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The Blackmagic Cinema Camera in a News Environment

Tight Deadlines

When I heard about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera I could not wait to shoot with it.  Now I’m using it in my broadcast news work.  I’ve heard… and experienced, all the camera’s needs.  It needs: a viewfinder, a cage, batteries, and a way to shoot handheld.  Well, I don’t have any of that equipment, and I’m enjoying it.

How a love affair started

I am the Creative Services Sr. Writer/Producer for the NBC affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee.  Every spot we produced for over a year was shot on my personal Canon 60D.  Now, the poor camera looks like it’s been to combat and in dire need of a rebuild.  Needless to say, when the BMCC arrived the week after I returned from NAB 2013 I was glad to see it. 

Why the BMCC

We went with the Cinema Camera for a few reasons but the biggest two were the 2.5K sensor and it fit under our 5,000 capital budget requirements.  We could’ve gone with a Canon 5D Mark 3, but my opinion was to take our productions forward.  Regardless of the 5D’s ability to record raw via the Magic Lantern hack I stand by my decision.  The ability to record Avid’s native DNxHD codec was a big selling point for me.  It meant the ability to use the camera with our current edit systems without any clumsy work around.    

Now, lets talk about the camera and my day-to-day process. 

I can say when I shoot in the studio, or at night, I absolutely love the camera.   The studio footage I shoot tends to be stand-ups or behind-the-scenes b-roll, and in these situations it’s an absolute joy to use.  The image looks fantastic.  You can really see the difference with the detail in the anchor’s eyes. This is where I shoot on Avid’s DNxHD codec.  We use Avid in-house and using Avid’s codec just makes sense and allows me to edit on my personal MacBook Pro or the stations Avid Newscutters.  There are other producer/editors I work alongside and I need to make sure I can hand over footage they can import too.

If I know, without a doubt, no one else needs the footage and I’m 100% editing on my Mac then I go with ProRes.  By the time the script is approved I know where I’m editing so there is no back and forth from one computer to the other.  Currently the station does not have enough places to edit if everyone is working.  I prefer to have an uninterrupted flow when I’m editing so often times I use my own equipment.   Actually, does any editor like to be bounced from a bay because someone’s deadline is sooner then yours?  I doubt it.

When it comes to the BMCC 2.5K raw… I absolutely prefer to shoot it.  The problem?  Time.  There usually isn’t enough time during a sweeps period, however, the time crunch hasn’t always stopped me from shooting 2.5K.  If I plan and work ahead then I will make the decision to shoot it.  It’s not often that it happens, but that’s how much I love the image.  If we have a bigger image spot or campaign then we try to shoot 2.5K.  These spots are meant to look better then the rest of the material we’re creating on the quick, and we usually have the time to finesse the final product.  Currently we have one shot, one in production, and one on deck, for a 2.5K original but none of these have been released yet so I cannot share.  Sorry, next post.

Our First Image Spot

Our first image spot to be released that originated on the BMCC was a Morning Show Image Spot.  All of it was shot with the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8, Canon 50mm F/1.4, and the Canon 85mm F/1.8.  I have a 28mm F/1.8 but the BMCC has yet to recognize that specific lens and honestly… it’s not the greatest lens either.  In this spot, most of the footage was shot with the Avid DNxHD codec with the exception of the city-scape shot.  The shot of Nashville is 2.5K processed out of DaVinci Resolve.  I stuck with the Avid DNxHD codec because we had a second spot scheduled and it was going to require a much longer post time but it got pushed to later.  It happens when you’re trying to squeeze it all in before a sweeps period.  One more thing with this spot… On the news desk there are lights imbedded in the desk on the left and right side.  Never on camera have these lights appeared their natural blue hue.  All the cameras used in the past throw these two lights to white.  So even in HD the dynamic range is more then our studio cameras and the 60D we were using.   

Using The Camera Outside

Using the camera outside + broad daylight = time to buy accessories.  If you are using this camera outside in sun then you’ll need a EVF and IRND.  If you’re using 1.2ND, or more, then it better be IRND.  Otherwise you’ll get a muddy image which will make you second guess your chosen profession.  Trust me when I say you cannot color correct the IR pollution out of the image.  I tried… and failed.  Using the back screen in daylight is difficult at best.  It’s caused me to miss exposure and focus more than a few times.  Then again, I wouldn’t use an ENG outside without a viewfinder or any other camera without a viewfinder.  My current work-around, as my station works to get me what I need, is to use my smallHD DP-4 loupe and hold it up to the back of the camera.  It works to check exposure and focus, but is a poor substitute to a real EVF. 

Lastly… this is a camera capable of taking beautiful pictures, and part of the recipe is Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve.  If you’re pulling the 2.5K cinema.dngs through Adobe Camera Raw and into AfterEffects then I think you’ll be a bit disappointed.  It could be me, but when I try that specific workflow the images are not nearly as pretty as it is through Resolve.  It could be I don’t have the skills to finesse the color correction but why would you.  Resolve Lite is free and runs on my older 2011 MacBook Pro with its Quad Core 2.0 processor and 4GB of RAM.  Actually, I run the Resolve 9 that came with the camera, either way it works well enough.  I strongly suggest watching Van Hurkman’s tutorials from Ripple Training.  They are inexpensive and he walks you through the entire UI. Here's a link to look up and see it for yourself.

http://www.rippletraining.com/categories/avid-adobe-davinci-courses/davinci-resolve-products/davinci-resolve-9.html

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is a great camera.  Hands down.  I am very excited to be shooting with it.  Grant Petty, you and your company made a great camera.  I cannot wait to get my hands on the Blackmagic Production Camera or the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and I look forward to whatever you all have coming out at NAB 2014. 

What's in my camera bag.

 

Until then… here is the first spot I shot on the BMCC at 1600ISO.

  

The Lights Never Go Out from Brian Hallett on Vimeo.

Find me/Follow me.

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Brian Hallett, is an award winning cameraman, editor, and producer. He has shot everything from Network broadcast news, promotional image campaigns, music videos, short films, and documentaries. Check out his reel at hallett-brian.com

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