What is it like using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera on set? Emmanuel Sapolsky sent planet5D a ton of exclusive information on what he learned while filming “the ride to fame” and we’re thrilled to share it with you.

It all started with the wish to test the new Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera features with an anamorphic lens. It ended up in one of the first shorts shot with the Australian Precious. And Remember: Compression sucks!!!


The Ride to Fame

I am like most filmmakers in the independent industry now. I am trying to get the best for the bucks. I must say since I started in the nineties, work as a director as dramatically changed. The big leap forward, for me was the 5D Mark II. Before I used to handle bigger crews and then smaller amount of work (cause many clients couldn’t just afford it). a few years later, I was eager to find a replacement for my beloved 5D Mark II that I have personally exhausted! ;)

I was one of the first to order (in may 2012) a Blackmagic Cinema Camera in France at Photocinerent.com, a very edgy supplier in Paris. They are always the first ones to test new gears without having second thoughts.

I must say I was like everybody else much impressed with the specs of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera but afraid of a newbie who would come with a smaller sensor in the market. Websites like planet5D and many videos online (the famous John Brawley) helped me make a leap of faith. For a DSLR Canon filmmaker, this camera totally makes sense! The amount of equipment you need to buy around the BMCC is ridiculously cheap compared to what I had to go through with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Not only my lenses are fully compatible, but also my Switronix power base and the adapter I used to plug into my Marshall Monitor ( which saved me from spending more on the rather expensive BMC adapter), my grip, my rods, etc… All were ok with the BMCC. Though, I had to invest in an HD-SDI field monitor, some BNC cables, Jack to XLR adapters, and of course SSD.

On Set

Using a Blackmagic Cinema Camera is as easy as using an iPhone, but heavier! Even the form factor makes you think about a metal brick, it is actually a clever move from the Australian guys… First of all, because you can add as many different gears as you want around it. there are plenty of holes where you can grip your mic, your lights or whatever you feel like attaching to it.

I read a lot about the so called battery issue! I can assure you it is not at all. it works a little bit like in those Star Trek episode when Kirk asks Scotty to put the Enterprise on safe generator. You never have to shut your camera down cause your internal battery acts as a buffer. With the 5D2, it was hell! (especially when the camera was rig mounted).

I must admit that I had to buy some extra lenses anyway. I got a Tokina 11-16mm (who was making a good alternative to a 24-40mm zoom on a 5D). I had no vignetting on it until 12-13mm with the AG-LA7200 (but I used full aperture so it made sense). Having a smaller sensor helped me work with anamorphic in a much more easy way. No diopters where needed. The Tokina’s iris was controlled with the left/right buttons on the camera. This is not a natural way to handle it. I suggest you buy as many manual aperture lenses as you can. Using the Samyang 35mm for example is really cool with the BMCC.

I shot the sort movie in raw. Out of choice but also necessity. The light was really low and I wanted to get as much information as possible in the image. The outcome was more than 1To of dailies for a 5 minutes edited short movie. That is a lot. I suggest you don’t use Raw on a daily basis, except if you are the son of OCZ’s CEO or some sort of rich kid. I shot another project for Pepsi last month in ProRes, and it is good enough for most of my work. Even when you have to key it on a green screen.

I transferred the shots on my mac using a trick. Those SSD docks are quite expensive just for a bunch of connections. And I found online that the GoFlex Pro adapters from seagate (I have one thunderbolt and one FireWire 800) connects perfectly with the SSD. It makes a cheap alternative to docks (and takes less space in your bag). I loved working with SSD (remind me of tapes). I always feared to loose those small SD CARDS or even Compact Flash. I used two : 128Go Crucial M4 (we had no issue, no frame skipping, and those hard drives can be found for a really decent price)

Sound was an issue (not in the short as it is a silent movie), but on other productions. No sound peaking makes the sound level a bit of a Hassle to master. We had to go through several tests until we got it almost right. But even though, no controls makes you wonder if you are ok with it. BM said they’ll fix that in further updates. In the meantime, sound recorders will prefer to do it separately Even if sound is perfectly ok on the camera. (I am also very impressed by the camera’s mic).

About the Field Monitor. Some of you may ask why a 3000€ camera would use HD-SDI and not HDMI. Well, having broken a lot of cables on my 5D, I am much grateful to Blackmagic for putting some professional connection to their camera. At last I could stand meters away from the camera and having my monitor in my hands. I would not be as kind with the jack connectors. Everybody is using XLR. It means we all have to bear with some symmetric cables plugged in. you can feel the weight of the XLR adapters if you don’t tape them !!!!

Another thing. Slate on the camera can be nice. But most of the time we had to record as fast as possible so using the slate was not always possible.

POST PRODUCTION THOUGHTS

– Post Production with Raw files need a good computer. Fortunately I have a Mac Pro with a lot of Ram. The really good news is that you get not only a camera in your BMCC box but also DaVInci Resolve (not light, not cheap version of it but the real thing). The learning curve was easy cause I bought some courses from colorgradingcentral.com It helped me find my way through the software and understand how to send the files to FinalCutPro X.

– Rendering ProRes Files did take some time (count around 12fps which took about an hour for Half an hour of rushes). DaVinci is used in this case as some kind of Lab (if you compare it to the traditional film process). You prepare your shots there get the right exposure then send them to your editing tool. You’ll never have to go back to raw. This is not an editing format ! Some people think it is, but those people do not have to handle movies every day on many hard drives with multiple back ups. ProRes is perfect for Post !

– Now you get all your rushes on FinalCut Pro X. (Or premiere if you are more traditional). I take this opportunity to express my gratitude toward Apple who listened to customers and made FCPX a very very powerful tool. I edited on 10.0.6 and made the color correction there too. Not because I think FCP‘s color grading is better than DaVinci Resolve, ( far from it ) but because I master it. You will find a lot of moments when I insist on “Mastering” a tool. This is what I did with my old 5D. I could do great things with it cause I knew the camera and all its ups and downs and could avoid situations where I’ll be stuck. People often asks me : “so is it better than a 5D ?”. I reply “it won’t if you don’t use it on a day basis”. For the moment, I am not able to do as many great things with the BMCC as I used to with the 5DMII. But I am getting better every day learning from my early mistakes.

– Sound was exported via XML to X2Pro and the sound editor who happened to act as the taxi driver ( I told you it was just a little test who became a short ). He used ProTools and Reaper.

– Special Effects were handled in After Effects. I used the App “Send to” to get the files in AE. I discovered that Clip Exporter became free, a few days after I finished post. It is a nice little App too.

This is how it all went. Of course I may have forgotten a lot of aspects of my days with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. But if you have any questions I’ll be glad to answer them.

Emmanuel Sapolsky


(cover photo credit: snap from the video)