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FX’s ‘Wilfred’ Adds Nikon D800 to its HDSLR Mix

Setting a new standard for the use of HDSLRs in professional video production, FX’s Wilfredis currently the only television series on any major network to shoot exclusively on HDSLRs. Captivated by the Nikon D800’s unique feature set, and a love of Nikon glass, the series’ director and executive producer, Randall Einhorn, immediately recognized the camera’s potential and spearheaded the use of the HDSLR as its versatility, dynamic range and low-light performance set it apart from those previously employed by the production team.

To depict the state of ethereal consciousness the audience encounters during the comical misadventures of the main characters in Wilfred, a unique approach to cinematography was needed. Director and executive producer, Randall Einhorn, and his crew rose to the challenge with an all HD-SLR workflow, using all NIKKOR lenses and the Nikon D800 exclusively for the second part of the season. “We switched over to the D800 as soon as they became available,” said Einhorn. “We have a lot of footage that has to have a surreal feel. We want a dramatic depth of field that matches the dreamy parallel of the characters’ minds in any given scene. Ultimately this is what drove us to HDSLRs.”

“As soon as we saw the specs behind the D800 we immediately wanted to get our hands on one,” said Tim Arasheben, camera operator on Wilfred. “After putting it to the test, it was everything and more we thought it would be on set and made the switch right away.”

The Nikon D800 offers filmmakers a number of advantages, and to capitalize on all that the camera had to offer, the crew turned to the Cinoflex Camera System which was developed by T M Camera Solutions, LLC. By developing a custom Nikon adaptor base, the crew was able to utilize the brand new Cinoflex and make the Nikon D800 set ready, ensuring nodal positioning and adherence to industry standard lens height for familiar operation and utilization of all existing accessories.

“Instead of using the HDMI out to record to an off-board recorder, we leveraged the HDMI out to feed clean video images to everyone on set,” added Arasheben. “The Cinoflex Camera System provides a strong anchor point that allowed us to relocate the D800’s HDMI out to the aluminum chassis, where the signal was converted to HD/SDI BNC and inserted directly into the HD/SDI input on the Cinoflex. Using the Cinoflex’s four isolated HD/SDI outputs, we then gave the director, camera assistant, DP and camera operator a view of exactly what was being shot.”

“With the Cinoflex Camera System, using the D800 was just so easy,” added Einhorn. “I may have been hesitant at first about adding a new HDSLR into the mix, but the Cinoflex made the transition completely seamless and it helped every aspect of our shooting demands on set.”

Wilfred’s production team also noted other advantages of the D800 workflow, including the ability for the camera to shoot in 1.5x and 5:4 crop modes for a telephoto boost and enhanced depth and also the uncompressed HDMI output for monitoring or porting to an external recorder. Additionally, the D800’s wide dynamic range for video and still capture combined with a wide ISO range create a winning combination for any production.

“ISO performance is an important factor to consider; however, it ultimately comes down to how well a camera can handle the black detail in a scene, something which we feel is commonly overlooked by camera manufactures today,” said Arasheben. “With the D800, we were blown away. The way the D800 handled the black detail was simply incredible and was enormously important to us. Our set has very dissected and specific lighting, and if a camera cannot truly represent the black levels, that’s a problem, especially as considerable resources are then required to correct the footage in post. This is an issue we never had to worry about with the D800.”