Senior Editor Shaminder Dulai inspects the test scene before mounting it on the wall.

Photo: Dale Baskin

A few weeks ago, we took you behind the scenes to tell you about the move to our new studio and some of the complexities involved. Although we've been in the new space for a while now, there's one thing we weren't able to do until recently: install our studio test scene.

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Regular readers will know that our studio test scene is a core part of a DPReview camera review. It allows us - and you - to perform detailed comparisons between camera models going back many years. It's one of the most popular features of our site.

We anticipated the test scene would be unavailable for a while following the move, so we made a concerted effort to test as many cameras as possible before shutting down the old studio. That gave us a bit of runway, but we needed to get the scene back up and running to keep testing cameras.

We started with a blank wall in our studio, stud finder in hand. Thankfully, there were plenty of studs into which we could bolt our support rails. I'm not sure exactly how much the studio scene weighs, but it's not light, at least 25kg (55 lbs), and we weren't looking forward to depending on drywall anchors to keep it in place. Our scene is custom-built and one-of-a-kind; not only did we need to take great care so as not to damage it or have anything move out of alignment, but we also needed to be confident it would stay mounted and never move in the future.

We started with a blank wall. In addition to mounting the test scene, we had to remove the elevated stage in front to clear space for other equipment and to mark the exact center of the test scene on the floor.

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

In addition to mounting the scene, we had to remove an elevated stage in front of the wall. Admittedly, the stage would be fantastic for hosting open mic nights or poetry slams. Alas, we'll need to find another location for those events; we need an uninterrupted flat floor to mark calibration lines extending several meters back from the wall and to allow free movement of our studio tripod and assortment of cables.

The first step in mounting the scene was to bolt two vertical rails to the wall, providing a rock-solid attachment point. In addition to being secure, this system allows us to adjust the height of the scene after it's been attached to the wall by sliding it up and down. It's not something we ordinarily do, but it's essential for the initial setup so we can ensure everything aligns properly.

Managing Editor Dale Baskin attaches brackets to the frame of the test scene that connects to rails on the wall. This system allows us to adjust the scene's height after it's mounted to ensure proper alignment with our other equipment.

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

No construction project is complete without at least one trip to the hardware store. Or, in our case, four. The folks at Home Depot probably think we're contractors at this point. Another truism of construction projects is that they're never complete without lying on your back on the floor to attach something or another. This one didn't disappoint.

No construction project is complete without lying on your back with a headlamp to put in a few bolts and screws.

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

With the scene securely mounted to the wall and the stage removed, we inspected our handiwork, slightly relieved that we hadn't dropped the test scene and shattered it into a thousand pieces. Had we done so, I'd be writing a very different article!

The next step was to bring together the other components of the studio scene setup: a lid that helps enclose the scene and control lighting, our Kino Flo studio lights, and a few other odds and ends. Noticeably missing from most of the photos you see here are the glass bottles that usually sit at the bottom of the scene; they were still in one of our unpacked boxes.

Shaminder, relieved that the studio scene didn't fall after letting go of it. The white barn doors you see here serve a dual purpose: they help support an enclosure that fits over the scene, allowing us to control light better, and they serve as a protective cover for the scene in the rare event that we need to move it.

Photo: Dale Baskin

Once everything was assembled, it was time to calibrate the scene. To do this, Technical Editor Richard Butler carefully measured the entire chart with an incident light meter to ensure consistent lighting across the scene. If it wasn't just right, we moved the lights and started over. It's a process we repeat occasionally, even after the scene is installed, but getting it right out of the gate is critical.

Finally, Richard and Shaminder measured and marked the exact center point of the scene on the floor, which is more complicated than it sounds. However, this is a mission-critical step, as cameras have to be perfectly aligned with the scene to get valid results. Every time we test a camera, we use a laser to perfectly align it with the horizontal and vertical axis of the scene, but that centerline has to be in precisely the right place for this to work.

Technical Editor Richard Butler uses a light meter to verify that light levels are within spec and consistent across the entire scene. The glass bottles have also been unpacked and are waiting to be returned to their rightful place at the bottom center of the scene.

Photo: Dale Baskin

The good news is that our studio scene is now up and running. Of course, testing cameras involves a lot more than shooting a static test scene, but we're excited to have this vital tool up and operational. It means we can catch up on a backlog of cameras waiting to be tested, and we'll be able to bring you test scene results from new cameras much more quickly.

There's still more work to do before our studio is fully operational, which we'll continue to share in these behind-the-scenes vignettes of life at DPReview. However, the studio scene is an important milestone for us because we know so many of you depend on it when evaluating cameras. Thanks for hanging in there with us through this busy year!