Getting close... while far away (without post-cropping)

Hi folks, At the moment, I want to get really close to the set with the camera three feet away (otherwise it's too close to step in front of to animate). I've looked at extension tubes and close-up filters, and none of those seem like they would solve the problem.

If possible, I don't want to digitally crop the image to make it bigger. Kind of confused how all of the behind the scenes pics from different movies always show the camera quite far from the set. That works on a large set that you want to see just a small area of, but what about when your whole entire framing area is only a little larger than the camera itself?

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Exactly what camera and what lens do you have right now ?

Can you put up a photo of the set, with a ruler in the pic to give some scale info ?

Hi Fred, 

The camera is a Canon Rebel XS with 18-55mm zoom lens. Scale of the set is 1:8, so it's just 2 feet square. I want to zoom in on the puppet's face, which is about 1/10th the width of the set. Don't have any pictures at the moment, as this is a general question and will apply to everything I shoot in the future. At the moment, the camera is trained on a volcano set from the last project.

The best method, while maintaining full control over the image, is to purchase a telephoto lens (likely a zoom). Something in the range of a 75-200mm would be your best bet. I would imagine eBay or similar used stores would have a decent sized selection of E-mount lens of that focal length.

Do you think the 200mm zoom setting on such a lens would flatten the image from 3 feet back from the set? If focus is a problem, I can go to a longer exposure. It's mainly the apparent distances things are from each other that I'm concerned with when using a zoom.

Also, instead of a bigger zoom, could I just use a close-up filter?

Close up filters and extension tubes do the opposite of what you're wanting - they're made to allow you to get the camera extremely close so you can fill the image with the face of an insect. They also drastically lmit field of depth - about all you'll be able to get in focus is that insect face (or maybe one eye of your puppet). 

To get the camera back farther you need longer focal length - so either a telephoto lens or a zoom lens set toward telephoto. 

Sorry to say it, but if you don't want to flatten the image what you need is shorter focal length - ie wide angle lens or to set your zoom more toward wide angle - and that requires the camera to be closer to the subject. If you really value having a strong sense of depth in your image then you just need to use a wide-angle lens and get the camera in nice and tight. In those shots where you see the camera well back from the set, trust me, they're using a long focal length - no other way to do it. And yes, it will flatten the image somewhat, but that's not the end of the world - in fact it's a normal part of the cinematic vocabulary. Often a cinematographer will alternate between wide, normal and long shots to establish a rhythm, and nobody notices or cares that the long shots look more flattened - people are totally used to it and expect that in a long shot. I think somewhere along the way you developed a strong dislike for that effect and now you refuse to even consider using it - but maybe you ought to reconsider. Remember, everything becomes more prominent through the use of contrast, so your deep-space shots will stand out as even more juicy and powerful if they're contrasted with some nice space-flattening long shots.

One way to get around the loss of depth is to cheat your staging. This only works for particular angles and set-ups (when you don't see a character's feet, for example), but it's pretty effective. The picture below illustrates. The character in white is supposed to be sitting at a desk in the same room as the girl. When zoomed in the flattening effect brought the two of them together. Both stayed in focus, and both looked like they were a foot or two apart. 

EDIT: As I recall, the exposure time was about 3 seconds on this set-up.

Strider, Grecodan- Ahhh, man! I should know all this, as it's par of the basics of cinematography. Back when I was using a miniDV, I did have close-up lenses, but never got the full effect of how they work because everything was always in focus on that tiny CCD. I agree, it must be a zoom lens or just a really big set which allows the camera to be moved back. And the main character sometimes is done in different scales to limit the amount of depth lost (as well as to have more real estate on the puppet's face to create emotion with).

On BAS there was no attempt to ever move the camera back, I just always reached around it- so I would have encountered the depth thing sooner while using a DSLR if I had tried. 

Ethan- Time to start saving my pennies for a 70mm to 200mm zoom!

I don't think you'd need anywhere near 200mm - I have a 75mm lens and it's really too long. In order to be able to focus on anything I need to literally get the camera about 6 feet away from the set. Not only could you walk in front of the camera, you could drive a bus in front of it! And that's only at 75mm.. at the 200mm end you'd need to set up the camera in a neighbor's* house. 

And I know, my camera has a 2x crop factor, so a 75mm lens gives the same apparent viewing angle as a 150mm on a full-frame DSLR, but that doesn't affect the actual depth of field or focal range - on any camera I believe you'd still need to be the same distance from subject in order to be able to focus. 

* I before E except after C or when sounded as long A - or in Neighbor. Remember that, kids! 

Strider- that's hilarious!  Oh, and impressive, too. :)

So, for a zoom lens... I have 18-55 now... So I'd want the next step up, the way I understand this. Haha, imagine that- looking at the longest zoom before considering the shorter ones. Sounds like one of my trademark quirks :P 

Not sure of the crop factor on my Rebel XS... Should probably look into that. All I can say for certain is that the difference between 3:2 (native) and 16:9 (cropped or stretched- this is for delivery) seems pretty subtle on the framing for a shot, and that's even after the crop factor has been figured in.

Strider said:

I don't think you'd need anywhere near 200mm - I have a 75mm lens and it's really too long. In order to be able to focus on anything I need to literally get the camera about 6 feet away from the set. Not only could you walk in front of the camera, you could drive a bus in front of it! And that's only at 75mm.. at the 200mm end you'd need to set up the camera in a neighbor's* house. 

And I know, my camera has a 2x crop factor, so a 75mm lens gives the same apparent viewing angle as a 150mm on a full-frame DSLR, but that doesn't affect the actual depth of field or focal range - on any camera I believe you'd still need to be the same distance from subject in order to be able to focus. 

* I before E except after C or when sounded as long A - or in Neighbor. Remember that, kids! 

I just went back and read your first 2 posts, and I see that what you're wanting to do is get an extreme closeup of a puppet's face - if you want to do that using a long lens from a ways back, you're going to have to use some post cropping I suspect. 

Why do you want to do it without cropping? It's true cropping does reduce the quality of the image, but since you're starting with an image at least twice HD resolution you can crop out half or more without doing any damage at all. Example - my sensor shoots an image 4000 pixels wide - that's slightly more than twice full HD resolution (which is only 1080 pixels wide), so I can easily crop out as much as half the image with no degradation at all. I do it frequently and end up with fantastic quality, so if that's what youre worried about then you needn't be. 

I also see your zoom lens goes to 55mm, which should be about as long as you'll ever need. Using a 55mm lens I need to pull the camera back at least 3 feet - probably more like 4, in order to be able to focus on anything. I can't get a puppet's face to fill the screen from that distance and still be able to focus, but I can crop down to something about the same size as a puppet's face with no image degradation. 

Why don't you try this - set your  lens to its longest telephoto setting (55mm) and see how far back you need to move it until it will focus. Snap a shot with a puppet's face in it. Now open the picture in your photo viewing software - if it's like mine (Preview on a Mac) you'll be able to open a window with information telling you (among other things) the size of the captured image. For instance mine says 4,000 pixels by about 2,000 pixels. If you have an APS-C sensor then yours will be a bit bigger. Once you know how wide your pictures are you can figure out how much you can crop before affecting image quality - for instance if they're 6,000 pixels wide that's more than three times 1080 (which is a little under 2,000), so you can crop out two thirds of the image without affecting quality.  

Once you know this factor, you can see at a glance how far you'll be able to crop. For me it's pretty easy - I know I can take half the width out with no problem. Knowing this makes it easy to visually gague what my cropping leeway is.

NICE! 

Ahhh, the reason I didn't want to crop is that I'm learning the way Claymation used to be done in the 70's and 80's and attempting to do as much as possible in-camera (of course, there's no film, and not many people miss that). The other reason is that I like to see what I'm getting in live view vs what the end result will look like. I do like the 18-55mm lens, but this is the one I'm thinking of buying: 

http://www.amazon.com/Canon-28-105mm-3-5-4-5-Standard-Cameras/dp/B0...

The idea is to choose my framing before animating (the classic way).

By the way, Sony Vegas has an excellent automatic pixel stretching feature that does away with a lot of the stairstepping you can when zoomed in too far on an image. It's not losing quality I'm worried about, but rather being able to see every flaw in the live view (a super close-up in that case would be more for just seeing what needs fixing before committing to taking the frame).

At the moment, the kit lens is 26 inches from the set, so... not even 3 feet. I'm just out of room to zoom optically... I'm hitting the edges of the set but no closer. I'd really like to be able to zoom at least 2X for a medium shot without moving the camera. The latest short is storyboarded and the framing is figured out there. I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned about getting the composition right in-camera. It's nice to be able to choose the framing manually (not that doing it in post isn't lots of fun and extremely convenient!

Oh yeah, and thank you for bringing up the resolution. Good reminder to switch it up. I've been grabbing pictures at 1936x1288 all this time. It will go up to 10MP, which is 3648 x 2752. I had initially set it at the lowest resolution while learning the camera (and ended up using it that way until now, haha!)

That's... 3 years of animation not "protected" for future resolutions. Whoops!

As always I admire the depth of your knowledge, Strider. Ron needs to give you a trophy for Techspert Excellsmarts!

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