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Sony's FS100 vs. Blackmagic's Cinema Camera: a Low-Light Showdown

The Cinema Camera is starting to make the rounds with those who’ve been asked by Blackmagic to test out the camera. While the test below conducted by Frank Glencairn isn’t exactly a low-light showdown (in fact it only goes up to the BMCC’s limit of 1600 ISO), it does give you a great sense of the noise, color, and definition of both the Sony FS100 and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera in a lower light situation.

Thanks to Frank for doing this test, and be sure to go to Vimeo and download this file, that’s really the only way to watch it properly:

This is what Frank said about his process:

I used a Samyang 35mm f1.4 at f2.8 and a Heliopan IR/UV filter. Lighting was the oil lamp on the table, an oil lamp about 8 ft away on the wall and a garden torch in the background. Changing the ISO on raw, doesn’t make any difference, it`s just metadata (that`s the reason I just used 800 ISO), but makes a difference while ProRes recording. Of course I could have gone way higher with the ISO on the FS100, but why compare ISO 16000 to ISO 800?…The grading was done pretty rudimentary. If I had used masks and secondary grading, I could have get even more out of it.

Here is a still image for comparison between the two (click on the image for a larger file):

We all know that the BMCC isn’t going to be a low-light killer, in fact, it’s a camera that’s going to need light to really be utilized in the way it was intended. That does not necessarily mean you can’t use it in a lower light situation, as the above test and the still image Frank released both show. What is striking to me, is just how cinematic the image is from this camera (that’s not to say the FS100 is un-cinematic). Of course, that’s a subjective observation, but it’s still remarkable to me that a $3,000 camera is putting out this kind of image.

As far as noise goes, yes, it exists. There is no noise reduction happening in the camera, unlike the FS100 which is getting a little bit of noise reduction through the image pipeline as well as a smoothing of the noise thanks to the AVCHD codec. Either way, the BMCC is no match for the FS100′s bigger sensor, especially since it can go well above 10,000 ISO (but most of you probably could have guessed that already). Personally, I actually like the noise that this camera is producing. Even if you don’t do any noise reduction to the BMCC footage (which you would on a major production regardless of the camera), it’s going to give the camera a very distinct look that for me negates the use of any type of additive grain filter.

One thing is for certain, the dynamic range with the BMCC is off the charts, as you can see in the picture above. The highlights in the lamp are far more controlled and pleasing, and they don’t go off into yellow (which has been a complaint from many) like the FS100.

Head on over to Frank’s site for his continuing hands-on review. You can also play around with some stills from the test by clicking the link here or below.

What do you guys think? Would you actually shoot this camera at 1600 ISO in ProRes or DNxHD mode to get the grain pattern if that’s the look your film was going for?



We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 61 COMMENTS

  • Antonio Pantoja on 08.30.12 @ 10:21AM

    FS100 all the way. In any situation, I would go with FS100 over the BMCC

  • Holy sh*t, those raw files are great.

  • I thought that the BMC wasn’t graded properly, but apart from that I liked the BMC’s natural handling of light and grain much better than FS100. It was crisper too.

  • Mastergrooves on 08.30.12 @ 10:36AM

    As for as the blown out highlights and dynamic range in the FS100 – It may be different on the FS100 but Avchd and MP4 on my Sony A55 records to 110IRE. A considerable amount of detail can be recovered by adjusting levels and and colours become visible again when peaks are at 100IRE. Its not a subject that is widely discussed.

    • There’s no amount of recovery on an FS100 that will bring that lamp back. Or any other camera sub F3/C300 for that matter.

    • Frank the shooter is very well know for his flat profile to increase the DR of the fs100. look at his site for the different profile. I guess he knows what he is doing.

  • The reason why the BMCC looks so much more cinematic is because the shot is framed properly…
    He just held the FS100 in his hands, would like to see this test redone with exactly the same framing… now it’s a bit subjective imo

    • I’m specifically talking about the color depth and the highlight handling – I would have called it cinematic regardless of the framing.

  • IMO, the BMCC takes the lead here, even the ProRes clips. Love the look.

  • The BMCC really got a super16 feel. His noise is very pleasing too. It’s also sharper and of course the highlights are handled almost like film.
    Personnally I would rather shoot with a 720p camera with great dynamic range than a 4k camera with limited DR.

    • dr petformance is excellent.
      battery issue is my only concern.
      a bit heavy to bring vmount with bmcc

    • Super 16 definitely, gosh I love that look.

    • I would agree. DR is huge factor, especially for outdoor filmmaking. The only thing that makes me question getting the BMC is the ability to get wide shots without lens distortion. A 20mm is basically a 50mm, and if you were to have the tokina 11-16mm, thats still basically a 26-38mm.

      Does anyone have any recommendations on wide lenses for the BMC?

      • Canon 10-22 is a stop slower and not constant aperture but it’s a great lens and would give you 24 (theoretically, focal lengths are rounded values and change a bit with breathing). It has very low distortion.

        The Samyang 8mm is a fisheye but shooting RAW you can correct for distortion in post. It’s a shame the BMCC has the combination of high res and small sensor (which is an odd pairing) because wide shots are where you really want the resolution the most. This is why landscapes are shot large format.

      • I have a question, why do people want wide shots so badly? For a budget restricted independent film, wide shots are your worst nightmare, but its a deal breaker if people can’t have them.

        • Because, most people that talk on forums and blogs don’t actually shoot; just theorize.

          Keyword: most, not all.

          • That’s pretty obnoxious. So you only want to shoot close ups and use deep focus I suppose, so your movie will look like every other amateur production? Watch a real movie made by professionals, they use wide shots. Guys like Tarantino or the Coens use a ton of them.

        • I know what you’re saying and I challenge you to raise your game. There is a level where you’re right, and that’s when you’re trying to dress and light a set on the cheap and quick, and shooting wide will put too much pressure on your crew. But a lot of indie film skips that and uses available light and location shooting, where you absolutely want the context. The context may be a lot more attractive than the talent you can manage to obtain at that level.

          Street photography is typcially shot wide because tele is relatively flat and while wide distorts the faces etc. it also makes you feel you are there. A lot of indie film mimics street photography. Establishing shots often need to be shot wide because you don’t have much choice of vantage points, you can’t call in a big crane. Steadycam shots are often shot wide. Fisheye can be a hip look, and any play with perspective can stylize a picture. One tele shot after another can be claustrophobic.

          It’s a cool camera but let’s not fall over ourselves defending it. Dismissing wide angle as a whole, and the people who want that on their palette, is a big stretch.

          • I was hoping Khoi wasn’t right, but when someone says use fish eyes for wides and talks sbout street photography right afterwards, I can’t argue.

          • Joe you have your next article idea. Teach the kids the value of wide angle shots and how to make the most of them on a budget.

            I see Andrew at EOSHD has just posted a list of the best wides for the BMC. Though I have no idear why he would. =p

            • Shane Hurlbut actually just did a great post partly featuring the use of wide shots to enhance the storytelling.

      • Just did a comparison with 3 wide lenses and how they looked on the BMCC. Should be helpful.

  • Wonderful look, amazing DR. I’m sold.

  • It’s my subjective opinion, but BMCC just looks more pleasing to me.

  • Wrango Davenlo on 08.30.12 @ 12:30PM

    Dynamic range of the BMCC looks great.
    But the FS100 does record enough information in the shadows to open up the midtones and reveal extra detail for more dynamic range.
    My questionis, with the BMCC already being pushed to the limits, does it have anymore detail in the midtones at this level?

  • even though the same lens was used the field of view makes the BMCC more pleasing. at night Id rather frame and light an 85mm then a 35mm. to be more fair they should match framing.

  • what is the dynamic range of the prores files?

  • BMCC ProRes were really yellow to me, not graded properly. The RAW however is AMAZING! There is no contest, the sharpness, skin tone and highlight control in that lamp exceeds the FS100.

    And for a night scene, that is very good low light performance! I’m really happy on my purchase!

  • john jeffreys on 08.30.12 @ 3:39PM

    Lets spend all of our time looking at comparison videos, and none of our time making films. The only articles on this site that get more than 20+ comments are the camera battles.

  • Have I missed it, but I haven’t heard anything about moire or aliasing. These are what kill the DSLR’s that I’m trying to get away from. Sure the dynamic range is great, but I’m not selling my cameras to get this unless I can pan fast with this.

    • It’s true that it would be nice to see tests focusing on moiree and rolling shutter issues. I don’t expect it to be perfect but better then my 7D at least.

  • moire and aliasing is virtually non-existent. Rolling shutter is there. But RED has it too.

    • I know there is rolling shutter but I wander how much. Will we be able to shoot hand held or from a vehicle without having jello effect. The jello effect seem to be there in the telephoto shots in this video

      • In theory rolling shutter would be less than on a 5D simply based on the smaller size of the sensor. It’s probably down to the individual shot, and may be noticeable in some and not at all in others. I still don’t fully understand why I can stabilize some shots in post with minimal effort and yet a very similar shot may completely fall apart.

  • Vincent Laforet has a review up with some pretty bad ergonomic complaints. For instance, you can’t format an SSD on the device, you have to use the computer to do that. Fine, you are backing up to the computer, and could trash the files then, but my standard workflow is to leave data on the cards and reformat once I am ready to shoot. If you don’t have a computer with an SSD reader handy and you forgot to reformat you are SOL.

    Also, the Iris control is only relative: you don’t ever know what your actual aperture is, there is no way to tell (maybe counting button presses from minimum?). I like to set my aperture to its sweet spot and light/expose around that value if I’m favoring absolute sharpness over a specific DOF. With the BMCC, I won’t know if I’m in the sweet spot readily.

    I suppose both of these could be addressed with firmware…the latter may need a lens database to be compiled, and only certain lenses will be included. Sure you can restrict yourself to manual iris lenses but the whole point of this thing is to be cheap and leverage existing EF glass.

    • Totally agree about the formatting and the iris issue, but I have to imagine those will be addressed with firmware upgrades. I think he sees the camera as a DSLR replacement because of the price, but that’s not what this camera is. It’s called a Cinema Camera for a reason – the way you’re going to get the most out of this camera is by using the setup above, and when you need to break down and just fit into a tight spot, I think people will find solutions for handholding comfortably. I mean for $200 you can add handles (probably a lot less for third party), but if people think about this like a cheap RED EPIC (or really a 2.5K RED SCARLET) they will stop thinking about the ergonomics and the battery – because even though you can add a handle and REDVolts to the SCARLET or EPIC, they only last 30 minutes each. Interchangeable batteries would have been nice, but it also would have compromised the size (and most likely price) of the camera. Just because you’ve got interchangeable batteries doesn’t mean they’re going to last as long as you need them to.

      Let’s also consider this, when you’ve got as much money as some of these professionals reviewing the camera (or at least the ability to debt finance a $60K or more camera package), it’s far easier to not be able to get over the flaws – especially when you routinely use higher-priced cameras that don’t have any of the same issues. When you’re poor like me, you find a way to work around problems because for about the same money as a higher-end DSLR, you get image quality that can rival cameras costing 10 times as much.

      • Peter Kelly on 08.31.12 @ 4:46PM

        Have you used the BMCC yet Joe? If you haven’t I’d hold off on defending it so much until you get to give it a shot, yes footage looks great but it looks to me like it kinda IS like a DSLR upgrade, both in terms of price and also the ergonomics, which are going to need DSLR like solutions. Image does look amazing but image isn’t everything and the things mentioned above sound like they could be a real pain.

        • I haven’t used it in a professional setting yet, no, but based on the image quality alone I would deal with any and all flaws considering the price. Coming from using 35mm adapters extensively in a production setting, I can tell you that any of the Blackmagic flaws will not be nearly as bad as trying to set up an adapter properly (and then actually shoot with the cumbersome rig).

        • Joe is defending hard, but I don’t think he’s defending the camera… it reads like he’s defending the totality of “get this done with what you’ve got”, and how this is more than enough as a base camera head. I mean, why is this camera so different from a Mark II in terms of having to accessorize it to shoot with? Or leave it on a tripod?

          Like the Mark II didn’t have/doesn’t have a screen that’s difficult to see (much less judge focus off of).

          The difference between this and the Mark II’s release? Mark II didn’t get put through the ringer by real deal Cinematographers doing tests and evaluating. Imagine if they had? They’d’ve crapped all over it initially until someone figured it out.

          Nobody had any idea the Mark II was coming and the way it would change how people shoot a more cinematic image on dimes. All the newbies are [mostly] aware now, they kind-of-yet-not-fully understand large and small sensors, yadda yadda.

          Instead, the no-money people are the ones that championed the DSLRism, and that’s how it got so far.

          What would’ve happened had BMD gone the same route? Just let John and one other person test it, then put it in the wild and let the COMMUNITY do the talking?

          So, I get where Joe’s coming from and I get the exhaustive battle that is “clarifying”, yet on the other side of that coin he doesn’t really have to defend it. Just wait til one of the community members that know the high and low budget game get their hands on it. A gal or a girl that’s well versed in soup and cheese bread lunch sets and steak-on-a-cracker craft sets. One with a very strong and experienced understanding of the RAW workflow and the shoot-for-the-look, we only get one take workflow.

          One of the filmmakers that makes films, with a script, a message (bad or good, fun or serious), and wearing as many hats as possible while directing actual actors.

          xD By the way I’m not meaning to speak for you Joe, my bad if it comes off that way.

          • No problem at all – feel free. I think you said what I wanted to say better anyway.

      • EXACTLY. I shot on the T2i, filming entire videos using Magic Lantern at -16 for 5 seconds at a time because I was getting the most out of what I could afford. You won’t hear me whine for one second about the “ergonomics” of a camera.

        Not all of us have Epics sitting around, we aren’t all sponsored by Canon. These “reviewers” are going to poo poo on this and it will sway a lot of people away from buying the camera (just happened a little bit today already). I think it’s important to remember that they have very different careers than most of us. I know I do. I will not turn my nose up at a camera because there are a few work arounds. If it means a superior image I will jump through hoops just to get it.

  • On the subject of dynamic range – someone mentions that the light is cleaner for the BMC – not blown out. OK, but the shadow details of the Sony are all there and missing somewhat in the BMC. The Sony can shift the profile from sensitive to either the brights or darks – pick your choice. In this case, the darks win out.

    And why would you use a lens like this for comparison? Get a Zeiss prime or something with proven performance to get the very best image possible – then compare. Get a 60mm macro for these kind of shots.

    Don’t forget that at 2.5 crop factor, you are getting the sweetest of the sweetest in the optics. At 1.5 crop, you are getting some slightly degraded stuff.

    You are trying to compare 2 different images – one is magnified so it obviously will show more detail because it is closer. The resolution test was flawed due to this alone and the optics alone. You should have moved the camera to get the same size image for both – and then do a comparison.

    Frank you of all people should know better. You own a FS100 and rave about it. The BMC is a new toy on the block that has too many design flaws, and not all that welcome, but has some wonderful images in the right conditions. The camera will beat the Canon 5Dmk3 hands down in image, but the Canon was not meant for movies – well not anymore anyway. People like to get gear crazy thinking that new gear will make them a Speilberg or something. NOT.

    Get good tools, a good cast, a good story, a good director and make good movies.

  • For production work that needs fast turn around, FS100 is the winner. Pop the card it in the computer, edit, color correct slightly, and you are done. Lot’s of run-and-gun style shooters don’t carry elaborate lighting setup. We carry minimum gear and use whatever light the setting provides. This is why low noise is so important.
    BMCC, on the other had, create beautiful images for artsy film that you can take your time creating. It’s impractical for tight deadline projects, such as TV shows that are due ‘yesterday.’
    If I had unlimited funds, I would have both, but low noise is much more important to me than a couple stops of dynamic range, for documentary and TV production.
    To impress nofilmschool fans, of course I would use BMCC! :)