Tag Archives: cinema

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?

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.

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.

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.

2013 NAB Show Highlight Reel No.1

Cooke 40mm T2.3 2X Anamorphic Prime Lens
Cooke 40mm T2.3 2X Anamorphic Prime Lens

I’ve decided that since there is so much cool new stuff to see at NAB, the best way to get the most bang for my buck on coverage is to make highlight reels of my favorite attractions. So that’s what I’m doing. Here is the first highlight reel, featuring products like the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, the Atomos Samurai Blade ProRes & DNxHD field recorder, and the new Cooke 2X Anamorphic Prime Lens.

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

The next highlight reel will feature the Digital Bolex, the new MoVI camera stabilizer, and more! I’m heading down to the show floor as soon as I finish typing this coming exclamation point!

2013 NAB Show – Interview with Digital Bolex Creator Joe Rubinstein – Part 2

Digital Bolex S16 Cinema Camera - cinematography
Digital Bolex S16 Cinema Camera

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 2 of the interview, Joe talks about the software the comes with the Digital Bolex, as well as the workflow for the 2K Cinema DNG files it writes to CF cards.

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 2 of my interview with Joe Rubinstein below.

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Sebastian Wiegaertner Posts DNG frame from BlackMagic Cinema Camera

Frame from a BlackMagic Cinema Camera by cinematographer Sebastian Wiegärtner.
Frame from a BlackMagic Cinema Camera by cinematographer Sebastian Wiegärtner, processed and color-corrected in Adobe Camera RAW by myself.

German cinematographer Sebastian Wiegärtner has posted a link to download a DNG frame from a BlackMagic Cinema Camera. Follow this link to get it. I downloaded the file and opened it in Adobe Camera Raw to play with it, and I have to say that I’m really impressed with the clarity, sharpness, and — most of all — the clean, clean, shadow detail. That alone is making me reconsider waiting to get the BlackMagic Cinema Camera. If I can have a camera with shadows that clean, I may make and exception to my “don’t buy new releases” rule. I still don’t like the fact that it’s Canon EOS mount only, though. I still think that was a mistake. It’s true that the Canon EF mount is the most popular right now, but with Nikon, Panasonic, Sony, and others now fully committed to the cinema game, I think Micro 4/3 would have been a better choice in order to keep all the lens options open.