Any advice on shooting docs with the 2.5k bmcc?
Any advice on shooting docs with the 2.5k bmcc? I am debating whether to shoot with a dslr camera or bmcc are there any advantages/disadvantages...rigging-wise and workflow wise...ive been on the writing side of making films and this is my first foray in to making a documentary. Any and all advice is welcomed!
Many people believe more-expensive cameras, such as the Canon C100, are better-suited for shooting docs than are DSLRs or the BMCC 2.5K.
Valid reasons in favor of the C100 for doc work include:
- Built-in ND filters: A huge convenience factor compared to traditional add-on ND filters, and yields better-quality results than add-on vari-ND (polarizing) filters because you usually don't want most shots polarized, and cheap vari-ND filters add unwanted diffusion, vignetting, or color-casts.
- Ergonomics: The C100 has a built-in electronic viewfinder & articulated LCD; the BMCC & most DSLRs only have a fixed LCD on the rear. A EVF & articulated LCD can be added to a DSLRs & the BMCC, but that obviously adds expense, size, weight, wires & connections.
- Sensitivity: The C100 is much more light sensitive than the BMCC, which for indoor, ambient lighting doc shooting can be enormously beneficial. Some DSLRs, notably the 5DM3, can get record quite usable video in very dim light.
- File size/media & storage cost: C100 & DSLR H.264/AVCHD files are a fraction of the size of the compressed ProRes/DNxHD & uncompressed RAW video files recorded by the BMCC. Of course, there's no free lunch: C100 & DSLR H.264/AVCHD files are smaller because they contain a fraction of the color information, and less dynamic range and resolution, compared to all BMCC video recording modes.
- Audio: DSLRs & the BMCC typically require a fair bit of add-on audio adapters, pre-amps, external recorders or cabling to enable relatively high-quality sound recording, and those add-ons can decrease reliability. Especially for doc work, when retakes aren't typically an option, recording high-quality audio with reliability is very important. Cameras such as the C100 only require connecting a high-quality mic to record high-quality sound. Simple & reliable.
Having said all that, understand that I'm a big fan of Blackmagic's cameras, and certain DSLRs, too. And I'm not saying it's impossible to use a BMCC or DSLR to shoot a doc. However, the reasons listed above should at least give you pause. If you decide to proceed with using a BMCC or DSLR to shoot a doc, here are some things in its favor, and things to be aware of:
- ND filters: Because the BMCC can record a wider video dynamic range than most video cameras & DSLRs, you might not need to use ND filters quite as often, but there are times when they'll still be necessary. If possible, stop down the lens' iris instead of using an ND filter. When necessary, traditional add-on ND filters (such as "water white" Tiffen ND & other quality filters) often yield better-quality results than add-on vari-ND (polarizing) filters, and cheap vari-ND filters can screw-up your video. Quality vari-ND (such as Genus Eclipse, or Heliopan) are sharp to use when when polarizing is acceptable; otherwise use a regular ND. Also be aware of the potential for "IR pollution" (which can affect all cameras), solutions for which are demonstrated in this video:
- Ergonomics: A DSLR can be "stealthier" than other video cameras if the DSLR isn't configured with a bunch of add-on hardware & cables. But without a built-in EVF or articulated LCD, most DSLRs (and the BMCC) can be less-efficient to use than a camera such as the C100. There can be exceptions, such as the Panasonic GH3, which has a built-in EVF & articulated LCD. Note that relatively inexpensive LCD loupes/hoods can be added to DSLRs and the BMCC, but such add-ons can be awkward or inferior compared to built-in features.
- Sensitivity: The C100 & many DSLRs win in this category compared to the BMCC. But there's a related issue, concerning color rather than brightness, where the BMCC can clearly win: White balance & color temperature. The BMCC's 10-bit compressed & 12-bit uncompressed codecs record a much wider range of colors than the 8-bit compressed codec used in the C100, DSLRs & most other cameras. So, for example, its easier to compensate & color-correct for WB/color temp variations in post than with low bit depth & highly-compressed codecs. An extreme example would be to record using BMCC 12-bit uncompressed RAW while following a subject from room to room, indoors & out -- even all in one take -- and WB/CC the entire sequence in post rather than while shooting. That's pretty neat.
- File size/media & storage cost: Again, there's no free lunch. To get the benefit of the extra color information and wide dynamic range and resolution of BMCC video means using fast, high-capacity media, editing, storage & backup systems. However, don't forget that BMCC ProRes & DNxHD compressed video is very high quality, much higher quality than DSLR & C100 video, and consumes 1/5th the storage of BMCC RAW. I think ProRes & DNxHD is the BMCC's best kept secret.
- Audio: A BMCC can record OK-quality audio from a high-quality mic without using a preamp, and relatively high-quality audio via a preamp. But audio recording isn't a strong point of the BMCC, unless Blackmagic issues another firmware fix to improve it. You can use an external audio recorder with a BMCC or DSLR, but that adds complexity & reduces reliability.
So, there are pluses & minuses either way. Enjoy your research!
There's no 1 camera perfect for every project, budget, shooting style, and schedule.
Firstly a round of applause for Peter's post, it's very very informative abt the things you'll have to consider. (Take a look at his blog too it has a great section on lighting and a lot abt BMCC)
If it helps, I had written a blog abt my experience with the egronomics and shooting with the BMCC. I'm an equipment manufacturer and cameraperson from India.
In my experience there are many things for you to consider. The first being why you're choosing a DSLR or the BMCC over a video camera (like the XF305, C100, or the Sony FS100, FS700). My broad advice would be to get your hands on a bunch of these cameras and do trial shoots with them to see what works for you. No solution will be perfect, there will be a combination of factors why you'll go with one set of qualities in these camera packages.
If that decision is clear, then the shooting ease v quality debate between the BMCC and DSLRs can take place. In my opinion they are both extremely difficult to shoot documentaries with. The primary difficulty being in maintaining focus and working in daylight as both screens are v reflective and difficult to see the image in when outdoors in the sun. Firstly abt focus - in a documentary situation - many a time I have felt that I was in focus where as on reviewing it in post it has been soft or out. This is a non stop battle that will be waged on your shoot. You can expect to come away with 40% of your footage where the focus isn't ideal. Life here can be eased with some tools like focus peaking (from Magic Lantern and HDMI monitors) with magnifiers and manual lenses with larger turns on the focus ring than auto focus lenses. With a DSLR a magnifier will be almost essential and this will help you with shooting in daylight too. With the BMCC you will need a seriously large screen hood and some kind of anti - reflective guard on the screen. Tripod as much of the work as you can, if you're going hand held a shoulder support or brace will be essential, as video is too bumpy without it in my opinion. (If you need any rigging help let me know.)
Another huge factor is the BMCC has a 2.3 crop factor so it will be v difficult to get wide angle shots which are sometimes essential in documentary situations.
I think the final decision if it's between a DSLR and the BMCC will come down to what quality you want your final project to have and what budget you can afford. While the BMCC looks v inexpensive at $3000 post production and colour grading will be more expensive with the BMCC. But there is no denying the ability to work with exposure and colour in post for a far better looking project. There the DSLR footage can't compete. But if it's cheap and fast then DSLRs are the way to go, I'd recommend getting 2-3 bodies of a camera like the 600d and shooting with those.
If there's any other advice on audio or technical details will be more than happy to answer, wish you the v best with your work!
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Hi Peter and Nakul,
Thanks a ton for your replies. A lot of the technical stuff was difficult for me to understand, I'll do my best to understand what they mean. I'm feeling completely out of my depth with the technical details. I was asking about the BMCC because there's a local rental house in Delhi Flamingo films which has the only BMCC in India and was recommending it for this project. I've already got a 5d, from what I can figure out I'm probably going to do the project on a DSLR, will seriously consider picking up another camera body.
Nakul - I'm in India too, from your address on the net I'm about an hour away, will come meet you someday. I've basically living in the US have come down here to work on a film. Would be really helpful if you could put me in touch with a camera person. Or if you shoot yourself we can speak about the project?
Thanks a lot guys, will write back if I need more advice.
[Shim Shahi] "... I've already got a 5d, from what I can figure out I'm probably going to do the project on a DSLR, will seriously consider picking up another camera body ..."
If you're thinking about using a so-called "full-frame" (135 format) DSLR to shoot a doc, there's at least one good reason why that might be one of the worst camera choices for shooting run'n'gun motion video.
The typical, relatively shallow depth of field characteristics of the 135 format means that keeping HD video in focus when the distance between the camera and subject changes during a take is extremely difficult. When I say "extremely difficult", I'm not exaggerating.
And, as the saying goes, "If it's not in focus, it's not HD".
Cameras with smaller sensors (smaller than 135 format) are generally much easier to focus on moving subjects. For example, sensors sizes from large to small: 135, S35/APS-C, MFT, S16, 2/3", 1/2", 1/3".
As the sensor size gets smaller, DOF typically gets deeper: At the same f-stop, more of the scene will be in focus.
Obviously, for sit-down interviews with the camera on a tripod, shallow DOF doesn't generally pose a problem for keeping the subject in focus, and in fact can be helpful to force foreground/background out of focus when desired. But pleasantly-shallow DOF can be easily achieved using sensor sizes in the "middle" range (S35/APS-C, MFT, S16) with appropriate lenses.
But, if by "seriously consider picking up another camera body" you mean a camera with a sensor smaller than the 5D's 135 format, then yes: Because it'll make it much easier to keep your subject in focus, that's an especially good idea for a doc.
A lot of good advice has already been shared in this thread, but I'll add my own two cents. We're currently in several projects right now, one of them is a BMW documentary, and I'd say at least 80 to 85% of it is being shot on the BMCC (both our EF and MFT models), 90% of it in ProRes HQ. Anyone is fooling themselves thinking the BMCC can operate on its own (without any additional rigging), unlike a tried and true ENG style camera for doc work. But with enough creativity, ingenuity, patience, and money, you can turn your BMCC into a fully operational doc acquiring machine. Is it as streamline as a true ENG camera? Not by a long shot. But the killer image quality outweighs the non-ENG-like form factor.
I've been using the BMCC for almost a year at this point, and the image quality never ceases to impress me. So much so that I rarely use my HDSLRs anymore, except for multicam and I've run out of BMCCs on set. Because the image quality is so damn good, I made it a mission to make it functional as a psuedo ENG camera for this BMW documentary.
Here's an Instagram snap shot of my current rig that I typically use for doc shooting, and pretty much everything else (commercial, corporate, stock, VFX plate shooting, etc.). It's about as compact as I can make it, while still retaining a much required matte box (ND and IR are imperative), audio, and external power to juice up the entire rig and all its components. The entire rear section pivots down for screen access, or removed completely with QR knobs.
Our Sony EX1 is still the easiest camera in our facility to operate, especially for doc style work, with little required rigging (except I still use a matte box and follow focus on it too). But the EX1's limited DR, compressed-everything, and even smaller CMOS sensor than the BMCC just doesn't compare to the amazing image quality of the BMCC. Because of this, I do everything I can to make the BMCC work for us when shooting in any conditions, including documentary work. Although there are some work-arounds, I've found the BMCC an incredible tool, even for traditional documentary work. You have to judge for yourself the final ratio: incredible image quality versus ease of use.
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Well, I guess it depends of the doc you're filming, but getting all excited by the image quality when you film a doc might not be that healthy. As long as you are able to reach a certain threshold, the return given by any improvement in image quality is trivial. If I film some people chained up to the Keystone Pipeline and being remove by the cops, with some action, I'm not sure I want the BMCC, frankly. I'll take my Canon XH-A1, and I'm not kidding here.
Now next time I produce fiction work, then yes, I'll put my hands on a BMCC. Content still rules. Most people who go see a doc demand to be captivated by the story and the content and the issues. They wont' notice your depth of field and whether or not you originated the footage in 4K.