Cinematographer puts the PIX-E5 to the test in the sweltering, harsh conditions of Ecuador's Amazon Rainforest for independent documentary.
QUITO, ECUADOR – When Cinematographer Jose Sarmiento made the awe-inspiring journey into the humid Amazon jungle of Ecuador for a documentary on the indigenous Quechua people and their culture, he knew he was going to be up against some of the harshest conditions his equipment had ever been exposed to. With extreme heat and suffocating humidity, Sarmiento needed to pack only his most reliable and lightweight equipment. In order to capture dynamic 4K images, he turned to Video Devices PIX-E5 recording monitor.
The senior thesis project, now in the works of being turned into a full-length documentary, is being produced and directed by Sarmiento's friend and colleague, Nate Brubaker, from Stevenson University in Owings Mills, Maryland. The film explores the Quechua community, the most populous ethnic group in the Ecuadorian Amazon region, and what’s being done to preserve the culture and the language. As the younger generations leave the communities to go to the big cities for jobs, the elders are facing and uphill battle having no one to pass down their language, culture, and habits.
The two-person crew was in Ecuador for nine days: four days in Quito and five days in the Amazon rainforest. "Within two days of us being there some of our equipment rusted, which tells you just what kind of humidity we were subjected to and what we were exposing all this gear to," says Sarmiento. "We rented a Jeep® Compass, packed it all up with about nine cases full of gear, and drove close to five hours into the rainforest; often having to wait for landslides to be cleared up along these very narrow winding roads through the mountains. We took two PIX-E5s, a DJI Phantom 3 drone, a DJI Ronin-M gimbal, two Sony® a7S IIs, two sets of tripods, a couple of small lights, and a few different lenses ranging from primes to zooms. With the humidity being what it was, we wanted at least two PIX-E5s on hand so that we could do dual recording with the Sony a7S II's. By doing so, we could get a more data-rich image out of the 4K recording from these monitors compared to the compressed codec from the cameras, which would mean our editors/colorists could do a lot more in post."
Although the conditions were extreme, the PIX-E5 performed up to its full potential for Sarmiento. "The humidity was consuming; five seconds before you stepped outside and you were already sweating," he says. "It was intense, but we didn't let it stop us. We even went on a four-hour hike through heavy vegetation and a creek where the water reached up to my chest at times. I probably gave Nate a heart-attack when I used the camera rig for balance as I crossed this 15ft-long log that was suspended above deep water," jokes Sarmiento. "It was an amazing experience and it really put us and the gear to the test. I'm still surprised that the PIX-E5 kept on motoring along. We never lost picture on the monitors."
Another reason Sarmiento chose the PIX-E5 was its form factor. "For its size, it's probably the lightest monitor I've seen," he says. "I really enjoyed that. We took into account that it was only going to be two of us, so the smaller and lighter the better. That being said, we didn't want to compromise on quality and the PIX-E5 allowed us to record in 4K ProRes. In addition, the PIX-E5 fit in the palm of my hand and being able to easily mount it on a gimbal made all the difference." He is also a fan of the magnetic sun hood. "The screen was surprisingly bright enough that even under direct sunlight I didn't always feel like I needed the hood. I could quickly hand it off to someone or just put it in my pocket," he says. "That is a great feature."
With its five-inch, 1920x1080 resolution, the PIX-E5 monitor comes packed with a full suite of precision monitoring tools, SDI and HDMI I/O, plus the ability to record 4K and Apple® ProRes 4444 XQ edit-ready files to affordable mSATA-based SpeedDrives™. The PIX-E5 is presently the world’s most compact 4K recording monitor.
"The fact that I was able to take the SpeedDrive, which is no bigger than my thumb, plug it right in and be able to record, was amazing," adds Sarmiento. "One SpeedDrive lasted us a whole day, which was great as it meant having to carry less gear. Even battery wise, we were able to shoot almost all day on one battery, which is often unheard of. Not having to worry about high power consumption was a huge relief, especially under those challenging conditions. Again, less batteries meant less stuff we had to carry." For Sarmiento, it was essential to be able to just focus on the story and filmmaking. "The PIX-E5 gave us peace of mind about a number of factors,” he says. “It is truly an amazing product. On top of all the features it can deliver, it blew my mind knowing that something so compact had all the bells and whistles of some monitors twice its size. I plan on using the PIX-E5 whenever possible on all of my future projects."
Follow Jose on Instagram at j_sarmient0.