Award-winning Australian cinematographer John Brawley’s CV includes everything from TV series such as Offspring, Puberty Blues and Underbelly to feature films like 100 Bloody Acres from directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes. With a strong background in post-production and visual effects, John has quickly established himself in the highly collaborative world of film and television as a cinematographer of vision and creativity. [Olympus Special Promotion]
While he is first and foremost a cinematographer, John’s also been a stills photographer for many years and has been an Olympus user since picking up an E-1 DSLR in 2004 as he was making the transition from analogue to digital.
Asked how he’d ended up settling on, and subsequently sticking with, Olympus, he said, ‘the Olympus E-1 was the first digital camera that I’d tried that actually felt great in the hand to operate and had almost no latency from pushing the shutter to taking the photo. I also knew that Kodak made that original sensor and the colour was really something special.’
‘I’d read up a little on the highly telecentric lens design that four thirds allowed, as we cinematographers were also going through similar issues in the transition from film. The 4/3 format seemed really smart because it was designed from the ground up to optimise for shooting digitally; right down to the lens design itself, and that was important to me.
‘Because I’m mostly shooting motion, a stills camera is a kind of afterthought on set and kind of a secondary thing. As such, I’m not very precious with it and I do tend to trash my cameras a little, and that E-1 was solid. You can practically use it as a hammer to drive in tent pegs.
‘So Olympus won me over with well thought-out ergonomics, while also delivering great results and really subtle colour. And the format itself makes lenses easier to design for digital acquisition. They really do their own thing and are true innovators; I’ve always appreciated their design philosophy.
‘Since then I’ve just kept on upgrading. I’ve owned several E-1’s and still shoot them to this day, plus I own an E-5 and bought an E-M5 on launch day. The M4/3 makes so much sense for me now with a lot of compact video cameras also adopting the M4/3 lens mount. So now with the E-M5 Mark II shooting in 24 fps, I have Blackmagic cinema cameras, pocket cinema cameras, and the E-M5 Mark II that I can use M4/3 lenses on for both stills and motion imaging”¦it’s great!
When it comes to his stills photography, John says much of his picture taking is adjunct to his motion work. However, he adds, ‘The portraits that are taken on set were mostly intended as lighting previews, but they’re also taking on a life of their own.
‘Doing photography on set while I’m working provides a great way for previewing my lighting ““ kind of like the way we used to shoot Polaroids. But it’s become something more for me. The actors are used to me snapping away now and are very comfortable. Sometimes they’re in character and sometimes they’re just goofing off. But while the portraits started off as a functional thing, they’re now something else beyond that.’
Late in 2014, after Olympus had discovered John’s long-standing enthusiasm for the brand, he was invited to work with Olympus Australia on the OM-D E-M5 Mark II and in March 2015 he became a brand ambassador. Describing the OM-D E-M5 Mark II as a “signal of intent” from the company, he explained, ‘Although Olympus has had video as a feature on their cameras for several years, they’ve never really taken professional cinematography seriously because they only ever offered one frame rate — 30 fps. This frame rate is suitable for home movies in the US and Japan, but it is never used to shoot narrative drama.’
‘Most of the drama and professional users of motion imaging need to shoot at either 24 fps or 25 fps. Olympus hadn’t offered those frame rates until the E-M5 Mark II. On top of that, their compression had been pretty behind the times as well.’
‘The OM-D E-M5 Mark II is the first Olympus camera to offer all three of the important and crucial frame rates of 24, 25 and 30 fps. And they back that up with a much better and more robust All-I intra frame codec that offers up to 77 Mbit/s. All-I means the codec is way more suited to a post production path where the file gets chopped and edited; there’s an expectation you’re going to do post work on these files.’
‘By releasing a camera that offers these key features along with the amazing In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) they have, they’re really making a point of giving users who want advanced video features the ability to do that without having to look at other platforms.
‘To be honest, the very fact they are now actively engaging with filmmakers also shows that they’re really taking video seriously and I believe they have a lot to offer as they develop their cameras with filmmakers in mind.’
Asked if there is any trap he sees stills photographers falling into when they first begin to extend their skill sets into motion capture, John says ‘cinematographers rarely change their shutter speeds! Stills photographers are used to that triangle of Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO to get the right exposure. But motion imaging tends to be best left at the one shutter speed because changing it can badly affect the perception of motion and motion cadence. The perception of motion very much depends on actually having a little bit of motion blur, and we tend to have shutter speeds that are rarely changed.’
‘Shutter speed when shooting drama historically has always been a reciprocal of double the frame rate. It’s the motion blur we’re used to watching after more than 100 years of film. The rule is you double your frame rate and that should always be your shutter speed — unless you’ve got a very good reason to change it. So for 25 fps, you should always shoot at 1/50th of a second. For 30 fps it’s 1/60th of a second.’
And, in case you’re wondering, John’s already used the OM-D E-M5 Mark II for a commercial project. ‘Actually I just wrapped shooting on a feature film called Scare Campaign,’ he said. ‘It’s directed by the Cairnes brothers who really are fans of the horror genre. This is their second film (their first was 100 Bloody Acres) and this one is about a reality TV show that prank-scares people while they are secretly being filmed. One of their stooges goes a bit postal and starts brutally retaliating. I had a full sized production camera, a Sony F55, shooting all the drama, but there’s probably about 10% to 15% of the film that is meant to be from within the TV show that the characters are making ““ and that’s OM-D E-M5 MK II footage. It was great to be able to literally give the camera to the actors to use and operate themselves. The IBIS meant they all instantly became much better operators too!’
For more information on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II go to www.olympus.com.au.