City in Motion – The spirit and pace of America’s large iconic cities

December 7, 2017 James Cawley

When you visit New York City for the first time it’s hard to develop your own sense at first of what the city really is like. We have preconceived notions based on films, commercials, books and more that have fantasized, warned and welcomed you to its people and iconic streets. The only way to really get to know a city and its culture is to blend in and spend a few days observing and participating in the movement and people that are the lifeblood of that place. In the summer of 2017 I took my first steps through several of America’s large iconic cities with a camera in hand, this is my interpretation of what was felt and how I captured the moments showcased in “City in Motion”.

City In Motion from ZEISS Camera Lenses on Vimeo.

I spend a lot of my time in the American Southwest shooting travel and recreational marketing projects. On many of my productions my crew, cast and I are the only people within fifty miles of our location. Coming from working for a month on a project in Southern Utah and then Alaska, stepping from those places onto the bustling streets of lower Manhattan I was a bit overwhelmed by the change of pace. My main reason for being in New York and Philadelphia was to shoot some interviews for a client. As a little side project during my free time I wanted to explore the city and shoot street photography and time lapses. I also wanted to carry very minimal gear out on the street so that I could blend and simple observe the city’s motion going on around me unobstructed.

My overall goal was to use my free time to capture and share my interpretation of spirit and pace of these cities. To step back and showcase the flow, rhythm of the daily motion that naturally occurs all around us in these locations.

My Gear

© James Cawley

© James Cawley

Sony A7sii and Sony A6300
ZEISS Loxia E-mount Lenses (35mm, 50mm, 85mm)
ZEISS Milvus Lenses EF Mount with Metabones Adaptor (15mm, 135mm)
Tiffen Pro100 Filter System with several Tiffen ND filters
Travel Tripod and a $40 small backpack

All of the equipment I took out on the street could fit easily in an overhead bin and weighed nothing compared to the production gear I typically carry around with me. To be honest, at first I was a little hesitant to commit to shooting on Loxia lenses when I had “cinema grade” glass back at my hotel room for my main project….I’m a cinematographer with cinema lenses on hand, so why am I using these photo lenses? Within several hours of walking around and shooting I completely lost any of that hesitation and was very happy with how the lenses were performing. In addition to my gear being a perfect travel filmmaking kit the biggest advantage was being able to blend into my surroundings while capturing real life going on around me. On other travel projects when I’m testing lenses, doing a travel log or journalistic piece large cameras and lenses are a distraction to the people around you and take much more time to setup and move locations. I found that by keeping things small, light and non-intimidating I was able to capture more of what I wanted at the same cinematic quality.

Recommendations for Functional Small Gear Kits

There were some key factors in making a small setup work to achieve the results I wanted. Here are some things to consider if traveling with a similar setup;

  • If shooting video hand held with a small camera/lens you will need a camera such as the Sony A7sii with in-camera stabilization. This was key for me getting the handheld shots and keeping them smooth. *The hyper lapse shots of the Statue of Liberty in the corresponding video were shot hand held in video mode on the A7sii and the Loxia 35mm.
  • If you want cinematic well exposed shots ND filters are a necessity. On 90% of my shots I used the Tiffen Pro100 with Tiffen ND 4×4 filters on all my lenses via a simple step up/down ring adaptor. Not only did this allow me to keep all my shots exposed correctly for video and time lapses, but it also allowed me to keep the setup small and non-intrusive.
  •  A small travel tripod or gorilla pod is ideal for this type of project. In many places space was limited and having a way to get shots setup quick and out of the way was key in many of my shots.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a 35mm lens. I found myself using the Loxia 35mm in many situations where I would have gone directly to a super wide lens in the past. The perspective a 35mm lens in video gives you in a city environment will instantly help to put your viewer into the moment visually.
  • The biggest problem you will likely deal with in using small mirrorless cameras is sensor dust. It’s almost impossible to keep your sensor clean when changing lenses in the field. Make sure to bring along a sensor clanging kit that you can use for a deep clean as well as a squeeze blower and sensor pen for in the field adjustments.
© James Cawley © James Cawley © James Cawley

I think a lot of filmmakers could really benefit from the Loxia and Milvus series lenses when utilizing them in travel, time lapse, hyper lapse, and overall general commercial projects. I truly enjoyed how free this gear made me feel allowing me to fully embrace creativity while still being able to capture the quality of footage I wanted. Many filmmakers have the notion that photography lenses and small setups are representative of them taking a step back in their careers. This could not be further from the truth as the reason we shoot video is to capture a moment in time that creates an emotion or action. Choosing the right tool to achieve that goal is the most important factor when it comes to choosing a setup. I hope everyone at some point in their carrer has the chance, either on a paid or personal project, to go outside their typical comfort zone with equipment and see how it impacts their work. I personally would love to work on many more projects in the future with the above setup.

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