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BMCC EF vs Sony A7s for a feature film with a lot of night shoots?

BMCC Sony A7s night shooting low light

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#1 David Peterson

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 01:40 AM

How does the A7s and the BMCC compare against each other?
 
Because I've just joined on as the DoP to shoot a feature on a BMCC, but given the nature of the film (shooting most of the time late at night), am wondering if a Sony A7s is better. 
 
Am curious about some direct comparisons between an A7S and a BMCC at night, and how they'd be able to grade, and how they'd be used in practise with lighting set ups (as if we can use a smaller lighting kit, that might help mitigate some of the cost of an A7S), their look, etc. 
 
As if so, I might then recommend to the director trying to find space in the tiny budget to switch to a Sony A7S instead. 
 
What I really wish Sony would do is make something like an A7S version of the Sony A5100. So perhaps an APS-C version with merely a 5 megapixel sensor and the same amazing low light performance as the A7S but with the cheap price of the A5100!
 
As I don't need a "full frame" sensor, neither do I need more than 5 megapixels so as to have enough for 4K video. I'm content with 1080p.(after all, even with the A7s, most are not shooting 4K because it doesn't do internal 4K)
 
Unfortunately I don't think a 5 megapixel camera would go down well at all with the typical 2014 consumer, even though I've shot plenty with my old Nikon D50 which was only 6 megapixels. So I think 5 megapixels would do just fine for casual photography, especially as it would be a very very good 5 megapixels. (plus of course I wouldn't be getting it for photography, but video)

Edited by David Peterson, 08 October 2014 - 01:41 AM.

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#2 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 02:15 AM

When I was on vacation earlier this year, I met up with some people trying to shoot a feature film with an A7S. We spent hours talking about the camera and he showed me lots of clips of what he was able to achieve with it so far. I was unfortunately very unimpressed with the output. It shoots acceptable stills, but video was no better then a standard Canon 5DMKIII, which in my view is horrible for the price. 

 

Here is the problem and I apologize if this sounds like a rant. Still cameras need to be still cameras first, that is why they were made. The "video" capturing aspect is second to the still portion. This is very present with Sony's continuous devotion to AVCHD MPEG2 @ 50Mbps being the highest codec available for internal video capture. Sure, the camera has an uncompressed 10 bit 4:2:2 output, but once you hit an HDMI cable, you're stuck with Rec709 color space. All of a sudden, you've just locked in whatever signal you have and are stuck working with it through post production. This means, whatever quality the imager actually has, is lost in translation. 

 

The Blackmagic Cinema camera series, offers direct RAW capturing to solid state memory or SD card, depending on the camera. This means, even if the sensors lowlight capability isn't the best, you can still get something out of the image as everything seen will be captured if exposed properly. Latitude is what saves you in dark situations, because it will provide you with the ample color space and dynamic range to deal with fixing problems in post, where the Rec709 material, simply won't. 

 

Being heavily involved in post production, I'd rather you showed up with original camera RAW files, rather then some hacked together Rec709 media which "looks" like Raw, but doesn't contain the proper data. 


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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 04:55 AM

The fact that the A7s won't - currently - put S-log out over its HDMI output is odd and slightly worrying. The general feeling seems to be that this is a technical oversight on Sony's part rather than a deliberate decision to cripple the thing, but that may be wishful thinking and I'm not here to make excuses for them.

 

Otherwise as far as I'm aware there are only two problems with it: the big chip is a pain on several levels, requiring exotic lenses to really work well, and the rolling shutter isn't great - although it's not great on the BMD camera either.

 

The A7s is very, very, very much more sensitive than the Blackmagic and this may be of use on something involving a lot of night work. That said I have never failed to be impressed with the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera (less so with the 4K, but it's still nice) and it makes very nice pictures with lots of information in them. I'd hesitate to go for the A7s unless you're sure you need it, especially if your decisionmaking has on any level been influenced by the idea that it's The New Hotness.

 

P


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#4 David Peterson

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 06:48 AM

Phil: it doesn't do S-log over HDMI??? Well darn, that is a second strike against it! (first being that it is only 8 bit)

Tyler: while I agree in general with the rough gist of what you're saying (although.... plenty of beautiful stuff can be, and has been, made with stills cameras such as the 5DmkII/GH2/NEX-5N/D800/etc. So I wouldn't be so quick to talk them down, especially in the context of very low budget feature films), you might have missed the core point about my specific situation: this is a low budget film that will be shooting a lot in very low light. 

 

I normally would never ever consider an A7s over a BMCC for shooting a narrative feature, but this film seems tailor made for the A7s, in that it is a vampire horror with a lot of it shot at night. (and we're a low budget film, so using a Sony F55 and trucking in lots and lots of lighting equipment is not an option!) So while I think it is likely we'll stick with the director's original plan of using a BMCC EF, I feel I've at least got to investigate if A7s is a worthy alternative. 


Edited by David Peterson, 08 October 2014 - 06:48 AM.

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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 11:07 AM

Well. Er.

 

The behaviour of the A7s with regard to its HDMI output is being looked at. The suspicion is that it's doing full-range 0-255 packaged in such a way that receiving devices tend to interpret it as 16-235, which obviously causes a lot of crushing and clipping to go on - but we don't really know.

 

The one I had on review had unfinished firmware and didn't do either S-log or HDMI, so I wasn't able to test for this particular issue. I'm looking at getting another, more final one in the next few weeks and I'll have a close look at this. I have a Blackmagic Intensity board here and the ability to write code for it, so if it comes to it, I can burrow right down into the numbers that are actually being sent on the wire and with any luck determine exactly what's going on. In the meantime I have an enquiry in with a contact who may be able to elucidate the matter and I'll report back when I have any more information.

 

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#6 David Peterson

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 04:03 PM

Thanks, that it is useful. Sounds like perhaps I'm asking a little too soon about this, once lots of people get their hands on the Atomos Shogun (once it is shipping that is) then I'm sure we'll quickly find out about how its HDMI out performs. 


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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 07:11 PM

There is a discussion about this issue here:

http://www.eoshd.com...-2-gamma-curve/


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#8 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 09 October 2014 - 08:08 PM

Tyler: while I agree in general with the rough gist of what you're saying (although.... plenty of beautiful stuff can be, and has been, made with stills cameras such as the 5DmkII/GH2/NEX-5N/D800/etc. So I wouldn't be so quick to talk them down, especially in the context of very low budget feature films), you might have missed the core point about my specific situation: this is a low budget film that will be shooting a lot in very low light. [/quote]

 

I spent more then a year shooting a feature on 5DMKII's and it was absolutely the worst experience I've ever had shooting a film. Like yourself, I had no choice, as the equipment was being supplied by one of the three DP's on the project. We had never-ending issues from max file size issues to lens shifting when doing focus or zoom changes. We had three 5DMKII's, ALL of them had dead pixel's and every time you'd do the reset, they would show up somewhere else. At one point, we rented a 5DMKIII because we needed to make absolutely certain there wouldn't be a dead pixel and it had a light leak which prevented us from using it. 

 

It was a single location shoot, I was able to prep the location by putting a bank of incandescent's in the ceiling with chimera's. We'd then key light the actors with a color-matched LED panel or small incandescent bounced off a white board or white cloth. I kept the ASA low and the iris wide open so we'd have shallow depth of field. There was A LOT of light, more then enough to shoot at 200ASA. 

 

When I got home from the first day of shooting and saw the quality, I almost puked. The shots had digital noise, MPEG noise and a whole host of other issues like horrible focus. Of course, the cameras require to run double system audio since you can't monitor what your shooting. So we had to sync the audio and make a Pro Res file out of the 20hrs or so of material from that first shoot. This process took a week to achieve, running around the clock with a mac pro tower. It reminded me of shooting film, all the mistakes are stuff you'd get with film if you didn't know how to shoot with it. But man, I've shot narratives and documentaries on film and never had anywhere near this many issues. 

 

Few years later I bought a Blackmagic Pocket camera and I haven't had a single issue with it. No dead pixels, no audio issues, no focus issues, no transcoding, no re-synching audio, nothing. Yes, the larger sensor in some of the still cameras is intriguing, but to deal with all the other ancillary issues which go along with these cameras is not worth it in my opinion. :shrug:


Edited by Tyler Purcell, 09 October 2014 - 08:09 PM.

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#9 Vincent Genova

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 10:00 PM

First, the Sony A7s is made for video. It is a video camera.  It's low 12 megapixels is hardly good for serious still photography. However, because it has low megapixels with a full frame sensor it can do superb 4k video and 1080 HD especially in low light, because it's not downscaling and creating artifacts.  Don't fool yourself, that camera is now what the 5D mark II used to be.  Frankly, Canon has dropped the ball on the video market... the C100 and C300 are too pricey compared to what the latest tech can do.  Sony is sitting currently as king in the low budget video market.  


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#10 David Peterson

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 12:01 AM

Tyler: 5Dmk2 is *OOOLLLLLDDDDDD* by 2015 standards! Heck, even my old Panasonic GH1 (which is of the same vintage) I regard as a superior camera over the 5Dmk2. Was a poor choice picking a 5Dmk2 at that point in time (as it can't have been too many years ago, if the 5Dmk3 had came out. Thus you could have gone with a GH2 instead).

 

Vincent: I agree, the A7s is sitting at the peak of its niche! (together arguably with the Panasonic GH4 and Samsung NX1)

And also, yup, Canon has totally dropped the ball!!! If they even ever were holding it??? Ha, I strongly doubt it. Think the ball just accidentally fell into their lap for a little while, and Canon didn't know what to do with it.

 

Now Sony and Panasonic hold the crown of kings of the low budget video market (and soon it seems Samsung will be joining them, or arguably has already).


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#11 David Peterson

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 12:11 AM

It reminded me of shooting film, all the mistakes are stuff you'd get with film if you didn't know how to shoot with it. But man, I've shot narratives and documentaries on film and never had anywhere near this many issues.

 

 

Shooting with DSLRs have their own learning curve and require their own specialist skills to make the most out them. Different to your experiences with shooting with film. Perhaps the bulk of your issues were because you were new to it, and the mistakes are stuff from "if you didn't know how to shoot with it" (to use your own phrasing).


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#12 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 03:24 AM

The A7s is a very capable video camera and much better than the 5D3, unless you're shooting raw video on the latter with the Magic Lantern hack (which has a whole host of other issues that make it very difficult to use). The latitude of the A7s in S-Log is great and it's sharp. You can over-crank up to 60fps in 1080p and 120fps in 720p. You can shoot 23.98 with slow shutter speeds below 1/24 for a skip-printing effect. The 8-bit color is not great but workable with the right workflow. Sure, it's a little noisy at high ISO's but it's less grainy than 35mm film. Rolling shutter is pretty bad in full frame mode, but reasonable in APS-C mode. You can easily adapt to EF or PL glass. It's a great tool.

 

I had to shoot a music video on one recently because we did not have the budget to create a large soft toplight source in a former aircraft hanger the way I had originally intended. We went from planning for 12 6k space lights on a dimmer board to an overhead 20x20 Ultrabounce with 4 750w Source4 Lekos on 1K variacs on the floor. That's 600A worth of light down to 25A, with all the power, rigging, and manpower requirements eliminated. We were also able to eliminate a wrap out day for G&E, saving even more money. There's no other camera out right now under $3,000 that can do that.


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#13 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 12:16 AM

Tyler: 5Dmk2 is *OOOLLLLLDDDDDD* by 2015 standards! Heck, even my old Panasonic GH1 (which is of the same vintage) I regard as a superior camera over the 5Dmk2. Was a poor choice picking a 5Dmk2 at that point in time (as it can't have been too many years ago, if the 5Dmk3 had came out. Thus you could have gone with a GH2 instead).

 

Ohh we shot the film in 2011 and the same filmmaker is still using them today for modern/new stuff. I was embarrassed when watching the material on the DCP at a local theater. The aliasing, digital noise and focus issues were an ever-apparent issue during the screenings. I'm a stickler for focus and clean, grainless images. I got neither with the Canon MKII's. I have since shot with a 5DMKIII and the experience was no different. 


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#14 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 01:08 AM

There's no other camera out right now under $3,000 that can do that.

 

Sony is sitting currently as king in the low budget video market.  

 

I honestly don't consider anything recording in MPEG to be anywhere near the top of any list. Doesn't matter how good your sensor and processor are, if you can't get that quality into your color bay for finishing. Sure, you can add an external recorder to the A7S and capture 4K, but now you're adding external gear making the entire package more bulky. Plus, the color space on the HDMI port is limited to 8 bit 4:2:2, which in my mind is totally worthless. The whole expression "nobody will notice" is a joke, I notice it every time I watch a BluRay disk. 

 

The best part is, you can't physically edit MPEG files. So you're either transcoding them to another file type, making them 2nd generation before you even edit or you're using an editor that unwraps and re-encodes behind the scenes like Final Cut X or Vegas. MPEG editors unwrap and re-transcode constantly during the editing process, so before you know it, the output can be upwards of 4th generation. Then you drop the sequence into a coloring tool, theoretically adding yet another generation. So you add an external recorder to capture uncompressed, now what do you do? Huge file sizes and incompatibility with every single editor out there. You transcode and prey you can re-link in your coloring tool. 

 

Now I understand the size vs cost vs performance factor but KILLING the low budget market they are not. 

 

Maybe for people messing around, but for serious filmmakers, there are better options for less money. 


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#15 David Peterson

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 01:36 AM

He is right, there is nothing out there which can compete in the sub $3k market for filmmaking with an A7s (and I'd add: NX1 + GH4, each 3 have their slightly different niches at the top of the hill). If that is the BMPCC / BMCC / BMPC4K is not suitable, which they're not for some, they're a totally different kettle of fish. 


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#16 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 02:33 AM

 

 

Shooting with DSLRs have their own learning curve and require their own specialist skills to make the most out them. Different to your experiences with shooting with film. Perhaps the bulk of your issues were because you were new to it, and the mistakes are stuff from "if you didn't know how to shoot with it" (to use your own phrasing).

 

BMPCC / BMCC / BMPC4K is not suitable, which they're not for some, they're a totally different kettle of fish. 

 

Just for the record, I spent a decade shooting ENG and another decade shooting film/digital cinema. I can make anything look good with any camera I've been handed, except for these new fangled still camera's that shoot video. I guess that's the key word here; "video", that's all they really are anyway. My expectations for spending nearly $3k on a camera are substantially higher then what these still camera's can produce. These cameras in my eye are just toy's and sure you can produce some fine video's for Vimeo or Youtube, but they are not cinematic looking. This is because these manufacturers have focused so much on pixel depth, they've forgotten about image smoothness. Sony and Panasonic have done this for years now, they get users to buy their cameras due to numbers and not due to how the final output looks. 

 

Yes, the blackmagic cameras are a "totally different kettle of fish" but in a good way, not a bad way. They're real cinema camera's, designed to shoot moving images, not video's. I've spent a year shooting projects with my blackmagic pocket cinema camera's and have also work with the 2.5k and 4k camera's. The results I've received have been outstanding, cinematic, smooth and something you'd be proud to put on the screen at your local multiplex. We've used still camera glass, we've used minimalistic lighting, we've used high ISO's, we can't seem to make the camera's behave anyway different then flawless. 

 

FYI; I have a director friend who's in the middle of shooting a documentary on the GH4. She hired a pretty good DP, someone I trust and knows how to shoot. I'm looking through the material this past weekend and I was shocked how bad it was. I thought it was perhaps her computer or something, so I took the drive home with me and shoved it into DaVinci on my color grading system. I was flabbergasted how bad the material looked. I invited the director over to do some A/B comparisons between my camera and the GH4 and there was no comparison. The GH4 had too crisp of an image, you could see the processor and MPEG encoder working overtime to make the image that sharp, looks like you turned up the sharpness on your television. Anyway, we're both very depressed it looks so bad because she can't stop now and I'm too busy shooting other things and editing to get involved in production with my cameras.

 

This is why I dislike these new fangled video camera's. They're just toys and people get convinced they're something else due to the specs. 


Edited by Tyler Purcell, 13 February 2015 - 02:35 AM.

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#17 Johanan Pandone

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Posted 11 February 2016 - 08:35 PM

I just wanted to share my experience working with canon dslr's - the magic lantern raw hack is amazing, I contributed to development porting features to 7D and EOSM.  the 7D and 5D2 are excellent up to 1600iso, and you can easily push one more stop in post with the RAW files. The only problem is aliasing. The 5D3 is greatly improved in regards to aliasing, and offers true 1920x1080 (full sensor) and up to 2.5k (cropmode) so if you are on a small budget, you can rent or own several of these cameras and get more coverage. You really can achieve great results shooting in 14bit raw with those cameras. I love my BMCC because of the Davinci Resolve Workflow, but magic lantern/Adobe camera Raw is pretty awesome for the money...


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#18 Freya Black

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Posted 12 February 2016 - 09:12 AM

I find cameras at high iso's produce strange looking results like the Alexa shot "Wolf Hall" where the candle sticks appeared to be glowing and were blown out. In a Vampire movie high iso's could maybe add to the look if done right but I would just urge you to be careful bout how it looks.

 

 

Freya


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#19 aapo lettinen

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Posted 12 February 2016 - 09:49 AM

magic lantern raw is a huge pain if you try to shoot longer project with it. depending on the specific system it may also have reliability problems, some may get away with it just fine and others (like myself occasionally) have constant problems which may need camera reboot or cooling it down in the middle of the shoot, bad pixels, frame drops, etc. even if used with recommended specs and cards.

for short projects it is great if you have trustworthy and tested system and can handle the more complicated post workflow. otherwise it's better to just shoot straight to prores or xavc with for example blackmagic or fs7. the 5d3 is quite good in low light though.

 

again, the magic lantern is good for very short projects with limited amount of material but is a huge pain in longer projects and when reliability is required. I usually use it only for single shots or brief 2nd unit stuff for this reason and process the 5d2 and 5d3 raw to prores444 "technical grade" with after effects and do all the rest of the work in prores to avoid further problems with the material. 


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#20 Albion Hockney

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Posted 12 February 2016 - 11:12 AM

...I just wanted to say - I have had jobs on the A7s for doc style interview and I know some people who have shot low budget features on them.

 

A7s picture looks to me far superior to Black Magic- especially in circumstances where you have limited control of lighting. the latitude is stronger and color rendering has more depth. Surprised by some of the the posts here - I'm not the only one with this opinion.

 

I'd recommended going online and looking at all of the footage out there.


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