Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blackmagic update 1.9.3 adds histogram, audio meter, time-to-go - huge usability improvement for BMPCC & BMCC!

Finally, over two years after the introduction of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera at NAB 2012 - and over a year after the introduction of the Pocket Cinema Camera in April 2013 - Blackmagic Design adds basic camera features to the amazing images produced by these cameras. As a business strategy, this makes sense. Early adopters have been willing to guess at audio levels and how much time they had left to shoot, while producing stunning RAW and ProRes images. And revenue generated by sales to early buyers has provided Blackmagic with the time and resources required to fix the cameras' firmware.

Speaking as an early adopter, this has been more than a little frustrating - but now that these basic omissions have been remedied, it will be difficult to stay peeved.

That said, these cameras are still battery hogs - and the BMCC's black sun issue has not been resolved - but Blackmagic owners are a lot happier today than they were yesterday.

Here are the new features provided by the update:

What's new in Blackmagic Camera Utility 1.9.3 
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 
Add histogram, time remaining and audio level indicators.
Use Up and Down to reveal and hide the meters while Left and Right will adjust the aperture of your active MFT lens. 
Fixed bug where in-camera playback may sometimes drop frames.
Blackmagic Cinema Camera
Add histogram, time remaining and audio level indicators.

Now that my Pocket Cinema Camera is now almost as usable as a real camera - perhaps I'll use it more :)

If usability challenges have kept you from buying a BMCC or BMPCC, now may be the time to jump in. They are still the only straight out-of-the-box RAW video cameras below $2000.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

First "4K"/60p footage from the Blackmagic Ursa!

Today, Pro cinematographer and Blackmagic tester John Brawley posted the first UHD/60p footage we've seen from the Ursa PL on his blog. I saw this camera at NAB and it is physically gorgeous - with a huge, bright screen, sound meters you can see from across the room and lots of proper SDI outputs. And from the looks of John's footage, the image quality doesn't disappoint, even at ISO 400 with a T3.7 lens:

At $5995 for the EF mount version and $6495 for PL mount, this camera seems to address many of the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K's limitations (with the exception of the "black sun" problem) at a price point that significantly undercuts 4K cameras from RED, Sony and Canon that cost a lot more.

If Blackmagic were to add DCI standard 12-bit 4K (4096x2160) 4:4:4 RAW to this camera (instead of UHD), and fix the darned black sun, they'd sell a whole lot more of them in Hollywood. Maybe at next year's NAB.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Metabones Canon EF to Pocket Cinema Camera Speed Booster now available for pre-order!

Finally - the $659 Metabones Canon EF to Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Speed Booster Adapter is available for pre-order at Adorama!

Now, Canon shooters can transition to the $495 BMPCC with straight-out-of-the-box 10-bit ProRes and 12-bit RAW recording for a little over $1100 without buying new glass. I'd say now is the time to leave 8-bit h.264 behind.

Sadly, this adapter should not be used with the GH4 or other micro 4/3 cameras due to possible shutter damage. Hopefully, the vanilla Canon EF to micro 4/3 adapter is coming soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blackmagic Design announces audio meters, time-to-go & histogram for the Production Camera 4K!

Finally! Today, Blackmagic Design announced the release of firmware update 1.9 for the Production Camera 4K, delivering long-awaited features such as audio meters, SSD record time remaining and a histogram - all in a semi-transparent "heads up display" at the bottom of the screen.

This update was important enough to Blackmagic Design that CEO Grant Petty shot a hands-on video to showcase the new features:

Sadly, this update is not yet available for long-suffering Blackmagic Cinema Camera owners or for the entry-level Pocket Cinema Camera, but Blackmagic assures us that this upgrade will roll out for the other cameras in the Blackmagic line over the next few weeks.

Here's the press release:

Blackmagic Design announces new “heads up display” for Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

Fremont, CA - July 24, 2014 - Blackmagic Design today announced the immediate availability of Camera 1.9 software which includes new “heads up display” on screen metering that provides customers with histogram, peak audio meters and recording time remaining for the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K.

Camera 1.9 update is available now free of charge from the Blackmagic Design website.

Using these additional displays for the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K means that customers can easily and quickly check important camera settings such as exposure, audio level and the remaining space on their recording disk.

Using the histogram scope, customers can now easily and rapidly set exposure in a shot as the histogram shows the the distribution of luminance in their images and if highlights or shadows are being clipped. Images with clipped highlights or shadows make it much harder to color grade the shots in post production, so having the histogram feature helps DOP’s shoot with confidence. The histogram scope is real time so highlights and shadows can be adjusted interactively with the lens setting, ensuring images are not clipped and maximum detail in tonal ranges is preserved, critically important for allowing colorists to create amazing grading effects in post production using the full contrast range of the camera.

Camera 1.9 software update also includes a new audio metering with peak hold feature to allow setting audio levels for Channels 1 and 2 when using the built in microphone as well as externally connected audio sources. The audio meters make it fast to view audio levels and adjust camera audio gain so that audio is not clipped or distorted.

The new heads up display also includes a recording time remaining indicator that shows remaining space on the recording disk. The time remaining indicator is automatically re-calibrated to ensure an accurate time remaining value if the either the frame rate or codec are changed, and displays red when the disk is getting full.

This update is available to our Blackmagic Production Camera 4K customers free of charge. Customers can download this update now and install it onto their camera from either Mac or Windows computers using a simple USB cable connection to the camera. Once the update is complete, customers can view the new on screen menus by simply swiping their finger up from the bottom of the capacitative touch screen.

This new heads up display will be released for other models of Blackmagic Design cameras over the coming weeks, so an even wider range of Blackmagic Design camera customers can get the benefits of this new display.

“We are extremely excited that we have been able to provide yet another release for our camera customers ,” said Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic Design. “Having this new heads up display with on screen scopes will enable film makers to shoot the most amazing images with confidence that they will get incredible results in post production!”

Another hat tip to Blackmagic Design for making these amazingly capable and affordable cameras more usable - but it would have been nice to have these basic features built-in when they were shipped.

That said, with these new updates, it may be time to take a fresh look at Blackmagic Cameras. The $2995 Production Camera 4K is still the least expensive UHD Super 35mm RAW camera on the market with a "no-jello" global shutter and the Pocket Cinema Camera is now an unbelievable bargain at $495

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Panasonic GH4 "Range Wars" - Which Dynamic Range Test Do You Believe?

The $1699 Panasonic GH4 seems to elicit some pretty strong reactions. Opinions run the gamut from reviews like "Best Camera Ever?" to a "scientific" test called "Dynamic Range – Sony A7S vs. the others" where the results seem to confirm the testers' preconceptions, e.g,  "the rather videoish look and contrasty colors we can subjectively observe" from the GH4.

Here's the chart showing the results of this test (using the $3540 Xyla21 – 21 step Grayscale Combi-DX1):

GH4 CineLike Dynamic Range Test - Assessed as 10.9 stops by Cinema5D

The post describing these results gives us a few details about the methodology (e.g., the lens and ISO they used), but doesn't show waveforms or tell us which CineLike profile the testers used (this is important because CineLike V has less DR than CineLike D).

Fortunately, we can compare these results to other data-driven tests. The best I've seen is "Panasonic GH4: DR and Gamma, Timelapse, and More" from Adam Wilt writing for

Adam also used the Xyla 21 to test the GH4's Dynamic Range - but he tested it across various color and CineLike profiles. Here is his result for CineLike D:

GH4 Dynamic Range Test - Assessed as 11+ stops by Adam Wilt at dvinfo
Why the clear difference between the results of the two tests? Perhaps the Cinema5D testers used CineLike V instead of CineLike D. Or perhaps it was confirmation bias related to the subjective observations about the camera's "videoish" look.  Hard to know.

Personally, I don't see a "videoish" look from my GH4 unless I want it.  Neither do I see it from Phil Bloom's 4K Postcard from Phang Nha or Guillaume Le Berre's Kaydara.

That said, I really respect the effort the folks at Cinema5D put into this test, but in light of the significant difference with the dvinfo results, they might want to take another look at their conclusions.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Terrific GH4 vs A7s Shootout from Learning Cameras - and a Wakeup Call for Canon

This is the best comparison of the Panasonic GH4 and the Sony A7s I have seen to date, with insightful observations on features, ergonomics, lens selection and the importance of 4K in a 1080p world.

Here's the review:

As readers of this blog know, we are partial to the GH4 - but to be fair to the A7s, Dan doesn't mention the advantages of using the Metabones  EF to NEX Smart Adapter with the Sony. The Smart Adapter mitigates the A7s' lens selection challenge somewhat by opening up the possibility of using fast, wide Canon glass with image stabilization and auto-aperture.

He also leaves out any mention of the Sony's APS-C crop mode as a partial solution to the A7s' jello problem.

But these are minor nits.  Overall, I agree completely with his bottom line - at $1700 for a compact handheld 4K solution, the GH4 is the clear winner.

But beyond the competition between the two new kings of the mirrorless world, there is a deeper message from this shootout.

Two of Dan's quotes stand out as particularly bad news for a company whose cameras aren't seen in the video - Canon.  Dan says:
"Honestly, [4K] is making it tough to go back to 1080p", and
"Both of these cameras have redefined my view of what video should look like from cameras in this price range - they have just both stomped on [emphasis added] my Canon 5D3 and 70D so hard that it will be nearly impossible for me to pick them up and begin video shooting after seeing the quality these cameras were able to generate."
That's pretty tough language from someone who has thousands of dollars invested in Canon bodies and glass.

In my view, as more and more shooters get their hands on these cameras, quotes like these will start to become the conventional wisdom - and it will become more and more difficult to sell 8-bit 1080p mirror-box DSLRs for serious professional or enthusiast film-making.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Price cut - Super 35mm NEX-FS100 camcorder now $2500 w free Metabones adapter!

Sony has slashed the suggested retail price of the body-only NEX-FS100 Super 35 camcorder to $2850 U.S. list price. Retailers have marked it down even further ($2499 at Adorama with a mail-in coupon for a free Metabones EF to NEX Mark II smart adapter).

This is a big deal. As of yesterday, the retail price for this 8-bit 4:2:0 camera was $4999 - about the same price as the 8-bit Canon C100. So Sony has taken about a third off the price of this camera in one day.

In my view, this is a common sense move. Sony is reacting to the marketplace - shooters can buy a $495 Blackmagic Pocket Camera with 10/12-bit internal recording or a $1700 Panasonic GH4 with 4 times the resolution of the FS100 and 10-bit 4K output.  A $5000 price point for this camera was unrealistic (Canon, are you listening?).

That said, this is still an excellent low-light camcorder, except for its ergonomics, where the C100 is clearly better. But if your budget is below $3000, and you really want Super 35 - you may want to seriously consider this deal.