Blackmagic Design LA Meet 2013

Blackmagic Design Booth

Over the last two years, Blackmagic Design has wowed everyone with their innovations in the field of media production. This year at NAB, their booth was constantly packed as everyone wanted to see the new Production Camera 4K and the Pocket Cinema camera. Unfortunately, they were so busy it was hard to get a good look at the technology and get questions answered. To provide a more in depth and intimate look at their newest technologies, Blackmagic Design held their own convention in Los Angeles, and will be having another meet in New York City on August 8th, 2013.

At the convention, presentations were given on Avid Media Composer 7, Adobe Creative Cloud, Autodesk Smoke, Final Cut Pro X, Davinci Resolve 10, and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Blackmagic also had their full line of products there.

Davinci Resolve 10 with Panel

Davinci Resolve 10 with Panel

The Davinci Resolve 10 showcase was very exciting. A number of tools for on set color and dailies creations have been added. Manual and automatic audio sync are now both readily available on the media page.

Live grading has also been added. Just plug in a camera via SDI or HDMI to a Blackmagic I/O box, and start grading the live feed. Grades can then be saved with timecode stamps to make for an easy color conform later.

Resolve’s new noise reduction tools are phenomenal. Chroma and Luma noise can be adjusted separately without creating separate nodes. Power windows have also been updated. For tricky geometry, Resolve now has a bezier tool rather than a b-spline tool, making for more accurate shaped power windows.

Online editing has improved drastically in Resolve 10.  Other changes include titling, speed adjustments (including Optical Flow), support for third party effects and Digital Cinema Package (DCP) creation for distribution and digital cinema projection.

Davinci Resolve 10 is expected to hit shelves in late September.

Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMCC) presenatation was a little different. Instead of just giving a basic camera demonstration, Marco Solorio from One River Media demonstrated using the BMCC as an Electronic News Gathering (ENG) camera. The camera was built up with a servo-powered zoom lens, an LCD view panel, and audio adapter (XLR to 1/4″ audio jacks), v-mount battery power, matte box, rails, and a shoulder rig. According to Marco, his BMCC rig cost less than a typical ENG camera package, and created a better image due to the BMCC’s sensor size, codec, and dynamic range.

Blackmagic Design camera showcase

Blackmagic Design camera showcase

On display were all three of Blackmagic’s cameras. The Pocket Cinema camera ships from factories today. The Production 4K camera on site was locked at 400 ISO and only supported ProRes. However, I was promised that the camera would be shipping with variable ISO and Cinema DNG recording capabilities. Originally, the Production 4K camera was slated to ship in late July. It is now expected to ship in late August.

Apple had quite the presence at the convention. Despite having an anti-climatic launch, Final Cut Pro X (FCP X) seems to be headed back to the top. According to the Apple representative, Final Cut Pro X has actually sold the most licenses of any version of Final Cut Pro.

Both Avid and Apple demoed new tools for file-based workflows. Both have new LUT support, and both provide ways to handle mixed aspect ratios and resolutions. While the tools of Media Composer 7 may look more professional, they are harder to access and use.

Apple reminded us that another update to FCP X is due with the release of the new Mac Pro. To support expandability for the new Mac Pro, Magma had their Thunderbolt based expansion chassis. The ExpressBot 1T and ExpressBot 3T provide 1 and 3 PCI Expansion slots respectively. There are rumors Magma may be releasing a rack mountable expansion chassis that can hold the new Mac Pro and expansion slots in a 3U unit. This will do wonders for cable management and containment for the Mac Pro.

Blackmagic Production Studio 4K

Blackmagic Production Studio 4K

Blackmagic also had their ATEM Production Studio 4K on display. Their ATEM line of production switchers is both powerful and affordable. The ATEM Production Studio 4K has 4 6G-SDI and 4 HDMI 4K connections, providing a total of 8 Ultra-High Definition (UHD) sources. To record the UHD feed from the ATEM Production Studio 4K, Blackmagic has created the HyperDeck Studio Pro. The HyperDeck Studio Pro can record 4:2:2 HD/SD Uncompressed and 4K UHD in ProRes 422 (HQ).

As a source for the ATEM Production Studio 4K, the Production Camera 4K carries 4K UHD video over a 6G-SDI output. From top to bottom, Blackmagic has a solution for every step of 4K production.

ExpressColor for iOS

Color grading in ExpressColor. Photo by Patrick Southern

Color grading in ExpressColor. Photo by Patrick Southern

Gamma & Density Co. just released their ExpressColor app for iOS. While it won’t live grade your footage for you, ExpressColor does allow the creation of Look Up Tables (LUTs) based on still grabs from your camera. When you open the app, it gives you the opportunity to select an image from your photo library or to take a new photo. This means still grabs from the cinema camera either need to be imported into iPhoto (and therefore into Photo Stream), emailed to your iOS device, or synced via iTunes.

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Looks in ExpressColor. Photo by Patrick Southern.

Once images are in ExpressColor, they can be graded with luma and chroma controls for shadows, midtones, and highlights. Currently missing is a master saturation control.

The color wheels are very sensitive. A small touch is often all that is needed to make a significant change in color. The luma sliders are much slower. They allow for very fine control over the tones in the image. To reset a color wheel or luma slider, simply double tap.

In the upper right corner of the screen, ExpressColor has a readout for change in luminance in f-Stops. Your look can be auditioned using the On/Off control. If you want to emulate film stocks, chemical processes, or simply add a pre-built transform, you can use ExpressColor’s Looks.

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Display calibration in ExpressColor

To ensure that your grades are color accurate, ExpressColor provides display calibration for your iOS device. It only takes a few simple steps to calibrate your screen. ExpressColor keeps track of the last time your iOS device has been calibrated and at what brightness your screen was set during calibration.

Once your display has been calibrated and your images have been graded, it is time to create Look Up Tables (LUTs) and Color Decision Lists (CDLs). ExpressColor supports CDLs based on standards set by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). It also works nicely with DaVinci Resolve, Autodesk Lustre, Apple Color, Assimilate Scratch, and a plethora of others.

Images can be posted to Twitter, Facebook, or to the Camera Roll. Alternatively, LUTs can be shared via Mail or Dropbox.

ExpressColor is available in the App Store for $2.99

Cine Gear 2013

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Cine Gear 2013 was quite the experience. There were LED lights, plasma lights, motion control arms, motion control software, workflow software, workflow hardware, and even a mobile color correction suite.

Our friend Sam joined us about an hour after the show started. We checked out lights from Nila, Sunray, and Kino Flo. Nila’s LED fixtures did an amazing job filling in shadows in broad daylight. Sunray makes awesome HMI fixtures and beautiful new incandescent fixtures. They are working on making kits for their incandescent lights.

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Kino Flo displayed their new Celeb 400. The Celeb 200 is about 2 feet long while the 400 is about 4 feet long. The Celeb is an LED fixture with built in diffusion. It casts a single shadow and is has a more uniform light than Kino Flo’s fluorescent fixtures. Both fixtures are also color temperature variable between 2700K and 5500K.

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Sam and I spent a while at the Sony booth. We played with the F-55 and F-65 for as long as possible. Sam enjoyed auditioning the F-65’s various gamma settings. I played with the Slow and Quick (S&Q) settings on the F-65 and F-55. Changing the basic settings on the F-Series is very easy, and fun. Sony also had their 4K TVs, Action Cams, and DSLRs on display.

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I got to play with the Movi for a bit. They had both single and dual-user modes on display. It is surprisingly easy to use without a second user. The Movi feels which way you want the camera to pan or tilt, and it makes it happen. It is much easier to wield than a Stedicam, and is much smaller. Due to its form factor, there are tons of places you could use the Movi that a typical Stedicam could not go. With the Movi, stable moving shots become much easier. There is no doubt the Movi will change the face of camera stabilization.

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Probably my favorite booth of the day was Light Iron’s. They were demonstrating new versions of their Live Play and ToDailies iPad apps, as well as their new Sentinel application. Live Play and ToDailies are great for VTR, dailies, and collaboration between departments. Sentinel is a brand new file ingest and copying software. It competes with the likes of Shot Put Pro and R3D Data Manager, but bests them all in the way it handles the verification of file transfers and the speed at which it accomplishes those transfers. Sentinel allows you to track the verifications of every transfer of a file. If you end up with a corrupt file at any point in the workflow, you can pinpoint where the first bad transfer occurred. You can then locate a healthy version of the file to replace the corrupt file. It will provide verification for hard drives, LTO, and even Aspera or Signiant transfers (in the near future).

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To finish the day, we watched After Earth with Sony at the Paramount Theater. After Earth is one of the the first movies with a fully 4K workflow, all the way through distribution. It was also the first feature shot on the Sony F-65, meaning it is the first to have 8K potential. The cinematography was beautiful. 4K projection still doesn’t compare to IMAX 70mm/15-perf, but that’s another discussion altogether (8K or IMAX?). All in all, Cine Gear 2013 was amazing.

Hiring a DIT

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The Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) is somewhat of an enigma to many producers and directors. Not very many people know exactly what they do, beyond pulling footage off a card. Even after one has discovered the usefulness of a DIT, working with them can be a bit puzzling. To help clear the fog a bit, I’ve provide a few tips on working with a DIT.

Call Time
Call your DIT a few hours after your crew call. That way the DIT arrives shortly before the first card pull and can continue working a few hours after the last card pull.

Know the Workflow
It is important that you discuss your workflow with your DIT beforehand. Workflow should be a discussion that includes your editor, colorist, post audio mixer, VFX artist, and your DIT. It is the responsibility of your DIT to make sure the workflow from set to post is as painless as possible. To do so, they need to know all the pieces to the puzzle.

While you are talking about workflow, bring up dailies distribution. Talk to your DIT about options for creating and distributing dailies early on. Applications like Copra, Live Play, and ToDailies make reviewing dailies easy and fast.

Card Pulls
Make sure that each camera has multiple cards in rotation. If you only have one card per camera, you will loose valuable shoot time during a card dump. Card dumps can be very quick, but you should not rely on that. Having at least two cards in rotation is a must.

It is also important that you do card pulls regularly. The longer you wait between card pulls, the longer the transfer will take. Having regular card pulls also allows your talent to rest, reflect, and regroup. Don’t over do it. Too many card pulls may keep your DIT from being able to keep up. Talk to them before the shoot to establish a good rhythm for pulling cards.

Lessons from Film

Shooting 16mm on “In Current Season” (Photo by Rosemary Picture Co.)

Many new filmmakers have never touched a film camera. While digital cinema cameras have taken over most sets, there are still a few lessons that can, and should, be learned from celluloid.

Choose the Right Medium

Each and every film stock has unique characteristics. Certain films stocks are better suited to certain shooting situations. For example, Kodak 5219 is a 500 ASA speed film stock color balanced to Tungsten light. Therefore, it works well with tungsten light in low light scenarios. Film stocks also carry unique aesthetic characteristics. There are also various chemical processes that can be applied to the film in post that vary the aesthetic. For this reason, the Cinematographer will shoot camera tests before principal photography begins.

The same should go for digital cinema cameras. Test a few cameras in lighting conditions similar to those that will be used in production. Use various color profiles, codecs, color spaces, Look Up Tables (LUTs), and resolutions before choosing a camera. You may find that a single camera and workflow work for the entire production. Alternatively, you may find that you need to rent a few different cameras and workflows to get the job done.

Change the Magazine/Card

Film magazines need to changed on a regular basis. While many digital magazines (cards, hard drives, etc.) may be able to record for much longer than a film magazine, they should still be changed regularly.

First, data may be cheap, but content and time are not. The more often a card can be sent to the Digital Imaging Technician (DIT), the less likely data is to be lost. Nothing is worse than shooting all day only for a hard drive to fail. Another reason to change the magazine is stamina. Actors and crew members only have so much of it. The longer shooting is between magazine changes, the less often your actors and crew have to catch their breath. Often times, a magazine change allows for reflection and creative collaboration that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Use A Light Meter

Using a light meter on the set of Three Prayers. (Photo by Emily Wilson)

While false color and waveforms give us a lot of feedback about light, they can also be a trap. Lighting with the eye and light meter instead of the monitor can be quite freeing. It also challenges you to visualize the light before you place it. If you can master that, your speed as a Cinematographer will greatly increase.

By the way, you can now use your iOS device as a light meter.

Archive

Film acts as its own archive. Once you’ve shot it, you’ve got it. With digital formats, the life expectancy of a hard drive becomes a problem. If you want to keep your content around for more than three years, you need to archive it. Currently, the best tools for archive are LTO, Sony’s ODA, and film transfer. To learn more, check out: Storage and Archive.

iOS Light Meter

Cine Meter tested against a Minolta AutoMeter III on a Fotokem chip chart. (Photo by Patrick Southern)

Light meters are not cheap. A good combo incident/spot meter usually runs upwards of $600. With a few recent developments, you can now use your iPhone as a fully functional incident/spot meter.

Cine Meter by Adam Wilt is available in the App Store for $4.99. It provides an independent spot meter and relative wave form and false color readings. Above you can see a test I ran with Cine Meter. I did a reflective reading with Cine Meter set to ISO 50 at 1/50th of a second. I also ran an incident reading with my Minolta Auto Meter III set to ISO 50 at 1/50th of a second. The readings were within 1/3rd of a stop. Thankfully Cine Meter has built in meter compensation, allowing for precision between your meters.

Lumu is a light meter attachment for your iPhone.

With Cine Meter, your phone can give accurate reflective readings. Yet, wouldn’t it be nice if you could get both reflective and incident readings from your iOS device?

Lumu is an incident meter attachment in development for the iPhone. Lumu plugs into the headphone jack of your iPhone or iPod. With its companion app, you can quickly an easily get accurate incident light meter readings. Lumu will run a Kickstarter campaign soon. Each Lumu will cost $99. You can learn more about Lumu by following them on Twitter: @Lumu.

Between Lumu and Cine Meter, you can convert your iOS device into a full Spot/Incident meter for just under $105. Used properly, your iPhone can set you free from using a monitor to light your scene.

Making Sense of Sensors: Size

Crop Factor

A term that has been floating around for a while now is crop factor. While helpful in some ways, talking about a camera’s crop factor can deter the exploration and creative use of various sensor sizes. For those unfamiliar with the term, crop factor refers to the size of a frame on a specific format in comparison to standard format. The standard is usually 35mm film. However the 35mm film referenced is not motion picture stock, but rather 35mm film made for photography.

Super 35mm sensor from Sony’s F65 (Photo by Sony)

This becomes hugely problematic in cinematography as 35mm photographic film is nearly the size of the VistaVision motion picture format. For those unfamiliar with VisitaVision, it has a huge aperture and has been most popularly been used for optical special effects plates and compositing due to its tight grain structure.

Perhaps a better standard for talking about digital cinema cameras would be Super 35mm film. In fact, RED, Arri, and Sony already all have flagship cameras with sensors similar to the size of S35mm film. Even so, this should just be the starting point for talking about sensor sizes.

In certain cases, shooting with a smaller sensor can be beneficial. The biggest benefit of a small sensor is its incredible depth of field. Cinematographer Greg Toland was known for creating images with everything in focus. He employed several techniques to increase depth of field when shooting Citizen Kane. Small sensors make this process easier. For the same shot size, more will be in focus on a small sensor than on a large sensor.

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A deep focus frame from Citizen Kane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the other hand, large sensors are great if you want limited depth of field or super-high resolution images. With VistaVision sized sensors, it is possible for one eye to be in focus, and the other to be out of focus. In terms of depth of field shooting with S35mm sized sensors is a nice trade off between the two.

For a while I was shooting character dramas on 16mm film. The 16mm played wonderfully to making every shot feel intimate. Even in the wider shots, the characters felt near and tangible.

Sometime later, I picked up a medium format camera. It’s aperture is even bigger than VistaVision. In fact, the frame size is similar to IMAX. While shooting with the medium format, I noticed that the images I was getting felt epic in proportion. Each and every shot felt bigger than life. Since those two experiences, I’ve always selected my sensor format based on what the feel of the story calls for. If the story is intimate or artsy, I go with a smaller format. With a standard story, I go with a medium format. For the epic, over-the-top, huge story, I use large formats.

All in all, I think we need to stop treating specs like they are goals, and start paying attention to how they influence the feel of an image. Once that has been determined, figure out how they fit into narrative story telling and go from there.

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