Blackmagic Cinema Camera Gets a Mini-Documentary: Philip Bloom's 'Ponte Tower'
Many lament the fact that when a new camera is announced and released (or partially released in the case of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera), most of the videos that find their way online are just camera tests, which usually lack a story, let alone characters or a script. This hasn’t quite been the case with the Cinema Camera, thanks to people like John Brawley, but it’s always great to get a fully realized story as a showpiece for the camera. Philip Bloom, who reviewed the BMCC in September, took the camera (with help from Rick Joaquim and Dale Ballentine), into a real-world shooting situation and produced a documentary about a building called the Ponte City tower in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I would recommend clicking on the Vimeo link in the video, and downloading the video in 1080p:
This is the list of gear he used for the shoot:
- Kingston SSDNow V+200 240GB SATA III 6Gb/s 2.5″ (Plus the 480GB version)
- Miller Solo DS20 Tripod
- Roland R26 Sound Recorder and RODE NTG 2 Microphone
- Zacuto Blackmagic Top Handle for Cinema Camera
- Switronix Powerbase-70 Battery Pack for Blackmagic Cinema Camera
- Heliopan Variable ND
- Sigma 8-16 f/4.5-5.6
- Tokina 11-16 f/2.8
- Samyang/Rokinon 24mm T/1.5
- Canon 50mm
- Canon 24-105mm f/4
- Canon 70-200mm F4 IS
Here’s what Philip had to say about the doc and why he chose the Blackmagic Cinema Camera:
This is what I decided to put the Blackmagic camera through, a mini doc shot in one day between workshops that I was teaching in Johannesburg in South Africa…although the film is not for a client – it’s a personal doc – I treated it like such, as I do with all my personal work and got it cut just 2 days after finishing the shoot. Why the Blackmagic camera? After all, I had access to lots of cameras here. My current favourite camera, the Canon C300 (not mine as that one is at home), my favourite DSLR the 1DX (not mine as my one died here, a loaner from Canon South Africa…thanks guys!), the excellent FS700 and the 5Dmk3. The smart choice to be utterly frank would have been to take the C300. It’s proven numerous times to be a terrific documentary camera for me (Do check out my most recent doc shot on it here)
Philip also put together a pretty interesting composite HDR file with a RAW DNG. Here is the final image, but you can find the DNG file over at his site to try out yourself (click for the larger file):
He did find the lack of low-light ability and the rolling shutter a bit of a problem, but since he shot RAW, he was able to push the image a little bit more without penalty — especially in the highlights and the shadows. While he does say that ProRes or DNxHD would have made more sense, he wanted to test out the workflow. I can definitely see a little bit of noise and aliasing, but if you really wanted to use this camera in a doc setting, it’s definitely not impossible. Though, as he mentions, it’s a few firmware upgrades away from being completely useful by itself for documentaries.
So what about the film? It’s a testament to Bloom’s years of shooting news, and certainly a lesson for anyone looking to shoot docs of any kind. Whether you’re shooting narrative, news, documentary, or something in-between, it always comes down to the story and the characters, and Bloom has an additional character in this piece, the building itself.
The only shot that was not the Cinema Camera was the timelapse shot of the city, as this functionality does not exist yet (though this may come in a future firmware upgrade). We always talk about using the right camera for the right job, and even though the Cinema Camera may not be the ideal camera for this job, it still did an admirable job. It definitely shows that it’s possible to use the camera in a wide variety of circumstances, but it still has certain limitations (low-light ability, lens compatiblity, and battery issues) that keep it from being a perfect all-around camera.