Lux ex Tenebris – Camera Test Movie I

Herein below is attached my first camera test movie presented by MasterPlan Productions, entitled Lux ex Tenebris. It was filmed, edited, mixed and graded by me, Tomas Stacewicz. Music by courtesy of Chase Rayment (starfrosch.com/hot-100/artist/chase+rayment) used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported Licence (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/). The movie is 17:32 minutes long and it was published for the first time on YouTube on 25 November 2016. Lux ex Tenebris (“From Darkness to Light”) may best be described as a “Dogme 95” style experimental test film. It was shot on CinemaDNG RAW with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the Zenit-LOMO Meteor 5-1 f/1.9 17-69 mm lens, using the RafCamera M42x1-MTF lens adapter. All shots were filmed handheld using a pistol grip and shoulder brace stock taken from the Zenit Krasnogorsk-3 camera kit, the exception being the timelapse take which was shot during four hours using a tripod. The movie was filmed on location in Kungsladugård and Slottsskogen, Göteborg, Sweden, between October 13 and 29, 2016. Night scenes were filmed on 2016-10-13, day scenes on 2016-10-15, and timelapse on 2016-10-29. Copyright © 2016 MasterPlan Productions.

Camera test experimentation was conducted on both the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the Meteor 5-1 lens to see how well they behave together and cooperate in creating a good filmic image and cinematic experience. Especially low light and night scene capabilities were measured, as well as contrast and colour handling in both night and day scenes. Lots of depth of field and focus pulling test were conducted on both night and day scenes. Optical quality on the lens were tested, measuring sharpness, internal reflexion and scattering (i.e. lens flare), and bokeh. Also, the timelapse function of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera was tested successfully. The film was entirely shot without a script; it’s a test movie after all. Everything was filmed spontaneously in a run-and-gun fashion. I knew which locations I wanted to shoot in but each scene developed creatively on each shoot. I also knew that I wanted to test the camera and lens combo during the night followed by the day in full sunlight; I wanted to enchance this contrast through the urban environment against nature and woodland. It soon felt natural to also shoot a timelapse sequence, not simply to test that feature on the camera but also to bridge the contrast between darkness and light. The title “From Darkness to Light” developed naturally from this bridging sequence. If the movie has any theme at all, its all about the contrasts of human existance.

A RAW capture featuring depth of field and bokeh
A RAW capture featuring depth of field and bokeh

General camera settings: ISO 800, Shutter Angle 180º and 24 fps. Night shot camera settings: White Balance 3200K and f/1.9. Day shot camera settings: White Balance 6500K, f/1.9-7 and ND x4 filter. Timelapse camera settings: 10 seconds timelapse, White Balance 3000K (Color Temp raised to 3500K in post), Focal Lenght F=25, f/1.9-22 (continuously stepped down during timelapse; Exposure -3 and Highlights -100 in post) and ND x4 filter. General audio settings: All sound were recorded on the inboard stereo microphone of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, with microphone and channel (line) levels set to 50% (upmixed in post approximately 8 dB). The RAW footage and sound was edited, mixed, graded, stabilized and rendered on Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5.2. Colour correction was made manually using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera Film to Rec. 709 v2 LUT as a reference, raising Saturation to 100 and keeping Hue at level 50, adjusting the final grading with the aid of color wheels to create a balanced RGB profile. Vignetting caused by the Meteor 5-1 lens was adjusted with a 16% maximum Zooming. The final result was rendered to QuickTime containing the DNxHR SQ video compression codec and two cannel PCM audio codec. Enhancements was finally made on YouTube by raising Saturation to +1 and retaining Contrast at 0; this level was chosen as a average to accomodate for computers and monitors that desaturates and flattens the original image quality, as well as not exaggerating saturation and contrast on well calibrated monitors; contrast were left at level 0 to be able to properly experience the night scenes. Otherwise, only using the day takes, I would have raised Contrast to +1 as well. And now over to some observations that I have made during the making of Lux ex Tenebris, concerning the camera and lens, accessories, as well as the workstation and DaVinci Resolve.

A RAW capture featuring random and fixed patter noise
A RAW capture featuring random and fixed patter noise, as well as depth of field

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera: I really enjoy the form factor of this camera; it’s small and light, even with a heavy lens mounted on. The downside of this is that it needs stabilisation (more on that soon). I had quite good experience of working with the LCD screen, especially during the night shots. But even during the day shots, I could see the image quite well, mostly because of the overcast and blocking of direct sunlight; most shots were done inside the forest where foilage blocked out direct sunlight and provided shade so that I could see the images on screen. Focus Peaking was sometimes a bit ankward because of the small size of the screen, but often worked good enough. An external screen will be a necessity to be able to pull focus correctly. Luckily enough, all shots were quite well focused, probably thanks to the Cinema DNG RAW format. The handling of the camera is super easy; the buttons and entering the menus works allright for me. It’s more or less point the camera, check exposure and focus, and shoot; no rocket science here. There is an approximate 1:1 ratio between battery life and SD card size (time of footage), somewhere around 20 minutes if shooting RAW. I had two spare batteries with me but didn’t use any of them as I used up one SDXC card per shooting day, not more (I had one spare SDXC card as well). The timelapse feature works as expected and makes these types of takes simple compared to my Super 8 and 16 mm cameras, in which you dauntingly have to shoot each frame manually; just point the camera, set the time and press the red button – and make shure that you have continous battery life for at least four hours; thankfully I shot the timelapse from my living room window and could use the AC power supply connected to my camera DC input.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera set up for the timelapse take
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera set up for the timelapse take

The resulting image (when watching in full resolution RAW on DaVinci Resolve) is marvelous and stunning; so much information to extract in grading. The dynamic range and bit rate create a very filmic emulsion image, one of the best that I have seen and comparable to the images produced by the Ikonoskop A-Cam dII and the Digital Bolex D16 (although each of these Digital Super 16 Film Cameras have their own distinct look). To my utter surprise (and contrary to many reports), I found the BMPCC to handle low light situations quite well; it gives a clear and detailed image created by the natural light coming from street lights; there is lots of information left in the shadows at least in the CinemaDNG RAW footage. The only downside to all of this is the noise in the shadows; not the filmic random “grain” which enhances the cinematic experience, but the fixed pattern noise (FPN) in the form of vertical stripes that can be detected in a few night scenes, but thankfully quite subtle, with the exception of two instances: At 01:30, overlooking the square, and at 05:20 when staring at the moon; here the FPN is painfully visible in the RAW footage (it’s more visible while watching the moving image), which isn’t seen in the compressed YouTube format. When seen in this obvious way the FPN takes you away from the celluloid film emulsion illusion and reminds you that you are watching video. This ugly footage was only seen in a couple of instances and always in the night takes. I have realized that a noise reduction OpenFX is required for DaVinci Resolve; a couple of days ago I installed the Neat Video plug-in as I only work with the DaVinci Resolve Lite version. In the meantime I had to lower the blacks in the shadows to mask the FPN somewhat.

A RAW capture revealing fixed pattern noice
A RAW capture revealing fixed pattern noise

The LOMO Meteor 5-1 zoom lens: I was very positively suprised at the image quality that comes from this cheap Russian lens together with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. First of all, its high speed (f/1.9) came to its right while doing the night shootings and really served the RAW footage well; I had no issues with enough exposure from street lighting. I was especially suprised at the shallow depth of field that is possible to extract from the BMPCC-Meteor 5-1 combo, evidently visible in several shots throughout the film (and especially at 01:00 and 11:25; see also the first and last RAW capture of this post). It also has a quite nice bokeh, at least nice enough in several shots throughout the night scenes (again visible at 01:00, as well as 03:00); one can say that it handles bokeh with varying results. The Meteor 5-1 is more sharp than I expected, but that problable has more to do with CinemaDNG RAW enhancing resolution with its high dynamic range and bit rate, in which the Meteor contributes with a pleasant filmic softness to the image. The RafCamera M42x1-MTF adapter seems to have a optimal flange distance as it is easy to pull focus with the Meteor 5-1, which even maintains focus when its focal length changes, i.e. it is evidently a parfocal lens. On the other hand, the timelapse sequence proves that the Meteor 5-1 has issues with sharpness over very long distances on day shots when pulled to infinity, at least when aperture is set below f/8, which either may be a sign of a lens abberation (such as a spherical aberration or astigmatism) or a defect of the RafCamera M42x1-MTF lens adapter. I never spotted this phenomenon during any of the night scenes so brightness seems to enhance this infinity focusing issue.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with Meteor 5-1 lens mounted on the tripod
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with Meteor 5-1 lens mounted on the tripod

I experienced no other issues with sharpness and focus was generally easy to follow; I only had to scrap one scene because of badly pulled focus from all of the footage that I gathered from both shooting days. However, it is somewhat ankward to pull focus with the hand on the focus ring, requiring shifting of the hand to pull all the way, resulting in shaky footage; a follow focus rig is thus required. The zoom lever with attached rod is a nice feature to pull zoom easily, but its difficult to do a steady slow zooming with the lever as it doesn’t seem to be damped at all, contrary to the focus ring. The Meteor 5-1 lens has a very distinctive lens flare quality to it, easily provoking this effect in any strong light source (to evidently to recount in each and every case throughout the film, but most prominently at 04:20, 06:45 and 10:00); often showing the hexagonal iris of the lens. It of course totally blows away the image in the timelapse sequence from 08:07 making it evident that it cannot handle very strong light sources, such as pointing the camera directly towards the sun, as the Meteor 5-1 is to sensitive in this respect, making the low quality manufacture (i.e. lack of sufficient anti-reflective coating) evident for the first time during the shoot. All in all, the Meteor 5-1 creates a bright and warm cinematic image, making detail in shadows visible, but lacking somewhat in contrast giving it its flat and soft character. It really brings out the colours in any image but especially excells in low-light conditions, which compensates for the professed bad low-light handling of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

A RAW capture featuring a lens flare
A RAW capture featuring a lens flare shaped as the letters “OTO”

Handheld rig from Zenit Krasnogorsk-3: I already knew even before the arrival of my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera that I wanted to use the handheld rig that I already owned together with my Zenit Krasnogorsk-3 kit, consisting of a pistol grip to which is attacheble a telescopic folding stock that braces against the shoulder. Inspired by a lecture presented by Werner Herzog – the grand father of guerilla filmmaking – how he used to hold the camera without the tripod, I though that the K-3 rig would provide for better stabilisation while shooting handheld. But as the screw mount on my BMPCC uses the 1/4″ standard and the K-3 uses a 3/8″ screw mount I had to purchase a screw adapter from Manfrotto with a 1/4″ male and 3/8″ female configuration. However, the telescopic folding stock is somewhat to short for me (I’m a quite tall guy with long arms), which feels a bit ankward. The K-3 rig posed some more problems for me during the shoot as the Manfrotto screw adapter easily loosened which made the pistol grip to constantly turn, making the camera wiggle somewhat to and fro. I often had to take a pause and fasten the tightness between the adapter and the screw on the pistol grip or handle, which only helped for a while until I had to take another pause and tighten the rig. This makes it necessary to hold the camera lens tight with the hand for additional stabilisation. And to be honest, I wonder if it actually did any good as the resulting footage is quite shaky with lots of micro jitter and needed heavy stabilisation done in post. It does work well when the focal length is set to wide and in a stationary position, with panning and tilting, but not zoomed in or while walking. This fact makes it abundantly clear that I need to invest in a shoulder rig. I am reluctant to pick up the K-3 rig again, and only if I have to shoot handheld not having anything else to use, for now. I’m a bit dissapointed to be honest, as the rig looks really cool, having that Kalashnikov AK-47 feeling to it. Perhaps it’s just about training and experience; I haven’t given up on it yet and it has found a new home in my Fancier FC-270A bag, in the separate pouch that holds the pan handle.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera set up for some serious shooting
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera set up for some serious shooting

Workstation and Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5.2: The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is seamlessly attached to the DaVinci Resolve editing and grading program, both nurturing a symbiotic relationship, especially so in a CinemaDNG RAW workflow which requires good grading software to extract the rich information contained in the flat Log-style digital negative image that bosts of 13 stops of dynamic range and 12 bits of 4:4:4 colour depth. And they say that there is no better grading software than that of DaVinci Resolve 12.5, and working with Lux ex Tenebris in post I am convinced that “they” (i.e. the professional colorists) are correct. I imported all of the Cinema DNG RAW files from my SDXC cards through the Icy Box IB-865 Multi Card Reader onto a separate folder on the 2TB Seagate Desktop HDD. My ASUS X99-A based workstation, wired to the Intel Core i7 5820K CPU and the ASUS GeForce GTX 1060 Dual OC GPU, works spendedly with the latest edition of DaVinci Resolve (12.5.2.010 at the time of postproduction) which is installed into my 500GB Samsung 750-Series EVO SSD. The program loads really fast and the project as well, even though it takes more time to start the project after all of the editing, mixing and grading has been done. DaVinci Resolve is stable as well; it only crashed on me once during the entire postproduction (which taught me to save the project regularly). There is absolutely no lagging, even if I work in full RAW resolution in the Edit page. I noticed though that resolution is much lowered while working in the Color page although the colour space bit depth seems to be retained. What I really enjoy is the integration between edit and grading features; that the workflow is maintained within the same program from importing of clips to the exporting of the rendered file; it’s so easy to change between the Media, Edit, Color and Deliver pages by simply clicking on their corresponding tabs.

A RAW capture featuring some more lens flare
A RAW capture featuring some more lens flare shaped as the hexagonal iris

I also much enjoy the metadata feature in DaVinci Resolve which contains much and vital information concerning each clip of the project, which is easily adjusted by changing data with the mouse and keyboard. What I didn’t enjoy though was that it wasn’t possible to copy and paste any metadata information between different clips (although I’m fairly shure that I actually did that on one occasion; a feature that was lost in the process, it seems). What I don’t find practical is that certain information concering window tracking and stabilization of footage isn’t automatically updated when clicking on a clip, showing its unique settings, but that the last inserted settings are retained regardless of the initial inserts of each clip; clicking on stabilize again would enter the latest inserted settings which would ruin the original intention. This forced me to write such information as metadata, which was somewhat ankward considering that I couldn’t copy and paste it. Also, the stabilization feature didn’t help me as much as I had hoped for in stabilising my shaky handheld footage (I have read elsewhere that this particular feature is weak in DaVinci Resolve, a notion that I second); it only smoothed it out a bit. Also it’s a bit difficult to understand which settings to use in Strong and Smooth. Although I have studied the parts in the DaVinci Resolve 12.5 Reference Manual which deals with Strong and Smooth, and have understood that Strong controls camera movements and Smooth…eh, something like smoothness to the camera movement, such as wiggling or some sort of thing. To be honest, I have nor real clue yet what the actual difference is between Strong and Smooth, what the difference is between camera movement and camera wiggling. Shaky image varies tremendously so the manual doesn’t help much unfortunately. Some shots in my project have worked better with a higher Strong while others have worked only with a higher Smooth level, but I haven’t figuered out why yet.

A RAW capture featuring and example of a really shallow depth of field
A RAW capture featuring examples of a really shallow depth of field, a sequence that also required much stabilization in post

The thing is that adjusting Strong and Smooth zooms in the picture (if you checkmark Zoom, which is required). I found out that the zooming is quite heavy sometimes and cropping a image makes shaky image appear enhanced in its… shakiness, obviously. So, according to my experience, setting the levels to high can have the reversed effect. I sometimes had to lessen the settings to reduce the apparent shakiness to the image, until I found a optimal level between where stabilization worked fine and the picture wasn’t to cropped to prevent apparent shakiness. I suppose one could always start with Strong: 100 and Smooth: 0, which is the default setting, and then change the settings gradually and compensatory, i.e. rasing Smooth as much as one lowers Strong, but that again isn’t always the optimal solution. I have searched for a pattern in vain. It’s to complicated and I wish I could find a working formula. On the Blackmagic Forum, the frequent advice was to experiment and find out for myself; not much of a help, unfortunately. I know that I have only scratched the surface on the various freatures contained in DaVinci Resolve, and I’m looking forward in learning the intricate mysteries of colour correction, grading and advanced manipulation of the image, including the various OpenFX features. I found the Edit page and its trimming features to be intuitive, after some initial and valuable pointers in the Blackmagic Design Compact Cameras manual; the quick start instructions of the manual also helped me much in getting started with grading. I also found some valuable help in various YouTube tutorials; there are lots of them on the Internet. Finding the DaVinci Resolve 12.5 Reference Manual to be to volumious and intricate to learn the basics of colour correction, YouTube is a good shortcut into learning enough to take off in creating your own movies; I simply couldn’t wait until I have read through the entire 1200+ pages to finish my first project.

The Edit page of Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5
The Edit page of Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5

Based on what I have understood from the Blackmagic manuals and various tutorials on the Net, my current working formula is something like this: Create three different nodes, one for the original RAW Log format, a second one for the graded result, and a third for the BMCC Film to Rec. 709 v2 LUT as a reference tool to make comparisons with the final result on the Grade node. I found the Blackmagic Cinema Camera Film to Rec. 709 v2 LUT creating to much unnaturally pushed colours (with a greenish tint) and exaggerated contrast for my taste (often with blown-out highlights); it is after all adapted for broadcast television and not cinema. First I raised Saturation to 100, leaving Hue at 50. Then I made a basic colour correction using the Offset colour wheel (dragging around with the mouse). Using the RGB Parade scopes I corrected the colours further by lowering the blacks (to create more contrast), raising midtones and highlights, using the dials attached to the colour wheels, and making final adjustments using the Lift (blacks), Gamma (midtones) and Gain (highlights) wheels. Clicking on the middle button onto a finished clip, while highlighting a clip that you want to colour correct, copies the grading. However, I found out the hard way that any other manipulation to the image, such as stabilisation, dissapears as well (or rather, all of the settings for the original clip that is copied is transferred to the new clip). On the next project I will use the Stabilization freature after finishing my colour correction. Before rendering the project, I disabled the Log and Rec. 709 nodes; the actual rendition is quite fast, less than 10 minutes for a 18 minutes project. (I heard horror stories that rendition takes hours; not on my workstation, it doesn’t.) During this project I never ventured into the intricacies of secondary colour correction; that is also for the next project. Still, I was quite satisfied with the end result, getting some basic kind of knack into finding the correct colour tones. The result, my first project using Blackmagic products from start to rendered finish, you may now see on the uploaded YouTube clip. Enjoy!

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