I recently had the chance to talk with John Brawley, who is an award-winning cinematographer. He tested the new Black Magic Design Camera during the development process, but he is not employed by them.
Hello John, thanks for your time! Could you tell us a little bit how you got your hands on the new camera?
John: I've known the BMD guys since they started. But they were post. And I was interested in their progress especially when they acquired Davinci. I was asking them to make a cheaper ArriRAW recorder for the Alexa. They invited me to a presentation and showed me a camera instead!!
They wanted to get my feedback on how the pictures looked and also on the interface. They didn't have any internal experience with production environments and wanted my feedback on the camera and its pictures. I guess I was "trusted" having known them for a long time. They wanted to surprise everyone. I had to put a special disguise on the camera when I went out in public with it.
Was that camera already similar to the final product?
John: The same in mechanics except they added the hd-SDI. Also the software hadn't been done
How was your inital experience with camera and is it still the same after working a while with it?
John: It was very impressive from the first time I used it. It's gotten better, literally week by week as they improved things. The main thing that just made me happy was to see so much DR and resolution from such a low cost camera. I've shot a fair bit with 5ds and the like. they have a great look, but they are inherently soft and lack DR. They are soft beside of their line skipping approach which also introduces other errors. This camera was sharp and with lots of resolution from the start. AND plenty of DR after that. The ergonomics were a challenge at first and I'm sure it won't be for everyone. But at its heart it's very simple and can be easily built up.
Many people complain that the chip is smaller than the S35 chip in most new cameras, which results in a big crop factor. What do you think about this?
John: Well S35 would have been nice but they tell me they are very expensive sensors. BMD were chasing the best they could for DR and low cost. This sensor was a good choice for this. The so called crop factor shouldn't really be an issue for for most unless you want ultra wide angle Or are chasing ultra low dof. You can still put very fast primes on an get most of the way there.
You already talked about the RAW image a bit. How did you experienced working with these files in terms of editing, storing and grading?
John: My jaw dropped when I mounted the first ssd drive from the camera. Each frame is a single file that opens in photoshop. I already had experience shooting RAW for stills and with RED and was aware of the advantages. I was working on a laptop and transcoding through resolve to FCP. I think people will need to think about their workflows. RAW is great but it demands a lot more in storage, and also hardware to make the most of it. If you choose to shoot RAW then you need to allow for that workflow. Which is why they introduced ProRes and DnX for those that need to shoot to edit. But even then, you can choose a 709 flavor or a log flavour
I really like the opportunity to choose the codec and log! Compared to RED cameras, what do you think of the Dynamic Range of the BMDCC?
John: You'll really struggle to "break" the image in the grade. It's a revelation. I could say really because they are still working on the sensor calibration and that affects noise which affects DR but id say it's getting close to an Alexa. I think even BMD were surprised at how much DR they are getting.
The camera seems only to have an internal battery. Was that a minus for you or is it generally recommended to use an external power source like with professional cameras?
John: Loom I would have preferred a replaceable battery. But that would have added a lot to the cost. The body is made from a single piece of aluminium. But I'm used to running cameras from an external battery. Alexa an RED work in this way. When you plug in an external battery it also recharges the internal battery. So you can think of this as a camera that has external batteries plus an emergency internal battery.
Do you think the BMD camera is a real competitor to the 5D or C300?
John: To be honest the only advantage I see for a 5dmk3 or a c300 is for very low light work. The c300 probably has better skew performance too. But it's a lot more expensive. You can get a Blackmagic for a fraction of the cost of a c300. You can then spend more money on lenses, or even other accessories.
Will you use one of those on your own projects as well?
John: I've already been using the camera in my own work. It's complimented the Alexa's I've been using on a TV series I'm doing now very nicely. And that's the way to think of this camera. It compliments cameras like RED and Alexa.
Whom do you recommend to buy one of these?
John: Anyone who's thinking of a 5dmk3 or and upgrade from a 5d/7d then you should really look at this camera. Awesome pictures and bang for your buck. Plus don't forget you get the best color correction software made on the market included ! That's pretty amazing value. Sure it's not a perfect camera but you can't deny it's appeal for the price.
The BMD will appeal to pros like myself, but probably more so to low budget filmmakers who are frustrated by compressed and soft line skipped dslr footage.
What do you think of the new camera in general?
John: I think it's amazing what BMD have done considering this is their first attempt at making a camera. This is only the beginning.
Thanks a lot for your time, John!
If you have any more questions about the camera, feel free to post them in the comments and we'll try to find an answer!