The Making of Algonquin Autumn
by Michael Reichmann
The Test Production
The only way to properly take the measure of any new camera is to go out and shoot with it in a real-world environment. Only so much can be gleaned from playing around in the lab, the studio or the back yard.
As it turned out we received our Black Magic Pocket Cinema Cameras just a few days before a planned fall colour shoot in Algonquin Park, in north central Ontario. The weather was warm and sunny, and we were in the park for three days, just slightly ahead of peak colour. The mornings had fog and mist off the lakes, and the afternoons brilliant hard sunlight.
This turned out to be ideal for my purposes, because with its 13 stops of dynamic range there are few cine cameras that could have handled the deep forest light that we encountered. Frankly, only another Black Magic camera, the Canon C300, the Sony FS700, or Red Scarlet can even come close.
As a testing and inaugural use project I have produced the following five minute film shot in Algonquin Park that weekend. The purpose of this film, besides simply the enjoyment of making it, was to illustrate the amazing dynamic range of the camera. But, when I graded the footage I never let the technical qualities of the file outweigh the aesthetics I was after. You can assume that in almost every case there is much more shadow detail available than is displayed.
Please be aware that this video is hosted on Vimeo, which, as always,
has added significant compression, loss of resolution and a small gamma shift.
The Making Of Algonquin Autumn
After showing the film to a few colleagues, it was suggest that I write something about what was involved in its production. This essay is a response to that request.
I'll start by saying that having visited the park many times during fall colour season, I knew what to expect and I knew what my emotional response to being there might be. What I wanted to show was the gentle beauty – the Walden Pond type of feeling of being one with nature at its simplest and most beautiful. For this reason I choice a music track that I liked, and which I fealt would be appropriate to create the desired mood. I chose Dvorak's Serenade for Strings Opus 22. It's a bit of an old chestnut, but I believe that because of its familiarity it does the job. A bit schmaltzy, I know, but then I can be a schmaltzy kind of guy at times.
The reason for choosing the music, before even starting to shoot, is because it forms the "bed" upon which the video clips lay. When shooting an unscripted "mood" film, such as this one, the music sets the theme and pacing. It helps to follow the rhythm or beat of the music, and to cut to it, though not too slavishly or it can appear contrived.
We drove and hiked though the park for nearly three days. We were up before dawn each day and were fortunate to have fog and mist, which created a visual counterpoint to the hard light of the rest of the day. I didn't shoot with any final "look" or theme in mind other than having the music in my mind as I worked.
I shot with the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, of course, and four lenses. The most used were the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 X and the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 X. These are high quality lenses, and they both have very effective image stabilization. While I used a tripod with fluid head when shooting near the car, when we hiked the trails and woods I shot hand-held. Occasionally I needed to use additional Stabilization in FCP-X, but not that often.
I also used the Panasonic 100-300mm for a couple fo shots, as well as the Olympus 9-18mm. I used the the Contineo Cage from Viewfactor and also my jerry-rigged Zacuto viewfinder from my Nikon D800. I had five batteries in my pocket, but never needed more than three on any given day.
In The Field
I shot in the camera's so-called "Film" mode, which is log linear, as mentioned in my review of the BMPCC. I had a Fader on each lens, and for the most part set the aperture to f/4 or f/8, depending on my DOF needs, and adjusted exposure with the Fader.
I had Zebras set to 85%, and would adjust the fader so that all on-screen patterns disappeared, and then even tweaked it down a bit more. With the viewfinder set to the REC 709 (Video) mode I was then able to see a slightly bright, but otherwise normal looking image.
I have found autofocus with the camera not to be terribly helpful, so I got in the habit of turning on Peaking most of the time and then focusing manually. This makes for an unpleasant looking screen when it comes to composition, with everything shimmering in emerald green, but the trade-off in terms of getting properly focused images was worthwhile.
I found myself shooting about 25-30GB of footage each day, so my 64GB Sandisk cards were adequate. For a more intense shoot I likely would buy at least one, and possibly two more cards.
As mentioned in my review, log footage is very flat, with little contrast and saturation. This means two things – judging out-of-camera footage is difficult, and each file needs to be adjusted before even begining to do any creative luminance or colour correction. FilmConvert is a somewhat pricey but otherwise excellent solution, especially the stand-alone version since it can batch process files.
My workflow involved copying the card at the end of the day to my laptop's attached 1Terabyte Thunderbolt drive and then running Filmconvert on all of the files. Just remember to turn grain to 0. For some reason this is not its default setting. My export settings were to ProRes HQ, the same as the original footage.
Once I had two directories, one with my camera originals and one with "normalized" footage, I would back everything up to a second drive. Only once this was completed did I reformat the card using my laptop, ready for use the next day.
I started to do the edit in Premiere Pro, but quickly found myself returning to Final Cut X, which has a much faster and more fluid user interface for this type of assembly editing. I like PP, but frankly FCP-X has it aced when it comes to ease of use, and I'm all for ease of use so long as quality isn't sacrificed. I'll continue to work with PP, but when a job needs to get done now, it seems that FCP-X is my go-to choice.
The film runs about five and a half minutes, the length of Dvorak's music, and editing took about six hours.