PIX-E5 features and form factor proves essential when paired with Sony cameras for run-and-gun documentary.
BERLIN, GERMANY — Berlin-based cinematographer and Film University Babelsberg student Marco Müller works as director of photography (DP) and as assistant camera (AC) on a variety of commercials and documentaries. His creative imaging portfolio, including his film school projects, can be seen at www.chronotype.de.
A recent short film called ELA took Müller to the Polish borderlands. Shot in a mix of documentary and dramatic styles, this improvisational project required an open, flexible way of working, making use of actual locations and local citizens. For the film, run-and-gun and long handheld shots were common. “We needed a reliable and streamlined rig that wouldn’t hinder our way of working and slow us down,” says Müller.
The Sony PXW-FS7 camera at the center of the rig was perfect for long handheld shots. Video Devices PIX-E5 served as a reliable AC monitor while simultaneously recording 4K ProRes 422 HQ files. Other components of the rig included an Ambient Recording Tiny Lockit for timecode syncing with a Sound Devices 688 mixer/recorder, a Paralinx Triton 1:1 Wireless Video System, and a Sennheiser onboard microphone. The PIX-E5 received the 4K video signal from the FS7 in the SLog3.cine format via HDMI before automatically downscaling to HD.
“We decided to use the PIX-E5 because of its ideal combination of recording and monitoring features,” says Müller. “The full HD touchscreen of the PIX makes judging focus much easier, especially with higher recording resolutions, while the quad split feature is an excellent way to check exposure and for color cast, turning the PIX into an excellent AC monitor. Furthermore, the 3D LUT tool is essential in times of ever-present log recording, giving greater confidence for very quickly judging exposure or for communicating the ‘look and feel’ of the film to the director and crew.”
Müller says the ProRes recording of the PIX-E5 allowed the crew to avoid using the CPU-intensive internal codecs of the cameras, streamlining the post-production workflow. “Also useful to us when it comes to recording was the ability of the PIX to recognize REC-flags in the SDI or HDMI signal and automatically start recording.”
The PIX-E5 also proved valuable during night shoots when the crew switched out the FS7 for a Sony a7S Mark II DSLR. “The exceptional low-light capabilities of the a7S allowed us to keep our naturalistic style and make do with available light and minimal enhancements,” says Müller. “In this configuration the PIX-E5 became even more essential, enabling us to record UHD ProRes 422 HQ from the a7S, instead of using the low-data rate and high compression internal recording of the camera. The ability to record in ProRes 422 HQ gave us greater flexibility in color grading.”
Müller adds that the a7S has no timecode input, so the ability to convert the LTC audio timecode from the Tiny Lockit directly onboard the PIX-E5 further streamlined the post-production workflow.
Video Devices innovative, super-fast SpeedDrive™ custom-designed enclosures for industry standard mSATA drives improved the workflow of the project. The SpeedDrive, which plugs directly into the PIX-E, doubles as a USB 3.0 thumb drive for very high-speed offload to any computer without the need for a special cable or drive-docking station. While SpeedDrives are available in a preconfigured 240 GB version, Müller used an enclosure-only version that allowed him to choose and easily fit any size of mSATA drive, which are commonly available from 128 GB to 1 TB.
“We used the SpeedDrive media enclosures for the shoot,” says Müller. “I bought one just before the shoot to have enough recording space, and I have to say they are very easy to assemble. The USB 3.0 transfer speeds certainly helped to speed up our offloading times at the end of a long shooting day, and it was nice to have drives that can be directly mounted without the need for additional equipment like card readers.”
Technical features aside, the design and form factor of the PIX-E5 were also important considerations for Müller. “No other recorder with similar recording and monitoring features comes in a form factor as small and compact as the PIX-E5. It was clear for us that we needed a very small, lightweight and efficient handheld rig for our way of working, and putting any monitor on the rig larger than five-inches was out of the question. The aluminum cast chassis of the PIX-E5 also gave us the confidence that it could handle stress and abuse on a rough and quick shoot.”
For Müller the choice of the PIX-E5 suited his personality and background. “As a part-time AC and film equipment tech geek, I’m always on the lookout for equipment that could improve existing workflow and rigs,” says Müller. “I heard about the PIX-E series shortly after it was announced last year and was very interested. I also once fancied becoming an on-location sound recordist, and got to work the exceptional Sound Devices 744T recorder, so I knew that the Video Devices products would be on par with its build quality and feature sets. I decided on the PIX-E5 over its competitors because it has the best combination of recording/monitoring features, rock-solid build quality, small form factor, a thought-through design, and ease of use.”