Cameras

The Black & Blue has just released a refresh of their Digital Cinema Pocket Guides, and this update is awesome. It includes twenty pocket reference guides with all the essential info a shooter or camera assistant needs to know about cameras like the Alexa, Epic, C300, FS700, Miro, to name a few.

In addition to answering common FAQ’s like picture style recommendations and format/framerate options, the guides also include really essential reference info like battery life in various modes, and media speed requirements and runtime. There are so many cameras and options out there these days, it’s very difficult to commit all this info to memory. These guides are a great way to stay up to date on what each camera system is capable of, and common best practices for each.

These PDF guides are designed to print perfectly onto a single sheet of paper, and are also formatted to work well on a tablet/iPad. I’ll keep them on my iPhone. They are released on a donation basis, with the suggested amount at $7 USD. In my opinion, that’s a bargain. Get some.

It’s finally here, the ProTune update is officially out for GoPro HD Hero2 cameras. It was first announced back at NAB 2012. The biggest upgrade is the addition of the 24p framerate and 35Mbps data rate, both which are long overdue and welcome upgrades for professional users. Here’s a little more info from the press release:

GoPro Protune is a free firmware upgrade for existing customers and can be downloaded from the GoPro web site or by simply synching the GoPro HERO2 with GoPro CineForm Studio software, which is also available as a free download. For more information, please visit http://gopro.com/software-app/cineform-studio/

GoPro Protune: Optimized for Professional Production Pipelines
The GoPro Protune firmware upgrade adds key features critical for high end film and television broadcast productions, including:
24fps frame rate, enabling GoPro HERO2 content to be easily intercut with other sources without a frame rate conversion
35Mbps data rate for the industry’s highest quality compressed image with virtually zero artifacts
Neutral colour profile, allowing for greater flexibility in a colour correction workflow
Log curve encoding, offering more detail in shadows and highlights
Reduced sharpening and noise reduction for improved flexibility in professional post- production and colour design workflows

Protune Integration with GoPro CineForm Studio: GoPro Protune mode makes integration with GoPro CineForm Studio simple, automatically detecting Protune settings and applying the default adjustments to create stunning images. The workflow is further enhanced by a variety of color tuning presets, or ‘looks’ that further enhance the filmmakers’ story.

Using Protune with GoPro CineForm Studio Premium and GoPro CineForm Studio Professional provides additional benefits, offering extensive color correction controls and customisable presets to create professional, cinematic looks from the GoPro HERO2 captured content. Non-destructive 3D LUTs provide even more flexibility, enabling users to further tweak their images, manipulate saturation and contrast and color correction controls to create highly stylized content.

I had the opportunity to work with DP Brian Weed during our Cine Gear 2012 coverage. Brian operated the FS100 that we shot all our interviews with, and he did a great job. Recently, Brian shared some excellent CP picture profiles for the Canon C300. He’s taken the stock Canon CINE, LOG, and EOS STD picture settings, and tweaked them to better retain color.

The result are image settings for the C300 that accomplish much of what the stock picture profiles do (very good things like low contrast and good highlight retention in the case of the CINE and LOG profiles), but with an improved color palette that requires less massaging in the color grading process. Brian has dubbed these TRUvid2, TRUcine, and TRUlog. He posted a couple examples in a gallery here, and he’s given us permission to host an archive of the three profiles in a zip archive here. If you wish to give them a try, here’s how you load them onto a C300:

* Download and extract the .CPF files.
* Copy to a SD card that has been freshly formatted in the C300. CPF files go into the C_PICT folder, which is under the master private folder. (You’ll see this directory structure after you format the SD card in the C300 and plug it into your computer…if you don’t see it, you can manually create the folder structure).
* Insert the SD card into the camera, and either use the CP’s directly from the SD card, or copy them onto your camera under the OTHERS menu.

I recently shot a spot with director Jesse Rosten on location in Mexico. It was a doco-style commercial shot on the C300, and after some testing we decided on using Brian’s TRUlog CP for everything. It worked great. I really like the look of it, and I’ll likely use that profile again in the future. After we wrapped the shoot, I took a few minutes to shoot some quick & dirty comparison frames with a color chart, so you can quickly see how the different settings affect the image on the C300. I’m embedding a short video clip of those frames below. Since this is hosted on Vimeo and has been compressed, please consider it only a rough comparison of how the colors differ for each setting. You can also download the original source files (531MB), if you wish to view them at original quality and push and pull on them a bit in your grading tool of choice.

Canon C300 Color Profile Comparisons – TRU vs Stock from FreshDV on Vimeo.

Technical notes:
These DSC Labs Chroma Du Monde 28 color chart frames were all shot on the same lens (a Contax 50/1.4) at the C300′s baseline 850 ISO setting and 180-degree shutter. The chart was lit with a daylight-balanced fluorescent soft light, the camera was set to the Daylight white balance preset, and the light level on the chart remained constant throughout the test. The stop on the lens varied from f/4 to a f/5.6-f/8 split, as each color profile significantly affects how the camera responds to light. I exposed “to the right” in all cases, pushing the highlights up to their max level, just below clipping on a 100% zebra. This is not necessarily the only way to test these profiles, but works reasonably well for my purposes assuming a somewhat uncontrolled shooting environment. For more reading, Adam Wilt has some standard gamma comparisons done a little differently here. I have also included quick-n-dirty snapshots of the C300′s waveform display for each chart frame, to show roughly where each CP sits on the scale. The original source files linked above are XF files straight off the C300 CF card. The Vimeo video was output by Compressor, and originated from ProRes 422 files created via FCP7 Log & Transfer of the original source files.

Over at Pro Video Coalition, DP Art Adams has an interesting article entitled Why Zacuto’s Latest Camera Test May Have Screwed Us All.” While he seems to appreciate the extensive effort that went into the latest Zacuto camera shootout, Adams objects pretty strongly to how it was presented. His concern is that average layperson will draw some very skewed conclusions from the test; conclusions that will make the life of a DP harder. It’s a valid point, and I recommend reading the article, as Adams clearly lays out his arguments. Here’s a few quotes that are quite telling:

“…the best way to make the test completely unfair to cinematographers is to do everything possible to make sure the test makes every camera look good.”

“…what are you to make of the fact that the iPhone’s lighting setup took a half hour of tweaking while the GH2’s setup took 20 minutes longer to place three fewer lights? Does this tell you anything about how the camera functions? Not at all, because while fewer lights were used they took longer to place. Is this because of the camera’s limited contrast or the taste of the DP? I have no idea.”

“This was not a camera test. This was a DP test.”

“The one thing this test shows us is that, under extremely controlled lighting circumstances and a post production budget of 30 minutes per shot…these cameras can be made to look similar to each other.”

For me, Art’s article subtitle sums things up pretty well: “Does a GH2 really look as good as an F65? Only if you have the budget and time to make it so. Sadly this test doesn’t emphasize the latter as much as the former.” That is the key issue at hand, in my opinion…framing and context.

I’ve had conversations with the guys doing the tests, and I believe that they did this test with the best of intentions. I believe that they honestly wanted to show that with care and attention, there are myriad camera systems on the market today that are suitable for use (on some level) in production. And I think that they accomplished that. I thank them for their hard work, and I think there is information to be gleaned, and value to what they’ve done.

However, I think that without very carefully framing what the results mean, without making that ridiculously, absurdly obvious, a website like Gizmodo is going to write headlines like “The Best Video Camera Revealed in Shootout.” Best at what, exactly? Under what circumstances? In the hands of whom? It distills the debate down to a single talking point. And complex topics distilled down to one-liners is disingenuous and dangerous. As shooters that deal with the quirks and issues of different camera systems every day, we have to be diligent to correct those distortions that the layperson is bound to make. The next time that someone asks you “What is the best camera?”, your first response should be to ask them “For what?” Without that critically important context informing your answer, you may as well be throwing darts blindfolded.

UPDATE: A passionate response from Zacuto’s Steve Weiss in the comments below, and some very interesting discussion between Steve and Mitch Gross over at DVXuser. Also check out Ryan Walters’ scene cost analysis of each camera in the shootout (about halfway down the page). Good reads for those interested in the discussion.

Sony FS700 Dynamic Range Charts

Over at ProVideoCoalition, DP Art Adams has posted a series of dynamic range charts that show how the Sony NEX FS700 performs in it’s various cine gamma modes. Lots of good info there that should help guide FS700 shooters to best exploit this camera’s capabilities. You’ll find the FS700 charts on page 2 of Art’s article.

Interesting things that stuck out to me, in no particular order (these are my notes):

* If you’re seeking the maximum possible dynamic range on this camera, choose Cine 4 Gamma. This will net you about five stops of overexposure latitude (over 18% gray), which is roughly 12 stops of range on the chart. Impressive for a camera that retails for under $8,000. In this mode, the gamma goes to 109%.

* Cine 1 Gamma clips data at 104%, so set your highlight zebras at that or below!

* Cine 2 Gamma clips highlight data at 100% (intended for broadcast/live shoots, I imagine)…again, check your zebras.

Mars Rover Curiosity’s 17 Cameras

Nice article over at Wired about the photo and video systems on the Mars Rover Curiosity.

Abel Cine and Vision Research are running a very interesting challenge/contest. Abel is accepting proposals and scripts for the Miro High-Speed Inspiration Challenge, and if they like your idea, four finalists will have a week to shoot their short. Those finished pieces will be judged, and the winner will walk away with a shiny new Phantom Miro M320S high-speed camera. They’ll train you on it as well. Secondary prizes include certificates for $10,000 in Abel Cine rentals.

We are looking for creative applications of high-speed that are enabled by the Miro’s capabilities. Proposals for Miro projects will be judged on their creativity, unique use of ultra high-speed and relevance to the distinctive features of the camera.

The goal is to create high-speed imagery we haven’t seen before (balloon pops need not apply). This challenge is open to image-makers and artists from all disciplines, and we strongly encourage new and aspiring content producers to submit their ideas.

Applications must be submitted by September 16, 2012 using our online form, which also has complete details on the submission package.

Completed projects should be 3-6 minutes in length, and shot entirely on the Miro; however, the entire piece does not need to be in high-speed.

This looks like a great opportunity for filmmakers with great ideas that need some help putting them into motion. Good luck!

We dropped by to check out the 4K FT-One slow motion camera from FOR-A. One of the interesting notes I picked up from this interview is the fact that the FT-ONE camera has a global CMOS shutter, which means it would not be subject to CMOS skew, jello, and flash-frames. Watch below…

More info at www.for-a.com

Right after the Canon 5D MKIII was released, Planet5D helped to shoot a short narrative film, entitled Incident on Marmont Ave. They wanted to make a strong narrative story on the new Canon 5D MKIII camera, instead of another camera test. The end result is a fantastic narrative story, and I love that they are sharing information on the budget and shooting challenges.

Our project is directly aimed at DSLR filmmakers who are shooting on lower budgets frequently. We designed the entire project to meet the budget, time frame and actual considerations that lower budget filmmakers have for their projects. This is a group that is deeply committed to a high quality final image but wants the lower price tag and flexibility of a DSLR.
We will be publishing our actual shooting budget (below the line) and will be talking about the real hard costs of shooting on DSLR cameras, demonstrating equipment we used on the shoot and outlining the entire process of planning to shoot with a DSLR through post-production. At the end, we will have a concrete answer of why using a DSLR is the perfect solution and will show the results they can expect to get when shooting with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

The short film is about 15 minutes long, and is just damn solid filmmaking. It’s an engaging and gripping story, I recommend you check this one out. They’ll also be posting BTS videos in the coming weeks.

Here’s a few Sony FS700 footage examples and tests from Abel Cine and Frank Glencairn. The FS700 is an update to the FS100, and in addition to a new higher-resolution sensor, it offers built-in Neutral Density filters, a much-improved top and side handle with rosette, PMW-F3 CineGamma modes for better clipped highlight rolloff, full-resolution slow-motion up to 240fps (low res up to 960fps), proper progressive output via HDMI, and an HD-SDI output.

Andy Shipsides over at Abel Cine just posted a bunch of tests with the FS700, including some comparisons with the FS100. He charted the dynamic range at around 11 to 11.5 stops, which matches what the FS100 will do. If you watch the candle test comparison with the FS100, you’ll see that the addition of CineGamma modes from the PMW-F3 has helped how the highlights roll off on the FS700. On the 100, you can often get what looks like a “video clip,” that is to say when highlights clip, there is a visible line between what is clipped and what is still held by the sensor. You can see this type of highlight clipping in a Brantley Gilbert live music video I shot for Anthem Pictures…the venue used LED lights that not only clipped hard on the FS100, but also tended to have a funky color tone to them in the clip.

If you watch the Abel Cine candle comparison closely, and see how as the ISO on each camera is raised, the highlights clip into two distinct gradients on the FS100, and tend to remain as a smooth gradient on the FS700. That’s the new CineGamma modes at work, smoothly rolling off the highlight knee. Andy suggests that CineGamma 1 and 2 are the best options for highlight retention, and 3 and 4 are more general use modes. I’m looking forward to shooting a few more live concerts on the FS700 and seeing how it handles the same type of LED lighting.

Andy also checked sensitivity and noise, and while the FS-700 is just as sensitive as the FS-100 (that is to say, VERY sensitive), it’s slightly noisier, particularly above 2000-4000 ISO. This is likely due to the fact that the 700 sensor is higher resolution (4K capable), and therefore has smaller photosites. The footage shows nothing unreasonable as far as noise levels go, but it’s a comparison worth noting.

Finally, Andy also showed off the slow motion capabilities of the FS700. At 120 and 240 fps, it’s beautiful full-resolution 1080p. Slo-mo takes are time-limited by the size of the camera’s internal buffer, and after each take the footage is written to SD card. For 120fps, the buffer will hold 16 seconds of footage, and 8 seconds at 240fps. At 480 and 960 fps, you’ll see resolution drops off noticeably. 480 is probably usable for web in certain situations, but there is a resolution and image noise price to pay. 960 looks pretty rough, in my opinion. Head on over to the Abel Cine link above to watch all those videos. And thanks to Andy for knocking out these tests so quickly…it is greatly appreciated! For more info on how slow-motion works on the FS700, check out this blog post from XDCAM User.

Another lovely piece of footage posted recently is from Frank Glencairn, a narrative docu short shot on a pre-production FS700 and the FS100. It’s a good real-world example of how the camera holds up in what looks like available-light shooting situation. You can watch that below.

I’ve shot quite a bit with the FS100 since it was released last fall, and I really like the image from the camera. It looks to me that the FS700 offers nearly all of the strengths of the FS100, and also fixes some of the annoyances I have with the camera; lack of built-in ND filters, HDMI-only monitoring, highlight handling, and a weak top handle. None of these annoyances are deal-breakers, and they can all be worked around in most situations. The FS100 remains an incredible value, and this is probably a great time to pick one up used. But the FS700 does look like a worthy upgrade, for the ND filters, HD-SDI, and CineGamma alone. It’s still affordably priced, and for those that care, offers a 4K upgrade option at some point in the future. I’m excited for the chance to shoot with one soon.

Early Phantom Miro M120 Footage

Jim Geduldick was fortunate enough to get early access to the new Phantom Miro M120 high-speed camera from the good folks over at Abel Cine, and he’s posted the following footage showing it in action with skaters, BMX, and fire.

The Miro M120 is a very compact camera system capable of shooting 800 fps at 1920×1080 resolution to internal RAM, which is then transferred post-record to CineFlash storage. At maximum fps, you’ll get about 4.7 seconds recorded before the RAM buffer fills up. Like all Vision Research cameras, it will do higher framerates at reduced resolutions. The M120 offers one of four lens mount options, Nikon F-mount, C-mount, PL or Canon EOS, and is available for rental from Vision Research dealers like Abel Cine. Or you can purchase your own base camera system (sans accessories) for $33,900.

Nice summary over at NoFilmSchool on the Canon 5DMK3 light leak issue. It’s really not a concern in most shooting situations, and certainly not for video use, but you should probably get it fixed. Thankfully, Canon is doing just that.

UPDATE: Lensrentals got the first of their fixed Mark III cameras back in, and naturally they dissected one to see what how Canon did the repair. The fix is tape.

John Brawley has been shooting test footage with the new sub-$3,000 Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and there’s a series of videos on Vimeo where you can see his footage. Check them out here, and read up on the specs from Blackmagic here.

Also worth the read is this stream-of-consciousness analysis by Mike Curtis.

Great post over at Ryan Walter’s blog about the new crop of cameras from NAB 2012, he breaks down the specs and delivers his unfiltered thoughts. Well worth the read, check it out.

NAB 2012: Den Lennie shows us the Sony FS700 from FreshDV on Vimeo.

Den Lennie, one of the design consultants of the FS700 gives us a tour of it’s features. Being one of the first people to shoot on it, he tells us his experiences with the camera.