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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Needables
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in Cameras (148)

Friday
Jul262013

The Blackmagic Delays Everyone Saw Coming

…except Blackmagic Design themselves.

Blackmagic Design perplexes me.

The made a flawed-but-great camera. An important camera. A very nice, oddly-shaped camera.

And then, before they could ship it in real quantities, they announced two really cool-sounding cameras. And they swore up and down that they’d be on schedule this time. And they promised a very specific delivery of July 2013.

And everyone said, “Those cameras look great! July is really soon though, are you sure you can do it?”

And they assured us that they could.

And we said, “No, really, take your time. These cameras look to be worth the wait.”

And they said “No, seriously, dudes, we got this.”

(I’m obviously paraphrasing the gestalt here.)

Blackmagic even perplexes me with the little things.

  • An important firmware update addressing many of the original BMC’s bizarre shortcomings was casually announced on someone else’s Facebook page.
  • After an hour of talking my way through several representatives at Blackmagic’s NAB2013 booth about the lack of metadata in the BMC’s DNG files, I finally got someone to reveal to me that they keep the metadata in the sidecar .WAV file. Of course.

And now, at the tail end of the month we were promised the new cameras would ship, Blackmagic held an event to confess what everyone but them knew was going to happen: Delays.

And then John Brawley, the kind and generous cinematographer mostly known for being the first to post shots made with the original BMC, had this to say about the delayed 4K BMC Production Camera:

I prefer the greater DR of the BMCC over the increased resolution of the 4K.

It’s often great to let your customers do your marketing for you. But not always. Personally, I’m grateful for Brawley’s candor—but unfortunately for Blackmagic Design, it’s being expended to fill a communications vacuum.

The Elephant Almost In The Room, We Promise

Why is the messaging around the announcements, delays, and updates so inconsistent? Sometimes it’s honest, candid, and authentic. Other times it’s confusing and disconnected. Look how many people on Blackmagic’s own forum’s are saying things like “I’ll believe whatever is said about delivery dates only when it comes from BMD home office directly, not before.”, despite several sites posting “official” statements on the delays. From Televisual (a site I’d not heard of before today):

“The Pocket Cinema Camera is now in full production. We have the final units in test now and expect it to be a matter of days or, at worst, a week or two before we’re ready to shift the camera out to customers. We’re in full product manufacture with the camera and there are no issues with it whatsoever. We have a considerable number of orders for the camera so it will take a period of time to fulfil all these orders.”

That’s “Blackmagic Design’s Director of Sales EMEA Simon Westland,” (what’s EMEA?), with a statement that seems weirdly self-contradictory to me. How can you “have the final units in test” and be “in full product manufacture with the camera” with “no issues with it whatsoever”?

I’ll remove some racism from Westland’s next quote:

“…There are a lot of rumours out there about when these cameras will be available with loads of different dates being given on different websites. Our products get a lot of attention and the rumour mill is churning away at the moment. I’ve even heard people talking about the 4K Production Camera not being available until next year.”

Gosh, if only there was some way of controlling that. Maybe put something about the delays on your own press page?

One last quote:

“We’re a couple of weeks behind. The 4K Production Camera needs another two to three weeks worth of work on it before it can go into the full production process. We hope to have the first units out before the end of August, which is not a vast shift on our original date.”

A couple is two. Three is more than two. Three weeks of work before it can go into the full production process does not sound like shipping in August to me. I don’t know much about making hardware, but I assume it’s harder than making software, and I’d never make a promise like that about software. We’ll see if this is yet another case of the entire world seeing the obvious truth while Blackmagic remains blissfully optimistic.

I’d love to be wrong.

I know this sounds awfully negative. This isn’t meant to be a takedown of Blackmagic Design. It’s the kind of tough love I reserve for companies I like, making products I care about.

Here’s my unsolicited advice for Blackmagic Design:

  • Control your communication. Beat the rumors to the punch with the kind of candid honesty we know you’re capable of.
  • Collaborate with well-known cinematographers to shoot world-class demonstration of your products.
  • Stop being so eager to please us. Under-promise so that you have a chance to over-deliver.

I love what you’re trying to make Blackmagic. It bums me out that there’s so much unnecessary noise around your efforts.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Blackmagic Production Camera 4K are, of course, still available for pre-order at B&H.

Tuesday
Jul092013

Canon 70D

Canon has announced the Canon 70D, availble for pre-order at Amazon and B&H for $1,199.

On one hand, this camera, with its flip-out LCD, new sensor technology that allows better live-view autofocus, and built-in WiFi, seems to be the heir apparent to the APSC HDSLR throne.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel that Canon is updating their DSLR line as slowly as they feel they can get away with.

I like what Mike and Jason had to say on the RC podcast #132—essentially, one has to hope that we’re nearing the end of hoping for accidental improvements to the video capabilities of low-cost stills cameras.

The Canon 70D looks to be the best camera you can buy for DSLR video, and yet it’s impossible to get to excited about it.

Monday
Jul082013

Digital Bolex Sample Raw Frames

Canon 50mm Corrected

Elle and Joe have posted the first raw sample frames from the Digital Bolex.

On Wednesday we eagerly waited in the conference room as Mike had the guys put some final firmware updates on the camera. They brought it in, the sides were taken off, but the display was on. This was the first time we could hold the camera and see the display live. It was an amazing experience. This thing we had been dreaming about was finally working in our hands.

Read more here and download the samples for yourself. If I read the post correctly, these were not captured at 24fps, but they are raw frames from the production sensor.

Congrats guys. Like you say, these images aren’t perfect (there’s a bit of a grid pattern in the Elitar frame, for example), but holy crap, you made a camera.

Here are the three sample DNG frames at both the Lightroom 5 default settings (remember, there’s no such thing as “straight out of the camera” with raw) and color graded by me using Lightroom 5. Click to see the full-res images.

Canon 50mm Lightroom 5 DefaultsElitar Lightroom 5 DefaultsElitar CorrectedPizar Lightroom 5 DefaultsPizar Corrected

Wednesday
May152013

Space Monkeys, Raw Video, and Giving Us All You've Got

The team at Magic Lantern have managed to hack the Canon 5D Mark III to record 14-bit raw 1080p video at 24 frames per second. The results are stunning—the highest-quality video we’ve seen from a DSLR yet, comparing favorably to images from cameras costing much more.

This is a big deal. But maybe not as big a deal as some have made it out to be. Like Ham, the chimpanzee that was launched into space on a Mercury rocket, the Magic Lantern raw hack is less notable for its discrete accomplishment than for what it portends.

How it Works

I was skeptical about the announcement of raw video at 1080p. This wasn’t a sensor crop, this was a full-frame image, somehow downsampled to 1920x1080—yet still being touted as “raw.”

The answer came back from Magic Lantern themselves:

Put this way, it makes sense—and matches what Magic Lantern said in their original post:

Key ingredients:

  • canon has an internal buffer that contains the RAW data

Of course. Canon sparsely samples the sensor (the popular theory is that they skip lines and bin rows) to create their own 1080p bayer image, which they rapidly debayer to create 1080p video frames. It looks like Magic Lantern have found a way to grab this raw buffer and save it directly to the CF card.

Whatever magic Canon worked to eliminate the moiré in the 5D Mark III’s video now benefits Magic Lantern users as well. And whatever downsides there are to this sparse sampling will also affect the raw hack.

What it Takes

Right now, the hack requires quite a bit of work to get up and running, and even more work to derive useable results.

But those usable results are compelling. There are tremendous opportunities afforded by the raw video hack over the compressed H.264 recordings the camera natively makes.

  • Post-processing debayering can be much better than the hasty in-camera processing. The much-lamented softness of 5D Mark III video is improved noticeably by handling the debayering (including noise reduction) after the fact. Although I can’t help but wonder if we’d get even better results from a demosaicing algorithm tuned to the specifics of the 5D’s subsampling pattern.
  • The 14-bit raw frames contain a great deal of dynamic range that 8-bit, heavily compressed video does not.
  • No compression.

But there’s a price to pay for recording 14-bit uncompressed raw. It requires crazy-fast CF cards, and you’ll only get 15 minutes of video on that 128 GB card, according to Cinema 5D, who graciously posted their workflow and samples, “after struggling for a day” to get it all working.

What it Means

Even once the setup process is streamlined, and the raw-to-DNG conversion process is streamlined (or eliminated), uncompressed raw video is probably not the best option for most DSLR shooters. Better would be something like ProRes or DNxHD—but that would require high-quality debayering in the camera, which would seem to require more processing power than the 5D Mark III has to offer. More processing means more heat, which means a very different camera design than an SLR. It’s easy to see why digital cinema cameras start to get expensive.

The 5D Mark III raw hack is cool. It’s important. It’s something we’ll use, and like, and get good results from. But as exciting as it is today, it’s even more significant for what it means for the future of low-cost digital cinema cameras.

Mr. Ham risked his furry life to prove that a primate could flip switches in space. Three months later, a human being took the same trip. By proving that raw video is possible from the 5D Mark III, Magic Lantern have joined the forces pushing the industry in an important new direction.

Five years ago I wrote that large-sensor video had shown “that it’s no longer OK for manufacturers to make a video camera that doesn’t excite us emotionally.” Since the industry did such a good job of heeding that advice, my new mandate for the future is this:

It’s no longer OK for cameras not to give us everything they’ve got.

What I love about the new generation of cameras, such as those from Blackmagic, Red, and even GoPro, is that they all give you everything they’ve got. They’ll give you the highest image quality they can, in the smallest package possible. They’ll compress images as much or as little as you want. They’ll max out their resolution at the expense of frame rate, or vise versa—whichever you like. And they’ll pack their best dynamic range into any format they can record.

Compared to this, Canon and Sony’s digital cinema product lines seem cruelly restricted at every tier. The result was palpable at NAB. As I said on stage at the SuperMeet, the show seemed to belong to camera upstarts. To cameras from small booths. From the Phantom Flex4K with its Super35 4K at 1,000 fps, to the Digital Bolex, the exciting cameras at every price point were the ones not charging by the button, feature, or codec, but simply giving you all they could do.

What Magic Lantern have done is show camera makers that if they won’t give us all they’ve got, we’ll just take it anyway. The smart manufacturers will try to beat us there out of the box.