Blackmagic Cinema Camera Review
The landscape is changing rapidly. The launch of the BlackMagic Cinema Camera back in April was unexpected to say the least. Ok so its an unusual looking camera but before you read too much into some of the talk online….. I want to share my experience with the camera and how I'm working with it in real world shooting situations.
I've shot 2 projects on the camera now. My first outing was while I flew to Amsterdam for IBC 2012 and I literally shot a bit of b-roll from the airport and aircraft.
So upon my return I went out for a few hours to a seaside town called Southwold on the East coast of England.
I've been to a few of these places recently and they all have a certain character. The most noticeable thing is the rows of beach huts that adorn the edge of the promenade. These huts can sell for as much as £70,000 thats over $100,000 - astonishing and I'm not sure I rely get it - but such is the eccentricity of the English.
So became my theme for my short test film on the BMCC. What fascinates me are the range of 'Characters' that frequent these seaside towns. Now the weather was partly cloudy/sunny and it was not exactly t-shirt weather. Yet people were sunbathing, playing on the beach and even swimming in the North Sea. While other were dressed in coats and jumpers eating fish and chips and ice cream.
So I spent around 3 hours shooting mostly the life as it passed me by.
Camera Set Up
I was using a cage from Bebob that is a neat solution for this kind of shooting. It has a long dovetail plate that attaches to the tripod and this slides offering you the option of adjusting your centre if gravity depending on what lenses you are using. The cage is nice, lightweight and versatile since it is universal cage. So with a bridge plate you can use DSLRs from Canon and Nikon as well as C300, FS100, FS700 F3 etc so a nice option if you own or use multiple cameras.
The other key consideration is power- now my view on the internal battery that it's a great backup and ideal if you want to shoot in a tight space with no accessorie for short periods- outside of this you do need a power solution. I used the Bebob V- lock battery adaptor and what I liked about this is that you can position it in 3 different ways. Vertically, horizontally and at a 45 degree angle. Additionally there are 4 hi-rose outputs and you can chose to output 7.2v or 8.4v as well as a D Tap. If you use the Bebob V-Lock batteries you can plug an additional D-Tap into the battery itself (useful if you want to plug in their LED toplight)
Finally I found the Lanc controller very useful. This allowed me to start/stop recording from the pan bar of the tripod which allowed me to shoot very quickly indeed.
I want to dispel the myth that because the sensor size is smaller than Super 35mm that you can't get wide shots. This is rubbish. True the sensor is micro 4rds but in practice this is larger than Super 16mm and slightly smaller than Super 35mm. The whole notion of Full Frame DSLR is only really relevant DSLR film making. So to get wide I bought a Sigma 8-16mm f4.5 lens. It was not especially expensive and with the 2.3 x crop factor you end up with and equivalent field of view of 18.3mm-36.8mm which is wide enough for most applications. On the flip side if you use a Canon 70-200mmm lens you are getting an equivalent field of view of 161mm- 460mm at f2.8.
So the lenses I used in this test shoot were*: • Canon 70-200mm IS L series • Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L series • Sigma 8-16 mm • Heliopan Variable ND filter
• Miller Compass 20 Tripod • Bebob Universal Cage • bebob V-Lock Power adaptor c/w Bebob L-95 Batts • Bebob Lanc controller
*I've just upgraded my Zeiss CP.2 to Canon EF mount and have a Matte box on loan from Chrosziel to sets shooting with these lovely lenses so I'll be bringing you that when I plan a shoot with them.
I'm relatively new to shooting and handling RAW files. But worry not, as it's a piece of cake. So what RAW capture is doing is taking 25 individual still frames in the Cinema DNG format.(or whatever framerate you have selected) so when you open the file you will see lots of still images and an audio track. Don't be alarmed when first open a RAW DNG file because it will look nasty and you may freak out that you've completely goofed your exposure. Not so. Once you open the CinemaDNG files in DaVinci Resolve- they will display properly.
Exposure There are 12 bits of colour depth when shooting RAW so to put that into perspective:
- 8 bit - 256 steps of gradation in colour between black and white
- 10 bit - 1024 steps of gradation in colour between black and white
- 12 bit - 4096 steps of gradation in colour between black and white
That means that 12 bit acquisition is recording 16X more information than 8bit...and that is significant especially when color grading.
This means that the sensor is capturing a huge amount of range - and the camera responds well when there is a lot of light - so for anyone who has ever shot negative film - this responds in a similar way. This is counter intuitive for video because we always tend to protect the highlights in video and if anything under expose slightly as most of the information is held in the shadow areas of the scene.
So I was exposing for my skin tones and shadows (depending on the scene) and letting my highlight blow slightly. This takes some getting used to but trust me it works. I enabled zebras and I set them to 95% so when they crept in I knew what parts of the scene were 'hot' and could judge whether or not to let them go. There is currently no histogram or waveform monitor in the camera but we I have requested this and am confident that this will be enabled at some point in a future firmware upgrade. From talking to the camera designers one of the key strengths of this system is that it's software based and so literally anything is possible with firmware. This means that they can add Codec's and additional functionality just by writing the code.
My next test will be using a monitor with a waveform to critically test exposure in both RAW and ProRes.
Shooting in daylight, the screen was hard to work from- it's great when the ambient light is low but otherwise this was a challenge. So I reverted to old school jumper over the head like some photographer from the 19th century woking on a large format plate camera.
Now while I may have looked silly I actually rather enjoyed this isolation from the rest of the world. It enabled me to really concentrate on exposure and framing and although not ideal, it worked.
I'm waiting on my new Marshall 7" superbright to arrive and I'll be giving that a go to compare- also that monitor has a built in Waveform (I first talked about these excellent monitors at Cinegear .) Also Zacuto have just enabled a firmware update that means I can now use my EVF with the camera when plugged into a Blackmagic battery SDI-HDMI adaptor. It's a bit of a pain adding another box but a much cheaper option than buying a new EVF altogether.
You will appreciate that if you are going to work with 12 bit RAW then there will be a little bit more work to do in post- But i think it's worth it for the right project. And remember if you want to lessen the load in post just shoot ProRes in camera- it's still very very good.
So here's my workflow.
Import CinemaDNG to resolve (Lite will work so, no need to install the ful version l unless you want to - just bear in mind you will need the USB Dongle if you install the full version) I've gone for Lite on my MacbookPro and full on my iMac.
I'm working on an iMac 3.4GHZ i7 with 24Gb of RAM (although I only had 12 when I cut the Southwold film so don't stress if you have less RAM as the processing is mostly done using the cores and graphics card. My iMac has a 2TB ATI Radeon Graphic card. I am using a Promise Pegasus R6 12TB Thunderbolt Raid that I have configured Raid 6 which gives me dual disc redundancy and they are stripped so I get speed & data security, but this reduces the capacity down to 8TB of useable storage.
Once my DNG have been loaded I then do a first light grade - which is simply basic correction. Then I export my files to ProRes Proxy for edit.
I then imported the ProRes Proxy into FCP X and did my edit. Once happy I exported an XML from FCPX. Closed FCPX then open Resolve. Open the project with the original DNG's and then import the XML I created in FCP X - this then relinks the XML to the original DNG's and so when you grade you are working back on the DNG files with the full colour space and RAW files at 2.5K resolution (which means with a frame size of 2432 x 1336 - you have some scope for resizing and image crop as required)
Grading on DaVinci resolve is really cool, but there is a learning curve. We have to remember how powerful Resolve is. Many Hollywood feature films have been graded on Resolve and now we have the full power for free……Yes FREE… amazing.
But just because it is free does not mean it's easy….don't get me wrong, it's not a tough learn but you will need to invest some time to really get to grips with it.
But nothing that is ever worthwhile is easy…but trust me it is worth it and when you start to get your head around it - it will blow your mind just how much you can push the RAW workflow. This is seriously creative tool.
I don't mind admitting I am absolutely loving what you can do in Resolve - my only frustration is my own impatience at learning all the shortcuts and tricks….( I have created some basic get started tutorials here….http://www.fstopacademy.com/blog/color-grading-101-with-davinci-resolve-9/)
Grading is quickly becoming my new passion - it's like lighting in post and I highly recommend watching my tutorials and giving it a go. It's a very creative process and one you can spend hours perfecting.
Finally my Grade Inspiration
My whole approach to this film was to explore the English Eccentricity of a day at the seaside - in October…. so when it came too the grade I wanted to find some visual inspiration. So I started to search the internet for 1970's seaside images and while searching came across these stills that became the basis for my grade.
I ultimately was going for a 'days gone by' transparency film feel. My Dad used to show us slides when we were kids and the colors always stuck in my mind. I was looking to recreate the AGFA or Kodak transparencies from the 1970's…. now it was not that I was trying too replicate this look exactly but rather just draw some inspiration from it.
I stuck all of my select's for reference into a file in Evernote and had it up on my laptop next to my main machine so I could keep referencing them. I think you can import still intso Resolve, but I haven;t figured that out yet.
Mostly I pushed the sea toward green and the sky also. I then wanted to add a hint of green to the sand and promenade. I desaturated everything by between 10-20% and added varying degrees of a vignette to each frame.