On Monday, I ventured down to Padre Island and Corpus Christi, Texas, to shoot some b-roll for a documentary project I’m doing this summer. I also wanted to take the opportunity to test out a couple of cameras: the new Panasonic AJ-PX270 P2 AVC-Ultra small-body broadcast camera, and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, configured with a Century Optics 1.32X B4-to-Super16 converter and a Canon HD 18X ENG zoom lens.
I’m more impressed with the PX270 every time I shoot with it. My last 1/3″ cam was the Panasonic HPX170, which was a great camera – for certain applications – but the PX270 is so much better, it’s usable in many more situations than the HPX170 was. To begin with, the picture is way better. The dynamic range and sharpness is greatly improved, as is the highlight roll-off, especially. Out of the box, the PX270 had a crappy image (over-sharp, gritty, and flat) because of the way the camera is set up from the factory, but after I spent a little time dialing in and customizing the picture by creating my own scene file, it became superb.
The PX270 is the first small body camera in the Panasonic line that is AVC-Ultra equipped (AVC-Ultra is what Panasonic is calling its group of professional AVC codecs; there is no codec called AVC-Ultra). AVC-Ultra codecs include AVC-Intra 100 & 200 (upgradable option), AVC-Intra 50, & AVC-LongG 50/25/12. It also shoots in good old DVCProHD if you need it to. The PX270 also features many more professional menu options and picture/color tweaking capabilities than any previous small body Panasonic. I think it actually has the same menu structure and options as the new AJ-PX5000 2/3″ shoulder cam, which lists for about $25K, sans glass. The PX270 was intended to be used as a companion to the PX5000 if needed, and I can easily see how the quality could keep up with the big brother. The PX270 really is a broadcast-quality camera.
Check out the front page of Blackmagic’s site for a pleasant surprise: the price of the Pocket Cinema Camera has been slashed from 995.00 to 495.00, until Aug. 31, 2014. That’s quite a savings indeed, and the price slash conforms to BMD’s habit of offering up surprise discounts on their cameras. Although, the odd thing about this is that the price drop is only temporary; before, the price drop on camera models has been permanent. That makes me wonder if BMD is planning on announcing the next version of the pocket cinema camera at the end of this summer. I sure hope so. I’m crossing my fingers for 4K!
In addition to releasing DaVinci Resolve 11, Blackmagic Design has also released major firmware upgrades for all of their cinema camera models. The new firmware (v. 1.8) features an all-new code base for the cameras, as well as new user interface, compressed RAW DNG for the 4K production camera, greater performance at higher ISO levels, better focus peaking, and enhanced lens control, among other things. The update can be downloaded from Blackmagic Design’s support page, which has also had a nice redesign.
Here is the press release in full:
Fremont, CA – 24 June, 2014 - Blackmagic Design today announced the release of Blackmagic Camera Update 1.8 software which includes updated features for all Blackmagic Design cameras. Blackmagic Camera Update 1.8 is available now for download free of charge for all existing Blackmagic Camera customers from the Blackmagic Design support page on the website.
The new Blackmagic Camera Update 1.8 software features a completely new code base for all Blackmagic digital film cameras so provides a foundation for new features. This update supports the original wide dynamic range 2.5K Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K.
This all new code base also improves performance and includes a new modern user interface similar in design to the new URSA camera announced at NAB. This new user interface is included in all models of cameras available from Blackmagic Design, allowing a nice clean fresh look.
Blackmagic Camera 1.8 adds compressed RAW DNG support for the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K model, and this allows RAW recording in real time so all sensor data can be captured allowing more range and much higher image quality when doing post production and color grading. DaVinci Resolve 11, also available today, fully supports RAW grading and rendering to final output direct from the RAW camera original files. This means customers get incredible first generation masters, with a solution that edits RAW files as easily and as responsively as a normal video file.
New features in this update include enhanced lens control support for EF lens mount cameras such as the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera EF and the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K models. This means customers can now get auto focus when pushing the focus button on active EF based lenses and the cameras will mathematically analyze the center of the image and optimize the focus for maximum sharpness.
This is important with high resolution 4K cameras where images are so sharp that accurate focus is critical for the best results. Because this update uses the focus button for auto focus, the focus peaking feature is now enabled by double pressing the focus button.
This release also improves the focus peaking display allowing incredibly accurate and super sharp manual focus, critical when using cine lenses. The focus peaking is now green in color so it’s much easer to see, and the filters generating the edge peaking have been optimized allowing for better detection and display for maximum sharpness. In addition, the iris control has been changed, due to customer request, to hold its setting between record and playback.
This new Blackmagic Camera 1.8 also includes major improvements for the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera models including improved audio performance and a completely rewritten new higher quality de-bayer processor. This new de-bayer means when customers record to normal video files such as ProRes or DNxHD they will get sharper and cleaner looking images. This new de-bayer processing features algorithms that have been incorporated from DaVinci Resolve, which means that Blackmagic camera customers get the benefit of DaVinci Resolve’s research and development in image processing and its partnership with major Hollywood studios.
Other benefits for the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera includes enhancements to the cameras dynamic range when shooting at 1600 ISO. This means, with this new software update, customers will get even more dynamic range and image quality, free of charge, even if they purchased their camera 2 years ago.
Improvements for the Pocket Cinema Camera are also included in this update, including the modern updated interface, new focus peaking and improved de-bayer quality, plus additional active MFT lens support for lenses including Sigma and Lumix.
‘We have been working very hard to incorporate camera feature requests that customers have been sending us’ said Grant Petty CEO Blackmagic Design ‘There are major changes and improvements in this update and we are very excited to see the wonderful creative work done with the benefit of this software. Of course, we are working very hard on more features we want to add into our cameras and you will see more and more of what we have been working on in updates that will be release over the upcoming months.’
After some delay, I’m finally posting links to the spots we produced for the law office of Thomas J Henry that aired during the Super Bowl. This was a fun shoot, for which yours truly was the director of photography and also colorist.
Principal photography lasted four days, and we shot on two Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras, which were awesome. I love the small form factor of the BMPCC, which makes it superb for hand-held and run-and-gun work, especially when mated with my Zeiss MkI Super Speeds, a small Vocas matte box, and the superb wood/metal grips from iKan. The camera feels like a natural extension of my hand, and I can shoot all day without any noticeable fatigue in my arms or hands. I can’t say that when shooting with a RED rig or a big ENG camera.
In addition to handling great, the BMPCC also puts out superior 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW color, and I adore the Super-16 size imager. It’s a great format; large enough to afford shallow depth-of-field when you want it (especially with the T1.3 Super Speeds, which are nice and sharp wide-open), but small enough to maintain critical focus while on the run.
Speaking of the imager, it is sharp. Seriously sharp. Like 1000 TV lines sharp. When shooting RAW with good glass, it seems like you could actually cut yourself on the footage. Unfortunately, this extreme sharpness also means that moire is an issue occasionally, but I have to have it be a problem after the footage has been graded and exported to ProRes. When all is said and done, the BMPCC moires less than any DSLR I’ve ever used, so there’s that.
Blackmagic has yet again thrown a wrench in the budget cinema pricing machine. BMD announced that their 4K, 12-stop, RAW-recording, production camera (complete with global shutter) is now shipping, at US $2995, a price that is a thousand dollars less than it was previously.
BMD will be selling these things literally by the truckload. I personally own the BMPCC, and adore it. It’s the sharpest sensor of any camera I’ve ever used, and the 12-bit raw color is to die for. Now, with this news of the even cheaper 4K camera shipping, I think I know what my plan for the future will be. I simply can’t wait to get my hands on one.Here is BMD’s product page.
Thanks to a super fast eBay seller, my BMPCC got here in a flash, and I was able to start tinkering with it today. The first thing I did was make an utterly ridiculous contraption out of it by mounting the BMPCC to my Canon 18X HD ENG lens, then Instagramming photos of it to all my camera nerd friends. Then I took it out into the yard and starting shooting clips of my trees and other junk (by the time UPS got here, the light was already fading, so there wasn’t time for anything else). The other accessories I have on order are still in transit, so I wasn’t able to build the real kit, so I simply sandwiched my ciecio7 B4/M43 adapter between the lens and camera, and stuck it on a tripod.
Actually, I tried two ENG lenses on the BMPCC today. One was a Fujinon SD 10X Super-wide, which looked like complete garbage on the Blackmagic’s sensor. Completely discouraging. The HD Canon lens however, looked absolutely gorgeous. It was sharp! Not only is the lens of a very high quality, but the sensor in the BMPCC is the sharpest of any video camera I’ve ever owned or used. I’ve read that it resolves 1000 TV lines, and after seeing my test footage, I certainly believe it. The picture is wonderfully-detailed, and the dynamic range is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. I haven’t seen much evidence of moire or chromatic aberration, but I also haven’t shot any brick buildings yet. I’ll test that tomorrow. The rolling shutter is evident, however, but it didn’t look like it was any worse than what you would see with a 5D Mark III or D800. The sharpness and dynamic range of the BMPCC more than makes up for the rolling shutter. I can shoot around it.
So, about that dynamic range… I shot a clip of a white brick in my yard, which had the evening sun shining directly on it. Most of the rest of the scene was in dark shade. The BMPCC held detail in the highlights of the brick and also in the darkest of shadow areas, with room to spare. I was really impressed by this. Any non-RAW DSLR would have blown the brick right out.
So, let’s briefly go over what we all know already: The build quality is very good; The screen is very dim in sunlight — get an EVF; the battery is dead before you know it; unless all your pockets are filled with juiced batts, turn the camera off as soon as you stop your roll, if you have the time; you can’t format the SD card in-camera (I’m still trying to figure out why this is the case, and it simply defies all logic – format all your cards for the day as ExFAT before you leave the studio).
I never planned on trying to keep my BMPCC rig small just because the camera itself is. I wanted the Blackmagic Pocket Camera for two reasons: 1). The 13 stops of dynamic range, and 2). The Super-16 sized sensor. I have a lot of legacy glass that can take advantage of that sensor, and as I’ve shown already, it has breathed new life into a VERY expensive B4 HD lens that had been sitting around on a shelf until today (since discovering that my big Panny HD cam has a big fat dead pixel right in the center of the picture).
Since my rig is not required to maintain its dainty curb weight, I’ve already negated a couple of the BMPCC’s shortcomings with some additional gear. Instead of rolling to SD cards, I will be rolling to my Atomos Samurai via the Atomos Connect HDMI/SDI converter. I’ve ordered a pair of Ikan tilta wooden grips with LANC S/S button, which should trigger the Samurai directly. The lack of audio meters in the camera should be taken care of by simply using the new and improved – thanks to the recently-released AtomOS 4.2 – audio meters in the Samurai, which are much more accurate now, and can also be set to display horozontally. BTW, you can now manually dial in audio delay in the Samurai, whereas before it could only be done with Ninja2. The weak battery life will be dealt with via a 1.5-meter D-Tap 12V cable, running from a Beillen 95WH battery either mounted to the rails or held in my pocket. The dim screen will be remedied via my Cineroid Metal EVF, which will make use of the second HD-SDI output of the Atomos Connect converter. All this will be mounted to the View Factor Contineo BMPC cage basic kit.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the BMPCC is missing a lot of options and that the menu is very, very basic in what you can do with the camera. This is absolutely true. However, it’s one of the things I like about the camera. I’m drawn to the fact that I only have to worry about a couple of settings before I can concentrate on shooting. I actually felt a sense of relief when I realized I didn’t have to worry about the mental checklist of technicalities that normally must be dealt with before shooting. The BMPCC is EASY to use; which leaves more time and energy for concentrating on composition.
I’ve also heard complaints about the relatively few increments for ºK options when choosing color temp. True, you can’t do a custom white balance in the BMPCC like you can with a DSLR, but considering how good the white balance of the BMPCC looks, that has yet to bother me. Even under the flourescent lights in my kitchen, the picture looked very good. The tonality of the picture is really nice. Also, considering that the BMPCC is very much a camera that is designed to shoot for the grade, this isn’t as big of a deal to me as it seems to be with others; each clip is going to be timed to hell and back anyway; the occasional off-color cast won’t bother me, especially when the camera gains the ability to shoot in RAW.
I think that’s about it for now. I will post some footage in the next day or two, after I’ve had a chance to shoot some more material.
After much anticipation, my new Flare Factory (FF) 58 lens from Dog Schidt Optiks, aka Rich Gale, arrived today. I was on a photo assignment when the lens arrived via FedEx (ahead of schedule, I might add – bonus), and when my girlfriend told me over the phone that she had just signed for the delivery, I rushed home and tore open the box (which looked like an elephant had stepped on it — thanks FedEx). Luckily, the lens was very well encased in bubble wrap, and was in great shape. If you don’t know what the FF 58 is, it’s pretty simple. Dog Schidt takes old Russian Helios -44 58mm f/2 lenses, and “reworks” them to have certain characteristics, which you can specify for your custom-built lens. It’s pretty cool. Check out Dog Schidt’s Facebook page to see all the cool stuff you can order up on a FF 58. I ordered mine with cleaning marks (for extra rainbow flares), a normal-prominence blue tint, and a fixed f/2.8 elliptical aperture, to simulate the elliptical bokeh of an anamorphic lens.
After walking in the door after my assignment, I immediately slapped the FF 58 on my D800 and stepped into the yard to bother my dogs and shoot the sun in the trees. One specific reason I bought the FF 58 is to help simulate a film look, because that’s how I like to shoot. In accordance with that desired workflow, the following clips have been lightly-graded and grained up with FilmConvert. Here’s a two-minute sample of the characteristics of my particular Flare Factory lens:
On July 8, Joe Rubinstein & Elle Schneider, creators of the Digital Bolex, posted the first Cinema DNG files from the camera on their blog, so people could have a look at the current state of the image. I’ve been pretty slammed with work lately, so I was only just tonight able to take a few minutes to download the files and look at them myself. I chose my favorite frame and brought it into Resolve to play with a couple of grades, and this is what I came up with after a couple minutes’ worth fidgeting (click on the image to view full-size).
The top frame is the raw Cinema DNG file as it was opened in Photoshop. The second frame was graded in Resolve for a natural-looking warm tone, and the third was graded in Resolve for some scary-movie extreme cool tones, obviously. I was impressed with how little noise I saw in the image, and also how well it handled sharpening in Resolve. I put a pretty serious sharpen on it just to see how much it could take, and the edge integrity stayed superior. It was a very smooth image indeed, and it could also take a really heavy grade without breaking up. Skin tones adjusted well, and overall, the image looked very organic; I love that about the D16. Since it makes use of a CCD imager instead of CMOS, the image has a more natural, organic, film-like quality to it. I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these cameras to really put it to the test. I have a ton of old 16mm glass waiting for new life in my gear cabinet.
The time has come to lay my money down. On storage, that is. Real storage, not home-made hodge-podge RAID arrays that I’ve built myself throughout the years, just to save some money. Yes, it’s saved me a lot of money, but now that my current workstation has only Thunderbolt and no internal eSATA support (obviously it’s an iMac), the time has come to invest in a proper Thunderbolt RAID system.
At first I had been using an old Drobo 4-bay enclosure as my storage array, but of course that wasn’t fast enough to edit video. It was just used as an archive. Then I started making RAIDs out of various inexpensive external enclosures, until now. Currently, I am using two Vantec HX4R 4-bay enclosures with 8TB each on board, configured as RAID10. The HX4R is an eSATA device, but since the iMac doesn’t have eSATA ports, I had to hook them up through a LaCie eSATA>Thunderbolt hub.
The LaCie hub is a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it is super-fast and works very well, when it works. For the most part, it’s fine, but it has a tendency to cause drives to unmount spontaneously. Of course, this is no good when you’re trying to work. To its credit, it never did it when the unit was under heavy use; only when it was mostly idle. But still, it’s not good for drives to be spontaneously ejected, of course. Lately, it’s been causing problems with one of my RAIDs, in the form of corrupted directories. It spent the last 48-hrs refusing to mount correctly, so I figured it is time for a change.
Tomorrow I will put my money down for a new Promise Pegasus R6 RAID array loaded with six 3TB drives. When searching for Thunderbolt RAIDs, the Pegasus kept coming up tops and the specs are good, so I figured it is worth a gamble. It’s expensive, but if it holds it end of the bargain, it will save me that much more money in wasted time. I will write a review of the Pegasus R6 after I’ve had some time with it.