This was so fun!
As a part of a project for the City of Westfield I got to be on the sidelines of the high school rivalry game between neighbors Noblesville and Westfield.
I'd shot little league football the night before, so I had learned a little bit about which lens/resolution combos would work best. Choosing between my Rokinon 16mm, 50mm, and 135mm cine lenses, I learned that my 16mm is only good for the wide establishing shots because the rest of the action is too far away. It'd be good for sideline footage but only if you were really cozy with the coaches and players since you'd have to get up close...and I didn't know any of them and didn't want to get in their way. I kind of just watched what the seasoned vet with the Nikon 400mm did and just mimicked his body language and boundaries.
The Ursa Mini Pro's built-in ND filters were a huge feature here because I switched back and forth between the 50 and 135 a lot, and not having to unscrew and re-screw ND filters to the front of the lens saved me critical time during lens changes. The ND filter allows me to keep the shutter angle locked at 180 degrees (the camera automatically chooses a shutter speed that is twice your current frame rate) so that I can keep the appropriate motion blur and still have full control over aperture, like shooting wide open in full daylight.
The toughest decisions to make were when to use 24fps, 60fps, or 120fps.
For me there are three factors to consider:
1) Energy - I was just gathering general footage and only a few of these clips will likely end up in my final edit, so I knew I could swing for the fences and take some risks to get those hero shots that I was hoping for. But I also am learning that while slow-mo is beautiful and can make moments look epic, they're not always as exciting or energetic as real-time 24fps clips. And sometimes slow-mo takes too long to tell a story! For instance, a 60-yard touchdown pass is something that takes about 5 or 6 seconds to show if you start with the ball leaving the QB's hands...but that becomes a 12 to 14-second shot in slow-mo, which might take too long if it's shown as part of a montage. So I wanted to make sure I didn't shoot the whole thing in slow-mo.
2) 4k - I still deliver in 1080, but I love being able to crop a 4k shot down to 25% and still have 1920 x 1080 resolution. It's so nice, especially in unplanned situations or when you're farther from your subject than you wish you were. It's like having an extra zoom to use in post-production! The file sizes are massive, especially when shooting 60fps, but it's worth it to me. The catch here is that on the Ursa Mini you have to shoot with a windowed 1080p resolution in order to get 120fps, so what you shoot is what you get with 120fps, with no option to crop or re-frame in post. This means you have to nail your composition while shooting a pretty tight shot (if shooting with the 50 or especially the 135), and given the spontaneous nature of sports, that can be tough.
3) "Windowed" 1080p - "Windowed" 1080p for 120fps shooting means only the center 1920 x 1080 pixels are used to create the HD image as opposed to the entire sensor. This has multiple implications. The biggest one is that it results in a significant decrease in image quality--each bit of grain is larger and more noticeable, and the image as a whole just isn't as sharp or crisp. It also means that you end up zoomed way in--I think it's like a x2.36 crop factor as compared to "full frame"? Either way it's way in there. The opening shot, for example, looks like it was filmed with maybe a 35mm, but it was actually my 16mm shooting 120fps in windowed 1080. The third primary factor with shooting 120fps is that it takes a lot more light, for two reasons--one, 120fps is that many more times that the shutter is opening and closing within a second, so that's that much less time that light is getting to the sensor; two, Rokinon cine lenses aren't super sharp wide open, and that really shows when you're shooting with the windowed sensor because things are blown up and less sharp, so you have to stop down on your aperture to get a sharper image. That's ultimately a good idea anyways though because focus misses aren't forgiving when played back in super slow-mo, so you're better off shooting with a deep depth of field anyways.
There came a point in the red zone where the play erupted toward the sidelines and I immediately recalled seeing NFL players run smack into photographers at full speed. It sounded like a stampede, surprisingly loud, as they rushed toward us. I realized that they were not thinking at all about where they'd end up, and I grabbed my monopod and tried to get out of there! You can see the play where it happened in this gif, which cracks me up! I looked over at 400mm Nikon guy and laughed nervously and he said, "That'll get your heart beating!"
What I'd Do Differently
I should have used the Blackmagic Viewfinder to help me with focusing--it's a lot easier to see in there than it is with the flip-out screen. I didn't take it because I went pretty minimal as I was only planning on getting a few shots...I also only brought one battery for that reason, which ended up coming back to bite me when I decided to stick around for the whole game--it died with a couple minutes left in the fourth quarter. Luckily I had a Sony a7s2 with me and I shot the last few plays with that camera, but I can definitely tell the difference in the footage.
If I shot another game I'd try to see if I could hang around the sidelines with my 16mm and capture a more immersive look at what it's like to be bumping shoulders with the team members and coaches. I also would like to get more shots of the fan experience..but overall I am super happy with all the great football shots I came away with.
I love a good video frame, and I'm really impressed with how great they look coming off of the Ursa Mini. I included the original shot of the little boy waving at halftime to show how much I cropped in for the edit--I did that 4k crop-in with lots of shots in this edit. Started with LUTs from Daniel John Peters and tweaked with ColorFinale in FCPX. I love how the tones turned out with these.