Blackmagic Design have finally added key features to their Pocket Cinema Camera and BMCC with the announcement of their 1.9.3 firmware. At long last they now offer audio level metering, a time remaining indicator and histograms bringing the cameras’ display functions into line with the newer 4K and URSA models. The lack of these features until now have been a major impediment to greater use of the cameras by factual shooters. Blackmagic have certainly made the lives of factual shooters using these cameras a lot easier with this firmware update.
From original writing by Abbey Adkison for Columbia Visuals, edited by Dan Chung:
The images of heavily militarised police in Ferguson confronting protests over the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by an officer have shocked the world. Even the United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has stepped in, urging law enforcement to respect international standards in dealing with demonstrations.
Journalists at the scene in Missouri have faced a double challenge. The first has been dealing with police hostility – including the arrest of veteran Getty photographer Scott Olsen on Monday.
The second has been covering the underlying story: not just filming the SWAT teams, tear gas grenades and angry exchanges, but capturing the emotions and experiences of residents.
Columbia Visuals have kindly allowed us to run extracts from their interviews with three visual journalists on the scene. For the full stories, please click through to read about the experiences of Salima Koroma, a video producer for Time, on her first out-of-state assignment; photographer David Carson, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; and Brent McDonald, a senior video journalist with the New York Times. Carson arrived at the scene of the 18-year-old’s death on August 10, “as the police were washing the blood off the street”, he said.
“This is history. This is something that people are going to talk to their grandkids about. It’s important to have a visual record of what actually happened here.”
Salima Koroma said that when the curfew was announced, she knew the response would be angry: “I’d been there the night before, and I could feel the frustration and hopelessness. We [the journalists] knew that something was going to happen. I didn’t expect the police tear gas; I didn’t think that they would really do it. I didn’t expect it to feel like war. I didn’t expect it to be so scary,” she said.
Koroma also noted the practical problems. She worked with a Canon 5D mkII with a Rode shotgun microphone, putting the Tascam recorder away “just because I knew I was going to be running all over the place” and trying to avoid using a light because it was “imposing” for interviewees.
She added: “I am a young, black woman. A lot of people have been a little more trusting of me, especially because I don’t have these big cameras…I’m very low-maintenance. I’m a one-man band. Whereas you have these big news organizations: a lot of them are white, a lot of them seem to not really care.
“There is a lot of distrust from protestors toward the media. When you’re talking historically, about how the media has covered African-Americans, it has not been great. Think of what the media shows of African-Americans: we are portrayed in the media as thugs, as gangsters, as poor, without talking about the root problems.”
Brent McDonald has also been travelling light: “I’m shooting with a Canon 5D mkIII that I’ve rigged out with a Zoom H6 that’s cabled line-in to the camera. Most of that video I went handheld, but sometimes I used a monopod with little feet. My Sennheiser mic is the MKE 600. I also shoot with a Audio Technica short cardioid mic.”
For him it was important to convey “what it’s like to live in this neighborhood, what it’s like to live with a police force that they didn’t trust, and was, at least this with particular officer, responsible for a pretty heinous act, if indeed it happened as witnesses describe.”
He added: “A lot of the way people cover a protest is when it gets gnarly and shit hits the fan, but there’s a whole progression to a protest when it escalates, particularly when there’s the sort of response we’ve been seeing, and it isn’t just that moment…It’s not just about people throwing bottles and police throwing tear gas, it’s about people coming out and having a voice, expressing their anger and frustration and making sense of them, respecting that.
“These are people, not sound bites.”
Like other journalists on the ground, he said his task had been made harder by law enforcement officers.
“Police did not distinguish between reporters and protestors. They threatened everyone there. They’ve threatened arrest. There were reporters who have been shot at with rubber bullets,” said McDonald.
Carson caveated that while there were police officers who had threatened him with arrest and ordered him from scenes, he had also “run into some incredibly helpful and good police officers who are certainly doing their jobs…[and are] interested in protecting me and making sure I’m safe” – just as, while some protestors were keen to see events documented, other people in the area had assaulted him.
David Carson’s Twitter picture with the Ferguson residents who gave him shelter during the protests Aug 13th.
He warned students who have asked his advice on reporting from the scene: “They’re not fooling around down here.
“I think it’s very easy to get sucked up into the excitement of it, but there’s not a picture you could make out here that would be worth being hurt for.”
Convergent Design is pumping out firmware releases for their Odyssey 7 and 7Q recorders at an astonishing rate. With only 29 days passing since the last release the latest one adds a raft of new features such as 1080P 50 and 59.94 ProRes recording and improved high frame rate recording for the Canon C500. It is good to see a company committed to steadily improving their product.
While this release is perhaps not as feature heavy as the last, it does provide some very useful additions that users will welcome. This is what has been added according to Convergent Design:
• Higher Frame Rates For Apple ProRes 422(HQ) In 1080p Apple ProRes 422(HQ) recording is now enabled in 1080p50 and 1080p59.94. A very useful addition as there has been a distinct lack of 50 and 60p external recording options available in any recorder on the market. This is of course available on the 7 and 7Q.
• Integrated Deck Control And Scrubbing in Play Mode Scrubbing through clips is now available both while the file is playing as well as when it is paused. The last firmware update improved the playback feature set immensely and Convergent Design has tweaked it again to make it more user friendly.
• Selectable Pixel Zoom Drag Orientation When using the finger drag function to select the section of the image visible in Pixel Zoom function, the drag orientation can be set to follow the finger move (drag the image) or oppose the finger move (drag the window). The pixel zoom drag was a very clever feature introduced in the last firmware release. This new addition makes it even more versatile.
• Canon C500 High Speed RAW SupportCanon Cinema RAW “4K Half RAW” mode 4096×1080 is supported at 50p/60p and 100p/120p. The Odyssey7Q currently supports the original full frame height version of the Canon 4K half RAW, not the “4Kx1K” cropped mode. Only the highest frame rates in the Slow & Fast modes are currently supported.
To be clear this is not a letterbox. Canon has two modes for getting to high speed. At 4096×2160, their uncompressed 10-bit RAW saturates dual-link 3G-SDI. So in order to go faster they have to reduce resolution. The “4K half RAW” solution is to keep the 4096 but only use every other line of vertical resolution. This is known as line skipping. The resolution is “extrapolated” (Canon’s term) in post, meaning that they use information from the rows above and below to fill in the missing lines. By halving the resolution they can double the frame rate pushed through the camera, so it can get up to 120p. The other solution Canon offers is a 4096×1080 crop from the sensor, which is referred to as “4Kx1K”. That would be your very wide aspect letterbox.
• Sony FS700 4K2HD Recording Up To 60p FS700 4K RAW to HD Apple ProRes 422(HQ) is now available up to 60p (59.94). 50p is also available. As mentioned before this is a fantastic new feature and being able to finally record 50 or 60p externally will make FS700 owners lives a lot easier.
Hopefully we will see 4K ProRes implemented before the year is out as I think for a lot of users compressed 4K recording is a far more friendly way of using the FS700 if you want to record 4K – currently it is limited to RAW only in 4K. I am also sure with the impending release of the Atomos Shogun that Convergent Design will also be working hard to make the Odyssey 7Q capable of record the 4K HDMI outputs of the popular Sony a7S and Panasonic GH4.
On location shooting the ‘Humanoids’ documentary for Aljazeera with the Odyssey 7Q
NEW FEATURES – RECORD OPTIONS (Odyssey7Q Only)
• New POV RAW Record Option Available For Purchase or Rent The POV RAW Record Option is for various special function cameras with RAW output. The RAW data is captured as Cinema DNG files. The POV RAW Record Option is $1495 to purchase or $99/day to rent through the Convergent Design website. The cameras currently supported include the IO Industries Flare 2KSDI and the Indiecam indieGS2K. Supported RAW formats for these cameras are as follows. IO Industries Flare 2KSDI 2048×1080 23.98 – 60p 10-bit RAW IO Industries Flare 2KSDI 1920×1080 23.98 – 60p 10-bit RAW Indiecam indieGS2K 2048×1080 23.98 – 60p 10-bit RAW Indiecam indieGS2K 1920×1080 23.98 – 120p 10-bit RAW Indiecam indieGS2K 1920×1080 23.98 – 60p 12-bit RAW
While this new recording option won’t be used by the majority of users it does show the continual development of implementing the 7Q to work with an even larger array of cameras on the market.
FIXES & IMPROVEMENTS:
• FIXED Time of Day timecode issue
• FIXED Backward file compatibility during firmware updates
• FIXED “Ticking” audio after 720p file recovery
• FIXED Black dots in live image when overexposing or white-clipping
• FIXED False-triggering when Odyssey set to camera trigger
• FIXED Timecode triggering in 720p
• FIXED False “Warranty Void” notice on some units from previous firmware
• FIXED 1080psf audio sync issue in Playback
• FIXED Pixel Zoom mode distorting of image on OLED
• IMPROVED Touchscreen response
• IMPROVED Touchscreen recalibrates by engaging F1 Lock button
Some people would argue that good things come in small packages, but small-sized cameras have often been a compromise between quality and size. Welcome the new Alpha a5100 mirrorless camera, continuing Sony’s impressive recent run of putting high quality video recording into its mirrorless camera line-up. It takes most of the good stuff that was under the skin of the a6000 and puts it into the compact body from the NEX-5 line (the main loss being the EVF and the high burst rate for stills). It has the same 24.3MP APS-C sized sensor that features on-chip phase detection as the a6000, as well as the same 3″ LCD that flips up 180 degrees. For a $550 camera to be able to record the XAVC S codec, at 1080/60p/24p 50Mbps, is impressive.
The a5100 flip-up display
One of the things which should make it of interest to news, documentary and event shooters is its autofocus system. Yes – I said auto focus! Purists will argue that autofocus has no place in the video realm but I couldn’t disagree more. With the ever increasing push towards using gimbal technology, autofocus can make a big difference. For stills the a5100 uses a combination of focal plane phase detection and contrast detection. When you team these two up, Sony says you can accurately track subjects nearly throughout the whole frame. It also features a touch screen autofocus feature that lets you touch anywhere on the screen to get focus on your subject. In video mode the a5100 functions in continuous AF with the option to change to manual if needed – it isn’t clear yet if it uses the same hybrid system as stills shooting but it should nevertheless be at least of the speed of the a7S. How this autofocus technology will work in the real world for video needs to be tested.
As I mentioned earlier you can record in XAVC-S at 50 Mb/s or you can choose AVCHD if you prefer. If you want to record externally – say to a Atomos Ninja Star – the a5100 can output a clean HDMI signal at up to 1080 60p in 4.2.2 8-bit. Indeed Atomos CEO Jeromy Young sounded excited about the camera when we spoke to him. He told us “The tiny combination of Ninja Star and the Sony a5100 shows again that Atomos and Japanese camera makers are blazing a trail of quality sensors with post production recording at affordable prices – in fact under $1000 USD, you get HD Prores recording and even a MPEG backup recorded internally. The new series of Sony Alpha DSLM’s including the a7S are emerging as a new leader in video & still versatility for Pro’s, we are extremely pleased to partner with Sony to bring these amazing solutions to our mutual customers. The quality from the Super 35mm sensor direct to the Ninja Star in such a tiny combination make this the go two multi-cam camera or acts a perfect 2nd or 3rd camera with a larger main camera. It’s all about the quality of the sensor and as always Sony is leading the pack with other major Japanese makers and everyone else’s sensor images pale in comparison!”
The Atomos Ninja Star should make a good match for the a5100
While it remains to be seen exactly how good the video image will be, I would be surprised if it is on par with the Sony a7S when it is in APS-C mode. The sensor has many more pixels and probably uses pixel binning to achieve the HD image – this is unlike the a7S which has a full pixel readout without pixel binning even in APS-C mode. This also means the pixels themselves are smaller and therefore the a5100 shouldn’t be as good as the a7S in low light at least. Still if it bests the A6000 then it will be very usable for many productions.
There a5100 does not have flat cinema picture profiles as are found in the a7S. It does however have Creative Style options which allows tuning of contrast, saturation and brightness to some degree. For many casual shooters this will be all they need.
a5100 rear view
Sadly it appears just like its sister the a7S, the a5100 is only a World camera (ie capable of PAL and NTSC recording) if purchased in PAL regions – the NTSC model is not capable of PAL. I am also marginally concerned about whether there will be any overheating issues, given its small size. I am presuming that you will need to use fast similar SD cards to those in an a7S if you choose to record in XAVC-S.
While the video functions include peaking and zebras etc I think this camera is slightly let down by not having a headphone or microphone jack (athough headphone monitoring may be possible via a HDMI connected monitor, recorder or EVF). It also doesn’t feature a Sony Mi hot shoe adaptor, so you can’t use Sony’s external XLR adaptor solutions either.
With only a built-in microphone, if you want to record any serious audio, you will have to do it externally. Given the camera’s price point I don’t see the lack of audio and a headphone jack as a major deal breaker. For most serious users this will be a second or third camera to be used in a variety of places where a small-sized camera may be needed. If you’re just doing basic interviews for the web or academic projects this camera looks to tick a lot of boxes given its price. You could easily couple this with a Rode Smart Lav, record the audio to a smartphone and sync the audio up when you go to edit the material. For the budget user this would make for a fairly impressive set up.
Where I think this camera could come in very handy for pros is as a fixed camera that you could mount on top of a larger camera for a permanent wide shot in, say, a protest or fast moving situation. With a small pancake lens and a good autofocus system it could provide you with an important second angle. For Sony users who already have a FS700/100 or an a7S this camera gives you the ability to share lenses and memory cards across multiple cameras which makes a lot of sense. There are also those cases where you may be in very adverse weather conditions where you don’t want to risk your main camera getting damaged. Having a small camera with a good codec certainly gives you flexibility and options.
With the feature set of modern day cameras continuing to improve and the prices continually falling, there really are so many options out there at every price point. It is good to see Sony pushing a better codec into its lower end cameras. It is truly amazing to think that only a few years ago a camera that could record a broadcast quality codec for $550 was a pipe dream.
The Panasonic GH4 has fast become a firm favourite with documentary and factual shooters. The small size and internal 4K recording have won it many friends. It is also one of the few small cameras on the market that can be used almost without having to accessorise. You can certainly shoot an entire story on the camera hand-held with just some ND filters and a top mic.
However, if you start adding other accessories the space on the body becomes a little tight. Common documentary set-ups might include a pair of wireless mics and an external XLR audio box at the very least. You could try to stack accessories atop the camera’s hotshoe using brackets, but I don’t find this solid enough for running around. The better solution is to add a cage that provides the additional mounting space as well as adding protection to the camera. There are several on the market for the GH4 but I chose the Viewfactor Contineo cage because of its close-fitting form factor and because I enjoyed using their previous cage for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
The GH4 safely wrapped in the Viewfactor Contineo cage
The cage is compact enough that you can leave it permanently on the GH4 and still work the camera. You can use it ‘small’ with just a few accessories but it is also sturdy enough to use as a base to build an entire shoulder rig if you so need. You can add a HDMI port protector that should protect the otherwise delicate micro HDMI connector if you need to connect a monitor, recorder or EVF. Check out the video above to see how all the options can be made to work.
A simple yet sturdy handheld solution for the GH4
Also in the video is a look at the Viewfactor MultiForce clamp which is a clever 15mm rod adapter that simply screws down to tightly hold a pair of rods. This is a well-made and strong accessory that I would recommend to anyone looking to build out their Viewfactor cage into something bigger.
My last three short films have been based on the idea of reverse storytelling: I go to a location with a topic in mind, shoot footage then go back and explore ideas that can be drawn from it. I believe there is something to tell and share with almost anything you capture. For BEACON – A Visual Poem I went to the ocean to film without a plan or even a solid idea of what I wanted to make. I only knew I wanted to get some stock footage and come out of the experience with some form of emotion. I shot for five days spread out between commercial and photography gigs. After three days of shooting with over 2TB of footage and no plan, I took a look at what I had captured to see if there were elements of a beginning, middle and end.
Watching the footage I decided to write down what I saw and felt and it started to form some poetry in my mind. I had never written a poem before, which explains why it does not rhyme and may be a bit disjointed. The concept: A man moves to the ocean to escape a life of flat boring pastures and a dark past, but he finds he cannot escape it by running away. He sees his demons in everyday things and it is only his faith (symbolized by the lighthouse) that keeps him safe. He is the gull.
Looking out to sea with the Canon 1D C
I knew I needed to go back to the Atlantic Ocean to film a few more things. I asked my dear friend Lenny Mordarski to wake up at 2.30am to accompany me on one of my journeys. Originally, he was going to be my assistant, as shooting this film was very difficult as a one man band. I lugged around 75lbs of gear to each location and some of the scenes required walking on seaweed-covered rocks several hundred feet out at low tide. I also had to run with a lot of gear when waves came crashing in at high tide. I had to make about 25-30 trips to and from my car at each location, as I simply could not carry the camera package, lens bag, drone, tripod and sliders by myself. I also could not leave a crazily expensive high-speed camera by itself with crowds of people around and tidal breaks that could have swept away the gear. I ended up putting Lenny in front of the camera and decided he would also serve well as narrator.
The Photron BC2 HD high-speed camera with Tamron 300mm f2.8 SP lens on location
BEACON was primarily shot on the Photron BC2 HD high-speed camera at 250-2000fps. I also used the Canon 1D C 4K DSLR, and a GoPro Hero 3+. For lenses I used my old school 300mm Tamron SP with Adaptall mount (the main lens used on 50 percent of the shots), a manual 50mm Nikon AI and a 16mm Rokinon in Nikon mount. I like the 300mm Tamron as I can change the mount from Nikon to Canon etc in seconds and it is fairly light for a 300mm.
The DJI Phantom 2 with Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal and GoPro
I also used my DJI Phantom 2 with Zenmuse H3-D2 2-axis gimbal for all the aerial shots. I expected it to crash into the sea at any moment, so I transferred footage after each flight in case I didn’t see it again. I was paranoid about using it as it had crashed without warning or reason the day before. I tweeted that morning that I was expecting to lose it in the Atlantic, but instead I managed to use it on multiple passes and on numerous days without issue.
Charging the DJI Phantom 2 battery using an inverter
I only had one Phantom battery so I knew I would only get two or three passes over each lighthouse at most. I decided to bring a power inverter with me and charge the battery between locations. This worked nicely as most of the locations were spread 20 to 40 minutes apart. For the GoPro footage I shot 2.7K medium in Protune. This particular camera has been beaten up quite a bit and took a 50 foot drop onto concrete the day before when it came loose on the drone. It had a small scratch on the lens, which caused some extra flare.
The Sound Devices Pix240i was used to shoot Prores instead of RAW recording
The Photron High-Speed camera is a beast at 16lbs (without lens). Like most high-speed cameras it has the ability to shoot RAW, but for this project I used my trusty Sound Devices Pix 240i (Video division is now called Video Devices) and record ProRes 422 HQ. I use the Pix 240i on almost every job and it’s been invaluable as not only a recorder but also as a monitor with peaking. Normally I black-balance between each shot but there were situations that did not allow for it for safety reasons or because I would miss an interesting shot. The BC2 HD shoots up to 1080fps in 2K and up to 2000fps in 1080p. It will go up to 86,000fps in lower resolutions. For this project I stayed between 250-2000fps all in 2K. The Photron has built in LUTs and you can also build your own. I shot mostly flat to match my Canon 1D C’s Log mode.
The Kessler Crane Carbon Fiber Stealth was used on all the slider moves. I have six Kessler Crane sliders but chose the Carbon Stealth due to its strength and light weight. I even put the Photron on it for a few moves (way past its weight rating) and it worked out fine. In my opinion the Carbon Stealth is worth paying extra for because every pound counts when you’re a one man band.
The tripod I used was the Benro S8 system. On a few of the shots I used a Manfrotto 516 head instead of the S8 head. I found the Photron with 300mm and Pix240i got a bit unwieldy on the S8.
The Benro S8 tripod
The locations I shot at were all in New Hampshire (Whaleback Light and Portsmouth Harbor Light, both in Portsmouth, and RockStacks in Rye) and Maine (Nubble Light in York, and Portland Head Light, Bug Light and Ram Island Light, all in Portland).
Audio was recorded with the Sound Devices 702 recorder with Rode NTG 2 Shotgun mic and a Shure headset mic.
I edited the film on Final Cut X and used After Effects for a few scenes that had sensor dust. I have been using Final Cut X since it came out and have found it to be quite fast to cut with. I have Adobe CC and Avid but FCPX has been my go-to editor for the past few years. I have not lost any media or projects and the new version has been rock solid for me, to the point I would consider cutting a feature film with it. In the past, I would only use FCPX for short form work like commercials etc.
I am pretty happy with how BEACON turned out, but in hindsight I would have made a few changes. For the aerials I would have liked to use a three axis gimbal as the Phantom was fighting the wind constantly and I think the shots would have been smoother. I should have used an assistant as it was simply too much gear for one person to lug around – it would probably have only needed a couple of days vs five if I had a second pair of hands to help. Even just having someone to watch the gear while I went back to my car to swap equipment would have been a godsend. Next time I will do both of these things but for now I am enjoying this project for what it is.
Special thanks to Heather Sutton, Mike Cohen, Lenny Mordarski, Daniel McCarthy, Chris Beller and Eric Kessler.
You can see more of Michael Sutton’s work on his website or contact him at email@example.com
The Sony a7S is light,small and captures amazing video. The low light sensitivity of the camera makes it even more awesome.The a7S also has a great built-in OLED EVF so you actually don’t need a LCD loupe as you would with a “traditional” DSLR in video mode. With the Sony a7S you can actually get away without a big shoulder rig if you want. It really is a joy to just to walk around with the camera, a nice lens and maybe a small cage – it really works great that way.
There is only one Problem: The standard eyecup of a7S is not that great, especially in bright sunlight and even more so for people with glasses. I looked around for a solution and tested many different eyecup options for the a7S. So far the only solution that works and is also nice to use is the Hoodman HoodEYE eyecup for Glasses for Nikon Round Eyepieces To mount it to the Sony a7S you need a round adapter you can take from the SEAGULL Multifunction Eyecup Set.
I find the combination works great and the a7S can truly be used on its own. It works for the left and right eyed shooters and for people with and without glasses. It actually is quite comfortable and brings a little bit of extra stability when pushing the camera tight into your face. I used it on several shoots already and really like it.
Since the a7S came out there have been numerous tests and reviews highlighting the camera’s low light and noise performance – especially in the S-Log2 picture profile. Less attention has been paid to the camera’s colour abilities, especially when it comes to reproducing accurate skin tones.
David Carstens has been doing some interesting tests using Davinci Resolve and ImpulZ LUTs from VisionColor. The specific LUT was Kodak 5203 (FC) for S-Log2 (F55) and the results are pretty impressive. . This is what David had to say about how he achieved them:
“When putting my hands on any new camera, there’s one quality I care about most in its feature set – skin tones. It’s what gives any camera personality straight out of the box; the 5D features the Canon “pop”, RED handles them with clinical accuracy, and Alexa has been a big-league favorite thanks to its ability to accurately reproduce them in a faithful yet flattering fashion.
While awaiting the arrival of my a7S (and subsequent variety of lens adapters), I’d read initial reports of high noise levels and green cast when using SLOG2 gamma and S-gamut color settings.
In my own tinkering, I found that SLOG2 does indeed exhibit an alarming noise floor. Perhaps expected when the minimum ISO is an already high 3200? Switching to any one of the other gamma settings offers far cleaner black levels, though at the expense of the massive DR offered with SLOG2.
For my preliminary field test, I wanted to see how well I could achieve a rich, neutral image with minimal fuss. The video is self-explanatory – an overcast day that, while offering soft light for my subject, would ordinarily cause me to fight a blown out cloud layer in the background. My intention was to meter skin at +2 EV using the camera’s spot meter, yet avoid highlights hitting 100% with the zebras. Feeding the sensor extra light goes a long way to mitigate the noise levels, and leaving room to grade back down yields an even cleaner image. Of course, how this strategy would affect skin tones was my primary concern.
My experience with most DSLR level cameras is that the red channel will clip quite easily, likely due to it being boosted to give skin tones that popular mojo. Attempting to avoid this with a flat picture profile such as Cinestyle can make it difficult to bring “life” back to those same skin tones in the grade, as 8-bit compression loses the delicate nuances needed to separate them properly.
Seeing the resulting skin tone quality in this test is what particularly pleased me with the a7S. The ImpulZ LUTs from VisionColor certainly made it easier to achieve the naturalistic color separation. My impression is that a7S color rendition compares favorably to its Sony cousin, the F3, though in a far smaller package and much lower price tag. My next test will be a more controlled battery of over/under exposures, picture profiles, and attempts to push their limits in the grade.”