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