Category Archives: Cameras

It’s Been a While

It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog, and it’s because I’ve been so busy with assignment work. 2016 has been crazy-busy, which is great for business, but of course when I’m shooting and editing all the time, the blog and other hobbies suffers.

So, what’s happened since the last post? Probably the biggest event (videographically-speaking, that is), is that I have switched my main video system over from Panasonic to Sony. Yes, that happened. I’ve been a Panasonic fanboy for the longest time, but it’s also no secret that I’ve not been happy with a lot of their decisions regarding product and design direction, with their most major offense being the decision to let the AF100 line twist in the wind. I guess the DVX200 could be considered to be the AF100’s “replacement” but in my opinion Panasonic missed the mark overall. The DVX200 is a nice camera, though, don’t get me wrong. But, after talking to a few friends who invested in it, it seems that it also suffers from the other thing that turned me off of Panasonic: poor performance in low light conditions. But enough about that.

My FS7 with Canon Super 16 8-64 T2.4 PL Zoom
My FS7 with Canon Super 16 8-64 T2.4 PL Zoom

After much deliberation with myself I decided to switch my main video system over to the Sony PXW-FS7. I wanted to wait for the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K PL, but delays in shipping the units finally forced my hand and I had to consider other options. Work was piling up and I couldn’t afford to wait any longer. I needed a camera immediately, so I went with the FS7, and I’m glad I did.

The FS7 has proven itself to be the freelancer’s dream camera. Features such as interchangeable lenses, a base ISO of 2000, overcranking, the ubiquitous XDCAM format, SLog3, optional RAW recording, and a ton of other amenities add up to make one solid camera system for shooting anything from news to weddings to cinema and everything else in between. The versatility of the FS7 is superior.  The picture quality is superb, although some have complained that it is too noisy in the shadows. There is some truth to that but remember that “too noisy” for Sony is different than “too noisy” for other manufacturers (you know who you are).

My FS7 with Fujinon 10X Superwide
My FS7 with Fujinon 10X Superwide

My favorite way to shoot the FS7 is in SLog3 while exposing to the right (ETTR). This stacks more signal in the shadow areas of your picture, eliminating a lot of noise, and the FS7 has enough latitude to keep from blowing out highlights in most normal shooting situations. I made a series of custom LUTs to use on FS7 footage in Resolve, including one that takes care of shadow noise when shooting in low-light or especially contrasty scenes where ETTR isn’t really possible. It works out great for me. What are your thoughts on the FS7?

The New Panasonic AG-DVX200 Looks Nice

Panasonic-AG-DVX200
Panasonic AG-DVX200

I have to admit, I’m rather excited about the new Panasonic DVX200 4K 4/3″ sensor camera. Meant to be the “successor” to the legendary DVX100, the DVX200 is designed and priced to make big waves. Since it’s designed/intended to be a companion camera to the new Panasonic Varicam 35 4K, I would also expect it to have damned impressive image quality. Panasonic claims 12 stops of latitude. It does not have in interchangeable lens mount, but the built-in 13X Leica Dicomar 4K lens should be just fine for almost any shooting situation that this camera is intended for.

It’s definitely designed as a hand-held run-and-gun camera; lightweight and easy to handle. I can’t wait to try one in the field. Here’s what we know about it so far:

  • 12 stops of latitude
  • 4K/60p max frame rate
  • Leica Dicomar 4K 13X zoom lens with f/2.8 aperture
  • 13x optical zoom
  • V-Log L gamma curve
  • Price: under $5000

I’m Pissed Off at Panasonic

Cinematographer, Josh, on set with the AF100 and Atomos Samurai.
Cinematographer, Josh, on set with my AF100 and Atomos Samurai.

I’m pissed off. Say that in your head like Eric Cartman would, because that’s how I’m saying it over here…

I’m pissed off at Panasonic for letting the AF100 line just die. It hasn’t been discontinued, but it hasn’t been updated. It looks like they’re just not thinking about it at all, and to me, that’s a damned shame, because the AF100 is still one of the best workhorse run-and-gun cameras I’ve ever used. If Panasonic had continued to innovate and update the camera, then by now it could very well have been Panasonic’s “Sony FS7” and I think that’s why I’m choosing now to get riled up about it.

Sony released the FS7, and on paper, it looks pretty bad-ass. And in pictures, it strongly reminds me of the AF100 in size and form, which got me to remembering how much it sucks that the AF100 hasn’t been updated since the fake-10-bit “A” variant. The FS7 looks really, really good, but I’m a Panasonic guy. I love the way Panasonics shoot, and I love their picture quality. They look so much more organic and filmic to me than the Sonys do. Dammit, Panasonic, don’t make me buy a Sony!!!

That’s the reason why I’m so upset; I’ve admitted to myself that I really want the FS7, but if the AF100 hadn’t been forgotten, it could easily have evolved by now to what the FS7 is: a sub-$10K large-sensor, interchangeable-lens 4K camera with flexible ergonomics and overcranking abilities. I keep looking at the specs of the FS7 and I can’t find anything wrong with it, even though I really want to. The only thing that made me scrunch my face up was that ProRes recording requires an extra module and a “future upgrade.” Sounds fishy to me. And expensive. But hey! 4K DCI 12-bit RAW external recording? I’d buy a Shogun for that. For sure.

There really is no other point to this post than me blowing off steam, and begging Panasonic to surprise me with something awesome before I pay off my AJ-PX270 and start saving for the FS7. Maybe by Christmas? I’ve been a very good boy, after all.

Panasonic AJ-PX270 Footage Shot on Texas Coast

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.

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

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.

Shooting with the Panasonic AJ-PX270 at Padre Island, Texas
Shooting with the Panasonic AJ-PX270

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.

Major Firmware Update For All Blackmagic Cinema Cameras

Blackmagic Design cinema camera
Blackmagic Design

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.’

Blackmagic Does It Again: 4K Production Camera Ships at only US $2995

Blackmagic Design 4K Production Camera
Blackmagic Design 4K Production Camera

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.

First Impressions of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC)

Canon 18X HD ENG lens on Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
Canon 18X HD glass on the BMPCC makes a very nice picture, even though the doubler is engaged. I’ve since removed the lens control module, which may have been a huge mistake.

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.

A. Brick, shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Light grade applied.
A. Brick, shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Light grade applied. Note the sharpness and detail of the Canon HD 18X ENG lens, a lens that was designed for 3-CCD 2/3″ cameras!

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.

Digital Bolex D16 First Cinema DNG Frame

Graded frame from the Digital Bolex D16 Camera.
Graded frame from the Digital Bolex D16 Camera.

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.

Digital Bolex D16 Update: Joe & Elle at the SAFILM San Antonio Film Festival

Digital Bolex creators Joe Rubinstein and Elle Schneider were in attendance at the SAFILM San Antonio Film Festival (June 2013) so local filmmakers could get a glimpse of the new Digital Bolex D16 Super-16 digital cinema camera. Joe and Elle talked about new developments and upcoming accessories and lenses for the D16. BTW I’m sorry about the rather intrusive background music in the vide; that was the PA at the Palladium IMAX Theater.

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Going Back to Cali. I Mean, “Film”.

Aaton 16mm Camera
Aaton 16mm Camera

Some of you may think I’m crazy, and others may understand this, but I decided this week to let go of some of my digital arsenal. What does that mean? It means I traded one of my digital cinema cameras for an Aaton 16mm camera kit. I’m going to make a partial migration back to film. I’m simply tired of trying to find a digital camera that doesn’t disappoint in certain areas, whether it’s excessive shadow noise, blown highlights, moire, muddy color, poor resolution, ugly skin tones, etc. (and yes, two of those are aimed at RED). Digital is cheaper for small productions, especially for indie filmmakers, but there is still a huge argument for film, especially if shooting commercially.

I’m going to start small, with shorts and music videos, and never for free. Film is, after all, expensive, so it will be reserved only for clients who have the budget to use it. Why bother with it? Because people do still appreciate the look of film, and like it or not, it still holds some powerful cards over digital in many ways. For me personally, I’m using film again to take advantage of better highlight and shadow detail, finer color rendition, and for a greatly simplified post process. The money that I spend up front (charged thru to clients) will save me tons of time on the back end.

Also, one of my pet peeves on set is the relaxed and simply lazy attitude many people have adopted since digital became mainstream. It’s true, at least in my experience. When you can hear the money circulating through the camera, people tend to pay more attention to what they’re doing, that’s certain. I’m looking forward to getting back to that old school discipline. 🙂