Camera Techniques Cinematography

BlackMagic Cinema Camera and the Canon C100

I had the opportunity to shoot a segment of the Carpetbag Brigade’s “Callings,” a performance art piece performed on stilts. I enlisted one of my students, Kent Wagner, to shoot their rehearsal and performance on the Canon C100, while I shot with a Blackmagic Cinema Camera. What follows is a discussion of the comparison between the footage of these two cameras. I’ve placed a 70-second segment of the performance doing a contrasting shot progression of the two cameras at: https://vimeo.com/65939859.

Ultimately, if you get the look of the shot right in-camera during the shoot, those with an untrained eye will not discover vast differences between an 8-bit DSLR, an 8-bit Canon C100, and the uncompressed version of the 16 linear to 12-bit log CinemaDNG found in the Blackmagic, for example. But if you look closely, the differences are there. If you’re shooting a compelling story and the shot is professionally lit and exposed properly (and in focus with clean audio and proper color-balance), very few people will fault you if you’ve shot on a Canon 60D, rather than a Blackmagic camera. Those who shoot in raw are choosing it because there’s a certain look that comes out of these cameras that gives them a unique feel. Similar arguments were used when I interviewed filmmakers who were using Canon DSLRs for the first time for my book DSLR Cinema (Focal Press, 2013, 2nd edition).

Rodney Charters, ASC, shot a series of moving images for Neil Smith on the RED One, Canon 5D Mark II, and the Canon 7D. Smith had the shots intercut to see if anyone could point out which ones were shot on which camera at the HD Expo in New York in the fall of 2009. No one could point out the difference.

Now, with the advent of inexpensive CinemaDNG raw cameras, people are pretty much saying the same thing. This next section reveals how the differences may be considered subtle by some people, but become more obvious with a trained eye. The subsequent section about postproduction capabilities is where the real differences occur—the ability to recover details in the darks and highlights as well as to apply effects to the shot. Then there’s no comparison between the power of 12-bit raw vs. an 8-bit compression. The comparison between 8-bit compression of DSLRs with the 14-bit Magic Lantern software upgrade also reveals some remarkable differences.

Two Codecs

Fundamentally, when comparing the BMCC and Canon’s C100, we’re talking about two vastly different types of format. The raw cameras covered in this book utilize Adobe’s open source CinemaDNG format, which Adobe announced in early 2008. Cinematographer John Brawley, who tested the first Blackmagic Cinema Camera, explains how the “DNG file is a container, so how each application processes it is up to the application. It’s an objective thing like I’ve seen a lot of amazing footage that’s been processed through Capture One’s raw conversion software” (http://www.phaseone.com/capture-one). Brawley feels that in the circles he walks, the debayer capabilities are powerful (the process of converting the raw collected light into a form recognized as images on the computer). In short, different software could process the raw files differently, so Brawley believes that the Blackmagic philosophy (and really the philosophy of Ikonoskop and Digital Bolex), is to make the image “unadulterated and give you the basic sensor data, so you can do what you want with it depending on which application you use.” He feels that Blackmagic has regenerated the use of CinemaDNG.

The C100, on the other hand, uses the Panasonic- and Sony-led 2006 initiative of AVCHD container of the compressed H.264 codec (designed for consumer cameras). In addition, the camera utilizes an S35 sensor—the size of 35mm film (and slightly larger than the APS-C sensor found in Canon Rebel, 60D, and 7D DSLRs). It also contains Canon’s cinema log file—basically a flat-look format that preserves data in the highlights and blacks, providing a potentially powerful film look when graded in post.

Setting Up in Post

For the Carpetbag Brigade short, we kept the shooting simple on the C100. For the two rehearsal run-throughs, the camera sat on a tripod with a Canon 16- 35mm f/2.8L lens, while the BMCC utilized the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. For the performance, the C100 used the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens and the BMCC used the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens with an aperture of f/2.8. The BMCC was set in Film mode shooting raw. The C100 engaged the Canon cinema log.

For color correction, I imported the footage for the BMCC into DaVinci Resolve (lite) and utilized Captain Hook’s nice Look Up Table (LUT) in that software.

When shooting with the C100 or the BMCC, the image looks flat, for both are utilizing a form of a film curve that helps preserve data in the highlights and blacks, providing more headroom in post so that you can dig out more details— it essentially extends the dynamic range of the camera. (See Figures 2.1 and 2.2.).

FIGURE 2.1 The BMCC flat film look as seen through DaVinci Resolve. The image does not pop and not only does it look flat, but it feels flat—emotionless. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

FIGURE 2.2 The flat Canon log gamma file from Canon’s C100. The image is bright and flat, washed out. It needs color grading in post. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

FIGURE 2.3 The BMCC colors pop, removing the flat quality of the image. The waveform monitor in Final Cut shows the results of the DaVinci Resolve color correction and grading. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

Taking the C100 file and adjusting exposure in Final Cut Pro, we can see how the image sharpens and begins to pop out of the screen (see Figure 2.4).

FIGURE 2.4 The C100 Final Cut Pro correction through an exposure adjustment. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

Let’s take a look at the close-up of the image in Figure 2.5.

FIGURE 2.5 Close-up of the C100 Final Cut Pro color correction. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

The overall problem is the lack of the color equality of the C100 image when compared to the DaVinci Resolve BMCC footage. Rather than putting the C100 footage into Resolve, however, I tried a trick—Final Cut’s Color Match function. I clear the correction I made and apply “Match Color,” selecting one of the similar BMCC clips I have in the timeline. The results are close to the BMCC footage. (See Figures 2.6–2.8.)

FIGURE 2.6 C100 footage now matches more closely to the colors of the BMCC by using the Match Color feature in Final Cut Pro. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

FIGURE 2.7 Close-up of the C100 color match. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

FIGURE 2.8 Close-up of similar footage from the BMCC, corrected using Captain Hook’s LUT in DaVinci Resolve. Notice the similarity of the look when compared to the C100 in Figure 2.7. But the feel is different–the C100 is crisp, more like video, while the BMCC feels organic with roll-offs of shadow and lights, more filmic. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

So despite the close color and exposure match between the C100 and the BMCC, we can see that the C100 conveys a different feel—again this is subtle and for the casual viewer caught up in the story, they will likely not notice it. But for some, the difference is not subtle. Filmmaker Michael Plescia in his Foreword to this book discussed how he felt there was a strong difference between what he was seeing in Ikonoskop’s A-Cam dII and D16 Digital Bolex CinemaDNG footage compared to higher-end cameras (such as the early model RED One). After seeing some of the A-Cam’s early footage on Vimeo, he said, “I couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like a chimera image. It looked to be half film and half digital.” He is not referring to a BMCC, and Plescia feels the Kodak (TrueSense) CCD in the Ikonoskop is superior to CMOS sensors (found in the BMCC), but we can compare the fact that both cameras use Adobe’s CinemaDNG format.

Let’s take a look at both images again, enlarged (see Figures 2.9 and 2.10).

Details remain in both (notice the flow of hair strands that remain sharp in both images), but there’s a distinctly different feel to each image. The C100 feels sharper, a bit more clean, with a slight industrial plastic-like feel to it (perhaps a bit of a cold science-fiction feel), while the BMCC feels like it has more film-like texture, warmer in its presence onscreen—this feel drives not from the difference in resolution, but from a difference in bit depth.

FIGURE 2.9 A blowup in Photoshop of a still from the BMCC. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

FIGURE 2.10 A blowup of a still from the C100. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

The distinction of feeling between the two cameras becomes more heightened in the wide shots (see Figures 2.11 and 2.12).

FIGURE 2.11 The BMCC camera from the back of the house and at a high angle—details remain sharp. (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

FIGURE 2.12 The C100 from the front of the house (and a level angle). The image does not appear as sharp as the image from the Blackmagic Cinema Camera from the back of the house (Figure 2.11). (© 2013 Kurt Lancaster.)

In both of these images, the colors are closely matched, but the DNG footage from the BMCC feels different, a bit warmer and not expressing the plastic-like feeling from the C100.

As I mentioned before, these distinctions may be a moot point for most audiences and remain, perhaps, an academic or cinematographer’s argument for those with a discerning eye. But for those who make films, the feel of the camera’s body may be less important than the feel of the image, especially when the image moves. The C100, for me, expresses a clean plasticity. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The compression of the C100 may actually be perfect for news shooters and those who want the versatility of the camera’s onboard audio, extended battery life, and the ability to record hours of footage on an SD card. Members of Stillmotion, one of the best video production houses in the world, swear by the versatility of the C100.

But for filmmakers, those who are attempting to regain the feel of film by digital means, they’re likely going to gravitate towards the Ikonoskop, or Blackmagic, or the Digital Bolex—because they know that to shoot in raw is the closest they may ever get to shoot on the nearly extinct format of chemical film emulsion.

Excerpt from Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema Cameras by Kurt Lancaster © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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