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31/10/2012

Jigsaw 24 -Working With The Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera: The Workflow -Part 2

So where does the Cinema Camera belong?
James: I believe the BMCC has a natural place in high end film, commercial and music shoots. Its only limitations for me at present are a lack of higher frame rates but from an image, production and post-production workflow point of view, the camera is very well suited for professional jobs.
Den: This is something James and I were talking about last night, how we'd love to shoot another gig like Duran Duran using these cameras. I don't think there's anything I wouldn't use it on, because so far I'm so happy with the images that have come back from all the beta testers and the workflow works, so there's no real reason why I wouldn't use it. John Brawley's been shooting a series in Australia called Puberty Blues and he's been using Alexas and REDs and this camera, so I think speaking to DPs who have been using it on big productions and been happy with it, if I'm happy with it and James is happy with it and Phil Bloom's happy with it, and everyone else is really happy, then there's this peer group of professionals I respect and no-one's saying, "I think this is a bit of a problem...", so I'd be happy taking it into any environment. I think one area where I haven't pushed it is in really extreme low light, like in concerts, so I think I'd like to do that at some point and see how it performs there.
James: Any application of high speed cinematography is certainly something the BMCC is currently unsuited for. It is also perhaps not the strongest for very, very low lighting situations as I believe the camera performs better when exposed with more rather than less light. Lastly, the camera is intended as a professional tool. Yes, you could film family holidays with it, but the current price of SSDs, need for professional powering solutions and an advanced post workflow for RAW set it apart from lower priced 'point and shoot' video or DSLR cameras.
Den: I think what's important to consider is you can't buy one camera that will do everything. The Cinema Camera is not appropriate for every job. If you're doing something that's just for the web, depending on the job, I might shoot on the FS100, because the additional time in post does cost the business money, so the budget for the project needs to be there to justify the extra time in post.
Key considerations
James: The first consideration is picking the right choice of lenses so that you can still cover a wide focal range, i.e. choosing either a Sigma 8-16mm or Tokina 11-16mm for the wide end. The second choice is how to power the camera in combination with the type of shooting style and configuration, i.e. shoulder mount with larger IDX, Anton batteries, or handheld using smaller powering solutions from companies like Hawk-Woods. The camera's recording formats are flexible enough for it to be used in many applications, such as sticking with ProRes/DNxHD for long form work (documentary, live events, etc.) or choosing RAW for shorter form work with a greater post budget (commercials, narrative drama/film). I believe that aside from lacking in higher frame rates, the camera is a very flexible device and will no doubt find itself on a multitude of different jobs and applications that even Blackmagic haven't imagined yet.
CU Sigma on BMCCDen: Make sure you budget for your accessories. You've got to factor in sometimes more money than the camera for accessories that mean you're comfortable using it for long periods of time. Remember power distribution, some sort of EVF and some sort of rig, and a tripod that can handle the payload. There's no point in having all this camera and this wonderful process if you've got a crappy tripod.
Choosing your accessories
Den: What I've found to be the most important accessory at the moment is power distribution. I've got a bebob cage with a V-Lock battery plate with four high-res outputs and two D-tap outputs. I've got that powered up and I can power an on-board monitor, I can power an EVF, I can power up a light if I want to and that's been the most important thing so far.
James: Without doubt the most important accessory is a means to power the camera over an extended shooting period. Hawk-Woods came to my aid early on by developing a battery mount for Sony NPF batteries which allows the camera to be powered as well as recharging the internal battery at the same time. As the camera can take between a 12-30V input this makes it very flexible in terms of how you can power it, however I really like its small portable size and hence why the Hawk-Woods solutions have been ideal for me in keeping the camera size small.
The second most important accessory is then either a variable neutral density filter or matte box to help control exposure when shooting wide open on the lens. The sensor has a natural rating of 800 ASA, and hence it's important to control exposure with filters to compensate, after all this is called a 'cinema' camera, and as such built-in NDs are not included.
Top tips for new users
James: New users of the camera should get out and test shoot with it to gain a good idea of its exposure latitude and how to get the best image from it. Unlike most of the cameras in its league, the Cinema Camera works best with more light than less, or exposing to the right as it's sometimes called. Other digital camera formats differ in that if clipped, the highlights are not recoverable and as such it's safer to under expose and pull the mids up. I've found that the BMCC can hold incredible amounts of information in the highlights, even when over-exposed, whereas it can get noisier quicker in the mids if under exposed. Testing and getting used to the images and the latitude you have in the grade is the best starting point for anyone picking up the camera for the first time.
Den: You have to remember how much more power you're getting when you're dealing with a 12-bit RAW image. You've got to make sure your machine is up to spec to handle Resolve, and have a decent graphics card so you can handle the extra processing involved. And get some training! Make sure that you understand. We're putting together a specific training programme for new users because it can trip you up. There are a lot of extra steps involved in a RAW workflow, but when you do get it right it's such an exciting and a stunning finish that you get because you have all this extra data, that it's very much worth it.
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