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Cinematographer Experiences Shooting with the Panavision Millennium DXL

Intrigued by the possibilities of Panavision’s Millennium DXL, many talented filmmakers worldwide are choosing the camera for feature, television and commercials projects. With its unique Panavision build, DXL offers cinematographers the chance to take advantage of an 8K HDR large-format sensor, combined with Light Iron Color and an ergonomic, lightweight form factor.

Nigel Bluck

Nigel Bluck recently gave DXL a run on a Samsung phone commercial. Was it overkill for a short, small-screen project? Maybe. But, Bluck had a motive.

What Dan Sasaki can do in terms of customizing lenses per job every time to create something new is a rare opportunity that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

“I wanted to look at the pipeline – what do you do with 8K in a real-world television situation and is it worth it,” he recalls. “My concern as a cinematographer is that digital is a flat medium by nature and takes away a little power from cinematographers in expressing an opinion with an image because that image can be constructed later on. I think the way forward for us is to establish the look through the glass now. That's why I'm so attracted to this camera and Panavision in general, of course, because it's so much about the lenses. What Dan Sasaki (Panavision VP Optical Engineer and Lens Strategy) can do in terms of customizing lenses per job every time to create something new is a rare opportunity that doesn't exist anywhere else. I'm a huge fan.”

After the test run won him over, Bluck later paired the Millennium DXL with Primo 70 Series lenses for the pilot episode of CBS’ S.W.A.T. He felt this combo was just the prescription needed to combat a “flat” digital medium. “Anamorphic has been a way for me to find more life with digital in terms of shallow depth of field and a more inherently cinematic image,” he says. “It's the ultimate multi-platform, multi-format camera, because you can shoot and extract standard 35mm, or you can shoot anamorphic, or go with a 1.3-squeeze large-format anamorphic or shoot large format spherical. I just feel like it's the way forward in terms of giving cinematographers the opportunity to construct the image every time as it should be for whatever the story is. The DXL makes digital finally make sense.”

The 8K image was down-rezzed for a 4K deliverable. “It took a little bit of adjustment, but my DIT used his regular rig and managed it on his own. He didn't need another loader to wrangle the data or anything like that. This is a big step forward.

A significant portion of S.W.A.T. takes place at night, and Bluck played up the hazy atmospheric glow of Los Angeles street lights. Shooting at 3200 ASA, he noted the colors in the street-light spectrum rendered very well. Designed with minimal chromatic aberrations, the clean images from the Primo 70 lenses allowed Bluck to dig for details in the shadows. Paired with DXL's large-format sensor, he was able to shoot the Primo 70s edge to edge, as opposed to center-punched, so as to have the characteristics of the entire lens impact the frame.

However, the Primo 70 lenses he was using weren't traditional Primo 70s. Bluck felt the exemplary optical fidelity of the Primo 70 actually was too much for S.W.A.T. “The Primo 70 image straight out of the box with DXL was too sharp, too unforgiving,” he recalls. “I spent time with Dan, and we basically customized them.” Those lenses later became known as a prototype for the soon-to-be-released Primo Artiste lenses.

As Sasaki describes them, the Primo Artiste lenses produce images that resonate a painterly quality that is identified by smooth transitions between surrounding objects. They feature true anamorphic glass attachments that have the spherical nature of the base lens yet induce anamorphic artifacts such as directional flares and distorted bokeh.


John Schwartzman, ASC

Interestingly, soon after S.W.A.T. but before they were officially called Primo Artiste, Sasaki worked on modifying some Primo 70s for cinematographer John Schwartzman, ASC for A Simple Favor. The feature film is a domestic thriller directed by Paul Feig that is based on the titular first novel by author Darcy Bell.

The Millennium DXL is exceedingly simple and incredibly intuitive to use.

“I have a very close relationship with Daniel Sasaki,” Schwartzman says, “so I have the advantage of being able to go to Panavision and say I want to use the Primo 70s because they're robust, they're incredibly well engineered, and they're – believe it or not – lightweight; they weigh less than the 35mm Primos. I asked him to modify them to knock some of the sharpness and resolution out. We did some tests on different levels of customization, and we found the ones we liked. Although I'm shooting Primo 70s, they're really the Primo Artiste series. They're a little funkier than the regular Primo 70s, but they still are incredibly beautiful and sharp. They're gorgeous.”

The feature is Schwartzman's second project using the Millennium DXL. He previously used DXL on the feature The Unicorn, directed by Robert Schwartzman. "The Millennium DXL is exceedingly simple and incredibly intuitive to use. The menus are much simpler than other digital camera menus, and if you know how to work an Alexa, you can literally walk over to the DXL and within 15 seconds know how to work it. It's been Panavised from the ground up, so all of the Panavision accessories – which is really where Panavision always has excelled – fit onto this camera flawlessly. And, they have created, by far, the best eyepiece that exists in the world today for this camera, a 1080 OLED eyepiece that's just absolutely stunning.

(Panavision) has created, by far, the best eyepiece that exists in the world today for this camera, a 1080 OLED eyepiece that’s just absolutely stunning.

“Paul likes to shoot a lot,” he adds. “The one advantage we have with DXL is that we can go 50 minutes a terabyte, which is significantly more than other 65 digital cameras. Yet, we still have the same image size. That's why I think this camera is going to break a lot of ground.”

DXL's form factor is a big plus for Schwartzman. He noted that the camera is pounds lighter than other large-format cameras, and coupled with the lighter lenses, the DXL fit on every device they were using. “We're not having to figure out how to get this thing onto something,” he says. “It's plug and play. Basically, Panavision internalized and built into the camera all of those extra gadgets that you could want.”

Peter Deming, ASC

It's very easy to use, the menus are super simple, and this color rendition is fantastic...

Peter Deming, ASC recently employed the DXL after learning more about the Light Iron color science. “I saw the demo reel that Panavision made, which looked quite good,” Deming says. “But, you don't really know until you get your hands on it, and that's what we did in testing.”

The testing that Deming and director Josh Boone were doing was part of a large-format investigation for the feature X-Men: The New Mutants. “I felt like for the Steadicam work we wanted to do on this movie that the compact size of DXL made it the right camera.”

After the filmmakers cast their lot with the DXL, Deming cast numerous superlatives about its performance. “It's very easy to use, the menus are super simple, and this color rendition is fantastic,” he raves. “The palette was quite dark on the show because of the costumes and sets. The low-end sensitivity of DXL was great. It really caught a subtlety in the shadows that was wonderful to see. As sort of my paranoid factor, I always check the raw data to see what was there, and I was never worried about having enough information. With DXL, I was confident in keeping the look from the beginning of the pipeline as dark as I'd like to see it in the end product. We really pushed it.”

With an image that size, we could re-frame shots or blow up the images with really no downside at all.

Deming shot X-Men: New Mutants at full 8K, which helped the visual effects artists working on the film. “They were very enthusiastic when we selected this camera,” Deming says. “With an image that size, we could re-frame shots or blow up the images with really no downside at all. There were a number of places in the movie where we normally would have shot handheld and shaken the camera, but because those particular shots were effects heavy, we didn't have to do that—VFX could handle it later.”

Deming mated the Millennium DXL to Panavision Sphero 65 lenses. “I love the large-format compression of the Sphero 65 lenses. Even the wide-end lenses don't have a lot of distortion and the image is still quite flat, which is fantastic!”

The Millennium DXL really made an impression on Deming. “To me, it's the first real Panavision digital camera. I know there was the Genesis before that, but I think at that time the whole digital world wasn't quite ready. When people ask me what I think about digital, I say it must mature and when it's as good as or surpasses film, then it will become more popular. With Panavision's Millennium DXL, that is exactly what is happening.”