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Category Archives: Filmtools

Canon C300 Mark II used for Netflix features

It’s always nice to see that we did the right choices for our clients at Superhypernatural:

The Canon C300 Mark II undoubtedly is one of the most professional choices for news reports, documentaries and industrial video work.

As you can see via this report posted on Cinema5D, it’s also compatible with high-end cinematic film work for Netflix features.

At Superhypernatural, we couple our C300 Mark II with the Atomos Shogun Inferno 7″ HDR monitor / recorder to unlock the full RAW image potential in Apple’s new ProRes RAW format:

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IMAGE QUALITY ABOVE IT ALL … or why I can’t let go of Canon.

As a media agency, producing motion picture content is my daily income. As absurd as it may sound and as important income is, I yield quite an ideological mindset on my work, and I am very proud that my partners without whom I couldn’t offer what I do have a similar viewpoint.

Together, we spend hours and nights (unpaid) to test out lighting scenarios and quality comparisons.

As a curious being, I also like to invest in new market offerings, hoping to offer a more compact work process with even better results. What I found out recently didn’t make me happy.

My company owns two different main brands of cameras… Sony and Canon. In recent direct comparisons, neither the Sony FS5 nor the A7Rm3 (which are, from my point of view, the best in the mid segment Sony has to offer) live up to my expectations, and I found out that both for mobile low-budget as well as for higher end production my Canon XC10s and the Canon C300 Mark 2 not only give better image quality in regards to color science / skin color, but also concerning the less manipulative rendition of the image.

In other words:

  • I really can’t take it no more that Sony cameras manipulate the image digitally in a way that you can actually see it.
  • I have a problem with all the line-skipping scanning methods Sony is using to achieve full frame look on the A7Rm3 or slow motion on the FS5.
  • I do not want to work solely in 4K and rather prefer to work with a camera that is also able to create a working HD image.

Those problems do not exist with Canon (in fact, the 100/120 fps mode on the XC10 doesn’t look much worse than the A7Rm3‘s slow motion) and all their internal processing is well documented. En plus, both the XC10 and C300 Mark 2 have been assessed by the EBU in very detailed and independent assessments. Try finding that for a Sony…

Now, as I don’t want to work in 4:2:0 / false DR / line-skipped aliasing image and all the other limitations, I am very glad to tell all of my clients that Sony is being avoided for image gathering in the future, at least here at Superhypernatural, in other words:

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Believe me, it’s not really lovely writing these words thinking that I put so much effort (and budget) into getting my A7Rm3 setup up to par and then realising that I could’ve done all I shot on it way easier with the Canon XC10

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Canon C300 Mark II + Atomos Shogun Inferno for ProRes RAW recordings

And it honestly doesn’t matter if it’s a quick report shot on the XC10 or a filmic big lights production shot on the C300 Mark 2 in ProRes RAW via my Atomos Shogun Inferno, Canon’s honest approach to camera production will always put the image quality above it all…
…well, maybe not above the story, but I hope you get my point.

Sony A7RM3 – who it is for

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Sony have released the A7R Mark 3 recently and I bought one. I’m of the opinion that there is very limited information out there what the camera can really do, so I made a list to tick off whether the camera is the right one for you or not:

  • I guess it’s plain to see that the A7RM3 is primarily a stills camera. You want to shoot incredible hi-res stills and video too. You want to have the best hybrid camera on the market at the moment. Buy the A7RM3.
  • You’re sick and tired of the fact that your FS5 / C300 mk. II / EVA1 is too bulky for your photo backpack (or, in my case, your incredible Peak Design Everyday backpack). Buy the A7RM3.

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  • You want to have incredible auto-focus capabilities at a small footprint. Buy the A7RM3.
  • You want to stay S35 / FF coupled with a convincing IBIS (in-body-image-stabilization) – buy the A7RM3.
  • You want to have the best minimal moiré / aliasing 8 bit supersampled S35 crop 4K image with least amount of rolling shutter possible. Buy the A7RM3. At this point it should be mentioned that all other modes are so-so depending on the application. 4K FF will yield some moiré and aliasing depending on the sharpness of the lens, so will the regular 1080P and slow motion (Sony tradition?) modes.
  • You don’t care about the fact that there is no built-in ND filter. The FS5 comes with an exceptional Vari-ND and the C300 mk. II (and others) feature the traditional ND disc. ISO / ND combinations can also give you sunlight bokeh 😉
  • You want to have respectable low-light images. I was quite blown away by the lowlight performance and dynamic range of this camera:

  • You want a much better battery performance than the previous Alpha7s… get the A7RM3.
  • You want to have true XLR phantom power audio inputs (applies to a number of Sony cameras). The XLR-K2M by Sony offers two direct XLR inputs, comes with a usable shotgun (at least better than the Rode Videomic range), connects directly to the camera hotshoe and thus doesn’t require additional batteries or mini-jack cables. Buy the A7RM3 and the XLR-2KM.
  • You want to hold a little bit of weight in your hands. Weight adds to stability and together with the 24-105 lens, the cage, the headlight and the XLR-2KM the camera weighs around 2.2 kg. That is just enough to grant stable images, everything under 2 kg gets you a invitation to shaky-town for hand-held shooting.

All-in-all I have to say at this point (I haven’t shot any commercial production on the camera yet) that the A7RM3 seems to do most of the things right and seems to be a perfect example of modern development in the world of creative motion picture tools:
Small footprint, touch operation, an EVF for the very sunny moments and a bright screen on the back, mobile phone integration as “carry on” screen, the possibility to power / charge the camera via USB powerbank and many other features.

PS: For all of those who don’t want to spend a fortune on FF-lenses, I want to mention that the A7RM3 accepts all the (cheaper) Sony APS-C glass for its best (S35 crop) video mode. Even though stills will be limited (only 18MP vs. 42MP in FF), something like the SELP18105 is also a good partner for documentary / ENG shoots with plenty of reach.

My setup as follows:

Sony A7RM3, SmallRig 2087 cage for Sony A7RIII, Sony XLR-2KM, Aladdin Eye-Lite Bi-Color on Noga LC9014 Mini-Arm

Orca OR-6 | grab & shoot for the FS5

My personal FS5-setup is a bit more extended, so there’s way more than just the camera body with a lens to transport: A baseplate with 19mm rods (also serves at excellent protection), a follow focus, a headlight (inevitable for ENG) and the Atomos Shogun (inevitable for UHD S-Log recording).

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With all of the additional gear mentioned it was not easy to find a camera bag with the right dimensions. Many solutions on the market would require me to install / mount parts of the setup on-location, an inconvenience that naturally becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the number of locations I have to tick off in a day to complete a report.

While my previous camera bag was able to carry the camera on-baseplate, I still had to flip in the LCD and unmount the headlight so the FS5 would fit inside. Considering the fact that the Zacuto FS5 Z-Finder hopefully will soon be on its way to Superhypernatural Central, it was about time to look for a new transport solution.

Grab & shoot is important:

I prefer to have the camera quickly prepared for a filming situation: Open the bag – grab the camera – turn it on and start to work. Quick and clean without slowing down the news-gathering process.

“Good news” is that i finally found the right camera bag for the job:

The Orca OR-6

With an internal length of 40cm / 15.74″, it offers enough horizontal space for the FS5 even fit with larger lenses like my Sigma 18-35. 29cm / 11.41″ covers the entire width from handle to flipped-out LCD, and a height of 31 cm / 12.2″ leaves plenty of headroom for the Shogun and the headlight.

To hold the camera even better in place, Orca integrated a rather smart elastic band construction that fits all possible sizes.

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These days, I am mostly using the Aladdin Eye-Lite featured in a previous blog post, yet I thought it’s also worth mentioning that my Litepanels Croma on ball-head shoe mount also fits without any problem.

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The construction of the bag, a combination of aluminum and honeycomb framing, makes a very sturdy impression and should definitely offer proper protection for my equipment.

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External zip pockets on all sides of the OR-6 offer room for those small everyday things like keys, folders and pens. The two-part pouch on the inside of the top lid is where I store my Color-Checker Passport , a cleaning cloth and some important cables and adapters.

The removable internal LED lighting system helps a lot when handling gear in darker surroundings. It’s really cool to find that kind of feature in a smaller camera bags.

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Without doubt, the Orca OR-6 is a neat solution with perfect fit for more extended FS5 rigs. The sturdy built quality, combined with a smart design, gives me the impression that it will endure many years of field use and abuse.

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At this point, I also want to thank Mark and everybody at Band Pro Munich for quickly supplying me with the right tools at the right price and their patience and kindness in providing help and support with many of the FS5-related troubles, especially by forwarding all of the problems I encountered to Sony Germany.

Please note that I am not affiliated with Orca or Band Pro Munich in any way. I have to pay their standard price for the tools and just want to share my experience with other users who might be looking for a similar solution.

Taking the FS5 & FilmConvert for a spin

By the end of last week, the good guys at FilmConvert finally released a FS5-specific profile.

The conversion options to the different film stocks include many possible combinations between color modes and gammas:

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FS5 color profile options

For those who don’t know FilmConvert, I want to sum it up as a quick grading option to turn the image of digital film cameras into something that more or less resembles prominent film stocks. Specific camera profiles for a variety of digital cameras are the result of a precise color matching process between different camera picture profile settings and the original film stock.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any further grading before or after the FilmConvert plug-in, I do it everytime and also use it in conjunction with Color Finale and / or Final Cut Pro’s built-in tools.

Just to give you a quick overview what FilmConvert does to a standard Sony FS5 S-Log image, I have taken the time on a boring, snowy afternoon to sum it up in a small video:

What this video doesn’t show: The film grain options of FilmConvert are also premium an alone worth the money. Enjoy!

Let there be light!

Climbing up a hill to get some wide shots of a valley are the moments when I really start to embrace this little camera. Thinking about how arduous this ascent would’ve been with my (heavy) Sony F5 and the accompanying (heavy) Sachtler tripod makes me forget all the little FS5-related problems. I happily filmed my UHD pans and tilts across the valley in Cine1 instead of S-Log3 and hiked down the hill on that steep, muddy, icy path. Well balanced with my Miller tripod in one hand and the camera in the other, I didn’t slip or fall. Yeah, I was shooting another news report yesterday…

FS5_AELB01One of the tools that I tried out for the very first time is my new micro-headlight, the Aladdin Eye-Lite Bi-Color. I have to admit, the first time that I heard about this little gadget was on the blog newsshooter.com. Unfortunately, the they didn’t go much into detail about the Eye-Lite, so I thought I might share my experience as it’s pretty hard to find some useful information online about it.

Clear to see, it’s really tiny, which makes it fit the FS5 so well:

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fits the palm of my hand…

Usually, I am working with the powerful Litepanels Croma, but it makes this tiny camera feel so clunky when mounted on the hot-shoe. It was about time to search for an alternative for all of those “field ENG” shoots where a proper light setup is out of the question, yet a “torch” to cast some glow into the eyes or light up those dark corner comes in handy.

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The Aladdin Eye-Lite Bi consists of 20 LED elements. Two dials on the side enable us to set the color temperature anywhere between 3000 and 6000 Kelvin (hence “Bi”) and to power on / set the intensity of the light output. An on-board li-ion battery, which can be charged via USB, keeps the Eye-Lite running for about 2 hour, and the respectable CRI  (Color Rendering Index) value of 97 Ra proofs that we’re dealing with a high quality product.

What really surprised me was how incredibly well the Eye-Lite fits on the FS5:

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When mounted via a standard cold-shoe adapter screwed into the convenient 1/4″ thread on the bottom of the light (the previous fixed-color temperature models required a clamp) it is small enough to allow  unhindered adjustments of the (front-mount) LCD screen.

In case you need a light source without sacrificing the hot-shoe mount, other solutions to mount the lil’ fella can be found.

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Eye-Lite mounted on the FS5 LCD via Sachtler SA1009 Mini Hood

With a runtime of up to 2 hours, the built-in battery definitely won’t “keep the bonfire burning” for a long day of shooting, which is why I had to find an alternative source of power. As mentioned in earlier blog posts, I only run my FS5 with batteries that offer an external power out. Both the Sony BP-U60T and my beloved Hawk Woods BP-75UX have Hirose outs. Another Hawk Woods product, the i-PW2, conveniently converts 14.4V down to 5V regulated USB out, which is ideal for plugging in the Eye-Lite Bi via a standard USB>MicroUSB cable.

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To demonstrate how powerful this little light source can be, here’s a quick comparative shot taken in a dimly lit cellar:

Relative to its size and power requirements, the Aladdin Eye-Lite Bi-Color is an increbly capable contender for news-gathering jobs under uncontrolled light conditions. I was definitely happy to have it with me on yesterday’s job, from now on it belongs into my camera bag. Doesn’t take up much space anyway…

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The FS5 – Shogun advantage

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So there I was with my brand new FS5. The size and ergonomics of the camera are fantastic, the fact that it uses inexpensive media was more than welcome, I really enjoy working with it but…

…yes, there’s a but:

In spite of the 4K logo on the side, it’s actually a way better HD camera.

“No….” you will try to argue, “it has that one UHD mode…”.
Yes, it has a UHD mode, but it’s 100 mbit/sec and limited to 4:2:0 color subsampling at 8 bits color depth. At least from my point of view, this is a restriction that jettisons the FS5 out of the UHD video camera class. As long as we stick to Rec709 or Cinegamma at 3840 x 2160, the internally recorded image is bearable, but once we switch to a “full dynamic range gamma” (S-Log), this is no longer the case.

At the moment, the only way to output a halfway decent, grade-able image is to use an external recorder. Even though the bit depth of the FS5 HDMI output is limited to 8-bit (regardless the resolution), the higher color subsampling of 4:2:2 and the lack of image compression delivers a recognizably better image that also offers more options for grading.

Image quality advantage:

The Atomos Shogun can be connected to the FS5s uncompressed HDMI port and records the signal in the significantly less compressed PRORES HQ format. 850 mbit/sec 4:2:2 vs. 100 mbit/sec 4:2:0 makes a bit of of a difference. Not that it changes the image of the camera significantly at first sight, but the material just looks more vivid and “real”. A bit of pixel-peeping shows that even unimportant things in the background are just represented with a lot more image information:

The measurement advantage:

The FS5 offers zebra and histogram to help us evaluate the image. That’s really not a lot, considering my old Canon XF305 from 2010 was already able to display additional measurement tools like waveforms, RGB parade or a vectorscope.
With the Shogun, all of those tools are available at the touch of the screen (yes, it has a touchscreen). Even if we – for whatever reason – prefer to record internally on the FS5, we still have better tools for image evaluation available.

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large on-screen RGB parade

The LUT advantage:

From the F55 down to the FS7, it’s possible to load custom LUTs (look-up tables), which are a tremendous help with cameras recording in a log format. LUTs are dropped onto the (recorded) S-Log image in our viewfinder to show us how the image could look once it’s transformed back into rec709 space. While colorists surely have a lot more options in their digital toolbox than just slapping a simple LUT on the S-Log image in post, those on-camera LUTs help us to evaluate the “milky-shallow” S-Log image we’re recording.
In comparison to its bigger brothers, the FS5 only has a feature called “gamma display assist” that adds contrast to the viewed S-Log image in order to give us a bit of “wysiwyg”-direction.
Via the Shogun, we have the ability to add (up to eight) real LUTs to the on-screen Log image. Apart from “general purpose” factory-installed Log-LUTs, any .cube LUT can be transferred by simply copying it from the SSD to the Shoguns internal memory.
That way, we can also “rate” the camera at ISOs other than the standard ISO 3200 sensitivity: For example, by applying the “XDCAM_Slog3-Film1-2over.cube” LUT that can be downloaded on the xdcam-user website, we can rate the camera at ISO 800 and get away with less image noise. And via such a LUT, we also have a much better interpretation of a possible final image than just guessing that the shallow mush we’re viewing on-camera is actually what we want.

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Shogun split-LUT view

The audio advantage:

The FS5 has 2 audio inputs via XLR for line / mic / mic +48V phantom power (PP). That’s quite a difference to the usual mini-jack input we can find on the good old 5D Mark III or similar DSLR or mirrorless variants. Well, this one’s a real camera.
The FS5 also has a built-in “quasi” stereo-microphone (I’m also coming from a solid audio engineering background so I know what a true stereo microphone setup should be). Even though it’s quasi-stereo, it would be absolutely sufficient for some “effects” (let’s call it “ambience”) pickup to underline b-roll images.
My preferred setup for documentary audio should be something like that (in the best of all cases including an audio assistant with 2-channel mixer and a long break-away cable, but also works in single operator mode):

  • One lavalier microphone or shotgun pickup of any talking person / interview partner to have a really close sound source for the mix.
  • One shotgun-microphone (on- or off-camera) for safety reasons or second lavalier mic for conversations.
  • Some type of quasi-stereo pick-up for room / ambience / “effect” sound that can be used to add “reality” to an interview or a b-roll cut.

1..2…3…4… it’s clear to see that this setup requires a minimum of four individual audio tracks. While offering four audio sources (XLR 1+2 & built in mic L+R) and also recording in a format (XAVC-L) that offers 4 audio tracks, the FS5 can only allocate two audio sources at the same time.

The Atomos Shogun features 2 additional XLR audio inputs, accepting line and mic signals and even offering +48V PP (globally, meaning for both inputs at the same time). These two tracks will be recorded alongside whatever you are picking up via the cameras own inputs. And there are also two outputs for the audio guy with the break-away cable:

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Shogun audio I/O

The timecode sync advantage:

The FS5 has no external LTC timecode input. But I go by the opinion that solid timecode sync is way more reliable than syncing via audio in a multi-camera setup.
The reason is simple: When syncing by audio, the sound sources will often be located at a different distance to the individual cameras and sound travels rather slow in comparison to light (340.29 m/sec at sea level). Let’s say we’re filming at 25 fps and the cameras are more than 14 meters apart, the offset between them is already more than one frame (unless the sound source is straight in the centre between the two cams).
The only chance to sync timecode between the FS5 and other cameras is to gather all of them cam-ops together and let everyone reset their free-run TC at the count of three. A common practice that will result in 1-3 frames offset in the beginning and will deviate  more during a long day of filming.

The only way to lock timecode between multiple independent systems is to distribute a master timecode (or even better – master timecode together with a master clock / genlock sync). In the old days, this was done via BNC cable, in modern times, devices like the incredibly versatile Timecode Systems miniTRX+ distribute wireless timecode and sync.

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miniTRX+ units keeping the F5 and FS5 in timecode sync

I have been using this system on a multi-cam documentary production with external sound recently and experience shows that this is one of the most reliable systems I have ever seen.

Shifting our focus back on the Shogun, I guess it’s worth mentioning that the device “talks LTC timecode” since firmware 6.5 via the genlock input (right next to the SDI I/O) at the back. If you connect any LTC SMPTE timecode signal and choose the right options in the timecode menu, the clips recorded via the Shogun will be stamped with the incoming timecode.

From my point of view, that is one of the most radical features that open new production possibilities to the little Sony FS5 (or any other camera without timecode I/O).

Power:

The Shogun accepts regular Sony NP-F type batteries and the boxed set even includes one. I prefer to power the Shogun and the camera from the same battery. With a custom cable like my Hirose > Hirose & barrel connector it’s not much of a problem to power my audio receiver and the Shogun together with the camera via Sony BP-U60T or the Hawk Woods BP-75UX. I tested the performance and after 2 hours of continuous recording, there was still 10% charge left on the BP-75UX.

Media:

The Shogun package comes with convenient cradles to house SSDs. The Atomos website hosts a document that lists a number of compatible models. My choice of SSDs are the SanDisk Ultra II 950 GB models that come for a price less than 200 € each, giving us more than 2 hours of 850 mbps PRORES HQ UHD recording (in comparison, a 128GB Sony XQD card will cost about double the price). So far, these SSDs delivered a problem-free, rock-solid performance.

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SDI for 10-bit HD & future FS-RAW:

As mentioned in the previous blog post, the FS5 HDMI out is limited to 8-bit color depth at the moment. Luckily, the camera also features a 3G SDI output via BNC that delivers uncompressed 4:2:2 10-bit (only in HD resolution).
The Shogun features both SDI & HDMI connectivity and it already supports FS-RAW via SDI. Sony promised to enable FS-RAW via SDI on the FS5 in a future (paid?) firmware upgrade, so the Shogun can also be seen as a future-proof option for RAW recording.

Nothing’s perfect or “details to consider”:

Fan noise: The Shogun has a built-in fan for active cooling that is about 4-6 dB louder than the camera fan (measured directly on top of the FS5). While it was never an issue on my recordings, fan noise might be noticeable in very silent environments.

Reflective screenThe LCD touchscreen of the Shogun has a remarkable image quality, but in case we’re planning to use this device for exterior shots on a bright, sunny day, it’s almost impossible to use it without appropriate shades. The Porta Brace rain / dust protective cover may not have the perfect fit, but definitely offers decent protection:FS5-Shogun hood.jpg

 

Audio latency: I mentioned that the Shogun adds two additional inputs of audio to any camera. Unfortunately, it can’t be avoided that it takes more time for the camera to convert the signal to SDI / HDMI and pass it to the recorder than it takes for the Shogun A/D-converters to process the audio signals going directly into the unit.
As a result, a 2 (HD) or 3 (UHD) frame offset exists between the Shogun audio and the camera stream (video & audio).
The Atomos developers did in fact consider this unavoidable fact and provided the ability to add an incremental frame offset to the Shogun menu options. This way, the audio signals going into the Shogun can be aligned with the video delivered by the camera. So far, so good…
Unfortunately, the offset affects ALL audio signals (including the ones from the camera) and not only the ones going directly into the Shogun at the moment.


Workaround: If we want to record four channels of audio with the FS5 / Shogun combo, we should skip the audio offset function and shift the Shogun audio tracks in post. If, for any reason, we want to skip camera audio and only use the Shogun inputs, the audio offset option should be used of course. 

Video / Audio latency & timecode: The same as above also applies when using the Shogun timecode sync option. The incoming timecode will be as exact as possible, but the signal from the camera will lag behind 2 – 3 frames. Thankfully, this is a constant and linear offset that shouldn’t get smaller or bigger over time.
Workaround: Shift the camera track accordingly on the timeline. It would be really nice to have a frame delay for the timecode in order to align it with the SDI / HDMI conversion delay. I have already contacted both Timecode Systems and Atomos and they passed this feature request on to the devs. 

 

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Especially for the new (lowered) price, introduced at the beginning of February, the Atomos Shogun is an incredible accessory for the Sony FS5 and adds a ton of professional features that the camera is missing without it. Mounted on the back of the camera body with a Manfrotto 244MICRO arm, I never had the feeling that it added  up too much to the cameras sleek appearance or hinder its performance in the field.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not affiliated with Atomos in any way and I am also aware that other recorder/monitors like the Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q+ exist. I just happen to own and use a Shogun to overcome FS5 limitations. 

Sony PXW-FS5 in Focus

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It’s been over a month now since the purchase of my FS5. In the meantime, I spent hours on testing the camera and I had the possibility to film a number of commercial productions with it.

Every day, I read a number of posts on forums and it seems that the same topics appear over and over again. So I thought it might be a good moment to clear up a few things about this camera:

Bugs that will hopefully be addressed in the next firmware update:

(scheduled end of February 2016)
  • Due to the temporal internal noise reduction that enables us to use Cine1 even at ISO 6400, ripped edges and “noise lines” that make the image fall apart may occur with the camera in motion, especially in UHD mode.
    Possible Workaround: Avoid filming scenarios with a higher gain than +9 dB.
  • When using the kit lens (Sony SELP18105G), zooming in or out using the zoom rocker of the smart grip may knock the image out of focus. Note that the SELP18105 is “electronically parfocal” (meaning even though it is not optically parfocal we can use the old ENG practice of zooming in, setting focus and then zooming out again because the lens automatically adjusts for focus differences at the individual zoom stages).
    Possible workaround: Use the zoom controls on the lens.

Undeniable facts:

  • Internal recording capabilities: The camera uses the XAVC-L codec in all modes. This is a inter-frame / Long GOP codec. By the nature of this codec (and in contrast to any intra-frame codec), not every single frame is encoded individually. This means it will put more stress on our editing workstation than any intra-frame codec.
    XAVC-L in HD (1920 x 1080) is recorded with a bitrate of 50 mbps, 4:2:2 color subsampling and 10-bit color depth.
    XAVC-L in UHD (3840 x 2160) is recorded with a bitrate of 100 mbps, 4:2:0 color subsampling and 8-bit color depth.
    Possible workaround: Use an external recorder connected either to the HDMI or SDI output.
  • HDMI output: The HDMI output delivers an image at any resolution mode of the camera (meaning up to 3840 x 2160) with a color subsampling of 4:2:2 but only at a color depth of  8-bit. This is resolution-independent (meaning it’s the same 8 bits at HD or UHD), most probably a hardware restriction and thus most probably won’t be fixed in any firmware update. Don’t take my word for it though, in case I’m wrong and Sony offers us 10-bit HDMI out (like the cheapo GH4s and XC10s have) via a firmware update, I’d be the last one to complain.
    Possible workaround: Use the SDI output to get 2 bits of additional color depth.
  • SDI output: The 3G SDI output delivers an image up to HD (1920 x 1080) with a color subsampling of 4:2:2 and a color depth of 10-bit. In case we want to record or monitor externally while in UHD mode the SDI output will still only deliver the image at 1920 x 1080.
    A future firmware update should give the FS5 the possibility to output (linear 12-bit) FS-RAW which can be recorded via an external recorder (like the Atomos Shogun or the Convergent Design Odyssey7Q+).
  • UHD monitoring choice: Only when recording in UHD mode, due to the FS5 interal processing limitations we can choose to either 
    monitor the image on the built-in EVF / LCD and record internally
    OR
    monitor the image externally (via HDMI or SDI) and record both internally and to an external recorder – in this case, the built-in EVF / LCD will only display useful HUD-data like the histogram, time information etc. but no actual image.
    Sony promised that the camera will be able to output both internally and externally when outputting FS-RAW.
  • Will a Shogun or Odyssey 7Q+ enhance the image quality?
    From my experience, yes. Even though the color depth is limited to 8 bits in UHD, the image looks way better than the internal recording, thanks to less compression artifacts and higher color subsampling. I am using the Atomos Shogun which accepts both the SDI signal (via BNC) and the HDMI signal (both up to 60P). It already “talks” FS-RAW, so once the option arrives, I am also ready for that.
    Apart from that we also get on-screen waveform monitoring, additional audio inputs and a really great screen.
  • Battery issues: Up front, I need to say that we’re best off with original Sony batteries. The company tries to protect their own battery market by finding ways to block out third party manufacturers – it’s a lot of money in that market segment, so I can’t blame them.
    Many of the third party batteries (compatible with the FS7!) I tried cause strange problems: Either we’re unable to format the SDXC cards as long as the percentage of a freshly charged battery isn’t shown on the FS5 display, or the camera resets the internal clock and timecode when powering it on after inserting a third party battery. Out of my experience, this doesn’t happen every time (very random), but it happens frequently.
    Now I’m that kind of guy that doesn’t like to collect batteries but rather power all my peripherals (like headlight, audio receiver and even the Shogun) from a single battery.

    BP-U60T

    Sony BP-U60T – FS5

    Sony offers the BP-U60T that comes with an additional Hirose output for such a task, but unfortunately, that type of battery is out of stock and new ones are expected to ship in late March 2016.

    12591986_10208157266146953_1425744705_o

    Hawk-Woods BP-75UX – FS5

    The only working third party battery that I could find on the market was the Hawk-Woods BP-75UX which also offers two (!) additional D-Tap outputs. The same company also builds D-Tap to single or dual Hirose adapters. Absolutely great!

  • Issues with Final Cut Pro X: While I also have Adobe Premiere on my main workstation for compatibility reasons, my personal choice for editing is FCPX. While we can discuss days and nights about which NLE is the best I know I’m way faster there.But two problems exist at the moment (as of beginning of February 2016):- The luma values of the FS5 UHD clips is interpreted wrongly, so directly importing the clips into FCPX will result in a strange luma shift.- With HD clips imported directly from the camera, random frames “block up” during playback. Unfortunately, this also affects the render engine, so even if the rendered timeline plays back without any problems, certain “blocky” frames may creep into our final render. Needless to say, every final render should be checked for errors, but spotting those single, random “blocked up” frames requires a lot of concentration.
    By the way, this is no FS5-specific issue. I have seen this issue with other more “recent” Long GOP codecs as well, like the one the Canon XC10 is using.
    Apple is aware of the problem and they’re currently working on it – I hope a fix doesn’t take them too long.
    Possible workaround: Batch-transcode the clips directly to PRORES before edit. One of the quick and reliable solutions to both of the problems mentioned is Convergent Media EditReady. I use it every day.
  • S-Log 2 / 3 in UHD mode: Recording S-Log 2 or 3 internally will most probably give you banding, and there is no way to avoid that. I am afraid it originates more in the heavy image compression than in the lack of 10 bit color depth, even blue sky banding didn’t show up when using the Shogun external recorder:
    https://vimeo.com/152821293

 

Taking the Panasonic GH4 for a ride – a super-lightweight mobile setup

I was working so much in the last months that I didn’t really have the time to post some amazing things on this blog, but March is a bit low in those regards, so I took the time to check out a new light-weight contender for videography and film work. The Panasonic GH4 has already established itself a while ago and you can find a number of reviews and examples on the web. Nevertheless, I want to share my short experience with it. I bought the camera together with the Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens last week on Amazon. The intention was to have a small and lightweight camera for B-Roll footage without having to lug my (relatively heavy) Sony FX-55 (that is an F5 with the 4K-upgrade) / Sachtler Video III tripod-combo around. While it is not a big deal to place the GH4 on a larger tripod, my minimal setup includes the following tools for landscape / B-Roll gathering:

  • Panasonic Lumix GH4 /w Arca-Swiss mount
  • Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 lens
  • Cullmann Nanomax 400T mini-tripod
  • Sirui G-10X ballhead
  • Rode Videomic Go /w Rycote fur

GH4 mini-setup While the image from the GH4 does not look as posh as the image from the FX55, it is rather amazing to see such an image quality from a camera costing less than 1/10th of the other. Comparing the GH4 to my “old” DSLR – the Canon 5D Mark III – is a way more fair approach to rating the true values of the Panasonic camera. In regards to image quality, both the dynamic range and the sharpness beats the standard 5D Mark III in my opinion. But the image is not as “sexy” (I have no other way to describe it). Feature-wise, Peaking, Zebras and live Histogram can’t be found in any of Canon’s video / cinema DSLRs (5D3, 1DC) unless you use Magic Lantern (not available for the 1DC). Full-frame vs. MicroFourThirds, RAW recording etc. are topics that have been discussed extensively on the internet, for my applications, the GH4 is the camera that makes more sense and delivers the better picture quality. Another point that should be mentioned is the fact that the GH4 has built-in dead / stuck pixel detection & remapping, a feature known as “black shading” from the Red. On Canon cameras, this process can only be performed at licensed Canon service facilities with a special Canon software. That being said, the GH4 also has a couple of quirks, especially in combination with the (inevitable) 12-35mm lens: Audio offset in 4K recording: No matter if you record in 4K (UHD) or full 4K resolution, the audio is approximately 2 frames early. Easy to fix in the NLE, still quite uncomfortable if you want to sync cameras by audio, as you have to shift everything manually. No zooming please & servo focus: The G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 is marketed as a constant aperture zoom lens, but it isn’t. It’s got a strong connection to the GH4 nevertheless, which makes sure that the light loss at the tele end is corrected electronically. In other words, this means that whenever you zoom in or out while recording, the luminance of the image shifts from lighter to darker or vice versa. While this just takes approximately a second or two, it is still visible in the recording. Thus, it’s better to handle this zoom lens as a “variable prime” with no zoom motion recorded. The manual focus control is not direct, the focus ring just sends data to the camera which again commands a servo motor within the lens to do the shifting. The faster you turn, the quicker the focus reacts, so it is pretty much impossible to work with a true follow focus with fixed markers. The main reason why you should own this lens is the magnificent O.I.S. image stabilization that effectively reduces unwanted but inevitable shake when using this lightweight camera in a hand-held setup. The G X Vario 12-35mm is the perfect “variable prime” lens for run & gun shooting. And that’s what it is. No fun in low light: The GH4 is not a low-light camera. The base ISO of the sensor is at 800 and I wouldn’t recommend going any higher than ISO 1600. Looks and features remind me a lot of the Red MX, by the way. Buzz it like it’s hot: On earlier models of the GH4, there was a pretty unpleasant audio buzzing when being used with an external microphone. I never buy early production run units, so it’s no problem on mine. What about the A7s? The Sony A7s is Sonys flagship video recording DSLR. While it only records 1080p internally (4K with external recorder), it features a full-frame sensor with amazing low-light capabilities. Compared to the GH4, it lacks in other aspects that are important for me:

  • Nope for weather sealing and internal 4K: The biggest reason to carry such a small and lightweight camera with me is portability and filming in more extreme (humid / dusty / rainy) environments. Carrying a huge 4K recorder in the bag is not really what I call “lightweight run & gun”, and the fact that the A7s is not weather-sealed makes it a risk to take along. Of course you can buy a rain-cover and a 4K recorder but hey – if that is the case I could also bring my FX55.
  • Hands up for rolling shutter: While the GH4 also “features” rolling shutter, it is in no way as bad as on the A7s.
  • Battery life: With a simple set of two batteries, you’re good to go for a whole day of shooting with the GH4. You probably won’t be able to do the same thing with the A7s.

For me, the GH4 seems to be the best supermobile Video/Photo hybrid camera on the market at the moment, and I really can’t wait to try it out on one of my commercial shoots.

Here’s by the way a 4K footage grab from the recording I did:

4K_03

Working with 5D3 Magic Lantern raw footage on OSX

Magic Lantern is the one free software add-on for the Canon 5D3 that offers the incredible possibility to record full-frame film in uncompressed 14bit raw. Explained in short this means the information from the 5D3’s bayer sensor is directly recorded, bypassing the shortcomings of the standard h264 recording codec of the camera. We’ll end up with much sharper, detailed material that doesn’t fall apart when being graded. Apart from that there are more features that come with the Magic Lantern add-on, for example Zebra, Peaking or the possibility of “cropping” the sensor readout (3x magnification without any loss in pixel resolution).
In case you’re interested in the details, visit the Magic Lantern homepage and / or check out the DVXUser guide to Magic Lantern raw.

Even though the Magic Lantern software add-on is for free (but you’re invited to tip those extremely talented programmers via Bitcoin), it still comes at a certain price concerning storage and workflow:

As the data rate of raw video is way higher than the usual h264, reliable raw recording of full HD (1920×1080) material at 24 or 25 frames per second will only be possible by using really fast CF cards. After trying out a variety of UDMA7-compatible types of CF cards (Lexar, SanDisk, Komputerbay), I found the (rather expensive) SanDisk Extreme Pro 160MB/s the most reliable option for my camera, at least at the size of 128 GB.
That being said, even those cards delivered some drop frame errors when being formatted as ExFAT, but with the camera-internal FAT formatting, they proved to be a reliable option (don’t worry, the raw video files will be split to overcome the 4GB-per-file limit of FAT).

There are two different file formats that Magic Lantern offers to record raw video, RAW (only video information) and MLV (video & audio information). As I always need sound as sync source on my jobs, I only record in MLV.

Once the recording is finished, the MLV files will be transferred to my Apple workstation. Don’t forget, we are recording raw information directly from the Bayer sensor inside the camera (kinda like REDRaw, but without the 1:2 compression), these visual informations need to debayered before they can be taken to the NLE of your choice. The cool thing is: we’re dealing with raw information, so white balance, tint etc. can all be set after the actual recording has taken place. I would call that “recording without a picture profile”.

There are a couple of tools available on the OSX platform to process MLV files:

The MlRawViewer makes it possible to watch MLV files directly from the Finder without prior debayering. A very nifty solution on set, as it is impossible to play back the recorded files directly on camera in real time (but they can be watched in non-realtime to check the framing etc.). MLRawViewer can also be used to debayer the images properly and export them either as DNGs (single raw image sequences) or Apple PRORES files (set white balance first!), but at the moment, this process is CPU-based and takes quite a while.
The option I am using at the moment to debayer my recorded videos is decoding the MLV files as DNG sequences via MLV Mystic and then importing these into Blackmagicdesign’s DaVinci Resolve Lite 10. This free version of the popular color grading solution is able to perform a GPU-based debayering of the raw image sequences in realtime on my workstation. In conjunction with the awesome Cinelog LUTs for DaVinci Resolve, which will help to interpret the color information from the 5D3 sensor properly, we have the possibility to obtain proper PRORES422 or PRORES4444 video files for hassle-free editing (or further grading) within the NLE of choice.
For quick jobs, we can choose to debayer directly to REC709, while staying on the Cinelog profile or exporting as Arri Alex Log C gives us the freedom to further grade the footage to our likes.
While the method mentioned above is my personal preferred path to deal with DNG sequences out of MLV, there are other options to debayer the recorded 5D3 sensor information. ACR (Adobe Camera Raw that comes with Photoshop or Lightroom) does probably the best job in interpreting this data, but it is not really batch-able and takes a longer time. As a sidenote, the Cinelog profile mentioned before is also available for ACR.
Some NLEs can also interpret CDNG (Cinema DNG) sequences directly, but the lack of possible white balancing within FCPX makes it a lesser option in my case.
Here’s a quick comparison between the different debayering possibilities (no color change applied) while we can also see how much resolution is being “taken away” when using the internal h264 recording: