Weekend in Berlin: the fragrance of moving images

My first time in Berlin and I can’t say I’ve seen much of the city except for some bars, 3 restaurants, a hotel and the inside of a theater. But it has been an interesting and fun weekend.

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Markus Seitz - PHOTO: SVENJA KLÜH

I was there for a workshop (very well) organized by Digitales Kinoa platform created by Markus Seitz and Sebastian Böhm for making workflows in digital cinema more transparent for filmmakers through the organization of workshops.

The day was organized around 4 major topics:

  1. Comparison between Ikonoskop A-Cam dII, RED One MX and Canon C300;
  2. Presentation of Ikonoskop A-Cam dII by Lukas & Sebastian from Ikonoskop (Stockholm);
  3. Initiation in round trip workflow via DaVinci Resolve;
  4. Ins & Outs of a DCP (Digital Cinema Package).

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PHOTO: SVENJA KLÜH

The main comparison was projected in 2K (DCP), and I found the three cameras held up fine without much surprises. But of course there was this main difference in esthetics by the 16mm lenses on the dII and its typically powderey, film-like look (yeah yeah - I am an Ikonoskop fanboy after all, but you already knew that). Maybe we should settle on calling it the CCD-look.

A lot of people seemed surprised at the quality of the structure, its richness and depth, of the dII image. I found the C300 had the least pleasing image in the interior and the RED the least pleasing in the exterior shots. I was under the impression that there wasn’t that much difference in dynamic range between the RED and the Ikonoskop for instance (but data sheets and a bunch of figures will surely prove me wrong).

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PHOTO: SVENJA KLÜH

There was of course a test that showed the difference between a global and rolling shutter and you will not be surprised to learn that the dII won that one, even when stabilized.

We learned from the night shots and testing of high ISO settings that there isn’t much difference in what we can get out of the Ikonoskop and RED (keeping noise acceptable), but were amazed by how much we apparently could push the Ikonoskop more in post when working with a DCP. The Canon C300 is completely out of this league when it comes to low light situations. A Berlin street only lit by some streetlights in the rain becomes a daylight scene on the beach, with the C300 (“Hier kommt die Sonne”). It’s amazing how light sensitive this camera is.

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PHOTO: SVENJA KLÜH

During Lukas Eisenhauer’s & Sebastian Höglund’s presentation of the camera there were some good questions by critical attendants about the memory cards. Some find the size they come in (80GB and 160GB) too small for the price Ikonoskop is asking.
So Lukas explained that at the time of the development of the camera they had to make their own memory card as there wasn’t one on the market fast enough to handle the necessary data rate. He said they don’t get much demand for bigger cards (maybe price related ;-) and that there are even users who prefer the 80GB cards (while looking at me). He got some flack for making the analogy with 16mm film reels and although nostalgia can be nice I think the person from the audience was right. It’s not because the dII is conceived as a replacement of 16mm film cameras that you have to copy all the limitations of film as well. But is it a limitation?

It’s true, I prefer the 80GB cards. I find 15’57” ideal for what I do (fiction, documentary, interviews) and never had a complaint from any of my rental clients. The transfer process is easier with smaller cards: it doesn’t take as long to fill one, so transfer can start earlier and transfer doesn’t take so long. And I feel safer, ‘cause if a card should die, I only lose maximum 80GB of data.
I own 11 80GB cards that are rented out all the time. They are used by all kinds of filmmakers. They sometimes come back scratched and with obvious signs of having fallen on not so soft surfaces. After a year of rental, they are still working as expected. I did have a card failiing once during rental. The data was not lost, but the card didn’t perform anymore. Problem was I didn’t update the firmware on the card properly. When it came back I recovered, transferred, deleted, rebuild the card and it still works fine as to date.
I wonder if this would be possible with an of the shelf SSD. Would they be this dureable? Would they survive being taken in and out of the camera hundreds of times? Would they survive constant transportation and occasional abuse?

So there was some great back and forth discussion with the attendants that continued into the next topic about workflow. People worry about the huge amount of data that is involved with this camera and how this affects and slows down workflow.
My workflow speed? To transfer 15’57” from Card Reader to computer it takes me about 9’10”. Extracting audio, another minute. Conforming in Resolve about 2’. Rendering to ProRes 4444 takes about 8’22”. Major key in getting this speed is Thunderbolt hard drives. I can recommend the Promise Pegasus R4, R6 and J4 and to fill them, you can use Western Digital Black Caviars. Of course, if budget is no issue, fill them with SSD’s.

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PHOTO: SVENJA KLÜH

The topic that was the most interesting to me was the one about DCP creation. Very informative! It’s amazing if you hear the stories from these guys how frustrating this last link in the chain can be. 

And they ended with a big suprise: upscaled 4K Ikonoskop footage vs. native 4K Red One MX footage. It made me smile and reminded me of of the second post I wrote on this blog. It made me realize that this camera and sensor still has a lot of wonderful years ahead. But I’ll let another attendant of the workshop speak, Sirio Magnabosco (on Vimeo):

Sirio Magnabosco

Sirio Magnabosco 1 day ago

"About resolution… I just saw some footage of the Ikonoskop upscaled to 4k on a 4k projector and the same scene shot on a RED at 4k native and I must say that the A-Cam was quite impressive. Sure the Red was sharper when sitting on the first row but when the A-Cam showed up it looked just as you expect a movie in a theatre to be."

Aaron Vogel

Aaron Vogel PLUS 1 day ago

"Would LOVE to see that comparison as well."

Sirio Magnabosco

Sirio Magnabosco 19 hours ago

"It happened in Berlin last saturday and I got to know about it by chance checking the Ikonoskop twitter feed. The guys from Ikonoskop looked quite surprised by the results as well, they moved to the first row to double check and asked about the process used for upscaling to the organisers of the workshop. They work with passion and should be proud I think."

The most wonderful part of the weekend was of course meeting all these wonderful people passionate about filmmaking. After the workshop we continued discussing camera stuff in a restaurant where we briefly met up with Andrew Reid, who showed us his Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera. When it got late we finally got fed up with talking about cameras (much to the relief of Markus’ girlfriend Svenja, I believe :-) and started discussing filmmaking. One of the topics was your nation’s most influencial directors.
Well OK, Sweden won, but that’s just because Lukas Eisenhauer is like a walking talking film encyclopedia.
And then there was Bob Ross!

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When I got up the following morning and looked out of the hotel room I saw it had been snowing all night and my mind wondered off to the discussions, laughter and many ideas from the past two nights. 

What is it that makes some people so passionate about filmmaking?
Maybe we want to distill the essence of the human condition and capture it in our art, I thought to myself.
Somewhat like making perfume. Moving images is our fragrance of choice.

Workflow Round-up January 2013

I’ve been trying out a lot of different workflows over the past year, based on system specs, software version, firmware version, etc.

Some people probably still think I work with, what I called, the CineForm workflow. But I haven’t used it since last summer, to be honest.

When I started using a dII I was still on a Windows 32 bit system. After a couple of months of working with CinemaDNG footage I choose a Mac Mini with a Promise Pegasus 12 TB Thunderbolt raid 5 hooked up to it, to function as a media archive and was hoping that Apple would soon release a new Mac Pro with Thunderbolt capabilities. I also anticipated a Windows driver for the Ikonoskop ExpressCard Reader.

When I started testing the Mac Mini, I was somewhat amazed by the power that such a silent little block of computing ingenuity could hold. After a couple of weeks I completely switched to the OSX platform, but was still using the CineForm workflow (via Parallels), because of its speed and raw format.

When summer arrived it was quite clear that we wouldn’t be getting a new Mac Pro, nor a Windows driver for the ExpressCard Reader. So I asked a hardware/software savvy friend to build me an editing system, with support for Thunderbolt and running on OSX.

Meanwhile, Adobe had released CS6 with SpeedGrade and for the first time I was able to  play some CinemaDNG footage realtime on the Mac Mini and had insanely detailed control on grading. It made me forget about CineForm raw.

When the Hackintosh was ready in September my workflow got drastically changed for a second time.

Let’s look at a very personal assessment, on the 2 systems, of the three mainly used decoder/transcoder software for ‘developing’ and grading Ikonoskop footage:

I think it’s clear looking at the results above what, for me, at this time is the best tool to do the debayering, grading and transcoding of my CinemaDNG footage. But it’s also clear that it depends on the system you’re using. So on my main editing system I’m now working in DaVince Resolve 9 Lite (and that’s free folks!). When going mobile, I’d rather use SpeedGrade.

I haven’t integrated CineForm in the test because I don’t use it anymore and I didn’t get it to work in Parallels 8/Windows 8. But I tested the GoPro Cineform Studio Premium for Windows just before the summer and I was amazed by the new functionalities that were integrated to debayer raw footage. Dynamic range was much improved and of course it was no longer a command line tool. But sadly enough, no Mac version with the same raw functionalities.

But then there’s John Hable at 19lights.com. I already wrote about his Ginger HDR in my last post, but in the mean time he has been working hard to improve his plug-in and I’m astonished by what he has accomplished in such a short time.

  1. You no longer have to create the .gnr wrappers - So via the plugin you can natively edit CinemaDNG in Premiere Pro!
  2. Ginger HDR supports the (outlandish) audio implementation in Ikonoskop’s CinemaDNG. So you immediately have image AND sound of your CinemaDNG footage in Premiere Pro. This is huge!
  3. It supports timecode!

This is honestly spectacular. There’s still room for improvement (f.i. better CUDA support) and John is working on this. But this is very promising.

Getting rid of Magenta in DaVinci Resolve

UPDATE: obsolete as of firmware 1.27 (March 2013)

There’s a lot of magenta in the shadows of Ikonoskop footage in DaVinci Resolve. I don’t think it has always been that way, but it definitely is the case in Resolve 9 lite.

There are several ways to get rid of it. I offer you one solution here that’s very quick and easy. In my opinion you have to fix it before you do any Color Correction in the Color Tab. That’s why I’ve created an input LUT that fixes the magenta issue: IkonoVinci. Well it will fix it untill Blackmagic changes something on the decoder side and/or Ikonoskop change something on the encoder side. Then I’d might have to make a new one ;-)

This means you don’t have to fiddle about in the CinemaDNG settings (Camera Raw tab) in Resolve. So leave the White Balance, Color Space, Gamma settings and use the Camera Metadata to do the Decoding. 

Unpack the zip and copy the folder into the LUT directory of DaVince Resolve. On OSX this would be: Library>Application Support>Blackmagic Design>DaVinci Resolve>LUT.

Now go to your Project Settings image. Select Look Up Tables and select under 3D Input Lookup Table the IkonoVinci.ilut.

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Then hit image

Now in your MEDIA tab image you’ll still see the magenta. But when you go to the COLOR tab image, you’ll see it’s gone. Now you can start grading.

Getting rid of Magenta in Camera Raw

UPDATE: obsolete as of firmware 1.27 (March 2013)

We’ve talked about this before. How there seems to be a magenta issue in decoders like After Effects (Camera Raw) en DaVinci Resolve and rather a green issue in decoders like SpeedGrade. So I’m writing this for those of you who don’t seem to get rid of this magenta in the shadows in After Effects.

3 images with default Camera Raw settings:

Image 1 - Zeiss Distagon mkI 12mm

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Image 2 - Canon 8-64 S16 Zoom

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Image 3 - Optar Illumina 12mm (thanks Lennert De Taeye)

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Now in the first image, there doesn’t seem to be much of magenta, because there isn’t that much shadow. But take a close look at the sides of the image. You’ll notice 2 dark vertical bars at every side. The one most on the outside is completely black. The one between the image and the outside black bar is a reference bar for the blacks in your image. Now see how magenta this is? Not only is it magenta, but it’s also a lot brighter than the outside bars.

The second image contains some more shadow. You’ll notice some magenta on the shadow side of the head (mostly below the ear). Look at the reference bar, also some magenta.

The third image has loads of shadow and a magenta cast almost covering the complete image.

I’ve made a preset to get rid of this: IkonoRaw2012. It’s nothing fancy, a combination of alterations in contrast, blacks and tint settings (Shadows under Camera Calibration tab). 

After you’ve downloaded it, you can use it as follows:

Click the little select symbol:  image  (to the right, next to ‘Basic’). Now select Load Settings find the IkonoRaw2012.xmp file, and click Load.

It gives the following results:

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That’s more like it, no? Well there’s still something funny about the second image. This one now seems to have too much green in the shadows. Setting the Tint level in Shadows under the Camera Calibration tab to -60 seems to give a better result.

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Of al the images in my CinemaDNG archive only these takes (second image) give rather greenish results in the shadows using my preset. The reason is (I assume), that this was filmed with a Canon 8-64 Super 16 Zoom. Apparently this lens has an impact on the magenta/green balance. Saving a specific preset for this lens takes care of that.

Coming up: Getting rid of Magenta in DaVinci Resolve.

A-cam dII & SpeedGrade - Part 1

OK, I haven’t forgotten about this blog!

But I should’ve written this post two months ago. Because I’ve been grading Ikonoskop footage all summer in SpeedGrade and I must say, at this moment, it’s absolutely the right tool to grade A-cam dII CinemaDNG with. 

Because:

  1. To load your footage just point at the folder of your project and select Each subfolder as one sequence (at the top). All your sequences will quickly appear with thumbnails.
  2. In your timeline tab (at the bottom) go to the tab “Color Space Defaults” and select CinemaDNG as your Default color space for file format. And choose the appropriate Preset: Ikonoskop A-Cam Daylight Fluorescent/Ikonoskop A-Cam Daylight/Ikonoskop A-Cam Tungsten

  3. Drag some sequences to your timeline and be amazed. Because it looks good, but most of all it plays realtime, even on something as light as a Mac mini and even after it’s been graded. Straight from the DNG’s.
  4. If you now want to render individual files (for example ProRes mov’s) make sure to select in the Output tab Src.PathElement1 under File name.
    Because this will create mov’s (or avi’s or whatever) that will be named after your sequence folders (for instance AC003002.MOV), which will make linking to your original footage (reels) a breeze.
    If you want something fast to start rendering, select a Half Proxy and Render in Offline Quality (fast). It’s really fast (faster than realtime).
To be continued …

Pomfort planning a CinemaDNG workflow

A while back I wrote to info@digitalbolex.com to ask them about their plans for their CinemaDNG workflow. 

Elle Schneider answered me last week and wrote:

Our current plan is to work with Pomfort, the makers of Silverstack (pomfort.com) to create a custom workflow manager to handle DNG files that could probably be used with the A-cam or any other DNG system.

Pomfort’s answer:

I can’t tell you any details right now, but we are indeed discussing several options for the release of the Digital Bolex.

So stay tuned!

OK, I’m staying tuned …