Astigmatism and Focusing Cameras
Published : 7th March 2007
I've got so much astigmatism in my right eye that I can't fine focus my Arri 2B without my glasses on. Even with my glasses on, I only have about the center 1/20th of the frame in tight focus. My lenses are Cooke Series II's and III's that have been checked and collimated by Guy at ZGC - I'm pretty certain I can trust my lenses. This isn't a problem with the admittedly ancient 2B viewfinder system, I can move my head sideways to view adjacent parts of the image and they're in tight focus if the center is. My wife says the entire image looks fine to her if she looks at something I've tight focused in the center (she knows how to adjust the viewfinder diopter to her eyes). Obviously I can't film with my glasses on because of the danger of light leaking back through the viewfinder. Has anyone got experience with using a black cloth over one's head while filming ala old time still photographers used? Is that a workable practice?
The underlying problem is I practice a very simple style of film-making - but want that glorious image 35mm provides, otherwise I'd just shoot video. I'm an experienced theatrical lighting designer and can quickly gaff my own work with the help of a grip so I can shoot 35mm almost as easily as some people shoot verite video.
Is my only option a high end HD video assist system if I want to run a two man band crew? Or just give in and hire competent 1st AD's to worry about focus issues? (assuming one's here in OKC). Is there an optics firm out there that can take a Optometrist's prescription and cut custom viewfinder glass ? (And would it be cheaper to just buy out Panavision?).
Hal (sightless in OKC) Smith
I regularly put a 3x3' piece of Duvetyne over my head when operating, and I do it for a few reasons. One, I have an easier time judging the lighting if I don't have a bright light whacking me in the other eye. Two, I like to switch between using left and right eye a lot, and sometimes even during the shot.
I've heard of people taking an old pair of their glasses and removing one lens and permanently putting it inside the eyecup, and that way they're able to look through the finder without having to wear their glasses. I wear contacts, which may not work for you, but it's common to have people put negative diopters in the eyepiece.
Check out -2 diopter at one of the big photo retailers like Sammy’s or B&H, and you'll find it's a common problem that can be worked around. Also, your optometrist can custom cut a glass in your prescription to fit inside your eyepiece if you want.
Happy Independence Day, Everyone!
LA based DP
Before you throw your 2B away....take it [yes, the entire camera] to the place you have your eyeglasses made.
They can cut your prescription into their smallest 'blank' and then either you or [better yet] they can trim this down to fit into your eyecup. You are not replacing an optical element, you are merely adding your eyeglasses, in a slightly less size, to your camera. Before I had LASIK, I had my prescription cut several times into various sizes that would fit both ARRI & PANAVISION eyepieces.
I would recommend you have a small hole or notch drilled into this optic at the very top so you can check to see if it is aligned to your astigmatism.
Jeff Barklage, s.o.c.
US based DP
view reel online : http://www.watchreels.com/jeffbarklage
class="style2">>Has anyone got experience with using a black cloth over one's head >while filming ala old time still photographers used? Is that a workable >practice?
I don't think you need the Ansel Adams hood necessarily. I've seen some Camera Operators use a large, foam eyepiece cup that simply wraps all-round the glasses and prevents any light leaks. Smaller diameter glasses probably help here too. You could also get a side flap you find on glacier glasses and use them on your own glasses, that’s if you're really paranoid about direct sunlight entering - that would be in conjunction with the large/foam cup.
One excellent Camera Operator here in LA that comes to mind who uses such a cup is Jamie Hitchcock. He works all the time and I've never had problems with light leaks (last time was on an SR).
LA based DP
class="style2">>>Also, your optometrist can custom cut a glass in your prescription to fit >>inside your eyepiece if you want.
Take the eyepiece with you to the optometrist and explain the problem.
I work with one astigmatic DP who had an old pair of glasses cut down to a disk which he tapes inside the Panavision eyepiece, in the proper orientation, of course.
When I was working with Woody Allen (I did 6 of his films as 1AC), we once did the same for his vision - he donated and sacrificed one old pair of glasses, we had a round glass disc cut and mounted in a round metal filter holder (series 6 maybe?), and slipped it into the eyepiece when Woody wanted to look through the camera.
Actually Woody's problem was not astigmatism.
Gordon Willis' diopter correction was all the way on one end of the Panavision viewfinder correction range, and Woody's was all the way in the opposite direction. This worked out fine for several films (lots of wrist exercise for me), but for one particular camera we had, we couldn't get both Gordon's correction and Woody's correction on the same eyepiece, so we made the additional lens insert for Woody, which I inserted and removed as necessary, and kept in my front box (I still have it!).
Hal, have you tried left-eye pieces (if this is now your better eye)? I'm dominant left-eye and on some units it can be slightly uncomfortable, but there's always one way or another to view with your left. I'd recommend trying this first before adding all sorts of optics to the viewfinder.
Gentleman, I thank you.
Your suggestions are all very helpful and food for thought (and action).
Hal (a solution is on its way) Smith
When I shoot PD-150s, I always do it with my glasses on. Sony's larger rubber eyecup for their 3-chip Mini-DV cameras wraps completely around my glasses and even lets me put some forehead pressure on the camera for stability. If you can adapt this eyecup to the IIC finder (which I don't think should be rocket science), and if your glasses are on the slightly small side, you may find that it's all you need.
I'm not sure where you can buy the cup, but any good rental house should be able to tell you, or maybe sell you one directly.
Marin County, CA
class="style2">>>pressure on the camera for stability. If you can adapt this eyecup to the >>IIC finder (which I don't think should be rocket science), and if your >>glasses are on the slightly small side, you may find that it's all you >>need.
My regular glasses are pretty big - they're actually OSHA legal safety glasses (my day business includes, among other things, occasionally working on high power radio gear while it's operating). But I'll look into the Sony eyecup and getting smaller glasses. I really appreciate everyone's taking some time to help me find a way out of my predicament.
Hal (goggle-eyed ) Smith
I would definitely not use an AD (assistant director) to do your focusing. And I like the way you do your own focusing anyway. I don't understand why even on those big Hollywood movies they sometimes have out of focus shots. What's wrong with those camera operators out there?!
It usually seems the out of focus shots are when they have telephoto lenses or have the stop wide open. That's when they should be able to see focus the best!
Mako Koiwai , I'll Still Carry the gear, thread the camera, etc, in Glendale, CA
Mako, it never ceases to surprise me how many out of focus shots get onto TV or films. And I don't think all the blame can be put on the ACs/DPs. I've heard of directors that in post will routinely only look at take 1 or 2 and move on - in many of these cases it was noted on set "take 1 - out of focus" but these notes don't always make it to the editing bay particularly on HD films where everything is stored.
Maybe as a shooter it bothers me more than a director, but poor focus is one of those mistakes that can take the viewer out of the movie experience. And on Hollywood movies, pro actors are going to be about as great on take 2 as on take 6, so to say they're going on "performance" is a bunch of BS.
Mako Koiwai writes:
class="style2">>>I don't understand why even on those big Hollywood movies they >>sometimes have out of focus shots.
One reason is that sometimes directors and/or editors will bite the bullet and choose shots on the basis of dramatic performance rather than photographic performance. When it's a close call it can be a tough decision.
Dan "life's full of tradeoffs" Drasin
Marin County, CA
Mako wrote :
class="style2">>>I don't understand why even on those big Hollywood movies they >>sometimes have out of focus shots. What's wrong with those camera >>operators out there?!
I always attributed it to video dailies. The shots that are slightly soft on a huge screen may look fine on a computer monitor in the NLE and not be caught. Even more so on a tiny eyepiece. It's all about magnification.
Jendra "old enough to appreciate print dailies" Jarnagin, DP NYC