DSLR Cinema, Cinema Raw, and Cinematic Journalism

by Kurt Lancaster

A great production house camera: A professional promotional film shot in Jordan with the Digital Bolex D16

Some have claimed that Digital Bolex’s 16mm 2K cinema camera, the D16, is simply a “niche” camera. See:

A cell phone is a niche camera if you’re using it for serious production. The D16 is a Cinema Camera and I would place it side by side with a RED camera and not be ashamed. I have shot two short documentaries with this camera:

In addition, I have also shot a professionally paid promotional film with it since I’ve received my camera late February, which I discuss below.

After taking my Bolex through these projects over the past six weeks, I can safely say that the D16 is a professional 16mm cinema camera that works great as a regular production house A-camera. No hesitation.

I would only consider this a niche camera if I were to consider 16mm film a niche medium! The processing of raw files harkens back to the classic world of traditional filmmaking, where the filmmaker processed film through a color lab before editing.

In addition to shooting 12-bit CinemaDNG raw, the D16 engages in a potential filmic grain from its analog sensor. See:

The D16 provides the look of 16mm film stock, a look not found on the digital CMOS sensors of other CinemaDNG raw cameras (such as the Blackmagic Cinema and Pocket cameras).

The Bolex also contains a global shutter and 24-bit audio, unlike nearly all of its competition. Thus, if one considers a 16mm film look, niche, then so be it. I’ve shot on DSLRs (and still love them) and the C100, and these provide a thin clean plastic look — not the look of film (although post elements can be added to them in order to make them look more film-like). With these 8-bit compressed cameras (some costing thousands more than Bolex) you must get the image right in-camera, since you have little latitude in post to shape the look of the image.

The D16 is not a “thin” 8-bit video camera, but a fully realized 12-bit raw cinema camera, providing a “thick” film-like look in the promo, “American Community School, Amman, Jordan”:

As can be seen in the promotional film, the 12-bit raw image is “thicker”, more film-like in its development and “lab” processing potential and capabilities. The D16 is the first digital “video” camera I’ve shot with since learning to shoot on 16mm film back in my NYU days in the mid-1990s that feels like I’m shooting on film. It’s fun to shoot with it.

Thus I had no hesitation in approaching a promotional gig in Amman, Jordan with this camera and as a solo shooter (with no assistants). (I did bring along my 5D Mark II just in case the Bolex broke down, but I never ended up using it.)

The piece I shot in Jordan, “American Community School, Amman, Jordan” was mainly shot on a monopod (with a couple of tripod and slider shots). The monopod allowed me to move quickly with my setups, shooting over ninety percent of my shots in one day, with a follow-up the next day for several additional shots.

I dumped my footage that night through the USB cable from the 500GB internal drive to my USB 3.0 500GB G-Drive mini (it takes about 75 minutes to dump a full load). I did not use any CF cards, which does allow you to copy footage from the SSD to them as you shoot.

I did a simple color correction in the easy to use LightPost (adjusting exposure) and then exported as ProRes 4444 (since I wanted to do additional fine-turning of my grade in Final Cut Pr0). ProRes 422 does not allow you to do anything but simple correction before the image falls apart (it’s really not any better than H.264 convert to ProRes 422).

In either case, the rough cut edit was completed within a day, which I uploaded to Vimeo and I was able to send send the client the rough cut and get feedback right away.

Additional footage shot on a consumer video camera — the footage from Somalia and the celebration of cultures day — was sent to a shared dropbox folder. I ended up treating this footage with a 16mm plug-in in order to get rid of the plastic video look of a consumer video camera.

For lenses, I shot with my 25mm f/2.8 Zeiss Contax lens with a C to EF mount adapter (the EF mount plate wasn’t available, yet from Digital Bolex), as well as with Rokinon’s 8mm f/3.5, 16mm T/2.2, and 24mm T/1.5 EF lenses.

For audio, I simply attached a shockmount to the top cold shoe mount and used the Sennheiser ME64 cardioid capsule mic with the K6P power adapter — good for interior dialogue (although some shots were a bit environmentally noisy and I wished I used the ME66 shotgun mic). Unlike much of its competition, the D16 has two 24-bit XLR audio inputs, so running and gunning is not a problem with this camera, providing clean manually adjustable audio.

In addition, I used the SmallHD DP4 EVF, because the weakest link on this camera is its onboard LCD screen (I did shoot a short doc with just the built-in screen, so it can be done). But the SmallHD provides a nice focus assist and a large clear image. (After hanging out at NAB recently in April, I have since decided to purchase a small 3″ monitor, the Kinotehnik LCDVFe Electronic Viewfinder, one that is lighter for the Bolex and allows for angle adjustments without unscrewing mount nuts.

Ultimately, the Digital Bolex D16 is a camera I will continue to shoot personal and professional projects. It provides a solid film look that I find more appealing than the images coming out of 8-bit compressed cameras (DSLRs, C100, nearly every prosumer video camera on the market) — and I definately would take it over a 4K camera, since that market is less than 1%. We still live in a 2K world, despite what many manufacturers are trying to hype up otherwise. Give it another five years and we may begin to hit 10%. Most Hollywood films — even if shot on 4K — output at 2K masters for screening (even in the few 4K theaters).

Remember, cinema cameras are not about specs but about image quality, the look and feel of the digital film (in addition to how you engage in composition and lighting). This is where the D16 shines and stands out from nearly all of its competition.

For $3600 (with the 500GB drive), it’s one of the best — if not the best — cinema camera for under $10,000. Some have even completed comparison footage showing how the image is better than a RED (more about that in a later post).

The D16 is a solid production house camera. Will I use other cameras? Perhaps. It depends what the job calls for. I love my 5D Mark II and its large low-light sensor is nice for some projects. But the D16 is now my go-to camera for all types of production, not just for “niche” projects, but for nearly any type of production I would want to shoot.

———

Kurt_Lancaster1_small

Kurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema CamerasHe teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University. Kurt received his PhD from NYU.

 

Digital Bolex Kish lenses and the magic of filmic grain

The Digital Bolex D16 has arrived with a set of c-mount Kish cinema lenses (10, 18, 38mm f/4 fixed primes). CEO Joe Rubinstein also talks about the unique film grain look that comes out of the analog CCD sensor, which makes the D16 stand out with a 16mm film look — something that the competition can’t really achieve when using digital CMOS sensors.

You can add film grain in post, but the grain is overlaid on top of the image, lacking the feel of film with its crystals embedded into the film image itself, causing the image to dapple frame to frame, shimmering with dreamlike magic — and, yes, this is one of the features that many people who shoot on film bemoan with the rise of the clean plastic feel of digital motion pictures.

The sharpness of detail is perhaps too real and takes you out of the magical realm of narrative fiction film, according to Michael Plescia who discusses this in my new book, Cinema Raw http://www.amazon.com/Cinema-Raw-Shooting-Ikonoskop-Blackmagic/dp/0415810507/.

And this is also why 4K — sharpness of resolution — doesn’t achieve the film look. It’s not about resolution It’s about sharpness mixed with the shimmering effect of film grain embedded into the image itself.

And this is also why the Ikonoskop and the Digital Bolex D16

 ——

Kurt_Lancaster1_small Kurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras. He teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University. Kurt received his PhD from NYU.

Getting a 16mm film look with the Digital Bolex in Pedras Mesa Roundup

The Southwest encompasses some of the most striking landscape in the world — and it hosts many Native American tribes. Northern Arizona is no exception.

Students at Northern Arizona University led by photojournalism instructor, Josh Biggs, and freelance journalist, Shelley Smithson, and myself (teaching documentary filmmaking), have been documenting contemporary life on the Res this semester, specifically how some of the Navajo in the New Lands settlement carry on with their traditions after having been forcibly removed from their homes in the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974.

(For those interested in getting an undergraduate journalism degree in photojournalism & documentary studies or the only MA in documentary in the Southwest, check out NAU — you’ll be gaining experience in production and storytelling. NAU is one of the few programs that shoot with DSLRs, Canon C100s, and the D16 Digital Bolex — which is the closest you can get to shooting on film. It offers a “thick” 16mm film look. By the fall, we’ll have 5-6 Bolex cameras.)

In this short documentary, I shot and edited a cattle roundup at the Pedras Mesa Demonstration Ranch in eastern Arizona using my D16 Digital Bolex, handheld with the pistol grip. I was able to run through fields, chasing after cattle and cowboys, getting on my knees to setup the shot (after panting). I was also able to get intimate shots of the cowboys as they tagged the cattle.

Some might think that they would rather shoot in 4K (such as with the Blackmagic Production camera or the Panasonic Lumix GH4), but filmmaking has never really been about getting a sharp image — 4K is not be default a film look, but a HD video look. It has it’s advantages in a 2K world, especially the ability to crop images and maintain its integrity. If that’s what you want or need, go for it.

But I like the look and feel of film — something that I haven’t been able to shoot with since my 16mm film class at NYU in the mid 1990s. There’s a tactile feel to film that is very difficult for the digital world to replicate, especially in the 16mm world.

I feel that’s changed with the Digital Bolex.

The Digital Bolex provides a strong 16mm film look that I have not seen since shooting and viewing 16mm film — this is due to its analog sensor and its 12-bit dense data that allows you to manipulate the image in post.

When the Maysles brothers and DA Pennebaker, among others in the 1960s, or Ross McElwee in the 1980s, were shooting on 16mm film with sync sound, they helped revolutionized the handheld documentary film movement. The Bolex has brought that feeling back to me, as can be seen here:

Bolex shoot with camera

My right hand is holding the pistol grip, which has an on-off trigger (hidden in this shot), but as can be seen, I’m looking through the viewfinder of a SmallHD monitor (DP-4), resting it against my left forearm as I keep focus with my left hand (using an 8mm Rokinon, borrowed from my student, Eric Tajc; they also make a cine version). The Sennheiser dialogue mic with the D16′s 24 bit audio worked great.

Many really good documentaries have been shot on video cameras and HD cameras (I’ve shot several with them) — and DSLRs, when using external audio, provides strong filmic images when you get the image in-camera right, make for good doc cameras. Canon C100 and C300 make for great doc cameras, well.

I could have shot this project on my 5D Mark II and it would have looked good and even somewhat cinematic in some of the shots. But the 5D, the C100, and other 8-bit HD video cameras do not engage in the “thickness” of 12-bit raw images that just magically feels like I’m working with 16mm color film when I’m shooting with the Digital Bolex.

———–

Kurt_Lancaster1_small

Kurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras. He teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University. Kurt received his PhD from NYU.

 

Digital Bolex D16 review with a Celebration of Clay’s Life

With the sudden passing of my mother’s beloved husband, Clay Bennett, I had to grapple with feelings of grief as I traveled from Flagstaff, Arizona to Dexter, Maine for a family gathering.

I just received my Kickstarter backed Digital Bolex D16 a few days before. Do I bring it or leave it behind? l did not want to be intrusive, but at the same time I thought there might be some moments I could shoot and cut together as a gift of memories for my mother. It would be a personal project, an attempt to capture a 16mm home movie style and at the same time to engage in an observational style of documentary, a model for my students. I’m currently teaching a documentary class utilizing observational cinema techniques at NAU.

One of the arguments put forward in Observational Cinema by Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz is the need to make a connection and build intimacy with your subject through your camera—making the camera an extension of your heart, soul, and mind. By using this camera in such an intimate setting in handheld mode, I discovered that D16 is a powerful documentary camera—my favorite camera I’ve shot on to date.

Below is the film I created and an official review of the camera based on some of the features I noticed when shooting with the camera. (Email me for password.) I had previously tested the beta build of the camera at Venice Beach, California in September 2013 (see http://www.digitalbolex.com/guest-post-kurt-lancaster/.

Traveling light
I decided to bring it, but leave behind the tripod, monopod, and slider. I wanted to carry everything onto the plane—one camera backpack (which included my MacBook Pro, iPad, and a book) and one duffel for clothing. I would shoot it handheld with the pistol grip (which has a trigger for recording). I also decided to use the SmallHD DP4-EVF monitor (using the cold shoe mount attached to the side mount of the monitor and the camera–providing a video camera side monitor setup). I also brought a Canon TV-16 13mm, f/1.5 c-mount lens (borrowed from a colleague who has a 16mm Bell and Howell camera), a c-mount to Canon EOS adapter for my Zeiss Contax 25mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.4 lens (with a Fotodiox Contax to EOS adapter ring).

Audio
One of the beauties of the D16 revolves around two XLR inputs–with 24-bit, 48k audio. I hooked up my Sennheiser ME 62/K6 omnidirectional microphone attached to the top shoe mount of the camera with a shockmount. One of the issues of using DaVinci Resolve or Adobe Camera Raw, audio is not embedded in the video files. With the D16, audio .aif files are recorded into each sequence of shots of the CinemaDNG folders. The Pomfort/Bolex LightPost software syncs them on export. And it works (I recorded at 23.97fps; when I did 24fps with the Ikonoskop, the audio did not sync well in FinalCut).

In conclusion, the audio is stellar. I know professional filmmakers record sound separately, but for documentary work, it’s nice to have strong audio amps and 24-bit audio onboard the camera—and this is one of the features that blows the doors off most of the CinemaDNG camera competition, among other high end video cameras, as well. However, the audio meters on the Bolex is slow to respond (seems laggy visually), but there are two adjustment knobs for levels and it works. The camera includes a minijack headphone input (as well as a minijack audio input for those who want to hook up a Rode VideoMic Pro, which I did not test).

Cradle style handheld
The camera is heavy, but in a good way — easy to move and control without any shakiness of light cameras. I had no problem shooting over a period of a couple of hours. Back when I shot several documentaries on my Panasonic DVX100, I shot handheld a lot, and I’m able to do so with my Canon 5D Mark II (see blog post, Run and Gun DSLR Work at Occupy Wall Street). I was able to cradle the Panasonic. The 5D, I held out in front of me, which got tiring after a few minutes.

With the Bolex, I can cradle it, again, my right hand on the removable trigger handle, holding most of the weight, with my left hand on the lens for focusing and aperture adjustment. At the same time, I dispersed some of the weight and maintained another point of body contact for steadiness by resting the bottom of the SmallHD monitor on my left forearm. Really nice. The pistol grip allows you to pull the trigger to record and it stops recording when you let go of the trigger (there’s a record button on top of the camera, as well). The trigger allows you to be judicious with what you decide to shoot with, a key point when shooting raw — treat it like a film magazine and you won’t be trying to shoot everything in site and run out of space before you know it. I would like to see a wide flat edge on the trigger, because right now it’s a bit thin and your finger does tend to get sore after shooting for a while.

Monitor
If I were to knick-pick one thing about what I don’t like about the camera, it’s the monitor. The onboard monitor for the D16 is functional for menu items, but it’s simply not good for shooting, especially if you have the camera too high and you can’t even see it. In either case, the monitor is not high resolution and is really too small to shoot with any kind of clarity. If Digital Bolex designs another camera model (which I hope they do), I would love to see a side mount swing out high definition monitor!

I ended up using the SmallHD DP4-EVF monitor without the eyepiece mount (I was shooting mainly indoors). This monitor has three ¼” screw holes, so you can mount with an adapter on either side or bottom. By side-mounting it on the Bolex side cold shoe mount, and by adjusting the adapter, I was able to mimic a swing out side-mount LCD screen. This is one of the features that makes the camera really work for me (but you’ll need to budget $600 for the monitor). The SmallHD is powered by two Canon 5D/7D type batteries for longer life.

Image
What can I say? The analog CCD along with Bolex’s internal design creates a 16mm film look. It’s like shooting on film, but with all of the advantages of digital. Other than the Ikonoskop, there’s no other digital cinema camera at this price point that engages such magic. No moire or rolling shutter issues detected.

Still-from-Clay-Celebration

A still from “A Celebration of Clay’s Life.” The D16 engages a nice 16mm film look.

However, just because you’re shooting raw doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expose properly. With some angles, I couldn’t help but get clipped highlights through the windows facing the afternoon sun. If I expose for the outdoors, then I would need to bring in lights to expose properly (in some shots I did want the silhouette effect). Therefore, some background shots are clipped in order to get proper exposure on the subject. The image will fall apart in post (turning clipped highlights pink if you go too far). I can do better fine tuning in Adobe Camera Raw, than with LightPost, but it’s still not going to save your clipped values. If you’re not sure, then be sure to get a light meter.

Battery life
I shot over a period of a couple of  hours (recording about 70-80 minutes of footage) and the battery went to about 40 percent. For longer shoots (especially on an all day gig, be sure to budget in the Switronix external battery for $325). If you’re handholding, then you’ll want this hooked on your belt or shoulder bag, but if you’re on a monopod or tripod, you can attach it to the bottom of the camera, and the battery includes a ¼” screw hole for a plate.

Raw processing
When shooting in 12-bit CinemaDNG raw, it feels like I’m shooting on film. It’s a pleasure to see and feel the “thickness” of the image coming through the SmallHD monitor. And when grading the image, it’s a pleasure to shape the grade with thick files after spending years grading thin 8-bit files (DSLRs and video cameras). It’s like I’m processing film, as well, but digitally.

I would find it difficult to go back to grading 8-bit images. When dumping footage from the camera, use the USB 3.0 cable and be sure you have a USB 3.0 hard drive (such as the G-Drive Mini). I have the 500GB SSD drive model of the camera and can shoot about two hours worth of footage on it in HD mode, ad about 90 minutes in 2K mode.  Plan accordingly, since you will need to dump footage if you shoot more than the drive’s allotment.

For my shoot, it took a while to copy the files to a FireWire 800 drive, so by having two USB 3.0 ports on a MackBook Pro, you can reserve one for the camera and one for the hard drive (I only had one USB 3.0 cable with me, so I had to rely on the FireWire 800 cable—much slower than USB 3.0). I would like to see future models of Bolex cameras to also have a Thunderbolt port.

I did try to import the files through the Copy room of LightPost, but my hard drive ejected for some reason and I decided to drag and drop directly from the SSD drive of the D16 to a folder on the G-Drive. Once I had imported the files, I went to the Organize room of LightPost and created a folder and ingested the files from there (it does not make copies, but sets up your files and references them to that folder).

Moving to the Color room, I went through the clips I wanted to use and did a simple grade (mainly adjusting the exposure, but also making some tungsten/daylight color adjustments). The calibrated camera brings in the images and it looks natural.

However, you’ll want power. The new Mac Pros would be great for processing raw files. I edited this short on a MacBook Pro, quadcore i7 processors, 16GB ram, 2GB of video ram, as well as an internal SSD drive. This isn’t for light computer work, since raw needs heavy lifting. Unfortunately, LightPost is Mac only for now, so you’ll need to use Resolve or Camera Raw to grade (which doesn’t give you audio sync capabilities), so be sure to use a clapper board for your shots if you’re not planning to use LightPost.

Export as ProRes 4444
After adjusting exposure, I went to the Export room and selected ProRes 4444. If I choose anything less than that, then I’m unable to make any minor changes to color or exposure while editing (I could do proxies and send them back, but that requires extra steps and who wants the extra work?).

I’ve discovered whether shooting with Blackmagic Design cameras, Bolex, and other cameras, when exporting to ProRes 422 (or originating in ProRes 422 with Blackmagic), even in HQ mode, it doesn’t give me much room to grade. It quickly falls apart. You must get the image as close as possible in-camera before shooting just like you would with an 8-bit H.264 file. But with ProRes 4444,  there’s a lot more latitude to tweak your images (you just need more hard drive space).

With that solution in hand, I’m able to do a quick turnaround with CinemaDNG raw files using LightPost. In Final Cut, I quickly edited the film, adjusted audio levels (with audio already synced with LightPost’s audio sync feature), and used the waveform monitor to make final adjustments to exposure and color.

This was a simple process and did not require much more work than working with a DSLR or Canon C100 footage. You just need to plan for the additional step of getting your files into the color grading software, doing your correction and grade, then exporting. In either case, the color grading step in LightPost is where the magic of using 12-bit raw occurs — it’s where you really discover the thickness of the image as if you were using a type of film stock, so if that doesn’t excite you, you’re using the wrong camera!

Pros

  • 16mm film look in a digital format (12-bit CinemaDNG raw)
  • 24 bit audio with professional XLR inputs
  • Automatic audio sync of onboard audio in LightPost
  • Solid weight for smooth handheld work and the ability to “cradle” the camera
  • Portability and the ability to travel light
  • Pistol grip for easy on-off recording (trigger edge could be wider)
  • LightPost is an easy to use and painless grading software
  • Decent onboard battery life (get the Switronix external battery for all day shoots)
  • Great price point for the quality of the image and quality of audio

Cons

  • Weak LCD monitor (need to budget in an external monitor)
  • You’ll need a fast computer for raw processing—not for old technology

Conclusion
For about the price of a 5D Mark III, you can purchase a D16 Digital Bolex with a 500GB SSD drive, a 16mm cinema camera. For independent filmmakers, serious film students and film hobbyists, as well as documentarians and news shooters filming evergreen pieces (where your turnaround time isn’t on the quick pace of breaking news deadline), this is the camera to get.

For me, this is one of the best documentary cameras on the market and I would be excited to shoot promo and fiction projects with this camera, as well. It is a worthwhile investment.

Kurt_Lancaster1_small Kurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, coming out from Focal Press in Spring 2014. He teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University. He received his PhD from NYU.

 

 

Quick Final Cut 10.1 Library Workflow

Ok, I’ve always loved the new Final Cut Pro. In my 12 years of teaching editing software, this is simply the easiest to teach–and it is powerful. The recent updated from X to 10.1 changes the folder structure workflow, namely the creation of Libraries that contains your files and subfolders. Libraries can be moved and copied anywhere.

Here’s my workflow:

1. Create a new Library with a specific name (I used Geekery below) in Save As (you could use Project 1 or Document Location, etc.).

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.09.05 AM

2. Go to the hard drive you want to use (be sure external drives are Mac OS formatted–duel formatted drives such as FAT will not work in Final Cut) and create a new folder on the hard drive to organize your material (such as Final Cut Libraries). Below, I named my library Geekery and then select my external drive, CalDigit (Macintosh HD is the local, internal drive). Then I press the “New Folder” button and create the new folder (where I’ll put all my libraries for organization purposes).

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.22.11 AM

3. The new library appears in Final Cut (see left). It defaults to a date name, but you can change it to anything. The library contains all of your files and it can include multiple folders with a variety of names (such as audio, photos, video, etc.).

4. Select Import Media, the files will go into this library (and the subfolder you’ve selected). If it’s not there, then go to File–>Open Library.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.22.46 AM

5. Be sure to select Copy files into [Name of Your Library]–this will make sure all your files are in that library. If you select “Leave files in place, then Final Cut will point back to these files and when you copy your Library to another hard drive it will be missing these files. I also select “Create optimized media”, telling final cut to decompress the files for editing.

ImportMedia

The press Import. You’re done.

What if you want to move a Library from your local hard drive (Macintosh HD) to you new external drive?

1. Format the drive as Mac OS (partition it as an xFat if you want part of the drive to work on a PC). (Use Disk Utility for formatting.)

2. Go to your Movies folder. If you’re on a network drive (such as at a university), to to your login folder in Finder. Below you can see my login folder (kl442)–>Movies folder–>DSLR Workshop (Final Cut Library name):

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.36.32 AM

As you can see, the library sits by itself unless you’ve created a folder to place it. You can take this library and drag and drop it to any folder or any Mac OS formatted external hard drive. (I would recommend creating a Final Cut Libraries folder in your external drive and place all of your libraries, there.)

That’s the major change for workflow in the Final Cut 10.1 update.

————–

Kurt_Lancaster1_smallKurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, coming out from Focal Press in Spring 2014. He teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University. He received his PhD from NYU.

Why I would rather shoot 2K raw than 4K compressed

I’m reading a lot of hype about shooting 4K. Camera geeks seem to be drooling over the possibilities, but I’m not buying it.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. The market isn’t ready for it.
  2. Uncompressed raw is superior compared to compressed 4K images

If you’re not convinced that there’s a market for 4K, bone up on the market research:

Cutting Through the Hype: Ultra HD Not Going Anywhere Fast” by Troy Dreier at SteamingMedia.com. Citing Avni Rambhia, we learn:

“If you look at the VOD revenues that ultra HD generated this year, even the forecasts we’re seeing for three or four years, they’re not particularly spectacular. As far as ultra HD encoding revenue forecasts are concerned, they’re less than ten percent of the total encoding market, even if you look four years out,” Rambhia said. “4K TVs are going to be probably less than 5 percent of the total streaming destination.”

The Dirty Little Secret About 4K Streaming: Content Owners Can’t Afford Bandwidth Costs” by Dan Rayburn. He writes:

“The average broadcaster, news site and publisher, even the large ones, won’t be able to do 4K streaming as the cost for all the extra bits means they will have a content business they can’t monetize. Just think about how much content you view every day, from major content portals, where the max bitrate is 1Mbps. Why aren’t those websites delivering the video in 3Mbps? The answer you get when you ask them is that they can’t afford the extra bandwidth costs associated with it.”

And when you factor in the fact that “the bitrates they plan to use to deliver 4K content, using HEVC, will be between 12Mbps-20Mbps”, then you’ve got to wonder, why would independent filmmakers, digital journalists, and students want to go 4K if there’s no real market for it? Avoid the hype from the camera makers.

I for one would much rather shoot 2K or 1080p HD raw than compressed 4K. I prefer to shoot “thicker” images, then something that contains more breadth of pixels, but are too think to really make it feel like film.

I like Marco Solorio at OneRive Media. His piece on an early model of the  4K Blackmagic Production Camera is fun to watch:

Compared to 8-bit DSLRs, this is fantastic. Remember, film isn’t about getting a sharp image. The dynamic range is great, but I sense that the image is thin when compared to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and especially when compared to the Digital Bolex D16 and the Ikonoskop A-Cam dII. I shot projects with each of these cameras, and they each have their pros and cons, but fundamental to them all is a “thicker” image, the ability to shape a postproduction feel to your film project.

Ikonoskop example by Jon Yi:

We can see a 16mm vintage film look coming from these shots and the skin tones are accurate. Yi writes:

The A-Cam DII’s image has an inherently nostalgic feel to it, so I decided to shoot this test video in Coney Island using just one simple prime lens to emulate the style of a point and shoot vacation camera. Coney Island is a nostalgic place for me, as it is for many New Yorkers, and it was the first “special” place I took a girl when I moved to New York as a poor teenager. I decided to cast Elle Vertes since her youthful enthusiasm and style fit the part.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera example by Kurt Lancaster:

I love the thickness of the raw image coming out of this camera. It has texture. From the back of the theater house I was able to get a sharp image on stage. Ultimately the ergonomics are not how I want to shoot.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera by Kurt Lancaster

Again, I like the thickness and texture coming from this image, from the raw elements of the CinemaDNG codec. The color doesn’t seem to be as rich as the colors coming out of the Ikonoskop and D16 Digital Bolex, seen below.

This film was shot with the beta version of the D16, but as soon as I started shooting with it, I knew I was using something special, something different from any other “electronic” or digital camera I’ve ever used.

Part of the problem with many of the new cameras coming out is the CMOS sensors (the Blackmagic cameras compared to the D16 and A-cam).

Joe Rubinstein, the president of Digital Bolex and the developer of the D16, recently posted on the Digital Bolex forum on Jan. 14, the importance of the wide range of capabilities when designing the front end of a camera:

With a CMOS sensor a developer may be able to squeeze the code to get a higher ISO or frame rate if they have left some capability room with the hardware, as we have seen with both Canon and Sony lately.

But with a CCD sensor a developer can actually continue to sculpt the code to change fundamental image quality things, almost indefinitely. There are so many subtle ways to control the image. It’s really awesome.

The one thing I’ll say about Rubinstein, is that from the beginning he wanted to attain a 16mm film look with the D16. He could have utilized nearly any sensor for the camera. He become convinced that a CCD, as an analog sensor, provided the capabilities to attain a 16mm film look more so than a CMOS sensor. The skin tones seem to be more natural, while at the same time when combined with the proper front end design, engages a 16mm film-like look.

Thus, the “thickness” of images coming out of CinemaDNG raw cameras, for me, provides superior imagery to images made from compressed images. For me, that’s the bottom line. Not whether or a camera is 4K for a market that’s not there.

Rather, when I pick up a digital cinema camera, like the D16 or A-Cam dII, it contains some kind of magic that makes me feel like I’m shooting on film again.

———–

Kurt_Lancaster1_small

Kurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, coming out from Focal Press in Spring 2014. He teaches filmmaking and multimedia journalism at Northern Arizona University.

Bolex LightPost from Pomfort a quick and powerful color grading tool for any cinemaDNG raw cinema camera

The team at Digital Bolex collaborated with Pomfort to create their own color grading software, LightPost, for their D16 camera. After using Adobe Camera Raw and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve on several projects, I would highly recommend getting LightPost if you are short on time and/or are overwhelmed by software complexity. Bottom line: It’s easy to use and contains a powerful algorithm.

It isn’t just for the Digital Bolex D16 camera, however. I imported footage from a project I shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (shot in Film mode) and a Canon 5D Mark III using Magic Lantern’s raw module, and I didn’t have to make any adjustments (other than adjusting some exposure). The footage looked good, as is.

The algorithm in LightPost is probably the best in the industry, therefore I recommend using this software for color grading when you want to work fast and especially if you do not want to face the complexity of Resolve or Camera Raw.

BMPC in LightPost
Here a still from a short documentary, “Magic Vegas”, I shot on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera in Las Vegas on Dec. 14, 2013. The grade was completed in LightPost:

BMPC_ungraded

The ungraded look from BMPC footage being brought into LightPost. Overall, it’s a good start.

Here’s the graded shot in LightPost:

BMPC_correctedNotice that I’ve adjusted the exposure, brining it down nearly a full stop and I’ve increased the color temp from 3400K to 3600K. For the sake of this project, the look is how I want it with no further tweaking. The algorithm in LightPost delivers a strong grade.

Here’s the short film:

In addition, find the one shot not recorded in raw, but in ProRes 422 and notice the comparison. ProRes 422 is not much better than H.264 and you’ll need to get your look locked in camera before shooting, since you won’t have much headroom in post to fix issues or engage a strong color grading process. (Another post about raw versus ProRes, forthcoming.)

Canon 5D Mark III Magic Lantern Raw in LightPost
Here’s another example, this time from Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “shay”) in Arizona, using Magic Lantern’s raw module. The first image raw after converting to CinemaDNG using RAWMagic software:

5DIIIML_rawAs you can see, the image is underexposed, but overall the color is accurate. It looks really good. I keep the color temp, as is.

Here’s the graded version:

5DIIIML_correctedI’ve increased the exposure just over half a stop, knocked down the tint by 1 value, and adjusted the soft contrast to 0.981 (1 being neutral). I did not get similar results went testing with DaVinci Resolve (at least, not this easily).

Here’s the complete short, “Canyon de Chelly”:

There’s noise in the shadows and I don’t feel Magic Lantern raw is quite as robust as CinemaDNG coming out of the Blackmagic cameras or the Digital Bolex, but if you nail the lighting right, it does look really nice.

Digital Bolex D16 in LightPost
The software was designed for this camera, so I expect it to look good, but in a beta test of the software (and the beta build of an uncalibrated camera), the image accuracy was hard to attain and I had to use Adobe Camera Raw to make the grade, “Venice Beach Breakdance”:

With the new version of the software and a calibrated camera, the comes in as strong as the other cameras, as can be seen from the footage shot by Philip Bloom, below and available on his website. (I have not received my D16, yet, so I’m relying on his footage, which he graded in Resolve, to use in LightPost.)

Here’s the ungraded shot as it comes into LightPost:

Bolex_raw

It looks good. The colors are there, but the exposure needs to be increased a bit.

Bolex-corrected

The results work with an increased exposure of nearly 1 stop and an adjustment of soft contrast to 1.452.

Without scopes, it’s hard to tell if the range is nailed, but by exporting to ProRes 4444 into Final Cut, I can make minor adjustments without the image falling apart, as can be seen below:

Bloom_Bolex_FinalCut_grade

I make some minor adjustments with exposure to widen up the midtones a bit. I’m not going to upload the video on this, since it’s only one shot and Bloom’s video is available. But it shows that the D16, the BMPC, and the 5D III with Magic Lantern’s raw module, integrates footage easily and accurately into LightPost.

Overview of LightPost
Here’s a quick overview of the software:

Copy Room

Orgazize CopyThe Copy Room is designed to import files directly from the camera or allow you to create a backup from existing files from a hard drive. You can select hard drives and see the metadata from the clips you copy.

Organize
The Organize room allows you to edit the footage as well as to create a project and import folders and files. You can import files directly into project folders from files on your hard drive without going through the Copy room. The timeline is located center, below, as well as preview metadata from clips and to skim through shots (marking in and out points).

Orgazize

Color
The Color room is the heart of the raw process.

Color

Here, you can select your clip on the left, and then color grade through a variety of tools, from color temperature and exposure sliders to color wheels. Minute changes can make great impacts (especially when using tint). Moving among the different sliders is key as you make changes. I adjust color temperature and exposure first and then make smaller changes among the highlights and shadows (red, green, and blue). If you need to sharpen or soften the image, use the Sharpen and Haze sliders.

Export
The Export room allows you to choose the hard drive and folder for the export, as well as its format, from mobile apps to full out ProRes 4444.

Export

If you plan to make any adjustments to the grade, choose Post (ProRes 4444), since ProRes 422 will fall apart when  you grade in your editing software.

The bottom of the screen provides additional details and choices:

  • Codec
    Codec
  • Size
    Size
  • Resizing
    Resizing
    Also, take note of checking the In/Out Points if you want it to only export what you’ve already chosen. Also, there’s an embed audio feature if you’re recorded audio (I have not tested this). There’s a few options for debayering, but I’ll admit ignorance on this and kept it at “Default (GPU)”.

In conclusion:

Pros:

  • Killer algorithm, allowing you to import footage from not only the Bolex D16, but also Blackmagic cameras and Magic Lantern raw without needing to make any major adjustments. (I assume it’ll work fine with KineRAW and -MINI, as well, since they’re using the CinemaDNG format.)
  • Easy to use with a simple interface.
  • It’s supposed to bring in raw files directly from Magic Lantern (for Canon DSLR users), but my test failed on this account. (Check in later a fix on this.)

Cons:

  • Missing video scopes. A work around involves exporting in ProRes 4444 (ProRes 422 will fall apart) so that you can make minor adjustments in your editing software using the video scopes to get the footage within the specs you need.
  • Missing “undo” function. It’s just ice to have when you want to go back a few steps without using reset buttons.
  • Price at $129 isn’t bad, but it would be nicer at $49!

They do offer a 14-day free trial (which will put a watermark on your exported footage).

If you’re looking for ease of use and become bewildered by complex grading software, Bolex LightPost by Pomfort may be the best software on the market, today.

——-

Kurt_Lancaster1_smallKurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, coming out from Focal Press in Spring 2014. He teaches filmmaking and multimedia journalism at Northern Arizona University.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 9.10.56 AM     Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 9.11.15 AM

Why should I shoot cinema raw and which camera should I get?

For low budget indy filmmakers, we’re at a revolutionary crossroads. In under two years we’ve seen the birth of several affordable CinemaDNG raw cameras—allowing us to acquire digital film quality footage from cameras costing less than $3500.

The interview
Kurt Lancaster shooting a short documentary at Venice Beach, California with Digital Bolex’s D16 beta build camera. Michael Plescia on audio with Joe Rubinstein holding a reflector. (Photo by Elle Schneider.)

Below I provide an example of why it’s important to shoot in raw, as well as describing my opinion of several CinemaDNG cameras as a shooter and editor who works from a DIY filmmaking and multimedia journalism perspective (as well as a professional filmmaking educator). I’ve shot projects with all of these cameras (except the KineRAW MINI), going on location and interviewing camera and filmmakers in Los Angeles, Sweden, Melbourne, and Las Vegas.  In addition, I’ve used each of the available color grading software. I’ve just completed a book for Focal Press about this topic: Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, coming out later this spring.

Why should I shoot raw in the first place?
You don’t. If you’re happy with shooting video cameras and love the look (especially in an ENG environment), keep doing what you’re doing. If you love your DSLR and are happy with the footage, keep on shooting with it. A $600 Canon 60D puts out a better image than video cameras costing thousands more—my book, DSLR Cinema, promotes the use of DSLRs for film students and low budget indy filmmakers (far, far better than teaching or shooting on prosumer video cameras).

C100
The Canon C100 (listed around $5000) is a great compromise camera, blending the best of the large sensor look and interchangeable lenses of a DSLR with XLR audio inputs and manual neutral density settings of a video camera. Stillmotion, one of the best video production houses in the world, works wonders with this camera (along with DSLRs). They know that a filmmaker’s best asset is their story.

8-bit compression
However, most of the prosumer video world shoots everything compressed, including the C100. In order to make the image look good, they compress footage into an H.264 8-bit codec, resulting in thin footage. It looks good on the surface. It’s a codec that works well for DVDs and on the web (packing a lot of information in a small amount of space). You can also shoot a lot of footage on a relatively small memory card.

But the H.264 codec is for end results, not the beginning.

So if you nail the look in-camera, you’re in good shape. However, if you push or pull your footage too far in post, the image falls apart. It loses its appeal. The image feels thin. Whatever it had going for it, is gone.

Furthermore, even when you get the look right in-camera, I’ve noticed that the image I see on the back of my 5D Mark II, for example, looks really, really good. I remember shooting one particular scene, the subject looking great through my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L lens—the glass making the image so beautiful, and through the live view LCD screen, it did.

But every time I put footage onto my computer, something goes missing—even after decompressing the image into a ProRes file, it never recovers what that original image looked like.

At the time I didn’t know much about 8-bit compression. I didn’t know how the image was being compromised, thinned out to save space. But I lived with it, because if you got that image to look close on-camera, you were going to get a good image on the computer. And in many cases, it didn’t (and probably doesn’t) really matter—but true fact: No matter what was done to it in post, that footage never looked as good as the image coming out through the back of that live view screen. The depth of the image flattened the life out of it.

The magic of film and 12-bit uncompressed
When I filmed on a 16mm Arriflex during my NYU days in the mid 1990s, I would look through the glass and see magic. After I got the film developed, that shimming beauty of film remained. Nothing was lost. That magic shone through the film.

Not one video camera, prosumer or otherwise, quite captured the cinematic thickness of film.

Until now. That magic of filmmaking I felt when using 16mm film has returned with these CinemaDNG cameras. And that’s why I love shooting in raw. I feel like I’m shooting with film again.

To shoot raw means to thicken the color of your images, making them more dense—a lot more data provides more headroom to push and pull footage in post, to correct errors made during shooting, as well as to shape the look and feel of your film.

Treat post workflow like film
Even if you try to take your raw files, make some changes in post with color and exposure (using DaVinci Resolve, LightPost, or Camera Raw), export it as an 8-bit ProRes 422 file for your editing software, and then try to make additional changes with the 8-bit image, the image falls apart, as can be seen with this frame from a BMCC shoot in Final Cut, below:

Figure-7.31-Carpetbag-FinalCut-color-correctionMy attempt to grade Apple ProRes 422 in Final Cut X after doing an initial grade in Resolve, fails.

After making initial color correction in DaVinci Resolve, I try to make further adjustments of exposure and color in Final Cut using exported ProRes files. The image begins to fall apart—losing the exposure in the highlights, as well as sharpness and skin tones. This is the limiting aspect of grading compressed images and the reason filmmakers should want to shoot (and grade) in raw.

Here’s a similar frame in Final Cut, but this time fully corrected and graded in Resolve:

Figure-7.32-Carpetbag-Davinci-color-correctionThe grade of a BMCC shoot works when grading within Resolve.

By grading in raw, the exposure in the highlights, the sharpness of detail, and good skin tones remain protected and accurate. (If you export footage as ProRes 4444, you’ll engage far better results when making minor adjustments while grading.)

Ultimately, the magic’s beneath the raw hood, where we find good skin tones, as well as roll off of light and shadow. Details and color pop out through digital pixels, as close to film as I’ve experienced.

Thus you will want to treat raw like old school film. Shoot in raw, “develop” (correct and grade) your project from the raw files in post, then “print” (export) the files for editing. You might edit from a “work print”, exporting raw files as proxies (with XML) so you can create a rough cut edit from smaller files, before bringing back for full grading.

When I shot with the Digital Bolex D16, this really stood out to me (see below). What I saw was, finally, what I shot—it was dense. I could manipulate the image like I was in a dark room mixing chemicals—but now I was mixing temperature balance, tint, contrast, exposure, and film curves.

Which cinema raw camera should I get?
Below is a quick overview of the different low-budget raw cameras on the market, today.

Ikonoskop: ~$9000
Well, it was on the market, but the Swedish company is being restructured and appears to have been bought by a company in Belgium. It will likely be reproduced at a lower price point in order to remain competitive.

Ikonoskop
The first CinemaDNG camera, Ikonoskop’s A-Cam dII. Currently out of production.

This camera’s for independent filmmakers. I went to Ikonoskop in Stockholm and borrowed the camera for a couple of days and short a short documentary with it (still in post). This is the first CinemaDNG camera, and the most ergonomically pleasing. It is fun to handle and expresses gravitas. It shoots beautiful 16mm film-like images. As one filmmaker I interviewed says, it makes you feel like you’re shooting poetry when using it. Filmmaker Jon Yi (from NYU), shot this seductive film at Coney Island with the Ikonoskop:

As can be seen from this film, the Ikonoskop puts out a great image, expressing a 16mm film look. Philip Bloom, Tweeting from NAB in 2012, said, “My favourite image from a camera at the show? Probably the @ikonoskop. Lovely! [H]ope to shoot with it soon!” (http://propic.com/23N9). The only other CinemaDNG camera that I’ve experienced coming close to this look is Digital Bolex’s D16.

But other cameras engage in strong cinematic images, too.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera: ~$2,000 (expect to add another $2000 to make it field ready)
For many who were used to shooting with DSLRs, Blackmagic’s camera was a shock when they saw the sharpness of the uncompressed image.

BMCCBlackmagic’s Cinema Camera shoots CinemaDNG raw, as well as ProRes and DNxHD formats.

The Cinema Camera from the Australian company, Blackmagic Design, is solid and it’s probably best for production houses doing promotional and commercial videos. For just about $2000, this seems to be the best deal—if you can overcome its quirks, including moire and rolling shutter issues typical of CMOS sensors.  (Also, be sure to choose which lens mount you want: either EF or Micro 4/3.) However, realize you will need to pay thousands more to get this up to a field- or studio-ready camera. For example, the audio is worse than DSLRs (and there are no audio meters), so you will need to budget an external audio recorder. You may want some kind of cage, although I shot a short documentary without one.

It wants to be placed on a tripod with an EVF, especially when shooting outdoors day. I was able to place this on a monopod and shoot handheld in some situations.

Its advantages: It has the capability to shoot CinemaDNG raw, as well as Apple ProRes (422), and DNxHD format (for Avid). This flexibility makes this a fairly versatile camera, and with a 2.5K sensor you can do some crop work in post for full HD composition. But to get it “field” ready (external monitor, battery, SSD drives—be prepared to spend at least another $2000 not including lenses).

I shot a live performance art piece with it:

It provides a sharp look and some filmmakers are shooting some nice-looking commercial and promotional videos with this camera. It has its own character and the image coming out of the camera does not look like the other cameras profiled here. For news work, use the ProRes format to save space and postproduction time. After shooting with this camera, I have no problem using it for certain documentary work in raw mode, as well, but since I have other choices, it is unlikely that I will shoot with it, again.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera: ~$1000 (will need to budget at least $1200 more to make it a field camera with enough memory cards, batteries, external audio, and monopod)

BMPC

Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera packs a punch in a small package, recording in “lossless” compressed CinemaDNG, as well as ProRes.

This is a solid portable camera, allowing you to shoot broadcast quality images on the run. The advantages is how it can shoot a compressed form of “lossless” raw, as well as utilize ProRes.

The disadvantage: Terrible audio and no audio meters. I couldn’t even get a clean reference audio with a Rode VideoMic Pro attached. Plan to budget an external audio. Moire issues and rolling shutter issues typical of CMOS sensors.

This camera is good for news and journalism, especially for those needing to do fast turnaround with their work using ProRes. You could shoot fiction on it if you rig it up. I would recommend shooting in ProRes mode for run and gun situations where the image isn’t essential. In cases where you want to shape a powerful image, use raw. When you do, the footage coming out of the camera is solid, as can be seen from this short scene I shot with it below (one shot is in ProRes, can you find it and see the difference?):

Some argue that ProRes is a good codec. It’s decent. It’s broadcast quality—but it is not very cinematic compared to CinemaDNG raw mode. Switching between lossless DNG raw to ProRes with the BMPC resulted in an image quality that didn’t look close to the quality of CinemaDNG and I was not able to make it look close to the raw origination while grading it in Final Cut. If you are planning to use the ProRes codec, treat it like you would when shooting with a DSLR—get it accurate in camera!

BMPC_rawThe CinemaDNG lossless raw still from Magic Vegas, graded in LightPost. The image contains depth of color that can be felt when grading it.
 
Magic-Geekery-ProRes
BMPC_ProRes
As an experiment, I shot this moment in ProRes, then color graded in Final Cut, using “match color” and adjusting some of the colors (first image). In the second, I did not use match color and graded by my eye trying to get it as close as possible to the raw original. I couldn’t get either to match and the detail and color depth is simply lost in the ProRes codec. 

If you’re a journalist or documentary filmmaker and you have this camera on you, you can get shots as they arise—especially if you want to shoot low profile. But if you need quality audio, you’ll need to factor that into how you use it as a low profile camera, as well, thus making it “larger” than it really is.

Having recently shot a project with the BMPC, I’ve realized that this camera really does want a rig to help stabilize and accessorize it.

Shape makes a good cage for Blackmagic Pocket Cineam Camera for about $400: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1004681-REG/shape_bmpocage_cage_for_blackmagic_pocket.html

Be sure to get enough batteries and memory cards. It’s recommended that you purchase the Canon battery pack from Switronix ($155): http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1007270-REG/switronix_pkt_basek_pocketbase_battery_holder_with.html.

It’ll take a pair of 5D/7D/60D type batteries (which comes with it) and fully charged I was able to shoot a couple hours of footage over the course of a 6 hour day.

D16 Digital Bolex: ~$3300 (250GB SSD drive) or ~$3600 (500 GB SSD drive)
For independent filmmakers, those shooting fiction and independent feature narratives, as well as documentaries. This is an international camera, connecting Switzerland, Canada, and the United States.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 2.26.13 PM

Filmmaker Michael Plescia claims that this is the “real deal” in that it captures natural skin tones, engages a 16mm film look, and contain high quality audio.

The D16 is hands down one of the best digital cinema cameras in its class, today—and for the price point it’s unparalleled. Some filmmakers state that for all of the digital cinema cameras out there, this is the real deal. Philip Bloom says that it expressed, “A very filmic image, more so than the BMD Pocket Camera. It really has a proper S16mm look to it, not just a S16mm sized sensor” (http://philipbloom.net/2014/01/01/d16/).

It really has a proper S16mm look to it, not just a S16mm sized sensor. -Philip Bloom

I shot this short documentary, below, with a beta version of the camera and it was the first time I got excited about shooting since I shot on 16mm film:

I not only shot at noon, but I shot a dark skinned street performer against a blue sky. I did everything you should never do with an 8-bit DSLR or video camera. Stopping down the vintage lens to its smallest aperture just to get exposure (no ND filter on hand), I shot the ocean with sailboats in the distance, and held the sky. I shot skateboarders in their rink, moving a fast pan left with no rolling shutter or moire issues.

This camera, like others in its class, is about harnessing color depth, filmic texture, and nice skin tones. But out of all of these cameras (except, perhaps the Ikonoskop), the Digital Bolex camera really felt like I was shooting with a film camera. And rather than utilizing limited film mags, the 500GB SSD will provide around two hours of shooting (which takes about an hour to offload through the USB cable), but two fast CF cards will allow for card swapping if you’re shooting a lot of footage. If you need more than two hours of shooting time, be sure to get the Switronix external battery pack for $325:  (http://www.digitalbolex.com/product/switronix-battery-pack-bundle/)

KineRAW MINI: ~$4600 (standard kit)
I have not shot with this Chinese camera, so I’m not going to make a recommendation one way or another about it. But it does contain an S35mm sensor and at a price point less than the Canon C100. The body only costs $3200, but unless you have the accessaries from the standard kit, you won’t be able to do much with it.

Kinefinity_mini

Can’t say much about this camera, since I’ve never used it, but the price point is right.

Filmmaker Johnnie Behiri shows what it can do in this short documentary:

See more info at:  http://www.kineraw.com/enproduct.asp?EnBigClassName=KineRAW-MINI&EnSmallClassName=Price_Package

5D Mark III: ~$3400 (with Magic Lantern raw)
The Mark II started the DSLR cinema revolution and it was followed up by the Mark III, which included a headphone jack and audio meters, key elements needed in any video camera.

Canon-5DIII

Canon’s full frame sensor camera shoots better images than high end video cameras, and with Magic Lantern’s raw module, it’s competitive with the other CinemaDNG cameras profiled on this post.

Many DSLR filmmakers prodded Canon to make the Mark II raw—they responded with the C500 for $20,000! Magic Lantern—a loose affiliate of hackers and camera aficionados responded back, creating a firmware hack that included a raw module for the Mark III for no cost.

Does it work? Yes, but with certain limitations. You’ll need the fastest card money can buy, you’ll need to install the Magic Lantern software through a convoluted process, but it provides 14-bit raw. It has moire and rolling shutters issues typical of CMOS sensors.

The steps that will guide you through this process are located at: http://www.magiclantern.fm/forum/index.php?topic=5520.0. Once you shoot the raw files, you’ll need software to wrap them into the CinemaDNG format. RAWMagic is one such software available as an Mac’s App store (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/rawmagic/id658860973?mt=12). Then you’ll need to import footage into DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Camera Raw, or LightPost, which achieved stellar results and is the easiest one to use.

However, for this price point, you can get a Digital Bolex. So this raw update is worth it if you already own the 5D Mark III or 7D (among other Canon DSLRs). It is really not worth the price when you compare it to the CinemaDNG cameras described above. And if you’re going to pay $3400 in order to shoot raw with this camera, you’re better off getting a D16, since it’s the same price and it provides a better image and better audio.

Which camera is the best?
It depends on your budget and needs, as well as the type of project you’re shooting. With that said, these are my four reasons why I think Digital Bolex D16 is the best CinemaDNG camera in its class, with a clear understanding that these reason revolve around the needs for those who want to shoot film, not video:

  1. Expresses a 16mm film look.
    This is the first low priced (under $5000) digital camera that engages a film look.
  2. Contains high quality audio.
    With a pair of built in XLR inputs and the ability to record 24-bit audio is unparalleled. Audio is not an afterthought with this camera, but it actually contains good audio circuitry. Filmmakers in the fiction world are used to shooting external audio, but its nice to have the goods built in. Those shooting documentaries will find this a great relief.
  3. Ergonomically pleasing to handle.
    I actually like the results coming out of the BMCC, but it’s not a pleasure to handle. The Bolex, like the Ikonoskop, is sexy and it wants to be handheld (or placed on a monopod), the kind of cradling that I enjoyed with my old Panasonic DVX100. It also has a pistol grip.
  4. Global shutter.
    With this CCD, you do not have the rolling shutter issues of CMOS sensors used by the others camera profiled here (except the Ikonoskop, which also uses a similar CCD) and moire patterns is limited.
  5. It is DCP compliant.
    If you ever want to project your film on the big screen in a movie theater, its got the goods to deliver a strong cinematic image. (A DIY deliver method is provided at No Film School: http://nofilmschool.com/2012/07/project-in-digital-theater-make-digital-cinema-package-for-cheap-with-opendcp/. You can certainly apply this to any camera, but with the D16 isn’t going to give you the issues of rolling shutter and moire patterns will be limited.

Some might argue that I’m biased, that I’m a Kickstarter backer of the D16. True. But my bias lies in shooting projects on a 16mm Arriflex during my NYU days in the mid 1990s. My bias lies in shooting several documentaries that have screened at film festivals (including the San Diego ComicCon) shot on a Panasonic DVX100, of which I paid $3700, which was marketed to engage a 24p film look, but only for those who were kidding themselves (or never really had the experience of shooting on film).

Thus my point of comparison, the baseline comparison is shooting on film, and the look and feel that it entails. The Blackmagic cameras do deliver a great looking image (far better than the C100, for example), but they don’t quite express the look and feel of 16mm film. And yes, DSLRs do deliver a certain film look and I love shooting with my Mark II, but as mentioned above, the image it delivers is thin and it doesn’t express the feel I see coming out of the Bolex.

 

What software should I grade with?
Adobe Camera Raw
The most complex of the postproduction software for raw, but the most powerful in how you can make subtle adjustments to your film. It comes as part of Adobe’s Photoshop, Lightroom, or After Effects. Access to this software can be received by subscribing to Adobe’s Creative Cloud: http://www.adobe.com/products/catalog/software._sl_id-contentfilter_sl_catalog_sl_software_sl_mostpopular.html.

Bolex LightPost by Pomfort
The algorithm in this software rocks. The easiest to use, LightPost works magic on your footage — and it’s not just for Bolex’s camera. I imported lossless raw footage from the BMPC and raw converted to DNG files from the 5D Mark III and achieved amazing results without doing much of a grade. What’s missing is video scopes (such as a waveform monitor). If you need to make slight adjustments to your footage after grading, then export as ProRes 4444 (you’ll be able to make minor adjustments without your image falling apart, as opposed to ProRes 422). The software sells at the Bolex site: http://www.digitalbolex.com/product/lightpost-software/

DaVinci Resolve
Perhaps the standard, this software is used for professional Hollywood productions. However, it is complex and not easy to learn. The professional version comes free with a purchase of a BMCC. A free download of the “lite” version, can be found at http://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve. Be sure to get Captain Hook’s LUT, a plugin that makes grading the Blackmagic cameras much easier: http://www.captainhook.co.nz/blackmagic-cinema-camera-lut/.

 

——-

Kurt_Lancaster1_smallKurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, coming out from Focal Press in Spring 2014. He teaches filmmaking and multimedia journalism at Northern Arizona University.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 9.10.56 AM     Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 9.11.15 AM

  

 

Behind the scenes at Digital Bolex in Toronto, Canada

Digital-Bolex-cameraThe d16 Digital Bolex. Image courtesy of Digital Bolex.

I want one
When I first heard about the Digital Bolex camera last year, and its capability to shoot raw video (using Adobe’s open source CinemaDNG format), on a blog post by Philip Bloom, I went to Kickstarter to back the $2500 camera, but they were sold out. I waited until the last day of the campaign, hoping someone would back out at the last minute. They did. I was all in.

And as I started to do more research, I decided to pitch a proposal to Focal Press for a new book. They had published the first and second editions of my DSLR Cinema book, and this new one would cover the latest in video cameras that shoot cinema raw, tentatively titled, Cinematic Storytelling with 16mm Raw: Shooting with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and the Blackmagic Cinema Cameras. It should be out late fall or early winter. This blog is a work-in-progress excerpt. 

I flew to Toronto last week to see what Joe Rubinstein, Elle Schneider, and the Ienso team were up to with the Digital Bolex. They’re nearing completion. The suspense of waiting nearing its end. And to go behind the scenes and watch the team work on sensor boards and menu designs was a thrill. I shot interviews and some b-roll for this behind the scenes look at one of the most innovative cameras to come out in the past decade.

A short documentary on the Digital Bolex at Ienso in Toronto
(Feb. 26-27, 2013) by Kurt Lancaster:

A cinema camera for posers or the real deal?
But some people may have had the same initial reaction that Neil mentions in a user comment on the digital bolex site: “When I first saw this camera on Kickstarter I must be honest, I didn’t see any true use out of it except as a niche camera that hipsters would use just to look cool.”

Joe-RubensteinJoe Rubinstein, founder and visionary, of the Digital Bolex. 
(Kurt Lancaster)

But there was something different about how Joe Rubinstein – founder and visionary for the Digital Bolex – interfaced with his potential customers, offering not only a peak behind the curtain, but allowing customers to provide feedback before the camera was built. In some ways, they helped design the camera. Because of this many began to realize that this was not going to be just a slapped-together or copycat camera with a cool name, but the real deal. Neil’s sentiments as he continues his above-mentioned post best describes how Rubinstein’s open approach pays off. Shifting from thinking that at first it’s a camera for posers, Neil changes his mind:

However, I’ve been following the project for some time and I’m amazed at how much thought, time and energy is being put into the camera to not only make the camera useful, but exceedingly useful.

You could have just jammed a sensor into a Bolex-shaped box and I think most people that invested would have been satisfied as long as it worked. But you have gone above and beyond to an entirely higher level of goodness with the camera and have become the perfect model of a kickstarter generated product.
<http://www.digitalbolex.com/kish-prototype-lenses/>

The d16 Digital Bolex is not just a video camera or a wannabe cinema camera. Rubinstein dislikes video so much he stopped making films during the HD video revolution of the 2000s. The Canon 5D Mark II with its full frame sensor and interchangeable lenses may have blown the doors off other prosumer digital video cameras, but Rubinstein was never convinced by the limitations of an 8-bit compression scheme.

From film stock to 16mm digital negative
The differences may be subtle—and even undetectable by many non-cinematographers—but you must remember Rubinstein isn’t trying to create a digital camera by comparing it to other HD video cameras. His baseline is 16mm film. “The ethos behind the d16 Bolex is to look at what made 16mm film format in the 60s appealing,” he says. Then, he explains, you could buy 16mm film,

the same film stock as the professionals. It’s just a smaller format than 35mm film. But you’re shooting the same thing. And the camera is just the carrier for the film stock. It doesn’t really affect the image quality. Maybe you could argue the angle of the shutter or something like that.

It’s really about creating an image that a professional film camera could create. Amateur filmmakers, students, and independent filmmakers all had access to the same film stocks as professional filmmakers. Rubinstein wants to create the same thing for the digital cinema world. For example, “if you’re making a drama,” Rubinstein argues, “there’s no reason why you can’t make a film that looks just as good as a feature you’d see in the theater on the same camera that you’re shooting your family vacation on.” But video cameras changed all that. He tells me that there was a

split between amateur or home recording mediums and professional mediums. It became this video ghetto, where unless you can afford a professional quality camera, your film is never going to get shown anywhere. You can’t get it into a festival, and it’s not going to be taken seriously.

So he was driven to make a digital cinema camera that’s not only relatively affordable ($3300 for the d16 is about the same price as a Canon 5D Mark III), but he wants the final digital project to look like 16mm film.

“I started researching what it would take to make it,” Rubinstein explains,

and I realized, if I make this thing, I’m not going to be the only person that wants one. There are going to be other people that are interested in it. So I started researching what it would take to make a retail version. And when I was explaining to people what I wanted to do, I was always calling it a digital Bolex. I kept saying, ‘It’s just like the idea of a Bolex, but digital.’

At his point, he spent nine months putting together a market research paper and a business plan before approaching Bolex. And this was before Kickstarter.

Finding a camera manufacturer
But he couldn’t go it alone—not even with creative partner Elle Schneider. They can come up with concepts and schematics, but the actual manufacturing obviously had to be farmed out. They still needed to build a camera. It requires molding, circuit board design, getting the right sensor—all of the elements to get the camera made and working.

Elle-SchneiderElle Schneider, creative director at Digital Bolex. (Kurt Lancaster)
 Responsible for envisioning the user interface and how the 
camera operates.

Even at this level he didn’t approach the work conventionally. Rubinstein researched electronic companies and ended up talking to representatives from a “lot of different electronic design firms and companies that work with sensors,” he explains. And many of their responses went something like this, Rubinstein says: “‘When you’re ready to make a million units, call us back.’ That’s kind of the attitude I got from easily half of them. And I said, ‘Okay, but I don’t want to make a million units.’”

Others suggested that he contact venture capitalists to fund the manufacturing of the camera. “‘You need x number of dollars to get off the ground,’” they told him, and “‘when you have that amount of money come talk to us and we’ll help you make a camera.’” But this went against Rubinstein’s previous business venture experiences and philosophy. “That is not the way that I do things or want to do things.” He’d been burned in the past by venture capitalists not understanding his product, and they ended up “making really bad decisions because of it,” he says. He only wanted to make a few hundred cameras at first.

Toronto partners
Rubinstein came across a small electronics company, Ienso, a contract design service firm outside of Toronto, Canada and shared his vision with the owners of the company.

Mike-LiwakMike Liwak, VP of product development at Ienso. (Kurt Lancaster)
 Leads the team that executes Joe's and Elle's vision for 
the Digital Bolex.

Mike Liwak, a partner at Ienso and VP of product development talks about how when Rubinstein first approached him, it was to create the camera for his Polite in Public photobooth:

he had an idea for a particular camera that fit the application he was working with and so I started off conversations back and forth which started to evolve. And in parallel with that he was looking for other solutions, or to see what other technologies are out there and he started to gradually realize that there was a lot of potential for the Digital Bolex camera. At that time of course we didn’t have the Bolex name trademark. We were looking to have a raw cinema-type camera that was shooting raw. But not super expensive, not super high-end, but still good quality and robust, and so forth.

But Rubinstein didn’t want to give them money to build the camera. He wanted a partnership. Both sides would kick in money to make it happen.

Worth the risk
Joe Bornbaum, the VP of finance at Ienso was open to the idea. He knows their company can build and design cameras, “But we’re not the guys who are in touch with the market. And here came Joe with his vision. And as I probed him and as I pushed him, he had the answers. There was a logic to it. And I thought, you know what, we are going to take a gamble here and bet on this.”

Joe-BornbaumJoe Bornbaum, VP of Fianance at Ienso. (Kurt Lancaster)
 Willing to take the risk to design and build the Digital Bolex 
at Ienso.

Liwak tells me that they get requests to partner with other companies a lot:

we’ve had offers for partnership before with other companies or technologies and after running our own business and doing some things on our own we have a bit of a feel of what makes sense and what doesn’t, and what’s viable and what’s not viable. So what Joe described to us as the potential market and how we could fit in — and combined with the technology which we thought we could develop — all of the pieces of the puzzle went together. So we thought it was worth the risk.

This meant investing money, manpower, and technology to make it happen. As Bornbaum says, Rubinstein’s offer was an opportunity. “I use this analogy,” he adds:

You’re running towards a cliff and you hope that you can build a bridge by the time you get there. And that’s literally what we’ve committed to doing here. We’re betting the company on making this work. Just as Joe has bet everything he has on this.

The d16 Digital Bolex is just the beginning. Rubinstein and Schneider, as well as their partners at Ienso are not only planning accessories, they’re looking down the road at more Bolex cameras. Perhaps a 4K Bolex is on the horizon?

 

Kurt_LancasterKurt Lancaster, PhD, is the author of 
DSLR Cinema (Focal Press, 2013) and 
Video Journalism for the Web 
(Routledge, 2013). He teaches digital 
filmmaking and multimedia journalism 
at Northern Arizona University.

 

Interview with Ikonoskop — shooting 16mm RAW with the A-Cam dII in Stockholm

Kurt Lancaster is working on a new book for Focal Press dealing with the new 16mm RAW cinema cameras coming out.

Cinema RAW is the holy grail of low-budget filmmakers. With the popular release of Black Magic Design’s Cinema Camera, along with Philip Bloom’s review of it rising to the all-time number one post of his blogging career, it is easy to forget that the Swedish company, Ikonoskop got there first. Indeed, Joe Rosenstein of Digital Bolex, was inspired by the Ikonoskop due it’s use of a Kodak CCD. And don’t forget, Philip Bloom at NAB 2012, tweeted “My favourite image from a camera at the show? Probably the Ikonoskop (@ikonoskop). Lovely! [H]ope to shoot with it soon!”

Due to its sleek Swedish design, along with an engine that puts out cinematic-looking shots, The A-Cam dII, simply cannot be ignored. At this date, it’s one of the best designed “video” cameras on the market.

DSLRs are great cameras for their price point and can put out cinematic quality images if you get the look you want in-camera — there’s very little latitude for error, due to it’s heavy processing as images get compressed to 8-bit in the H.264 format.

See Focal Press’s MasteringFilm.com site for the rest of the complete article:
http://www.masteringfilm.com/interview-with-ikonoskop-%E2%80%94-shooting-16mm-raw-with-the-a-cam-dii-in-stockholm/

 

—————–

Kurt Lancaster, PhD, is the author of DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Large Sensor Video, 2nd edition, Focal Press, 2013 and Video Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Documentary Storytelling, Routledge, 2013. He teaches digital filmmaking and multimedia journalism at Northern Arizona University’s School of Communication.