Sony has some really nice presentations at NAB this year. I enjoyed the presentation by Dave Stump, ASC, about futureproofing your film and the new workflow for upcoming color standards in cinematography, specifically, working in ACES, color space comparisons, and more. Very cool stuff.
The big eye-catcher for the Sony booth was their huge 4K HDR LED display, which was, in a word, gorgeous. The photo doesn’t do it justice.
And of course, Sony had all of their goodies on display for our enjoyment and envy. There was a lot of opportunity to handle the gear and get familiar with it.
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.
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 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?
I have to admit, I’m rather excited about the new Panasonic DVX200 4K 4/3″ sensor camera. Meant to be the “successor” to the legendary DVX100, the DVX200 is designed and priced to make big waves. Since it’s designed/intended to be a companion camera to the new Panasonic Varicam 35 4K, I would also expect it to have damned impressive image quality. Panasonic claims 12 stops of latitude. It does not have in interchangeable lens mount, but the built-in 13X Leica Dicomar 4K lens should be just fine for almost any shooting situation that this camera is intended for.
It’s definitely designed as a hand-held run-and-gun camera; lightweight and easy to handle. I can’t wait to try one in the field. Here’s what we know about it so far:
12 stops of latitude
4K/60p max frame rate
Leica Dicomar 4K 13X zoom lens with f/2.8 aperture
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.
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…
On Monday, I ventured down to Padre Island and Corpus Christi, Texas, to shoot some b-roll for a documentary project I’m doing this summer. I also wanted to take the opportunity to test out a couple of cameras: the new Panasonic AJ-PX270 P2 AVC-Ultra small-body broadcast camera, and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, configured with a Century Optics 1.32X B4-to-Super16 converter and a Canon HD 18X ENG zoom lens.
I’m more impressed with the PX270 every time I shoot with it. My last 1/3″ cam was the Panasonic HPX170, which was a great camera – for certain applications – but the PX270 is so much better, it’s usable in many more situations than the HPX170 was. To begin with, the picture is way better. The dynamic range and sharpness is greatly improved, as is the highlight roll-off, especially. Out of the box, the PX270 had a crappy image (over-sharp, gritty, and flat) because of the way the camera is set up from the factory, but after I spent a little time dialing in and customizing the picture by creating my own scene file, it became superb.
The PX270 is the first small body camera in the Panasonic line that is AVC-Ultra equipped (AVC-Ultra is what Panasonic is calling its group of professional AVC codecs; there is no codec called AVC-Ultra). AVC-Ultra codecs include AVC-Intra 100 & 200 (upgradable option), AVC-Intra 50, & AVC-LongG 50/25/12. It also shoots in good old DVCProHD if you need it to. The PX270 also features many more professional menu options and picture/color tweaking capabilities than any previous small body Panasonic. I think it actually has the same menu structure and options as the new AJ-PX5000 2/3″ shoulder cam, which lists for about $25K, sans glass. The PX270 was intended to be used as a companion to the PX5000 if needed, and I can easily see how the quality could keep up with the big brother. The PX270 really is a broadcast-quality camera.
Check out the front page of Blackmagic’s site for a pleasant surprise: the price of the Pocket Cinema Camera has been slashed from 995.00 to 495.00, until Aug. 31, 2014. That’s quite a savings indeed, and the price slash conforms to BMD’s habit of offering up surprise discounts on their cameras. Although, the odd thing about this is that the price drop is only temporary; before, the price drop on camera models has been permanent. That makes me wonder if BMD is planning on announcing the next version of the pocket cinema camera at the end of this summer. I sure hope so. I’m crossing my fingers for 4K!
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.’
After some delay, I’m finally posting links to the spots we produced for the law office of Thomas J Henry that aired during the Super Bowl. This was a fun shoot, for which yours truly was the director of photography and also colorist.
Principal photography lasted four days, and we shot on two Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras, which were awesome. I love the small form factor of the BMPCC, which makes it superb for hand-held and run-and-gun work, especially when mated with my Zeiss MkI Super Speeds, a small Vocas matte box, and the superb wood/metal grips from iKan. The camera feels like a natural extension of my hand, and I can shoot all day without any noticeable fatigue in my arms or hands. I can’t say that when shooting with a RED rig or a big ENG camera.
In addition to handling great, the BMPCC also puts out superior 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW color, and I adore the Super-16 size imager. It’s a great format; large enough to afford shallow depth-of-field when you want it (especially with the T1.3 Super Speeds, which are nice and sharp wide-open), but small enough to maintain critical focus while on the run.
Speaking of the imager, it is sharp. Seriously sharp. Like 1000 TV lines sharp. When shooting RAW with good glass, it seems like you could actually cut yourself on the footage. Unfortunately, this extreme sharpness also means that moire is an issue occasionally, but I have to have it be a problem after the footage has been graded and exported to ProRes. When all is said and done, the BMPCC moires less than any DSLR I’ve ever used, so there’s that.
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.