After Leica first entered the video market last year, the Leica SL is their second attempt at a 4K camera that is aimed at filmmakers. But is this camera ready for primetime filmmaking? Just like many other cinema cameras currently on the market we have assessed its qualities in our test lab and in this part 2 of our Leica SL review we will show you how it performed. The Leica SL raised our hopes when it was introduced last October. A camera with Leica’s reputation in photography, that shoots 4K and outputs 10-bit 4:2:2 video with slow motion in HD at up to 120 frames per second. Nice. The 10 bit option is just what we’re missing on other mirrorless cameras currently available. It seems only the price of the Leica SL sours the mood. In this lab test we found some reasons for concern on the Leica SL, but there are also good things to say. The organic image quality of this camera stands out, while lowlight performance and dynamic range could be improved. Check out our real world Leica SL Review Part 1 HERE For this test we used the latest available firmware (V1.2) and the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm F/2.8-4.0 lens. Note: We were not able to use the Zeiss 50mm CP2 T/2.1 makro lens, which we have used to test the other cameras mentioned in this article. At the time of the review there was no compatible adapter available by Leica. Due to the nature of this particular test, the influence on the verdicts of this variation is minor, but must be noted. Dynamic Range Let’s start with dynamic range. A very important attribute of a camera sensor that is often overlooked and hard to measure. More often than not we find that this is where many camera sensors fail to amaze. The Leica SL is no exception. We’re testing with a DSC labs XYLA-21 transmissive test chart (More on how we test HERE). In the chart above you can see the performance of the different cameras. The Leica only reaches a bit more than 9 usable stops of dynamic range between ISO 50 and ISO 400, while ISO 400 is slightly lower than 9 stops. (Avoid ISO 200 if possible, slight sensor pattern) The way the camera processes the image is very very strange. The log file here looks unlike anything we’ve seen and it is necessary to overexpose in order to get your image in a “safe place”, as from a certain point in your mid-tones noise appears with sensor patterns and then the image very quickly drops into pitch black. A very unnatural looking log gamma. In practice this means it’s very hard to expose correctly with this camera. When your scene has too much contrast you will very easily over or underexpose and if you make a mistake your shots can easily be ruined. We even had troubles to expose a normal test chart. Leica needs to address the way the image is processed. Something seems wrong here. ISO and Noise As mentioned above there is a lot of noise in the dark areas on recordings from this camera. This wouldn’t be so bad was the dynamic range not so limited, as this means your dark areas start where the mid tones start on other cameras. ISO 400 is as high as you should go on this camera at any time. The reason for this is that starting with ISO 800 a very strange looking noise reduction kicks in that cannot be disabled. You will not want this kind of noise reduction in your shots as it ruins any detail in mid tones and dark areas. This also needs to be addressed by Leica. Leica SL – Automatic Noise Reduction at ISO 800 External 10 bit? According to the press release in Ultra-HD (3840×2160) resolution the camera outputs 10bit 4:2:2 via HDMI. Indeed we could record an image at this size to the Atomos Shogun. The upside here is that before rec is triggered (when the camera is on standby) the automatic noise reduction, mentioned above, does not kick in yet, so you get images above ISO 400 without the horrible noise reduction. The dynamic range did not increase on external recordings. Also we did not notice a significant increase in video quality on the external HDMI feed vs. the internal 100mbit H.264 8bit recording. We were not able to test wether there is a true increase in bitrate. There are some hardly noticeable compression artefacts on the internal recording, but the video looks identical, also during heavy grading. Image Quality Yes, there’s also something positive to say. At the right ISO speeds and contrast, image quality of the Leica SL is superb. The noise looks very organic, the compression is significantly better than on the Sony a7S II and the true 4K (24fps only) image looks stunning and clean. 400% crop: Horizontal Resolution / Detail (Red Line is where resolution tops out) The chart above is a comparison of horizontal resolution. The Leica SL was shot at 4K, all other cameras at UHD resolution. When we see this image at its original size we notice the following: The Leica SL produces the most natural looking and clean image, no aliasing is visible, very natural looking noise. The Sony FS7 has more detail and less noise, but also produces some unnatural aliasing. The Leica SL is on par in terms of detail / resolution with the Samsung NX1 and Sony a7S II. The Sony a7S II image looks least clean (lots of compression artefacts and some aliasing) You should know, that this is really pixel peeping here with a 400% crop. You will not notice a resolution difference when played back at 1080p. But one thing is for sure: The clean image of the Leica SL stands out and reminds us of how the Arri AMIRA captures light (see image below, 300% crop, contrast slightly matched), but the colours seem less accurate (notice the red). Rolling Shutter Rolling shutter behaviour on the Leica SL is about 22ms which is very similar to most other mirrorless and DSLR cameras, a bit better than the Sony a7S II, but significantly worse than the Sony FS7 for example. Conclusion This camera is very interesting. Personally I was at first very put off by the limited dynamic range and weird automatic noise reduction starting at ISO 800. But the organic, clean images the camera can produce in the right shooting environment and the well compressed video files are something to note and will have a significant impact on the look of your films. When Johnnie shot his nice Leica SL Review Video I could see him struggle to get the camera working with the dynamic range and ISO limitations, but I could also see his positive surprise when he saw how nice the footage had turned out. We all thought that there was clearly a more neutral and organic feel to it than on a Sony a7S II for example. This lab test confirms those observations. There are many things speaking against this camera. Not only the limited dynamic range and bad lowlight performance, but also the high price and closed off Leica eco system are a problem. Once proper adapters for a wide range of lenses become available and if the price goes down, this camera could become a serious alternative to some other large sensor video systems, especially on shoots with controlled lighting. We’re looking forward to the next Leica and possible firmware updates. Thank you LEICA STORE WIEN for supplying the camera and lens.Read more
Our favorite video streaming portal Vimeo recently announced that they are about to introduce 4K streaming in Q1 2016 to all their users (right now, they say it’s for a select few). It’s been possible to download 4K versions already for a while now, if the content was uploaded in a 4K (or greater) resolution. The streaming option however is new. Also, as of now, they start offering variable streaming which can be selected from each video individually. So far, HD videos were usually defaulted to 720p streaming if the “HD” icon at the bottom right in a video was enabled (unless otherwise specified by the video creator in their settings). Now, when you click on that same HD logo, you can select various resolutions, among them of course 720p and 1080p. 4K is likely to be added to that menu in the future. 4K will also be available for Vimeo On Demand as well, which is interesting for filmmakers who sell or rent their work there. Vimeo also say that they are testing adaptive streaming and that it will be introduced soon – like the resolution options, this is reminiscent of YouTube, where this has been normal operation procedure for quite a while now. Vimeo will also introduce this for iOS and Apple TV versions of their app to allow for changing internet connection quality (however Apple TV does not support 4K at this stage). via NoFilmSchool & VarietyRead more
If you have been in the business for a while as a cameraman already, you might remember a time when there were cameras that you could just pick up for the first time “out of the box” or from the TV station that hired you and you were able to use it “as is”. Amount of different cameras Nowadays, the amount of different camera brands and models that we are using as professionals on a daily basis is constantly increasing. The average professional has a number of different cameras he’s working with, or hires them on occasion. There isn’t “one camera for the right job”, there’s loads of different ones for loads of different purposes. For example, I still use my Canon C300 for many broadcast jobs as it’s an extremely popular camera with a beautiful image. Since it was released, I have also become a big fan of the Sony A7s, an amazingly small full frame camera with the most insane low light capability you have ever seen. I also ordered the Sony FS7, which will be my first permanent foray into 4K filmmaking, and I frequently hire an F55 or Red Epic or Dragon for higher end jobs. And sometimes (rarely though) I am even forced to work with traditional shoulder-mount broadcast cameras like the Sony PXW-800. As you can see, that’s a huge range of cameras. The problem with that is that they come with viewfinders that differ hugely in quality and size. Also, they take some getting used to until you really confidently are able to focus with them. Oddly, in recent years, smaller cameras like the A7s seem to have better viewfinders than more “professional” cameras like the C300, for example. Sony has been pushing their OLED technology even into smaller and cheaper products like the A7 line and others, and they are superior to LED because of their reproduction of blacks, resolution and coming in at a small size. Quality and compatibility of EVFs When I tested the FS7 on my recent shoot on Vienna’s St. Stephens Cathedral (click here if you missed it), I was in a big hurry and couldn’t find a quick way to use preview LUTs on the supplied viewfinder, so I had to shoot looking at SLog 3 … and if you ever did that, you know that it’s extremely hard to judge focus (or color, for that matter) if you look at an Slog or C-Log image, while it gives you most latitude for post production. So I ended up with some images that are out of focus simply also because I didn’t know the viewfinder well … and this is something that can easily happen to you if you hire cameras with a supplied viewfinder, especially if they are not very good … When DSLRs first came out, we had the problem that the built-in viewfinder couldn’t be used for video, so we had to add loupes like Zacuto’s popular Z-Finder to magnify the image displayed on the back screen. This helped tremendously but on cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II, judging focus was still very hard because of the low resolution of the screen – at least the camera’s soft video images weren’t as susceptible to focusing errors as more modern cameras. Also, it was often hard to judge the displayed image in its entirety due to the magnification of many of the added loupes – the Z-Finder was no exception. With sharper HD and now even 4K cameras the resolution problem became more prevalent. There are terrible EVFs or viewfinders on some very popular cameras, namely the C100 (Mark I, the Mark II has a better one, as does the C300), Sony F3, FS100, FS700 and many others. The FS100 and FS700 use a low quality screen with a lousy and long detachable loupe, impossible to judge focus on an HD image properly. It becomes of course much worse if you record 4K with the FS700 … an absolute nightmare and simply a gamble to get things in focus. In general, if you ever had the chance to look at shallow depth of field 4K footage on a 4K screen, you have certainly realized that focusing is incredibly hard to get right – not just in that resolution, but it’s especially hard the higher the recorded resolution, obviously. Nevertheless we mostly judge focus using low resolution viewfinders …. One viewfinder for all cameras? And this is exactly where the Zacuto Gratical comes in as an extremely interesting proposition … with the promise to work on almost every camera. When Zacuto announced the development of their high-resolution viewfinder a few years ago, many realized that it was time for such a product, but we had for a long time for the final product to arrive. And oddly enough, there aren’t many products on the market that can even be compared to the Gratical. There are the Alphatron and Cineroid viewfinders, which are much cheaper, but made predominantly for DSLR shooters in need of an external viewfinder. The problem with both of them is their sheer size – both use relatively big LCD screens combined with a loupe, and the resolution isn’t that great either (rumor has it that they use the retina screens used also in iPhones). Zacuto also made their original Z-Finder EVF, which combined a small, lower resolution screen with the Z-Finder loupe. While all of these viewfinders weren’t bad, they weren’t great – so why didn’t anyone come out with a smaller high resolution viewfinder compatible with all kinds of cameras before? The answer is simple: availability of the screens just wasn’t there. There are only few companies in the world which produce high quality screens in really small sizes and in quantities, and the comparably small niché of camera accessories simply wasn’t among their priorities. Plus the Alphatron and Cineroid viewifinders also were too big for my taste (among many other issues I had with them), especially when used with a small camera. The shape of the Gratical makes much more sense when put next to any camera – a longer, slimmer design that can move very close to the camera allows for much more flexibility. Sony came out with a really good OLED viewfinder for their F5 and F55 and I quite enjoy working with it whenever I use any of those cameras. However, there’s a big downside – it uses a proprietary connector and isn’t compatible with other cameras at all – not even the new FS7! Incredible for a $5,000 device, which makes the Zacuto Gratical look cheap in comparison. Gratical build quality To be able to use one really good viewfinder with all kinds of cameras means that there is no need to to readjust yourself to the “look” of different monitors and viewfinders constantly, and that’s a huge plus in this age of constantly changing cameras. Before I talk about the individual features of the Gratical viewfinder, I want to mention its build quality, because that’s what I had most problems especially with on the Alphatron viewfinder in the past. I was always worried that the thing would break apart at some point. Not so much with the Gratical. It seems to be build like tank out of very sturdy material, and Zacuto backed that up recently with running it over with a car in a very American fashion :-) It really feels like something that can take a beating, and when I am spending that much money on something, I usually also want to make sure that I can hire it out to other filmmakers – and the Gratical really feels as sturdy as a rental item has to be. It’s built out of Aluminum Alloy, just like an Alexa EVF, which also makes it super lightweight. Other Zacuto electronics like the original Zacuto EVF were build quite well too, but you can tell that a lot more money went into making the Gratical when you hold it in your hands. It feels like something really valuable and I can’t see any piece break off easily … Aluminum feels like the way to go for things like that! It also has rubber over all its sensitive parts, namely the glass and the connectors. While I have to admit it looks a bit funny when cables are connected to it (with all the rubber protectors sticking away from it), those rubber protectors really do a good job when a connector is not in use. Plus you can’t lose them because they are attached to the Gratical. Gratical form factor and rigging The Gratical is an OLED viewfinder, which means it doesn’t have a larger LCD that can be used as a screen like on the Alphatron, Cineroid or the FS7 viewfinder. However, that doesn’t really matter to me at all – as mentioned before, I prefer a smaller unit over a wide unit with an LCD screen, especially on smaller cameras. Zacuto have a lot of experience with building rigs, obviously, and because of the Gratical’s narrow shape, it can be put up quite closely to the side of a camera, which is perfect when you build up a rig. Try that with an Alphatron, good luck! Same problem with the FS7’s supplied viewfinder – the mounting solution that Sony added for the supplied viewfinder is atrocious … and it’s very hard to get in the right position. The Gratical on the other hand comes with an industry standard Arri Rosette on the side, which works great with the Axis EVF mount that makes it very adjustable to any position. You can also use a standard 1/4 inch screw at the bottom alternatively. There are also 4 assignable (or re-assignable) buttons on the side of the unit as well as a joystick with another 4 assignable positions (until you push the joystick – then the four directions on it serve as the menu navigation). The cool thing is, all of these buttons can store really ANYTHING the Gratical can do. You can even program a LUT onto one of the buttons and switch between LUT and LOG image by the press of one button. Extremely neat and VERY useful! Powering It’s nice to see that the Gratical works with standard Canon LP-E6 batteries, which everybody already has. They seem to last for a many hours … how many exactly, I don’t know, but one LP-E6 battery got me through a full afternoon when I tested it, easily 4 hours, and it wasn’t fully drained when I stopped working with it. I didn’t use any of the jacks and no loop through, but according to Zacuto you get 3 hours constant run time if you do use all the features and ports at the same time. That’s pretty good for these small batteries – the OLED technology seems to require considerably less energy than LCDs. The battery mount is very well designed and deeply integrated into the Gratical, which is great – there is no chance of accidentally knocking off the battery like on some other viewfinders, especially the early models from Cineroid. Zacuto also has a LP-E6 to D-Tap cable that can directly go into any battery with a D-Tap port, for example the Anton Bauer batteries. Considering these big brick batteries are standard on larger camera rigs like the F5/F55 and all sorts of traditional broadcast cameras, you never need to worry about powering the Gratical again. Ports The Gratical HD has two HD-SDI ports (in and out) and two HDMI ports (in and out). It allows you to loop through an image to an additional device. For example, you can attach a wireless HDMI transmitter to the Gratical (which gets its video feed from the camera, of course). You could send the video signal to video village like I frequently do using something like the Radian MC transmitter (read my review here). If you attach a recorder at the end of this chain, just be careful to disable overlays which would otherwise end up being burnt into your image. Screen and resolution The first thing you notice when you look through the Gratical HD is that the screen is almost square instead of 16 x 9. It’s 1280 by 1024 resolution, and it is devided into two sections. There’s the image area covering 1280 by 720 pixels used for the image, and a technical area that is used for vectorscopes and other additional image level information by factory default. However this section is completely user-definable as well – it can be displayed either on top or at the bottom of the image area, and it can also display information like audio meters, battery level and any other feature the Gratical has – so it’s fully customizable. Apart from the great customization, I think that’s a really smart idea to separate the technical information from the image – there is hardly anything more annoying than a preview screen cluttered with overlays, making it impossible to judge the image. 720p resolution might not sound like a lot, but in fact it’s more than what most viewfinders offer – in fact I wasn’t able to make out individual pixels at all. Quite the contrary, I am usually a guy who loves to use red peaking to be able to judge focus better – not with the Gratical though (although of course the feature is there). It’s simply not necessary. If the diopter is adjusted correctly (double check when you use it!), it’s super easy to judge focus purely by looking at the image. I really never had this kind of experience before using a viewfinder – the one that came close was the proprietary Sony OLED viewfinder for the F55, however I found that viewfinder to have shutter issues (apart from the fact that it only works with the F5 & F55 cameras like mentioned before). Color reproduction & LUT / Picture Profile When I attached the C300 for my test of the Gratical HD, I realized that the color reproduction was very accurate – accurate to reality, not necessarily to the camera (which is a good thing for a viewfinder!). The Gratical has extensive controls for color balancing, so I am sure it can fit every need – nice are also the color presets which can safe adjustments for different cameras. The LUTs feature wasn’t working on my review loaner when I had it, but Zacuto explained to me how it will be working (with the firmware update to be released very soon): – import – can import lut from Resolve as .look as well as many other LUT files and save to one of 16 presets in the Gratical – create – can create a lut internally and save to one of 16 presets in the Gratical – EVF Internal LUT – either select a preset lut for your camera (created by Zacuto), B&W, or any of your 16 presets saved in the Gratical – SDI out LUT – Exactly the same as the EVF LUT except can be a totally different LUT going to the video village then viewed in the Gratical. Preset, B&W or any one of your 16 presets saved in the Gratical Now this feature is pretty amazing – you can continue to record Log on the camera, as you display a LUT on the Gratical and just in order to be able to judge the image and exposure. Plus you can have a separate LUT output via the HDMI or HD-SDI out to an additional client monitor – without confusing them with the ungraded Log image. This feature can’t be underestimated. I find it’s easy to be “unexcited” about images shot in SLog2 or SLog 3 when shooting in the camera, simply because images don’t “pop” as much as they should if you compare them with their real-life counterpart. Selectable LUTs are also key … you can adjust the preview image to your needs. Some cameras have LUTs built in – however, on the C300 there is the built-in “View Assist” function which simply makes your preview image way more contrasty, but really, really ugly (and you can’t change that LUT) – plus you cannot even trust the waveforms and histogram for exposure anymore, because suddenly it only refers to the displayed image, not the C-Log image that is being recorded … Not on the Gratical though, the waveforms and histograms always refer to the recorded image, not the displayed image. This might sound minor, but it is actually quite key because you might end up exposing the image incorrectly if you trust the numbers there. Conclusion The Zacuto Gratical HD is an incredible viewfinder, certainly on par with the highest quality ones I have ever used – the problem with the other high end ones (Arri, Red, Sony …) is that they don’t work with all cameras. I plan to purchase the Gratical, which will live with the cameras I am using – now that I will be switching between FS7, C300, C100, A7s and Red Epic even more regularly on my shoots. Obviously it also makes sense if you have less cameras or just one, because the Gratical strikes me as a very future proof device. I can’t see many features missing from it at all and therefore I think it’s something that’s here to stay.Read more
We’ve been testing the new mirrorless Sony alpha a7 and Sony alpha a7R cameras that come with very promising new features dedication to video. Here’s a quick and dirty resolution comparison of the video function between these two and our all time favourite the Canon 5D mark III. When you watch the video you can clearly see the differences between the cameras. Some initially thought the higher resolution of the a7R versus the a7 would increase the video quality. This is true, but the test reveals that this difference is ever so tiny that it can hardly be noticed. When compared to the 5D mark III on the other hand we can see that the aliasing and moiré of the a7 as well as the a7R is pretty severe, probably similar to that of Canon DSLR’s like the 7D or TxI line. On the left you can see the rig I used to make an accurate rolling shutter comparison. This revealed that the rolling shutter on the 5D mark III is much stronger than on the a7’s. Is this a good thing? Yes it is. But the rolling shutter seems to be something most people take less severe as an argument against a camera. The settings on both a7’s were the “Neutral” picture profile with everything turned down to -3. The same goes for the 5D mark III which had the “Neutral” picture profile and contrast/saturation/sharpness all the way down to 0. There was no grading applied except for the last shot. What I found really great about the Sony a7 was its oled viewfinder. This thing is truly amazing. I wish more cameras had this kind of technology implemented, or the A7’s had a cleaner image. In terms of functionality it’s not a bad camera by Sony. For more info check out Johnnie Behiri’s review. Song kindly provided by themusicbed Windmills – Creating Something BeautifulRead more
Remember Sebastien Devaud’s Canon C100 introduction film (LINK) in September? Well he’s back and he shows us a product that might be a pretty useful and affordable alternative to one of those fancy electronic viewfinders. The Deitygear 4″ high quality loupe makes us nostalgic and lets us relive the times when we put LCDVF‘s on the rear of our 5D mark II’s. The Deity goes on the EOS C’s flip out LCD and transforms it into a good viewfinder. I haven’t found the specs for the EOS C’s LCD resolution. But it must me somewhere in between 640×480 and 800×600, probably closer to the former. It’s an important point to consider if the original display resolution is sufficient. Because the loupe won’t give you a sharper image, just make the dots bigger and block out external light. Official website: www.deitygear.com via CinescopophiliaRead more
After the really really enjoyable first episode of the Zacuto SCCE they have finally released the second of three episodes. Once again I cannot stress enough that if you’re a camera person you really shouldn’t miss the chance to see this beautifully edited piece of well done camera comparison! It is not only revealing to see how digital cinema (and analog film for that matter) cameras compare, and to hear industry professionals speak about their observations, but also a great great opportunity to learn about very imporant aspects of cinematpgraphy like signal to noise ratio, resolution, compression that is very elegantly explained in these tests. Episode 2, “Sensors & Sensitivity” of the three part series continues with tests covering sensitivity, resolution, compression and the relationship between them. It is striking to see how bad DSLRs performed in this par of the comparison. While they had some good performance in the dynamic range part of the last episode, this time around they fail hard and show their weaknesses. Not only does moire go crazy as we all very well know, but most importantly the images are literally destroyed at times by the line skipping characteristics of the current HDSLR sensors and their unhealthy compression pipeline. Here’s a list of all the cameras that were compared: – Arri Alexa – Sony F-35 – Sony F3 – Canon 5D Mark II – Canon 7D – Canon 1D Mark IV – Nikon D7000 – Weisscam HS-2 – Phantom Flex – Panasonic AG-AF100 – RED ONE M-X – 35mm Kodak 5213 and 5219 film Here are some quotes I felt were important: “(…) shocking in a way to see how the stills cameras don’t work at all (…)” “(…) wow, I thought the Canon would be more on than that (…)” “(…) this isn’t a test that advocates for one camera over another (…) you might have one camera that works really well for one situation and another camera might not (…)” “(…) as the budget changes we’ve had to (…) use the Canon’s cause we had to (…) seeing, especially the AF100 (…) and how it compared to the F3 and how they compare to the bigger cameras, that was the biggest surprise (…) a new option that we could do (…) that’s bringing the quality back up.” There’s one more episode coming out in August. Stay tuned!Read more
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