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Low-Light Night Exterior - Ideal Camera System (2 replies)

2 years ago
Randy 2 years ago

Hi All,

I'm shooting a short next month that will be filmed entirely at night in New York. The majority of the shoot will feature two characters moving from the subway to a bar around the Manhattan Bridge/Chinatown area.

It's a nimble shoot that will be a mix of handheld and sticks. Crew will be minimal with maybe a couple battery powered lights, but will mostly use available light.

I'm currently working on nailing down what camera system to shoot on. I originally was thinking of shooting on an Alexa Mini but I realized when you bump up to EI 1600 you lose range in the shadows and I'm a little concerned about excessive noise. 

I've been looking at the Varicam 35 with its native ISO of 5000 and was wondering if anyone has experience with the camera.

Ideally, I'd like to shoot 4K/UHD 444. It'd be great to have information in the shadows that I can then pull down to black in post to get as clean an image as possible. I understand there are limitations to what can be achieved when shooting at night with no lights.


2 years ago
standucci 2 years ago

Having dual native ISO's is mind boggling just in its creation, I'm not sure how they can do that with one sensor, stunning. Genius at work. 

To quickly answer your question, I think the Varicam is a good choice. I couldn't tell the difference in grain between 800 vs 5000 which gives you almost 3 extra stops! It's odd to have that much color information when shooting at night at 5000 ISO, its almost un-real. Its a modular camera, you can record proxy files while recording 4K, its great handheld, highlights roll off pleasingly and skin tones are smooth and natural... its a great camera. You may end up seeing TOO much, I'm not kidding, sometimes its better not to see everything, makes your gaffer work that much harder flagging and cutting every little light that pokes out. 

Good luck!

Roger Deakins
2 years ago
Roger Deakins 2 years ago

From my experience I would say that the Alexa Mini rated at 1280 or even at 1600 would be the way to go. Any noise I have seen at the higher ratings has generally been in any flat area of blue, such as a dusk sky. At night in NY I couldn't imagine you would need more that 1600 ASA and the colour fidelity and exposure latitude of the Alexa is hard to beat. I know I sound like a salesman but that is my opinion based on the work I see. 

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