Olympus comes in from the filmmaking wilderness….

Olympus E-M5 Mark II all taped up for covert operations.  Behind is my original E-M5 and the E-M1.

Olympus vf-M5 Mark II all taped and covered up for covert operations. Behind is my original E-M5 and the E-M1.

This one’s long…you might want to settle in…there’s a lot of ground to cover….

This is a kind of review, but more kind of my first impression of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II.  The firmware I shot all these samples with is V0.9 and I have been using several pre-produciton cameras.  It’s very likely performance will improve once they start shipping production units. The images and clips I share with you here will improve as the sensor calibration improves. Mainly I think you’ll see this as improved noise performance and better colour reproduction / matrix.

I’ve been working with Olympus Australia for the past few months on their new E-M5 Mark II camera,  a replacement for their hugely successful E-M5.  This is an important camera for Olympus because it’s a signal of intent.  It shows they are finally moving towards taking video more seriously, seriously enough that they’ve now made a camera that has some pretty unique and compelling features for a cinematographer.

The biggest leaps for me are the fact it can now finally shoot at 24 and 25 fps and it has their next generation image stabiliser that is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else that I’ve seen in stabilised imaging. It’s really that good.

The best way to test any new camera I figure is to actually shoot something with it.  It’s all good and well to point it at some test charts in a studio (which I did as well), but its only when you’re actually using it in the field and trying to get to an end result that you can really say it’s gone through it’s paces.  That’s when you audition not only the image quality, and subjective imaging result but the actual utility of the camera and it’s workflow both on set and off as well learning it’s shortcomings.

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George Washingmachine fiddles about while I try to stay dry.

Curiosity is the short film / music clip I chose to do with local musician George Washingmachine for his original track “The moon has left town”.  It’s a very simple romantic chase scenario.

I enlisted two actor friends of mine Ash Ricardo and Ian Meadows and at the last minute I roped in Director / Editor Tony D’Aquino to help me flesh out the scenario and edit this all together !  I’m in pre-production for a feature film called Scare Campaign at the moment in regional Victoria so it’s been really interesting to try and pull this shoot and edit together in Sydney, grade and finish it across two states on a short turnaround !

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We shot this over three days last week and in some really terrible weather, but luckily on the final day on the beach the sun came out for us. We had three E-M5 Mark II bodies and they all worked without fail, despite getting literally DRENCHED in rain and sea water and being on all the time.  We had no overheating and no “crashes” or problems with the end footage.

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Ian doesn’t look so happy about standing out in the rain. The camera didn’t mind.

 

All footage was copied at the end of each day onto a Lacie 1TB Thunderbolt drive pair and I took one with me to Victoria and left the other behind in NSW with Tony to edit with.  He was cutting in FCP X as was I.  Luckily Olympus have made it pretty easy to manage roll numbers on the SD cards (YAY !) so I could customise that before we started shooting and it made the conform so much easier. I think in total we shot about 250 GB of rushes from three camera bodies plus stills.  The first two days were really only half days and we didn’t shoot a lot, but the last day was pretty big, with three locations and a late finish.  Final grade was done in Resolve, before I rendered a ProRes 4444 file back out which was then uploaded to Vimeo via FCP X.

One of my first blog postings ever was about my love of Olympus cameras.  In fact it was kind of about how un-cool it was to use Olympus cameras when your day job was as a cinematographer.  That was October 2010, before even the original EM 5.

I also wrote about my impressions of the Olympus OM-D E-M5, their first foray into the m4/3 market.  For a long time the E-M5 was my mainstay on-set camera for the same reasons I liked all of my Olympus cameras….their smaller physical size, less intrusive shooting stance and near indestructibility combined with the remarkable Zuiko Olympus lenses. One of my most favourite personal lenses is the Olympus 45mm F1.8 prime.  It’s a mid range inexpensive prime lens but that lens at F2.2 has some special mojo. (most of the images in the above linked E-M5 review are with this lens)

I currently have a lot of Olympus cameras. I still own three of the legendary E-1 bodies and as recently as last year was shooting with them for timelapse shots on The Ravens.

During the production of the latest Sony / Playmaker series for the ABC,  “Hiding” I also used the OM-D E-M1 as a kind of special effects camera to show a character’s heightened anxiety at being discovered whilst in witness protection.  It wasn’t shooting video, but actually shooting RAW stills with the E-M1 held in close proximity the the actor shooting bursts of frames to capture that mood.  I also did a lot of lens whacking as well to get close ups of documents and photos in a way I could never have done with a motion imaging camera.

So while I’ve always loved my Olympus gear for photography, it’s always kind of let me down in one really important way for my work as a cinematographer….but not any more….

Video

It’s funny how ubiquitous video is now on a DSLR, and m4/3 cameras which are really technically called MILC.  To be fair Olympus have been doing video for a while.  It’s just that it’s never been very well implemented for the needs of more professional users like…errr…me !

The biggest problem with the way Olympus has implemented video up until now is that they’ve only had one frame rate, 30 FPS to choose from (or 60 in some cases as an option), and it’s been highly compressed in a way that’s not very robust for post production.

And that’s made it totally useless for most professional or even indie filmmaking sets because we all shoot at 24 or 25 fps for most narrative drama where sync sound is used.  A camera that only shoots 30 fps isn’t much use on those sets.

The global standard frame rate for nearly 100 years has been 24 FPS….end of story.  A camera that doesn’t shoot 24 FPS isn’t really a camera that will ever find a lot of use with narrative and sync sound motion work.  In 50 hz countries, which is basically everywhere except the US and Japan, we tend to shoot for TV at 25 FPS and for cinema at 24 FPS.  Even in the US the cinema standard is 24 FPS, so having those two frame rates was the most important step Olympus had to take in order to move in this direction.

30 FPS is only good for home movies in the US and Japan.  Even here in Australia where we have 50Hz power, shooting at 30 FPS meant you would always get lights flickering in your shots.  Even for home movies it was pretty hopeless.

24 FPS, 25 FPS 30 FPS

The E-M5 Mark II now shoots 24 (really 23.98) 25 and 30 FPS in an all intra 77 Mbits codec as well as 50 and 60FPS in their older style of codec, IPB, topping out at 50 Mbits.  Big huge tick for introducing industry standard frame rates Olympus !

Any old lens can be stablised !

I already mentioned the image stabiliser and let’s just spell it out again.  It’s freaking amazing.   But there’s more !  One of the the really cool features of this amazing next generation Olympus image stabliser is that it works with any lens you can get on the camera. And the MFT mount allows for lots of lenses to be adapted and I’m usually a fan of older vintage cine lenses. I can now use those lenses with the added benefit of the incredible sensor shift stabilising technology they’ve developed and I think that’s really neat.

Rolling shutter is also something most DSLR’s and hybrid stills video camera shooters are especially sensitive to and to be able to use IS with older lenses means you can great reduce the apparent skew and jello and make use of an almost limitless range of lenses.  It means I can use almost any lens on the camera, and have it stabilised. If you look at the clip Curiosity, I didn’t once use a tripod and for only a few shots  I used a camera stabilising gimbal.

The in camera stabilising means I can keep lens consistency and therefore look consistency on a TV show where I might have a set of primes for the main hero production cinema camera bodies but I can also now have the choice to use an E-M5 Mark II for insert shots and to steal a moment here and there and I get to use the exact same lenses as my full production camera, with the added benefit of incredible image stabilising.

I think that’s really awesome and one of the reasons I like the m4/3 mount so much. It’s an open consortium and there are now so many companies making lenses for this mount, and it can be adapted to almost any already existing lens.  It’s so flexible !

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Zeiss 16mm standard lens with Hot Rod MFT–>PL lens adaptor and Arri LW mattebox

 

In the making of Curiosity, I wanted to do some tracking shots, but we’d deliberately chosen locations where we’d have to shoot as a very low footprint.  Most of the locations didn’t require a permit if you were shooting with a small crew and didn’t have a lot of gear and I wanted to be able to walk in only with what we could carry.

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Adjusting the Defy G2 gimbal frame with the Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II in silver with the Olympus 12mm F2.0 lens fitted.

 

Why use a Gimbal ?

I have been trying out a Defy g2 Gimbal as well which I used really in place of a dolly / slider.  Now you might be wondering why I’ve used a gimbal when I’ve been raving about the stabiliser being so good on the E-M5 Mark II. I’m glad you asked !

There’s a difference between a hand held shot and a need for a smooth tracking shot.  We were shooting in locations where it wasn’t possible to lay dolly tracks or even sliders so for example across water of on the beach.   I’ve used the Movi before with a larger EPIC package and found it to be good, but very tiring to hold for long periods of times.  What I really loved about the G2 from Defy was that it was much smaller and lighter with the E-M5 Mark II on board AND, it has a terrific little thumb controlled joystick which means you can make small corrections and override the gimbal’s ideas of what you’re wanting to do in terms of framing.  This really simple device makes such a  difference to gimbal moves in my opinion because it allowed me to feather out the moves a little more….I basically fell in love with this gimbal !

So having a gimbal meant we could do some lateral tracking shots while I was up to my waist in water for example at the beach and there’s no way we could have done those any other way.  If I was trying to rely on the IS in the EM5 Mark II alone then it probably would have been almost as good, but the G2 just gave me more assurance for bigger moves.  It also meant I didn’t need to lay tracks or sliders that at best would only give me a small 3 or 4′ foot move at best.

I look at it like this…Don’t expect the IS to allow you to throw away your slider or dolly for tracking shots.  You can get very good hand held tracking results with the IS, and maybe you’ll get lucky and jag a shot on a wider lens that looks like a gimbal / steadicam shot but it’s real advantage and power is in it’s ability to simply hold a static frame still enough that it feels like it’s being operated form a tripod without having to rely on a tripod….

So in my head now philosophically, I know I can rely absolutely on the IS of the E-M5 Mark II for long lens shots where I’m not trying to track, but just to hold a frame.  But if I want to do tracking shots or more than simple shot corrections like pans and tilts, then I can get away with it in certain situations, but I’m still going to get better results with a gimbal or traditional slider or tracks.

So below here’s an example of a shot where I was shooting with a 16mm Zeiss Standard 35mm format lens using a Hot Rod cameras MFT–> PL adaptor…

Note in this instance, I’m using the wordpress video here which does appalling things to the image, but you can download these camera original files at the end of this article and see for yourself.

Using the IS set to mode 1,  which does a combination of sensor shift and digital stabilising, and manually setting  to the focal length of the lens you can get some really great results, BUT you’ll notice on a really big orbiting move like this where I’m moving pretty quickly the IS can ‘jump” once it gets out of range and you’ll see that in the final result.  Now you can get away with it, but you can see how the shot is much better with the Gimbal.

Interestingly in my preliminary testing with the camera, I found it was better to leave the E-M5 Mark II’s IS switched ON even when the camera was on the gimbal.  As great as the Defy G2 gimbal is, it doesn’t take away all the big movements and I could still see a little judder as I moved with the gimbal so to have both on it was really locking down the shot, and to my surprise they didn’t seem to be fighting each other.

The I.S comes in three flavours when shooting video. You can have it set to OFF, then mode 1 which is sensor shift and digital stabilising, with some slight additional crop, but I never saw any when shooting video, and I’m struggling to see any IQ hit in video to be honest. Or if you wish there’s also mode 2 which is sensor shift only with no digital stabilising. In both mode 1 and 2 you can override the default focal length setting which if it’s an Olympus lens is set automatically, and set your own focal length. I actually found that there were some skewing artefacts when shooting on wider lenses, especially below 20mm where on a static frame it could sometimes bend the image, a little bit like what rolling shutter / stabiliser correction looks like in FCP X.  You can see this happening in a few clips of the behind the scenes clip below…

Heres a clip from the Defy G2 gimbal, camera is in IS mode 2 with an Olympus 12mm Lens at F5.6 ISO 200, 1/50th  custom profile of my own setup

Now here’s the same just hand held with a 16mm Zeiss standard lens, same settings..

Shoot Silent.

Taken at an intimate Jazz venue in the middle of a solo using the new silent shutter mode.  Olympus 75mm F1.8 prime at 1250 ISO.

Taken at an intimate Jazz venue in the middle of a solo using the new silent shutter mode. Olympus 75mm F1.8 prime at 1250 ISO.

Olympus have for the first time introduced an electronic shutter option.  This means no more shutter click sound for one thing !

Without a physical shutter mechanism active, this enables me to shoot silently which will be a great boon on set. I’ve always felt for stills photographers on movie an television production  sets because they’re forced to use blimped cameras so they can take photos during a take. The new shutter in this camera is already super quiet, but you now also have the option for totally silent.

The other upside of the electronic shutter is it also allows for a much higher maximum shutter speed of 1/16000 the of a second. Otherwise top shutter speed is a still impressive 1/8000.

It also means a smidgen faster top frame rate is possible at a crazy 11FPS in stills mode.

Now I presume there is some tradeoff in using the electronic shutter and I’m going to guess it means probably increased noise and incised noise probably means less DR. I’m only guessing though based on my knowledge of how sensors work and haven’t really tested it in any kind of scientific or empirical way, and my Olympus contacts haven’t been able to confirm my hypothesis.

Still, it’s wonderful to have this option for sound sensitive environments and I’ve found myself using it more than I thought I would.

 

Mt Friend Giovanni Lovisetto, a stills photographer, taken o the set of Offspring.  Check out his Canon 5D MK2 in a customised pelican housing blimp used to silence the shutter

My Friend Giovanni Lovisetto, a stills photographer, taken on the set of Offspring. Check out what he’s resting on…his Canon 5D MK2 in a customised pelican housing blimp used to silence the shutter.  Not required any more with an EM5 Mark II

 

Exposure Tools

Exposure tools in video are minimal but adequate enough.  You have a histogram and you can also get an exposure clipping indicator as well which shows purple in highlight clipping and dark magenta in shadow clipping, but it’s not an indicator that works once you’re rolling, only histogram does.

Peaking is very well implemented, you have a choice of a few colours and even three strengths of sensitivity.  I was able to assign it to the Fn1 button so I could toggle it on and off while I was rolling and it worked well in both the viewfinder and on the screen.

There was one thing that REALLY annoyed the hell out of me.  When in manual mode using Olympus lenses and once you’re rolling, you can’t actually change the exposure using the dials like you would if the camera wasn’t rolling.  Instead, once it’s rolling, you have to access a silly menu on the touch screen and then scroll to an exposure tool and THEN dial it up or down on the touch screen.  It’s insane and totally impractical to do while you’re shooting.  Even the best IS in the world won’t get rid of the jolts as you stab the touch screen trying to quickly get to the right menu to simply close the aperture down !

I’m trying to cut them some slack as it’s their first attempt but I’m screaming loudly right now that the camera in manual mode needs to be able to let you change shutter speed or aperture on the fly using the exact same dials you use when it’s not rolling.  I guess they think it’s a safety feature of some kind to stop you accidentally changing the exposure.

It does have a nifty Auto ISO feature and for a few shots in the clip I put the camera into shutter priority (movie mode) and locked the shutter and let the camera ride the exposure.  In shutter priority mode (Movie) i kept the same shutter speed and it used both Iris and ISO to ride the exposure so I managed a kind of way to change it seamlessly on the fly, but it’s far from ideal.

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25mm Zeiss Superspeed with Hot Rod PL–>MFT adaptor and Arri LW mattebox

 

Sound…Testing one two three…. 

Well.  It has sound.  To be honest I leave that to the sound recordists.  It has VU’s which is welcome always, and it has microphone inputs as well, so no problem to plug a microphone in now.  There is also a headphone jack on the new handgrip, and this is one of the reasons they have had to go with a slightly revised version of the grip.  The bottom part that holds the battery is the same for the E-M5 and you will be able to buy them separately now.

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Custom Profile

As the camera is only shooting 8 bit 77 Mbits files, I replicated something I used to do routinely on the 5Dmk2 and went into the custom picture mode and tried to flatten out the image as much as I could in order to try and squeeze every last bit of dynamic range from the shots. Olympus default pictures are actually really good though and there’s a great choice of preset ones, or you can design your own. Plus you can even use a lot of their art filters too.

So in the Olympus custom profile menu I set the contrast to it’s lowest, (-2) and the sharpness to it’s lowest (- 2) and the saturation to -1.  This essentially gave me a “log-ish” images that meant i could try to protect the highlights more.  Interestingly, Olympus have a great cuve editor function as well where you can individually shape the highlight roll -off and shadow detail as well, but I didn’t have a lot of success with actually using it in the field.  I tended to stick with the custom profile I set up instead of trying to tweak each shot.

Really for this to be better, Olympus need to develop their own LOG format and up the bit depth.  10 bit files would make such a huge difference.

Slow Motion

The camera now has not only 24(23.98) 25 and 30 fps, but using a slightly lessor IPB 52 Mbit/s codec it also has 50 and 60 FPS.  Plus in a very convoluted and to my mind illogical contortion of menu language you can also set 3x, 2.5 X to get 8 FPS, and 12 FPS as well.

The camera’s 50 FPS shooting was actually pretty good and there’s a couple of those shots in the edit as you’ll probably notice…I was surprised at how well the lower data rate codec held up.

Batteries

The E-M5 Mark II takes the same batteries and I had a mix of old orginal batteries and some new ones.  They seemed to last the same amount of time to me. Or maybe even a little longer. I was shooting a lot and using video a lot and always had it on it certainly didn’t seem to me that we were going though them any faster.   I certainly never worried about preserving power and we had ten batteries between three cameras. There’s my scientific analysis

Underwater

Originally, we wanted to open Curiosity with a shot of Ian swimming from below through the rays of sunshine in the Ocean, but for various reasons we had to shoot on two days that the Weather Bureau posted  “dangerous surf” warnings, so we had to adapt our plans. We were still very keen to try out the awesome and very compact underwater housing, but I dind’t really get to dive with it as we planned.  You can see that we weren’t aware of the warning and were smashed in the behind the scenes video below.   Luckily we decided not to put Ian in the water !

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Framing up on Ian’s feet with the OM-D EM5 Mark II in its’s underwater housing.

 

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Taken from inside the underwater housing using the Olympus 9-18 lens. JPEG out of camera.

 

One of the great things about Olympus is that they’ve always been very well protected from the elements. Even their PRO lenses and they have always been so since the original E1. I can attest to how rugged they are because I’ve always been a little loose with my stills cameras and they’ve always stood up well to the abuse. Yes I may have lost a rubber eyecup here and there but by and large the Olympus gear is close to indestructible.

And their weatherproofing is second to none. We were shooting Ian and Ash at the Maroubra sea pool and the cameras really did get tested.  My assistant Jess was shooting with one camera and tells me her camera body got close to immersed in swell three times.   we didn’t loose a frame and it didn’t skip a beat.

Still, even in difficult surf conditions I managed to get some pretty nice shots I thought. The great thing about the Olympus made housing is that it’s very simple and quick to set up and is super lightweight and small compared to much bigger and clumsier housings for other larger cameras.   The Olympus housing was a breeze to work and shoot with and made it easier to get shots on the surface.  They’ve pretty much made every menu and button accessible too, which is kind of amazing considering the camera has so many custom programable buttons.

One problem I faced when shooting puberty blues was trying to find a way to shoot surfers and dialog scenes in the surf and near the surface. I needed something better and more waterproof than a splash bag but most dive housings are so heavy and cumbersome to use you can’t really get very useable shots just out or just under the water.

I can imagine those shooting surfers will totally love this housing.

We also had some terrible weather on a ferry trip we took across Sydney harbour so again we decided to use the heavy rain and keep shooting.  Ian was a trooper for keeping up the good fight while getting soaked through. It was TEEMING ! But it was no problem at all for the E-M5 Mark II. The biggest problem was keeping the water off the front of the 15-40 F2.8 zoom !

 

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How many K’s is enough ?

I like to think I’m kind of camera agnostic. On a larger narrative TV drama show it’s not unusual for me to have 12 cameras, because I like using different cameras for different jobs. I can now easily see many situations where I can shoot with an EM 5 Mark II for broadcast.

Olympus have reputedly been used in studio films. Oscar winning DOP John Seale ASC ACS apparently used them on the new Mad Max film, Fury Road (along with many other cameras).

If the older 30 fps only 1920 x 1080 Olympus is good enough to use in a 100 million dollar studio film like Fury Road, is it a problem that it’s not a 4K camera ?

It would be fair to think that 4K resolution would be a minimum requirement these days judging by the fact that every store that sells Televisions only seems to sell 4 K televisions.

Like the megapixel race, having more resolution is more of a marketing pursuit than one of any actual usefulness to the end consumer.

How many ways are there to deliver actual 4k content ? Anyone tried YouTube in 4K lately ? While Vimeo have just added 4K, the fact is there is a real problem with delivering 4K content to the end consumer.

Netflix, for only a few select shows is doing it. But guess what…

I know of no TV drama shows that shoot in my part of the world that actually MASTER in 4k and very very few that shoot in 4K.

In fact the most popular cinema camera by far would be the Arri Alexa and guess what the sensor resolution of that 60k+ camera is ?

I think of 4K as mostly being a bigger bucket but there’s not a lot in that bucket because almost none of the Television you watch right now is even mastered in 4K and I would imagine only the Hollywood studio films would be mastering 4K for cinema, even though the majority is shot with “only” 2.7 k sensor imaging.

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The green cast is coming from the Tiffen IR ND filters used with the Zeiss Superspeeds. They are terrible and I try to avoid them, but it’s all I could get hold of for this test !

 

Far more important to me is bit depth and dynamic range. I’ll take those before 4K recording please.

Of course I’m not saying that 4K wouldn’t be really nice to have, but I honestly don’t think it’s a deal breaker to not have 4K because most of the content I shoot is only distributing and delivering as 1920 anyway.

Yes it could be 4k, yes they could have used 10 bit recording and a higher data rate, but look at the upsides. You get the worlds best I.S in a very small and discrete flexible camera that won’t stop in the rain, won’t overheat and allows you to use the brilliant zuiko native lenses or even vintage and top end cinema lenses whilst still retaining that amazing IS technology.

I know that some users like 4K shooting simply because they can get a better still image from the camera. To be honest that’s the dumbest thing to me because it means they will both look terrible. That’s because you have to compromise on shutter speed. So the shutter speed for motion will mean you’re at 1/50 (should be 1/48th) so any still is probably going to have to much motion blur or you shoot your videos with. A higher shutter speed which makes your videos look terrible. Don’t do it !!

The EM 5 Mark II does let you take a RAW still photo while rolling anyway if you want shoot RAW rather than a frame grab but you’re still limited by the shutter speed dilemma.

 

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Ergonomics

One thing that’s also very different for Olympus this time out is the flip out articulated screen.  I loved it and found it great for shooting at different heights and even for shooting sideways when I couldn’t get myself in the best position.  On the Ferry I could hold the camera out over the railing and still see the picture.  It’s sharp and bright and I could use it in all but the most glareful of sitations.  Late sunset looking into the sun with water doubling the reflection because difficult but I was able to then switch to the EVF. The EVF too was great and sharp and is apparently the same as the Olympus flagship camera the EM1.

The camera feels nice in the hand and tactile.  I couldn’t imagine it being fun to use without the grip, but my hands are on the larger side.  I love the fact that there are 4 customisable buttons.  I had peaking programmed to Fn1, and there’s a switch as well which I had programmed to switch the dials from Iris and Shutter to Wb and ISO.  So you could very quickly change the camera settings all while you’re looking through the EVF.

HDMI and Clean Feed 

Olympus have done the right thing and provided for a clean HDMI feed ! Yay !  Even better it’s 4:2:2, but I’m 95% sure it’s only 8 bit.  Still, from version 1 they’ve gotten that right I hope.  I say I hope because my V0.9 software didn’t have a functional HDMI for clean feed recording so I couldn’t test it for you.  The new firmware which only JUST came though is now 1.003 and that version my friends added clean feed 4:2:2 at 24 25 and 30 fps.

This means using external lesser compression and higher bit depth recorders we can get much much nicer pictures to grade from !  I can’t wait to test this out and I hope to do that for you really soon now…

When going clean feed over HDMI though, you apparently won’t be able to record internally at the same time.  It’s one or the other.

Timecode 

Rather promisingly, there’s a menu called “timecode”.  Indeed it has timecode, however, it defeats the point if you can’t actually jam sync to it !  I’m hoping I could in the future feed some TC into the microphone input and then “jam” sync the camera so that I can then sync it to another camera that i’ve jam synced and and maybe a lcoation sound recording device !  There are many jam sync sources these days, and some are even doing them as apps on smartphones.  A wee cable and you could be away jam syncing your camera….

It’s like they’ve only halfway done the Timecode, but again, a great step in the right direction that just needs to be finished.  In the meantime, I can simply record TC on the audio track of the camera and then use Resolve’s nifty Aux TC feature where it will detect the TC on the audio track and then re-stripe your file with that TC to do any multicam sync work.

Lenses built for motion work

Some Olympus lenses have this really awesome manual focus capability.  Most auto focus lenses on any camera having the endlessly circulating focus by wire focus knob for manual focus override of the AF.  On some lenses Olympus have designed it so that you can calso pull the whole focus ring back and then it’s in manual focus without having to go into a menu, BUT the cool thing is that it now has HARD STOPS on infinity and minimum focus.

This means you’d have a chance at using a follow focus and doing repeatable focus pulls !  Really brilliant engineering on their behalf and a great function to add to the lenses.  This amazing feature can be found on the 12mm F2.o and their two pro zooms, the 12-50 F2.8 and the 40-150 F2.8.  Nothing beats a manual focus lens for feel when shooting video, but these lenses come close.

The lenses also have a great function button that’s programable.  Iv’e asked Olympus to make it so that I can de-activate the I.S in a single axis.  This way I could pan a shot and hold the button in to de-activate the stabilising in the horizontal axis while I hold in the button and then turn on again for when I let go.  I can then feather the IS for when I need a static frame or if I want to pan deliberately.

One shortcoming of the I.S is that is can sometimes not know what’s an intentional move and whats’s camera shake.  This means you can start to get a bit of “float” in the image, but being able to overide the I.S momentarily in one axis would be a great way to minimise the issue.

Low Light

I did shoot some nice images up to ISO 1600 that were very useable, but I haven’t been able to do any proper low light testing.  Stay tuned for more in the near future.

Codec

They’ve gone to a better acquisition codec, using a 77 Mbit/s all-I Intra frame compression. Though the data rate isn’t spectacular it’s a really important architecture change because we’re not using a codec designed for distribution that uses temporal compression. Each frame exists in its own right with the file so it makes it much much better for editing.

Moire and Aliasing

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II doesn’t have an OLPF. Like Blackmagic choose to do with their cameras, this can mean that you’re more likely to be bitten by moire and aliasing. And as expected, I see these issues at play with my footage from the E-M5 Mark II. Is it a deal breaker ? I guess that’s for you to decide. I think the two clips here have a range of good examples of where it might be a problem. My hat and shirt is certainly a good test ! it was interesting shooting in amongst the bricks of the Paddington park aqueduct as I would have expected more aliasing in those shots, given how wide we were and how much fine detail there was.

Personally, I’ve never really found it much of an issue the way many others do.   I’ve been shooting with the Blackmagic cameras for some years now and I can count on one hand the number of times it’s really been a genuine problem in my shooting. I guess it’s a subjective kind of problem and you either hate it or you don’t. I feel a little for Olympus here because they want to make a really nice sharp stills camera and one way to get that apparent sharpness up is to have a low or even no OLPF and that’s the choice they’ve made. Unfortunately aliasing/moire will show up more in video than in stills. In stills it’s usually a pretty simple fix …not so much in motion ..

How’s it look ?

You should be the judge but I’m impressed by the inherent look of the E-M5 MarkII.  The 8 bit files and the dynamic range in video mode are probably it’s biggest hold-backs, but it’s no slouch when you can get the conditions in your favour.  It’s never going to like high contrast and only having 8 bits to work with in the grade certainly doesn’t help the course.  I’m quietly hopeful that with clean HDMI recording this can be greatly improved.  The IS really helps to minimise the perception of the rolling shutter and the motion cadence seems nice.  Olympus are well known for their base look and this should be extended into video.  The default profiles are great for a baked in look, (just like shooting JPEGs) and if you want to shoot for the grade, the custom profile gives you some range to work with.

I will confess I did have some trouble in some situations with Ash’s skin tones, but I feel like it may have been makeup related or perhaps the earlier matrix / colour calibration of the V0.9 camera.  Ian was no problem though so I think it may have just been her make up.

I used the worst IR ND filters ever, the green TIFFEN’s but it was all I was able to access to use in the mattebox on the Zeiss superspeed lenses.  I was usually on a 1.8 (6 stops) and I always shot at 1/50th of a second except for the 50fps scenes which were 1/100th.  Mostly shooting around  T 1.3-2.8

For the Olympus lenses though I had the fantastic Hoya PRO IRND filters and they are very good, very neutral. A little birdy tells me they are the same heritage as the Mitomo True ND filters, which have already proven how truly neutral they are.

In the grade NO SHARPENING was applied and NO NOISE REDUCTION either so you’re getting a fair idea of what it looks like.

Final thoughts

Olympus are officially in the filmmaking game and this is only their first serious effort at making a camera with appeal to those of us that want our stills cameras to also shoot motion. Although the headline specs might not seem all that impressive compared to others at first glance, you should consider the total package and with their IS it starts to become a really interesting camera for certain applications.  There’s certainly nothing else like it.

Olympus have got a lot right. The biggest step was adding frame rates that at least means we can use cameras in professional cine and TV environments. This next generation I.S has to be seen to be believed. It really is that good. Click to the end of the BTS clip below for examples. Adding those frame rates and adding a more robust editorial all intra codec are both great leaps for Olympus to make.

Now many of you would know I’m a big fan of the Blackmagic pocket cinema camera and have been using them for several years. They give me awesome DR and high bit depth files that are still pretty hard to beat in terms of base IQ. But they don’t have sensor IS and you can’t take a decent still with them either . They also don’t have an EVF, nor do they have good exposure tools and an articulated screen and fast AF.  Olympus does get a lot right with their long heritage of making unique cameras that stand proud in their own way.

Am I going to shoot an entire TV series using only one of these ?  No, probably not, but it’s definitely going to have a place in my arsenal of cameras on set. To my camera agnostic thinking I tend to like to have a camera for every situation and I can think of plenty of times where I’d be reaching for the E-M5 Mark II over my usual production camera…getting in a car and shooting from the back seat (or front seat) would be the first, but really anywhere I can’t get a full size production camera like the Alexa and want image stabilised shots.

There’s still plenty to annoy and irritate, but I’m hoping they can address these kinds of things in firmware.  For example 24 FPS is really 23.98 which is fine if you’re in the US and Japan, but once again, in 50 Hz environments we actually use 24 fps that actually is 24 fps.

It really is a problem that you can’t change the exposure once you’re rolling.  That’s a crazy thing to do, and I hope they address this post haste in their next firmware update. A small thing too, but the frame rate being at 24 FPS, means that the ideal flicker free window in my part of the world is 172.8 / 180 deg shutter, but there isn’t any cine mode as such so instead I’m limited to 1/50th of a second for both 25 and 24 fps.  Now it’s pretty close, but it’s not exactly sitting in the flicker free window that we have so there’s a slightly larger chance there may be issue with lighting flicker with certain lights…

So for Olympus this camera is more a toe in the water rather than a headlong dive into the deep waters of cinema cameras, but I for one am very excited to see Olympus at least moving in this direction.  I’m standing up and cheering them on loudly because they have a long and proud tradition of innovation and that’s got to be good for us cinematographers.

Panasonic have had this m4/3 video / stills camera space with their GH series cameras and Olympus certainly have some catching up to do but I can’t wait to see what they bring to the video market of these cameras and I’m really excited for Olympus to be moving in this direction. Olympus have such a long history of making their own path so I’m expecting great things.

I want to thank those who helped me out with this shoot. Our actors Ian Meadows and Ash Ricardo, along with the band, led by George Washingmachine. The track is his own, “The Moon has Left Town”.   Tony D’Aquino for directing and editing  and also Quett from Olympus Australia who nervously watched on as I pretty much attempted to trash his new pre-release cameras.  Quett also shot a lot of the behind the scenes and took a lot of the photos you see here and for download. Thanks also to Jessica Clarke-Nash for assisting me along with Roberto Tarrants.

Here are the Clips.

Firstly, Curiosity.

This is the behind the scenes but it also has some great examples of the I.S working.  All the shots that have crew in them are ungraded out of Quett’s camera.

And here’s some camera original video files along with some RAW stills. You need to download Olympus Viewer to access the RAW files as the updates for other photo processing applications is still to come.  I make these available to you for your evaluation only.  Please do not re-purpose or re-distribute.

https://copy.com/MbehnWj2I8GX32ny

 

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50mm Lenses Compared, plus 4444 ProRes for the URSA

 

Blackmagic URSA

Maddy shot with URSA 4K RAW

 

I was lucky enough a few days ago to receive the brand new first production run of the SLR Magic 50mm T2.1 APO PL mount lens and I was keen to try it out on some skin tones.  By way of comparison I also had the Zeiss CP2 50mm T1.5 Superspeed.

I’m afraid I only had time test these lenses at T4 so they’re both probably at close to their best.

Lens Tests

 

The key was two 2K blondies and two LUPOLIGHTS which are a daylight fresnal source I’ve not used before. I believe they were 575w.  I generally prefer tungsten for skin tones rather than LED and discharge light sources.

Behind camera I had a 1k tungtsen bounce onto a 6×4 foamcore panel as a kind of fill and eyelight.

I had a bare Tungsten Kino tube in the background behind our model Maddy and I placed it half against a flippy, or black drape.  The idea was to look for any chromatic aberration. and veiling flare.  I also draped the bare tube on a nice chromed CEE stand so again, looking for those colour fringes in highlights.

Right up close to camera on the far left you’ll see a lighting stand which I put at minimum focus.  The CP2 focuses a few inches closer at about 18″ than the SLR Magic 50mm which is about 24″ so that stand is there for a focus pull to check for breathing you’ll see on the motion clips.

To my eye the SLR Magic 50mm T2.1 APO stands up really nicely, considering it’s half the price of the CP2.  It’s certainly sharp, it doesn’t flare as much, especially around the Kino tube, and it has good geometry and dimensionality, Maddy seems to seperate nicely.

It’s also a bit warmer, which I liked.  it reminded me a little of the Cookes…

It’s also a bit darker, and there could be a couple of things going on…perhaps I wasn’t as accurate with the iris, or one of them isn’t correct at T4.  The slightly darker image of the SLR Magic might also explain why it’s a smidge warmer.

There are some Blackmagic URSA 4K RAW frames here, and I invite you to take a close look and compare and comment back here what differences YOU notice.

I also took the chance to at the same time shoot some stills with the same lenses on an Olympus EM1.

I wanted to try my Leica M 50mm APO as a comparison and I also have an Olympus 45mm F1.8 that I’m very fond of as well.

In the same linked folder below you’ll find the stills for each lens and I’ve tried to match the frames as best I could.  once again, peep away and tell me what you see.  Once you compare the prices of those lenses, I think you’ll agree it’s amazing how close they all actually are….

If i was doing this again, I’d change the shutter speed as I matched the exposure time of 1/50th but I was handheld with the camera and didn’t use a tripod.  I did turn IS off as well, so sharpness will be harder to compare.

I’ve also included some ProRes 444 files shot at the same time and I’ve also included 422HQ as a comparison.

I like that the URSA now has this option, not so much for the colour sampling, but for the fact that 4444 ProRes is a 12 bit file vs the 10 bit 422 HQ.

Interestingly though the data rate for 4k RAW 3:1 is a little less that 4444 ProRes…I wonder if people will choose RAW over the 4K 4444…

So here is the link to all the still files and the motion files.

Please be aware that these are only for illustrative purposes only and the copyright shall be retained by me.

A very big thank you to our model Maddy and to Sassy Entertainment for the late notice booking, and to Dragon Image who supplied the studio and lighting.

And HUGE thanks to my a
ssitants Jessica Clarke – Nash and Roberto Tarrants !

And finally, here are the ungraded files. Please be sure to come back and tell us what you think !

URSA was 24 FPS, 180 Deg shutter at ISO 400.  You’ll also notice the LED xmas lights are pulsing at this frame rate / shutter angle.

https://copy.com/t1JUMFBCZJCtpDcg

 

Posted in Equipment, General, Lighting, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

SLR Magic 50mm APO T2.1 PL mount lens

SLRMagic 50mm APO T2.1 lens

SLRMagic 50mm APO T2.1 lens

I’ve been excited about this lens ever since I was lucky enough to meet Andrew from SLR Magic about a year ago.

Andrew was very keen to move into more high end cinema lenses and he came and spent an afternoon with me on the set of Offspring watching us work.  He was especially interested in looking at the way we work with lenses and grilled both my focus pullers on features they’d like to see.

Andrew also wanted to make something that would perform exceptionally well optically.

This 50mm lens is the end result of those efforts.  So far it looks like SLR Magic have delivered.

I have been using SLR Magic’s MFT lenses for a long time on both my Olympus OMD and Blackmagic MFT cameras.  I have found them to be great lenses, and I am a huge fan of the 10mm T2.1 lens they recently released.

I’ve also read on many forums that they are somehow re-purposed CCTV lenses.  This lens is a brand new design that Andrew has spent a lot of time refining.  He’s passionate about delivering something no one else is really doing at the moment.

Mechanically it’s very well made.  The first thing I noticed was the solid aluminium rear cap, It’s a work of art in itself !

The markings look very accurate and so far on my PL mount camera are pretty much spot on across the focus range.  Andrew also changed the initial rear PL mount from aluminium to titanium which is more thermally stable.  He also plans to make it easier to adapt this lens to Canon EF in the future with an EF mount option.

If necessary, like any good PL mount cinema lens, you can also re-shim it, though Andrew recommends only trained technicians do this.

The lens is quite compact for a lens of this optical performance but it feels very well made and solid.  The focus action itself is very smooth as well and minimum focus is also an impressive 2″.

Like the Leica – C’s, it has a shroud and witness marks for both the on and offside.

I’ve only had the lens in my hands for 48 hours and I’ve only seen one little test shoot, but from what I’ve seen optically this lens looks beautiful.  I think it has a very beautiful subtle look, it’s sharp without being obvious and drawing attention to itself and the bokeh looks controlled, contained and consistent.

Andrew tells me he’s worked really hard at the edge to edge sharpness so that the lens performs equally well in the corners.  So far that seems to be the case though I haven’t really punished the lens with charts just yet.  The APO designation refers to the superior optical performance which should be revealed in higher contrast situations, again something I’ve not had a chance to specifically test for just yet.  He’s shared privately with me some measurements that look very very good.

I’ll post some more shots soon hopefully with faces and skin tones but I wanted to share my first impressions and publicly congratulate Andrew and SLRMagic on this very very impressive lens.

Here’s a link to a few JPG and Tiff exports from Resolve shot with a Blackmagic URSA shooting 4K RAW.

https://copy.com/naVMCvhiSVYDAuQV

This lens will be selling for $1999 from SLR magic themselves

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First trailer for Hiding – ABC TV / Playmaker

Here’s the first trailer for Hiding, a terrific TV series I did late last year for Playmaker and ABC TV about a family forced into witness protection.

Cameras were Panavised Sony F55’s, Blackmagic 4K cameras and even an Olympus OMD EM1.  Lenses were vintage Panavision Ultraspeeds…

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Vintage Lenses

In between jobs I get to noodle around.  I’ve finally pulled some frames together from Puberty Blues, a television series that I shot using vintage optics.

For any that are interested in vintage lenses I thought I’d throw together a quick gallery of images.  These are all frame grabs taken while I was shooting Puberty Blues.  As such they haven’t been graded so you’re seeing what was captured using the nifty frame grab function of the Alexa.

They are a mix of Panavisions pVintage lenses (rehoused Ultraspeeds) and the Zeiss Superspeeds.

I’ve tried to pick the images that I think best exemplify the look you can get using these imperfect wonders.

You can examine these further here on FLICKR

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URSA does Bronte

I received an Blackmagic design URSA PL mount camera late last week.

Although I’ve been involved in other behind the scenes testing at BM, this was the first chance I’ve had to take a camera out and do my own thing.

I start shooting “Hiding”, a new ABC TV series tomorrow morning so I’ve been flat out getting ready for “Hiding”, but I managed to sneak out early this morning before sunrise to the wonderful Bronte beach.

Beach Ursa

I knew the weather would probably be good, so I took myself, the Ursa and a Panavision supplied Cooke 25-250 MK3 T 3.7 zoom down to shoot the sunrise.

This clip was shot over a period of about 90 mins.  I filled three of my four 128Gb SanDisk CFast 2.0 cards and did it on two Vlock batteries. Many of the shots were done before sunrise.  Pretty impressive for 400 ISO @ T4 at that frame rate.

All shots are ISO 400, 60 FPS at 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) ProRes HQ except for just one which was 24 FPS, the shot of the sun actually rising in shot.

One thing to note.  The Cooke 25-250 zoom is a vintage lens that’s over 30 years old.  It’s quite soft on the edges even when the centre is sharp.  You’ll also see a lot of chromatic aberration.  It’s hardly what you’d call a modern lens design.  But I like it for it’s personality.

I used the True ND 9 and 1.5 once the sun was up.

Vimeo doesn’t do the original ProRes files justice either.  They are gorgeous.

I should add, single node grade in Resolve, no NR and I had to fix two shots with black sun.

 

Posted in Black Magic Cinema Camera, Equipment | 96 Comments

Turkey Shoot – Gallipoli

Sunset over North Beach at Gallipolli

Sunset over North Beach at Gallipoli

I was very lucky to get a last minute call up from the amazing Glendyn Ivin to pop off to Turkey to shoot some elements for his monumentally epic series covering the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Gallipoli landings.

Main unit had already wrapped and main unit DP Germain McMicking wasn’t available so I jumped at the chance to travel to Turkey and visit the Gallipoli battlefields.

It really was a splinter unit, with the crew consisting of just Glendyn and I.  We called ourselves the “Turkey” unit.  We also  had some local help with a very able camera assistant and fixer.

We were there to do a couple of things.  Glendyn wanted to get as much VFX plate material as he could at the actual peninsular.
.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Shooting the shipping lanes of the Dardenelles

We traveled amongst the villages and shot the local farmers doing what their ancestors have probably also done for thousands of years before them, working the land.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tomato pickers in front of a sunflower field

To match the main unit work we had an Alexa classic shooting ProRes 4:4:4:4 in Log C on Zeiss Superspeeds but I also had a Blackmagic 4K cinema camera and a Blackmagic Pocket cinema camera.

The extra resolution of the 4K Blackmagic camera was a great help for the VFX plates where resolution mattered and the smaller 4K camera also meant we often would leave the Alexa behind when we started “bush bashing” off the marked tracks to try and shoot the topography that we needed.

Gpano

Looks easy but it was actually incredibly difficult to get to places like this that were off the regular track – iPhone Panorama.

I also shot extensive tiled panorama reference plate photographs using an Olympus EM1 and their brilliant 12-40 F2.8 Zoom. Shooting RAW, I was able to shoot 200 degree panoramas for the VFX department, that they will be able to stitch together.  The camera was small and unobtrusive and it made it really easy to always have it around my neck even when we were off in the scrub.

L1008627

Olympus EM1 with 12-40 F2.8 shooting tiled panoramas.

We had the relative luxury of being there for several days so we fell into a routine of photographing the locations we needed at different times of day so Glendyn will have plenty of options for selecting what he needs to match the 8 hours of broadcast material that needs a constant trickle of authentic background plates to be composited in behind the main foreground action.

It was also incredibly moving to have a chance to be there as we approach the 100th anniversary of this doomed military campaign that with every year seems to grow more and more spiritually significant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the many gravestones int he many cemeteries that dot Gallipoli

Gallipoli is a 4 x 2 hour mini series and will air on the Nine network in 2015.

 

Posted in Equipment, Production | 7 Comments