Last week, I scored. I scored big. I came across a nice copy of the revered Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super 16 zoom lens, for an amazing price, so I snapped it up. I’ve had my eye on this lens since I first started shooting with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, but when one does pop up for sale, the price was always out of my reach. Not only is it one of the smallest S16 zooms available, but it’s also one of the widest – maybe even the widest available. Shooting in tight spaces is no problem for this zoom, with 8mm affording an equivalent field of view that is just a hair wider than a 24mm on a full-frame DSLR.
My desire for the Canon 8-64 was cemented during the NBA Playoffs this year. I was covering all of the San Antonio games for The Sporting News/Omnisport, and before one of the games, the NBA TV Phantom shooter struck up a conversation with me when he noticed that I was shooting with my old Mk I Zeiss Super Speeds on the BMPCC. Being a 16mm shooter, he wanted to check out my rig. As it turned out, he had a Canon 8-64 on his Phantom, and we spent some time talking glass. That was the first time I’d seen the 8-64 in the wild, and I immediately recognized that it was the perfect size for the BMPCC rig. It rocketed to the top of my wish list, but it wasn’t until recently I found one for sale that was actually affordable.
I ordered the lens and a cheap PL adapter the same day (not ready to spend 800.00 on the Hotrod Cameras PL mount for the View Factor Contineo cage yet), and they both arrived on Friday. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the PL mount came with a set of shims, so I spent some time collimating the mount, MacGyver-style. The difference between “not good” & “good enough” was 0.03mm. I may revisit it later on if I can find some 0.01mm shims for the Hawk’s Factory mount.
Immediately after unpacking the lens and mounting it to the camera, I called my friend Nico and made him go with me to shoot some sunset clips. We went up to the roof of an abandoned high rise and rolled on the San Antonio skyline, with great results. The Canon 8-64 might just be my new favorite lens. It’s definitely the most “filmic” lens I’ve used on the BMPCC. Color and contrast are awesome, and it’s beautifully sharp, with a nice organic looking picture. Flare and bokeh (I still hate that word) are both wonderful, with lots of character. It’s a beautiful look, especially if you love film.
The next day, I was to provide the camera package, DIT, & color services for director Kevin Sloan’s new short, “I Love You More.” I was very excited that the 8-64 had arrived before the weekend, as I would get to put it through its paces on set immediately. After looking at dailies, I’ve decided that it is indeed my new favorite lens. It yields the perfect look for me. Tack sharp, yet organically smooth, if that makes any sense. Coupled with the 12-bit raw color of the BMPCC, we have a winner.
Here is a quick test video I cobbled together to show off the characteristics of the lens, including breathing, bokeh, zoom, sharpness, color, contrast, etc. Unfortunately, the camera I was using suffered from the BMPCC “highlight blooming” problem, and it’s evident in some of the shots. I need to send it in for that…
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:
I’ve been having a lot of fun with the new Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 X-mount lens. Up until now, I hadn’t had an autofocus lens for my Fuji X-E1. I didn’t buy the 35/1.4 Fuji lens for it, instead I opted for the body only and a host of X-mount adapters so I could use all of my old Leica LTM and M-mount lenses on it. That worked out pretty well, considering the X-E1 has a high-resolution EVF, twice as dense as the EVF in the X-Pro 1 body. Focusing manually using an X-E1 is a lot easier. I’ve also just learned that coming in July, Fuji is releasing a firmware update that will give the X-E1 and X-Pro1 EVF peaking, which will make MF so much easier; it’s something that X series owners have been screaming for since the cameras launched. I’m really happy that Fuji listened to us and finally delivered. I love the X-mount cameras, and this makes them that much more usable.
I took delivery of the Zeiss Touit 32/1.8 last week, and immediately took it with me to shoot another charreada. I got some great results, just screwing around in the dust. But I really saw the little Touit shine yesterday when I was shooting new photos for the band Phonolux, who needed some quick shots for their new EP before one of the band members left town for a month. It was a short-notice shoot, and the set was in their garage. And all we had for light were Home Depot clamp lights and a couple of small Arris. It was a very shallow set, and I had to be fairly close to my subjects, so it was nice to use a shorter lens with a more forgivable depth-of-field. I burned some frames on one of my FX Nikon bodies as well, but the X-E1’s APS-C sensor and shorter lens combination just work better for this particular shoot. Plus, the Zeiss lens is inherently sharper, and has more pop than much of the Nikon glass I have, with the exception of the 70-200/2.8 VR II, which is simply one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever encountered, if not the sharpest.
As you can see, I had to be pretty close to them to get the shot, so being able to use the shorter 32mm lens worked out well, since I also had to shoot at f/2.8 due to the light being so low. At 32mm f/2.8, at a shooting distance of about ten feet, I was still able to squeeze them all into a focal plane that allowed everyone to be sharp while still putting a little separation between the band members and the background.
I took delivery of my new Zeiss Touit 32/1.8 lens this morning from B&H. I couldn’t wait past the weekend so I had it overnighted, for when I’m impulse-buying photo gear, I have no patience. If I make a snap-decision, I want snap-delivery. I like to keep my gratification instant. The little Touit lens is well-built; very solid, as one would expect from Zeiss. And also, as I would expect from Zeiss, even their presentation oozed precision:
I immediately mounted the Touit onto my X-E1 and ran around looking for something to make a picture of, and finally settled on making a picture of J. as she was having streaks put in her hair by Kim. I have a couple of shoots lined up for this weekend, so I will be sure to put the lens to the test then, but for now, I have to say that I’m already in love with the Zeiss Touit 32. It’s as sharp as you expect a Zeiss to be, and smooth as butter. The AF works well, and is plenty fast enough for my tastes, and I’m used to shooting with Nikon D3 bodies. I’ll see if I can get a few more photos when we go out to dinner with some friends later this evening. Until then, here’s one pic:
I decided that since there was so much cool stuff to see at NAB, the best way to get the most coverage is to make highlight reels of my favorite items. So that’s what I’m doing. Here is the second highlight reel, featuring products like the Freefly MoVI camera stabilizer, the Atomos Connect HD-SDI to HDMI converter, the Redrock Micro One Man Crew motorized parabolic slider, the Schneider TS-PC 50mm f/2.8 lens, the MTF Effect Canon EF lens controller, and a shark. Check it out!
On my first day at NAB 2013, I ran into Digital Bolex creator Joe Rubinstein, who was kind enough to tell me about the new cinema camera that every cinematographer is dying to get their hands on. Joe was really nice, and I really enjoyed talking with him about his camera; it was obvious that he is just as passionate about the Digital Bolex, and what it means to cinematographers, as are the camera nerds who are waiting for it to ship.
In part 1 of the interview, Joe talks about the camera body and lens options that will be available for it, including the custom Digital Bolex prime lenses that were designed in a partnership with Kish Optics.
In case you haven’t heard about the Digital Bolex, it’s a Kickstarter-funded Super 16 cinema camera that shoots in RAW Cinema DNG format. Since it features a smaller 16mm size imager (CCD too, which means NO rolling shutter), it can make use of a myriad of older 16mm and C-mount lenses that have largely fallen into disuse since the rise in popularity of DSLR’s and other larger-chip digital cameras. Check out part 1 of my interview with Joe Rubinstein below.
So, I did something cool today. I took an old Cooke Kinic 1″ (25mm) f/1.5 lens made by Taylor Taylor & Hobson c. 1950, and mounted it to my Panasonic AF100 video camera. The Kinic is known as the king of the vertigo lenses, as it produces some amazing swirly bokeh around the outside of the frame. Some call it nausea-inducing, and I can see their point. I’m not sure if TTH meant to do this or not, but considering that Cooke lenses are known for their exceptional quality all the way back to the 19th century, I’d like to think they did.
The Kinic was originally made for 16mm movie cameras like the Eyemo and Filmo models. If anyone knows of sample footage from these cameras where the Kinic was used, please let me know; I’d like to see what the image looks like. Personally, I think the Kinic is fabulous for special effects shots like dream sequences, flashbacks, etc. I certainly wouldn’t use it for everyday footage, since the AF100’s imager is much larger than the 16mm frame that the Kinic was originally intended for, where the ultra-swirly outer edges of the picture would not be visible. // Below is some footage I shot in my front yard. This is not raw footage; it has been graded using DaVinci Resolve 9. Check it out:
I’ve been dialing in my ENG-ized AF100 for some time now. Recently, I added a Varavon lens support to relieve some tension from the not-so-robust Micro 4/3 mount. The Varavon works really well, and I especially like that it has a rubber strap that holds the lens down onto the post suport. This not only provides negative-G stability, but also prevents the lens from torquing the mount when I’m using the ENG hand grip.
On July 4th, I was hired by the San Antonio Scorpions professional soccer team to shoot some b-roll before and during their game against FC Edmonton. I thought this would be the perfect chance to try out the new rig. I wanted to make it as light as possible, so I elected to remove the Anton Bauer plate and battery, which powers the lens’ servo zoom, and just roll using manual zoom instead. The total package consisted of AF100 body, Fujinon 10×4.8 Super-wide ENG lens, rails, Atomos Samurai, and a Cineroid Metal HD-SDI EVF.
The client wanted 720/30p for web and broadcast use. I set the Samurai to record ProRes422 LT and it looked great. A lot of people overlook LT but it’s superb when you want to save space and you’re not going to be doing heavy color moves in post. Even though it’s “LT” it’s still a heck of a lot better than AVCHD. I recently switched to Intel X25 SSDs in the Samurai, and I couldn’t be happier with them. Fast and tough. That’s all I can ask for. I was using a Corsair SSD, and after three RMAs from failed drives, the switch to Intel was needed.
Here is a two-minute reel of raw clips from Wednesday night. These are ungraded, straight from the camera:
I’ve been modifying my Panasonic AF100 to work with ENG lenses, and it’s finally taking shape. The only thing I have left to install is a Y-cable that will power the lens as well as connect to the camera’s LANC port in order to activate REC start/stop from the lens. Abel Cine makes such a cable, but it’s 260.00, which is considerably more than I was hoping to pay. However, I don’t think anyone else is making it, so it looks like I’m going to have to fork over the cash to them.
The latest addition to the kit is a Cineroid Metal HD-SDI electronic viewfinder, mounted on a NOGA articulated arm. The Cineroid arrived a couple of days ago from B&H and it really makes all the difference regarding usability of this rig in the field. Prior to getting the Cineroid, I pretty much had to mount the camera on a tripod to shoot anything. Moving the entire rig back on my shoulder and using the EVF makes all the difference, obviously. When I mounted the Cineroid, I moved the AtomosSamurai recorder from the front-left rail to the right-rear since I no longer needed to use it as a monitor when shooting. In its new position, it can serve as a secondary monitor for the director, and also provides some needed counter weight to the right side of the rig, since the EVF made everything shift left a bit. The Samurai is very reliable, and the battery life averages ten hours on a full charge, so I’m not too worried about not being able to see it while shooting hand-held footage. I know that if the camera is rolling, the Samurai is rolling. It tucks in nicely next to the Anton Bauer battery. You may recognize the AJA accessory plate and rail mount that the battery is bolted to; it used to hold my AJA Ki Pro Mini, which I ditched in favor of the Samurai. BTW, if anyone wants one, I’m selling a Ki Pro Mini…
To mount the ENG style Fujinon lens, I ordered an adapter from eBay user ciecio7. I highly recommend his adapters, as they seem to be very well built. In fact, this B4-M4/3 adapter is the highest quality I’ve yet seen from any of the adapters I’ve ordered for my AF100; I wish I’d found him earlier. Ciecio7 offers two flavors of this adapter; one with and one without the tripod collar. I ordered the one WITH the tripod collar, as I knew I was going to have to fashion some sort of lens support, since the camera’s lens mount is only rated at four pounds. Otherwise, it’s a sure bet I’d rip the mount right out the first time I used it in the field. I initially feared that it was going to be costly to get a really good lens support that would secure the lens in all directions so I could use the ENG grip, but as it turned out, the threaded 3/8″ hole in the mount adapter’s tripod collar (it also has a 1/4-20 hole) aligned perfectly with a threaded 3/8″ hole in the Redrock Micro M2 baseplate, so all I had to do was get a threaded stud from Home Depot and hacksaw it to 2.75″. That was $1.75 well-spent.
I really, really love having a proper ENG lens to use on the AF100. It really takes this camera from being quirky and odd to being a serious camera for pro video work. When Panasonic released the AF100, I was elated at the thought of what was basically a large-format HPX170 (although without my beloved P2 media), but then I was immediately puzzled when they kept demo-ing the camera with those horrible, slow, M4/3 stills lenses. What?! No servo lens? Unbelievable. So, for a long time, I used my Canon EF 16-35/2.8 L zoom with the Redrock Micro Live Lens adapter as my go-to run and gun lens, and it worked great. Not much reach, but it had the wide-to-medium area covered fairly well, and it was just fast enough to use in low light. It sucked not having a servo zoom though. With this ENG setup, now I have the best of both worlds. Granted, with all of the kit, it makes the AF100 about the same size as my HPX2000, but it’s still lighter.
So, what about image quality? ENG lenses are designed to be used on three-chip cameras, which means the glass projects onto a prism that separates the image into red, green and blue paths. There are two methods of adapting your ENG lens to a Micro 4/3 camera: the “cheap” way, which is to use a lens with a built-in 2X extender that will double the size of the image circle to cover M4/3, or the “proper” way, which is to use Abel Cine’s HDX2 adapter, which not only doubles the size of the image circle but also optically corrects for the three-chip projection so you don’t get color fringing in your highlights. Considering that, it seems to be a no-brainer on which method you would choose, until you consider cost. I got my B4-M43 adapter from ciecio7 for 240.00. That’s the entire cost of the “cheap” method. The “proper’ method is going to belt you for $5500.00 for the relay lens plus the cost of a PL adapter, because – btw – the HDX2 relay lens only comes in PL mount. SO, including the cost of PL/rails support for your AF100, we’re looking at a total cost of $7000.00 to be “proper” if you go with the HotRod-esque option. Ciecio7 also makes a PL-M43 adapter if you already have rails that would work, like I did.
I figured from the start that I was just going to put up with a little color fringing in my highlights. But then, I had a pleasant surprise. The Fujinon 10×4.8* is a really high quality piece of glass, and also considering that it’s so wide, fringing is very minimal. In fact, I don’t notice it at all unless my highlights are totally blown out, and even then, not all the time. In short, the picture looks pretty damned good. I’m sure the “proper” method is better, but I’m not positive that it’s $7000-better. Note that if you use the cheap method, your ENG lens MUST have a built-in 2X extender. With the HDX2, your lens does not need an extender, as the HDX2 doubles the size of the lens’ image circle.
* A note about the Fujinon 10×4.8 ENG SD lens: Some variants of it have a 1.7X extender and NOT a 2X extender. These will NOT WORK. You must have a 2X extender to expand the image circle to 22mm in order to cover the Micro 4/3 sensor.