that a narrow depth of field produces: that's blur. Bokeh is the *quality* of that blur. Does it look pleasing or not?)
posted by gjc at 9:20 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regarding the documentary they shot on the BBC page. It all looks mostly fine, but what I notice is lens distortions that you don't get with a more professional setup. I noticed pincushion and barrel distortion. And/or rolling shutter distortion on some of the fast action shots.

If the choice is between getting the video and not getting it, then of course the quality is secondary. But setting out with substandard equipment for the task at hand because it's "good enough" is not praiseworthy. One person's artistic shot is another person's missing information.
posted by gjc at 9:30 AM on August 23, 2012


If a $4500 Canon with a $500 lens can shoot decent video with no lights, why can't the professional television camera that's an order of magnitude or two more expensive do the same thing only better?

Depends on your definition of "decent video." That $4500 Canon shoots a nice-looking picture, sure, but as you've already noted there are optical artifacts of the cheaper lens (pincushion and barrel distortion) and of the CMOS censor (rolling-shutter distortion). DSLRs are generally thought to have some problems with moiré, depending on the model, and typically record to highly compressed H.264 files, which means the images can fall apart when your colorist tries to apply anything but very basic look to the footage in post-production. (A pro camera generally records to a more robust format and/or offers uncompressed video out via HD-SDI that you can record on your choice of device.) Frame rates have also been limited, but that's being addressed through firmware upgrades and as new models are introduced.

The form factor of the camera itself is an issue, too. The buttons can be a little fiddly to work with on such a small camera body, and many users will want a professional rig for mounting camera accessories and, if they're doing any handheld work, to give a more stable quality to their camera moves. Audio is also a problem, since DSLRs don't have pro audio connectors on board, generally forcing the use of second-system audio recording. Those things significantly increase the real cost of that $4500 Canon if it's being used in a pro environment.

Lots of users have adopted DSLRs for exactly the reasons you note -- they're cheap, you get a hell of a lot of picture for your money, and those shallow-focus effects are sexy (although an argument could be made that they're dramatically overused by DSLR shooters who are too easily intoxicated by their beauty). It's also great to have the ability to shoot top-notch stills with the same equipment! But you also have to be willing to deal with the not-inconsequential limitations of the hardware and the recorded image.
posted by Mothlight at 9:51 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Fast lenses should allow more light which should allow smaller apertures which should provide a greater depth of field. Now, if they are using that extra light-passing ability of fast lenses to eliminate properly lighting a shot, then yeah."

Barry Lyndon was all pretty famously shot with available period light, including candles for the night scenes. So yeah, they used the fast lenses to avoid lighting the scene like they would have otherwise, but the lenses aren't to blame so much as Kubrick's purism in lighting.
posted by klangklangston at 9:56 AM on August 23, 2012


Any photographic effect singled-out misses the point. If you're noticing the technique over the substance then the effect has failed.
posted by basicchannel at 10:08 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fast lenses should allow more light which should allow smaller apertures which should provide a greater depth of field.

Fast lenses allow more light because they have large apertures. You aren't going to find a lens that lets in appreciably more light at f/2.8 than any other lens at f/2.8. As per your link, the lenses used in Barry Lyndon had an astounding f/0.7 aperture.
posted by zsazsa at 10:46 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fast lenses allow more light because they have large apertures. You aren't going to find a lens that lets in appreciably more light at f/2.8 than any other lens at f/2.8.

Right, but they can only have large apertures because they are constructed to allow in more light. If you take an f/2.8 lens and figure out how to open up the aperture even more than max, it isn't going to let in any more light.
posted by gjc at 3:51 PM on August 23, 2012


I think you're still missing the point. f/2.8 is f/2.8, no matter the lens, and DOF can be calculated from the f-number, focal length, and distance from the camera to subject. The f-number is a direct measure of how much light makes it through, so "it's faster, therefore it can have a smaller aperture" doesn't mean anything -- the f-number will be constant for a given amount of light coming through, and therefore the DOF.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:09 PM on August 23, 2012


the lenses used in Barry Lyndon had an astounding f/0.7 aperture.

My f1.4 slr lens has about 1cm of in-focus depth of field when it is wide open, I can't conceive how they could shoot video with such a narrow focal point.
posted by bystander at 6:44 PM on August 23, 2012


You're missing 2 key components of the DOF question, bystander: focal length and distance.

A 50mm prime lens at 1.4 will have about 1cm of depth at minimum focusing distance, but more like a 50cm from 10 feet away.

Aperture size is not the only thing controlling depth of field.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:58 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm seeing more and more amateurs doing video using just this $4K equipment and pulling off some really artistic and clever pieces on youtube. They filmed the last episiode of House using the Canon 5DMkII. I've seen some behind the scenes and to be honest, I would say that the cost of the brackets used to hold the camera was worth more than the camera!! weird!
posted by cusack01 at 10:42 PM on August 23, 2012


I had the pleasure of actually working in a museum when we had a huge Kubrick exhibition. Amongst the many objects where about 30 or so different lenses from his collection, including many from Barry Lyndon.

Sweet mamma jamma they were some chunks of glass. Looked like quartz crystals snapped straight off a pristine cave in mexico or something. Like scotch tumblers that were actually solid glass, with a bit of metal wrapped round for grip.
posted by smoke at 12:07 AM on August 24, 2012


Partly, I think the desire for "bokeh" is a fashion because it evokes the glamourous look of the movies rather than the "cheaper" look of video and home movies.

Ironically, the great breakthrough in cinematography in the 1940's was "deep focus" (exemplified by Greg Toland's cinematography on Welles' Citizen Kane) which is the opposite of "bokeh" - everything is in focus. With deep focus, the viewers are free to find the details they want within the frame, rather than having their attention directed by the filmmaker.

Moreover, in documentary work narrow focus can be a real problem - if you are shooting 'on the hoof', you want as much to be in focus as you can. What this means (and I think this is a real issue) that documentaries shot on DSLRs tend to be much more studied and set-up (and interview based) - the technology mitigates against spontaneous hand-held shooting.

[Just to clarify some of the technical stuff - the larger the sensor (or gate in film terms) the shorter focal length for the same angle of view, so 50mm lens which is a 'standard lens' on a 35mm still camera would be a 'telephoto lens' on a 8mm camera. Depth of field is related to the focal length of the lens (and the aperture), not the angle of view. Until people started using DSLRs to shoot video even professional video cameras had chips (2/3") much smaller than the gates of 35mm movie cameras so you could never get that limited depth of field movie look.]
posted by rolo at 1:09 AM on August 24, 2012


The 'bokeh' shallow focus look (like HDR) is one of those things that will date film footage and photography in the same way we look back in scorn at eighties video effects.
posted by brilliantmistake at 2:13 AM on August 24, 2012


You aren't going to find a lens that lets in appreciably more light at f/2.8 than any other lens at f/2.8.

Of course you will. That's why God invented T-stops.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:53 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


brilliantmistake: "The 'bokeh' shallow focus look (like HDR) is one of those things that will date film footage and photography in the same way we look back in scorn at eighties video effects."

I see narrowing depth of field as more of a composition technique than an artistic effect. It can be overused and abused like any technique, but ultimately if you're using it to direct the viewer's attention to the main subject of a shot, I don't think it comes off as kitschy or something that will look dated in 20 years.

There's something to be said for letting the viewer decide where to direct their attention, but sometimes the background adds nothing to a scene, so it makes sense to blur the background and make the subjects "pop" a bit, since human vision can only focus on one area of an image at a time.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:11 AM on August 24, 2012


The main thing with shallow DOF is that since it's relatively novel at this price range, some people use it gratuitously and excessively. I bet the fad for shallow DOF will stabilize as time goes on.

Myself, I'm intrigued by how so many people are flocking to the full frame look in particular, even though Super 35mm motion picture film is actually much closer in size to an APS-C sensor. Nothing inherently good or bad about it - it's just interesting that, say, Louie appears to be shot on a sensor size that had been pretty alien to filmmaking until the 5D2 rolled along.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:20 AM on August 24, 2012


Incidentally, I've been re-watching Six Feet Under, and that show makes marvelous use of deep focus compositions. Interesting in light of how deep focus is somewhat out of style at the moment. It's also interesting how the first two seasons of the show had been in the 4:3 aspect ratio. I'm not sure that the switch to widescreen from Season 3 onwards really suits it, but I guess technology marches on and now it's considered bad form to shoot anything 4:3.

It's a shame that 4:3 is now considered to be barely a choice. Kurosawa and Kubrick often preferred it, and I seem to recall Spielberg once saying that he thought Jurassic Park looked better in 4:3, because it emphasized the dinosaurs' height.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:26 AM on August 24, 2012


Incidentally, I've been re-watching Six Feet Under, and that show makes marvelous use of deep focus compositions.

From what I remember of Six Feet Under they used a lot of split field diopters to get their deep focus. I remember it really standing out, you could always tell where the seam was, which always kind of bothered me.

Elephant is one of the prettiest movies ever made, glorious in 4:3. Can't really recall seeing a major motion picture in that aspect ratio since then.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:33 AM on August 24, 2012


I'm intrigued by how so many people are flocking to the full frame look in particular, even though Super 35mm motion picture film is actually much closer in size to an APS-C sensor.

That's an excellent observation that's bound to be lost on a lot of photographers who are starting to experiment with video on their full-frame sensors, scarcely aware of the fact that 35mm still cameras are more akin to a Vistavision film camera, which was hardly the norm for motion pictures.

Wes Anderson shot all of "Bottle Rocket" with a single 28mm lens, which would border on being a "fisheye" lens were it to be used on a full-frame sensor.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:56 PM on August 24, 2012


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