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Review My Review of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera
 

Believe it or not: The Blackmagic is finally being shipped! That's just 10 months after its initial presentation at NAB 2012. Thanks to media@home Freytag I was finally able to get my hands on one of the Cinema Cameras.

To be honest: I was quite skeptical of this camera before I shot a few clips with the camera on my own. It definitely has its advantages over other cameras, but it also comes with a number of problems. Many people asked me whether I like this camera or not, but it's hard to find a short answer. So I broke it down to these aspects: Overview, Image, Dynamic Range, Format+Workflow, Audio, Power and a Wrap-Up.

Overview

The camera ships in a nice box, comes with a sunhood, a power adapter and a documentation. The camera body itself looks very solid, and has some nice details:

  • Three screws on top of the camera allow you to easily mount accessories or a cage.
  • The button layout is simple, but very effective. No buttons for unnecessary stuff, but the important things are quickly accessible.
  • It has an SDI output, which supports 10-bit HD-SDI 4:2:2 in both Film and Video mode, with ability to add an overlay.

Image

The camera can shoot in both 1080p (ProRes or DNxHD) or 2.5K (RAW DNG). It supports 23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p and 30p. Sadly there is no option for higher frame rates.

The images in both HD and RAW mode are tack sharp. That's the good side. The awful side is the high crop factor of aprox. 2.4x. This converts a 50mm prime into 120mm, and an 18mm lens has suddenly a focal length of ~45mm. For some shots this won't matter, but if you want to use this as your primary camera you'll definitely have some problems.

Other than that the EF version supports the digital iris control and even the Canon image stabilizer (only when external power is connected or the camera is recording).

At first I thought that 2.5K is a quite silly format, because it is neither 4k nor FullHD, but it is really nice to use in a FullHD project, because it gives you a decent range to crop or use SmoothCam/ Warp Stabilizer.

Another really bad part about the image is the Rolling Shutter. I could easily see it during some not-too-fast pans. Again: It won't matter in many situations but I think that it is not usable for hand-held work and other moving stuff.

Dynamic Range

The high dynamic range of 13 stops is really interesting, because that's something which normally only high-end cameras can shoot. When recording ProRes and DNxHD you can switch between Film and Video Dynamic Range. The Video mode captures an image which can be directly used without grading. Compared with this the Film mode has a flat picture which has more information and can be graded more easily. I made a quick demo video and uploaded a few test files over here [Link].

The camera also allows you to record in Film mode, while displaying the Video mode on screen or via SDI. Of course the video mode doesn't work when recording RAW.

Format& Workflow

The camera uses an SSD drive for recording. I used my OCZ drive which Blackmagic recommended for my Hyperdeck Shuttle. There is also a list of recommended SSDs here.

I really like the ProRes files. They worked perfectly in Premiere CS6 and Final Cut Pro 7&X. If you're an Avid guy, there is an option for DNxHD as well.
In contrast to the ProRes files the RAW files need a bit more care. The camera records DNG files (~5MB each), which need to be converted for further usage. You can either process them in a picture editing app, like Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture or use a grading software which supports DNGs. I used the Automator and batch-converted them to PNGs and then bundled them in a movie using QT7. Please keep in mind that RAW takes both a lot time and disk space. My 13sec clip (25fps) takes 1.67GB (333 images). The audio is stored separately as Wave file.

Audio

Surprisingly the audio options are fairly good: The camera has two 1/4" jacks and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Unfortunately there are no real knobs to control the gain. Everything is controlled through the menu. That's basically it. It's not a big deal, but it works as it should.

Power

The internal 'battery' only lasts for aprox. 90min and needs 2hours to recharge. While interviewing John Brawley, he explained "[...] you can think of this as a camera that has external batteries plus an emergency internal battery". And you have to think of it that way. Other Blackmagic products such as my Hyperdeck Shuttle work the same way.

For a day-long production you need to think of an external power solution using V-Mounts or Anton Bauer batteries. There are some nice solutions from Switronix, but you can use a standard V-Mount battery with an adapter cable as well.

Wrap-Up

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is in my opinion not a solution which I'd buy right away. It's a nice camera with nice images. But it's not that unicorn what everyone expected. I think there are simply to many disadvantages to use it for my productions. It has some nice things like 10-bit SDI out, 2.5K RAW recording with 13 stops of DR but on the other hand it has a huge crop-factor, it doesn't have 50/60p and the battery solution is not optimal.

If you need a cinematic camera, with a nice Dynamic Range and have the money to buy the camera along with all necessary accessories then there is absolutely no reason not to buy one. Also considering the fact that it includes DaVinci Resolve with a Resolve USB dongle!

All Specs are available on the Blackmagic website. *If you haven't pre-ordered one yet, please use this B&H*

Again: That's my personal opinion. I'd also be interested whether you like it or not? Did you pre-order one? Please leave a comment!