Cinematographer to Colorist
Being a Director Of Photography these days means that you’re working with any number of digital sensors of various sizes, formats and looks. Usually we shoot or work in LOG color spaces if we desire film based looks and advantages (assuming so for our readers), so a bunch of other factors come into play. But, we’ll fast forward to the fun stuff.
External Recording On the Digic-4 Canon DSLRs
The biggest issues with the Canon last-gen line of sensors are their codecs and resolution quality loss. However as DPs have learned to use these small cameras over the years, you learn to work around the weaknesses and in some cases, make them strengths (for instance, their tendency to look like Super 16mm film; see: Mathew Libatique ASC’s work for “Black Swan” as once core example).
Another older issue was the inability to record “uncompressed” to an external recorder, due to Canon’s default placement of the framing box. Thanks to Magic Lantern, that’s been long solved.
In this personal project and episode of Model Profile, I set aside the RAW DNG work in trade for ML 60D’ed ability to record DNxHD 10-bit 422 to a 256GB SSD drive with the Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle II.
THE DEFAULT IMAGE
Here’s the deal. Canon [Digic 4] DSLRs do not actually record in a full HD resolution, even with the sensor binning/downsampling being done before the image outputs to the LCD or HDMI feed (which is also an 8-bit 420 native output). What actually happens is that while there is a 1920×1080 output happening, the image itself is recorded within a window. By default, this all happens internally, with the video being upscaled to a 1080p frame onto your SD/CF card.
Still with me here?
Now, when recording to an external device, the upscaling obviously doesn’t happen as it’s up to the user to do so on their end. So in Premiere, a small bump in scaling remedies this. The final difference is that while there won’t be any resolution advantages, the benefits lie in color rendition being increased slightly and chroma noise being less muddied due to not being bonded to the Canon codec.
A SOFT IMAGE
So why shoot a piece on a less compressed codec with a soft resolution? Simple, because it fit.
Shooting RAW on various formats has made me appreciate the Super 16’ish quality of the Canon video format and now instead of looking at it as a setback, it’s become an artistic choice. After all, as cinematographers, what are we without our choices in tools?
Another reason was the need to shoot high-speed (on a shoestring budget). With the 60D’s sensor and the right processing, it can work wonders! Of course a higher spec camera would’ve faired stronger, but then I wouldn’t have achieved the aesthetic I wanted. So it fit the bill.
It sounds complex but each step within this workflow has benefitted me greatly recently.
- Record in DNxHD 422- the HDMI signal out of the Canons is an 8-bit one
- File ingest into Premiere
- Edit footage
- Export in Cineon LOG format w/ adjustments in either 16-bit DPX files, 10-bit TIFF or 10-bit DNxHD 422 RGB
I’ve found that the maximum latitude of the image shows through here, even beyond filming on the native Cinestyle LOG profile. There will be some initial abnormalities though (such as odd gamma stretches from fade in/fade out portions). All that there’s left to do here is color though, which solves them easily in the end.
EXTERNAL RECORDING IS A GOOD IDEA?
…in certain instances. While I wouldn’t shoot w/ an external recorder in the Subway for guerilla shots, it serves its purpose in controlled environments (much like RAW). It all just totally depends on what you’re going for and the circumstances allowed.
What are some unorthodox methods of filming that you’ve found works for you?