Tag Archives: Canon

First Weekend With The Canon PL Super 16 8-64 T2.4 Zoom

BMPCC with the Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super-16 Zoom
BMPCC with the Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super-16 Zoom

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.

Darren Abate and Nico Wachter on the court during the 2014 NBA Finals, Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
Yours truly, left, glaring at Nico on the court in San Antonio.

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.

On the set of Kevin Sloan's latest short film, "I Love You More."
On the set of Kevin Sloan’s latest short film, “I Love You More.”

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.

Yours truly shooting with the BMPCC and a Zeiss Mk I 25mm T1.3 Super Speed during the NBA Playoffs in San Antonio.
Yours truly shooting with the BMPCC and a Zeiss Mk I 25mm T1.3 Super Speed during the NBA Playoffs in San Antonio.

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.

Director Kevin Sloan pauses to look important on the set of his latest short film.
Director Kevin Sloan on the set of his latest short 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…

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

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.

Canon EOS 1DX Autofocus Setting Guidebook

Canon EOS 1DX
Canon EOS 1DX

In case you were wondering just how sophisticated the autofocus system is going to be on Canon’s new flagship camera, the EOS 1DX, here is a link to download the EOS 1DX autofocus setting guidebook. It looks to be right fancy, indeed… It almost makes me wish I hadn’t switched to Nikon, after shooting Canon professionally for twenty years. Almost. Honestly, though, when the AF system in your camera is getting to be this sophisticated — and you need it to be — I dare say you might be using the AF system as a crutch and not a tool. I’ve been a press shooter for a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever run into a situation (since the days of modern AF anyway – we’ll say around the time of the EOS 1V) that I couldn’t get my shot from because my AF system just wasn’t smart enough. Faster is always better, but this system has so many options, I’m almost certain that we’ve witnessed the birth of Skynet.

Dialing in the AF100

After using the Panasonic AF100 on a few productions now, I’m finally getting mine dialed in to where it is comfortable to use in a cinematic environment.

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With the addition of the AJA rod mounting plate on my Ki Pro Mini, the rig finally feels stable enough to use in daily work. Before, the recorder was affixed to a Noga arm and simply rested on the rods. Now, it is securely fixed to them, and the Anton Bauer Hytron 140 battery is now secured to the second accessory plate on the Ki Pro Mini, and not zip-tied to the rods like before (hey, you gotta do what you gotta do on set sometimes…).

I’ll get a chance to try the rig out again this weekend when we continue filming for “Arose The Coward.”

More production stills to follow…

The New Canon EOS C300 is Pretty Sweet. But…

In my professional life, I’m primarily a stills shooter. I shoot a lot of editorial and press work for folks like the Associated Press, Getty Images, newspapers, and the like. I also shoot a lot of commercial stills work, for PR firms, agencies, etc. I shoot with Canon DSLRs (and my old Canon F-1N) exclusively, except when I’m using one of my Leica rangefinders. So, I know how badass Canon’s cameras are. For video cameras, however, I’ve always preferred Panasonics. I like their design philosophy and the professional quality of their cameras.

I was excited to try the video capabilities of the EOS 5D Mark II when it was announced, and indeed, as soon as mine arrived after they had begun shipping, I shot a feature length film on it. I was pleased with the results (especially with my Zeiss ZE primes. Wow!), save the moiré and rolling shutter problems, and once Canon updated the firmware to allow for 24p and manual audio level control, it was even better. As soon as I saw how the 5D2 was changing the face of indie filmmaking – and let’s face it, the camera was a real game-changer – I immediately predicted that Canon would capitalize on the serendipitous success of their camera and design a professional camcorder body with a large imager that would provide the best of both worlds. Right away, I knew it was coming.

I did not predict, however, that Panasonic would beat them to the punch with the AF100, followed by Sony with the F3. I wasn’t really surprised, though, because it is in Canon’s nature to wait until the other players have shown their cards and then release something awesome that raises the bar again, which brings me to the subject of the new Canon EOS C300 cinema camera.

Canon EOS C300 cinema camera
Canon EOS C300 cinema camera

Admittedly, I have not yet extensively investigated the specs of the C300. I know that it outputs a 1080 HD picture and that it uses an 8MP S35-sized chip. I also know that it shoots 4:2:2 onto CF cards at a 50Mb/s data rate (I would have expected 100Mb/s). What I don’t know, however, is why it costs US $20,000. It seems to me that instead of dropping that kind of coin on a C300, my money would be better-spent buying a Sony F3, which can record 4:4:4 out to a dual-link HD-SDI recorder. Even with the S-LOG upgrade, the F3 costs less than the C300.

Obviously – hopefully – I’m missing something, and there are actually some good reasons why the Canon C300 is more expensive than a Sony F3. Is there a reader out there who has investigated the C300 thoroughly, and can shed some light on this subject?

Stills from the set of “Lilia.”

Friend and local filmmaker Sam Lerma decided to go “non-DSLR” for his next film, a short entitled, “Lilia.” Instead, Sam and DP Yuta Yamaguchi opted to rent my AF100 to shoot the project. After setting up the camera for them this morning, I snapped some stills on set with my 5D2 and Zeiss 50/1.4 ZE.

AF100 stills from the set of Lilia
Sam Lerma and Yuta Yamaguchi on the set of "Lilia."
AF100 in action on the set of "Lilia".
AF100 in action on the set of "Lilia"
Yuta sets up a shot with the AF100
Yuta Yamaguchi sets up a shot with my AF100
Yuta sets up a shot with the AF100 on the set of "Lilia"
Yuta sets up a shot with the AF100 on the set of "Lilia"
Sam checks a shot in the monitor atop the AF100
Sam checks a shot in the monitor atop the AF100

I’m excited to see how this film turns out. There has been a lot of buzz about it in the local film community, and I know from personal experience that Sam, Yuta, and producer Ralph Lopez are all guys who are very passionate about film, and are dedicated to making a fine film.

An Inexpensive Cine Zoom for the AF100?

A few months before getting my AF100, I started testing various C-Mount lenses on my GF1, because I knew that [economical] modern cine-style zoom lens options on a Micro 4/3 video camera were going to be somewhat rare. An old TV-C lens can be had really cheap, and I thought that there might be one or two 1″ lenses that wouldn’t vignette too much on the 4/3″ sensor.

Canon TV-16 25-100mm f/1.8 Zoom Lens
Canon TV-16 25-100mm f/1.8 Zoom Lens

I started with a 16-160 f/1.6 Tokina CCTV zoom, which is a tank of a lens. I was really praying that it would work, because I would love to have a 10X f/1.6 lens to play with. I also picked up a Fujinon TV zoom and a Canon TV-16 zoom. As I suspected, the Tokina and Fujinon lenses vignetted very badly, but the Canon actually wasn’t too bad. It vignettes, but I can see how that in some shooting situations, it could be usable. In the mid zoom range, the black edge comes inside of the frame in the corners, but it isn’t as pronounced in the wide and tele positions. It’s there, but it doesn’t punch you in the face; it’s more of a gentle slap. Either way, it still stings a bit. I will post some real-world clips from it soon.

I think that if I could enlarge the image circle 1.4X, the problem would be corrected. I could handle losing the stop of light, but that would mean it would become a 70-280mm (FF 35 equiv). I don’t really want a zoom that long on the wide end. I may have to relegate the Canon to being a special occasion lens.

I’ve seen mods to mount a B4 2/3″ servo lens onto the AF100. That seems a sound option, especially if you get one of the lenses that has the built-in teleconverter because it solves your image circle problem right off the bat. 2/3″ lenses are wider, which allows more general use after magnification.

Another solution is Abel CineTech’s HDX2 adapter, which is an optical B4 to PL adapter that enlarges the lens image circle from 11mm to 22mm (soaking up two stops of light in the process), and also corrects the 3xCCD optics to project for a single sensor. But, at MSRP US$5500.00, it’s hardly the economical option for low-budget users. On the other hand, if it allows a $15,000.00 servo lens to become usable on larger format cameras, I can easily see how it can earn its keep in a production environment.

So, my search continues. If anyone knows of a C-Mount lens that will actually cover a 4/3″ sensor, please let me know!

A Good AF100 Pelican Case

Last Thursday, I decided it was time to get a proper case for my AF100, and since I regularly shoot for a travel show, I made sure to look for one that was of carry-on size. I like to travel light, and I hate checking bags unless I have to. I’ve pretty much got it down to a science, and usually the only thing I have to check are my sticks.

That being a main criteria– well, it was the only criteria, because I already knew I was going to get a Pelican case, since they’ve been so awesome for me my entire professional life. One glance at their site told me that the one to get was the Pelican 1510 rolling carry-on.

A quick Google search revealed that the best price (with foam) was going to be from Amazon, so I ordered one – and another 32GB SD card – for “one day dlivery” that turned into “four day delivery”, thanks to shipping FAIL plus the Presidents’ Day holiday. To be fair, the SD card got here in one day, but the case did not. Luckily I didn’t need it for the weekend.

Looking at it, it seemed a little smaller than I thought it would be, but some foam-plucking time later, and it holds the camera body, battery, EF adapter, batteries, and my 24/1.4 and 17-40 lenses perfectly, which is a great minimalist run and gun solution for quick shots. I highly recommend the Pelican 1510 if you need a smaller, carry-on legal case for light shooting, or of course, as a compliment to more cases for travel.

Pelican 1510 Rolling Carry On Case with Panasonic AF100 and Canon lenses
Pelican 1510 Rolling Carry On Case with Panasonic AF100 and Canon lenses

Read my Horrible Tale

Panasonic AG-AF100 with Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L lens
The New Love with a Canon 24/1.4 L

Like many people, I’ve drooled over the Panasonic AF100 since it was first announced several months ago. Working as a DP on indie films for about seven years now, I’ve struggled with finding that perfect camera system to satisfy the desires of the discerning no-budget filmmaker while delivering a satisfying image. At first, I used 3CCD cameras like the venerable Panasonic DVX100 and Sony Z1U mounted to a Redrock Micro M2 adapter in order to achieve the “cinematic” look, but I never found much satisfaction in that. Lacking a better alternative I begrudgingly continued on with it until the day Canon announced the EOS 5D Mark II, which was an immediate game-changer in the world of indie cinema, as we all know.

By profession, I am a stills photographer/photojournalist, as that is how I make most of my money. Cinematography has always been a paying hobby for me. So, when Canon announced the 5D2, it was easy for me to justify getting one. Oh, what the heck, I’ll use it for movies too…

Canon EOS 5D Mark II cine mode
The 5D2 in Run-n-Gun mode

At first, I loved the 5D2 for filmmaking because I was drunk on the joy of that shallow depth-of-field, and I didn’t pay much attention to anything else. Then, about halfway through the first feature I shot with it, I started to get really annoyed with trying to use the DSLR form factor in the field, and the primitive audio controls were killing me slowly. The firmware update to allow manual video and audio level control was superb, but it did nothing to satisfy the other problems of trying to film with a DSLR.

After we wrapped principal photography on the first feature, the editors got down to business, and they kept telling me how awesome it looked. Indeed, it did look great, especially when compared to my old footage from the 1/3″ cameras. However, after I received the locked FCP file from editors and began my process of color grading the piece, I noticed a lot of quirks and anomalies in the footage that are now well-known to DSLR filmmakers (we shot our film very early after the 5D2 was released. To this day, as far as I know, ours was the first feature film to be shot on DSLR. Seriously, we started filming a couple days after the 5D2 started shipping. I was waiting for it.). There were a lot of problems with moire, and there was a lot of noise in shadow areas, etc. Plus, since the camera records straight to H.264, it was really easy for the footage to look dirty, especially in low light situations, even though I was shooting with my f/1.4 Zeiss primes most of the time. They helped with sharpness and contrast, but good glass can only do so much when you’re recording to such a compressed codec.

On the set with EOS 5D Mark 2
On set with the 5D2

When I started shooting the second feature, I wasn’t thrilled about using DSLRs again, but they were still the best choice. The next film was shot on my 5D2 and a 7D. Once again, I was also the colorist, and when I started work, I was horrified to see how different the footage from each camera was, even though the color settings and white balance were unified in each scene. I had to do some major work to get them to match up, all the while seeing the same old problems that irked me on the first film.

HVX200 with Redrock Micro M2 adapter and Marshall monitor
The Great Beast that is the HVX200 with Redrock Micro M2 adapter.

By the time that film wrapped, the Panasonic AF100 had been announced, and I vowed that I would never shoot another feature on a DSLR, unless it was being utilized as a B-cam. I launched a grand scheme to get an AF100 as soon as they were available. The grand scheme, of course, was to sell as much of my surplus camera gear as I could by the time its December 27th ship date rolled around. As it happened, last week I got stupidly lucky and found a used AF100 on eBay, of all places. The owner had bought it for personal use, and decided it was too complicated, so he put it up for auction. I saved about $800.00 and got a week-old camera. Score.

Testing lenses on my Panasonic AF100
Lens testing with the AF100

And now, I am completely in love with my AF100. I’ve found my new A-cam. When looking for online places to share the AF100 love though, I was disappointed to find that there just aren’t that many sites yet. So, I made this one, dedicated to the AF100 and indie filmmaking in general. Please enjoy the content – I promise there will be more very soon.

Darren