How We Determine the Best Equipment For the Job at Zero Point Zero
We’ve been working with Lensrentals for nearly a decade here at Zero Point Zero Production. Our rentals have run the full gamut: a small battery rental here, a couple of lenses there, all the way to multiple cameras, tripods, media- you name it- on some of our larger shoots. Our equipment department has grown from four small cases of gear locked in a closet when not being used, to full department with enough gear to send out multiples crews to every corner of the world.
We’ve always tried to keep our kits as user-friendly as possible for all aspects of production. Recently, we had a brand new show startup for its first season. Pretty straight forward at first glance: 4K, multiple episodes shooting simultaneously, small crews. It’s all well within our wheelhouse. Since we’re mostly a Sony house, we were planning to use the Sony FS7 II and our regular lens set up: Rokinon E-mount Xeens for our prime set and a pair of Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mms. While we have PL primes, we’ve absolutely found that shooting with a minimal number of adapters works best for everyone.
That’s where a wrench was thrown into our plan. We get a little bit more information from the showrunner about the day-to-day for these shoots: crews will be even smaller than we’re accustomed to, the directors are going to be shooting second camera for most interviews, and all of the interviews are on the fly and totally handheld.
With all of these factors, our showrunner is incredibly worried that with the Fujinon Cabrios crews aren’t going to be able to power through the days – especially crew members that aren’t usually tasked with any kind of strenuous shooting. So there’s our task: finding a zoom lens with a range close to our 19-90mms, but isn’t too bulky.
We enjoy doing lens tests here at ZPZ. It gives our prep technicians (who are usually shooters themselves) an opportunity to get their hands on new gear, makes sure we’re staying on top of new products and technology, and it opens a great dialogue with our shooters about looks that they’re going for creatively. For this test, we did some general research of common zoom lenses, immediately omitting anything that we know is too heavy or simply isn’t compatible with how we travel or shoot. The extra caveat in the search is that it has to be something that’s common enough for rental houses to carry. And I mean rental houses around the world in case of emergency.
We’ll usually set aside a day (or two if we’re lucky!) to put the lenses through their paces. This time the test is between the Zeiss LWZ.3 21-100mm T2.9-3.9, the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II, and a split set of the Fujinon MK 18-55 T2.9 and the 50-135mm T2.9.
Typically, we’ll start with a colorful still life of some type to play around with color and close focus, especially for lenses that have macro settings like the Fuji MKs. Since we’re a gear house, we always have camera tape and snacks at the ready for situations like this.
Next, we’ll introduce an actual subject to our set up for skin tones. Since we travel with all of our gear, we try and keep our lighting package as small as possible, while being versatile for locations that crews haven’t even had the opportunity to scout ahead of time. We’re big fans of Litepanels Astra 1x1s for interviews since they’ll run off of batteries for hours while remaining lightweight enough to tuck up in an inconspicuous corner. In this case, we’re also checking for low light and how the bokeh performs in the background at all the different focal lengths.
Next up, we want to take our subject to somewhere with lots of natural light. The kitchen in our office has a ton of windows that makes this work wonderfully for these kinds of situations. So far everything’s been on sticks in super controlled situations just to see how these lenses perform when they’re at their best. Time to get physical.
If we’ve scheduled the day correctly, we’ll have the exact gear package assigned to the show available so we can test the camera build and all of the other accessories. Shoulder mounts, matte boxes, follow focuses, all of these need to be considered ahead of time. Changing the accessories won’t really change our opinions on the lenses, but it is helpful to know what is or isn’t compatible ahead of time.
One at a time, we’ll fully build up these cameras with the lenses and accessories and take them out on the street for some on-the-fly style shooting. We’ll do some city b-roll covering all the focal lengths,
Once all of that is done, we’ll go ahead and write up a summary accompanied by any pertinent footage we just shot for reference. We’ll usually supply our own recommendation about which set up was the easiest to use and hit all the parameters that we needed it to hit.
In the case of this show, the production ultimately decided to go with the Canon 24-105mm with the addition of a Metabones Canon EF to Sony E Speed Booster T Cine Ultra. It was an interesting choice in our opinion. Shooters couldn’t use our clip-on matteboxes, but utilized our screw-in filters and internal NDs. The lens was wonderfully lightweight, but at the expense of only being able to adjust the iris through the camera. The internal image stabilization on the Canon lens made the walk and talks a breeze, but even with the speed booster, the lens was lacking a bit on the wide and telephoto ends.
At the end of the day, we all learned a lot about these lenses that we didn’t own. It made us an even better-informed department whose knowledge wasn’t just limited to the stock that we have in house. Our work for this one show helped us to make other recommendations for all of our future shows.
Author: Emma Huckstadt
Emma Huckstadt started as a Production Assistant at Zero Point Zero in 2014 and quickly got promoted to Manager of Production Equipment, responsible for trouble-shooting questions and inspecting their gear before it goes into the field. Zero Point Zero produces shows such as Parts Unknown, Mind of a Chef, and Elvis Goes There and has won 15 Primetime Emmy’s, 5 James Beard Awards and a Peabody Award.