Cloudy with a chance of 4K: Black Magic Production Camera
I love the smell of 4K in the morning
It smells like Cinema…
Today was a full 4K day, given the circumstances, I probably should start the day now with a Special K breakfast just to get in the mood. Packed two V-mount batteries, an S160 and S90 (160 and 90Wh 14.4V), a bunch of Canon L glass: the 70-200, the 100-400 and 16-35. Two Tiffen variable nd’s: an 82 for the 16-23 and the 77 for the other two lenses. Left the Zacuto half cage at home because it flexes too much and just took the Axis EVF mount. This can be used with the NATO rail on top of the Black Magic Production Camera (BMPC). Got a 90 degree angled BNC connector for the BMPC SDI out so it doesn’t poke me in the face whenever I go ENGangnam style with the recoil. As a bit of a joke and because I don’t like the hard coax cables I put an old yellow plugged video cable between the BMPC and the Alphatron EVF. Seems to work fine and the thin cable is nice and flexible, which is good.
Power & Cables
One of the problems with the cables, especially the power cables, is that they are too long or too short, and there is always a bit that can get caught on something putting too much strain on the plug. The first day one thing became obvious: the thing burns batteries, I would love to say it has v-mount’s for breakfast but that would suggest at some point the camera would stop eating which it doesn’t. The internal battery lasted about 40 minutes the first day I tried the camera, not 40 minutes of shooting, but just 40 minutes of having the camera ON and shoot. Turning the screen brightness down doesn’t seem to make much of a difference and the first S90 battery was dead pretty quickly.
Anyway, the battery runs out pretty quickly, but pretty quickly is subjective, perhaps it seems quick because I’m used to the 5DIII or EX3 taking a lot longer, after 2 hours shooting the S90 V-mount was finished. The BMPC is not the only piece of kit powered by that battery, I also powered the Alphatron from the same battery. But I’m pretty sure it uses almost no power compared to the power-hungry Production Camera. Probably the bloody fan! It is not a disaster but one S90 battery every 2 hours is not great, makes me wonder what happens when we get the upgrade to raw. You will need a bag just for batteries and SSD’s. On a more embarrassing note: for the first time I managed to put the D-tap for the Alphatron in the wrong way around, not a very strong or well-made plug, the good news is the EVF seems to be protected against senile old people who think they know what they are doing.
Later when I tried the camera the internal battery lasted about 70 minutes of non-stop recording, but to be fair: it was recording a black image. Would be interesting to see how big the difference is between pure black and pure white recording.
Exposure is simple: set Zebra to 100% and get rid of Zebra, but as you can see, in full sunlight even with an Alphatron it is not that simple to get the right exposure. Off course the Alphatron comes with a waveform option so will have to start using that in sunny/hard light situations.
Getting the shot to look more like reality takes a bit of work, I had hoped LUT Buddy from Red Giant would be able to load Captain Hooks Blackmagic Production Camera LUT’s but no luck so far will have to experiment. His LUT’s are a good starting point when you are trying to grade BMPC material in Resolve.
Also found that the Resolve version that comes with the BMPC is an older version, installed the latest version of Da Vinci Resolve and found a Blackmagic Production Camera LUT in the presets. A much better start then the Blackmagic Cinema Camera LUT that was in the Resolve version that came with the camera. I hope Ffilmconvert also updates it’s Blackmagic preset’s so we can just stay in Premiere CC or FCPX if we want. One of the nice things about the global shutter is that we can shoot handheld and warp stabilise the hell out of the image and it will still look nice and crisp. But you will have to go round trip from your edit to Resolve and back.
The Hunger Games: Drives on fire
To do some daylight tests I went to the Hook of Holland beach, people were preparing for the spring and there was some fun activity to shoot. Down the beach was an abandoned children’s playground and the entrance of Rotterdam harbour: my favourite shooting place. While shooting I kept looking at the time, trying to calculate how much space I was burning: 1GB for 10 seconds of footage, so a minute if 6GB etc. but stuff happens, you run into people and before you know it you forget how much you might have shot. It’s not a good situation, being optimistic I figured it would be ok to leave the second 512GB SSD at home, this turned out to be a mistake: just when golden hour hit the harbour and a lovely golden have covered all the big cranes and oil refineries across the water I ran out of space on my SSD.
Ok so I should have read the manual a bit closer: the out of SSD space warning doesn’t mean you are actually out of space, there was 31GB left but I thought I ran out of space so packed things up and left. Shame, the sky was fantastic, but the place is going to be there in a couple of days when I go back to try again!
This is also the practical side of things: Right now we are only talking about 4K Prores, not even 4K raw. With file-based systems, you need 3 backups of everything to be safe all on different drives with the added bonus that if you do buy three drives at the same time they usually will all fail around the same time. Not to mention the problem during shooting: if your SSD dies, it is usually dead, there are no spinning plates to fix. Of course, this is the same for Compact Flash or SD cards, but that is a little bit more tried and tested area.
For the sake of drive-sanity it would be nice to be able to pick a lighter Prores version but perhaps the BMPC doesn’t have the power to calculate better compressions.
The added Thunderbolt connector is also a bit pointless unless you want scopes on a laptop, you can’t even mount the SSD through this port. Audio is still pretty awful, you really need a proper pre-amp or sound mixer. Basically, the Blackmagic Production camera is a BYOC: Bring your Own Camera and drop in the little sensor brick.
While driving to the forest we came across a field of lovely yellow Narcissus and decided to take a few shots, then a few purple flowers and on to the forest. By that time the light was gone, and the final shot is of the forest with the sun behind the trees:
It does give a nice impression on how colours can look, even though I’m still having trouble finding the right combination of LUT and what not to get a decent image out of the camera. It really doesn’t like being overexposed and white balance also seems to be a bit tricky when it is off. With the 880mbit codec I was expecting it to be a bit more forgiving and I was also expecting Da Vinci Resolve to come with at least a couple of presets to make it look nice out of the box. But if I have learned anything, this is not an out of the box camera, this is the box. You have to bring your own ‘out of’ whatever that means.
Here is a little pro tip: don’t talk when people take your picture.