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Blackmagic Cinema Camera Gets Its First Real Low-Light Test. Watch Footage from 'Afterglow'

08.22.12 @ 3:19PM Tags : , , , ,

Have you downloaded the RAW CinemaDNG files from the Blackmagic Cinema Camera yet? If not, I highly recommend doing so if you’ve been on the fence about pre-ordering the camera. The clips that John Brawley has made available are from a short film he’s been working on called Afterglow. While it’s not clear if the final product will be in this style of not, John has uploaded an extended cut of scenes that run of the gamut of lighting scenarios and really show what this thing can do — especially in lower light. Check out the footage below.

You can read the entire rundown of the project including the light sources used and technical details by heading on over to John Brawley’s blog using the link below. I feel like I can’t say enough how much I appreciate that Blackmagic really worked hard to get the color science right with this camera. It’s not all about specifications (though the spec sheet for the Cinema Camera is certainly a selling point) — the other big half of the image is what it looks like and what you can do with it. If you’ve been playing around with the RAW files, the answers to both of those questions are pretty clear. Those who’ve argued for the continue use of film have always made a point that I agreed with up until now: that film had a lovely natural way of rendering skin tones. I think digital is starting to put that argument to rest, and skin tones from higher-end digital cinema cameras look just as good as any film stock.

Now this $3,000 camera with $1,500 worth of software comes out of nowhere and proves that a camera doesn’t have to be expensive to render beautifully detailed yet accurate colors and skin tones. Not only that, but we don’t have to go out and buy an external recorder to get three professional recording formats (including RAW).

The only question is, are the other camera manufacturers paying attention?

Links: AFTERGLOW – DNG’s are out in the wild – John Brawley


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  • i preordered one back in May and it’ll be my first camera owned. It’s exciting to begin a career in a time like this where we’re really starting to see good quality at a lower price. You’ll always have to pay for quality to an extent but the promise that digital will level the playing field has really come to prove itself in the last few years and can only get better.

  • Mher Hakobyan on 08.22.12 @ 3:40PM

    want to know which lens you use for shooting this video?

    • Check out the John Brawley’s blog post using the link at the bottom of the page for more information about the setup.

  • Nice, I’m completely sold on this camera. Looking forward to a manufacturer to create a battery solution. This is something special.

  • for $3,000 it hard to come up with reasons not to own one.

    • Yes! That’s amazing. It’s even cheaper than a MKIII, you can record in Prores if RAW is too much and save some space.

      Now the colors! Wow!! I’ve been playing with the files, doing some sharpening, using neat video… It’s so easy to get where you want, no more “emulate”, it really delivers! For $3000,00. Even the grain is organic.

      Ok, You going to spend more on SSDs and a battery system which is not a problem. There’re plenty solutions right now on ebay and in a few months we’ll most certainly have tons of solution using canon batteries, sony…

      Amazing times indeed! Good job BM!

  • Downloaded the footage its pretty good. Being able to play with 2.5k is a plus for me. The pan manipulation you can do with 2.5k in 1080p or 720p is great. I been rotating, scaling and key framed repositioning has been great. I think this time next year we should have fixes to the battery and other problems, maybe other cameras. You have to be a fool if you dont think this is a great next step for cameras and pricing

  • I’m a proud Epic owner and have a ton of Canon DSLRs too. I have a BMCC on order and with results like these my Mark III is likely going to be relegated to photography and special uses like ultra wide shots. It will be nice to test how the footage grades against R3D.

  • Wrango Davenlo on 08.22.12 @ 6:41PM

    Still not a real low light test. Aim it down a city block, at night. Walk it around a motel 6 equivalent with nothing but the available fluorescent bulbs.
    Then we can judge

    • It’s not a DSLR, and there isn’t any on-board noise reduction, so you can’t just shoot in a no light situation without seriously bumping exposure in post and then doing post noise reduction. Treat this camera as a digital cinema camera by shooting at ISO 800 for the most part, and you won’t be disappointed.

      I mean what are you looking for out of a test like that, noise? This camera has noise but it certainly seems manageable, and with less compression than a DSLR, the noise won’t get blocked up in the shadows. If you’re looking for exposure, you can go do your own test, grab almost any camera and shoot at ISO 800 and ISO 1600 and within half a stop you’ll know exactly what this camera is capable of.

      You should also consider that people have been shooting film stocks forever that top out around ISO (ASA) 500. ISO 1600 on this camera is more than twice as sensitive than that and has less noise than 16mm film stock at 500.

      • Wrango Davenlo on 08.22.12 @ 10:06PM

        I have no reference for a camera like this. Lots of people will be jumping ship from DSLRs. So I guess, yes. I’m looking to see noise. I’m looking to see how much of the image shows up before I have to bump highlights or mids.
        Don’t confuse my concerns with disdain for the product.

        • As Mr. Brawley notes in the earlier thread, this camera shoots RAW and as such there is going to be visible noise. But since it is uncompressed the noise is fine and attractive. The camera also ships with Resolve included free and that as far as I know has its own noise reduction. This camera is intended for productions which will make good use of post skill as opposed to looking acceptable out of camera in any situation like a consumer camera tries to.

          It’s often better for a camera to leave things more noisy and less sharp than to burn in sharpening and noise reduction that may be too much for your tastes. the RAW decoders and noise reduction techniques can get better over time and a whole industry of competitors can try to make the best one for your footage as opposed to suffering vendor lock-in with an in-camera implementation.

        • There is noise. I added denoiser to the footage and poof it was gone. I actually turned the effect down a bit to keep some grain because the grain is beautiful.

          I understand your concern but if you play with the footage you’ll understand why noise isn’t that big of a deal. You’ll see why everyone who played with the footage actually like the grain or have no problem getting rid of it.

    • IMO, I don’t speak for anyone at BMD, but if you’re concerned about shooting with just fluorescent bulbs then this isn’t the camera for you.

      An FS100 sounds like the tool for people that are looking to run like this.

      THe camera’s gonna require light, and it will do a damned good job when it has light, but they weren’t lying when they said it’s not a lowlight champ.

      It’s somewhere between the GH2 and 7D as far as lowlight goes, and neither of those do a good job with just fluorescent lights unless–in the GH2′s case, youv’e got an 0.95 strapped on.

      • Wrango Davenlo on 08.23.12 @ 2:26AM

        The article said low light test. This was holding sparklers around magic hour in a close up.
        The only test we haven’t seen, is how the camera performs in dismal lighting situations so we can see where it stand against DSLR low light.
        I never said this was going to be the way I shoot.
        I think people are getting too defensive and too protective from those like me who are curious about where the limitations are.
        Humble opinions are not necessary, nor will they be up for consideration in regards to what is or is not for me.
        This camera looks amazing.
        I’m just one who likes to see the beaker break before i buy.

        • If you don’t plan on working in such a situation why on earth would you want to see it?

          Sense = None has been made.

          • Well, I can’t speak for him, but my guess is it’s because things don’t always go as planned. No matter how well you’ve planned, at some point you’ll probably need to get a reasonable image in conditions that are less than ideal, and it’s good to know in exactly what kind of conditions this can be done.

        • Well again, I’ll spoil the surprise, it’s not going to touch a DSLR in low-light. It’s not so much about “breaking” this camera if you’re shooting RAW, that’s because there is no compression in the first place – it’s just going to be more noise. Of course, you can also clip the color channels at some point by trying to adjust exposure.

          We’re not getting defensive, just trying to explain that what you’re asking can be answered by playing with the RAW files that were made available today. Push it 3 stops and try to recover – there’s an amazing amount of information there, but it’s going to very noisy if you go too far. There are shadows in these clips that look like they have no detail, yet when you push the RAW file there is detail in even the darkest part – that’s why I’m saying it’s kind of a pointless experiment. I mean I’m sure it will happen (I will probably do it), but you can very easily see for yourself how far you can push it. Anything above native will require noise reduction, and if you keep pushing, it’s going to be even too much for noise reduction.

  • The color pops!! I like everything what the camera can do. My concern, its not a big deal… It looks like digital instead of film. Its all good because you an added film grain in post or increase ISO but I preferred film grain effect in post for preference film look and feel. Digital film-making is excellent for new look like today.

  • This is a huge step in the right direction. The colour reproduction and flexibility seems to be on par with the other RAW formats there and for the price requested (especially considering that it comes with Resolve – which is absolutely brilliant) it is a game-changer.
    Personally, I have a few concerns which urge me to wait for the inevitable S35 (or hopefully larger sensor) model. Firstly, I read on another site that the raw DNG format is too resource demanding for any real-time editing which is something that kinda adds another step to the workflow. This may be something that’s resolved in a future update to the various NLEs out there, and you can always record in Prores (which is very good thinking from Blackmagic) but the former may never happen and the latter negates the benefits of RAW.
    Secondly, there will be an added cost to actually make it properly functional. The Scarlet cost me ‘only’ $9700 but to this point I’ve invested closer to $20,000 to make it actually good to work with – and I’ve tried to cut as many corners as possible (cheaper batteries, Tilta shoulder rig etc).
    Finally, the sensor size is too small for it to be a truly versatile camera due to the significant lens cropping involved. Of course this may all change in the near future, and we may see very good glass available operating at smaller focal lengths for less money in the near future. At the time being (Samyang being the exception) a 24mm f1.4 is significantly pricier than its 50mm equivalent.
    That said, it appears to be an amazing camera in terms of visual quality – easily matching anything I’ve shot or seen on the Scarlet for a fraction of the price and most importantly with no proprietary bullshit in the way (ie storage… I’m looking at you RED…. :( ) which hopefully will finally shift the focus away from technically compromised visuals and allow individuals to shine as creators.

    • Yes, the best part is that it’s a HUGE step in the right direction though. That’s the most exciting thing about this camera IMO. Gives us all hope after Canon sort of pulled the rug out from under us and Red turned their 3K for $3K into a $20,000 Scarlet. The lower end Indie group needs something to cheer for and this is it!

    • Yes I suppose debayering is too intense a task for realtime. So people will do an initial grade in Resolve and then edit. Which is a concept I actually like because I prefer to edit more or less correctly colored footage rather than edit on whatever came out of the camera.

      I wonder though if a proxy workflow will be what people end up doing. That way the colorist is given the RAW images from camera after the editor has gone over everything via a ProRes proxy (probably not the actual ProRes proxy, I would just use 422 as a proxy). In which case it would be nice to have the camera record both formats, perhaps via the HD-SDI output if the camera can’t record both at once internally, to save transcode time. For that matter, it would be nice to have the ProRes version in “video” mode pre-graded while still capturing the RAW internally…do they allow the SDI out to have the graded mode while recording RAW internally? That functionality would also make the director feel better watching the output in the video village.

      • How much extra cost are we talking here? I think the storage may be the only part that’ll really add to the cost. To me it looks like Blackmagic made it to where the camera can play nice with most of the accessories people purchased for their DSLRs.

        I think storage is going to be the only real additional cost. Won’t be that big of a deal.

        • I think you meant to reply to Alex above, but I want to remind that commodity SSDs are very cheap now, well under $1/GB, and in larger formats like 128GB are far cheaper and faster than CF or SDXC equivalents. That said this camera will record at very high bitrates (all the formats are intraframe).

          The fact RED charges a tenfold markup on repackaged commodity storage makes them a company I simply can’t work with. Yes I know they are doing the “give away razors, sell blades” strategy but they are the only ones in this market that do anything like that (OK the very high end cameras may also do things like that, but not the market the Scarlet competes in).

          One hopes Blackmagic stays true to the current ideals and doesn’t become a jerk company after wooing us all over with this initial offering. Say no to crippleware, say no to price gouging, say yes to keeping firmware updates coming with the best customer requests…the demands of the filmmaking customer are simple and transparent and yet the other companies insist on being jerks one way or another. Just don’t.

          • Correct I meant to reply to Alex. What you said is exactly what I’m getting at. SSDs aren’t as expensive as people are making it seem. I think RED is responsible for that assumption. They’re actually fairly inexpensive. We’ll just have to see how much footage you can get on a 250gb SSD (cost between $150-$180). I think you it won’t be that expensive to shoot with this cam.

    • In case anybody cares, I have that new Samyang 24mm f/1.4, cost me $699. It’s manual aperture, no IS, stops at f/1.4, f/2 and f/2.8 (no f/1.6 or f/1.8).. and it’s really sharp, honestly I like it better than the Canon 24mm, which I’ve rented before. It’s much sharper than the Canon when used wide open.

      So, apparently that becomes a 50mm on the BMCC… 2.4X crop, wow, it’s good to know ahead of time!

      Samyang also sells a 14mm f/2.8, haven’t used one of those.

  • Been playing around with the footage… wow. It’s going to be hard to go back to h.264 after this.

    If anyone’s interested, here’s a grade I did of one of the shots; I’ve gone for a soft but high contrast look with a painterly palette which IMO suits the lighting nicely.

    • Nicely done. The first thing I thought when I unzipped the video files was to open a frame in Photoshop and grade a single frame. I think yours is the first Photoshop grade I’ve seen of the sample files. Nice.

      • Cheers. As I say on the description, I don’t think it’s the ideal way to do it, since you kind of have to grade one frame and then pray that the rest work out the same! But it’s fairly quick and easy, and it’s lovely to be able to grade video the same way I play with photos.

  • Nicest demo video for a new camera that I’ve ever seen. Had some “soul”.

  • Very very very interesting camera.
    Only one issue : Lenses.
    John Brawley shot with a angenieux 16-42 optimo. Good focal range for the BMC’s sensor size (13mm would perfect. 13mm with BMC is equivalent 20 mm with super 35 film). But the angenieux cost 20,000 dollars. I can find 3000 dollars for a BMC but not 20,000 dollars for lenses. Now I have old still nikkor 20, 24, 35, 50, 85mm. Perfect for DSLR but with the BMC I loose wide angle.
    Sorry for my bad english.

    • As I’m sure others will point out, there are still some decent options on the wide end. The Tokina 11-16 should be a solid step in that direction.

      • Thanks. Tokina 11-16 seems to be a good lens and affordable.

        • And for those on a really tight budget, you could consider the Tokina 12-24mm f/4.

          Not quite as bright or wide (or high IQ) as the 11-16mm, but one of these can be easily picked up for $250 used, which is notably less expensive than the 11-16mm.

          I think crop factor could help hide the weaknesses of the lens (such as the chromatic aberrations present when wide open).

          Since this camera looks like it will perform best with proper lighting, the f/4 might be a contendor for some.

    • Answered my Question. I wasn’t particularly impressed with what I perceived to be his lens choice. saw some purple fringing right off and the chick just never looked deadly sharp. If anyone would have handed me my choice, I’d have immediately chose a high end peice, but this info makes me think differently.

  • Casey!!!! this girl is one of the best people i have ever worked with!!!!! I am defiantly going to buy one now

  • …and just as we are all excited about the BMCC, RED comes out with an argument for HFR…

    My opinion on HFR, which the BMCC can’t do, is that it’s probably essential for 3D, and may work terrific for action films, but lacks the romance and mystery of 24fps at 180 degrees. You can double up on (reproject) a 24fps frame to display that amount of blur at 48fps, so it’s possible shutter angle will become something the director uses to control texture in different parts of a film, but I can see that easily being abused and disconcerting until technique and taste develop enough.

    Regardless, I am still very enthusiastic about the BMCC, and I’m starting to really think about getting one. The thing I realized this morning is this camera is big and showy enough to stand out as a serious filmmaking tool. That’s good when you want to look serious (and I know a lot of people want to impress their clients with a “pro” appearance) but otoh it’s less stealth than a DSLR for guerilla filmmaking out on the streets, which was a big part of the indie revolution. With a DSLR and a small shoulder rig or monopod you look more like a tourist or photographer than a filmmaker and aren’t likely to be asked to show your location permit to the police. With this thing, while it’s just a little heavier for such rigs, I wonder if the police will ignore it as readily. It’s so iconic a look they will probably learn to recognize it, and much of their job is essentially tax collector. So municipal location fees might add a couple $hundred to an exterior shooting day with the BMCC over a DSLR.

    But definitely for narrative filmmaking on a budget, this opens the doors to a lot more people. I’m impressed!

    • That’s if people really want to see it. I wonder how much post$$$ the studio is going to have to do to make the Hobbit palatable to audiences?

      • The Hobbitt I understand was filmed at 270 degrees 48fps so has a blur of 1/72 second shutter release. When projected at 24p by dropping every other frame, that would work out to 135 degree shutter which, while not the standard 180, shouldn’t strobe/judder so much. Dropping every other frame isn’t a challenge in post. I imagine they did the experiments to their satisfaction to determine that the texture they got at 270 degrees was pleasing to them for both frame rates.

        I am generally a fan of progress and exploration and new things, though I respect tradition and traditionalists as well. But I don’t view luddites as heroic. It is both a new challenge and a new opportunity to play with frame rate and shutter angle and I’m sure we will see examples good enough to quiet some of the doubters. The success of HFR will not invalidate work done without it, if that is what people are fearing.

  • Im very curious, I see a lot of aggressive comparison between the scarlet and the Bmc, I asked in a previous thread but didn’t get a conclusive answer. Why the scarlet? There are other cameras that are equally priced but require rod support external power and a media recorder to get 10 bit 422 not even raw, but red is the bastard that is withholding features and the scarlet is the one on the chopping block even though dragon may surpass Alexa. I’m confused.

    On another point ive seen people say that the scarlet is noisy, the only time the scarlet is noisy is when you underexpose the sensor and attempt to lift the darks, if you operate the bmc in the same manner you will get worse results, if you expose and delog your red footage properly there is little to no noise, on my last shoot that was a day time exterior exposed at 800 iso it was too clean and we had to add grain. Though I think the bmc is great the noise in the day time exterior shot is not as clean as the scarlet. I think the bmc is the perfect mini budget cam and a great b cam to red

    • I think it has to do with the initial expectation that RED had put forward with the 3k for $3k marketing push. Quite a few people, myself included, were quite upset when all of a sudden the Scarlet became a mini-Epic for 3x the price and what seemed to be a fully functional camera was scrapped overnight after being promised for roughly two years.
      The BMC is technically that original Scarlet. Truth be told there is no comparison between the current Scarlet-X and the BMC and there shouldn’t be. It’s a different product with different associated costs targeting a different demographic.
      Red is one of the ‘nicest’ companies out there because they at least offer you features and options through free firmware upgrades and a potential upgrade path. Fair enough, said upgrade path is probably going to cost $10k for the Scarlet, but it’s there if you want it. I’m guessing quite a few people (again, myself included) have a few issues with the media that RED pushes out at comparatively exorbitant prices. Redmags ARE Toshiba SSDs which are placed in custom shells and stress tested. RED seems to be justifying the markup by stating that they seriously stress test their SSDs etc etc.
      Thing is, within a year we’ve reached the point of having a pretty much level playing field with regards to image quality. There are subtle differences here and there – highlight roll-off is better on this camera, the noise is more filmic on this one, the sensitivity of this sensor is slightly better than that one etc – but these differences are not really apparent to the people that matter – your audience.
      Tangent aside, the BMC is ideal for Scarlet owners to be used as a B camera because it’s affordable and it’s the only affordable camera out there which provides you with the potential of a good middle ground between the two.

  • This is my first ever grade in Resolve, be kind :) I used version 9 Lite. The files held up amazing and recovery was awesome. I had no idea what I was doing but used nodes and had a great time. My work PC does not have calibrated monitors, so I may be putting up something that is atrocious, let me know lol.

  • Aron Hethcox on 08.25.12 @ 6:43AM

    I really want to see this thing pushed on the low light test. The video looks amazing. We all know this is not a 5d in low light, but at least let the sun go all the way down when doing the low light test, let the sparks light her face. I’m gussing this thing will hold it’s own.

  • Steve Muulen on 08.25.12 @ 2:26PM

    To correct the image you want, not the first:

    1) In AE Prefs. Confirm Comp preset is to 23.98 or 24.

    2) Set Composition in AE for 16-bits.

    3) Scroll through the DND folder and pick the image you want to correct. For me that is the view with which I would have made my camera settings.

    4) Duplicate file.

    5) Rename to FIRST image number minus 1.

    6) Import with order sequence and your image will come-up for CC.

    7) Make changes.

    8) Drag to Composition.

    9) Confirm all files look right.

    10) To make alterations right=click on image name and RELOAD.

    11) Select ProRes HQ 4444 12-bit. (I haven’t tried 16-bit yet.)

    12) Render.

    13) For FCP X users, import NON-optimized but with Proxy. I use Natrress Curves to to make further corrections. At export, the original files are used. Make a ProRes HQ 4444 or ProRes HQ 422 10-bit if going to BR.

    So far I’ve not had to learn Resolve just to make a working file.

    PS: By the way, for non-RAW LOG footage, the Curves has a “Apply de-log and then apply curves” option. You have a choice of three log curves. Don’t know yet which is right for BMC.

    Cam we get a sample of ProRes and DNxHD log files, please!

  • Terry Church on 08.26.12 @ 7:19AM

    This isn’t really a proper low light test. Sparklers burn with such intensity and brightness, the BMCC was probably set on ISO 100 or something for these files.

    I know this won’t hold a candle to a DSLR when it comes to low light situations, but I want to see exactly how far you can push the BMCC in low light because in reality, documentary makers are always near a low light situation. In fact, it happens with me on almost every shoot. And with DSLRs it’s comforting to know that once the sun goes down, you can still get usable footage.

    I think the BMCC will only work in daylight hours or with a proper lighting set up, which is severely limiting for people like me, who shoot the real world.

    Super gutted though. For mini commercials and videos where you can control the lighting, or shoot only in daylight, this camera will be superb!

    The other limitations are annoying, but I think fairly easy to work around.

    An external battery is annoying and cumbersome.

    No way to get a real wide angle.

    Less DOF.

    Need a super powerful computer to edit the footage (more cost).

    Need a huge amount of external storage to store the RAW footage. If you shoot two or three times a week like me, this cost will soon add up. We’re talking terabytes and terabytes.

    I think these are all points to consider with the BMCC. I guess it comes down to what you plan to use it for. I, unfortunately, have to go with a 5D mark III because its low light ability (plus I love the FF look). I wish the BMCC was FF and could reach ISO 3200 or 6400 with no grain. Perhaps in a year or two?

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