8-Bit is Still 8-Bit, Why DSLRs Are No Match for the 12-Bit Blackmagic Cinema Camera
People have done as much as possible to argue against the test that was performed with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera by Marco Solorio and OneRiver Media. That test compared the 5D Mark III and the BMCC, and even though the superior resolution and dynamic range of one of those cameras should have been obvious, many still prefer the Mark III and complained that a better picture profile or some post sharpness would make the differences less noticeable. Well, Marco is back with a new test, and (in my personal opinion) it’s hard to argue against these results, as he’s pulled out all of the stops to really test the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and show why 8-bit will always be 8-bit, and what it means when you’ve got the capability for 12-bit images.
Here is the description below the video:
Going a step closer with the Cinema Camera, Marco Solorio of OneRiver Media focuses on how 12-bit RAW compares in relation to 8-bit alternatives, including many camera solutions costing much more. The difference between “perceived dynamic range” and “available dynamic range” is explored in detail. Also covered is day-for-night, detail versus sharpness, and much more.
You could download the original 1080p file as Marco mentions, but I actually watched the compressed online version first, and the differences were still obvious.
As far as dynamic range is concerned, there is only so much you can do with 8-bit to protect the highlights. This was made clear to me in the Zacuto Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout 2012 test. I was able to see that test on the big screen, and when the DSLRs came up, it was clear that there was only so far they could be pushed before they started falling apart. The parts of the image that were massively underexposed to protect the highlights began to look grey and lifeless when they were brought back up. That’s what happens with 8-bit. There is only so much information contained within the image, and you can’t recreate something that doesn’t exist in the first place.
The bit-depth simply refers to the different combinations of ones and zeros that is possible (with color images having three channels of bit-depth). The more bits and values possible, the better the final quality will be.
- 8-bit – 256 different values
- 10-bit — 1024 different values
- 12-bit — 4096 different values
- 14-bit – 16,384 different values
- 16-bit – 65,536 different values
Some of you might already be saying that the CinemaDNG RAW files from the Blackmagic Cinema Camera take up a ton of space. That is absolutely true, and short of converting to a compressed RAW format like Cineform, it’s something to consider. If you notice, though, there is still a large difference between 8-bit and 10-bit in terms of the values possible, and if you shoot ProRes or DNxHD, you’ll be getting a 10-bit file. That is why even in compressed mode, you will still be able to technically pull more detail and color information out of the BMCC as opposed to all DSLRs which only output 8-bit 4:2:2 at their very best.
Internal processing bit-depth is another factor to consider. It’s why even though DSLRs are crippled in many ways, especially by the 8-bit color space, that they can still make beautiful images. The detail you are working with is usually starting from a 14-bit source, which is what most of the high-end DSLRs are capable of. After going through this processing, the final image has to be compressed once more to the final output, which for video, is 8-bit. So technically if you could pull RAW video data from these DSLRs, you could be working with a far better file, even if they are pixel-binning or line-skipping. It’s one of the reasons people seem to like EPIC/SCARLET footage over RED One MX footage at the same resolution even though they have the same sensor, the RED One is a 12-bit camera internally, while the SCARLET and EPIC cameras are both 16-bit internally.
Now, what about resolution? Adding sharpness does exactly what it’s supposed to do: make the edges more defined. I’ve never been a fan of sharpening, it might make an image pop a little more, but it’s not the same as actually having a lot of resolution. You can’t make a 720p image look like a 1080p image by sharpening, even on the web. That’s why I wanted to watch just the online version first, because it’s clear to me that detail and dynamic range do make their way through to compressed video, regardless of what many people might tell you. You will have to make sure that you are getting the least compressed file online as possible, but I consistently see better looking online footage from RED, the Arri Alexa, and the Sony F65 that is clearly superior to DSLR footage.
Of course, cost is a major factor. You might not be able to afford one of these high-end digital cinema cameras (even as a rental), and that’s what makes the Blackmagic Cinema Camera so special. For all its quirks, nothing can touch this quality at $3,000. Is this saying that everyone should go out and buy the BMCC? Absolutely not, and for many people, it’s going to be the wrong camera for what they’re doing, even if it does have higher resolution and dynamic range. For one thing, it can’t see in the dark like many DSLRs. It’s also going to need a battery of some kind, which is a far simpler addition on a DSLR.
Your DSLR can still give you a wonderful image. There is no doubting that, and if you’ve got one, don’t necessarily get rid of it just because a new camera is coming along that should technically outperform it. Many have stated that they like the footage coming from DSLRs better (I’m not one of those people). I thought this was an important topic to correct some of the misinformation floating around. You should not be ashamed of using a DSLR, even professionally, because in the end, if the client is happy and you’re making money, who cares? But there is very real evidence that you can do a lot more with the footage coming from the BMCC, and it’s going to show through even in a compressed online video.
Now, as for what your monitor can actually display, that’s another story completely, but we’ll have to save that for a future post. Let’s start a real discussion about this, because it’s important not just from a technical standpoint, but from an artistic one. If you’re limited technically by your camera, there is only so much you can do to compensate, no matter what anyone tells you, and in certain instances, it can make a huge difference.
What do you guys think? For those who wanted to see the Mark III with some sharpening, what do you think about that footage now compared to the BMCC?
- Comparing the Cinema Camera: Part 2 — OneRiver Media Blog
- Comparing the Cinema Camera: Part 2, The Impact of 12-bit RAW — Vimeo
- Blackmagic Cinema Camera Shows the Canon 5D Mark III Who's Boss
- We Got Your Dynamic Range Right Here: Blackmagic Cinema Camera Put to the Test
- Take an In-Depth Look at the Blackmagic Cinema Camera