4.09.2014

NAB 2014: What Camera to Buy This Year

NAB: A Look Back
In recent years NAB has provided much excitement to the budget filmmaker.  Two years ago Blackmagic Design surprised all with its cinema camera, the first affordable RAW-shooting camera within the grasp of consumers.  Although it took a year to reach consumers and had (and still has) some big flaws, the image quality surely didn't disappoint.  Last year Blackmagic shocked everyone again announcing a pocket version of the cinema camera and a 4K production camera, before its original camera was even widely available.

With Panasonic already announcing the GH4, perhaps something new up Blackmagic's sleeve, and hopes that Canon and Sony would serve up some juicy new 4K cameras, NAB 2014 looked to be the most exciting show in years.

Where We Were Before NAB
When we talk about high-end, budget digital cinema the choice of cameras is somewhat limited, especially if we demand more than what most DSLRs have to offer.  Up until NAB, here's what we had to choose from:

• Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K:  With pricing now under $2,000 the BMCC is still one of the top choices for a truly cinematic image. It's the 13 stops of dynamic range and 12-bit RAW that really makes this camera shine despite it's ergonomic issues, crop sensor, mediocre low-light ability and poor sound options.  For a cheap Alexa-like image this camera is still tough to beat.

• Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera:  Priced at under $1000, this camera has essentially all of the same advantages and disadvantages as its bigger brother but in a smaller package and with a sensor with an even higher crop factor.  It's image, though, is very similar to the BMCC 2.5K.

•Blackmagic Production Camera 4K:  At $3000, this camera, announced last year at NAB and promised last July, has just started shipping.  Nothing else on the market can shoot RAW 4K for less money.  Well, in reality this camera still doesn't show RAW; it's been promised, but the firmware update still hasn't come.  I was very excited about this camera when it was announced. With a Super 35 sensor, global shutter, and 4K, this seemed like a huge upgrade from the BMCC on paper.  I'm just not that impressed with the image.  Sure, it captures detail marginally better, but it is even worse in low light, has fixed pattern noise, loses a stop of dynamic range, and still has the same terrible ergonomics as the original.  By the time this camera even gets RAW, it'll probably be obsolete.  Sadly I think the original still retains the image quality crown in the Blackmagic family.

• Canon C100:  Costing over twice as much as the BMCC 2.5K, the C100 provides a very crisp 1080p image captured from a 4K sensor, performs well in low light, and trounces any Blackmagic offering when it comes to ergonomics and sound.  The codec just doesn't hold up to RAW and the image doesn't look nearly as cinematic as what any of the Blackmagic cameras can produce.  Even the much more expensive C300 is only slight more cinematic thanks to its more robust codec.

• Sony FS700:  Even more expensive than the C100 the FS700 can capture RAW 4K (with prohibitively expensive add-ons), but I feel that the image is the most "digital-looking" of any of the competition.  Honestly, I think the C100's 24Mbps AVCHD looks more like film than 4K on the FS700.

• Panasonic GH4:  Announced before NAB, but still not shipping, the $1600, 4K-shooting GH4 looks to be quite impressive.  Forget 1080p mode on this camera as downscaled 4K blows it away.  The GH4 captures 4:2:0 4K, which downscales to 4:2:2 1080p.  So far what I've seen looks great and it seems to perform well in low light, but I think dynamic range is lacking a bit.  I'm not a big fan of the MFT sensor, but if an EF to MFT SpeedBooster is actually ever announced, it would surely make this camera much more enticing to me, especially with its uncompressed 4:2:2 10-bit 4K over HDMI and the newly announced Atomos Shogun 4K recorder.

• RED Scarlet X:  With add-ons necessary to even use this camera, it is much more expensive than the competition, but perhaps still at the very high end of what we can call low-budget cinema.  It's Mysterium X sensor is the same used in the RED Epic, a camera which has shot quite a few Hollywood blockbusters.  The RED Scarlet's image is quite impressive and detailed and it's sensor's "Hollywood pedigree" it's hard to say that it doesn't look damn cinematic.  In reality, only the Alexa can produce a more cinematic image in my opinion.

NAB
Now with NAB in full swing, the waters of this in-between consumer and high-end professional camera market have become more murky, with no clear standouts emerging as in previous years.  So far, I haven't been wowed.

• Sony a7s:  On paper this camera sounds pretty amazing.  A 12-megapixel sensor with 1:1 4K readout and no pixel-binning (leading to huge pixels for unbelievable low light performance and minimal moire/aliasing), self-proclaimed excellent dynamic range (no actual number of stops given yet), and full-frame sensor are some pretty impressive specs.  Some of the drawbacks though are that it only records 1080p internally.  A 4K HDMI recorder like the Atomos Shogun is required for 4K capture.  And the 4K out is only 8-bit unlike the GH4, which is 10-bit.  I love full-frame for photos, but I think it is overkill for video.  Super 35 allows for wide enough shots with the range of great lenses currently available without too-shallow of a depth of field.  Trying to keep things in focus a large apertures on a full frame camera while trying to capture all the detail of 4K is much more difficult as compared to the 1.6X crap factor of Super 35.  Only a couple same videos from this camera have been released thus far and to my eyes the results are very digital, much more so than even the FS700.  This will be a great, perhaps legendary, camera for documentaries or travel videos, but not for cinematic narrative.

 • Kinefinity KineMini:  Spec-wise, this camera is similar to the BMPC 4K and priced similarly.  Nothing about the image from this camera blows me away or provides any real advantage over Blackmagic's offerings and it needs even more accessories to begin shooting.

• AJA Cion 4K:  I have yet to see any images from this $9,000 camera that seems again to have similar specs to the BMPC 4K.  It's unclear yet if it will record RAW and some have speculated that it's the same sensor as the BMPC 4K (it's certainly the exact same specs), plus it's only PL mount.  This camera is not really on my radar.

• Blackmagic URSA and Studio Camera:  The URSA is a more expensive BMPC 4K in a large, unwieldy package, aimed at larger film crews.  It has some audio features that would have been nice in the older Blackmagic cameras, but other than that it's useless for the indie filmmaker.  The Studio Cameras are for, as the name implies, for studio use...nothing I'm interested in as they are essentially the older cameras repackaged in a form-factor for something like a news program.

Sadly this year I haven't seen anything exciting or anything that can really blow two year old cameras like the BMCC or RED Scarlet out of the water.  The BMCC 2.5K would still be the ideal camera, in my opinion, but 4K is the future.  The BMCC produces an excellent image, but I wish it were a little more future-proof and that I could grab up some of that additional detail found in 4K.

Here's my current ranking for cinematic "budget" cameras if you're looking for the best film-like image quality (I'll update this article if anything new is announced during NAB):

1. RED Scarlet: + 4K, RAW, great dynamic range.  - Expensive, but the real deal.
2. BMCC 2.5K:  + RAW, great dynamic range. - All the flaws listed above, annoying crop factor, no 4K.
3. BM Pocket Cam: + RAW, great dynamic range. - All the flaws of the BMCC plus even greater crop factor, poor active EF lens compatibility.
4. GH4: + 10-bit 4:2:2 options, 4K, decent low-light. - Crop factor, mediocre dynamic range, poor active EF lens compatibility.
5. C100: + Built in ND, Super 35 senor, great in low light. - Mediocre dynamic range, digital-looking image, poor codec.
6. BMPC 4K: + 4K, RAW (sometime), Super 35 sensor. - Very poor in low light, fixed pattern noise, all the drawback of BMCC form-factor.
7. Sony a7s: + 4K option, 4:2:2 option, great in low light. - Very digital-looking image, no 10-bit color, full-frame
8. FS700: + 4K option, RAW option. - Too expensive for what you get, digital-looking image

2.20.2014

2014: The Year of Budget Cinema Cameras

When discussing cinema cameras on a budget it's extremely difficult to dispute that the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera the leaders of the pack.  Nothing comes close in terms of shear image quality until you step up into a camera package costing over $10k.  Will  new 4K offerings from Panasonic and Blackmagic raise the bar?

Panasonic recently announced its GH4, successor to the GH3 and highly esteemed GH2.  The camera, rumored to come in just under the original BMCC at around $1700, can record up to 200 Mbps 1080p and 100 Mbps 4K internally.  Although internal recording is limited to 4:2:0, 4:2:0 4K apparently downscales to 4:4:4 1080p.  While it's nice to finally get something other than 4:2:0 in a DSLR-style camera, I just don't see the advantage when RAW and ProRes is already so readily available at this price point in Blackmagic cameras, which also boast greater dynamic range.  From the single sample video on YouTube it's much too early to tell just how good the GH4's video quality is.  To really reap the benefits from this camera you'd need the $2000 add-on box (the YAGH), which features XLR inputs and 4:2:2 4K over SDI (hence requiring an expensive SDI recorder).  The GH4's specs have met much fanfare, and I agree that it is a huge improvement over the specs of the GH2 and GH3, but I think it is a bit too little too late.  18 months ago, this camera would have seemed too good to be true, but there is just far too much competition that is nearly as capable or more capable.

In my opinion the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera is much more capable than the GH4 (even with the YAGH) at just $3000.  The only sacrifice over the GH4 is ergonomics and size as neither camera natively feature XLR inputs with phantom power or ND filters.  Blackmagic's entry into the world of 4K can record 4K ProRes (and soon with a firmware update) RAW internally.  The BMPC also features a global shutter, finally ending the dreaded rolling shutter, and producing stunning film-like motion.  Some early footage looks promising although I have noticed that BMPC footage does suffer from a bit of reduced dynamic range and more noise than the BMCC, the latter becoming less noticeable when watching from a normal viewing distance.  Also, the BMPC footage can be very sharp...sometimes even too sharp, looking a bit unnatural, like something that was over sharpened in post.  Perhaps the GH4 may prove better in low light, but when it comes to the final image I think the BMPC will be hard to beat when it comes to the budget 4K cinema camera showdown.

From what I've see so far I still prefer the image of the original 2.5K BMCC.  I'll stick with the increased dynamic range over global shutter, some slightly better ergonomics, or 4K (which will for the next few years still be viewed by the vast majority downscaled to 1080p).

2.05.2014

The C100/BMCC Debate Redux

Over the last year I've had an on again, off again infatuation with the Canon C100.  I've written several blog posts comparing the C100 to the BMCC and have twice declared the C100 as the better camera.  I've often considered selling my BMCC to get a C100 or getting a C100 in addition to the BMCC.  The C100 has numerous ergonomic and and functional advantages over the BMCC as discussed in previous posts and, on paper at least, the C100, due to it's larger sensor, should have some advantages with respect to the final image.

When push comes to shove, however, a camera is a means to an end.  While the BMCC may be much more difficult to use, it produces a better end product than the C100, and that is really what matters.  No one watching the finished product cares how you got there.

I've struggled to find instances in which the C100's image looks "cinematic."  In truth, there are very few videos I've seen, even when using an external ProRes recorder, in which the C100 produces a cinematic image.  The BMCC and even the Pocket Cinema Camera, on the other hand, almost always look cinematic, even when the operator probably isn't even intending it.  What makes the BMCC's image look so damn cinematic is indescribable.  Is it the dynamic range and highlight roll-off?  Is the C100 too sharp?  Is it the way the BMCC renders motion?  Is it some unquantifiable, complex combination of factors unique to the BMCC sensor?  Even the C100's shallower DOF doesn't help it in the end.

BMCC footage really does look like Alexa footage.  C100 footage looks like video...very, very high end video, but still video.  I wish I could describe what makes some footage look cinematic and some like video, but I just can't...I just know it when I see it.  The best I can do is to say that the results from the BMCC look like something you'd see at the movies and the C100's results look like something you'd see on a TV reality show.

If the BMCC only had ND filters and better sound it would put much of why I love the C100 to rest.  In the end, I still think the C100 is an amazing camera, but for it's price and the fact it is billed as a Cinema EOS camera, it needs to produce a final product that can hold up to the Blackmagic Cinema camera.  It cannot, nor can it's bigger, much more expensive brother the C300.

8.13.2013

Blackmagic Cinema Camera Review and Comparisons

Having owned the EF-mount version of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, I think I'm finally ready to formulate some opinions and speak as to its virtues and drawbacks as compared to its competitors.  It is a solid piece of hardware capable of some great images, but is it flawless and would I recommend it against competing "cinema" cameras?

I'll knock out some cameras right off the bat.  The Panasonic GH2 and GH3 are great cameras.  If your budget is under $1000 one of these may be your best solution.  I find them to be a poor choice mainly because of their MFT mount.  If you plan on building a collection of good primes, EF is just about as future-proof as it gets right now.  If you plan on buying a SpeedBooster to go with a GH-series camera, you've almost sunk as much cash as getting a BMCC, which provides a significant improvement in image quality.  Unless size and weight is the major factor in your purchase just get a BMCC as it provides a significant increase in image quality.  Otherwise go for the Blackmagic Pocket Camera.

As for the Pocket Camera instead of the BMCC, it once again comes down to whether size and weight is a significant factor in the decision process.  Based on the MFT mount and 3X crop factor, I believe the BMCC is still a better value and is more future-proof with regards to building a set of good glass.

Don't get me wrong the GH2, GH3, and even the Pocket Cinema Camera are great pieces of hardware, but I feel that the closest competition to the BMCC, without regard to price, is the Canon C100.  Even though I've yet to use a C100, I've done some extensive research on this camera (see my older post on the BMCC vs. C100 from before I had received my BMCC) and have played with some of the footage straight out of the camera.  Thus, in my review of the BMCC, I'll be primarily looking at the differences offered by the Canon C100.  On with the review of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera EF-Mount version.

Ergonomics/Build

The BMCC is a solid camera, being mostly metal, and looks and feels like a high quality device.  It's a bit heavier than it looks and the weight distribution feels odd when holding it, especially with a lens attached.  The boxy nature of the BMCC makes hand holding it impossible.  Grab a brick and tape a Canon EF lens to it...that's what the BMCC feels like.  The BMCC is unusable with a tripod or some type of rig.  The C100 is about the same weight, but has a much better ergonomic design with a grip.  I've seen some professional handheld footage from the C100 (and larger C300) that looks good.

Advantage: C100

Screen

The BMCC's 5" screen is quite nice compared to the C100's 3.5", slightly lower resolution screen.  The  C100's screen does, unlike the BMCC, rotate and the C100 also has a viewfinder, which has met much criticism from users.

Advantage: BMCC

Battery

The BMCC's battery situation is quite ridiculous in that it's not interchangeable and is rated for only 90 minutes of recording.  In my experiences, it's likely closer to 60 minutes.  Seeing that the BMCC is still mostly a "prosumer" camera, I find this one of the camera's most annoying "features."  Unless you never plan to shoot outside or always want to be tethered to a wall outlet, a $300 external power supply, adding another 2 pounds the camera, is an absolute necessity.

The C100 has interchangeable batteries and reviews have praised its battery life, with a single battery lasting 4-5 hours.  For outdoor shooting, this makes the C100 a couple pounds lighter.

Advantage: C100

Storage

The BMCC uses solid state hard drives. The C100 uses SD cards.  Having the huge storage capacity of  an SSD is nice, but RAW does eat up that space very quickly and an SSD weighs significantly more than an SD card.  SD cards are a bit cheaper and much more portable.

Note: The BMCC has a short list of compatible SSDs relative to the vast array on the market, and even out of those listed compatible, many of those have been reported to drop frames when recording.

Advantage: Tie

Sensor Size

The BMCC has a sensor a bit smaller than Micro Four-Thirds, yielding a crop factor  of 2.3X compared to full-frame.  This large crop factor makes wide angle shots difficult, with even a 24 mm lens producing a field of view similar to 55mm on a full-frame.  The C100 is a Super 35 sensor with more manageable crop factor of 1.5X, making that same 24mm lens equivalent to 36 mm.

The BMCC's small sensor also makes shallow DOF difficult.  I'm not one for razor-thin DOF and I'm not say the BMCC is incapable of a desirable DOF, but it makes obtaining a nice, cinematic-looking DOF a challenge in many situations.

Advantage: C100

Lens Choices

While both cameras accept EF and EF-S lenses, the BMCC, with it's larger crop factor, makes these lenses appear 50% longer than the C100 and, as discussed previously, decreases the DOF for a similarly framed shot at the same aperture.

If Blackmagic were to release a cinema camera with an active MFT mount, the Metabones SpeedBooster, could remedy this problem somewhat.  Until then:

Advantage: C100

ND Filters

The BMCC does not have built-in ND filters and with a native ISO of 800, they are absolutely necessary.  A good variable ND filter, like the Schneider VariND, will set you back about $400.  The C100 has built-in 2, 4, and 6-stop ND filters.

Advantage: C100

Sound

The BMCC has no audio meters, making setting levels difficult.  The C100 isn't world's better, but it does have a rudimentary audio meter.  When also considering that the BMCC does not supply phantom power to XLR microphones, and reported issues with audio levels under the current firmware an external audio recorder becomes nearly a necessity.  The C100, while still not as good as an external solution, allows for a much wider selection of XLR mics and is more suitable for "run and gun" style shooting.

Advantage: C100

Image Quality: Sharpness

Both are cameras are quite sharp, but I find the C100, with a 4K sensor downscaling to 1080p, to have an edge over the BMCC recording RAW 2.5K.  The C100 is the clear winner versus the BMCC using Prores.

Note: Blackmagic claims that the next firmware update will increase sharpness when recording Prores.

Advantage: C100

Image Quality: Noise

In many instances the BMCC does not handle noise well.  Even with proper lighting noise is sometimes visible even on the faces of the subjects.  The image gets a bit cleaner if using ISO 400 or 200, although at ISO 200 the dynamic range is decreased and the image does not grade as well.

The C100 is ridiculously resistant to noise.  Even at high ISO's like 10,000 the image is quite useable.  At the native ISO of 850 the C100 easily bests the BMCC.

Advantage: C100

Image Quality:  Color

Here's where the BMCC can shine.  It's crazy what you can do with RAW and still maintain a great image.  Adjusting exposure and white balance with RAW in post is a breeze.  In the hands of an experienced colorist, I'm sure the BMCC would completely blow the C100 out of the water.  That being said, for an amateur it is difficult to really unleash the full potential of RAW.  It takes me about 10 times as long to get a proper looking image out of a BMCC RAW file in DaVinci Resolve as compared to the C100.  I've been much more pleased with my grades of C100 AVCHD footage using Final Cut Pro X than most of my BMCC RAW footage in Resolve.  For me the C100 produces a comparable image with much, much less hassle, but the BMCC is much, much more capable of producing the exact look you're going for.

Advantage: BMCC

Image Quality:  Depth of Field

As discussed before, the C100 is much more capable of producing a cinematic-looking DOF.  The BMCC can as well, but more compromises are necessary to achieve this.

Advantage: C100

Image Quality: Dynamic Range

The BMCC is the clearcut winner here, but not by a landslide compared to Canon C-log.

Advantage: BMCC

Other Considerations:  Software

The BMCC comes with the full DaVinci Resolve.  Again, for an amateur, I can get nearly everything I need out of of Final Cut Pro X and the free DaVinci Resolve Lite.

Advantage: BMCC

Other Considerations:  Computing Power

RAW footage is a beast and requires some pretty hefty computing power.  My 2.5 year old 2.2 GHz Quad-Core MacBook Pro with SSD drive and 16GB of RAM struggles greatly with 2.5K footage in Resolve.  My new 3.4 GHz Quad-Core iMac with 8GB of RAM handles it pretty well, but still not excellent, and is sluggish at times especially with multiple nodes.  As for the C100 AVCHD, the MacBook Pro has no problems and the iMac eats it for breakfast.

If you don't have a fairly high-end desktop, prepare to drop somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000 if you want to have even halfway decent performance with 2.5K RAW in Resolve.

Advantage: C100

Other Considerations:  Storage and Backup

Let's say you're working on a small project and you have 2 hours of footage.  The BMCC RAW footage would be about 1 TB.  After using Resolve, you'll need to convert to Prores in order to use your NLE of choice.  The Prores 422 HQ files will set you back another 200 GB, for a total of 1.2 TB. With the C100 that same 2 hours of footage would occupy a mere 24 GB of disk space.  Extracting the AVCHD stream using Clipwrap makes transcoding to Prores fairly unnecessary, meaning you can get away with using only 2% as much disk space for the project.

As for archiving the data, you'll need 41X as much space to keep the RAW files or over 8X as much space to keep the Prores versus the original out-of-camera AVCHD of the C100.  Otherwise you'd be forced to go with something more compressed and lose most of the advantages of the BMCC over the C100 if you needed to use the footage again in the future.  

That amount of data from every project would quickly require you to amass a large collection of big hard drives or a good storage array such as a Drobo 5D.

Advantage: C100

Other Considerations: Run and Gun

Let's face it, the BMCC could never really be a "run and gun" camera, especially with its need for an external power solution and a rig.  The C100 is much more suited for this and is much less conspicuous if you need to shoot in a area without drawing much attention to yourself (see 13:59 Behind the Scenes, which talks about shooting a short on public transportation without a permit using the C300).

When buying a cinema camera, "run and gun" isn't a primary concern, but the added ability is an excellent bonus, almost like getting two cameras in one.

Advantage: C100

Price

The BMCC looks to be a killer value compared to the C100 at only $1995 versus $5500.  Since buying the BMCC, though, I feel it has been a money pit just to get it working.  Right off the bat, the BMCC essentially requires an SSD, external battery solution, ND filters or variable ND filter, and at least a cheap shoulder rig, bringing the base cost to about $3200.  It's still about a $2000 savings over the C100, but there are still tons of compromises.  If you don't have a hefty desktop computer, the cost of ownership is now about even.  Want a field of view wider than 50mm?  Now you'll need an ultra-wide lens (many of which do not accept ND filters due to design, thus now requiring a matte box and ND).  Want to keep RAW or Prores footage?  You'll need a bunch of big hard drives or a storage array.

The C100 is more expensive, but is more or less ready to shoot out of the box compared to the BMCC and your current computer and storage should be sufficient.

Advantage: Tie

The Verdict

The BMCC is designed foremost for color grading and dynamic range. All else on the camera seems to be an afterthought.  If these features are high above anything else on your list of priorities, the BMCC is an excellent camera.  Otherwise, if you want something more well-rounded, the C100 or another camera is a much better fit.  Although all of the above categories should not necessarily be weighted equally, in the comparison the C100 comes out ahead of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera 12-4.

2.04.2013

Blackmagic Cinema Camera vs. Canon C100

Since the Blackmagic Cinema Camera was announced last April at NAB, my interest was thoroughly piqued.  A RAW-shooting 2.5K cinema camera for just under $3000 that could record to any standard SSD and used EF lenses seemed like a dream-come-true.  I was ready to wholeheartedly jump onto the BMCC train!  The more I considered the camera's specs, however, the more difficult I found it to embrace the 2.3X crop factor.  Even the wider Canon EF lenses became medium-telephoto lenses on the BMCC; there were simply very few wide prime options for the BMCC and the wide zooms sacrificed aperture.  With it's smaller sensor, shallow DOF was also an obstacle, now forced to use slower lenses for anything that produced a 35mm-equivalent field of view under around 100mm.  It's not that I use large amounts of wide shots (I do love the 12mm SLR Magic on the GH2, though) or try to use razor-thin DOF shots frequently, but I could not justify buying a camera with these limitations.  When the John Brawley footage, the first shots from a BMCC, was release last summer, I was somewhat unimpressed and decided the BMCC was not for me.

In September Blackmagic shook my opinions, announcing a passive Micro Four Thirds mount.  Coupled with some great-looking footage that was beginning to appear on Vimeo, this changed everything.  With lenses like the SLR Magic 12mm, wide shots with a decently fast prime lens were now possible and f/0.95 lenses such as those from SLR Magic and Voigtlander opened the door to shallower depth of field.  The fact that the mount was passive was a bummer, essentially excluding the use of Panasonic, Olympus, and any others without manual aperture control.  With many great fully manual lenses available for M43 cameras, this was far from being a deal breaker.

After watching months of BMCC videos on Vimeo, seeing the EOSHD review, and being amazed at the results I could get using Lightroom to grade some of the RAW files available online, I preordered the M43 Blackmagic Cinema Camera in December after the company claimed that it was on the verge of resolving production issues.  I expected that maybe I'd get my camera sometime in March.  That date is fast approaching and very few of the EF preorders, which Blackmagic said it would fill first before even producing more M43 cameras, have been filled.  There are still people who have been waiting over eight months for their EF model with no delivery in sight.

Frustrated that I could potentially have a year wait remaining, I browsed some news on other cameras.  With my sights locked on the BMCC, I completely blew off the Canon C100 launch, especially with its MSRP.  As my frustration with the BMCC grew I began to consider the C100 more and now I'm not sure what to do.  The benefits of each, along with some mitigating factors are as follows:

Blackmagic Cinema Camera

  • RAW.  This is by far the biggest reason this camera is on my radar.  The colors and dynamic range that can be extracted from these files is absolutely breathtaking.  Nowhere else on the market can one obtain a RAW camera for anywhere near this price.  I could care less about Prores on the BMCC; RAW is the selling point for me.  8-bit 4:2:0 on the C100 is my biggest fear.
  • 2.5K.  2.5K resolution is nice, but let's face it, aside from select computer monitors, nothing displays 2.5K natively.  Sure, the extra resolution allows for stabilization or reframing, but I feel that downscaling to 1080p is a necessity to reduce noise and increase sharpness on this camera.  
  • Price.  The BMCC plus one SSD is about half the price of the C100.  For me, however, if I decided upon the C100, I would be selling my GH2 along with five M43 lenses, thereby making the prices more comparable.  Further I feel the Metabones Speedbooster, allowing from use of Rokinon Cine Lenses, would be a necessity on the M43 BMCC, adding another $600 to the BMCC package price. 
  • Benefits of a small sensor.  Small sensors do indeed have some benefits, despite the crop factor and less shallow DOF.  The light gathering of wide apertures like f/0.95 without being forced into a razor-thin DOF can be nice.  This benefit is somewhat lessened by the fact that the BMCC is far from being a great low-light performer compared to the C100.  Even if you were forced to stop down a bit for increased DOF on a C100, noise may still be comparable.
Canon C100
  • EF Lenses.  For me, the fact that the C100 uses EF lenses (and has a large enough sensor so that they do not instantly become telephoto lenses) is a huge, huge selling point.  I love my 5D Mark III, just not for video.  I hate buying pricey M43 lenses for video, but then cannot shoot stills with them.  It would be wonderful to essentially get two lenses for the price of one.  If I bought an L lens to shoot still on the 5D3, I could still get some use out of it on the C100 and vice versa.  I also feel that M43 glass is overpriced.  The Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 is great, but you're basically paying for the aperture.  Sure, you get some extra light, but the DOF on a crop sensor at f/0.95 is still deeper than smaller apertures on a 50mm lens on a larger sensor camera.  With Voightlander and SLR Magic, the price is all about allowing shallower DOF on a smaller sensor camera.  Although priced like Canon L glass, I just do not believe these lenses are comparable when it comes to overall image, color reproduction, and contrast.  Rokinon Cine Lenses are also great, but essentially require the $600 Metabones Speedbooster just to get the same field of view that they would have on a C100.
  • Benefits of a large sensor.  The larger Super 35mm sensor on the C100 yields the benefits of a smaller crop factor, possibility of shallower DOF if desired, and better low light performance.
  • Low light performance.  I've seen some stellar and even useable C100 footage even at up to ISO 10,000.  The BMCC isn't horrible in low light by any means, but noise is quite apparent even in well exposed areas at ISO 800.  One of my biggest dislikes about the BMCC image is this noise pattern.  Well exposed skin often has a noisy grain to it.  While some call this "cinematic," I call this distracting and over-justification.  When I watch a great cinematic film on Blu-Ray, it is crystal clear and noise free.  Sure, some noise patterns are more organic and less distracting than others, but no noise is always better in my opinion.
  • Two cameras in one.  Just like getting two lenses in one on this camera, it's also more like two diverse cameras in one package.  I'm mostly interested in narrative work and the BMCC as well as the C100 fit this bill, but the C100 also doubles a pretty great "run 'n gun" camera.  It features much better ergonomics, one-shot autofocus to quickly set up a shot, built-in ND filters, and a wide range of ISO settings, all aiding in quickly setting up a shot.  The BMCC requires time and finesse to setup a shot.  This is fine, and preferred, for a narrative film, but for anything live getting setup quickly can mean the difference between getting a great shot and missing it altogether.
  • Upgrade options.  This camera also has an upgrade path if the 4:2:0 codec isn't up to snuff.  Throw on an Atomos Ninja 2 and you now have basically the same camera as the $16,000 C300.  The C100 has the same sensor as the C300 and the Ninja allows for 4:2:2 uncompressed Prores via HDMI onto an SSD, closing the gap on the main advantage of the BMCC.
Both cameras undoubtedly are capable of better image quality than a DSLR and are much more robust and stable than a hacked GH2.  Although RAW would give great flexibility in post and allow me to use Lightroom, which I'm much more comfortable with as compared to a video-centric color correction tool, the C100 has more that its share of advantages.  I think I've watched just about every BMCC and C100 video that exists on Vimeo and I think image quality between the cameras is comparable.  The colors of the BMCC are great, but sometimes corrected to be oversaturated and almost too vibrant.  The C100 produces a very clean and sharp image.  I also feel that I've seen a fair share of videos in which the BMCC footage looks like utter crap.  There are myriad examples where the footage is polluted by noise or simply just doesn't not look like something a $3000 camera shot, especially in the hands of the more than capable people lucky enough to own one already.  

What it really comes down to, though, is availability.  Is my BMCC still a year away?  We can discuss and compare specs ad nauseum, but when will most people even get their hands on this thing.  Even if the BMCC shot 5K RAW on a full frame sensor and came with Robert DeNiro to be in your film all for $100, what good are specs and promises if it isn't available and doesn't look to be available for the foreseeable future.  The C100 is available.  I'm growing tired of waiting, especially with absolutely no concrete date (it could be two months, a year, or, who knows, maybe never) and for a camera that is arguably still beta hardware (black spot highlight clipping issue still not corrected in latest firmware, lack of the ability to delete files in camera, etc).  

It's a tough decision and Blackmagic certainly is making it difficult to stay devoted and play the waiting game.

8.09.2012

The Best Rule Tweaks for Improving Soccer

I enjoy watching international soccer on TV.  I've been watching men and women's Olympic soccer and I'm already looking forward to the 2014 World Cup.  Soccer does have its exciting moments, but some minor rule tweaks could exponentially increase excitement and likely viewership in non-soccer-centric nations.

1. Too often a player has the ball in the penalty area and a defender simply boots the ball out of bounds.  This maneuver is akin to clearing the puck over the boards from the defensive zone in hockey (which would result in a two-minute delay of game penalty).  It's far too easy to take the heat out of a hot kitchen.  A throw-in for the opposing team just isn't that big a detriment to the defenders.  I propose that if a defender kicks a ball out of bounds from the penalty area the opposing team should always get a corner kick, even if it goes out on the sidelines halfway down the field.

2. Defenders often get away with murder in the penalty area.  Refs seem to be very hesitant to award a penalty kick.  Just the other day in the France vs. Japan women's semifinal match a Japanese defender essentially arm tackled a French player with the ball in the penalty area and nothing was called.  Refs need to be ready to enforce the rules that are in place strictly.

3. Offsides rules should be less strict.  A horizontal line should be drawn across the field and offsides should only be called if the offending pass crosses this line (similar to the blue line in hockey).  It's kind of frustrating to see a player with the ball deep in the opponent's zone or even in the penalty area and still see offsides be called.  The current rule basically prevents breakaways, which would likely be a sure goal, but I think that would part of the game and force the teams to play tight defense.

4. Soccer is already a tough game to put points on the board and the fact that a team with the lead can easily pass the ball up the field and backwards makes it quite easy to defend a lead.  Like in basketball, a team should not be able to pass the ball back across mid-field after they have crossed into the opponent's half of the field.  This would make the field much smaller for them to pass the ball around and try to delay.  Violating this rule would give the opponents a free kick from mid-field.

Overall, I think these rule changes would not fundamentally change the game of soccer and would act only as minor tweaks to rid soccer of maneuvers that take away from the excitement of the game.

3.25.2012

Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800

The newest crop of cameras from Canon and Nikon has really made choosing a new full-frame DSLR quite interesting.  When first announced it looked like the 5D Mark III would be a slam dunk for Canon while the D800, with its whopping 36 megapixels, would only appeal to a niche market.  With 50% more, and hence smaller, pixels the D800 looked as though it would have poor low light performance.  Canon chose to essentially forgo an increase in pixel count and promises two stops better low light performance versus the 5D Mark II.  To me, this means not only increasing the top end of the native ISO range from 6400 to 25600, but also that ISO 1600 on a 5DIII should have about the same amount of noise as ISO 400 on a 5DII, for example.  With this in mind in addition to the vastly improved autofocus system and high bit rate ALL-I video recording with reduced moirĂ© the Canon 5D Mark III is the clear champion...on paper.

Surprisingly for two primarily still cameras, video samples were really the first thing to come out of them for analysis on the web.  Discussing which camera has the best video capabilities is moot since, in my opinion they both flat out suck.  OK, so they're not that bad, but neither raises the bar for DSLR video and neither comes close to a hacked Panasonic GH2, the reigning king of DSLR video.  Both cameras yield quite soft video and just do not capture the detail that a GH2 can.  When I first saw Intra (ALL-I) video on the GH2, I was wowed.  I expected similar things from the 5DIII ALL-I mode, but I am quite disappointed after seeing samples.  The D800 features clean HDMI output (only 1080i60 for some reason), but after seeing some HDMI versus internal recording comparisons for it, I feel it does very little to increase the quality.  If I had to choose I would say the D800, despite some moirĂ© issues, has a slight edge over the 5DIII in the video department, with both only minority improving upon the performance of a 5D Mark II.  Unless having video and still capabilities in one camera is a must, I would forget about either camera's video mode, choose based solely on still capabilities, and pick up a GH2 with a couple decent lenses all for less than the cost of another high end lens for the 5D3 or D800.

Although the D800 was announced first, 5DIII's are making their ways to consumers first and thus have allowed for more in-depth reviews.  So far the 5DIII has received stellar reviews with regard to still photography.  It's new 61-point autofocus, the same found on the flagship 1DX, has been praised as being extremely quick and accurate, even in very low light.  Its low light capabilities have been lauded, though in one ISO comparison test from cameralabs.com versus the 5D Mark II, I do not see two stops of improvement, albeit a comparison of JPEGs instead of RAW.  There is maybe one stop of improvement at best.  I realize it is just one test, but at ISO 3200 the 5DIII is less noisy than the 5DII at 3200, but 5DIII is definitely more noisy at ISO 6400 than the 5DII at 3200.  At 12800, the 5DIII is much, much more noisy than the 5DII at 3200.  From this test I would give the 5DIII as about 2/3 of a stop better than the 5DII.  The addition of two stops at the top of the native ISO range also seems pointless to me.  Shooting in such low light is more of a novelty and I doubt many people want to buy a $3500 camera to get results that look like they were shot on an iPhone (very low light or not).  When scaled down, it appears that noise begins to become apparent at around ISO 3200.  I would much like to see this same comparison with images captured in RAW.  All in all, the 5D Mark III real advantages over the 5D Mark II are just improved autofocus and about a stop of low light performance.

With these improvements on the already impressive 5D Mark II, it seemed as though the D800 had its work cut out for it.  The majority of the Nikon community had been bemoaning the vast increase in pixels since rumors pegged the D800 at 36 MP.  It seemed that loss of low light sensitivity in order to gain more massive file sizes (around 50 MB RAW files) and increased detail that would be lost at most normal viewing/print sizes.  Not many reviews of the D800 have surfaced yet, but the sensor test by DxOMark has rated the D800's as the best sensor they have ever tested.  It's color reproduction rivals medium format studio cameras, it has the best dynamic range of any sensor tested, and ranks third in low light performance only slightly behind the new flagship D4 and the D3s, and almost one stop better than the 5D Mark II.

I'm very excited to see some head to head 5DIII versus D800 comparisons.  Based on the DxOMark test it seems like the D800 could be the dark horse here.  Unless the 5DIII blows the D800 out of the water in low light performance (which I doubt) the D800 may actually produce cleaner images at the same ISO considering there is extra leeway in downscaling the image to mask noise due to the difference in pixel count.  If the autofocus can compete with Canon and with its slight edge in the video department the D800 may end up being the clear champion, with a price tag $500 below that of the 5D Mark III.

1.31.2012

Nikon J1 First Impressions

I've been using the Nikon J1 for about a week and I must say that most reviews are truly incorrect.  The problem is that reviewers seem to be judging the Nikon J1 not on what it is, but on what they expect it to be.  The Nikon J1 is essentially a point and shoot with interchangeable lenses.  Reviewers seem to think it should be a D4 in a point and shoot body.  OK, maybe it's not quite that extreme, but that's the gist of it.

The J1 is capable of great pictures if used correctly.  The automatic settings aren't very good.  The camera loves using high ISO's and fast shutter speeds, even if unnecessary, when set to auto.  I've found that when shooting stills or scenes without fast motion, manual shutter speeds and lower ISO's produce better overall image quality while maintaining proper exposure.  If using automatic ISO, I recommend using the setting that limits the highest ISO to 400 or 800.

Nikon's J1 is fun to use, handles like a DSLR, and produces sharp images that definitely surpass images from a point and shoot.  The DSLR-like zoom ring trumps the annoying zoom buttons or switches on traditional point and shoots.  My only complaint is the lack of a dial to select aperture priority, shutter priority, etc. and a dedicated button for ISO and white balance.  It is quite tedious to go into the menu to find and change all of these settings.  If your looking for a small camera, I recommend this camera.  If size isn't an issue, then obviously go with a GH2 or a Canon or Nikon DSLR.

1.20.2012

Some Camera Talk

DLSR's
The DSLR world is abuzz with recent product announcements like the Canon 1DX and Nikon D4 as well as rumored prospective camera announcements such as the D800 and 5D Mark II replacement.  Right now it's difficult to say which of the four will really lead the pack of next-generation DSLRS.  

For the non-professional photo enthusiast, the biggest difference with Canon and Nikon's flagships is price and size.  They cost twice as much, weigh over 50% more, and are larger than the D800 and 5D.  Aside from price, I feel the size and weight really detracts from the usefulness of this camera.  Sure, in a studio or maybe at a wedding this wouldn't make a difference, but I doubt I'd want to lug one of these behemoths around on vacation.  

The next major difference between these cameras, all of which have a full frame sensor, is sensor megapixel count.  The 1DX sports 18.1 megapixels compared to 16.2 on the D4.  The D800 is rumored to boast over 30 megapixels while the 5D replacement is said to capture around 20 megapixels.  This brings up the issue of better low light capabilities of the lower megapixel cameras (and hence larger pixels) versus the better ability to create large prints with more pixels.  The issue becomes even more convoluted when one considers that when a 30-megapixel image is resized down to 16 or 18 megapixels, the noise would be much less apparent than in the original size.  

Right now, it looks like only real world performance will tell the truth regarding these four cameras.  Perhaps the high megapixel D800 and 5D3 will hold their own against their higher-priced brethren or maybe the flagships will show off image quality that truly makes them worth the extra money.

These cameras will all sport a HD movie mode as well and all will most likely trump the 5D Mark II in quality, but I feel this point is moot in that I do not believe any of the 4 will top the quality of a hacked Panasonic GH2.  With a GH3 on the horizon I doubt anything from Canon or Nikon will become the new king of DSLR video, especially with the GH2 performing relatively closely to Canon's $16,000 C300.

As a finally note, I'm still putting my weight behind the theory that the next 5D will be called the 5DX.  This would clearly put it in the same family as the 1DX (which it should be).  Further adding credence to this, is the fact that Canon's newest Digic 5 G-series Powershot is named the G1X.  I think the X is going to denote high-performance, Digic 5 cameras.  



Nikon 1 Series
The new Nikon V1 and J1, part of Nikons new mirrorless, interchangeable lens "1 series," have been getting horrible reviews despite selling quite well.  The problem is that they are too often being compared to cameras in a different class.  The point of the V1/J1 is ultra-portability, with decent image quality and the freedom to change the lens.  These cameras should be regarded as point-and-shoots with DSLR-like usability rather than DSLR-like image quality.

Too often the 1 series is compared to the cheaper and similarly sized Sony NEX3.  While the NEX may provide better image quality, the standard 18-55mm zoom lens (the full frame equivalent of 27-82.5mm) is  almost 2.5 inches long whereas the standard 10-30mm zoom lens (the full frame equivalent of 27-81mm) is only 1.7 inches long and weighs about half as much.  For the length of the NEX lens you could put a 30-110mm zoom on the V1 or J1 (27-300 in full frame terms).  Even just considering the standard zoom lenses plus camera thickness, we're talking about 3.8 inches for the NEX versus 2.9 inches for the Nikon.  An inch may not sound like much, but to put things in perspective, a Panasonic GH2 with a 14-42mm kit lens is about the same depth as a NEX3 with an 18-55 lens.  Also the 5D Mark II with a 50mm prime is just one inch deeper than the NEX.  Yes, an inch does make a difference here.  

Let's face it, no one is really going to use either the NEX3 or V1/J1 to create large prints.  Most stuff is going on Facebook or Flickr.  On Flickr, both cameras look quite similar in low light.  These cameras simply aren't for pixel-peepers.  For it's size, I think the 1 series is a worthy contender.  


1.18.2012

SSD

After replacing my stock MacBook Pro hard drive with an SATA 6Gbps SSD drive all I can say is, "Wow!"  This simple, 15-minute upgrade was a huge leap forward in system performance, bigger even than last year's jump from a dual-core Core 2 to quad-core i7 MacBook Pro.  Almost all of my applications launch instantly upon clicking.  Flipping though large number of RAW images in Aperture used to be painfully tedious, but is now smooth.  Even skipping to a new spot in a large HD Quicktime movie is instant.  I think I've finally unlocked the full potential of this quad-core beast of a laptop!