It was a day like any other. I was knee-deep in the r/cinemtography subreddit when one of the coolest specs crossed my path. While the spec itself was great on its own, what really caught my eye was the fact that the cinematographer, Benjamin Handler, used a decade-old Blackmagic camera as part of his kit.

The original Super16 Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

I immediately reached out to Handler, and we chatted for over an hour about this project. This is how he and his small team brought together two cameras, a decade apart, into a stunning piece of work.

The following was written by Benjamin Hander.

The Diesel Jeans Spec Ad

The goal: make a high-octane, no-budget fashion spec in one day.

We pre-viz’d the piece on Milanote, throwing around our favorite references and previous work to land on a cohesive vision for the piece. Then, we did some light scouting via Google Maps.



Credit: Benjamin Handler

I knew I wanted to keep this film to the Lower East Side of Manhattan for simplicity (and because visually, it’s got so much going on), so we kept our scouting to that region.

Our producers (Verona Victoria & Noah Neal) found our crew–and even acted in the piece–then we went to the Lower East Side and hashed out our locations in person the day before.

We had two camera ops, two producers on “set,” and our actors arrived every 90 minutes. No car. One case for camera gear. We shot everything in about 8 hours.

The Camera Package

We shot on a Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 4.6k G2 and the original BMPCC. The Ursa was our A-cam, and we swapped between a Tokina 11-16 (w/ Black ProMist 1⁄8), a Nikon 24mm F2 AI, and a Nikon 35mm F1.4 AIS.

The pocket had a cheap Canon TV zoom C-mount lens.

\u200bThe original Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

The original Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Credit: Benjamin Handler

The camera choice was due to necessity, as all our gear had to fit inside a small craftsman tote. Ultra portability was the biggest priority.

We used all available light. No bounce. No diffusion.

The BMPCC was our “16mm camera” and was rigged with a loupe and handgrip. Our 1st AC, Kaitlyn Busbee, was charged with picking off frames covertly, getting city ambiance, and generally getting things that would’ve been hard to capture on the A-cam.

This 2-camera setup lets us cover twice as much ground, and the light camera setups (no follow focus, no Teradek) let us operate for hours at a time without needing to break. This also gave each camera operator the autonomy to film whatever they wanted and not seek approval from anyone else.

Benjamin Handler operating the Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K

Behind the camera

Credit: Benjamin Handler

We kept the cameras built and ready to film, as a lot of our actor’s decisions were made in the moment (the Citi bike scene, for example, was decided on a moment’s notice).

Camera movement was big for me.

I wanted the camera to feel like a character, too. Though the ad cuts quickly, the camera needed to feel intimately connected with our actors–like a close friend. We added whip pans to lead in and out of most of our shots to give us good, fast-cutting points that kept the momentum going throughout the piece.

Putting It All Together In Post

Much of the look was built in the color suite. I knew I wanted a film print emulation, so we monitored on location with a film print LUT to make sure there weren’t a lot of surprises in post.

I graded through the Filmbox plugin for Resolve to accomplish the look.

There are a ton of good film print emulations now (Filmbox, Filmunlimited, Cineprint16, etc). There’s no one right answer for which to use, and all of them should get you in the ballpark.

Perhaps they’re not all totally representative of an exact film stock, but the goal for me isn’t really to replicate film but to make an image that feels alive and interesting–to reach a good balance of digital capture and the film aesthetic.

DaVinci Resolve color grade

The grade in DaVinci Resolve

Benjamin Handler

From there, much of the look is accomplished through a combination of Resolve’s standard grading tools (printer lights, offset) and DCTLs. A tetrahedral DCTL was used in combination with a subtractive color DCTL to dial in the saturation and push more blue into the shadows.

I used scatter alongside Filmbox’s halation to soften the image, and Scatter helped match the sharper Tokina lens to my vintage Nikkors, but I wouldn’t say it’s totally necessary. Resolve’s built-in OFX tools are really great, too.

Color grade before and after by Benjamin Handler

The grade — before and after

Credit: Benjamin Handler

Lastly, our sound team (Sterlz & Stark) really made this piece sing with their sound design work. Our focus was on giving each quick vignette a distinct signature sound for the viewer to connect with.

What's Next?

We’re in this exciting period now where nearly every modern cinema camera (and even some old ones like the BMPCC) has what it takes to create really beautiful images. The choice of camera and lens can be more of a pragmatic decision (what do you own? What are you comfortable operating?) as so much of the look can be dictated in post if it’s captured well.

I find myself reaching for gear that lets me accomplish the shot first (I am a huge fan of the Tokina 11-20) and then adding halation, blur, vignetting, and softening in post to taste.

I’ve been exploring the use of B4 mount ENG lenses recently–parfocal, huge zoom ranges, and dirt cheap–to get some shots that would be impossible without 10k+ zoom lenses. With a decent camera and modern post tools, you’d be surprised what is possible.

\u200bStill from Handler's Diesel Spec

Still from Handler's Diesel Spec

Credit: Benjamin Handler

I’d be remiss not to say that so much of my knowledge and creative decisions I’ve learned and adapted from super-talented filmmakers I’ve found online and from platforms like No Film School.

There’s so much good work on Vimeo and Instagram, it’s insane. I hope this piece motivates someone to just go out and film and make something cool. I look forward to learning from it!

The following was written by Benjamin Hander.