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Blackmagic Cinema Camera Gets a Mini-Documentary: Philip Bloom's 'Ponte Tower'

10.12.12 @ 7:13PM Tags : , , , , , , ,

Many lament the fact that when a new camera is announced and released (or partially released in the case of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera), most of the videos that find their way online are just camera tests, which usually lack a story, let alone characters or a script. This hasn’t quite been the case with the Cinema Camera, thanks to people like John Brawley, but it’s always great to get a fully realized story as a showpiece for the camera. Philip Bloom, who reviewed the BMCC in September, took the camera (with help from Rick Joaquim and Dale Ballentine), into a real-world shooting situation and produced a documentary about a building called the Ponte City tower in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I would recommend clicking on the Vimeo link in the video, and downloading the video in 1080p:

This is the list of gear he used for the shoot:

Here’s what Philip had to say about the doc and why he chose the Blackmagic Cinema Camera:

This is what I decided to put the Blackmagic camera through, a mini doc shot in one day between workshops that I was teaching in Johannesburg in South Africa…although the film is not for a client – it’s a personal doc – I treated it like such, as I do with all my personal work and got it cut just 2 days after finishing the shoot. Why the Blackmagic camera? After all, I had access to lots of cameras here. My current favourite camera, the Canon C300 (not mine as that one is at home), my favourite DSLR the 1DX (not mine as my one died here, a loaner from Canon South Africa…thanks guys!), the excellent FS700 and the 5Dmk3. The smart choice to be utterly frank would have been to take the C300. It’s proven numerous times to be a terrific documentary camera for me (Do check out my most recent doc shot on it here)

Philip also put together a pretty interesting composite HDR file with a RAW DNG. Here is the final image, but you can find the DNG file over at his site to try out yourself (click for the larger file):

He did find the lack of low-light ability and the rolling shutter a bit of a problem, but since he shot RAW, he was able to push the image a little bit more without penalty — especially in the highlights and the shadows. While he does say that ProRes or DNxHD would have made more sense, he wanted to test out the workflow. I can definitely see a little bit of noise and aliasing, but if you really wanted to use this camera in a doc setting, it’s definitely not impossible. Though, as he mentions, it’s a few firmware upgrades away from being completely useful by itself for documentaries.

So what about the film? It’s a testament to Bloom’s years of shooting news, and certainly a lesson for anyone looking to shoot docs of any kind. Whether you’re shooting narrative, news, documentary, or something in-between, it always comes down to the story and the characters, and Bloom has an additional character in this piece, the building itself.

The only shot that was not the Cinema Camera was the timelapse shot of the city, as this functionality does not exist yet (though this may come in a future firmware upgrade). We always talk about using the right camera for the right job, and even though the Cinema Camera may not be the ideal camera for this job, it still did an admirable job. It definitely shows that it’s possible to use the camera in a wide variety of circumstances, but it still has certain limitations (low-light ability, lens compatiblity, and battery issues) that keep it from being a perfect all-around camera.

Link: Shooting a documentary short with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera — Philip Bloom


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  • That was awesome.

  • I saw mostly Philip Bloom and a story. I didn’t pay much attention to the image, honestly, which is how it should be even though I went in looking for the image. What I did find was I didn’t like the color of the BMCC footage, and was overjoyed with the timelapse color of my trusty 5D3. OK you can hate on me for being a fanboy, but I found the BMCC color a bit dingy and green. The RAW converters are apparently still in their very early days and may improve.

    Still when I think of Philip Bloom stuff I think of fairly vivid color and he wasn’t delivering it here, which may have worked with the somewhat totalitarian panopticon subject matter, but didn’t particularly move me. What moved me was the story about how democracy had turned a upper class nest into a vertical slum (but for the penthouses), and how they supervised the slum as if they were children. That was interesting and Mr. Bloom did his job, the camera was an irrelevant accessory which it should be.

    • If you check out the lengthy article he wrote about the project, he barely had time to grade it, and he may send it off to a professional colorist to have a go at it. All he did was a first light in Resolve, and then brought it into Premiere for the final edit and finish. He used Colorista and Magic Bullet Looks for the grading, so you could be right about the RAW converters, but color with a RAW camera system is always going to be subjective, especially since each program will probably deliver a different result. It would definitely be interesting to see this footage graded properly in Resolve or another color program and then exported from there.

      But yeah, camera doesn’t matter, so why do we all spend so much time talking about them? :)

      • Joe, a question, if you can help me, if not, it´s ok! :)
        that moire in the vid.. do you think is normal of the camera or it´s there because Philip Bloom pushed too much the footage ´cause he was shooting in low light?

        i´m asking ´cause i´m realy thinking about buying two BMCC. I´m about to shoot my first indie low-budget movie next year (i using my money since a movie about a christian that loves a whore and rob his church that rob believers so he can impress the whore and than kill the whore and cut her in little pieces is kind of hard to get done in a very christian country and mine! :D :D) I´ve even sold my lovely fast, wicked and amazing ford maverick v8 302 (sold for U$35000) and two of my computers and some lenses to raise the money :D But after seing some footage of BMCC with moire i´ve thinking if it will be a smart move or if i should start thinking about renting for the shooting an EPIC.

        thanks for reading and for such great articles.

        and pardon my bad english! :)

        • You will get a better image out of the EPIC. There are also other lower cost alternatives.
          Depending on how long the shoot is, you will even save money. Here in LA you could be shooting for 3 weeks with a fully rigged EPIC with PL glass for the price of 1 BMDCC.
          I’ve done projects both ways – buying cams for them, or renting. You will always get the better image renting.
          Unless you plan on making 1 longform project a year for at least 3 years, or you plan on becoming a jobbing camera guy: rent.

          • Thanks Mark for the tips… the rent is, as far I know, not that low in here, but you r right. in your advices! thanks! i´ve invested a lot of effort in the screenplay and buying audio equipament, so i´ll be better renting, since moire in a suspence flick with some moments of stationary camera can be a drag out the history. Since it will be, if everything goes OK, :D around 15 to 20days of shooting probably renting is the more reasonable solution. great color, dinamic range, etc, so i kind of got blind with the possibility of the BMCC having such visible degree of moire. A great camera anyway, but not for what i intent. :)

        • If you’re going to sell off the rest of your life for a film, you should be working with the very best equipment, and people, you can afford.

          The interesting thing about the BMCC is they are allowing professional codecs under $5000. The Japanese companies use downsampler and codec crippling as a pricing ladder. That’s the main reason this changes the game. But a pro codec does not a pro camera system make. This is a fun camera, it’s not a bet-my-career camera. And there’s no telling when it will be available and ready for day-to-day work.

          Rent a professional camera instead. And more importantly, the services and advice of the best people you can find there. All of them would tell you to stick with the tried and true in your situation.

          • Thanks peter! :) I´m not selling my whole life! :) i still have a house, a shit car for day use, my three cats and seven dogs! :D :D :D and my small working studio with my brother and our partner! :) but, dude, i´m tired of going , trying anf waiting aproval from gov. to be capable of shooting this. :) One thing i think USA has we in brazil lack is kind of a ‘industry’ (in a sense of filmmaking depending the market to exist) for filmmaking… An industry may be a problem in few ways, but it´s also a solution in a lot of other ways.

      • why submit work that isn’t finished! stop apologizing for what you put on line and own it. if he didn’t have time to grade, then why waste my time posting it?

    • Would a vivid color grade really match the subject matter of this doc? Seemed intentional to me.

    • Roger Freeman on 10.13.12 @ 1:30AM

      What a strange thing to say. The color of the film is determined by the colorist not the camera.

      • The “color science” that goes into RAW conversion (whether done realtime in-camera or in post) for each gamma or “picture style” imparts very detailed adjustments to the tone curves of the image, and those are essentially impossible for a colorist to fully override in post. Cameras have a look in no small part due to these effects. They are not truly neutral in any camera I am aware of and arguably shouldn’t be (there are factors such as highlight clip handling, false color supression, chroma noise distribution etc. that should be optimized for a given implementation, not to mention subjective taste). You can’t get there from here.

  • Now when I read his blog I can hear his voice in my head and it’s hilarious

  • Philip Bloom really proved the camera can deliver very nice filmic images in an uncontrolled environment. There was some horrible videoey stuff on the web lately (not by John Brawley) from the first BMCCs. For me, one drawback is the small sensor that makes moderately wide fast lenses really expensive, especially if you need stabilization.

    George –

  • Álex Montoya on 10.13.12 @ 7:37AM

    The look is amazing.

    IMO the Blackmagic has right now the most cinematic noise and acutance of all digital cameras.

    • I beg to differ. The noise and moire in this are pretty terrible, and I’m betting you’ve never seen an Alexa image up close. That this thread has so few comments is very interesting – I have noticed that when an anticipated product disappoints it gets very quiet around here (unless its about Nikon). GH3 posts haven’t exactly been lighting it up either.

  • Now they just need to start shipping

  • Hmm I wasn’t very impressed to be honest, not sure whether it was the poor encoding for vimeo or some sort of noise reduction pass but I could see a lot of strange noise/codec decay and compression issues. Different than what I’ve seen before which makes me believe its a BMC case, as most of this was seemingly shot low light.

    • I agree. This was very disappointing. It seems it really is a ‘drama only’ cam. It needs light, and plenty of it.
      That same film shot with a number of different cameras would have actually looked better.
      For every time I’m impressed with this camera, along comes the disappointment. Laforet still correct: fantastic, but frustrating.

  • I cant understand how anyone can dislike this footage from a purely technical aspect. Try and get something like out of a DSLR you can’t. The skin tones are amazing, the dynamic range blows my 5D out of the water. Also it looks like it does pretty well in low light to me, sure its no C300 at 20,000 ISO but come on now, it looks pretty great, the noise doesnt get in the way.

  • Web compression sucks! It looked “decent” to say the least. We really won’t know how amazing this footage will hold up, until we get our hands on it. I want to see it worked with in a 2K environment. The dynamic range looks nice, but I feel like it’s still missing “something.”

  • I still feel I need to get my hands on a Sony F3

  • PB prefers the Canon C300, but at $15k, vs $3k for the BMCC, sheesh… I can’t afford that luxury of choice..

  • I believe that this camera for all its problems or amazing achievements is still not perfect. (neither is the Arri Alexa or Red for that matter) it all comes down to using the right camera for the right job. As Philip bloom said in his article to get this kind of dynamic range you’d have to shoot with a Red Epic or Alexa and your doing it for 3000, does that mean its going to replace everything else no. but it certainly helps those people that desperately needed something like this to increase there tool belts range of ability. Great Article both No film school and Philip Bloom, not my favorite video that Philips done but still good looking stuff.

  • Every video I see of the BMC just keeps making me like it more (even if there are a few shots with some noisey low light in this video)

    Also, is it wrong that every time it goes back to the opening shot looking straight up, I start hearing the chanting from the Dark Knight Rises?

  • Well Philip did a great job and had a very detailed write up. I’ve blogged and stood up for this little camera that can for a while now – and I do have a pre-order. I may be a little biased. But I can tell you, the footage looks nothing like DSLR smoothed over, video footage. Yes, DSLR’s made us think that finally we could get away from that ‘video-y’ look, but when I compare the BMC footage, it now makes my DSLR’s look like video again.

    I’ll try and describe it as: earthy, gritty, good grain structure and realistic looking. The detail is great, skin looked good (the white guy, deep voice and beard by the window was the weakest shot and was oof sometimes, but it still looked more ‘real’ than my 5dmkII.

    Color grading is subjective and a RAW workflow makes it easier for one to miss the mark here. Philip said he would be giving it out to a pro, let’s see what happens.

    Overall, the footage looks night and day different than my DSLR.

  • Angel Luis Rodriguez on 10.22.12 @ 5:57AM

    Just a side note, but isn’t that the tower building they used in the movie “JUDGE DREDD”. I always thought it was a movie set! To know that this building really exits and these poor people live there ! Its nothing more than vertical ghetto! How terribly sad!

  • I don’t understand what all this is about. What do we want to get for $3000? You cannot get even a decent all-singing all-dancing DSLR without some kind of moire and aliasing to day. (By the way DSLR, in its present form, is perhaps on its last legs anyway because of the fast developing technologies and commercial competition). We should realise that:
    1. BMDCC is not for documentaries.
    2. we ‘d need some degree of control over the shooting environment.
    3. We ‘d also need some supporting gig for the bare-bone.
    4. We ‘d also need post production intricate and professional pulling of the footage from its flat and deadly boring looks.
    When I was placing a pre-order in London for the Cine camera on the phone, the sales person was quick to remind me of its flat look footage. He said he was warning people in order to avoid any possible returns and refunds afterwards.
    This is what the truth is. Choice is yours.