Tag Archives: movies

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.

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.’

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.

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.

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. 🙂

Photos From Set

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

I love to support local filmmakers, especially students and those just starting out on their independent film careers. Last night, Branden, a friend and local film student, needed some help with a camera yesterday to finish shooting some scenes for his current film project, so I brought over my Samurai and AF100 for he and his crew to use. While I was there, I snapped a few pics for fun.

Mandy B. in makeup.
Mandy B. in makeup, ready for a scene with Branden.

The very talented Lawrence Mercado (http://notbotfx.com) was on hand to make up the lead actress to look like she’d been abused, and I must say Lawrence outdid himself. What an amazing job! The best part of the story is that she had to walk into a Walmart after the shoot, looking like that, because she needed to get makeup remover. Unfortunately, none of us had a GoPro to stick on her for that so we could record people’s reactions!

 

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.