A few years ago, I was visiting my family in Arizona. We stopped for breakfast at a local diner and I ordered pancakes. I asked the server for real maple syrup. She looked at me strangely and asked me what real syrup was. She only knew of store bought table syrup or the brown stuff that comes in an Aunt Jemima bottle. I said “you know, the stuff from comes from trees?”
If she only knew what she was missing!
The North Country in the United States and Canada have the trees that leak the sap needed to produce the real stuff. I don’t like the high fructose fake sugar concoction that is known as just “syrup”.
I have always been interested in the process of making maple syrup in a steam filled sugarhouse. In the spring, I have seen these small shacks venting steam out holes in their roofs on the side of the road. There is an art of pulling sap out of a tree, boiling it down and producing a concentrate that sells for about $40 a jug. It is expensive for a reason, the real stuff is not easy to make. In fact, for every 40 gallons of sap that drips out of a thawing tree, you get just one gallon of pure maple syrup.
I found a guy named Chris Uggerholt who makes maple syrup using a mix of traditional and state-of-the-art techniques. I brought along a brand new Sony PMW-F55 camera to capture his small operation in Intervale, New Hampshire. His sugar shop is called “Thorn Mountain Maple Sweets”.
I wanted to shoot this mini-doc “ENG News Style” using a 2/3 inch Fujinon broadcast high definition television lens. I shot the project as a test to see what this cinema/broadcast combo could do before using the system on paid gigs with my television clients.
My sports clients are use to the ability to pick off lots of shots in short amounts of time using shoulder mounted television cameras with ENG zoom lenses. I need to be able to move quick, either solo or with a very small team. But these clients want a “Cinematic Look” including shallow depth of field and slow motion. The idea of carrying and changing prime lenses is not always an option in the fast paced unscripted sports world. The F55 is my dream camera, it can do it all. Digital cinema and television.
I wanted to see how this F55 rig would work out in a run-and-gun documentary production setting shooting in available light. The idea of having a camera with 14 stops of latitude, the ability to shoot raw, have full audio in camera recording control and slow motion with future firmware updates was very appealing to me.
I did not do too much directing, I simply captured the process as it unfolded in front of me. If I missed something that I felt important for the edit, I would ask Chris to do it again. I would fire questions out from behind the camera to help get the sound bites that I needed to drive the story forward.
Special thanks to Nate Camille for his help in the sugarhouse. Nate works alongside Chris and operates the equipment when Chris is not around.
I use the Abelcine HDx35 mkII PL to b4 adapter to mount a Fujinon 23x zoom lens to the front of the Sony F55. This super sharp adapter covers the super 35 sensor without the need to drop in the lens extender and it only loses 2.5 stops of light. With the super sensitive F55, this light loss is not a big deal and using the Fujinon lens allows me to operate the camera on the shoulder like a broadcast rig.
I spent a total of five hours with Chris to shoot this 4.5 minute short doc, in only three locations. The locations were the sugar house, the field full of maple trees with buckets, and the tube-tapped trees on the side of the road.
Owning a good solid tripod is important and I use a Vinten Vision 100 with a Sony UCT-14 plate. The F55 shoulder mount system has the v-wedge plate for snapping on and off the tripod quickly. And the pad is comfortable on my shoulder when operating hand held.
While working with Chris in his sugarhouse, my audio was provided by a single Sony UWP wireless lav microphone clipped to his sweatshirt on channel 1 and a Sennheiser 416 shotgun mounted on the top of the camera for wild sound on channel 2.
I recorded the sound of dripping sap into the metal buckets by clipping the lav to the top of them. I knew that I was going to include this unique sound when I first heard it while setting up my camera to shoot b-roll.
I edited the video using Adobe Premiere CC and was able to cut the 24p 1920×1080 XAVC SLOG2 files natively. I was unable to shoot raw at the time, but will blog about it soon.
I was amazed by how much picture information was visible in the MPEG2 50mbps image, even in scenes with high contrast because of sun and snow. I did not grade any of the footage in the mini-doc. It is presented as it was shot and exposed in camera using SLOG2. The Sony F55 is a remarkable camera already as far as the sensor goes and with future planned free firmware updates, it will get even better.
I am offering a 5.34GB ProRes4444 1920×1080 23.98fps download of this doc for a limited time. Pixel peep all you want! You will notice a few shots near the beginning were soft. My backfocus was out for a bit until I realized it.
Directions: Right click the file called “thorn-mtn-maple-hd.mov” and save file as… to your hard drive.