Tag Archives: tech

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.

First Clips With The Dog Schidt Flare Factory 58

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:

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.

Solving my eSATA > Thunderbolt Problems Once & For All

Promise Pegasus R6 RAID Array
Promise Pegasus R6

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.

More Proof of How Much Modern Films Rely on VFX: The Great Gatsby

As if any of us needed any more proof of how vital a good VFX team is, not only for modern big-budget filmmaking in general, but also for the modern period piece, check out this video posted by The Great Gatsby VFX supervisor Chris Godfrey on Vimeo.

I’m a lover of VFX, having some close friends who are in the business, but I’m also quick to complain when filmmakers rely too heavily on CG in their movies. I’m looking at you, Mr. Lucas. However, concerning a period film like The Great Gatsby, I feel that it perfectly illustrates the right way to use VFX in a “conventional” film. There would be no way to physically recreate the grand  and expansive period settings seen in this film otherwise. Bravo to Mr. Godfrey’s team; they did a bang-up job.

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.

Fun With The New Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 X-Mount Lens and a Fuji X-E1

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.

Phonolux Band Photo
Phonolux Company Portrait

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.

Phonolux Band Photo
Phonolux Company Portrait

 

Detail from the Phonolux photo shoot set showcasing the sharpness of the Zeiss Touit 32/1.8 (Fuji X-Mount)
Detail from the Phonolux photo shoot set. I think this image really illustrates the stellar qualities of the little Touit lens. Sharpness and contrast are tops, and overall, the image rendered is nice and smooth, even at a higher ISO rating. 1/60 f/2.8 ISO 800

 

Atomos Samurai Saves The Day (Again)

Yet another reason why the Atomos Samurai is one of the best things to hit the video market since DVCProHD: If you have an all-day video job, you don’t have to worry about media, and you don’t have to use tape. A cheap 750GB 2.5″ HDD means I can bypass in-camera compression and record from uncompressed HD-SDI for up to 15-hrs straight in 720/30p if I need to. Hooray for cheap media!

Atomos Samurai saving the day on an all-day shoot for Google at ISTE
Atomos Samurai saving the day on an all-day shoot for Google at ISTE

My First Image from the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 Fuji X-mount Lens

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:

Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 Lens for Fuji X-Mount
Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 Lens for Fuji X-Mount

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:

Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 Lens for Fuji X-Mount
Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 lens sample image, shot with Fuji X-E1.

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. 🙂