Pimp Your BMD Pocket Cinema Camera – Pt 2 – Super 35mm in Your Pocket!

In my previous post last week I set out to introduce you to the minimalist approach to equipping the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for shooting from the hip in any situation as quickly as you can grab your camera, frame your shot and hit record.

Many would love it if Blackmagic had shoehorned a larger full frame sensor into the pocket camera, but for whatever reasons they didn’t, and it’s a lovely super 16mm format camera. No amount of wishing can change that fact. However, for those intending to shoot with 35mm format lenses and for lovers of the 35mm ultra shallow depth of field that is considered de-facto standard for any respectable digital cinema camera, Metabones has come to your rescue with the latest Speedbooster for Nikon F lenses.

Metabones have released two versions each with optics tailored to reduce the sensor crop as much as possible for the BMC and BMPCC respectively. By optically reducing the image circle of the larger 35mm format lens to better match the smaller sensor, the light is also intensified giving you 1 2/3 extra stops (on the BMPCC version) on any given lens.

This actually turns the pocket camera’s smaller sensor from what some might consider a disadvantage into a huge advantage over full frame cinema cameras in that you’ve got more than a stop and a half brighter exposure plus a 35mm aesthetic which is closer to the un-cropped field of view using 35mm lenses.

So the BMD Pocket Cinema Camera with the Metabones Speedbooster – BMPCC Version gives you the smallest (close-to) 35mm digital cinema camera solution available. The adaptor reduces sensor crop factor from 2.88x to 1.75x and makes any lens 0.58x wider. A 50mm f/1.2 becomes a 29mm f/0.74!

This can get confusing. To put this back into terms of 35mm equivalency… a straight-up Nikon F to MFT lens mount adaptor with no reduction in sensor crop will mean a 50mm lens with the BMPCC’s 2.88x sensor crop gives you the equivalent field of view of 144mm in the full frame 35mm sensor world. With the BMPCC Speedbooster, the crop factor reduces to 1.75x so your 50mm lens looks like what you’d expect of a 87.5mm on a full frame camera… or from a 29mm lens on a straight mount adaptor… only 1 2/3 stops faster :) Got it? Good!

F0.74 – The new Metabones Speed Booster – BMCC & BMPCC versions from Andrew Reid on Vimeo.

Next week we’ll take a look at some of the best cages and rigs available to protect the camera itself, augment it’s ergonomics and handling in various shooting situations, and give you rods and mounting points for accessories.

Pimp your BMD Pocket Cinema Camera – Pt 1 – Power in Your Pocket!

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, so this is the first write-up of a series on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) and later the Cinema Camera (BMCC). I hope that these will start to come more regularly now and I can get this blog back up to the old days of 1000+ views a day :)

Also for those of you used to all my RED ramblings, my love of all things Epic has not changed, I’ve just found something else I like in addition, and for many of the same reasons. Blackmagic Design are responsible for some seriously ingenious and innovative products, and so now it’s their turn for a bit (until I get my hands on RED Dragon to review :P)

I also want to say I have my hands on these cameras every day, and interact with others who have been shooting for some time now on the Blackmagic cameras, so everything I’m writing about is real world, no BS feedback and opinion from actual use.

Digital Super 16mm

Super 16mm holds a special place in my heart. A few years ago I could be seen regularly with my clockwork WWII era Russian K3 hanging around my neck and a backpack full of film stock. I’d take the camera all over and shoot whatever was around me that was interesting.

As a result, I was very excited about the idea of a true super 16mm “digital film” camera and Blackmagic Design delivered exactly that. Of course it’s full HD, far cleaner and superior than the K3 I loved so much but it delivers a full 13 stops, records RAW and in post gives you all the latitude and flexibility you could ever want… plus I don’t have to load film in the dark, process anything or wait for telecine transfers. Bonus.

The BMPCC is a revolutionary device, and I know all about the new Digital Bolex, which is all well and good with its global shutter, dual CF card slots, internal SSD and $3300 price tag but Blackmagic Design have put the core essentials of all that in the palm of your hand at $995 (and you can actually have it right now). In my opinion I could care less about the Bolex.

With all that said, I am going to start this series by sharing a ideal minimalistic pocket setup that’s all about getting out there and capturing the world exactly as it is with no fuss, no setup, no excuses.

Very often less is more, and this configuration is about putting serious cinematic power in your pocket, literally. If you are a instagram or iPhone photo junkie like me then having a true full HD digital cinema camera in your pocket at all times opens up a world of creative possibilities.

I will say right now I’m a massive fan of the Voightlander Nokton lenses and the only reason I am not listing a Voightlander in this list is that for this setup I want something as flat as possible. I’ll touch on the Voightlanders again however in a bit.
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera

13 stops of 1080p RAW in your hand.

For a camera you want to carry around with you, it’s all about being light and super compact so in this list theres no cage, no external V-mount battery, no handles, no excess weight. Just some extra EL20 batteries and media to carry in a free pocket, one fast medium wide pancake lens and a few filters.

For this recipe you will need:

1 x Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera
3 x BMD EN-EL20 Battery
1 x Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 II ASPH. Lens
3 x SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC 64GB Memory Card
1 x Heliopan 58mm Variable ND Filter
1 x Hoya 58mm Circular Polarizer Filter
1 x Hoya 58mm UV Filter
1 x 46mm – 58mm step-up ring

A note on the variable ND, the Heliopan is arguably the sharpest of all the variable ND filters available, but they don’t make a 46mm size. So I would recommend getting whatever size in the range that suits the largest of any other lenses you might want to use and get a step-up ring from 46mm for the pancake. I’ve chosen 58mm because it will fit the Voightlander Nokton 17.5mm and 42.5mm (and 25mm with a step up ring), as well as the fantastic Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 and carrying a step-up ring for the smaller lenses is not a big deal.Three batteries and cards should be great for most day outings that you’d carry your camera with you. We’re talking informal, fast, creative shooting here. Great results are all about light, contrast and composition. In this minimal list you’ve got one fixed focal length lens, so be prepared to move to frame your shots. It’s about capturing moments, and being fast enough on your feet to do so.A ultra portable tripod or monopod would work well also if you are willing to carry it. The Miller Air is fantastic and not too heavy on the shoulder. You could even get into carrying a small slider, but if you start down that road the portability and quickness starts to erode and you’re in production mode before you know it with a whole lot of gear on your back to lug around.

Taking this minimalist setup further is as easy as adding some more lenses, and at this point I’ll come back to the Voightlander Nokton lenses.
Voightlander Nokton MFT primes.

Seriously fast! Voightlander Nokton MFT primes at f/0.95.

These lenses deserve a whole write-up on their own. I love them! Available in 14.5mm, 25mm and 42.5mm at a staggering F0.95 they practically see in the dark. While there is some glow in the highlights, or any light sources within your shot when wide open, it’s practically gone at F1.4 and beyond. Needless to say if you want a f/0.95 lens that doesn’t glow, the Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95 will set you back $11,000, so I think the Nokton trio at 1/10th the price can be forgiven.
On a side note, some additional fantastic lenses to keep in a small bag or your backpack with you if you wanted some options might be one or more of the following.Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0
Panasonic Lumix Leica D Summilux 25mm /F1.4 ASPH
Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8
Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8You can find many good reviews of these lenses with a quick search.

The Olympus 12mm and Lumix Leica 25mm are also 46mm filter thread size so the same filters in the above list would screw onto these also. The Olympus 45mm I’ve listed has a smaller 37mm filter thread so you would need a step-up ring just for that lens.

The Olympus 75mm may seem like a odd lens to include as it is long (150mm equiv) for a portrait lens but really is a standout fantastic lens. It is a larger lens, with a 58mm filter thread, which is why I chose 58mm filters in the basic list.

Next time I’m going to talk about building a more serious production ready pocket cinema camera featuring the M43 to Nikon Speedbooster by Metabones and some more serious accessories.

I’ve also taken out the pocket cam rigged with the wooden camera PL adaptor and a few Optimos so I’ll touch on shooting with PL glass too.

More fun to come. Thanks for reading.

Demystifying color bit depth, dynamic range and linear/logarithmic scales

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve written a blog post, and so I logged in today and discovered a bunch of really good comments and questions have been left on my blog the past year or so. This one is a good one and so I want to post my response as a standalone article.

1) No question, film has better dynamic range than digital. Admittedly the difference is increasingly becoming slimmer. My question is, when film is converted to digital for special effects purposes, does it not lose that dynamic range? I read that digital typically has 256 shades of grey (lol!) but film is infinite. When the film is captured by the digitising machine and all, doesn’t it lose that range, and maintain that loss through to when it is spewed back on to film and shipped to cinemas?

There’s a few things in play here; color bit depth, dynamic range, and whether the digital values are measured (recorded) and / or interpreted on a linear or logarithmic scale. Color bit depth in a digital file, whether is it a scan from negative or from a digital camera is determined by the number of bits of data that represent the values of R,G and B channels from back to white. If you imagine each channel separately as shades of grey from black to white, then a 8-bit per channel color bit depth would give you 256 increments or “steps”. However this is not a likely color bit depth you will come across in professional digital cinema acquisition or post production. The minimum bit depth considered adequate is 10-bits per channel, giving you 1024 increments per R, G, B channel. Above this is 12-bit, 16-bit per channel and 32 bit per channel.

As you can imagine the file sizes per frame ramp up very quickly for any given image resolution with this increase in color bit depth. Dynamic range has nothing to do with color bit depth, it is purely a factor of a camera imaging sensor’s sensitivity limits. It’s typically referred to in “stops” which directly relate to how the dynamic range of film stocks is typically given, and also aperture “stops” on a lens. In both cases it is measuring the same thing. It’s the range between the darkest blacks and the brightest whites that a sensor is able to resolve and still capture incremental detail. Think about the difference in light levels between a shaded interior, and a exterior lit by full sunlight. There is a massive scale in play there, and typically digital imaging devices have been poor substitutes for silver halide when it comes to capturing a wide scale above or below any given exposure. This has changed and I would argue is no longer a factor.

The last thing to keep in mind is how the image information is recorded and interpreted. Our eye’s sensitivity to light is not linear, and neither is photographic emulsion. Both perceive finer increments on the darker end than the brighter end, and this typically follows a more or less logarithmic curve. Imaging sensors are natively linear in their sensitivity to light but how the data is recorded can mimic a logarithmic scale assigning more of those “steps” I explained in color bit depth at the low end than at the higher end. This is one very good way to minimize wasted data with a form of “natural” compression as a digital image that has been captured in 10-bits per channel on a logarithmic scale can visually be very similar in fidelity to a 12-bit or more linear image at a much smaller file size.

These three factors all come into play when comparing the performance of celluloid and digital in image acquisition.

Openfiler and XSAN

It’s been many months since I have written a update on the SAN build.

Basically, the Openfiler box is running 16 x 3TB Seagate ST3000DM001 6G SATA drives (no these are not enterprise class drives… I know that), with a QLA2562 dual port 8Gb HBA and has been rock solid as a FC target. It runs 24/7 and so far has a longest up-time of 43 days, and I only restarted it then for a check-up, but there was really no need.

The storage is currently configured RAID 1+0 for redundancy because I was worried about the hard drives being kicked out of the array due to error correction time-outs (considering these are not enterprise drives), but not one of the 16 Seagate Barracuda 3TB desktop drives has even threatened to give me a issue in over three months on the Areca controller so now I want to reconfigure it to RAID 5. I feel I can trust it now.

I ditched SANmp very early on as it did not provide me with concurrent read/write access from multiple clients simultaneously. Since then I set up XSAN 2.3 on Lion using a older spare Mac Pro as a metadata controller running Lion Server, with three clients (one of which is also a back-up MDC) all running Lion or Lion Server. These are all Mac Pro workstations with LSI 7204 4Gb dual port HBAs.

Setting up XSAN correctly is a bit too involved to get into in this post, but needless to say I had to provide a separate private gigabit switch and network for XSAN metadata, and completely reconfigure our entire network with a existing Windows 2008 R2 server providing carefully and correctly configured DNS, DHCP and Active Directory services. I’ve built this whole system buying the absolute minimum (buying re-conditioned when I have to buy) and using or re-purposing as much as I could that we already had.

The Windows server is running on a rock solid HP Proliant ML350 G6, and I needed to set up our LTO5 drive (running LTFS) on Windows rather than OSX anyway. To be fair I didn’t have many issues binding the Macs to a Windows hosted Active Directory so I’ve had no issues there.

Apple XSAN is a complex and frustrating beast. However it works well once it is set up correctly. I’m getting +/- 330MB/sec read and write to the SAN from all clients, it’s currently approaching 80% full, and as I said, the Openfiler box has been the least of my issues… in fact it hasn’t been a issue at all. It is completely transparent to XSAN, it might as well be a Promise VTrak as far as the end performance and usability is concerned.

I know anyone wanting to replicate this will need for technical information. I will post more of the nuts and bolts asap.

SAN build almost complete… Openfiler, SANmp and fibre channel network all operational

I am writing this on day 8, working an average of 16hrs a day straight. That’s 128 man-hours so far invested in getting this SAN built. It’s been operational for the past two days with one strange automatic server reboot that I haven’t looked into yet. I am sure the answer to that is in a log file somewhere.

Complicated is the word that comes to mind. This is the single most challenging IT related project I have undertaken to date. Building a open-source, low-cost, high-performance SAN from scratch is not for the timid, and certainly not for anyone without a working knowledge of the hardware involved or a fear of the command line. Linux knowledge is a prerequisite as many of the guides and helpful step by step how-to’s I will refer to were not totally self sufficient.

I know that this post will turn up in Google internet searches involving the terms “Openfiler”, “Openfiler 2.99.1″ and “Qlogic FC Target”, and to you who clicked on the link and ended up here, I want to say two things. First of all, it works, you can set up a SAN storage server with a fibre channel front end using Openfiler (as long as you stick to a Qlogic HBA), and secondly, if you absolutely cannot afford enterprise class hard drives, I am having no problems so far with my 16 Seagate ST3000DM001 3TB SATA drives. I am aware of the differences between enterprise class and desktop class drives, and the problems with ERC, and the decision to employ the cheaper desktop drives in this build was not mine. However, I did take precautions. I configured my RAID as 1+0, meaning each drive only has one pair in it’s “sub RAID” and then the 8 pairs of mirrored drives are striped RAID 0. So far out of all the problems I have had, none have been disk related. Time will tell if this remains the case.

Stay tuned for the next post where I’ll start getting specific.

The rack is coming together with the Netgear GS748T smart switch on top, Brocade Silkworm 4100 4Gb fibre switch and the SAN storage server. This is before the HP Proliant file server went in the rack too.

Fibre channel XSAN: Muddville Dubai goes data-centric.

First off, my apologies for not posting anything in eons. I’ve been super busy… excuses, excuses… I know.

For those of you that don’t know, I’ve recently moved from Cape Town to Dubai, and am starting 2012 with a new long term contract as a producer/post producer/post workflow engineer/systems consultant/systems builder/(insert many other hats here) for the best production and post company I have ever known.

Muddville now has three Red Epic cameras, and a Scarlet on its way. Needless to say we generate huge amounts of data.

It’s come time to streamline our post workflow, and that means centralized storage and fast networking.

I’ve wanted to build a SAN for a long time, and each time the opportunity presented itself, the door closed for some or other reason. Not this time.

With careful consultation with Jac, Leigh and the team we have factored in all our post needs, such as a ton of storage space for 5K R3D media on active projects as well as uncompressed frame sequences, VFX assets and all this needs to be accessible to everyone on the network simultaneously.

We’re going Apple XSAN on 4Gb fibre channel, exciting times.

I also want to try out SANmp from SNS before finalizing the decision to go XSAN.

So stay tuned for write ups on the build, config, testing and deployment!

Why 4K+ is the future of media production and consumption.

I believe more than ever that 4K is the future not only of digital cinema, but of television and even portable devices. Red Digital Cinema has firmly implanted 4K+ of pixels as a common acquisition resolution for cinema, especially now with the availability of Scarlet at a unbeatable price point while most other digital cinema cameras are still only HD. Now with Sony’s F65 promising “true” 4K, and Sony bringing a high end “consumer” 4K projector to market, I think the future is clear.

Another clear indicator in my opinion is the current trend of near full HD displays migrating to smaller portable devices. For instance, take the impressive AMOLED 720p screen on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus of only 4.65″, it’s only a small stretch to see that a 1080p screen at a similar size is only a matter of time. Four of those panels equates to a 4K screen at a portable size.

Youtube now supports streaming media at 4K. The technology is already in our hands.

The reason however is not necessity, the reason is that we can sell it and fuel untold billions (trillions even) of dollars of business in cameras, post, data transmission and networking infrastructure, televisions, new portable devices and of course content production.

Since when has need ever really fueled consumption in the digital age?