DSLR Cinema, Cinema Raw, and Cinematic Journalism

by Kurt Lancaster

DSLR Cinema, Cinema Raw, and Cinematic Journalism - by Kurt Lancaster

Stillmotion’s MUSE — a priceless investment on storytelling

Film Schools attract thousands of applicants every year. Most of them turn out technically competent filmmakers (hopefully). But very few become strong storytellers.

At no other time in the history of cinema has it been so easy to produce short films and videos—whether you’re using a DSLR or an iPhone—nor has it been so easy to distribute short films on the internet. But despite the millions of YouTube videos, ubiquitous reality television, and broadcast commercials very little of it is any good. There’s a reason for that. There’s a lack of good storytelling—stories that connect with the heart.

Stillmotion has come up with a solution to this problem. With their course, MUSE, Stillmotion takes the film school model and turns it on its head—starting with story first. Without a strong story you can have the best camera in the world and it won’t make a story that moves an audience for you. Instead, the equipment the team at Stillmotion has put together will allow you to discover story through a logical process—placing emotional connection at the center of their model. Without that emotional center, stories fall flat.

Stillmotion’s MUSE review from Kurt Lancaster on Vimeo.

Film students will spend tens of thousands of dollars on an education and very few of them learn the heart of storytelling. With Stillmotion’s MUSE course you get it for $497—an investment that’s worth far more than a year’s worth of tuition at NYU or USC. With MUSE you get the tools that unlock the process to powerful storytelling.

This course is indispensible for film students just learning their craft as well as for seasoned professionals who are looking for new ways to tap into their creativity. It’s for those who want to tell stories that mean something to themselves and to their audience. Their system works for any type of film project, from fiction projects to weddings, as well as client-based work for businesses and nonprofits.

Those who complete this course and practice it are given the tools most film schools miss—how to find and develop a story that expresses heart.

Stillmotion engages in a fresh approach to storytelling. They’re not film school insiders. The founders of Stillmotion received degrees in psychology and have applied what it means to discover and develop characters who embody a story that moves an audience. They speak from experience.

This course isn’t for those looking for a quick fix nor is it a formula that guarantees success by light-heartedly going through the online course. It will take work. But for those who stick with it and develop their process in their own work, you will receive what Stillmotion has honed over ten years of experimentation and discovery, a process that has earned them awards.

This course will change your entire approach to video and film storytelling.  Film schools and video production houses should adopt Stillmotion’s MUSE and start telling heartfelt stories.

Schneider Variogon f/1.8 12.5-75mm lens test with the Digital Bolex

I’ve been looking for a fast zoom lens for my Digital Bolex D16 for months. I was very happy in receiving my Switar f/1.6 10mm prime lens. It’s a thing of beauty. But I wanted a zoom lens that gives me wide to long in one package for documentary work. I came across a Schneider f/1.8 12.5-75mm and love it.


The crew has lined up for my test shoot of the Schneider lens (photos by Stephanie Petrie):


Let’s face it–it’s tough finding a good C-mount zoom lens for the Bolex.
This Schneider glass is one of them if you need a zoom, but it’s not perfect.

It’s got weight and it easily screws onto the C mount of the D16:


It’s Schneider glass, and built like a tank. It does not feel cheap, but designed to last. Made in Germany.

It’s also fast: f/1.8 throughout the zoom range, with manual and smooth focus, aperture, and zoom (important for the D16 since there’s no automatic control of any of these). I also like the zoom range of 12.5-75mm–good for doc work. For a 2.9x crop (16mm), it’s go almost everything I need.


It’s heavy, so it’s difficult to handhold as seen in the 75 and 50mm test shots in the film (below). It also has noticeable vignetting in 2K mode, so that option is out. In full HD (1920×1080), there is minor vignetting when shooting wide open and focusing open too much on the macro side.  The two times it occurred, I was easily able to crop them out in post.

Here is the test film:

This is a solid zoom lens for the Digital Bolex. I would have no problem using this lens in Full HD mode on a monopod or tripod, but never in 2K. I could probably do handhold work from 12.5-35mm. Plan to crop the edges when shooting wide under certain focus conditions.



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 is also the author of Video Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Documentary Storytelling

He teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University, including a new Master’s emphasis in Documentary Studies (nau.edu/docstudies). Kurt received his PhD from NYU.


Bryce Canyon Bolex and color grading raw with Adobe Lightroom

Bryce Canyon National Park is full of visual wonders and oddities just waiting to be captured by the 12-bit raw capabilities of the Digital Bolex‘s D16 cinema camera. I’ve proven this camera as a nice production house workhorse with several short documentaries and a promotional (see earlier post, A great production house camera). Bryce Canyon gave me the opportunity to test the camera’s capabilities at one of the most strikingly visual national parks. And with approaching thunderstorms in the distance, it added to the dramatic feel of the shoot.

Shot with the 10mm Switar, 50mm Zeiss Contax, and 85mm Rokinon lenses (the latter two attached with an EF to C mount adapter). I also used Kessler Krane slider, as well as a tripod, monopod, and handheld shots.


Setting up a slider shot in Bryce Canyon with the 10mm Switar lens. I usually use an external monitor, but I wanted to go as light as possible for hiking purposes. I also used tripod and handheld shots. Photo by Stephanie Petrie.


Notice the Mars hat. It’s like I’m on Mars with good atmosphere. The hat was useful for blocking sun against the LCD screen. Photo by Stephanie Petrie.

I’m a big fan of Pomfort’s LightPost for the Bolex, because it’s really easy to use and you can do fast turnarounds that allow you to complete a grade for a short quickly. But it doesn’t allow for detail work. Adobe Camera Raw is the best choice for the level of grading I wanted to do for the Bryce Canyon footage.

I recently heard about the capabilities of Adobe Lightroom–which contains the same functions as Adobe Camera Raw, with additional capabilities and a nicer visual interface. Be warned, however, you need to pay careful attention to the development stage because it tends to skip or miss shots when you synchronize all of your images in the shot sequence! You’ll get some nasty flickering effects, which will force you to go back to Lightroom and scan your sequence to reapply the synchronization tool. 

First steps in post
I scanned through my files into Adobe Lightroom and scanned through the shots, writing down which ones were my favorite. Out of about 170 shots, I ended up importing around seventy of them. (During the edit, I would end up using only 25–about a 7:1 shooting ratio.)

1. Importing files into Lightroom

A. Open up Lightroom and press the “Import” button on the lower left side of the screen. A new window pops up.

B. Select the source hard drive and folder. I select my external drive, scroll through my folders, and find the first shot sequence I want. (When shooting raw, you get a series of digital negative files (dng), 24 (or more) frames per second–similar to looking at a roll of individual shots on a roll of film. The Digital Bolex breaks down the puts your shots into a shot folder every time you hit record and then stop.


The first day I have 106 shots. I import them one at a time into Adobe Lightroom (just the same as Adobe Camera Raw). In LightPost, I can import them all at once, so that’s definitely one of the easier steps.

C. Selecting one of the shots, the sequence appears (with each shot with a check mark):


D. Press Import on the bottom right of the screen.

E. The image sequence now appears in the Library (see highlight on the upper center right).


You will see the first shot in the sequence highlighted. You will edit only one shot (and apply synchronization to all of them after you’ve graded it).

It does not have to be the first one. Notice that there are 419 stills in this sequence. You can do a “quick develop” in this window, but the detail work is in the Develop screen (menu next to the Library button). Press Develop.

2. Developing or grading in Lightroom

A. This is where the magic happens. Like developing a roll of film in a darkroom, Lightroom allows you to do a lot of post-processing to your images–especially since you’re dealing with 12-bit raw, giving you a lot of room to manipulate your shots. (8-bit compressed files coming out of DSLRs and C100s, for example, do not allow for this kind of processing or developing work.)


The image is as it appears coming out of the D16. Notice the histogram in the upper right. All of the tools below the histogram allows you to grade and manipulate the image.

The arrow points to White Balance settings (as shot, and presets such as sunlight, cloudy, etc.), as well as the color temperature and tint. Notice that the image in the Bolex comes in warm: 7650 color temp and a +30 on the tint, bending it towards the reds). Manipulate these as desired. Remember, there’s not right or wrong–do what’s best for your story.

B. Grade the image.


This screen represents the graded image using the Tone Curve tool (grading the tone of your colors).

I’m not going to go into all of the tools available in Lightroom, but you can adjust HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) of specific color channels (so if you wanted to adjust only our blues, for example, you can do that), adjust and compensate for camera calibration, as well as the basics of adjusting Tone:

  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Whites
  • Blacks

These Tone tools (along with the Tone Curve) provide the foundation of your grade. This is where you adjust the brightness and darkness of your images. The White balance tools (including Temp and Tint) will adjust your foundational colors. Use the other color tools as needed to nail the color you want. Notice the images in steps 2A (before) and 2B (after). This kind of subtle manipulation changes how the image gets perceived by the audience. It impacts how the story gets felt.

And that’s why I prefer shooting 12-bit raw with the Bolex than with a Canon C100 or 5D Mark III (both of which I have access to) or my 5D Mark II. The density of the image comes through like I’m working in film and reminds me of my NYU days when I shot on 16mm film. In fact, this is the only camera in its class that feels like I’m shooting with film and when people refer to digital film, the Digital Bolex is as close as it gets.

Here’s another before and after shot:

Before After

Here, you can see I’ve changed the color temperature and adjusted the tint from +30 to +10. I also moved the shadows and tone all the way to +100 in order to bring up the details in the foreground rock walls.

3. Creating a preset

Once you nail your grade in a particular scene (same lighting and location setup), you can create a preset for each scene, so you con’t have to write down all of your changes and then go through and do it for each shot. Just apply the preset to the other shots in the scene. I ended up creating four or five for Bryce Canyon (some shots were underexposed, so I created one that pushed the exposure). I also created one just for shots that had mainly red rocks.

To create the preset, go to the Develop menu at the top and select “New Preset…” from the drop down menu:


Type a name and the preset will appear in a menu on the bottom left of the screen (see the screen shot in menu 5, above, where you can see Bryce1, Bryce2, and Bryce3_reds in the folder User Presets, for example).

4. Synchronize

After you’ve graded the shot you want to apply it to all of the shots in the sequence.

A. Select All, (short cut, CMD A or ctrl A), so that all of the images are selected and press the Synchronize button, bringing up this window:


B. Unless you’re doing specific grading where you need to select certain menu items, just leave it as a default and hit Synchronize to make it happen. This window does give you an overview of all the changes you can make to an image.

As noted above, skim through your image sequence (select the Library button to get thumbnail previews) and make sure all of the images have been changed by your grade. Re-synchronize any aberrations or you’ll get a nasty flicker in playback.

5. Export as uncompressed .tif

You do have the choice of exporting as .dng files, but I choose 16-bit tif files. The sequence will be larger than the raw, but you’ll have a clean image to create the .mov files.

A. Go to File–>Export…

Export-menu B. Choose the location where you want the sequence of .tif images to go. Create a new folder on your drive (such as “tif files”) and then create a subfolder for each shot (Shot_0012, for example). Don’t make the mistake of exporting without creating a different folder for each shot!

I choose Specific folder and Choose… to select the folder I need. I also keep the naming of the file the same as the original Filename with lowercase Extensions:



C. Next, I scroll down to File settings and choose Image Format: TIFF; Compression: None; Color Space: AdobeRGB; Bit Depth: 16 bits:



D. I ignore everything else on the screen and choose Export.

The tif files appear in the new folder. To build an .mov from the sequence of images, I use Compressor (you can also use QuickTime Pro).

6. Build .mov file

A. Open Compressor make sure you in the “Current” projects window, then choose File–>Add Image SequenceSelect-Image-Sequence:


B. Scroll through your drive to find the folder containing your tif sequence choose one, the press Add:



C. The sequence is added to Compressor and you’ll see a preview window of the shot sequence and the name of the file. Below the name of the file is a + sign. Press it.



D. Choose the type of file you want to create from the image sequence, such as a ProRes, file. I choose Apple ProRes 4444 so I’ll have more data to do any manipulation of the image in Final Cut Pro.


E. Scroll to the location and create a new folder to place your .mov files, then press OK.

F. You’ll now see below the name of the file, the file type that will be created as well as the location it’ll be placed. Choose Start Batch to build the .mov file:



You can now import the .mov files into your editing software (such as Final Cut).

This may seem like a lot–and it is. I find it much quicker to just use LightPost, but when you have the time, Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) contains a lot of postproduction grading power.

By the time I complete editing the project, I end up creating a two and a half minute film that’s nearly 700GB in size! A lot of it is from the CinemaDNG raw files, but I noticed that the uncompressed tif image sequences are huge–nearly 500GB, and those are from only less than half the original footage. So I would only use this process if the footage needs a lot of manipulation. If you can nail it in LightPost, that will save more drive space and time. From processing to editing, it was about a 24 hour turnaround.

As a side note, I used the Bolex handheld for some of the moving shots.


Handholding with a small lens makes the process easier, although you still need to really control your movement, especially since there is no image stabilization! Photo by Stephanie Petrie.

In addition, I slowed down the movement in Final Cut, placing it at 10 percent speed and using optical flow to make the movement as smooth as possible.


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 is also the author of Video Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Documentary Storytelling

He teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University, where students shoot with DSLRs, Canon C100s, and Digital Bolex cameras. Kurt received his PhD from NYU.

Switar 10mm f/1.6 lens and color grading test with the Digital Bolex D16

A love for raw
I love shooting in raw. Don’t let me convince you. Just look at Brandon Neubert’s “The Quiet Season” — especially the color grading example and let me know if you’re still unconvinced.

Yes, it requires more work. But extra effort nearly always yields better results.

A lens for the Digital Bolex
Recently, I’ve been shopping for a wide, but fast, C-mount lens for my Digital Bolex. So far I’ve shot two short documentaries and a professional promotional film with the camera with a variety of lenses: a 13mm C-mount TV lens from Canon, as well as my 25mm and 50mm Zeiss Contax lenses, and several Rokinon lenses: 8mm, 16mm, and the 24mm.


Pictured above, a Switar 10mm f/1.6 lens. This is a good documentary lens for the Digital Bolex D16.

There’s very few wide fast lenses, which I want on hand for documentary work. I came across the Switar 10mm f/1.6 on eBay and decided to get it. This film shows off its capabilities.

Color grading in raw
But a lens is only part of the formula for getting a nice look on digital film. Color grading is a key component, especially when working in raw. I like the quick and easy workflow of LightPost — I’ve used it on professional films and it works. However, I find that I need to export as ProRes 4444 in order to do additional grading in Final Cut Pro.

Alternatively, I love using Adobe Camera Raw, because you can fine tune the look — especially the ability to adjust the shadows without touching the highlights and vice versa. I find that I don’t really need to tweak anything after I export to ProRes and bring it into Final Cut.

Below, I show the LightPost vs. Adobe Camera Raw grading results:

Here are some before and after grading shots in Adobe Camera Raw:

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 7.20.32 PM

In the first image, it looks pretty good. Nice blue sky and trees in sharp focus in the background. But this is what it looks like after I take it through Adobe Camera Raw (ACR):

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 7.21.36 PM

Notice the details in the clouds. By adjusting shadows all the way to the right in ACR, the shutters pull up detail — without it impacting the highlights of the sky. Also, the colors pop in the trees.

Here are the setting in ACR:

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 9.37.38 AM

The temperature and tint were set automatically on import, “as shot” (I did not adjust these). I bring down the highlights in order to pull out details in the clouds and then swing the shadows +100. I also increase the white and blacks in order to make the clouds pop more and bring out a bit more detail in the dark areas of the shot. Furthermore, I increase the saturation of the greens (+14) in order to make the trees pull out from the background a bit more.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 9.38.07 AM

This kind of work I never get to use with my 5D Mark II (which I still love). And Brandon Neubert really makes the 5D work for him with Magic Lantern’s Raw module in “The Quiet Season.”

In one of my favorite shots of my test, we can see the before and after grading:

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 9.04.55 PM

The first shot is underexposed (and we can begin to see here the potential of day for night shooting when using raw). Adjusting it in ACR, I get this result:

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 9.05.04 PM

I do a lot more manipulation with this shot, than the previous one.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 9.49.06 AMBecause the shot is underexposed I increase exposure by a full stop. I also manipulate the shadows and highlights, again allowing for more details to come out of the shadows. I also increase the clarity (sharpening the image), as well as the vibrance, which impacts midtone colors. Furthermore, I adjust the luminance for some of the colors:

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 9.49.23 AMI increase the reds, yellows, and greens, while decreasing the blues in order to make the flowers and vegetation pop.

The toughest is the getting skin tones in warm light with a red wall. Red’s are always harsh with skin tones:

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 11.51.31 AM

Clearly underexposed! Taking it through ACR, I get a pleasing image that keeps my whites intact, while capturing the warm hues coming off the red wall:

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 11.50.19 AM

I push the exposure +1.4 — breaking my own rule of not going over 1 stop (usually the image will begin to fall apart) — but the image turns into a compelling shot with a wide range of contrast and deep, rich colors (the hair, skin tones, and envelope; the whites stays white, with a touch of red reflecting from the wall). The settings I used:

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 11.50.30 AM

I end lightening the blacks a bit to bring up some detail in the darks, but not too much — I want to keep it a high contrast image. I push the exposure hard and bring up the highlights. I also increase the whites to give it a bit more punch.

Furthermore, by underexposing in camera, then pushing during processing, you start to get a fine grain film look from the analog CCD sensor that is one of the D16’s unique features not found with digital CMOS sensor cameras. (See “Digital Bolex Kish lenses and the magic of filmic grain” and “Guest Post: Michael Plescia“).

For a lens that costs less than $300, I’m happy with the results. This small and light lens makes for easy handheld documentary work.  Furthermore, ACR, if you have time, helps you grade in high contrast situations. LightPost, on the other hand, is easy to use and if you have your image nailed in the dynamic range, it works well in a lot of situations. But use ACR if you need to fine tune the image.

If you want to learn more about CinemaDNG raw cinema cameras and how to use and grade them, check out my new book, Cinema Raw (Focal Press, 2014):

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 9.58.14 AM


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. He is also the author of Video Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Documentary Storytelling

He teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University, where students shoot with DSLRs, Canon C100s, and Digital Bolex cameras. Kurt received his PhD from NYU.

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 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 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).

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.

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.

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.


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!


  • 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


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

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.


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, than something that contains more breadth of pixels, but are too thin 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 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.