Kinda boggles my mind that in 1984 I started out shooting on big old clunky 3/4” tape cameras, editing with decks the size of my luggage producing 720 x 486 videos and here we are in 2014 with cameras that fit in our palm shooting 3840 x 2160 editing on a Macbook Air. Nothing else to say but Change is simply AWESOME.
This first shoot was set up to accomplish two main objectives. Start production for my new Contemporary Living Network and to serve as a camera / workflow test for 4k UHD. I’ve read and researched as much information as I can on the various cameras (Marco Solorio and Erik Naso especially have great info out there) but there’s no real way to know what is going to work unless you try them out. In our case, we’re producing lifestyle programming that can lead to all sorts of lighting and production situations. As with any other format, there is NOT a “single camera fits all needs” out there yet for 4k UHD. We’re probably going to end up with multiple cameras and send them out depending on what the production situation will be. Let me give a great shout-out to LensRentals.com where it’s quite affordable to test out cameras, lenses and lots of other production gear before you buy. Rent some gear, try it yourself and make your own decision if a camera will work for you.
And keep in mind, I’ve been an editor for almost 25 years and Post is my primary expertise. The shooting thing has kind of happened as the cameras have become smaller. I really know what I want to see in the edit suite and this evolution of small camera and high quality image has really helped me bring my editor’s eye to both directing and cinematography. So here’s a first look at our entry into the world of 4k UHD shooting.
For this first shoot, we decided to go with the Panasonic Lumix GH4 for our primary hand held cameras. Two camera shoot, shooting 4k / 24p (23.98) at using Panasonic’s highest quality 100mbps setting. Through LensRentals.com I rented two GH4 cameras with Wooden Camera cages, got 4 extra batteries with 2 chargers, 4 of the 64GB SAN Disk 280mb/s cards, and 2 Lumix shotgun mics which are great because they use phantom power from the camera. For lenses I went with Panasonic 12-35mm with stabilization for both cameras plus one 35-100mm zoom to have one hand in case we needed it. The 64GB cards will shoot 1 hour, 23 minutes at the 4k / 24p / 100mbps settings on the camera. The batteries run a long time too. We were going 3 hours at least before switching batteries. I also purchased two of the Vello triple hot shoe adapter so we could mount the shotgun mic and mini camera light on the same camera. In addition we used my Digital Juice MiniBurst 128 LED light on the camera.
One lens actually arrived with a bad crack right in the middle of it, LensRentals overnighted us a new one, but we had to start shooting the first day with one of my old Canon 28mm FD lenses from 1983 via my Metabones FD to Micro 4/3 adapter / speedbooster. It worked surprisingly well.
In addition, we took delivery of a new Blackmagic Design 4k Production Camera which we didn’t expect to arrive so quickly. That camera is a bit unwieldily for handheld shooting without at least a basic cage around it plus we have to set up external batteries for it since you can’t swap out the internal one. We simply didn’t have enough time to rig it correctly for handheld shooting so we used it locked down on a tripod as our “wide expose the set” camera using a Canon 15-55mm EF lens. I purchased a 480GB SanDisk SSD for this first shoot using the specs for the drive in the BMD Operators Manual. In 4k ProRes, I could get approx. 1 hour 24 minutes recording. In 4k ProRes LT I could get 2 hours 40 minutes recording. We went with the ProRes LT setting for this shoot since we’ll most likely use a black and white / grainy effect on this camera. In case you’re wondering, in 4k RAW there’s only 25 minutes record time on that 480GB SSD. I also purchased a USB 3 SSD Dock to transfer the data.
I also packed up about 8TB of external drives to make sure I had PLENTY of room to dump and backup all the data. In addition, I picked up a new SanDisk card reader that included a slot for the MicroSD cards that are used by the GoPro Hero 3. They seem to work better reading directly from the micro card when you don’t have to use an SD card adapter for them.
Shooting with the GH4
If you’ve shot with DSLR cameras in the past and feel comfortable with them, the GH4 will be a very natural shooting camera for you. I personally prefer using the onboard viewfinder vs. the LCD screen on the back as I feel like I can control the focus better that way. The focus is very tight with these lenses with a lot of DOF. As I have to continually adjust focus during the action, I find it easier to stay concentrated on that work when looking into the viewfinder. The viewfinder on the GH4 is very sharp and does have a focus adjust so you can set the focus for your eyes.
The MOST annoying thing about this camera is a “focus assist” box that automatically appears when you touch the focus when the camera is not recording. If you’re just trying to set a shot or look at a setup, the moment you start focusing, the “focus assist” box comes into view and honestly gets in the way of setting just looking at the scene. I could not figure a way to disable that feature, might be there, but I let it go since we were renting the cameras.
Through all the reviews, I knew the GH4 was not a great low light camera so that was going to be the main thrust of our testing with the camera, how low does the lighting have to be for the picture to be “bad?”. We shot in all sorts of locations including a large farm market, multiple retail stores and a tavern. We only used GH4s for these locations and they performed extremely well. We never got into what I would really consider a “low light” situation, there was always enough light on-hand between what was available in the stores and the little MiniBurst LED light. Certainly non-optimal lighting in some cases, but nothing terribly low.
The other issue I was concerned about with the GH4 is the rolling shutter. A rolling shutter means the entire frame of the image is not recorded at once. A portion of the image is recorded microseconds ahead of the rest of the image, generally the top portion of the image. You see this clearly when a camera flash goes off in a room and you see the flash across the top of the image first and then the rest of the image. Where it can also be an issue is during quick pans and zooms.
Fortunately, we saw no issues with the rolling shutter and I even did some snap pans and zooms specifically to see if it would show up. Going frame by frame on playback in the edit suite later, did not show any evidence of rolling shutter problems. That was a nice find.
The white balance controls were particularly awesome allowing us to simply dial the lighting temperature to whatever we wanted. We would just look at the situation we were in, bring up the manual white balance adjustment and just tweak one of the cameras till we hit the color we liked. Then dial the other camera to match. Super easy and super clean. Colors looked great back in the edit suite.
One thing Erik Naso warned me about, and came to pass, was locking down the shutter wheel. It’s on the back of the camera where your right thumb sits if you’re holding onto the camera itself. While shooting, my thumb kept hitting that wheel and making changes on the fly to the shutter speed. Our goal was to stay in 180 but every so often I would look down and see that it had changed in one direction or the other. Erik recommends taping that wheel down once you have the shutter set and I concur.
On Erik’s recommendation we kept the ISO setting as low as possible shooting from 200 – 400 only. We didn’t have the need to go any higher. He doesn’t recommend going over 800 and I don’t really see a reason for that either unless you’re going for a grainy look shoot.
We set both cameras up to roll time of day timecode and that seems to have worked quite well. Timecode shows up on all the clips and they’re pretty darn close to each other. No jam sync’ing, just setting the clock and letting it go. By using time of day timecode that means we could have someone logging our shoot on the fly using a clock. Sure the TC wouldn’t be frame accurate but it’s close enough for us to find the good takes and where shots are that we’re looking for quickly.
Shooting with the BMD 4k Production Camera
As I said earlier, we didn’t expect this camera so quickly (thank you Blackmagic!) so there was no time to rig it correctly for handheld shooting. We locked it down on one of my photography tripods to do a wide ‘expose the set’ type of shot using an EF lens from my Canon 30D still camera. That worked surprisingly well. Just snapped the lens on and away we went.
Actually the first location we used it mounted on top of a Gorilla Pod that’s missing one of the legs (tree fell on it) and shoved the camera back into a kitchen cabinet. The kitchen was pretty small so it was the only spot to get the overhead shot I was looking for. Blackmagic putting a record button the FRONT of the camera was a huge help in this situation since I couldn’t see or access the back of it while it was in the cabinet.
The camera features a touchscreen on the back for all the settings and menu controls. With the latest updates we can finally format the drives inside the camera which is awesome. Changing all the camera and record settings is quite easy and efficient using the touch screen. When the camera is in regular operation mode, simply touching the screen brings up the slate. This is great when you’re handling the camera normally where you can see the back of it. When it’s mounted inside a kitchen cabinet where you can only access the front, well that can cause a bit of a problem. Every time I reached up to move the camera position I would invariably touch the back of the camera. This would bring up the slate and when the slate is visible, you can’t record. The slate does NOT appear on the SDI output from the camera so the only way I knew the slate was up was to hit the REC button and nothing would happen. Minor annoyance that we worked around.
One other annoyance was that the Time Remaining on the SSD did not display on the SDI feed either. Everything else did and I had the Menu setting to “Display All” information from the camera down SDI. Again, since I couldn’t see the back of the camera, we used a iPhone timer to roughly calculate how much time we were recording on that camera during that one day of shooting. It was in there all day so every so often I would pull the camera out to double check the time remaining.
The SDI output from the camera can be downconverter to HD which is what we did to feed the on-set Flanders Scientific 1770W monitor. Beautiful picture even in the downconvert.
The biggest issue with the BMD camera and trying to use it “naked” as Marco Solorio would call it, is that the display screen has a VERY narrow field of vision. You have to be looking STRAIGHT on to that screen for it to be useful. Once you move off to the side, it becomes very dark very quickly and very tough to use it to even just set up a shot. Marco has an awesome book called “Rigging the Cinema Camera” which I’m going to use to rig this camera up for ENG / shoulder mount style shooting complete with a proper eyepiece viewfinder which will take care of that situation.
The 4k Production Camera does feature a global shutter which records the entire image at once, so no issues with rolling shutter. High speed camera moves and high speed action in frame are no issue with this camera in terms of creating a “torn image” ala what a rolling shutter could create.
Marco recommended staying 800 ASA or below and that’s what I did. I brought it up to 800 in a tavern we shot in the very last day as it was the darkest location, but the image still looked beautiful. I simply matched the white balance temperature on the BMD to what we set with the GH4 and the image was remarkably similar.
Not too much else to say about this camera yet as we pretty much just locked it down and let it roll. Once we get it rigged up properly for handheld shooting I’ll have a lot more to say.
Lighting the Set.
Lighting for the sets was ridiculously simple. I have this three light Impact kit which features three soft boxes that each hold four fluorescent lights.
The kit comes with twelve 5000k bulbs of 100 watt equivalent but I find that makes the lighting a bit too blue. Especially in field locations where most of the lighting is still incandescent for the most part. So what I did was purchase six 2700k light bulbs, 100 watch equivalent from the local hardware store. For each lightbox I install two 5000k bulbs and two 2700k bulbs which essentially “puts a gel” on the lightbox and softens the blue to a more natural lighting color. Works extremely well and depending on the situation we used two or three of these lights and if any fill was needed, we used the MicroBurst 128 or an Ikan LED light I rented from LensRentals.com.
All in all we didn’t have to use anything different in the lighting as if we were lighting for an HD DSLR. The 4k cameras didn’t seem to require anything special or “much more” in the way of lighting than what we were used to. We shot in two different home kitchen locations and in both cases, a combination of available, natural and fluorescent lighting worked out perfectly fine.
For sound recording I recently purchased the Zoom Handy 6 recorder which features 4 discreet microphone inputs along with a stereo natural sound recording pair. These are great little field recorders and they have a handy shoulder strap mounting point to wear it over the shoulder.
We set up a shoulder strap with three pieces of industrial velcro and simply velcro’d the three wireless mic receivers to it. Made for a SUPER efficient sound recordists setup so they could walk around easily, yet be fully wired up with headphones and easy access to the audio controls. For the headphones I pulled out our awesome Sennheiser set we use in our audio booth. These are the “suck to the head block out all external sound” headphones which are critical when you’re out in the field. If you hear it in the headphones, then it’s in the audio. Oh, a shoutout to my good friend Marion Laney for letting me borrow his wireless mics. Still trying to figure out which ones to buy and he let us try out his for this shoot. Super nice guy and an AWESOME D.P.
Syncing the Sound.
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, beats a proper audio slate when shooting multiple cameras with externally recorded audio. In our case we generally had the three cameras rolling and on occasion we added a GoPro Hero 3 to the mix. Hand slaps are good, but getting a good, crisp CLAP from a proper audio slate is priceless. I picked up this little 7” x 7” from B&H for around $30. The only negative to it is the magnet in the clapper to help hold it shut so you have to be careful not to put it around electronics or your cards or harddrives. I’m planning to extract that magnet out soon, but it’s a great tool.
Also remember to do an audio slate too. Such as “Fork U, Scene 101, Take 2” audibly into a microphone before you mark the take with the slate. This makes it very easy to find takes via the Zoom recorder which records files as “Zoom 001” “Zoom 002” etc….. Simon Majumdar was especially good at this.
All in all a very smooth transition from what I know and have produced in HD to the 4k world. Files are a lot larger, you need more hard drives on the set and need to allow more time to transfer the data. If possible, take more camera cards and SSDs so you don’t have to transfer as much. The single SSD for the BMD 4k really was insufficient so we had to be careful and minimize roll time because it would take too long to transfer the data, over an hour, and I couldn’t have the crew sitting around waiting on the data transfer.
All of this is being edited in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014 8.1 on a combination of Mac Pros, PCs and even my MacBook Air. Sync’ing is going brilliantly. At the moment we’re editing with AJA Kona cards and IoXTs but Blackmagic is sending down some 4k Decklinks and thunderbolt devices for us to test out using the actual 4k output. Playback has been good so far and the imagery is simply gorgeous. Some areas where there might some noise issues, but that will be for another post after we have a chance to actually edit and complete an episode.
As I mentioned early in the article, the only way to know how 4k UHD works is to get your hands on some gear and test it yourself. Take advantage of services like Lens Rentals, go out and play for a weekend. Special thanks to Keith Schroeder, April Simpson, Terry Simpson, Cheryl Collins and Simon Majumdar for all their help this past week in production. The results so far are simply delicious!