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Color Grading With RAW Video: Part 1

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We recently shot a few projects with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera – a camera that records ultra high resolution, uncompressed RAW footage. It allowed us enormous flexibility in color grading, adjusting exposure, and dealing with pesky image artifacts like chromatic aberration.

As an example of the amount of technical and creative control we have when working with RAW-capable video cameras, I pulled out an illustrative frame from the Tutto Metal Design artist profile film. Let’s take a look at how ultra-high resolution RAW footage impacts our production.

In the first image, we see the raw footage as it was recorded in camera. It looks bad. Like really, really bad. The highlights look almost completely blown out and the whole image has serious color issues. In the words of Ricky Ricardo, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.” But don’t fire the DP just yet – there is a reason for the madness.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera RAW video as shot

We had Ray seated for his interview right at the opening of his shop – two large doors that together were bigger than a normal garage door. We set up Ray so that he was just outside the morning sun – in the image below you can see the harsh sunlight on his knee and his bench.

Behind the scenes Tutto Metal Design

This type of lighting environment is one of my favorite ways to shoot portraits – the sunlight is diffused but it’s still punchy where it needs to be. The natural light falloff into the room provides depth and subject isolation. But of course, we weren’t here shooting portraits. This was video. This type of subject lighting is not something I’d really consider with normal video cameras – even with something like a Canon 5D. The dynamic range between the subject and background is too great. Worse yet, the inside of his shop was lit with overhead fluorescents, so we had some nasty mixed light to deal with.

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is different. It gave us the ability to hold on to the highlights on Ray’s face while we really brought up the exposure to see more of the inside of his shop. The physical depth of his shop made that a tall order (see: Inverse Square Law), but the camera pulled it off very nicely. And once we loaded the shots into Adobe Camera Raw for color grading, we were able to correct the fluorescent yellow tinge inside his shop to produce a much more natural array of colors.

Color grading with RAW video

Not too shabby. Obviously working with natural light in video presents other challenges (like spotty clouds changing exposure) but if you can pull it off, the results are worth it. The quality of light we were able to achieve would have been difficult to reproduce with artificial light. And the catchlights created by the large doors really light up his eyes, and that was particularly important for Ray because they are such a captivating feature. To get those same catchlights with artificial lights we would have needed a softbox or scrim somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 square feet. And while that kind of lighting setup is not totally out of this world for higher budget productions, it’s certainly something we would rather not deal with.

As a side note, I wanted to demonstrate the amount of cropping flexibility we had when working with the BMCC. In the first image, we see a 100% crop from a 1920×1080 frame. Normally on something like a Sony FS100, 1920×1080 is the highest resolution we can record. And that’s perfect for most things – if the project is going to be full HD we take extra care (read: extra production time) in framing and composition because we know there is no room for error in post-production.

100% HD video crop after color grading

Since the BMCC records at 2.5K (2432×1366, to be exact), we have over 50% more pixels to work with than in “regular” full HD (and over 300% more than 720p!). In reality, 50% is not that much. But it does allow us to make a shot a little tighter than we were expecting while in production. And it allows us freedom to motion track, stabilize, and zoom while still maintaining a full HD output. Or we could just export the full resolution file to Youtube (which allows playback of the original resolution) for the enjoyment of those people who have one of Apple’s many retina displays. Or we can grab a very nice, 12-bit RAW still image for printing or use on the web. Those options are nice to have in your toolbox, even if you hardly use them.

HD video and RAW video pixel count

100% RAW video crop after color grading

If you haven’t already checked out our Tutto Metal Design profile film you can watch it here!

2 Comments

  1. Rommel says:

    Great info, It’s been a year since this camera was released and I’m still amazed by its great quality. Of course being in the right hands has a great deal to do with it as well. Can’t wait to see more from Empty Bucket!

  2. Chris G says:

    What’s this grading in ACR sorcery!!???? I didn’t even know that was possible.