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How Far Can You Push the Blackmagic Cinema Camera in Low-Light?

08.28.12 @ 12:04PM Tags : , , , ,

While I thought the John Brawley sample files were enough to gauge how well the camera would do in lower light situations, many were not satisfied and wanted a real test of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera in a no/low-light situation. Frank Glencairn received one of the early release cameras and he’s been shooting quite a bit with it. He’s working on a true low-light test between the FS100 and the BMCC, but in the meantime, he’s given us a RAW image to play around with and see how far the camera can be pushed.

Here is the original shot that Frank graded and cropped (in JPEG). This is probably closer to what the scene looked like to the naked eye. Be sure to click on both images to see the full-size stills:

Here is my quick grade with noise reduction and a little sharpening. Click on the images to see the full-size JPEG. This probably wouldn’t hold up as well in motion but hopefully it gives you a sense of what information is actually there:

As you can see there is a bit of noise in the shadows. This is to be expected with this camera since there is no in-camera noise reduction happening. The most remarkable part of the RAW workflow is being able to recover a scene like this and apply your own noise reduction. The tree was gone in the initial photo but I was able to bring it back.

This is by no means a definitive test, and the grade I did is rather unpleasing to look at, but if you wanted to know where this camera stands in terms of low-light performance, this gives you a pretty good idea (with some noise reduction). I think you can push this camera about 2 stops (to ISO 3200), and get a decent image as long as you’re using noise reduction from Resolve or from a program like Neat Video.

Below are links to this image as well as some more that Frank has uploaded so far.


[via EOSHD Forum]


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  • Not too shabby, but that horizontal double band near the top is a bit of a concern…?

    • Yeah there’s a bit of banding all over once you start really pushing it, but considering this is probably close to 3 stops, I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

      • It’s interesting that in the film days the projector scratches ran vertically. Now in digital the banding runs horizontally. I guess we could grow accustomed either way.

        Is banding a matter of momentary power fluctuations as the lines are read off the sensor? Is it potentially improvable by supplying better power sources? Or is everything filtered off and capacitored to the point it won’t make a difference.

        • Yeah I mean I guess it depends, I’ve seen banding both vertically and horizontally. I wouldn’t think supplying a better power source would make a difference – it really has more to do with pushing the shadows as far as I have. I didn’t really notice the banding until I really pushed it.

          I actually don’t know exactly what causes it – but I would think that it’s not necessarily a case of power fluctuations. It seems to be more the calibration of the sensor and really the limits of the sensor’s read noise.

  • Interesting! Can’t wait for people to get their hands on the BMCC and start shooting with it.

  • Frank Glencairn on 08.28.12 @ 12:54PM

    Just for the record: I shot that with something in the neighborhood of f5 or f6 (can’t really say, cause the BMCC doesn’t read out the iris) at 800 ISO. In an old habit, I tried to bring down the highlights a bit so they don’t burn. Turned out that this was a crap idea. I learned now, that you set the zebra at 100 and just avoiding, that it showes up.
    The result looks terrible hot (also on the screen) but it’s all there and you can recover it beautiful. The latitude of that camera had my jaw dropped a few times already.

  • Frank is also going to make a BMCC vs FS100 Lowlight comparision tonigh, here’s the link if anyone wants to follow his progress:

    • I think you may have skipped right to the photos :)

      From the text at the top of the article:

      “Frank Glencairn received one of the early release cameras and he’s been shooting quite a bit with it. He’s working on a true low-light test between the FS100 and the BMCC, but in the meantime, he’s given us a RAW image to play around with and see how far the camera can be pushed.”

      • Actually I just wanted to inform others that it was tonight and provide a website where they can follow his progress in greater detail, I did read the whole article =)

    • That’s a great rant but what it misses is that this is a new thing entirely, and requires its own specific rigging. The form factor of DSLRs also needed everything to be rethought. Camcorders/Cinema Cameras are not The One True Way for what a movie should be filmed with, even though they are “proven.” Rotary phones were proven, and then flip phones were proven. What’s this thing with touchscreen phones? Won’t the screens break, or scratch, or pocket dial your wife while you’re out with your mistress?

      Innovation is a good thing and there will be enough people who love this thing that the problems it presents will be solved.

  • Frank Glencairn on 08.28.12 @ 1:33PM

    Not exactly 180 deg ;-)

    I’m still not excited about the ergonomics, placement of plugs, lack of VU meters and some other things I wrote in that article.

    But I have to confess, that I`m happy to work around all that, for the image it delivers and I haven’t expected that.
    Giving me one of those cameras first, was a pretty smart move of BM.

    • Nice to read that… In the end, if We have such a powerfull image to work with, all other problems become minimal.
      I thought this camera would be really bad in low light in comparisson to DSLRs but I was completely wrong…

      What an amazing camera. this thing is so cheap for what it delivers… It’s almost too good to be true. :-)

  • Wrango Davenlo on 08.28.12 @ 2:11PM

    Thanks for this!

  • how well would this camera do in a green screen shoot environment?

  • This camera WILL need to be treated like shooting negative film. The rule is “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights”. While this is a difficult scene for ANY camera, it is in fact underexposed for having the benefits of RAW capture. Feed the sensor!

  • Neill Jones on 08.28.12 @ 5:23PM

    Where is the noise reduction in Resolve, I have the full software version, but I’ll be buggered if I can find it.

  • I’m getting really excited about this camera. I can’t wait to try one out myself.

    • Wow! Look the skin tones! Really pleasing in RAW. Great job and well, now I know how good this camera is in low light, in fact it is very very good!

      Thanks man!

      • And also forgot to mention the actual sharpness and detail on the BMC in RAW. It looked to me better than the FS100… And not by a liitle margin.

        • Honestly, I can’t dignify this with the term “shootout.” The shots are totally different compositions with totally different creative grades. No care has been invested in making it a fair comparison. It is stylish, perhaps, but I would rather have a boring yet credible shootout than a stylish advertisement.

    • Nice lowlight test, thanks for sharing. You mentioned earlier that you can shoot with highlights being blown out and pull it all back in post – did you do that for this test? Is this as far as you could have pushed the BMCC do you think?

    • Looks good! My only question is that when the woman turns her head on the BMCC footage, you can see some weird shakiness or stuttering on the part of her neck she reveals. Is this due to YT’s crappy conversion codec or is this appearing on your end before uploading?

    • BMC looks noisy and underexposed to me.

  • This looks amazing! Trying to do this to underexposed DSLR footage would give horrific results!

  • Resolves detail well.

  • Amazing how much you can do with this format… Conventional video cameras with compressed codecs are pretty much dead to me…

  • Frank Glencairn on 08.29.12 @ 4:30AM

    Here are some frames, if anyone wants to play with the original material:

  • Frank Glencairn on 08.29.12 @ 4:31AM

    And it’s on Vimeo now, so you can download the file:

  • So much detail and sharpness brought back from RAW! Amazing! Ive just read BMCC’s manual already posted on blackmagic website..its awesome that you can record RAW and Prores simultaneously, either thru SDI or Thunderbolt. And the interface have such simplicity..its like an Apple product!!:D

  • Thanks for this post and your great blog. Just a quick tip regarding your remark of ‘WordPress killing the saturation of your JPEG’. For use on the internet always convert your image to sRGB color space first and then save for web. Then the colors will be interpreted correctly.

    • Joe Marine on 09.2.12 @ 1:40PM

      Though it’s strange the colors look correct when you click on the larger version.

      • When clicked on the larger version the original (uploaded) file is shown – with embedded ICC profile – which makes that colors appear as intended. It seems that the script that is generating the smaller versions of the image is not embedding an ICC profile which explains the difference in color.
        Make sure that the image is in sRGB color space, but save for web ‘without ICC profile included’. Browsers expect sRGB, so there’s no need to embed the profile. This should solve the problem of non consistent colors in the different versions. And because all browsers presume sRGB when there is no ICC profile present, the change of good colors is greater.