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A7s

09 Jul Sony A7s

So, after some wait the A7s arrived last week. My expectations for this camera were high and for most parts I was not let down. The reason I considered the A7s was primarily the size of the body as my luggage was getting a little too big carrying 2x Canon C bodies, the 5DIII and various lenses, audio and sliders. In addition I was looking to get a camera that can resolve wide shots with the same detail as the Canon C100/300, my 5DIII still works for close ups with shallow depth, but is a bit behind the curve for detailed wide shots. The ability to record 4K later to effectively get two perspectives for HD delivery exited me as well. The low light performance was not key to my decision. For some time I also toyed with getting a GH4, however, the absence of an active Metabones Speedboster for Canon EF made me not go down that path. With the A7s I have a full frame sensor in small, rigid body that can take my EF glass – perfect.

 

Let’s start that the image detail out of the camera is very impressive. In terms of resolution it is on par with the C300. The tonality is very neutral as well. Dynamic range feels like C300 like even when not shooting Slog. The codec for the internal recording is very good, I cannot see compression artefacts and it grades well. The image is very clean overall. Having the ability to go to high ISO to compensate low light or when one wants to shoot with closed aperture make the body very flexible.

 

The bit that does not work well is the autofocus. When using the Zeiss 55mm 1.8 lens the camera auto focuses in video mode on a centre spot, very similar to my C100 with the autofocus update. The A7s does this very smoothly, however, the focus point cannot be changed. I was hoping I could change the focus area to help with my one-man-band interview shots. When trying to focus the Zeiss manually I am having trouble to translate moving the focus barrel to effect a change in focus. The lens is fully electronic, there is no scale, no hard or soft stop and it seem to have a dynamic translation depending on how fast one is turning the barrel. When using the Metabones with EF glasses autofocus basically is not usable, but manual focus works pretty well with the build in peaking. In summary this is a manual focus video camera and to get best results one should use Canon glass. If you want to use this for autofocus for photos as well forget the Canon glass, native e-mount glass works well. So in that respect the 5DIII is more versatile.

 

The other thing to note is that battery life is very short, about 1 hour in my short experience. I immediately ordered the battery grip which should be fine as my interviews are normally not beyond 2 hours.

 

The overall build quality, menus etc are excellent. Having the start record button on the right is a little awkward, but not a big problem. The rubber piece on the EFV is very hard, I am sure we will get solutions soon to fit a custom eye piece like we have for the C100.

 

I am very impressed with the little camera and it does exactly what I wanted, a small full frame body that accepts by EF lenses and produces an outstanding HD image. Can’t wait for Atomos to release the Shogun. I can see myself shooting with the C100 / Atomos as the A camera and to record audio and 2 A7s as B/C both in 4K, so effectively I will be able to use 5 perspectives for HD delivery and carry the same as 2 EOS C bodies plus one lens more.

 

Just stopped on the way home at Westminster Tube station to try it out, one lens, one body, all handheld or resting the body on the floor:

 

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24 Feb Camera Graduation

C100_cut

For a long time I was not sure what camera to get next as my Canon 5D mark II was getting old. I was still very happy with the images it produces, but I also knew that there are better cameras available. For a long time I studied various tests and read opinions of the available cameras, but nothing seemed a perfect fit. 4K and the question if one really needs it made things very complicated. One gets drawn into must having the latest spec camera easily when following the online community, a community that often does not actually shoot any meaningful material. I am not saying I am, but if you are looking for advice it should be from people that have exposure to real productions as their main line of trade.

To cut a long story short, in the end I got a Canon EOS C100 coupled with a Atomos Ninja 2 and I am very happy with that decision… for now.

Let’s take it back a little, for some time I shot with a 5D mk II, 5D mk III and a Blackmagic Cinema Camera. In terms of colour rendition Canon comes out on top and that is an aspect that is very important for me. Obviously the 5Ds lack dynamic range and resolution, which is where the BMCC excels. The BMCC has some drawbacks, the image can be noisy, requiring a lot of post processing with Neat and the colour is just not Canon. In addition the crop made lens selection very difficult, especially if you trust Canon L lenses.

I know this is not scientific, but it was clear to me that just buying 2 more BMCC would not give me the line up I was after. In addition I was still recoding sound with a Zoom H4n and H6n recorder which meant carrying another piece of equipment that I had to operate whilst being busy with 3 cameras rolling and asking the talent meaningful questions.

The first problem I had to solve was do I want or need 4k? If the answer was going to be “yes” I would have been locked into the Blackmagic 4k as the other 4k cameras would have been out of my budget for my current line of work. To cut a long process short, I decided I do not need 4K apart from the luxury to reposition shots for HD in post.

What I wanted was a clean (and also clean in low light), high resolution image that has a good degree of dynamic range for interior interview shots. I wanted a S35 sensor so the lenses I own work as close to what I was used to from the full frame 5D with a similar Bokeh. Ideally I also wanted to consolidate my sound set up as much as I could along the way. Here is what I was contemplating with:

Alternative 1 – 5D mark III raw recording: Great resolution, dynamic range on a full frame sensor in a compact package. Sound would have been separate, but I could live with that. The biggest drawback, I cannot save a 60 minute interview on one SD card. If only there would have been a solution to connect an SSD via the CF card slot…

Alternative 2 – Blackmagic Pocket Camera: The raw recoding looks very good and I could accept the colour rendition in exchange for a very small package. The Metabones speedbooster would turn the camera into a S35 crop, I just had to wait for the EF lens version to come out. Perfect! But only 10 minutes raw recoding on an SD card was not sufficient. I also felt the alternative to feed the HDMI into an Atomos Ninja 2 did not produce super sharp images. So, in a way the same problem as with raw on the 5D, not enough recoding time.

Alternative 3 – Blackmagic Production Camera: I have one on pre-order since the day it got announced at NAB last year. On paper it sound like a dream, 4k, internal SSD, S35 mode and the early ProRes clips look very promising. I might take delivery and use it, but it would not have the Canon look and I need a sound solution. The biggest worry I have is that apparently one cannot shoot above ISO 400 and the ergonomics of the camera are not ideal. With my current BMCC I have to check frequently if it is still recoding as I could not tell how much recoding time is left. I guess this is not a priority for Blackmagic and there won’t be a “recoding time left” indicator in the firmware anytime soon.

In the end I went with a Canon C100 and am very happy with the decision. The camera has the Canon look, a S35 sensor and SLR inputs in a very compact body. Coupled with an Atomos Ninja it provides a clean and sharp ProRessHQ file that is very gradedable. The built in ND filters are so liberating and being able to see waveforms, peaking and “zoom in” to check focus whilst recoding makes one realise how much these features are missed on DSLRs.

I shot three times with it now and the images it produces coupled with the ease of use make it the perfect graduation camera for a DSLR shooter. I often thought why pay more for a smaller sensor that records a crappy AVCHD format and I have to say you have to use it to experience the difference. Specs are not everything. The image out of the Ninja is very nice, clean and sharp plus recording sound in camera is much easier. The flat Canon Log produces a nice flat image with enough information to compensate for the lower dynamic range.

Last week I took it with me on our ski holidays to get to know the camera a bit more. I wanted to shoot with it in a bare minimum configuration: one SD card, one Battery, no Charger, no Top Handle, No Ninja 2 and no ND filters. It worked very well, I shot about 45 minutes of footage and the battery was still half full at the end of the 7 day vacation. I only used three lenses: 24-104 f/4, 70-200 f/2.8 and 50 f/1.2 making the whole set-up easily fit into a rucksack. Focussing with the EVF is tough but doable and the AVCHD performed well when graded with FilmConvert. I could denoise it a bit to get rid of the compression artefacts, but I did not bother in the end.

The bits that could be better are: (1) a little more DR would be good, (2) a nicer EFV with a better eye piece and (3) a stronger third ND filter. Ergonomically the camera is great, as a DSLR shooter you have to get used to the record button being at the front and not the back, I kept on pressing magnification to stop and start the video. But everything else is where you would expect it. It would also be nice to shoot still from the full sensor resolution and not only HD as I am missing being able to shoot stills and video from the same body. You would need a Zacuto Z-Finder for the C100 to shoot handheld in a stable way.

Now I need to decide to take delivery of the 4k Blackmagic or not… the new price point makes it much easier.

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26 Jan How fast is the black MacPro for me?

I am sure like many others, I spent the time between placing the order for the new MacPro and receiving the unit with reading the various tests and asking myself what the productivity gains would be for me. My primary editing system is PremierePro CC and most reviews were based on FCPX, i.e. not so relevant for me given most of the increase of performance came from FCPX ability to use the dual GPUs. I am also far more interested in the gains in render times compared to how many filters one can through at the NLE whilst still playing back in full resolution.

A couple of days ago my new MacPro arrived, naturally I was keen to find out what the improvements would be for my typical tasks. As a base line I wanted to measure the improvements versus a very known quantity, my MacBook Pro Retina. Furthermore I used tasks that I would generally do in typical job with the same third party filters that may or may not by GPU optimised. All my software runs on the latest versions (as of time of publishing). Of course these tests are not representative or scientific and as indicated these are my personal benchmarks.

Here are the results
MacPro-versus-MacBookPro

For the NLE test I used a 2 minute ProRes422HQ file that was shot with a BlackMagic Cinema Camera (converted using DaVinci Resolve from raw to BMC Film). For the first test I simply exported the ProRes file to another ProRes file (match source). In the second test I applied FilmConvert, next I adjusted the perspective and for the final test added Magic Bullet Looks (Vignette and Cosmo Effect with 5%, 5% and 5%). Finally, I wanted to see the performance when rendering h.264 files rather than ProRes422HQ files.

I did the same tests on both the MacPro and the MacBook Pro to compare the relative speed. In addition I wanted to see what the story is with FCPX, so I used PremierePro and FCPX with the same filters and measured the render time. Rendering was done with Adobe Encoder and Apple Compressor.

Finally I did three more assessments: Neat Video to de-noise the videos as I use this a lot and it generally takes forever, Cinema 4D performance for a recently created 5s post credit clip and DaVinci Resolve conversion from DNG to ProRes422HQ.

All tests focus on how fast the rendering is, not playback or other aspects.

When looking in iStat if the D700 are used the results were mixed. I was never able to see memory used, but this could be because of iStat. With C4D and DaVinci the frame rates went up, under PPro and AE it looked like the cards were not used, but again that could be iStat.

Overall I already feel that Adobe CC benefits greatly from the Mac Pro and I can see that there could be more coming once the Mercury Render Engine gets optimised for the D700. To answer the original question, the Mac Pro is 3.2 times faster for me than the MacBook Pro Retina and it “only” costs 2.4 times the money. Of course all of this is just for my use cases.

Base clip for NLE test after the filter are applied
Perspective

Frame grab from the Cinema4D project
SF

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16 Jun magic turns on raw

A few weeks ago the team at Magic Lantern found a way to read out the image buffer on a number of Canon cameras and save the raw files from the buffer directly onto the CF card bypassing the cameras internal compression and processing. This has been well documented on their web site.

Next Friday I have a shoot coming up for my Formula One Portrait series in a dark and small environment, this would be a situation the full frame 5D Mark III would excel compared to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. The image quality the hacked 5D produces is so compelling that I had to see if the software was stable enough to be used.

To install the latest Magic Lantern version I followed this guide. The first thing I noticed was how far Magic Lantern has come since I first used in 2 years ago with a 5D Mark II. The UX is very professional and intuitive. The major benefit of the Mark III is that is has two card slots. After enabling the boot flag in the firmware one can simply install Magic Lantern on an SD card. If the SD card is inserted the camera will run Magic Lantern, if not it will run the stock Canon firmware. This makes is very easy to fall back in case something does not work during a shot.

To test I filled up 2 64GB Komputerbay cards with about 20 minutes of footage. To convert the files to CinemaDNG I used RAWMagic from the same team that produces the 5DtoRGB tool. The transcode is very fast and writes files that can be processed in Resolve, Lightroom, ACR, etc. After the conversion is finished I used the same workflow I have for the Blackmagic files. Load the files into Resolve, colour correction and export ProRes HQ for edit. If required a round trip back into Resolve.

The images are amazing and are so much better than the h264 files. I had no single dropped frame during recording. There is a lot of talk in the forums about capturing bigger than 1920×1080 files, for my projects that is a lower priority, I am happy with 1080p. The write speed is about 95 MB/s which the Komputerbay cards support. If and when 1080p+ is available using cropped sensor I will have a look at it again. For the time being the Magic Lantern raw hack gives me full frame, very clean high ISO videos files with amazing resolution and 14bit colour depth. It is a shame in a way that the files have to be raw.

There are still a few issues and most of the software I used during the test is in an Alpha stage. The sound is recorded, but it looks like the files can not just be dropped into the timeline as they are much longer than the footage. For my shoot on Friday I won’t need the sound as it will just be b-roll for an upcoming interview. There are also issues with grading software that is using LUTs. For instance I shot using the Marvel Advanced picture profile and wanted to use Film Convert to match with footage from the Blackmagic. Film Convert did not produce the right image as it was missing the profile and the raw recordings obviously do not care about picture profiles. Resolve also has no LUT for the file. I was in touch with the guys at Film Convert and they will come out with a profile tailored to Magic Lantern raw.

Well, I made up my mind and will use Magic Lantern raw alpha during the shoot on Friday… but I will have the Blackmagic in my bag, just in case.

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07 Jun the RAW need for power

When I started to shoot timelapses in raw it became very obvious that the processing power of my 17 inch top of the line MacBook Pro was not sufficient. At the time is was annoying to wait for the render to finish, but it did not impede on the work I was doing. You never expect to edit the timelapse sequence from the source images regardless of how much power your computer has, it is always necessary to render out the images to a movie container such as prores. So I did my grading in Lightroom and used AfterEffects to produce a prores file for editing.

In February the Blackmagic Cinema Camera was finally delivered and it forced me to find a solution to my processing problems. The day after the camera arrived I was booked to shoot an interview with Darren Heath and of course I wanted to use my new toy… and of course I wanted to shoot the whole thing in raw. 2 hours of interview was captured resulting in 780GB of data and 202,500 image files. The additional broll footage (which I would shoot again in raw and not prores) consumed 220GB of space on another SSD. The 5D footage was just 87GB on the mark iii, and 42GB on the mark ii.

I always expected to render out the Blackmagic footage to prores for editing, but working with the MacBook Pro was a lot more than annoying. DaVinci was not really usable to look at the footage so it was difficult to find a representative frame of a take for color correction. Rendering out the interview to prores took 13 hours. I finished the edit on the MacBook Pro but made a decision that I need more processing power and faster hard drives and more capacity for backup. Just for guidance the final edit of the 45 minute piece including grading etc took 9 hours to render.

Given that there was no MacPro on the horizon and that I needed CUDA support for DaVinci and PremirePro / AfterEffects I decided to go down the Hackintosh route. After a lot of research I bought the following components:
- Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP5 TH motherboard
- Corsair Carbide Series 300R CC-9011014-WW Mid-Tower
- Intel i7-3770K CPU
- 32GB Corsair CMZ32GX3M4X1866C10
- 2 Crucial CT512M4SSD2 512GB m4
- 2 Seagate 3TB 3.5 inch 7200RPM
- 2 NVidia GTX 580 4GB
- Corsair AX1200 Professional Series AX 1200W
- Corsair Water Cooler CWCH100 and 5 more fans

Setting up the Hackintosh was straight forward and took about 3 hours. There are many guides online, but I would recommend following the NoFilmSchool guide and using Multibeast. I had a few issues with getting the right screen resolution but in the end managed to get the package up and running and stable.

In terms of hardware I run the CPU Overclock to 4.4GHz and the memory at stock speed. To optimize the disk speed I use one SSD for the system, one SSD as the scratch disk and run the two 3TB drives in a OSX software raid giving me 380 MB/s read speed. The two GTX 580 graphic cards are very power hungry, hence the large PSU, but it in terms of performance they are very good for DaVinci. Again for reference the piece that took 9 hours to render on the laptop takes just over 1h now.

I also bough the new late 2012 iMac with top of the range configuration. This is now my main edit computer and once the projects are finished I use the Hackintosh to render. Just to test I rendered the same interview and it took just under 3 hours to render on the iMac.

Beyond computing power storage is key when dealing with raw files. I run a lacie 4 bay raid5 array connecting to the iMac via a eSATA / Thunderbolt adapter to store my working files. Once the projects are finished I move them to a 5 bay Thunderbolt Drobo and keep another copy on an additional 4 bay raid 5 drive in my server cabinet.

Of course I do not shoot interviews in raw anymore on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, but I feel with the recent developments for extracting a higher image quality from the 5Ds I will be forced to shoot raw on long takes with the DSLRs. Now we need faster broadband of h.265 to transport the quality we capture to the wider audience.

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13 May Welcome

Welcome to my blog hosted on shakefree.com.

I have learned many things from people who were willing to share their experiences. To potentially help others and to add to the pool of knowledge that exists online, I will also try to share as much as I can, whenever I get the chance to do so.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, feedback, etc via the Contacts section on this website.

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