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How do I get the film/cinematic look with a digital camera?


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#1 Gabe Agoado

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Posted 17 April 2016 - 07:19 PM

I have the option of buying either a JVC GY-HM170u or a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for my student thesis and beyond. I have gotten a chance to test the JVC but not the Blackmagic. The JVC seems to be more of a documentary-style camera. I really like that it can shoot 4k and makes you into a 1-man production with the top-handle addition. However I will probably always be recording sound separately on real productions. I want something that can offer a cinematic look.

 

I am STUPID when it comes to digital cameras. All of my training has been on film. I am leaning towards the blackmagic, however I don't really understand the difference between the CMOS and the super-16 sensor and why the blackmagic footage on youtube always looks crisp and dynamic and the footage I've shot with the JVC (while beautiful) has a lot more digital noise and looks flat (despite tweaking settings to try and get a better look)

 

I know this is probably an easy question to answer for most of you (and once again, I am S-T-U-P-I-D when it comes to digital, so please explain in baby terms), but is it just a matter of the color-grading and adding filters in post (I didn't do any color grading to the JVC footage), or is it just that the Blackmagic is a better designed camera for the purposes of shooting with a cinematic/film style (super-16mm sensor w/ external lens vs CMOS sensor with built-in lens)?


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#2 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 17 April 2016 - 07:59 PM

Well, getting cinematic looking digital images is challenging. It all comes down to a few simple things:

- Dynamic range (both of the imager and storage format)
- Shallow depth of field
- Type of shooting (smooth shots/dolly/crane, etc)
- Color correction/grading

For simplification and longer explanation, I have made a video all about the blackmagic pocket camera. It dives into all the questions you asked and then some.


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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 April 2016 - 07:59 PM

One issue among many is this "flat" thing -- a lot of people coming out of shooting Rec.709 video have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of shooting a low-contrast, wide dynamic range image, usually in log gamma, but delivering a high-contrast snappy image for Rec.709 displays after color-correction because it isn't simply a matter of converting log to Rec.709, it an issue of using color-correction tools like windows, grads, and keys in order to take advantage of the extended highlight information of log.  And part of that is recording in something better than 8-bit 4:2:0 with a high compression, because wide dynamic range log images are hard to color-correct if recorded in 8-bit with a lot of compression.

 

There are a host of other things as well, frame rate, shutter speed, depth of field, and all the things that fall under "production value" like lighting and composition.


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#4 Chris Burke

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Posted 17 April 2016 - 08:57 PM

I would take a look at the Panasonic GH4 with the latest firmware update. I think you get more camera for your buck with the panny. I am a film guy and shoot film as much as possible (all my personal work), when I do shoot digital, I have always enjoyed the panasonic look. It is very filmic compared to say a sony camera.  for someone just starting out, the GH4 gives you so much to work with, that it will stay current for several years to come. I think that Panasonic is releasing the GH5 some time this year, so prices on the GH4 may fall even further. Micro 4/3 mount means virtually any lens made will work with it. Veydra and other are making primes for it and anamorphic 2x primes. They are about the same price, GH4 a bit more, but you get more. 4k, UHD, HD 10bit. Larger sensor.


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#5 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 17 April 2016 - 11:40 PM

Hi Gabe

 

I think in a nut shell there are just a few points for the "cinematic" look.. 

 

1 Shoot progressive .. in theory this is 24p(like film camera,s) but in PAL land we shoot 25p and it looks the same of course.. with 180 degree shutter.. eg 24p- 1/48th.. 25p - 1/50th..  nothing makes video look more like video than shooting interlaced.. the whole world associates this look with video..

 

2 Video look is associated with a large depth of field.. get the biggest sensor camera you can.. then your lens will be longer focal length for comparable FOV than smaller sensors.. once again the viewing public,and tv producers!  associate a shallow depth of field with film,because thats where they see it..in movies and high end commercials ..  TV everything is in focus..

 

3 Colour space.. if you can shoot LOG and have the proper post grading tools you can get away from REC709 colour space.. the dreaded Sony look will be a thing of the past .. and a much larger DR in your captured footage anyway.. it will have to get pulled back into 709 for TV .. or burn in a LUT over the log if you dont have the full log grading set up.. 

 

This is for TV work anyway.. if your shooting for theatrical release I doubt you be using either of those camera,s..   progressive not interlaced,biggest sensor easier to get shallow depth of field.. (this is probably the biggest "cinema" look aspect ..) .. and try to shoot a gamma with a high DR.. and grade in post.. but you want to be recording 10 bit to make that worth while.. my 2 cents anyway..

 

This is the basic stuff.. without huge lighting rigs,jibs, dolly,Russian arms.. "film" composition Im sure you know .. you still see alot of interviews with the head framed in the middle.. (when its not a "look" ) .. etc where i live..


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 17 April 2016 - 11:46 PM.

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#6 Gabe Agoado

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 10:08 AM

Tyler - Your video was great, superior in terms of content and explanation than anything I have found on youtube. I hope Blackmagic is giving you something for your effort, because you nearly have me sold on the BMPCC.

 

David - Thank you for your explanation of log vs 709. This helped clarify the difference for me that I was seeing in the colors/image quality. You also seem to be making a strong case for BMPCC or cameras that shoot log in general, so another point goes to the BMPCC.

 

Chris - After I read your post I did a lot of looking through reviews and footage comparisons of the GH4 to the BMPCC. The GH4 seems to bring a more complete package while the Blackmagic has the benefit of recording in raw. I can't know for sure which one I like better until I can get my hands on a GH4 from the school's equipment room, so definitely will do my own testing with it.

 

Robin - You made good points as well, more positives for the blackmagic/log image style. You're right, on a more professional production with some money behind it I'd probably be looking more at renting an epic or an alexa for digital shooting. For my purposes right now I just want a camera that I can use to get really good footage and sell myself to directors/studios etc. For my thesis I'm actually shooting on 16mm film with a scoopic, but I want to have a digital camera going at the same time to have as a backup in case their are issues with the film in post.


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#7 John E Clark

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 12:15 PM

I am STUPID when it comes to digital cameras. All of my training has been on film. I am leaning towards the blackmagic, however I don't really understand the difference between the CMOS and the super-16 sensor and why the blackmagic footage on youtube always looks crisp and dynamic and the footage I've shot with the JVC (while beautiful) has a lot more digital noise and looks flat (despite tweaking settings to try and get a better look)

 

I know this is probably an easy question to answer for most of you (and once again, I am S-T-U-P-I-D when it comes to digital, so please explain in baby terms), but is it just a matter of the color-grading and adding filters in post (I didn't do any color grading to the JVC footage), or is it just that the Blackmagic is a better designed camera for the purposes of shooting with a cinematic/film style (super-16mm sensor w/ external lens vs CMOS sensor with built-in lens)?

 

I'd strongly recommend the Pocket. I don't have any comparison with a JVC, or other 'video' camera(ok I do have a DVX100B...). I tend to compare the Pocket with material that was produced on film or with much higher end cameras which were directed to 'digital film'.

 

On the one hand, many of the 'video' cameras are packaged such that one need not have any other external devices. So they have XLR imputs for sound... not necessarily stunning sound... but more convenient than doing a dual system setup.

 

The other issue with 'video' packages is lenses. In many cases one is stuck with the fixed lens, and again, despite being 'good enough' does not allow for either creative lens choice, or just better lenses, either thru purchase or rent.

 

For me I liked the fact that the Pocket has a RAW mode, and I will pick RAW and dynamic range over 4K, given the 1920x1080 out of the Pocket is reasonably close to 2K...

 

I have seen a short 48 hour style film I made last year on the Big Screen, and I was not embarrassed about image quality... story... acting... sound... but not the image.


Edited by John E Clark, 18 April 2016 - 12:16 PM.

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#8 John E Clark

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 12:19 PM


Chris - After I read your post I did a lot of looking through reviews and footage comparisons of the GH4 to the BMPCC. The GH4 seems to bring a more complete package while the Blackmagic has the benefit of recording in raw. I can't know for sure which one I like better until I can get my hands on a GH4 from the school's equipment room, so definitely will do my own testing with it.

 

 

 

I have a GH-1, and was anticipating buying the GH-4... but then when the Pocket came along, I jumped for it... ok, the 1/2 sale price helped in choosing the 'when'... like right now... couldn't pass up that deal... but even at list price the Pocket is a deal.


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#9 Nicholas Kovats

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 08:43 AM

Shoot film. Anything else is a binary approximation of analog phenomenon. Good luck.
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#10 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 02:32 PM

Shoot film.

 

That's my line! ^_^


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#11 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 03:27 PM

Honestly, much of what one associates with a 'film look' has nothing at all to do with film. Today's modern film stocks are very low grain, and in all honestly maintain much the same color information as something like a Blackmagic. Film might have a slightly higher dynamic range - through with cameras now pushing 14/15 stops - I see that coming to an end. As long as your camera can shoot widescreen with at least 2k resolution at 24p with a 180 degree (or 1/40 - 1/50 sec shutter), you have achieved much of the look you need. Shot FLAT or LOG if it's available, since it'll retain more dynamic range (though this is by no means a requirement, and many people who watch movies have no idea what dynamic range even is). 

Much of what the average person considers a film look has nothing to do with film, and 90% to do with a proper, professional color grade in post. Don't discount what a proper color grade can do for your film - and often why many 'video'-shot productions look like they were shot on video is because they didn't invest in the proper color grading to achieve the 'Hollywood' look.

As long as your camera can emulate tho motion characteristics of film, purchase yourself the MB Film program and follow this video below to achieve a pretty good filmic look: 


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 19 April 2016 - 03:31 PM.

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#12 Ari Michael Leeds

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 03:35 PM

Nicholas, since film grains are either "on" or "off" I'm not sure if it's really appropriate calling film "analog" unless that term now means anything that *isn't digital.*  That kinda sounds like some tech-head Tweeting millienial hipster talk to me :-P


Remember digital is the technology that comes from video tape.  It'd be interesting to see what analog video would look like today, had it not been killed on the vine in favor of digital.  I think the Japanese did have HD analog tape briefly, in some sort of professional format.


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#13 Nicholas Kovats

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 03:54 PM

Photo-chemically based film is not binary. It is 0.2 to 2+ micron sized randomly dispersed particles that "gather" in clumps to formulate grain. Particle density per frame is in the trillions. Peak viewing experience involves transport at 24 fps and greater.

 

And yes. Digital sensors/file storage evolved from analog video tape. There is a hardcore experimental niche here in Toronto that fetishize 8 bit LO-FI video also known as glitch. Not my cup of tea but hey. C'est 

la vie. 

 

Egads! A hipster allegation!


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#14 Ari Michael Leeds

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 04:02 PM

You're missing my point:  It's "on" or "off," When did it become "digital" or "analog" (everything else?)  By your definition "glitch" and silver-halide photography and filmmaking are one in the same.

Sensitized photography is really special.  So lumping it all together in "analog" is kinda arbitrary and cheapening.


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#15 Simon Wyss

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 04:47 PM

As long as your movie will not be projected mechanically you won’t have any film look. Films happen in cinemas.


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#16 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 04:49 PM

As long as your movie will not be projected mechanically you won’t have any film look. Films happen in cinemas.

 

Can't speak for Switzerland, but here in the States there are no more film projections in mainstream cinema's. All major cinema's have now fully converted to digital 2k/4k projection, and I'm not even sure the major studios will strike many (if any) film prints for a feature.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 19 April 2016 - 04:50 PM.

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#17 Carl Looper

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 04:50 PM

You're missing my point:  It's "on" or "off," When did it become "digital" or "analog" (everything else?)  By your definition "glitch" and silver-halide photography and filmmaking are one in the same.

Sensitized photography is really special.  So lumping it all together in "analog" is kinda arbitrary and cheapening.

 

 

The variation in a photochemical image is analogous to variations in the density of the silver, the components of which are variations in the position and size of the silver, the numerical value of which exceeds the capacity of finite binary (on/off) values to specify.


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#18 Ari Michael Leeds

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 05:00 PM

Plenty of extra apostrophes to go around, though, Landon :-P

That's actually not correct.  There are a few dozen first run film screens still left.  Why do you have to KICK a man when he's down?  There's really no need to exaggerate the situation.

See also a little thing called "H8ful Eight" or "Star Wars" or "Interstellar," not that what Simon said isn't nonsense.  That'd count out all of filmed television.


I'm a big film supporter, but calling film's response "infinite" is BS, too.  Just because film isn't easily definied in pixels or bits doesn't mean there's a point where the line-pairs per millimeter and tone/color differentiation don't both approach zero.


Film has very real and finite resolution and color response limits.


That doesn't change though that a grain is either exposed or not exposed.  There's no analog response there.  It's either "on" or "off" so it strikes me as a blind, uninformed emotional argument when someone is defending this "analog" medium that doesn't respond like something that's really behaving in an analog way (audio tape, VHS, to name goods and bads).

You just like it because you're used to it if that's your "defense" of film and you don't even know how it works, basic photographic theory of silver halide response.


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#19 John E Clark

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 05:18 PM

Nicholas, since film grains are either "on" or "off" I'm not sure if it's really appropriate calling film "analog" unless that term now means anything that *isn't digital.*  That kinda sounds like some tech-head Tweeting millienial hipster talk to me :-P


Remember digital is the technology that comes from video tape.  It'd be interesting to see what analog video would look like today, had it not been killed on the vine in favor of digital.  I think the Japanese did have HD analog tape briefly, in some sort of professional format.

 

Tape is crap... no matter how much data can be stored...

 

Film film is 'analog' in the sense that for any small value of the intensity of light, there will be a small amount of silver corresponding to that intensity value...

 

Now... of course you could claim that the silver crystals are either 'on' or off... but then by the same token one could claim that light is composed of 'photons' and so, those are either 'on or off'. In any case the silver crystals are not uniform in size, despite processes to minimize differences... nor are they uniform in orientation, since they lie in a 3-d space of the emulsion...

 

As it is a silicon 'sensor' is an analog bucket, in that photons interact with the electrons of the silicon material, giving rise to an electric charge that is continuous as well.

 

The 'digitization' is in the sampling of the electronic charge of the silicon cell.

 

The spatial quantization is performed by the number of such cells...


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#20 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 05:22 PM

Honestly, much of what one associates with a 'film look' has nothing at all to do with film.


Yes.


Today's modern film stocks are very low grain, and in all honestly maintain much the same color information as something like a Blackmagic.


The F65/Alexa/Dragon do, more or less. But Blackmagic is not even in the same ballpark as modern color negative. You get what you pay for in terms of color science and color separation dyes on the sensor. And you can't add back in what wasn't recorded in the first place.


Much of what the average person considers a film look has nothing to do with film, and 90% to do with a proper, professional color grade in post.


90% grading? What about locations, casting, production design, lighting, blocking, composition, wardrobe, hair and makeup, special effects, visual effects, editing, sound design, scoring, and marketing? It's the accumulated talent of all the departments that creates 'the film look.' Which is why it is so difficult to do well, even for projects with big budgets. It's just not that easy to pull off.
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