With so many great cinema cameras on the market, at a wide range of prices, It can sometimes be tough to decide which one is the best choice to buy, as an owner operator or rent for a project. We had the opportunity to get 6 popular cameras together to do some basic testing. This was an opportunity to get an idea of some of their strengths and weaknesses shooting in 4k (UHD).
RED Epic Dragon
URSA Mini 4.6K
(pre black shading 4.2 update)
Canon C300 MK1
Let me start with one caveat. This in not a shoot-out to prove which is the overall best camera. Our goal here is to give you a little insight with regard to color, exposure response, and grading. There are so many other subjective factors like price, ergonomics, post workflow, compatibility, etc, that go into choosing a camera. We just couldn’t address everything in this project.
Given the time we had available with all the cameras and our free studio space, we decided to limit our test to an exposure stress test. The RED and URSA Mini were recorded in RAW 3:1. All of the Sony cameras used SLog-3. The Canon was shot in Standard REC709 (we initially were not planning to include the Canon after our C300 MK2 got booked on a job.) Each camera was set to it’s “base ISO” and recorded at several stops over and under proper exposure. We used a grey card, in camera exposure tools, and our professional judgment to determine the best exposure for each camera.
All the cameras in this test performed extremely well. They easily recovering from as much as 4 stops of overexposure to render a pleasing image. It was not much of a surprise to see that the Sony F5 and FS7 were almost identical in this test. They both were able to recover from almost 6-stops of exposure while maintaining reasonably good detail in the skin tone of our fair skinned model (Claudia). The C300 performed much better than any of us expected, considering that it’s an HD camera that had to be up-rezed to 4K (UHD).
I know there are all sorts of ways to maximize the low light capability of each of these cameras. Without jumping thru too many hoops, we wanted to see how far under proper exposure they could go and still manage to render a usable image. At 2 stops under, just about all of the cameras rendered an image that we all agreed was useable, after some basic primary adjustments in Davinci Resolve. When pushed to 4 stops under, the Sony F5 rendered the most “usable” image. I’m sure that we would have gotten better results from the RED using the Low Light Optimized OLPF (optical low-pass filter). Similarly, the Sony cameras would have benefited from a switch from SLog-3 to one of the Hypergammas, like HG3. (Of course, we could have just bumped the gain, but what fun is that.)
All the footage was shipped out to Eric McClain (Digital Pix: Motion Picture Imaging) to be graded in Davinci Resolve. There is a lot that can be done in Resolve to make all these cameras really shine. Eric chose to limit this test to a single primary grade – opting to get each camera to clean and neutral looking baseline.
We’re working on a video that covers the entire grading process and will be posting it soon. As a quick overview, it turns out that the RED was the easiest of the group work with. This is much improved from its past reputation of having a difficult and lengthy post workflow. The Sony F5 and FS7 the next easiest to color correct. They required virtually identical tweaks to render a neutral baseline image. The URSA Mini required the most manipulation to get a neutral image. In the end, the result is one of the most pleasing (IMHO).
Really the conclusion is up to you. Take a look at the video. Watch in 4k on a decent monitor and keep in mind what’s important for your style of work. I hope this gives you a better understanding of the capabilities of these 6 cameras.
This year I have resolved to be better organized. I’m redesigning my studio for a more efficient use of space, I’ve set up a system to archive old projects, keeping my edit system lean and powerful. Now with Boardfish comes the promise of better planned an organized shoot.
I’ve used a number of methods to create useful storyboard – Illustrator, Photoshop, spread sheets, pencil and paper, but none have made it easy to deal with the frequent changes of production. Boardfish promises the flexibility I’ve been looking for.
For pricing and more info, visit the Boardfish website.
Lately, my trusty 2014 MacBook Pro has been showing signs that it’s not really up to the 4K and RAW workflows that are starting to become common in my everyday work. It’s time to take another look at the mobile computing landscape to see what my next best investment should be.
As an Adobe Creative Cloud user, I have the option of going Mac or Windows PC. For my entire 20+ year career, I have been a Mac user, but some of the choices that Apple has been making in recent years has me thinking I should reconsider the option of other systems. This video shows some very interesting performance results. FCPx user would really be interested in this comparison.
Have you seen what the Panasonic VariCam LT can produce at 5000 ISO. This has to be the new low light King of all cinema cameras. Maybe not capable in the darkest conditions as the Sony A7s, but certainly a much more practical solution for serious productions.
In 2016, The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be opening on the National Mall, in Washington, DC, right next to the Washington Monument. I was honored to be hired by Black Robin Media as a DP and chief editor for a series of videos that will be part of several featured exhibits in the museum. This project has been a giant #post production adventure, covering music, movies, TV, sports and many other aspects of Black life over the centuries. Our post production team consists of three editors working on three separate Mac based edit systems. Because of a combination of ever-shifting delivery schedules and client approvals, we wanted to design a strategy that would allow each editor the ability to access any project at any time and pick up right where the last editor left off. We also wanted to be able to seamlessly work on all the projects from any of the three edit systems.
Our main challenge was to keep all three systems in sync and up-to-date at all times. An ideal solution would be to employ a #shared storage system likeEditShare or Avid Unity ISIS. Even though we’re working in Adobe Creative Cloud, specifically #Premiere Pro CC, ISIS could have proved a powerful solution. #Avid and #Adobe have collaborated to make it possible for Premiere Pro to take full advantage of the ISIS Shared Storage. Sadly that solution was financially and technologically out of reach. A simpler and more affordable option would have been to employ a single network attached storage device like a Drobo, Synology orQ-Nap, as a central repository of media assets and project files, that all three edit systems could source from. Unfortunately, the network connection in our offices is not reliable enough to sustain the data throughput necessary for smooth and efficient #editing. Alternatively, we could have executed nightly back ups to a central NAS. That way, if one of us needed to pick up on a fellow editors project, we could just pull from the previous night’s backup. While that is a workable solution, we feared the slow ramp-ups with all the file transfers and re-linking, not to mention the potential of getting out of sync with which version is the most recent – the one on the edit system or the one in the NAS.
The Solution – BitTorrent
Our team is a lean, effective and creative operation, as such, we were searching for the most efficient and cost-effective system that would allow any editor to work on any project, from any machine in the office at any time. (I know, that’s a lot of anys.) Each edit system consisted of some variety of iMac or MacPro, with a 12TB Promise Technologies Pegasus #RAID 5 attached, running the latest versions of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of applications. After exhaustive research, we decided on a product call, Sync by BitTorrent.
What is Sync?
Sync is a simple, fast and secure way to share and sync files, leveraging the #power of BitTorrent.
According to Wikipedia:
BitTorrent is a communications protocolfor the practice of peer-to-peer file sharingthat is used to distribute large amounts ofdata over the Internet. BitTorrent is one of the most common protocols for transferring large files, and peer-to-peer networks.
Yep, that’s right, this is the technology that powers all those pirate movie sharing services, but Sync has nothing to with that behavior. What BitTorrent technology offers us with Sync is, it allows for virtually real-time syncing of all the data related to every project. It’s sorta like an automated, shared cloud storage – without the need to actually store anything in the cloud. So, as new data is created on one of our edit systems, that data is synced over the Internet to a mirrored project folder on the RAIDs attached to our other two edit systems.
One of the advantages of BitTorrent technology is it’s blazing fast. Sync advertises its file transfers as 16 times faster than most cloud services. Along with that speed is that fact that the data transfer does not need to be contiguous. So if a large file transfer is interrupted by a power outage, network failure, or simply one of the other systems be rebooted, the transfer does not need to start again from the beginning. The data transfer picks up where it left off, the next time the network connection is reestablished. The really nice thing about all this is, none of this activity seems to have any negative impact on core system performance.
The advantages go far beyond being able to pick up and work on any project from anywhere. We’re also all able to easily access and use assets from any project, at any time. Since each edit system is working off its own directly connected RAID, There are no issues created due to network lag or congestion. And most important is the redundancy. Since the data syncing is happening virtually in real-time, each time a project is saved, a new file is created or a new piece of media is added – a copy (or backup) is synced to each of the other two system’s RAIDs. There’s no worry of lost project data at any point in the process.
How Does It Work?
Sync’s user interface is very clean and intuitive. Once installed it’s as simple as identifying a folder to sync (share) and sharing the folder with teammates. There is a key associated with each folder you choose to share. You have the option of sharing that key link via email, copy and paste the key or via a QR code, which can be scanned with a mobile device. (Did I mention that Sync also works on mobile?)
Before sharing you also have the option to set permissions to a read/write for read-only mode. This is very handy for working with partners who may need to track the progress of the project but are not active contributors. Once the key link is received at the other end. The user simply clicks on the link to activate syncing. If Sync is not already installed, the user is prompted to download and install the app. Once installed, it’s just matter of pointing to where you want to store the synced/shared data and Sync starts the initial data transfer. It’s that simple.
Although we didn’t do it for this project, now that we have the system in place, it makes it much easier for us to work with collaborators at remote locations. We can easily share our projects with colorist, designers, composers, sound designers and of course, other editors. They can have access to all the same assets that we have in the office and we all can collaborate effortlessly.
Did I forget to mention that everything described is in the free version of Sync?
We all know the importance of safely backing up and archiving our media, but let’s be honest, most of us don’t have the best backup practices. Spinning disc hard drives have a tendency to drop dead right when you need to retrieve your precious data. LTO tape has proven to be one of the most stable forms of data archive. In the past LTO has been expensive and cumbersome to deal with. The mLogic mTape LTO-6 System might just be the solution you’ve been looking for.
Abel Cine’s, Andy Shipsides has the mLogic mTape LTO-6 System at the bench. Here’s what he had to say.
Data archiving is not something most of us want to think about, but it’s a reality that all filmmakers have to face today. The demand for lower compression and higher resolution material is increasing, meaning that we all eat through hard drives much faster. On the bright side, archiving is getting easier and more affordable all the time. The LTO tape format has become the standard of data archiving in our business, and the new LTFS (Linear Tape File System) makes it easy to use. One downside of an LTO deck setup is that they are usually tied to a full computer workstation. That’s where mLogic’s mTape comes in.
The mTape is a portable Thunderbolt-based LTO system that can easily be mounted to any laptop or desktop (with a Thunderbolt or SAS interface). It comes with free software for mounting your LTO tape directly to your computer, enabling quick archiving of any material. With this system, you could easily walk away from many shoots with a backed up and secure archive of your material. Watch my video above to learn more about the mLogic mTape.