Blackmagic 4K RAW

780987356554686868_536875219I recently got the chance to play with the newly updated Blackmagic 4K Cinema Camera in its long-awaited “RAW” mode and was impressed with what I saw.  Let’s start at the beginning, with the camera itself.  It’s important to remember that this camera is only $3,000.

PROS:

  • Shoots 4K in a few options (RAW, ProRes 422 HQ) and in 1080p (ProRes 422 HQ)
  • Available in EF and PL mounts
  • Utilizes standard 2.5″ removable SSD drives for media
  • Has a true SDI video out
  • Simple menu display

CONS:

  • Odd form-factor/weight
  • Unusable LCD display (for shooting)
  • 800 ISO max
  • Sharp highlight roll-off
  • Pattern noise (this has been minimized with the new update)

CONCLUSION:  It’s a good little camera that you will need to buy accessories for to make any quality shooting possible.  The image quality is very good, and the price is even better.

One of the things I like about the system is what many say they dislike, its very simple.  Arriflex makes a great camera but not only because of its image quality, but in my opinion it has a lot to do with the body design and simple menu interface, it seems that Blakmagic took some notes from their success.  Again, you have to remember that this camera cost less than a Canon 5D and it allows you to shoot 24p 4k .DNG RAW- and thats pretty impressive.

I was shooting an internet ad for a fantasy football mobile app, and as with most internet projects, the budget was small and the turnaround time was even smaller.  Here is how the Blackmagic worked out for us:

The new software update to the camera allowed for more options than before but all I was really concerned with was the RAW recording option.  After a few hours of tests, we came up with two very simple rules: shoot at 400 iso; and handle highlights as best we can.  What I noticed right away was that the camera didn’t have the best natural roll-off of exposure in the high-end (monitoring in REC709).  It would start to break apart a little after 2+ stops.  And as for the low end, the camera tended to only get noisy in warmer shadow areas.  Those are not unworkable problems, especially when shooting in RAW.  I always chose to base exposure off a monitor in REC 709 color space out straight out of the camera.  Usually, this allows you to see a higher contrast image, so if the camera is holding everything the way you want it to, you have 20% more room on the top-end and bottom-end of exposure in RAW.

The last tool they threw in the box is a complete copy of DaVinci Resolve that bought separately would cost you $1000.  This is a high-end color grading system with a legacy of innovation in its field.  Since Blackmagic’s acquisition, the program has seen many new overhauls, including: handling many different video and RAW formats with full metadata control, format conversion, and transcending options.  It now (in version 11) full online editorial options.

Here is a .DNG frame of a their contrast scene:

combined1

 

 

BLACK SATIN FILTERS: By Tiffen

I recently did a project with a tremendous amount of creature effects as well as one very extensive makeup and prosthetics.  The first concern for the teams is always “How can we make it look more organic?”.  Knowing that we didn’t have the option to shoot film, I opted for the Arri “Alexa”  for a number of reasons but ultimately due to the fact that its image structure and natural falloff is the most “film-like” of all the digital systems I have seen.  However, even with this system it is still limited by the fact that it is an electronic image, everything is sharp and uniform (you dealing with 1’s & 0’s and not randomized organic film grains).  In order to help take the digital “edge” off of HD cameras, cinematographers have done a number of things over the years- the first of which was filtration, but in beginning (2002) the only options available were the classics (Classic soft, Glamour glass, Fog, Soft FX, White/Black Pro-mist, and Netting the back of lenses with pantyhose…).  Another action taken was to shoot with very old lenses- basically the ones you didn’t want to shoot film with because they had lost their sharpness and maybe had an unusually shallow focus.  The last option was to downgrade the image in post (adding “grain”, lowering the sharpness, or adding a layer of diffusion), but we all remember how good the post filter world was back then right?…not the best.

Focusing on filter specifically, we have come a long way.  The glass I mentioned above always seemed to either do way too much or nothing at all, until now.  I got the chance to finally test the new Tiffen Black Satin® filters and was very happy with the results.  The major differences between the these and the former Pro-mist Tiffen line are:

  • The amount of blooming of highlights
  • The absence of mixed contrast fogging
  • The naturalized fine detail smoothing

This is an example I found (I can’t upload any of my film yet, sorry) that shows an example of with and without filtration.  The LEFT frame is filterless and the RIGHT is with a Black Satin 1.

Original-Black-Satin-3What I liked about the filters is their ability to lower the contrast of skin texture without loosing detail in major areas like eyes and hair.  This did very good things for our makeup FX.  Prosthetics and skin blended more harmoniously as did creature FX and puppets.  There is still a little work to be done in the DI to help match everything perfect, but this certainly helped us get very close.  What I would like to do (and hope to do on the next one) is to have these filters fit into rear mount kits for the Alexa system.  So basically an easier, more contemporary version of netting lenses.  I will keep you in the loop on that.

Below is a video example that shows the filters on two different skin pigments as well as with a raw light source.

 

Lens Choice

I came across this test/example someone did to show lens compression and distortion.  I am constantly asked why certain lenses are used for shots and this chart helps to show visually why.  Also, look at the color differences. e4315eb25d608da3dcf848172e4f2928

Phantom FLEX

Every once and in a while I get the chance to shoot some very high-speed footage.  I have worked with the Phantom systems a few times and found that I am a fan of the FLEX mode; however, there are a few things you should know before shooting it.  Some of the things are normal concerns you may already know:

  • Don’t use HMI’s.
  • Don’t shoot wide open.
  • Don’t think little things won’t be noticed.

On my last few jobs, the frame rate we were interested in was between 1000 and 1800 fps.  What I have learned recently is a bit more specific:

  • Don’t use any lamp head under 2,000w.
  • Don’t shoot any wider open than f5.6.
  • Don’t overexpose anything.
  • Don’t shoot any higher frame rate than you need to.
  • Don’t underestimate drive space or time needed to download and check media.

“Don’t use any lamp head under 2,000w.” Normally, quartz or tungsten heads are the go-to for these shoots – but getting the right amount of light you need for bigger shots sometimes requires more than 12k or 24k heads. If you are emulating sunlight fill with quartz lamps outside, its a hard battle to win.  A natural solution would be to go with a multi-head unit like a DINO to get you to a 36k head, maybe even two of them side-by-side to get you to 72k, and from there you could color and shape it.  However, any lamp head that is burning a filament less then 2,000w in size will begin to pulse; and depending on you lamp cycle and luck, your image may see a flicker.  It is more apparent in high-speed digital work than film, but it’s there.  Recently, I have been told about the new Hive plasma lights and that they have been very friendly to high-speed work.

“Don’t shoot any wider open than 5.6.”  This sounds like a rule to live by, but it’s not – its more of a personal preference that will help you stay friends with your camera assistant.  At this high a frame rate, any microsecond of soft focus feels like an eternity.  Most of the time when your shooting 1600fps, the subject you are shooting is doing a quick action or very precise reaction and you would hate to miss any details.  I am always a fan of giving the focus room to breath, e.g. if the action needs 1′ of focus, give it 3′ – maybe the perimeter of the shot will be the most interesting?

“Don’t overexpose anything.” This seems like a no-brainer in the digital realm.  However, you may find yourself in a situation where you simply don’t have the light you need to expose your shot right (some damn shots need a lot of light).  The point I am trying to make here is that the Phantom FLEX camera system actually shoots quite a thick negative on the low-end.  Coming from a film background, this way of thinking is hard to reverse engineer – but it’s true.

“Don’t shoot any higher frame rate than you need to.”  This is more about saving time than anything.  The higher you shoot, the more time and space is needed.  For me, it’s annoying to have to wait longer between takes than I absolutely have to.  Also, the look of footage not shown at its original speed (pushed or pulled) is different.  I know the “Rule of Thumb” is to over-crank shots rather then under-crank, with the thought being that you can always flag frames in order to speed up footage.  However, you will still see post effects of this process (than if it was actually shot at the desired speed).

“Don’t underestimate drive space or time needed to download and check media.”  This is something for  which you need to plan well.  For example, shooting in full resolution @ 720fps for 3.5 seconds (of real time) will create a 32gb clip that will take up to 20 min to be transferred over ethernet to a drive.  Even if you are shooting with Cine-Mags, your storage is extremely limited and slow moving.  I would suggest using the CineMag system, as well as the CineStation mag docking station utilizing a 10GB ethernet connection.  A good thing to plan for is the time you will need to download, save and check footage.  I go into each job telling producers it will take about 8min per second of shot footage (real time) – that usually seem to work out right.

Handling the footage:

The very last thing you will need to be aware of is converting your footage.  You will need software that can handle the camera’s file format of “.cineRAW”.  There are many tools out there that help with the file format conversion, the best known of them being GlueTools for $399 at the pricey end; however, it does have full control of the camera’s original footage (2.5k -720p/color/contrast/ matrix…) Or you could just use the free version of Da Vinci Resolve.  The catch with the free Resolve software is you are limited to a 1080p workflow.  Here is more information on how to do that:

Here are links to projects I have shot on the Phantom FLEX system:

 

Lo-Fi Video

A few weeks ago, I was asked to shoot a project with the idea of looking like it was shot years ago with old public access equipment.  The trick was to find a way to shoot with authentic camera gear but still be able to have footage that would digitize easily.  Randomly, we were presented with seven Panasonic GS320 MiniDV camcorders (circa 2006) from a friend of the director.  This made for a great starting off point.

7cams

The cameras were tiny – I had forgotten just how small MiniDV camcorders were!  This was our formula:

  • Shoot to MiniDV tapes on camera (16:9 / 60i)
  • Shoot in full auto mode (shutter / iris / gain / focus)
  • Set white balance to camera presets: DAY (sun),  INTERIOR (light bulb)

The last pice of the puzzle was to physically shoot like you didn’t know what you were doing (always a funny thing to be asked to do).  The director wanted all the camera actions you would see from a “soccer dad” or or a 90’s skate video (unreasonable zooms / whip pans / shaking / out of focus shots…).  At the end of the day, I think we embraced the “bad” just right.

The last step was to downgrade the footage (even more).  Technically, all the footage was still “Digital” (even in SD) in the timeline, and in order to get some of those fun analogue attributes (bleeding colors / over-under exposure / noise / detail loss…) we had to convert everything.  In my opinion, the only way to get that look right is to dump it off to analogue tape and in our case it was VHS.

We set it up just like a wedding videographer circa 2003:

543685811401617614_536875219

  • Final Cut Pro (via Print to Tape)
  • Firewire 800 out of the MacBook, with an 800 to 400 Firewire cable
  • Into a Canopus ADV110 converter (DV)
  • Out of Canopus converter via analogue connection (Yellow / Red / White)
  • Into a home VCR and onto a VHS tape (SP mode)

Once we laid back to VHS, we simply reversed the pipeline back into the computer, and this is what we got:

 

Iphone apps

A quick word about apps: Like many of you, the only way to get in touch with me is either by cellphone or email; and they both happen get to me almost exclusively on one device that I live and die by… my iPhone.  I normally fancy myself as a bit of a tech geek but when it comes to my phone, I am not the person standing out in front of the Apple store at 5AM.  I have a Iphone 4S and it has done me well.  Here are some tools I use regularly:

 

KODAK  |  Free

kodak

This is an app I use more often than you might think.  I do shoot film on occasion and when I do, the first thing requested by producers is my format of choice and our potential film foot count.  In addition, it also has a simple DOF calculator, a sunrise/set chart, lab contacts and a format and aspect ratio display (good for when you’re trying to explain safety room and film waste).

 

SUN SEEKER  |  $6.99

sun

This is sort of a no-brainer.  Their are other apps out there that are good, but I have always had luck with this one and it s not too pricey.  This is literally the first thing I pull out on a location scout to see how much my grip team is going to hate me.  The good thing, however, is that this app will show you a complete trajectory path of the sun as well as a timeline.  Good for knowing when you’re going to have to make them build another 12′ x 12′ frame or not.

 

LIGHT METER  |  Free

light

So this is not to replace my trusty spot and incident by any stretch.  However, it is shockingly accurate.  I have used this app a few times on location to look at ambient light levels, check intensity of natural sunlight through windows or floor bounce, etc.

 

 

GOPRO  |  Free

goproOn almost every project I do, someone wants to add a GoPro camera in some place.  The trick is being able to see and control it because inevitably, if you don’t check and manage it, the shot will be great and the quality will be terrible… but they’ll use it anyway.  Good to have it at the ready.

 

 

TRUE DOF  |  Free

cinema

Camera assistants have it pretty rough these days.  With as much resolution as some of these cameras and monitors have, even the tinniest bit of soft focus it noticeable.  I am not a big fan of closeups that have one pupil in focus and the other out- to me it looks like an accident (DP forgot to light or pick a decent lens).  This app is very simple to use and an easy to understand DOF chart to help you control your depth of focus.  With digital cameras that have a base ISO of 800 or even 2000, this should never be a problem.

MY RADAR  |  Free

wheather

You can check the weather all you want the day before a shoot but from my experience, I have learned to never bet on the weather doing what you want it to do.  You can’t control it, but you can keep yourself informed and maybe even ahead of it – or at least that’s the intent.  This app is very simple and pretty accurate (I have used it all over the country).

 

ARTEMIS  |  $29.00

artam

I always prefer a true lens finder, but if you’re on a scout, this is a good thing to have to show people what you’re thinking of as far as framing – as well as to help you pick your lens size / support package.  It’s not the cheapest app but it is one of the more accurate ones and that could mean the difference between getting the shot everyone wants… or not.

 

PHOTOSYNTH  |  Free

photosy

This one is more helpful to me than just taking location stills.  Sometimes it isn’t so much what is in the frame thats the hard part, but rather what is just outside it, for example: if a location has a skylight that the location scout didn’t mention; immovable machinery on one side of the room: or my favorite: the daytime shots of nighttime street locations that don’t show the whole set.

 

MOVES  | Free

moves

Moves has become almost an addiction for me.  After a bunch of complaints about my feet hurting,  my wife told me to get this app.  She wanted to see just how much I walk around on set each day.  The results were crazy.  Now I try to make sure I am at least hitting a decent exercise level but I also  make sure I don’t overdue it.  Making a film is like an endurance trial: a steady pace wins the race.

 

 

New Angenieux 4.7x / 12x


In December 2013, I got an email from my agent about a film that was in preproduction by long time comedy writer and comedian Jordan Rubin.  This was to be his directorial debut.  Right out of the gate, I was told that the film was intended to bring back the good ol’ fashioned 80’s creature horror picture – full of dumb teens, funny one-liners, mechanical effects, and of course puppets!  I was instantly interested.  One of the first things Jordan and I talked about was how we would go about making the film look and feel as big and as authentic as possible, not just in size and scale but also in the details and energy of each frame.  We took a lot of notes from titles we both grew up watching and tied together a list of visuals that was full of throwback homage shots, genre motifs and classic misdirections.  We had been told straight off that our acquisition needed to be digital due to effects and post workflow – so with that in mind, I chose to stick with my digital friend the Arriflex “Alexa”. I have been a fan of both the latitude range and naturalistic detail of the Alexa system and its ArriRAW workflow for many years.  To capture the ArriRAW image, we opted for the smaller Convergent Designs “Gemini” recorder system.  The film itself only had 21 days of principal photography scheduled, so speed and accuracy were key. I think it is fair to say I am a fan of shooting on zooms.  It allows me and the director the chance to be versatile and expedient, and in the indie world that is worth its weight in gold.  I am very partial to the lightweight 15-40mm and 28-76mm Optimo zooms; they can almost always be found mounted on at least one of the cameras on my sets (film or digital) in addition to the classic 12x 24-290mm Optimo.  It is because of my long history with Angenieux that I was very happy to test the new 19.5-94mm and 28-340mm Optimo zooms. On every movie I do, I always have my trusted 12x Optimo for everything from long lens wides to 250mm snap zooms. So with that, I will focus specifically on the new 28-340mm Optimo 12x.

Right away you notice a dramatic sharpness and contrast that for us was key. The lens is marked well and has almost no breathing (even at its widest).  This, along with its wide aperture, allowed us to keep the lens working day and night.  One of the main tests I wanted to do on the lenses was to see how well they took to flaring.  In the film, we did everything from shine flashlights down the barrel to shooting across backlit water on a lake.  All of it handled great – no fogging or color shift, just sharp high contrast imagery.  My grip team soon became fans as well.

The 4.7x Optimo zoom quickly became an asset to us.  The range was fantastic and the lens allowed us to shoot everything from establishing shots to close coverage, all off of one lens.  Again, its sharpness was on par with our set of Cooke S4’s and the saturations and contrast matched spot on.  Honestly, I had not used the original 4.7x Optimo much, but now I think that I may have been missing out.  This is a great zoom with a very useful size and range.


These two zooms took care of all our studio-style work and the lightweight Optimos (15-40 / 28-76) cleaned up all our kinetic camera work (handheld/steadicam/water work).  Angenieux will always have a place onset with me regardless of shooting format.  I am happy to have had the opportunity to test these two lenses.

2perf 35mm

I am a celluloid fan and it will always hold a place in my heart.  I still shoot film when I can and have researched many ways to still make 35mm a real option for feature films – and this how I found 2perf.

The quick overview: this format allows you the opportunity to shoot a 35mm size negative at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
Basically, you shoot the bare minimum amount of film area that fits a cinematic projection format. This allows the camera to double the amount of run time per film roll compared to traditional 4perf 35mm cameras.  The indie benefit to all this is simply getting more bang for your buck (half price on stock, half on processing and half on scanning).  Of course, these savings come with a few risks as well.  Firstly, you have absolutely no wiggle room in your framing.  What you see in the eyepiece is what you will have on the negative – any dirt or film shavings in the gate will make noticeable silhouettes debut.  Secondly, there are a limited number of cameras available throughout the country, as it is not a very common camera format.

2-perf

In 2008, I was asked to shoot a low budget independent film, Charlie Valentine.  The director (Jesse Johnson) and I definitely knew we wanted to shoot film but really didn’t want to settle for super16mm due to the limited budget – so I looked for another option.  I had heard rumors of a few 2perf (Technoscope) cameras floating around the country but most of them were either antique Kinor 35’s or old retrofitted Moviecam’s or Arri BL’s. We needed a better option.  After catching a tip, I called up my friends at Panavision and asked them if they ever retrofitted any of their “Platinum” or “Gold II” bodies and it turned out the tip was right.  Panavision UK converted two “Gold II” movements in the late 90’s for a few Italian projects; and since then, the cameras had been sitting on the warehouse shelves. The GII is not my first or even my second camera of choice from the PV family but it has always been reliable with an effective body, so we were glad to take them off their hands.  The bodies were sent across the pond and right into the back of a truck headed to Las Vegas for a film test.

Having been a longtime Panavision user, I was very familiar with the less than smooth working relationship of Fuji film stock and PV gates, but on this movie every penny counted and Fuji, of course, had the lowest bid.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about Fuji, I am actually quite fond of Fuji stock.  I was just simply nervous about the forgiveness of our 2perf size frame and any film shavings.  There is not much more heartbreaking on a project than seeing that “hair” flick into the frame of the best take of the setup.  At the end of the test I learned two things: 1) never underestimate the time it takes to drive to Las Vegas on a Thursday and 2) Fuji and Panavision were going to play just fine together.

The cameras were literally the same age I was and this film ran all of us hard: handheld, steadicam, cranes, dollies, car rigs, and even helicopters – but we all came out at the end happy.

 

Above is a trailer for the Charlie Valentine film mentioned.

 

A couple of films later (2010), I got the invite to head out east to Rochester, NY to a film entitled After. This was another film where we utilized the 2perf format.  By this time, the new Aaton “Penelope” was available but almost nobody had one AND most assistants and loaders shuddered at the idea of shooting 35mm Aaton again!  So, I got on the horn with Panavision (again!) and had the bodies shipped out to the NYC office. But this time I had them install the movements into PV “Platinum” camera bodies.  We shot Kodak on this project (naturally – being in Rochester and all) and had the privilege of running all of our footage through the home Eastman Kodak lab. Evidently, we were the only ones to have ever done that. Even in the bitter cold of December in the snow belt, the “Platinum” and Kodak did great.

Today there are many options for this format. Almost every film camera company has a 2perf movement for their contemporary camera models.  Recently, I was testing a 2perf Arricam LT package from Clairmont Camera (pictured below).  Arricam is hands-down my favorite 35mm system (ST & LT) and I love that I know where I can get at least two of them in this format.

TIPS:
• Use Kodak stock over Fuji film when you can.
• Shoot a ground-glass test and confirm its accuracy before principal photography.
• Check the gate for “hairs” after every setup.
• Avoid “roll-outs” on mags.

• Make sure your vender has more than one camera in a 2perf movement.

CAMERA VENDORS
Panavision (Platinum / Gold II)
Clairmont Camera (Arricam / Moviecam)
Abel Cine (Aaton)
Fletcher (Arricam)
Infamous (Moviecam)

CATHERINE and the PANASONIC SDX900

What you see here is a 2003 Panasonic SDX900 recording at 60i, going out SDI standard definition 480i 16×9 to an AJA up-converter to 1080p and finally into a AJA Ki Pro Mini recorder to be recorded at 1080 30p.  Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but it was the only way that we were going to be able to get our accurate vintage look, shoot tapeless and preserve a 1080p image resolution for deliverable (confirmed by my friends at VER).  What the hell did we do all of it for? Good question…

sdx

A number of months ago, a friend of mine came to me with the idea to do a web series that would emulate the look and feel of early 1990’s professional digital video.  He had already done a lot of research into the vintage format, including the short-lived Sony HDVS.  After a lot of searching (and a lack of options), we decided to go with a “newer” system. Basically, we didn’t want to run the risk of only having one functioning camera in town (in case it blew up).  We also didn’t want to have to deal with tape and all it entails for post; and we didn’t want to be limited on camera accessories and monitoring options on set.  The last things we added to the mix were classic Fujinon 13x 4.5mm zoom and 1/4 BPM filter overall.

The series was a satire comedy called CATHERINE for JASH TV.