Lights Out, Camera, Action

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In 2008 we witnessed the birth of HD-DSLR Cameras.

In 2009 you will be introduced to cameras that can see in the dark better than the naked eye.

Just a little over a year ago my jaw dropped when I stumbled upon the 5D MKII and saw 1080p video coming off of a full frame chip for the first time.

Just a little over two weeks ago my jaw dropped even harder when I took a prototype of the Canon 1D MKIV outdoors to test it at night.  I was on the road, it was late and I had just rushed back to my hotel to get to the unit.  I was expecting a 1D body, with 24p, a 1.3 crop factor sensor, 10 fps for stills, a new AF system – 60 fps at 720p – and of course 1080p video.

Nothing prepared me for what happened next.

I set the ASA to high – and I pointed it towards an area lit by a single flood light.  The image was overexposed by 4-5 stops.  I then started to play with the settings, pointing my light into an area in complete shadow (my eye saw nothing but black) but on the rear of the LCD I saw sharp, green leaves as crystal clear as if it were shot in daylight.

I think it’s safe to say that every single filmmaker and photographer has always dreamed of cameras that can see what our naked eyes can see.  This time these cameras can actually see more.   Sure – they may not have the dynamic ranges of our eyes just yet – but they see more than my naked eyes can see in low light.


And that’s qualifies as a paradigm shift in my book.

The next few years will see photography and filmmaking redefined by technology.   While there is no substitute for exquisite lighting – artists will now be able to explore areas once thought impossible to photograph.

Think of all of the images you’ve missed throughout your career.   Think of all of the places you didn’t even consider going to film – because they were too dark.   Those days are now but a distant memory.  Even if you don’t need to go into the shadows – imaging photographing at f 5.6 or at f 8 at some point soon in areas you are struggling to capture at 1/50th, f 2.8 at 1600 ASA currently…

In many ways these past two weeks felt like Reverie all over again.   I had not expected to get the 1D MKIV until after the Photo Plus Expo.    When I got a voicemail letting me know in a very unceremonious way that two units were waiting for me to try  “we need your shipping address” the message said – I was surprised.  Canon did not have any plans to have me or anyone shoot anything this year in time for the announcement.

When I saw what this camera did at night, I pushed the all hands on deck button – calling my friends and colleagues to engage in an “interesting project” that I could not elaborate on.   They pretty much had to trust me that it might be worth their time and commit to it blind.

Once again – we had very very little time to prepare.  Just under 72 hours.  And we were ALL busy working on other jobs as this economy seems to be awakening again.

What you will see below – is what we were able to pull together under a pretty ridiculous deadline.  Once again there were no film permits (no time… no time to location scout and apply) no fancy anything.  But I did have some incredibly talented people out here in LA willing to help on such short notice – we shot over two nights in downtown Los Angeles.  Most of the cast and crew had worked a 10-12 hour day shift.  We all worked close to 48 hours straight last weekend.  Everyone was bitten by the bug if you will – once they saw what this camera could do. I was incredibly fortunate to work with one of the best group of people out there -period.

Here is the main point that I hope you take into account: the short film you are about to watch was shot in pretty much the very worst light that I could possibly find in an evening urban landscape.  I did not chose “pretty lighting” in a mall or under neon signs.  That would have been cheating in my book.

The short was shot near East 6th and Mateo St. in Los Angeles – in an industrial part of the city.   If you live in the area – go check out the area – you won’t believe the video you see below came from the poor lighting in that area.   Sodium and mercury vapor lights.   That’s it.  Really awful lighting.

Not a single external light source was used / added.  In other words I did not use a single flashlight, LightPanel, flood light – nothing.   For one shot only I pulled out a silver reflector… just to say we did it really.  And yes it worked (see the shot of the young girl.)

The ISO stayed locked in the 6400 ASA range – with a very few shots hovering 1 stop above and one or two set to 3200 ASA because we had TOO MUCH depth of field…(on the bridge.)  At one point I found myself shooting at 12,800 ASA by mistake – and I didn’t even notice any noise on the rear LCD in the skies… 6400 ASA is the new 1600 ASA – maybe even the new 800 ASA.  Stop to ponder that for a second  – and what it can mean to the way you approach your craft.

In the upcoming days I will share more details, behind the scenes, post workflow etc. A huge thanks goes out to my co-directors Stu Maschwitz, David Nelson and our incredibly resourceful Uber Producer Michele Abbott – and every single member of the cast and crew.  For now – if you even made it this far – take a look into the shadows:


Nocturne from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

P.S.  Before the end of the year – I plan to release a series of downloadable videos – that cover numerous production tips/aspects of these HD-DSLR cameras – as well as post workflow.  Basically everything I know.  If you are interested – pls send an e-mail to – with the word “NOTIFY” in the subject only.  I will then contact you when those are available.  No obligation on your part of course – just send me an e-mail if you’d like to be notified.  We are already in pre-production for the series.

P.P.S. – on a technical note: because I know everyone will ask: the footage was graded with Stu’s Magic Bullet Colorista software (PLEASE CHECK OUT STU’S BLOG POSTING ON THIS SHOOT HERE) that he helped design and treated for noise (not a significant amount at all to be honest – at some point I may put up raw clips.) The point here is to show what this footage CAN look like when processed on an average laptop (i.e. nothing fancy!)

The 1080p footage on SmugMug is pretty incredible – but remember that a 365 MB compressed file was initially uploaded and then re-compressed a second time – from a 2.32 GB original uncompressed file. You can expect that the blacks will be a bit clamped, and that there will be a loss in sharpness relative to the original.