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The Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys

COW Library : Blackmagic Design : Marco Solorio : The Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys
CreativeCOW presents The Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys -- Blackmagic Design Editorial


OneRiver Media
Walnut Creek California USA
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


You may have read my other article here on Creative COW, "Is the New Blackmagic Cinema Camera the HDSLR Killer?" That article was a direct comparison between the Cinema Camera and HDSLR cameras in general. But what if we went a step further? What if we compared the Cinema Camera to the likes of the ARRI Alexa, the Sony F65, and the RED Epic? Have I completely lost mind by comparing the Cinema Camera with the likes of "the big boys"? Making such a comparison is a very tall order to ask, but is it entirely out of the question? Let's find out.

First, let me say from the get-go that in no way shape or form will I pretend that the Cinema Camera is a better camera to shoot a feature film with over the Alexa, F65, or Epic. But on the same token, it's not to say that shooting a feature couldn't be done with the Cinema Camera (if the Canon 5D Mark II did it, so will the Cinema Camera. I guarantee it). Also please note that this is an editorial article, and not a review article. In other words, as of this writing, I do not yet have my pre-release camera from Blackmagic Design in hand.

With all that being said, I want to focus on one specific aspect of production that I feel the Cinema Camera will do extremely well in, even when compared to the likes of the mentioned "big boys". That aspect is chromakey production (blue/green screen shooting).

Let's do a quick background on chromakeying in general to get up to speed on why this camera could possibly be the ultimate camera for the job. When shooting chromakey footage of an object, typically against green or blue, you want to maintain the highest amount of color data in the image, since that color data itself is going to be used to create a matte, which then in turn places the object you shot within a transparent background. Well, that's the hope anyway, as there are many parameters in which the quality of the pulled key (removing the green or blue background) is attributed from. This includes your set lighting, your chromakey software, and of course, the camera quality itself (lens, sensor, and format quality). So if you're able to produce great lighting, use a great camera, and process through great software, you'll generate an excellent key. But if any of the links in this chromakey chain are broken, the end result will be a poor chromakey composite. Pretty simple.


One of two toughest things to shoot in chromakey production is hair and the color red. For this test, Chewbacca was kind enough to let us use some of his Wookiee hair, and for the other test, I used one of my robots with red parts on it. These images were shot with my Canon 5D Mk II in 14-bit RAW mode. The hair obviously causes transparency intricacies that get worse with multiple forms of compression. The color red creates a stair-stepping effect when succumbed to harsh chroma-space compression.



If you're shooting video on an HDSLR camera for chromakey production, you're missing out on a ton of color data that could otherwise be used to help process the key itself. In a round about way, you're loosing about three quarters of color data by running in compressed 4:2:0 chrominance space, one form of several compression techniques used for HDSLR format encoding. Combine that with 8-bit quantization through its H.264 compressed format (anywhere from a 20 to 35Mbps data stream), and you have multiple forms of compression that will take a toll on your chromakey composites. And then there's temporal compression, where frames after the I-frame (or "keyframe") are based on that I-frame, rather than each frame getting their own unique and complete image of data. Chrominance compression, spatial compression, temporal compression, macroblocking, predictive motion, ISO noise, aliasing, moire; it all starts to add up, and gruesomely so for chromakey production on the majority of current HDSLR technology.


This image (taken from the robot photo) zoomed at 400% shows the source viewed in 4:4:4, then encoded to ProRes HQ (10-bit 4:2:2), as well as the source encoded to 8-bit H.264 at 4:2:0. In reality, the 4:2:0 would be much worse in a real-world scenario, especially if aliasing or moire were involved. As you can see, even at 4:2:2 you begin to see some stair-stepping in the edges. At 4:2:0 all hell breaks loose as the stair-stepping is even larger and you start getting color banding with the compression washing out details.

With the Wookiee hair, we begin to see some stair-stepping in the 4:2:2 encoded sample. And at 4:2:0, the stepping is worse, and the compression even starts to wash out the inherent grain and fine hair detail in the image.

Here are similar shots using the Canon 5D Mk II in HD mode. Note the color artifacts in both images.



I've been shooting chromakey production with our Sony EX1 for years now, which has an HD-SDI port that gives us full 10-bit output at a much more palatable 4:2:2 color space (half the chrominance data of full 4:4:4). That output then gets recorded to an AJA Ki Pro to ProRes HQ format, again at 10-bit 4:2:2 quality. Quite honestly, the chromakey footage looks stunning and allows us to pull an extremely easy and accurate key (again, combined with great lighting, and using Ultimatte, my preference of chromakey software for about 15 years now).


Marco Solorio (back to camera) running a Sony EX1 to an AJA Ki Pro for 10-bit ProRes HQ chromakey workflow. Combined with controlled lighting (note the perfectly flat green screen) and superior chromakey post-production software (Ultimatte is the author's choice to this day, despite it being EOL'ed and 32-bit), produced a perfectly composited, realistic finished product in the end.

But this article isn't about the Sony EX1 to AJA Ki Pro workflow (as excellent as that workflow has served us over the years). The Holy Grail is to work with full 4:4:4 footage at a minimum of 10-bit quantization or higher. Enter the Cinema Camera with its 13 stops of dynamic range, fully recorded to 12-bit RAW format, either internally to camera (using its SSD slot) or externally via a Thunderbolt-capable computer. When debayered and brought into your favorite compositing application, you can work at full 4:4:4 resolution, at 12-bit depth no less; say farewell to jaggie edges and chrominance compression artifacts!

Okay now, let's take a closer look at this and really understand what this means. There are only a handful of other cameras in the market that allow 12-bit RAW camera data capture, and those cameras cost extremely more by leaps and bounds. We're talking anywhere from 7 to 30 times more. Granted, the 2.5K resolution Cinema Camera doesn't shoot 4K resolution, but 2.5K isn't a slouch, especially considering most digital cinemas are still projecting 2K anyway.

Let's not forget the fact that the Cinema Camera will also record at 10-bit ProRes and DNxHD at 4:2:2. So if you do not have the drive space to work in 12-bit RAW, you can just as easily use the ProRes/DNxHD alternative, which will still give you absolutely fantastic results. Granted, the purpose of this article is to explain the virtues of 12-bit RAW chromakey production in comparison to the "big boy" cameras, but sometimes, you just have to use a more efficient workflow due to tight storage limitations, and ProRes/DNxHD will definitely still deliver the quality you need. My EX1 to Ki Pro workflow has proven that to me time and time and again.


Although Ultimatte AdvantEdge is now EOL'ed and 32-bit, it still pulls some of the best keys available in chromakey technology (Ultimatte has been doing it for over 35 years now). Shown here is the Ultimatte AdvantEdge software interface.

So for a camera costing under $3000, you can shoot chromakey footage that is as perfect and clean as anything out there the market can dish out (again, with the only real sacrifice being true 4K resolution if you truly needed it, and from a camera that processed real 4K resolution and not "pretend" 4K resolution). To me, the Cinema Camera is a revolutionary step for chromakey production.

Some people will continue to regurgitate the old argument, "Oh, but that sensor is smaller than a Micro 4/3rd sensor."

Guess what? For chromakey production, the size of the Cinema Camera sensor won't matter diddly wink. Going back to my tried-and-true Sony EX1 to AJA Ki Pro workflow, that EX1 uses a ½-inch sensor, and as noted, I'd get KILLER chromakey footage out of it. The Cinema Camera has a sensor that is more than twice the size of that EX1 sensor! But let's see other reasons why the sensor doesn't need to be overly large for this application.

For starters, when you shoot chromakey footage, you generally want to stop down your aperture to keep it sharp so you do NOT have narrow depth-of-field (DOF). This way your edges stay sharp for the keying process. If your edges are soft due to extreme DOF, your chromakey software is going to have a tougher time keying that soft edge compared to a razor-sharp one. And remember, you can always add that narrow DOF look later in post to your chromakey composites if you want (for both the chromakey footage and your plate shot for the perfect balance in realism).

Secondly, you wont need a huge sensor to suck up the light, because you're in a studio environment where you (should) have a lot of light control for both the green/blue screen, and for the talent/subject. So low light sensitivity flies out the window on a proper chromakey set. And as a final touch, bring the ISO value down for the least amount of noise as possible.

I'm sometimes hired on set as a chromakey technical director to ensure the footage will key is as best as possible. This typically means I need to bring my own scopes to make sure the blue/green screen's chrominance is on target on the vectorscope, and the blue/green screen's luminance is at the correct IRE on the waveform (optimized for the software that will be doing the keying) and as flat and thin on the waveform as possible. When shooting with the Cinema Camera, I could simply hook it up to my MacBook Pro via Thunderbolt and use UltraScope (comes free with the Cinema Camera) to give me real-time metering of the waveform, vectorscope, RGB/YUV parade, and histogram. It's like this camera was MEANT for chromakey production!


Blackmagic Design's UltraScope ships with the Cinema Camera for free; the perfect companion to your Cinema Camera on chromakey production.

And let's not forget the included license of DaVinci Resolve means you could shoot, key, and perform a quick grade and composite on set to see if you're shooting in the right zone. That's pretty sweet if you ask me.


A complete license of DaVinci Resolve is shipped with the Cinema Camera. Yes, you actually get a dongle with it. Do a quick grade on set to see if you're shooting in the right zone; crossing over post-production into the production world.

In retrospect for chromakey production, the Cinema Camera has 13 stops of dynamic range, it records at 12-bit RAW in standard CinemaDNG format, the sensor size is more than adequate, we're not dealing with any chrominance sub-sampling garbage, we're not cleaning up compression artifacts, we're not smoothing out the affects of line-skipping, and we have built-in UltraScope hardware to ensure the entire chromakey shoot is on target. Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

I seriously cannot wait to start shooting serious chromakey footage with this camera. For this application, DSLR cameras aren't even in the city of the ballpark this game is playing in. I dare think a Sony F3 or Canon C300 is even in the parking lot. For chromakey production, can this little $3000 camera play at a level with the likes of ARRI Alexa, RED Epic, and the Sony F65? From what it reads on paper, it sure does seem like it and seems like fair game. Time will tell once serious chromakey productions are lined up.



http://blackmagic-design.com/products/blackmagiccinemacamera

$2995 USD for the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera available July 2012








Marco Solorio is a multi-award-winning creative media developer. He owns OneRiver Media (www.onerivermedia.com), a production and post-production facility located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Marco has been a longtime Creative Cow leader and contributing editor since 2002. You can also find him online at Twitter, Facebook and through his blog. Tweet #BMDCC to interact on Twitter regarding the Cinema Camera.


Comments

Re: The Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys
by Asim Arshad
Hi, which camera has the more cinematic effect, the BMCC or BMProduction camera 4K?? for me i feel the BMCC gives out more cinematic like effects but the 4k production camera is a bit too sharp and not like the movies type ..if u know what i mean? also has the 4k got any inbuilt options to shoot in 2.5k or does it just shoot in 4k all the time by default? is this correct?

Many thanks
Re: Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys
by Donald Berube
Hey Marco,

I had no difficulty understanding the premise of your well-written and informative article. Upon reading the second paragraph, it was quite easy to comprehend that you are not presenting results from a hands-on test. instead, you are commenting on the fact that the BMD CIne Camera handles 12-bit RAW 4:4:4 in a similar way to cameras costing tens of thousands of dollars more. A compelling issue and a very didactic article which touches on the benefits of this feature benefit.

Those in the know will read this, conscious that you make your observations based on your many years of professional experience in the field and in the studio.

Thank you Marco!

- Donald

Donald Bérubé

LINKEDIN: http://www.linkedin.com/in/donaldberube
TWITTER: http://twitter.com/donaldberube

VISIT: http://donaldberube.mobi
+1
@Donald Berube
by Marco Solorio
Don, my friend, you are always very kind! Yes, as you comprehended, this is more of an "insight" article, thinking outside the box with the possibilities of such technology at one's grasp at such low cost without sacrifice of quality and performance. Glad you saw into it so clearly! Thanks, Don!

Cheers!

Marco Solorio | CreativeCow Host | OneRiver Media | ORM Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Media Batch
Re: @Donald Berube
by Peter J. DeCrescenzo
Cheers, Marco!

Over on bmcuser.com they collected a list of questions about the BMCC to forward to BMD. The question I asked was approximately when could I expect to receive the BMCC I pre-ordered in mid-April! :-)

I'm looking forward to working with the new cam when it eventually arrives.

Meanwhile, BMD's primary tester John Brawley occasionally tweets about the camera here:
http://twitter.com/#!/brawlster

---

http://www.peterdv.com
Re: Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys
by Anthony Burokas
So, let me get this straight so I understand what I just did.

I saw an article titled: Re: Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys?

So I clicked through to see if it could run with the big boys.

and read an article that described the value of higher chroma resolution, and the comparison of the specifications of the BMDCC to vDSLRs and other camcorders.. but no actual footage tests, comparisons, no tests, no samples, and nothing that actually ANSWERED the question that the title hooked me in to read.

Do I have that appropriately summed up?

Anthony Burokas ~ http://IEBA.com
+3
@Anthony Buroka
by Marco Solorio
The second paragraph clearly states that this is an *editorial* article and not a *review* article and that I do not have the camera in-hand yet from BMD. You could have stopped reading at that point, your choice.

The article compares the relationship between debayered 12-bit RAW 4:4:4, 10-bit 4:2:2 and 8-bit 4:2:0. It's clear enough that working in 12-bit 4:4:4 will chromakey better than any 4:2:2 or 4:2:0 footage. That's the meat of this article. So yes, this camera, in chromakey scenarios will perform as well as other cameras costing exponentially more in cost, again in this scenario, and run better than 4:2:2/4:2:0 alternatives.

Marco Solorio | CreativeCow Host | OneRiver Media | ORM Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Media Batch
@Marco Solorio
by Anthony Burokas
I found the technical part of the article top notch. And in no way did I mean to express doubt in your experience, knowledge, or skills.

But, I would have expected such experience and clarity to extend to the title.
The title would more accurately be "Could It Run with the Big Boys?" because, as you clearly note, you don't have the camera yet. This camera, in chromakey scenarios "is expected to perform" as well as other cameras. It's all just supposition at this point.

We all know there's far more to a camera than the numbers: birate, color depth, chip resolution, recorded resolution, etc. Time and again, we see little cameras surprise, and big, expensive cameras disappoint. So while the technical comparison of whether it could (and I heartily agree, it should) the question of "can it" remains unanswered.
+1
@Anthony Buroka
by Marco Solorio
Thanks for the kudos, Anthony. Appreciated.

I have seen footage from this camera. It's beautiful and the dynamic range and latitude is serious business. No, I haven't yet shot with it in a chromakey environment, but the fact is, the camera is real, it shoots beautiful footage as mentioned, and translating that into equally beautiful chromakey production is only logical. There's absolutely no reason at this point that the camera will not shoot equally fantastic footage on a chromakey set as it does in normal production. Additionally, being that it is 12-bit RAW debayered to 4:4:4 only means that we will not have to deal with the artifacts that plague 4:2:2 or much worse, 4:2:0. This isn't a guessing game or a hypothetical, it's based on reviewed footage and logical reasoning.

I will totally agree that there have been cases where new camera "X" comes out promising grandiose quality before it's manufactured, only to fall short in real world scenarios. But again, I've seen the footage of this camera. It's the real deal. All I can say for now is, if this camera doesn't shoot spectacular chromakey footage, I'll gladly pay $30k minimum for the next best camera that does.

Marco Solorio | CreativeCow Host | OneRiver Media | ORM Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Media Batch
@Marco Solorio
by Anthony Burokas
And, to be honest, yes, I glossed over the first few paragraphs where the "please note" was, in order to more quickly get to the meat of the article where I expected actual usage results.

If the title was more accurate, the note wouldn't have been needed.

Like, Could Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera's RAW video, and included software, deliver 4:4:4 video to make chromakey cut like a hot knife through butter?

Okay, a bit wordy, but I think it reflects the article content more appropriately. :)
+1
Re: Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys
by Nolan Richerson
What's with the "integrated" battery? Are there external batteries that are supported? I didn't see anything listed on BMD's site. Anyone have any info on this? The downside I am seeing is the battery life and recharge time.
@Nolan Richerson
by Marco Solorio
Nolan, this article isn't about the specifics/features of the Cinema Camera itself, per se, but how it can compare in chromakey production workflows as compared to cameras costing a great deal more than it. For specifics on camera features, I'd suggest reading my previous article here on the Cow:

http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/is-the-new-blackmagic-cinema-camera...

But to answer your question, yes, the battery is integrated into the body of the camera. But there is also a DC tap for external power. I look at it like any other video camera that requires external power (which I even do with our larger HDSLR rigs). The internal battery can be thought of as a backup source, rather than a primary source. I for one will never rely on the internal battery and will continue to use external power like we do with all our cameras, again, including HDSLR.

Marco Solorio | CreativeCow Host | OneRiver Media | ORM Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Media Batch
@Marco Solorio
by Nolan Richerson
Thanks Marco! I missed your previous article on the camera specs. Great article! Thanks for indulging me on this one!
@Nolan Richerson
by Marco Solorio
Thanks! And glad to help! Cheer

Marco Solorio | CreativeCow Host | OneRiver Media | ORM Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Media Batch
Re: Article: Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Can It Run with the Big Boys
by Gunter Puszkar
Great Article,

I like your "4:4:4 flag". Completely true.
But in the real post world, we get floods of codecs and formats in everyday. But uncompressed 444 is reality in the post world since we have good film scanners (15 years back at least..). So, I dont even test those picky compressed stuff anymore, even if someone says its "awesome". My flag weaves "uncompressed 444".

Remember that chromakey in the analog world was only possible with true RGB-Component cameras in the 80'. When SDI was not even born...
You could not key composite video...

But another aspect of postproduction ist workgroup editing with shared infrastructure. Eyery new codec has be tested on compatibility in all production areas. So try to take roundtrips from editing to grading, back to composting, back to final edit an so on... archive the job an reload it 5 years later back in that pipeline...

Whenever someone told me: "Look, that Codec now is so efficient, you wont notice, that its compressed" I started hearing that from SVideo, SDI 422, DVCPRO, DV, HDV, H264, MP4 and so on...
Last week I had to restore a project from 1998 from DLT, and thanks god it was a pretty nice 2K scan with DPX Files, and it was a green screen shot, which was perfect well lit and the new key was pulled pretty easy... : No compression artifacts... Just 14 years on DLT achived...

Cheers,
Gunter.
+1


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