Blackmagic Does It Right:
DaVinci Resolve 9 Review

09 / 12
2012

Color me impressed. With the release of DaVinci Resolve 9, Blackmagic Design not only delivers a major upgrade to a color-grading workhorse, but also—with some heavy lifting from the latest series of GPUs—offers up a real-time 4K dailies machine.

Resolve 9’s dramatically redesigned user interface provides a much friendlier and more intuitive way of working, removing much of the confusion and clutter found in previous versions. The result? A more up to date app that is a lot easier to use, yet deep enough for the most challenging jobs.

No surprise. Blackmagic Design (BMD) has become known for its user friendly approach that turns high-end gear into slick products, ones that look good, are accessible and affordable.

A Fine Manual

The Resolve 9 Manual

Before we dive into the most important new features in Resolve 9, let’s take a moment to talk about something many other companies seem to forget about these days: a good manual. Looking like it’s been completely rewritten, the manual now tops out at a thorough 600 pages full with tastefully handled graphic design and loads of helpful illustrations.

Why all that work to rewrite? It just might be because this latest version of the program will go out to many newbies too, since it’s bundled with BMD’s new Cinema Camera. (The camera outputs in ProRes and RAW, the latter requiring extensive color correction.)

The new manual thus doesn’t take it for granted that the reader is a color suite veteran, but starts out with an intro to color correction’s fundamental concepts. An in-depth tutorial covers a remarkable amount of ground on how to work with Resolve, including how to import a project, using Resolve’s core grading tools and then rendering it all out. Hundreds of concisely written pages of in-depth reference about every facet of Resolve follow. Nice job.

User Interface

First off, it’s much easier to get started and get working in Resolve. A much-simplified log in process lets you configure users without a complicated set up window; you won’t need a database anymore either to get going.

In previous versions of Resolve, much of its functionality was scattered throughout the application, with settings that could be confusing to find, or simply out of place. In Version 9, this has been cleared up with a simpler and more logical interface that is workflow driven.

How? Resolve’s interface is now organized into five “pages” or sections. These are accessible by clicking on five icons towards the bottom of the screen, namely the Media page, Conform page, Color page, Gallery page and Delivery page.

Media Page

The Media Page is where you import media into Resolve, whether it’s coming from a hard drive or from an SSD at a shoot. Note that Resolve 9 now automatically recognizes any devices connected to your system. Previously, adding devices to your laptop or workstation meant you had to restart the program.

The Media page is where you import footage and clips into Resolve

Imported clips now feature ‘hover scrubbing’ over their icons, a feature found throughout Resolve, so now you know exactly what’s in each one. Meanwhile an audio meter displays an impressive 16 tracks of audio per clip. In Resolve 9, your audio tracks are now carried through the whole process until delivery.

There is improved support for handling a wider range of camera formats. You’ll find preset RAW settings for RED, ARRIRAW, and Sony’s F65. Of course, there are presets for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, but also for less common cameras like the Phantom, GoPro, and Canon C300.

A nice touch: Resolve 9 will automatically support any alpha channels in imported media, saving the need to build an alpha composite.

Resolve’s Conform page is where you import editorial timelines

The Conform Page

The Conform Page is next. This is where you take in edited timelines from a variety of NLEs including Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut that use such formats as EDL, AAF and XML. The Conform page also displays all the different timelines in the current project. Here’s a feature you’re sure to like: Resolve 9 now allows you to import timelines with mixed frame rates. Prior versions only supported one frame rate per project. You can, however, render everything out at a constant frame rate later if desired.

The Color Page

The Color Page is where most of the revisions in Resolve 9 have been made. And that makes sense, since this is where you’ll spend most of your time on color correction and image adjustment. In previous versions, many of the functions found on the Color page were located in different locations in the app. Now, everything related to what you need for color correcting is found in a variety of palettes on this page.

The Color page, where most of the work is done

Aside from the 3-way lift, gamma and gain controls that are standard in many color grading applications, Resolve 9 now has a new process to adjust color in the color wheels palette. Called the log mode, this approach gives you more control of specific tonal ranges–shadow, midtone, highlight and offset– allowing you to do things like push the highlighted areas towards yellow, for example, while pushing the shadows towards blue. The offset control allows you to offset all the colors at once.

You will also appreciate the new ability to pop out and enlarge the color curves palette while adjusting them. Previously the color channel curves were a little on the small side. By making them bigger, it’s easier to make finer and more precise adjustments. When you’re done, simply shrink them back down.

Expanding the color curves in Resolve 9 for easier editing.

Another useful new feature in Resolve 9 is the fact that you can now name your color correction nodes. Previously, the only way to tell what a node was doing was by opening it up and seeing what was in there. Now you can give it a descriptive name like “hair correction” or “John’s suggestion” so you can understand what effect it’s having.

Version 9 of Resolve, of course, also offers up a variety of methods to measure color values. Waveform, parade, vectorscope and histogram tools can be viewed together, or each one can be enlarged and viewed separately if you like to keep it simple.

Resolve 9′s useful color scopes

On the Color Page, you’ll also find the tracking tools. Resolve has always had a phenomenal tracker, allowing you to do things like track a mask (otherwise known as a Power Window) around a character’s face, for example. However now there is a tracker graph, which allows you access to the tracker data. With the tracker graph, you can nudge a track here or there if you really need to.

By the way, Dynamics are now referred to as Keyframes, again a less proprietary, more industry standard term that in the end is less confusing to color correctors who haven’t spent time with Resolve.

One useful enhancement new in Resolve 9 is the ability to flag clips and filter the timeline. Here’s an example why: Suppose you are working on an epic movie with hundreds and hundreds of clips. That’s a lot of clips to keep track of, but in past versions, you needed to keep track of everything manually.

By having the ability to flag clips with colors, you make the process of subsequently finding and isolating clips much easier.

For example, you might use red to flag all the clips that will need to be rendered out. Need to track the visual effects shots that you are still waiting to receive from your VFX house? Flag those in blue. Want to flag all the dancing scenes? You could do that too. Later, you might filter the timeline to show only the clips that are flagged, depending on what you want to work on at that point, or send to render. You can also filter the timeline to show things like graded clips only, ungraded clips or clips that have been modified within a fixed period of time.

Resolve 9 adds another nice new feature that makes it easier to find a clip in your timeline: Lightbox View. Traditionally, the timeline comes up in a horizontal row of thumbnails, each of which represents a separate clip. Finding a specific clip was difficult if you had a timeline with hundreds of shots. Now, with Lightbox View, the timeline expands to fill the entire screen with clip thumbnails filling multiple rows and columns. A simple enough idea, but this makes it a lot easier to quickly find what you are looking for.

The Gallery Page

Use the Gallery Page to do just that: create a gallery to that allows you to manage all of your looks and still frames in one place. When you store a still from a sequence, the system also visually saves all the various grades associated with it. The Gallery Page also contains the DaVinci Resolve Looks collection. All in all, a good way to manage and share your stills and grades among multiple projects.

The Gallery Page is where you store and manage your looks

BMD again moves towards offering increased usability and a faster learning curve for Resolve 9 users via its collection of presets, which you can customize as you like. Some presets create the latest trendy looks from features and commercials, while others emulate specific film stocks. Experiment with them to develop a new look or use them as a stepping off point for your own grades. Opening up once complicated operations to new users is just part of Blackmagic Design’s DNA.

Delivery Page

The Delivery Page is the final page, where you set up your renders. Rendering out might be part of a round trip, for a handing over dailies to the editor, or when mastering the entire project. The setup of the new Delivery Page is a lot easier to comprehend than in earlier versions. Want to set up multiple jobs, each capable of having multiple delivery formats? Not a problem. For example, you might designate specific, separate deliverables for your editor, for playout on a mobile device or tablet, or posting on Vimeo.

The Delivery page, when you’re ready to render everything out

There’s also a new checkbox when rendering that allows you to move among different levels of debayering of the RAW footage. How might you use that? For example, depending upon the system you are working on, you might want to debayer your footage to a lower level in order to keep things moving along. When it’s time for the final render, change it to the highest quality. By doing this you save time while color grading, yet still maintain the highest quality results. For very tight control, each clip can even have its own level of debayering.

Concluding Thoughts

Like I said at the beginning, I’m impressed. Version 9 of Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve is a major upgrade to a color-grading powerhouse. If you’ve worked with previous versions, or other color correction apps, you’ll find Version 9 contains many useful new features. And if you have it as part of your purchase of the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera, I’ll bet you’ll like the completely redesigned UI that is faster to use and easier to learn.

As mentioned earlier, Resolve 9 is also a great platform for dailies delivery. The ability to handle more audio tracks make it useful here, since you’re making all of it available well before the sound department gets a hold of it. But the app’s sheer speed will probably be more enticing. You can check the web for news reports that have BMD CEO Grant Petty noting that using only one of the two potent Kepler GPUs found in Nvidia’s new K5000 card allows Resolve users to “work in real-time with 4K imagery”.

Blackmagic Design’s seriously cool control surface for Resolve

If you are planning to get serious about being a colorist, you may wish to get Blackmagic’s cool control surface for Resolve, or you may opt for a less expensive one manufactured by a third party. Of course nothing keeps you from simply using a mouse if color grading isn’t your full time occupation.

Still not sure? Try Resolve’s free Lite version. It’s no limited time/brain dead demo version either. Resolve Lite is a fully functional application. It’s just that it’s limited to using a system with one GPU, so, all things considered, performance won’t be as good in grading, let’s say, 4K footage.

To get the full version, you need only shell out $995. As we’ve mentioned, if you plan on purchasing the new Blackmagic Cinema Camera, you’ll get a full version of Resolve 9 for free.

Resolve 9 runs on both Windows and Macintosh platforms. I reviewed it on an HP Z820 Workstation, a great machine to build a Resolve Suite around. Since it can take advantage of multiple Nvidia CUDA enabled GPUs, consider buying a good card as part of your plans if you true interactivity.

See Blackmagic’s website for more information.

About the author

Joe Herman is a filmmaker, artist and post production specialist and writes often about the industry. You can reach him at joe[at]nycppnews[dot]com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeHermanTweets.

2 Comments

  1. Razor
    September 14, 2012

    Great review Joe! Just wanted to add that Alexis Van Hurkman, who also authored the Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema, re-wrote the DaVinci Resolve 9 manual.

    Reply
    • Joe
      September 14, 2012

      Thanks! Also, thanks for the information about Alexis.

      Reply

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