I recently interviewed Australian film photographer Rob Walwyn on his incredible images documenting the aftermath of the bushfires that devastated Australia’s east coast in late 2019 and early 2020. Walwyn’s project, “Karrikins,” led to his first solo exhibition at the 2021 Head On Photo Festival in Sydney.
What makes Walwyn’s images of these dramatic scenes even more striking is his use of Kodak’s discontinued false-color infrared film Aerochrome. Kodak Aerochrome is a false-color infrared film originally designed for aerial photography, with forestry, cartography, industrial, and military applications.
In Walwyn’s images, the green regrowth in bushfire-ravaged New South Wales shows up in hues of bright pink and red, mimicking the flames that leaped up the blackened trees just weeks before.
But how exactly does one shoot Kodak Aerochrome? I have a few rolls in cold storage that I’ve been a little scared to shoot just yet. I asked Walwyn’s for some tips on how to shoot this rare, discontinued film, which is unlikely to ever be manufactured again. Below is the advice he gave me.
Freeze Your Film
Keep the film in your freezer for any length of long-term storage. Color infrared film degrades much more quickly than black and white or regular color films, so keep it frozen to extend its effective life.
Research Your Camera
Research the camera you plan on using before you use to load it with Aerochrome. This will allow you to confirm if there are any issues with that specific camera while using infrared films. Some cameras use infrared sensors to advance the film, and this can completely fog your precious roll.
If you want to play it safe, use a fully mechanical camera with no electronics for film advancement. This includes cameras such as the Canon AE-1, Olympus OM series, Leica M4, and Nikon FM3a.
I asked Walwyn about his use of Aerochrome in his Fujifilm TX-2 (almost identical to the Hasselblad Xpan). I knew the TX-2 has DX coding, so I asked Walwyn if there were any issues with it fogging the film.
There was no film fogging issues with the TX-2, thankfully. You can see the effect that the IR film advance sensor has on the film; there is a big magenta streak, but it’s confined to the sprocket holes area and doesn’t encroach on the image area.
I read that Fujifilm specifically improved the IR film advance sensor in the second version of the Xpan / TX cameras to be less intense specifically for IR films, but that is likely more of a problem when using Kodak HIE (the most sensitive of all the IR films).
I read on the internet about DX codes being read by LEDs, which might fog IR film, but have not seen any actual credible evidence of this or examples of how this looks. However, I have seen exactly how infrared film advance sensors ruin the film.
Take Your Film Out the Night Before
Take your color infrared film out of the freezer the night before you plan to shoot it and allow it to gradually warm up to room temperature over several hours before opening the sealed canister. Otherwise, you can get spotting or ferrotyping on the film.
Pre-Visualize Your Images
Try to pre-visualize your shots and how they might look on this film before you shoot. Aerochrome doesn’t only turn pink and red from green trees; anything that reflects infrared light shows up in similar colors on this film.
I was most surprised by how certain textiles turned bright red on this film. Black clothes often turn vivid crimson.
How to Meter
I was curious to know about metering with this film, so I asked Walwyn if he used a light meter or if he relied on the built-in metering of the cameras he used.
The method I have used to success is to set my Pentax 67II’s TTL meter to ISO 400 and meter through the filter while attached to the lens. Using the camera’s spot meter mode on the brightest green leaves in a scene, I set to 0 exposure, that is, neutral gray.
I have also applied a similar approach using a handheld Sekonic L758 spot meter where I either meter through the filter (with ISO set to 400) or increase the exposure by ⅔ of a stop for an Orange B+W 040 filter (e.g. ISO 250) if I am not going to spot-meter through the filter. I have obtained similarly nice results by just setting the Pentax’s TTL meter to ISO 400 and using a weighted average meter reading.
It’s not any more difficult than shooting a slide film such as Fujifilm Velvia. You need to understand how limited the dynamic range is, and what types of contrasty scenes you should avoid.
Don’t Make Any Focusing Adjustments
Many photographers know about the infrared focusing mark on lenses and often think that they need to use this when shooting Aerochrome. However, Walwyn advises not to make any focusing adjustments when shooting color infrared films.
A common misconception is that all infrared films require you to adjust the position of focus due to the difference in wavelength and therefore focus of infrared versus visible light.
This is not the case with Aerochrome, as those infrared focusing marks that some lenses have on them (a little red dot or line on the depth of field scale) are designed only for images made up by a majority of infrared wavelengths — for example, if you are using a black and white infrared film such as Kodak High-Speed Infrared (HIE) film with an R72 (720nm) filter.
Given Aerochrome records both visible and infrared wavelengths, with the majority of the image formed by visible wavelengths, you shouldn’t make any focusing adjustments and should just focus as you would normally for any normal film.
Don’t Rush It
Don’t stress or rush too much with finishing your roll of infrared color film. Ideally, you would shoot and process the film promptly, but keeping it in the camera for a couple of extra days or weeks is not going to destroy the film if you keep your camera out of direct sun or heat.
Talk to Your Lab
Make sure you speak with your lab before handing the film over to them. Confirm they can process color infrared film without issues, as some development machines use infrared sensors within the machine to detect chemistry levels that will ruin your film.
Rob had all his film for this series processed at Rewind Photo Lab in Sydney.
Enjoying the new Peter Jackson Beatles documentary on Disney +? Beatles obsessives and photo historians will also be interested in checking out some never-seen-before shots of the fabs, taken by another larger-than-life character, Lord Christopher Thynne
Thynne (1934 – 2017) shot the band in spring 1964 on the movie set of Hard Day’s Night.
The son of the 6th Marquess of Bath, Thynne had been sacked as controller of the family seat in Longleat and was pursuing a more bohemian lifestyle in swinging London. The negatives remained undeveloped for 57 years but were recently rediscovered.
Thynne, while not as well known as his even more colourful brother Alexander, aka the Loins of Longleat, also made headlines in his own right. His photography, however, ended up taking a back seat.
The images are on show at the Shapero Modern Gallery in Mayfair, central London, from December 9 to January 16, 2022 and admission is free.
Tabitha Philpott-Kent, Gallery Director, comments: “It’s an amazing opportunity to see a rare collection of important, never-seen-before images. These unearthed images will be on sale for £400 – £650 for a limited period of time only. As we approach the festive season, these photographic prints will delight Beatles fans across the world and provide a brilliant investment for collectors of art, photography and music memorabilia.”
Each of the developed prints are available in two sizes, but strictly limited to 35 of each. When Thynne shot the moptops, they’d just returned from their first tour of the United States and were on the brink of their celebrated 1964 World Tour, which sparked a mania and fandom so colossal that the Spectator described it as ‘hysterical’.
George away from the filming, getting down at a Mayfair nightclub
Is the weather not playing ball? Well make your landscapes abstract with these hints and tips.
What Gear Do I Need?
When it comes to gear choices, your first thoughts might be to pick up a macro lens but shooting with a wide-angle zoom will give you a larger area you can crop into later. You’ll also need a tripod as well as an ND and polarising filter.
When Can I Shoot Abstract Landscapes?
If your landscape shooting plans are put on hold by a grey overcast day, still head out as you can shoot some abstract landscapes instead. As shadows, which can help create perspective, aren’t something we need in abstract landscapes you can shoot when the sun’s hidden by cloud. After it’s rained, when the sky’s still decorated with grey clouds, is a perfect time to head out as the light will still be even and everything will be damp and drying which means they’ll be plenty of different shades to capture.
What Subjects Make A Good Abstract Landscape?
Basically, you need to frame your shot so it removes it from its surroundings, focusing on the patterns, shapes, texture and colours. Here are a few examples:
Wet, colourful pebbles on a beach.
The patterns the tide creates in the sand.
Close-ups of rusty objects.
Lines found at the bottom of reservoirs after they’ve dried up.
Areas where water has pooled, as the rocks and foliage they collect can make an interesting study. (You’ll probably need a polarising filter to reduce the amount of glare coming off the water’s surface.)
How Should I Position My Camera?
You need to stand parallel to your subject so if you’re shooting pebbles on a beach, for example, you need to stand directly above them and shoot down. Just remember to have a look around the viewfinder before you take your shot as the wide-angle view can mean your feet end up creeping in at the edge of the frame.
What About Aperture Choices?
For front to back sharpness try using an aperture around f/8 which on an overcast day does mean you’ll end up with slightly longer exposure times so using a tripod is a must. If the tides coming back in, filling channels it originally cut going out or you’re at the side of a stream that’s meandering round and over a group of rocks, dial down to a smaller aperture to give you an even slower exposure so you can blur the movement of the water, adding further interest to your shot.
Think you know the inverse-square law? How much of a “law” is it actually in the practice of photography? We are taught that the inverse-square law is the holy grail of understanding the laws of light. Some condense all the wonderful knowledge about light concepts to the inverse square law only. In this article, I want to invite you to take a step back and see how the inverse square law is wrong. Sometimes.
Inverse-square law says that light falloff is inversely proportional to the distance from the source squared. This is a common physics relationship that is also found in things such as field strengths. Physicists take great pride in being able to calculate all sorts of properties using the inverse square relationship model. Some photographers go as far as to measure exact distances and try to figure out the power they will use.
The relationship itself is true in most applications. Light intensity does decrease as distance increases. The problem arises when photographers use modifiers. Each modifier has a different light depth. That depends on their size, material, as well as other things.
I will try to show you that in photography you really don’t need to think about numbers — instead, you need to think of light as a creative tool rather than a mathematical way to get perfect images.
Why Do We Modify Light in the First Place?
We modify light in order to create an aesthetic. Light is a free form that can be molded, sculpted, and shaped. A hard reflector will give light direction, increase power, and make it hard if placed far enough. A large diffused softbox will make the light soft, even, and less directed. Then we can introduce things such as reflectors, scrims, and diffusers. Each of them will have an impact on the final result.
So by the point the light had been molded and sculpted, it may be harder towards the top of the frame than the bottom, the power could’ve been halved for the right-hand side too. For example, if you’re photographing products, you may want to use scrims to decrease power on a particular part of a white-on-white setting.
The reason photographers modify light is so that they can achieve the look they want, not because they want to test the physics relationship. Moreover, it breaks down the moment you put a modifier on your light or have something influence the light, for example, bounce.
In an ideal situation, the inverse square law will create dark shadows because of the dramatic light falloff close to the light source, and more even falloff at greater distances. That is true, but sometimes this doesn’t happen.
Most photographers work in small studios with white walls, hence there is expected light bounce. Getting a perfect dramatic falloff with lots of contrast in a small studio is rather hard, and moving the light source closer won’t exactly do the trick. Thus, you need to work with flags and remove unnecessary light from your image. The inverse-square law holds, but it is altered in an unexpected way.
The Light Source Being Too Close
The inverse square law assumes that the light source is a point that has a negligible size. However, with most photographers opting to use big softboxes, this can no longer be a reliable way of telling light output.
If your light source is anything bigger than a bare bulb, it won’t follow the inverse square rule as the light source is bigger and cannot be considered a point. With huge modifiers that are meters in diameter, this law is no longer true for most practical purposes and subjects.
Nonetheless, there is a certain Five Times Rule, proposed by Anders Hanoola and David Bicho. It states that it is fair to approximate light source as a point source if the subject to light distance is five times greater than the light’s largest dimension. What this means is that if your softbox is 5’, you need to be at least 25’ away for inverse square law to behave how it would with a bare-bulb source.
A 5’ octa is very common to use in photography, but 25’ away it becomes a lot less practical, as it will give a fairly hard and dim light. Large modifiers such as this one are commonly used closer to the subject. When working with such cases, you need to be aware that although light falls off with distance, it won’t be perfect. Hence, following your gut and placing the light in a position where the falloff is what you’re looking for is key.
Don’t be a mathematician with a light meter. Be a photographer. Ideally without a light meter.
There’s a reason modifiers have different light depths. The falloff is different from a softbox than it is from a telezoom reflector. This is again due to the size of the light source and how it throws light.
I’ve done a little experiment to show you this. I took a bare-bulb flash, a magnum reflector, a 3’ octa, and a 65″ umbrella. Here is what I got:
A perfect direct reflection will reflect 100% of the light that is cast on it. So, if you take a piece of metal, it will reflect the same intensity as the light source, no matter the distance. That sounds a bit stupid right? How can something reflect light with the same intensity as it leaves the sun? Doesn’t light intensity decrease with distance?
It does, but the reason it does is that the light spread is larger and larger. So, as light travels, it has to cover a larger and larger area. However, with direct reflection, the intensity does not change with distance, only the reflection size does.
The inverse square law is not broken, but it is given a different interpretation with direct reflections.
The inverse square law is certainly true, and if you are inclined to be mathematical with it, the relationship stands as long as you take all necessary variables into consideration. However, it is very rare to be calculating exact intensities and variables on set. Following your gut is a much better way to think of the inverse square law, especially when using big modifiers or when working with direct reflections.
Take your wide angle lens out with you and exaggerate the angles of your town.
Photo by Joshua Waller
Take a short walk through your town and you’ll find a thousand and one things to photograph but instead of walking around for hours photographing trees, postboxes and buildings one at a time try getting your wide-angle lens out to capture and emphasise a wider area of the town.
A lens which is 18mm or wider is a good choice if you’re working with a camera that isn’t full-frame. If you want to have the option of changing your focal length take along a zoom lens which will give you the option of shooting a variety of perspectives.
As your foreground objects will be quite close to your lens the smallest movement from your camera can make a huge difference to your photo so take a tripod out with you. You may also have trouble with lens flare so pack a lens hood and take a lint-free cloth to wipe away any spots on your lens.
The problem with wide-angle lenses is that objects can appear small so it’s easy for your shots to look empty. Or, if there are lots of objects filling the scene your photo will look overly busy and the viewer won’t have anything to focus on. The best way to deal with this is to have foreground interest that will give your image scale and also give you a focus point.
If you want to use this technique to its full potential, to give your image as much impact as possible, you need to get as close as you can to your foreground object.
Photo by Joshua Waller
Look out for objects you can use to lead the eye through the image as long paths and roads give the impression they stretch on for miles when shot with a wide angle lens which pulls the viewer right through the photo. Just watch out for unwanted items such as your own shadow creeping into the shot.
You need to have the eye-catching foreground interest filling enough of the frame while still retaining enough background detail to make the photograph interesting. To do this, you’ll need to make sure everything from front to back is sharp. A small aperture is a good place to start. Don’t be tempted to focus on your foreground interest as this will leave too much of your foreground in focus and not enough background detail will be sharp. Instead, focus just beyond what’s in your foreground, around a third in, or if you can, use the hyperfocal focus point.
If there’s nothing of real interest in your foreground get down low to the ground and just emphasise the scale of the entire scene. If you have a few clouds in the sky they will streak out around your scene and as they curve towards the edge of the frame, it gives them a sense of motion which can add interest to your shot.
The new Nikon mirrorless body is put through its paces halfway between Norway and the North Pole. How can it handle these grueling and photographically testing conditions?
Norway is one of my favorite countries on earth, though its weather is not for the faint of heart. With dark, ice-cold winters lasting months on end, it can be tricky for landscape photographers to capture much on the face of it, but Norway has so much to offer. Svalbard is a group of islands north of Norway. There is a lot of interesting details about this seemingly barren tundra: for example, you do not need a visa to get in — anyone can move there if they wish — and it’s home to more polar bears than people. As a result of the latter, whenever your party goes out of the town’s perimeter, somebody must have a rifle; it’s a dangerous place.
Nevertheless, it’s near the top of my list of places I desperately want to visit and so I was pleased to see that it’s where Morten Hilmer was sent by Nikon to test their new flagship mirrorless body, the Z 9. This beautiful behind-the-scenes of that assignment is a relaxing and enjoyable watch, and I was pleased to see Hilmer not being precious with the Z 9 as he gets down in the snow and the mud with it. This isn’t a review of the Z 9, but rather an excellent demonstration of what it can do in the right hands in even the most difficult of conditions.
In this tutorial, we share our lighting setup for a piece of glass stemware using minimal gear. To mimic this shot, you will need a black background, stripboxes, and speedlights.
We start by using two strip boxes (8-inch by 36-inch) to modify our speedlights. Stripboxes help shape the light into a tall vertical face, which will help us precisely illuminate the parts of the glass we want to be defined.
The most important aspect of catalog photography is accurately conveying the product to the viewer. By placing the stripboxes symmetrically behind the glassware, facing inward, we can create stark highlights down the stem, revealing the shape and flattering the glassware.
To get a more 3D look, we can use a single stripbox to illuminate the glass edge, allowing us to prioritize the second light on the front of the wine glass bowl. By placing a highlight on the bowl, we can give the viewers a sense of three-dimensional space, and better convey the material finish of the glass. By adding a gradient (with the addition of a cheap nylon diffuser panel) we flatter the glassware even further, complimented by the reverse reflection symmetrically opposite it.
In post-production, we have a few options at our disposal when dealing with a symmetrical piece of glassware. For example, if there is a particular area that is unflattering due to the asymmetrical lighting approach, we can flip the lighting from the alternative side using a feathered mask in Photoshop. Additionally, we can introduce lighting from additional exposures like base or rim lights which we may not want to have firing during main exposures, to avoid accidental reflections in the glass.
By taking a bit of time to move striplights around a room, light placement to flatter certain areas of the glassware becomes intuitive. Whether you’re lighting glassware for a white or black background the most important aspects are accurately conveying the edges of the glassware, while managing to flatter it within a flat canvas.
With the 18th iteration of the Call of Duty franchise headed back to the World War roots, Activision invited actual war photojournalists to step inside the game to photograph World War II “like we’ve never seen before.”
Call of Duty has become one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on perspective) video game franchises in the world, with a demanding update and release schedule that makes advertising for the behemoth all the more challenging.
In the three-minute video, photojournalists Sebastiano Tomada and Alex Potter are handed a special custom-made “camera” to walk around the combat zones in a photorealistic environment, with lifelike details, textures, and lighting. To highlight the changes coming to the latest iteration of the game, Activision created a custom soundstage for the photographers to walk through with reactive lighting and sound to give them a fully immersive setting.
“We’ve created a virtual camera; it’s like a portal into the game engine,” says Michael Sanders, senior visual director at Activision. “Not only does it transcend them into the game engine, but back in time, as if they were a photographer there, in the period.”
Sebastiano Tomada is an Italian photojournalist known for documenting conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Alex Potter is an American photographer and journalist who has worked mostly in the Middle East focusing on Iraq, Yemen, and the divided communities there. In the video above, the two are given the opportunity to step back in time and photograph scenes of combat from World War II taking place in Northern Africa, Berlin, and the Western Front.
“I felt like they were situations I would normally capture,” says Potter. “It was really fascinating to be part of a type of battle that I’ve never been.” Tomada adds to this saying “I was impressed by how kinetic the game was, because everything is actually happening and moving around you. This is what war looks like, this is what conflict looks like. This is it. This is real.”
While comments on the YouTube video and across social media have shown a mixed response, the majority seem to have focused on the “tastefulness” of the project since placing the player in the shoes of a war photographer, rather than a soldier, would help put the player in a position more likely to empathize for the victims of war since the purpose would be to capture the horrible moments rather than create and cause them.
Prints (limited to 25 of each) of the images taken by the war photojournalists are being sold as a part of the Call of Duty Endowment to raise funds to help US military veterans. Each photo sold will lead to the endowment funding a job for a veteran.
Nikon has been drip-feeding nuggets of information about its forthcoming flagship camera, but Nikon India appears to have jumped the gun and revealed some details a little too early. The Z 9 is expected to shoot stills at 120 frames per second, and capture 8K60 video.
Three teasers have thus far unveiled some of the impressive specifications arriving in the Z 9: the multi-axis tilting screen, autofocus tracking of athletes and vehicles, and unlimited 8K recording. The next teaser, thought to have been announced early accidentally, makes some impressive claims, albeit with some caveats.
The video — since deleted and uploaded elsewhere (YouTube, BiliBili) — claims that the Z 9’s brand new sensor will have the world’s fastest scan rate and offer 120 fps continuous shooting.
It later mentions that it will shoot raw files continuously at 20 fps which suggests that 120 fps will be compromised, perhaps using a crop on the sensor and outputting in a compressed format. Photographers for news and sports agencies tend to prefer smaller files so it’s possible that Nikon has found a way to skip pixels on what’s expected to be a 45-megapixel sensor in order to create lower resolution images when these high frame rates are required. By comparison, the Canon R5’s 45-megapixel sensor delivers 20 fps, while the Canon R3’s 24-megaxpixel sensor is capable of 30 fps.
Nikon has already suggested that the Z 9 will shoot 8K video without recording limitations, a notable flex against Canon’s difficulties with overheating. The remarkable 8K60P listed in the video comes with two asterisks, however, so while this is impressive, there will almost certainly be some compromises: perhaps a crop, and/or the loss of autofocus.
Will the Z 9 outdo the R3 and the R5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
So what’s it like to shoot in 12K video? This was just one of the many questions I had which inspired me to take the Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 12K out for a spin and see how it would perform in the real world.
Despite the fact that I use Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve Studio to do the bulk of my post-production work, I had, prior to this point, not gotten an opportunity to use any of the Blackmagic Design cameras in my cinematography work. Just one of the many product lines in the photo and video world that I was aware of, but hadn’t yet gotten a chance to get my hands on. A number of my colleagues use the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro or one of its predecessors, so I’ve always been curious. And when Blackmagic Design recently slashed the price on the URSA Mini Pro 12K to $5995, my curiosity got the better of me and I reached out for a review unit so that I could put it through its paces.
Now while I will briefly touch on some of the jaw-dropping technical specs of the camera, this is not going to be an overly tech-laden review. One, there are people in the world with far cleaner lab coats than my own that are better suited to comb through a camera pixel-by-pixel to produce mathematical conclusions. Instead, as a working photographer and cinematographer, what interests me far more is how a camera performs within the confines of a real-life workflow. My article a couple of weeks ago detailed how, when shopping for a camera, I am far less interested in the statistics on the spec sheet, and far more interested in whether the camera can provide me with dependability, ease of use, and versatility. In short, I want to know that I can trust a piece of gear and that it will provide added value to my workflow. I only had the URSA Mini Pro 12K for three weeks, so I can’t give a definitive answer on long-term dependability. But I put it through more than enough trauma over the course of those weeks to answer most of the other questions I had going in as well as get a clearer vision of where the camera could potentially fit in a professional workflow.
The Tech Specs
As I said, I won’t bog you down with too much detail about the tech specs as you can easily read those elsewhere online. But here’s a brief recap. The Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 12K comes with a Super 35mm CMOS sensor with an effective resolution of 12,288 x 6,480, or roughly 79.6 megapixels. It advertises 14 stops of dynamic range and a native ISO of 800. It records in 12-bit Blackmagic RAW (more on the recording formats later). It can record 12K Anamorphic up to 75fps and windowed DCI 4K up to 240fps. It has two 3-pin XLR jacks and a touchscreen interface built-in. The camera body weighs 5.62 pounds or 2.55 kg and currently retails for $5995. It’s a lot of camera at a very reasonable price.
So with all the numbers out of the way, let’s get on to the larger questions which prompted me to want to try out the 12K in the first place.
What Are The Benefits Of 12K?
Now, no matter how hard I try, I have still yet to find the perfect camera. And despite it being a proven fact that no such camera exists, it doesn’t stop me from hoping that one day I will find one system that can do all, and do it while weighing no more than an oversized paperweight. This dream will never come true. But a man can dream.
Because no camera is perfect, I tend to shoot my motion projects on a large variety of cameras. Whichever is right for the project. Some require a run and gun approach with a small build and excellent autofocus. Others require maximum image quality and require a small army of technicians to operate. Each job is different, so it’s hard to set out a one size fits all list of demands for a camera to achieve.
But there are a few specific requirements that I have that I wanted to see if the URSA Mini Pro 12K could solve. For one, I am both a photographer and a cinematographer. And while 95% of the time, I am going to be capturing still and video with separate devices at separate times, I do, on occasion, like to be able to do both concurrently by shooting video then pulling still frames from the video to act as additional still content. This need is why the prospect of 12K was of interest to me. While it’s possible to pull frames from 4K, or even 1080, the more megapixels the better for most of my still photography. So having 12K video to pull from could be a tangible advantage.
The URSA Mini Pro 12K also has the ability to grab a single still frame. Its smaller brother, the Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2, records still frames as DNG files to a separate folder. However, the URSA Mini Pro 12K, it should be noted, records stills as a Blackmagic RAW frame. This is a proprietary format so you will need to check to see if your chosen stills editor can work with the files or whether you might need to use third-party software to process. I, for example, use Capture One which I don’t believe is currently capable of processing Blackmagic RAW still frames. So I would need to adjust my approach.
From a pure photography standpoint, I would personally be far more likely to shoot stills with a dedicated still camera simply for ergonomic and workflow reasons if my objective was to focus on still photography. But, from a motion standpoint, being able to snatch a single still with the same camera you’re going to use to capture video has other strategic advantages. Specifically, imagine you are doing a scene requiring extended visual effects. You can lock off your frame and capture a still frame in 12K to use as a plate for later compositing. Then, use the same camera to shoot the video portion for easy combining in post. Being able to use the same tool for dual purposes can make for a smoother post process.
But, stills aside, of course, this is a 12K video camera. This means that even if you have no interest in stills at all, you are working with an astronomical amount of detail in your video files. But with the distribution market still moving from 1080 to 4K at a snail’s pace, is 12K even necessary? And, as a fellow cinematographer asked me, can you even tell the difference?
Well, whether or not the 12K is necessary is completely subject to the details of your own workflow. I think, in practical terms, the best usage for 12K is for projects requiring extensive visual effects work where detail and the ability to resize assets are critical. At this point, I don’t know that most people are going to turn to 12K to shoot an extended talking heads dialogue scene. But let’s say you were doing a detailed shot of a beer bottle or something else tangible and you really wanted to show off every feature of the product. This is where the added resolution might be a good option for you.
Additionally, starting with more resolution allows you to crop in further in post without losing detail. Similar to stills where I use more megapixels for shots requiring added detail or heavy adjustments in post, the added video resolution of the URSA Mini Pro 12K provides you with additional options. At 12K resolution, if your deliverable is only 4K or 1080, you can literally crop into only a small fraction of the frame and still maintain a sharp image.
This added room for cropping also comes into added play with the URSA Mini Pro 12K because it does not have in-body image stabilization. So, if you are one who likes to shoot wider then stabilize in post, starting with maximum resolution gives you the most flexibility.
Or, of course, you can just shoot everything in 12K with the lowest compression and luxuriate in the phenomenal image quality.
Shooting In Other Formats Beside 12K
I decided to use the URSA Mini Pro 12K on a commercial project to see how it would perform. Prior to shooting my project, I did extensive tests with all of the various formats to see for myself what the difference was in quality. The camera can record in 12K, 8K, 6K (cropped), or 4K. Within each of those, you can further control quality, and more importantly file size, by choosing a level of compression that best works for you. 12K 5:1 compression was the highest setting. 4K 18:1 compression was the lowest. Curious to see if I could tell the difference with my naked eyes, I did a quick and decidedly non-scientific test to shoot the identical subject with every possible format combination and judge the drop-off in quality.
As you might expect, the 12K 5:1 is clearly the best. The images were crazy sharp and detailed. Very beautiful. But, what I was pleasantly surprised to find was that, even when I reduced the resolution and upped the compression, I was still left with very usable video options. None of the formats produced what I would subjectively consider unacceptable results. And there were only minimal dropoffs from one compression setting to the next in most cases. And that’s assuming the drop-off was visible at all.
So, for that reason, and to conserve space, I opted to shoot the body of my project in 8K with 8:1 (the second best) compression. I was going to finish the project in 4K, so 8K gave me a bit of wiggle room for cropping. I ended up not really needing to do a great deal of cropping, but was still left with the benefits of capturing in the higher-resolution format then downsampling for output.
To test out the camera as well as my earlier stated interest in pulling still frames, I shot a second complimentary spot in 12K 5:1. These would be much shorter clips rather than extended takes. The objective would be to capture moving portraits of each actress that would highlight the clothing and provide me with both video and still frames simultaneously. The 12K worked a charm for this purpose without any significant issues with data rates or dropped frames. I’ll get more into storage demands in a moment, but as odd as it is to say in a review of a 12K camera, one of the best features is that you don’t always have to be shooting in 12K. This versatility means you can do a lot of different kinds of jobs with the same camera and only bring out the big guns when you need the extra resolution.
It might be the smallest, literally the smallest, feature on the URSA Mini Pro 12K, but one thing that I really appreciated about the design of the camera was that it allows you to record directly to external SSDs. Between my cinema cameras and my mirrorless DSLRs, I have a rather healthy collection of CFast, CFast Express, and SD cards of various speeds and sizes. They work great and I have no real complaints other than that the CFast cards in particular are, shall we say, not exactly inexpensive. My usual workflow is to capture to a card, then transfer the data to a Samsung T5 SSD for editing. Well, the URSA Mini Pro 12K lets me skip that step as it allows you to plug an external SSD directly into the camera and record straight to it. Since I have a gazillion of these T5 drives lying around on my desk, this means that I already had all the storage necessary to capture video at the highest quality. The camera does have dual-slot SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II) recording options. But, I shot my entire project straight to the SSD which allowed me to just unplug it from the camera and plug it into my computer at the end of the shoot, and immediately get to editing.
In addition to the time savings, this could potentially be huge cost savings. I have a Canon R5, for example, which shoots beautiful 8K video. But while my CF Express card is voluminous enough to shoot stills all day without needing to be offloaded, it can only shoot roughly 6 minutes of 8K Canon Raw before filling up. Sure, I could just buy a bigger card or opt to record to the Atomos Ninja V Plus with its SSD instead. But this is both an added expense and potentially an added headache as the Atomos records from the R5 in ProRes Raw which doesn’t play so nice in DaVinci Resolve Studio. I wish all cameras had this external SSD recording option as it provides another real tangible benefit.
Oh, and one quick note on file size since, understandably, the first thing you are likely to say after “wow 12K” is “whoa how much storage will that take up?” Without a doubt, I wouldn’t say the files from the URSA Mini Pro 12K were small. But I would say they are comparable to other cinema cameras I’ve shot with. Especially if you take the time to consider your compression rate when shooting, the file sizes themselves are surprisingly manageable. Sure, if you shoot everything in 12K 5:1, you might run out of storage fairly quickly. But shooting my project in 8K 8:1, I found very little drop-off in image quality while maintaining a storage footprint similar to what I’m used to with other systems. Even going to 18:1 compression produced usable results. I didn’t do this for my project, but in the basic tests I ran, I would say that it is a realistic option if storage demands are of primary concern.
Now one thing that may be a limitation or may not, depending on your workflow, is that the URSA Mini Pro 12K only records in Blackmagic RAW as opposed to including ProRes recording like some its smaller siblings. So if you prefer a different recording format, this might pose a limitation. Personally, I knew I was already going to be working in DaVinci Resolve Studio, so that wasn’t a problem. Also, I was specifically interested in working in Blackmagic RAW to see if it would solve a practical issue that pertains to my specific workflow.
I work with a number of different camera systems in a number of different resolutions and codecs. Some play nice with my computer. Some, not so nice. Not meaning to pick on my R5, it’s not even a cinema camera after all, but since I just mentioned it in the previous section and it’s top of my mind, I’ll use it as an example. The files it creates are gorgeous. But my computer really seems to dislike the codec on a personal level. Like the level of animosity is palpable. Not just in 8K either. Even some of the 4K formats have their hiccups. Some of the files playback with ease, others playback with a stutter step worthy of an NFL halfback. This can make editing very difficult without taking the time to create proxies or make other adjustments to my workflow.
Because Blackmagic Design is the same company behind both DaVinci Resolve Studio and the URSA Mini Pro 12K (and, by extension, the creator of Blackmagic RAW), I was hoping that, by keeping it all in the family, that it would lead to a far smoother editing workflow. Surely, if one company owns the entire pipeline, it should be able to optimize the experience?
I am very happy to say that this theory proved to be true. I have a respectable computer system, but not a fully decked out one by any means, yet even the 12K footage from the camera played back in DaVinci Resolve Studio without any struggle. The Blackmagic RAW files also proved to be quite malleable in post. Making raw adjustments was a breeze and these workflow improvements did not go overlooked.
As I said, your experience might differ, especially if you don’t use DaVinci Resolve Studio. But, if you are already connected to the Blackmagic Design ecosystem, recording in Blackmagic RAW is probably going to be a benefit rather than a drawback.
One more thing that could be a benefit or a drawback, depending on your shooting style, is the body format. This is not a camera built to be a run and gun vlog-style camera. This is a system meant for full professional production. Ideally, you’d be working with a team, but, if not, you will at least be working in a scenario where you can take the time to set up your shots and light and compose them properly. It’s not that you can’t run and gun with it. Its button layout and length make it comfortable to shoot within an ENG shoulder-mounted fashion. It’s just that the weight means you might have to consider just how much you really want to handhold it versus setting it up on sticks.
The 12K unit that I reviewed came with the Blackmagic Design Shoulder-Mount Kit and spent a fair amount of my production perched atop my right shoulder as I kept my eye pressed to the Blackmagic Design URSA Viewfinder. I really like a shoulder mount setup. Especially with larger cinema cameras. Trying to hold the camera out in front of you, mirrorless SLR style, for extended periods of time might do wonders for your bicep definition, but not much for the stability of your footage. This is also important because again there is no in-body image stabilization in the camera. If you opt for the EF mount as opposed to the PL mount of the base model, you can fit it with Canon EF lenses that have in-lens stabilization. But otherwise, you are going to want to factor in how you plan to keep yourself stable when shooting.
There is, of course, a certain benefit that comes with a heavier body. While a heavier body might be more challenging to handhold for extended periods, the added weight does help to reduce some of the micro jitters you so often see when holding a super lightweight camera. As remaining production time became sparse, I increasingly turned to handholding several of the shots for my projects and, despite testing my grip strength, I was happy with the results.
Buttons And Knobs
Blackmagic Design departs from the usual push and hold button layout of most other cameras I’ve worked with in favor of a switch system for many of their controls. You turn the camera off and on as well as adjust things like ISO with these silver switches. It’s a very logical layout as it makes it easy to figure out what changes you are making while giving you access to your most frequent adjustments without having to open the menus.
My first impression was that the switch system might pose a liability as it might be easy to accidentally bump the switches and make unintended changes while shooting. This shouldn’t happen. But I am clumsy. So I like to idiot-proof my cameras to protect myself from, well, me. I did actually accidentally hit the on-off switch once while I was working with the URSA Mini Pro 12K. But thankfully this only happened one time and didn’t prove to be nearly the issue I thought it could be over the course of my weeks with the unit. The convenience of having access to all my settings without going into the menu far outweighed the odds that I would accidentally flip a switch.
Is it possible to start a movement to pressure all camera manufacturers to just make built-in NDs standard practice on all cameras going forward? While I have both a matte box and my fair share of both glass and screw in NDs, absolutely nothing beats the efficiency of being able to just dial in the NDs right from the camera body. For a video shooter, if you are going to shoot day exteriors at all, ND’s are a necessary part of your kit. So why not build them into the camera so you have them with you at all times? It’s one less thing to worry about. Applying the NDs in the URSA Mini Pro 12K is as simple as turning a knob on the left side of the camera which gives you from 0 to 6 stops of filtration. A small but valued feature of the camera.
The unit I shot with was powered via the Blackmagic Design V-Mount Battery Plate. The plate is an add-on accessory, but a must-have if you are considering purchasing the camera. It also comes in a gold mount version. The camera definitely knows how to consume power, requiring a lot to maintain 12K and 8K processing. But I didn’t find the power demands prohibitive. I have three 90 watt hour V mounts batteries and only went through two during the course of a shoot day. The camera also has the ability to be plugged directly into the wall via the power adapter. So, were you to use the camera for an extended interview or a circumstance where it needs to run all day, this would be a potential option as well.
Despite being a filmmaker for over 20 years now, this is the first Blackmagic Design camera I have ever used. Yet it took me no more than five minutes to figure out how to get the camera operational. Having used so many different cameras throughout my career, I really value it when I am able to pick up a new camera system and have it figured out relatively quickly without needing a deep dive into the product manual. The layout of the menu in the URSA Mini Pro 12K is incredibly easy to navigate. No digging into submenu after submenu just to do the basics. Everything you really need is right there on the touchscreen in an easy-to-understand format. Switching between resolutions and compressions, popping on false color, or a preview LUT, it’s all right there in the menu system without you having to waste a lot of time looking for it.
I’m a big fan of simplicity in camera systems. It’s not that I don’t know how to do the more complicated deep dives into camera systems. But that doesn’t mean I should have to. I like to keep photography simple. So I personally really appreciate it when a manufacturer lets you do the basic stuff as quickly and efficiently as possible. The Blackmagic Design menu layout is one of my favorites so far.
This is the most subjective category. Like I said earlier, I am not the one to do extensive lab tests to try and compare one camera’s image quality to another. I simply go by whether or not the camera is returning the image that I want or not. Is it up to my standard as that is the only standard that really matters to me in the end? The images from the URSA Mini Pro 12K were terrific straight out of camera. Since this is my first experience shooting with Blackmagic Design, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. But I definitely was not disappointed. The native ISO is listed at 800. After speaking with the Blackmagic Design reps, I opted to shoot at ISO 400 and straight out of camera I got the image I wanted with minimal fuss and minimal noise. The colors, especially the skin tones, were exactly where I wanted them. I only did minor color grading after the fact for my own aesthetic reasons, but could have easily gone with the straight out of camera footage without skipping a beat.
I think the best feature of the camera is the price point. With the recent price drop, getting all these features and capabilities in a camera for less than $6,000 is great value for the money. There are, of course, several other options for cinema cameras. Some of those options have definite advantages over the URSA Mini Pro 12K. But those advantages come at a cost. I think for a budget-conscious filmmaker looking to get the most bang for his or her buck, the URSA Mini Pro 12K is a terrific value. Nowhere else will you get this much camera for that low of a price. The image quality easily competes with competing cameras that come at ten times the cost. And for the dedicated videographer/cinematographer, the image is going to be far superior to anything you will get out of a mirrorless SLR hybrid.
Pros Versus Cons
I like to provide as much detail and context as possible when discussing the merits of a piece of equipment, but as I realize many people just want the bullet points, here they go.
Versatility to go from 12K to 4K
Variable frame rates
Manageable file sizes despite resolution
Recording to external SSDs
Easy playback of even 12K files in Davinci Resolve Studio
Color rendition. Especially skin tones.
Accurate exposure monitoring
No ProRes Recording
Flip switches have the potential to be a problem, although I didn’t experience it much in my testing
In summary, I was very impressed with my maiden voyage shooting with Blackmagic Design and the URSA Mini Pro 12K. It has the feature set I’ve come to expect from far more expensive cameras for a fraction of the price. It provides a great deal of versatility, whether you want uber resolution or a 4K workhorse with perks. It offers an accelerated workflow by being able to record directly to SSD at manageable file sizes in a raw format that plays very nicely in DaVinci Resolve Studio. This is probably not the camera for you if you are looking for a run and gun autofocus beast that you can vlog with. But if you can take your time and are producing assets in a more controlled environment, you would be hard-pressed to get better image quality, even at ten times the price. Definitely worth the investment.
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