John Stokes ACS Finds Warmth in Winter with the Sony PMW-F55


Winter is an Australian mystery-drama-thriller television series currently airing on the Seven Network directed by Ian Watson, Shirley Barrett and Lynn Hegarty with John Stokes ACS as its director of photography. The series, acclaimed for its look and feel, was shot exclusively with Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta cameras rented from Lemac.

Explaining his choice of camera Stokes said, “I wanted to shoot and see which camera looked the best for our lead actor, Rebecca Gibney, so I did side by side tests with the ALEXA, Sony F65 and the F55 and to tell the truth Bec looked equally beautiful with all of them. So I chose the F55 based on what the post budget had allowed for the data rate, its compact size and its excellent image quality.”

Stokes’ capture choices were ALEXA ProRes HD 444 12-bit, F65 SStP SQ 444 10-bit or the F55 shooting 2K RAW with 16-bit colour space and the ability for the camera to ingest a 3D LUT.

Stokes continued, “The F55 was my choice. Like most television drama you shoot at a very fast pace and as we were a location only shoot with some of the locations proving to be very tight, the F55’s compact size definitely influenced my decision. Also we were shooting lots of urban night exteriors with very small lighting packages and the high ISO rating of 1250 was also a huge bonus. Often, I would be bumping the ISO up to 2500 and on a few occasions up to 5000, with very pleasing results.”

Stokes has had great success with Sony F Series cameras shooting another highly acclaimed drama, A Place to Call Home, on the Sony F65 so he was very familiar with the camera’s capabilities. That said he was still very impressed with the F55 adding, “I think it is a very flexible, capable camera that delivers excellent image quality. I was particularly impressed with the F55’s image quality in low light, its ability to shoot 240fps and its compact size. Also the global shutter really does make a difference in eliminating the rolling shutter effect. I also liked the Centre Scan option which allowed me to blow up the image in-camera by 100% without any noticeable quality loss. So a 250mm became a 500mm at the flick of a switch. This was a real time saver on occasion.”

Shooting 2K RAW, Stokes ended up using three F55’s on Winter, two as standard studio setups and one as a dedicated Steadicam camera. With much praise coming from critics about how Winter looks, Stokes made mention of what goes into an attractive look and how much can be attributed to the camera commenting, “As always there are many facets to making a show look good, not the least being the art direction and costume design. The F55 did an excellent job of capturing these. Also our locations were diverse, from rugged sunlit oceanfront cliff faces on the South Coast to the dark gloomy streets of Darlinghurst at night. We also had a large fluoro-lit office that doubled as Police HQ and was surrounded by windows, so everywhere you pointed the camera you saw the urban landscape outside. This was a great look but also was the most challenging location in so far as extremes in exposure go. Again the F55 handled all of our challenges beautifully.”

Post production on Winter was taken care of at Blue Post with Annelie Chapple as the colourist. Stokes continued, “Annelie and I created a single LUT in Da Vinci Resolve from early test footage. This was loaded into the F55 via an SD card. From that point onward what we saw on the on-set OLED monitors and monitors in the edit suites was the original look applied in pre and that carried all the way into the grading suite. So Annelie, the director and producers were all seeing exactly what I was seeing on set and Annelie would grade off the original RAW files with the LUT applied. This was an effective way of communicating the look of the show to everyone so that there were no surprises in the final grade. I’m delighted to say working with the F55 in post was very straightforward and the results were excellent. All in all the F55 performed very well throughout the Winter shoot. Its ability in low light is extraordinary and its compact size was a big plus.”

John Stokes continues working with the Sony F series on the next series of A Place to Call Home which will again be shot with Sony F65 4K CineAlta cameras.

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