We've relaunched as a full community! Get the scoop:

December 14, 2012

Blackmagic Cinema Camera Review Part 1: Initial Thoughts

It exists, and I know this, having actually shot with it thanks to Rule Boston Camera. It's impossible to truly know a camera until you've actually handled it, and that also goes for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Footage online can only tell you so much, but when it really comes down to it, being able to put the thing in your hands can tell you a lot about usability that you might not get from reading about it online. I was also part of a full presentation that I will be posting soon, but for now, here are some of my initial observations about the camera.

I've written thousands of words about this camera, probably more than most who regularly write about cameras. I don't want to get into too much detail here, because I'm going to be talking much more about it over the coming days, but there is no question this camera is a work in progress that delivers breathtaking imagery. This was a recent video commissioned by Blackmagic, far nicer than anything I was able to come up with in my short time with the camera:

There are a few points that I wanted to get out there before I really go more in-depth:

Film Camera

The current firmware isn't quite there yet. The latest version did add image stabilization -- which I must say can make a huge difference -- but other than that, we've got a few updates to go before people have all the things they've come to expect on their other cameras. To me, in its current form, it's a bit like shooting with a film camera, except you've got playback and you can easily see what you're doing (not to mention the other advantages of digital). I say this because there is no real way to deal with your footage in the camera. You can play back clips, but there is no clip menu of any kind, and you can't delete clips or format the card in the camera. This does prevent you from messing up any footage on set, but it's a huge pain if you're trying to shoot RAW and you know you don't need a specific clip and would like to save space.

I have no doubt we'll see some way to deal with clips or with formatting sometime in the future, but for right now, it's a bit limiting. You'll have to make sure that you've formatted the cards on a computer before you shoot, and once you're on set, unless you can offload somewhere, you had better make sure you've got enough cards, because you can't see how much footage you've shot. You could theoretically use the timecode to figure that out, but right now, the camera doesn't give you any way to know whether you've got 20 minutes left in RAW or an hour left in ProRes or DNxHD.

Rig or No Rig?

This camera is a lot heavier than you think, not because of the actual weight, but because of the way it is balanced and the ways that you can actually hold it in your hands. You can handhold the camera with just your hands and no rig, but it's a bit more difficult than a DSLR. The trick that I use with DSLRs and the camera strap doesn't really work with this camera, mostly because of its shape. Since it is tapered from the top to the bottom, it makes it more difficult to just hold in your hands.

I might not have the biggest hands in the world, but I know that plenty of people are going to have trouble trying to hold the camera because of the awkward shape. Keep in mind though, this is when you're also trying to focus with the other hand. If your shot is set and focus doesn't need to be adjusted, it's not as bad, but again, since there is no handgrip, there is no comfortable way to hold it with one hand and focus with the other, and my fingers weren't long enough to hold the camera with my thumbs and focus with my ring or middle fingers (which I can do rather easily on a DSLR). Basically this means that some sort of rig will be helpful. Since the camera is heavy it actually doesn't have to be a complicated rig with all sorts of counterweights, and you can definitely get away with a cheap baseplate and some rods to brace against your body or on your shoulder. At the very least some sort of handle will be helpful, whether that's the Blackmagic handle or some other third party solution.

Touchscreen Monitor

It's a bit difficult to see in bright daylight because it is a reflective touchscreen. There isn't much you can do about this, but the biggest problem you will have is seeing your own reflection and everything behind you (similar to the Mac computer you might be using right now). The sun hood does help a bit, but it won't be able to get rid of the reflections, which is the main issue. In practice this wasn't that big of a deal, and it's actually something I deal with on my SmallHD monitor which has a protective plastic piece over the LCD. I can still use that LCD in daylight without too much issue, so it's probably going to come down to personal usage and how much it bothers you.

As far as being able to focus with the monitor, it's good enough. While you might have some issues when your depth of field is very shallow, I was able to focus just fine. Your monitor will make you think your footage is terrible and full of aliasing and moire. That's about my only issue with it. When I was shooting without an external monitor, I was never sure what looked good and what didn't, but when I got back to take a look at it, everything was perfect, without any of the issues I had seen on the back LCD. Do you need another viewing source in addition to the back LCD? Not necessarily, but for narrative work, it's probably going to make your life and that of your focus puller that much easier and less stressful.

It's $3,000

Let's keep this in mind once more before everyone loses it in the comments section. Take a look at what else is in this price range. Sure, you're going to have to spend a little more money to get this camera going, but even with that extra money, you're still going to be well below anything in this price range in terms of overall image fidelity. You've got the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 at the same price, and the Sony FS100, Canon C100, and Canon 1D X are a bit more expensive -- and all of those prices are before any other accessories. This camera can't do everything. It's a cinema camera by nature, so it's not intended to be an 'uncontrolled environment' documentary camera. You've got to plan shots that have some sort of light source, because it can't see in the dark without a bit of noise.

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera gives you 12-bit RAW and 10-bit log compressed codecs, DaVinci Resolve, UltraScope, and Media Express, in a body not much bigger than a DSLR, with non-proprietary media, all for $3,000. Under $10,000 for large sensors you're looking at 8-bit 4:2:2 maximum. Many will question why they need all of that. Frankly, if you don't think you need all of those features or you don't think those features will benefit your videos in any way, you probably shouldn't buy one.

This is really designed to be a step up from DSLRs, not a camera for people who already have the money to spend $20,000 on a RED package. It's a junior cinema camera in that you're not getting ND filters or some of the other features you might get with Sony's new F5/F55 or the even more expensive Arri Alexa or Sony F65. You're getting a box, with a sensor, and some very nice recording formats. If you want cheap, you have to compromise, and personally I'm glad they didn't compromise on image quality. If you can't get around the usability issues, that's perfectly understandable, but anything else that would make this camera better hardware-wise would make it that much more expensive. I don't think this camera is all that appealing at $6,000-$10,000, but for $3,000, it's an absolute steal to get footage that has just about as much resolution at 1080 and nearly as much dynamic range as cameras costing 10-20 times as much.

I'll have a bit more in the coming days, and I will also be posting the full presentation that I was involved with at Rule.

Your Comment

80 Comments

Thank you for the review! I'm still not sure if I'm interested in this or the Digital Bolex camera, so this will be most helpful. Will you be doing similar coverage for that camera when it becomes available?

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Spence

I'd like to shoot with the Digital Bolex, but that will depend on availability and review units.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
avatar
Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director
287

Joe like everybody on this site, really appreciate this post and many informative posts for the film community.

Good info, but Joe do you have any information/dates from Black Magic or Boston rule on new shipping dates for the camera? Any dates on availability?

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
JAY CHASE

There was supposed to be an update today from Blackmagic, but we're stilling waiting - so nothing new to report yet from the last time.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
avatar
Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director
287

I think the image produced by this camera blows the Red Scarlet away and I ordered a Red Scarlet instead lol

December 14, 2012

0
Reply

"the image out of this camera blows the red scarlet away"
HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAH
This website is too funny. Defending a camera that doesn't even exist and all, based solely off of poorly composed, lit, and graded YouTube or VImeo videos

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
john jeffreys

i think both of you guys need to reread the first paragraph

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
ryan

John, can we please see some of your work. You seem to do a lot of talking. Please?

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
David

John's the resident troll. Has very, very little to do all day, it seems. I wouldn't count on seeing any "work" samples anytime soon.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Swested

Trolls are fantastic. No fun without 'em.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Tyler

Go ask mommy to buy you a Red One again while we grown ups talk okay?

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Raphael Wood

every BMCC thread, the same kids come out to diss me

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
john jeffreys

Every BMCC thread, the same stink of trolls ruins it.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Raphael Wood

He'll ask your mommy instead.

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
Natt

Ooooh, what a sweet load of crap, merry christmas to you too.

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
Raphael Wood

yes I think this camera although has having less resolution has both better dynamic range, highlight roll-off and low noise than Scarlet/Epic.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply

People saying that BMCC blows away a raw camera like scarlet should consider if they have the experience or knowledge to actually take good images from it... I mean, scarlet is native 800asa 4k camera with 13 stops of DR with a tested raw format with nice compression modes and an excellent color science (redcolor3).

I don't know but you can do so much with raw that I think is more a matter of lighting correctly the scene and understand the principles behind color correction and grading... And then use it wisely.

BMCC will, probably, blow anything away: REDs, Alexas, F65, if the ones responsible won't know what to do with those cameras on set and in post... And they normally know considering the professional environment those cameras are often found...

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
Alex Mand

I want to buy this camera badly but it costs twice the amount i.e 6000$ in my country India :( including all taxes , customs n shit !!!!!!!!

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Raj

buy *

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Raj

May as well get yourself a ticket to America/Australia and buy it there. You'll get a holiday and a camera for the same price.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Ben Howling

Are cameras as cheap in Australia as they are in the U.S.?

December 16, 2012

0
Reply

Generally not. Although in recent years, our exchange rate has improved against the USD.

BMD is based in Melbourne, Australia, but that is no guarantee of a fair price.

Australia manages to get ripped off on pretty much everything though, compared to the rest of the world. Wouldn't surprise me if this camera ended up being cheaper to buy in the US.

December 23, 2012

0
Reply
Terence Kearns

I feel this camera is aimed directly at me. As a 5D Mark II owner I've shot mostly stuff for my company, friends and little mini-docs for non-profits. But I've wanted to do more narrative work and up my game. A $20,000 outfitted Scarlet is out of reach, but a $5,000 BMCC with an inexpensive rig is perfect. I can live with the small sensor for a picture that holds up in a color grade.

Looking forward to hearing news from Black Magic today on their shipping issues.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Casey

I feel the same way. My current setup is a 7D, a 500D, and a 5Dii.

One big issues is the fact that all my lenses will throw way further with the smaller sensor. So you better factor in a very short focal length lens into that budget if you plan on shooting any medium wide shots with the BMDCC.

December 23, 2012

0
Reply
Terence Kearns

The sigma 8-16 seems to be the winner there. Super sharp.

December 23, 2012

0
Reply
marklondon

I can't wait to test this camera. I plan on buying it but as soon as it's available for rent I'm going to test drive it. Thanks for the review.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply

Before people get upset about its low light performance, remember this. The fastest general purpose 35mm Motion picture Film stock is 500 ASA.

The BMCC is about ISO400. The simple fact that they match in sensitivity, to my eye made this feel way more filmic to me. People forget that night time is well.... Dark. The outdoor stuff to me looked great because it felt like night. Not the bizzare CG looking ultra sensitive camera yellow Vapor light piss storm, that seems to be filling up the web. The BMC looked natural, and realistic. I quite liked it.

I shot with one recently. Ergonomic nightmare from hell. Beautiful picture. For $3,000 you cant complain.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply

The camera's native sensitivity is actually ASA 800.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply

It's like with RED and their promoted ISO 800 sensitivity which is really more like ISO 320. I believe BMCC's native sensitivity is ISO 800 when I see it, not before :)

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
hansd

Red is more sensitive at 800 than at 320. Check your facts.

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
Natt

omg

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
hansd

Well, of course it will be more sensitive at ISO 800, but we're talking (supposedly...) about these cameras' *native* ISO ratings. The Red One with the Mysterium sensor has a native sensitivity of ISO 320, while the BMCC has a native sensitivity of ISO 800. Since both cameras shoot types of raw footage, all video is recorded at those native sensitivities (with the exception of the BMCC's ProRes/DNxHD option).

December 16, 2012

0
Reply
Blah

Amen!

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
francis

I think you guys should check out why the Aexa's highlight/shadow roll off is so good because of something called DGA apparently BMCC has something similar in it's sensor design. That is why noise looks filmic also F65 and F55 do this too. Check http://www.arri.com/camera/digital_cameras/technology/arri_imaging_techn... and EOSHD forum for some mention of it too

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
Moses

I really agree with what you say Timur.
Even this poetic part:

"Not the bizzare CG looking ultra sensitive camera yellow Vapor light piss storm, that seems to be filling up the web"

Amen.

December 15, 2012

0
Reply

James Tonkin, who made the above film "the Night in Nine Elms", said that he shot the bulk of this at 1600. I know there are lower light cameras. But this looks better than really good to me.

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
Marshall Harrington

Blackmagic has a deal on where you can get the full version of Resolve right away for $2000 off. You just leave out the experimental camera part.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Peter

Any reviews coming up for Panasonic's Gh3? Is it still viable in the Indie film community as a contender. Personally all of the videos I've seen haven't impressed even the short Philip bloom had a helping hand seemed to be lacking it didn't have that wow factor.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
alguti

There are GH3 reviews all over the place, if you just take a few minutes and search for them.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Swested

C100 + Atomos Ninja 2 = 10 bit 4:2:2 ProRes with 12 stops of latitude under $10,000

For about $8,000 you can get an image that is better than the C300 out of the box. No slomo though. Different cameras for different peeps.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply

The C100 only outputs an 8-bit image through its HDMI port.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply

Indeed so does the C300 as far as I know

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Nigel Thompson

Yes and yes. 8 bit uncompressed 4:2:2 for both. But in a log gamma you don't need more than 8 bits to represent the 12 available stops adequately. The extra bits would just be noise or unused headroom. More bits are better only if sensor DR is also better to make use of those bits.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Peter

Would the nikon D800 be better bang for the buck compared to the C100?
D800 @ $3000 + Atomos Ninja2 @ $1000 for $4000, seems better than a C100 at $6700 and then a Ninja.
You wont get the low light performance but you don't really need it for narrative work.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
VINCEGORTHO

I think the D800 doesn't resolve nearly as much detail, but someone can correct me if I'm wrong.

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
cows

The D800 is a line-skipping full frame camera and will have aliasing and moire. The C100 is a proper downsampling S35 camera that has virtually no aliasing or moire. If you are doing purely narrative movies, don't need low-light and want a low price the BMCC is a better choice IMO than the D800. The C100 is a better all-around owner-operator camera than both of those by far. The C100 is IMO the cheapest large sensor camera that qualifies as "pro" in build, ergonomics, feature set etc. and the only catches are that it needs an external recorder and can't do slomo.

But the low-light is as good as any in the entire business and when you have to buy a generator or hire a proper electrician for your shoot the price differential is going to become meaningless very quickly. Low light performance is a win in all genres/applications, the idea that narrative can just snap its fingers and have a fleet of maxi brutes at the ready is not reality at the indie level. With the C100 you can do night scenes with LED panels or available street lights and get something usable with or even without NR in post.

Also the fact the C100 is great for run'n'gun does not mean it must suck for narrative. It is IMO as good objectively as any camera right now at 1080p24 when coupled with the Ninja and cinelocked. Subjectively is up to you.

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
Peter

There is a $300 filter that takes out the moire perfectly. Ask any serious D800 shooter.

But in the $60k worth of work its shot for me since April, I haven't even used that. In 80% of the cases, we recorded internally. We also cut it in with Alexa and C300 quite nicely.
IMO The C100 (and C300) doesn't look anywhere near as 'filmic' out of the box as the D800 (or 1dx).

If you are selling yourself as a lighting cameraman, any DSLR is not really the way to go.

If you want to make dramas or your own docs, then sure, a D800 with the Ninja grades up beautifully, even without the filter.

I can't argue that the D800 has the ease of use that you'll find in a C camera, or FS camera. I think the C100 is a terrific little camera, and its already cannabalising the C300 market (I think both cams are over-priced).

But I've won picture quality battles against almost every major digital camera out there for sharpness and DR. Its my A camera on music video, and I shot 40% of a major ESPN doc on it just last month, most of that at night.

You would also own one of the greatest stills cameras ever made if that's of any use to you.

One more thing - if you are shooting your own projects, you can buy a 7D new at Costco for $1300. Put the rest of your money into lenses, lights, and shooting your first big project. In a year, there will be be full-frame 4K around under 10k. In 2 years, under $5k. Get the camera you can use today. Invest in glass, and your own talent.

December 15, 2012

0
Reply
marklondon

I own a Scarlet and think I'm better off with it mainly becuase of the great raw workflow with RED.
BUT - this cam is $3K!
It's the first affordable camera that's really able to 'do cinema'. Hail Black Magic!!

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
hansd

Grant Petty, BMD CEO on their forum: http://forum.blackmagicdesign.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=3457

"Ok good news everyone as the test run of sensors have just been built into cameras and they look good. Very good. So we have just given the sensor supplier the go ahead to commence volume production of the sensors and we hope to start getting them within the next week to start building cameras. How many cameras? I am not sure, as we have all stopped production and so we all need to restart production and see how many they can produce. However we will be working hard to build as many cameras as possible over the next few weeks.

I hope people start to see more cameras shipping, but it might be a good idea if I post another update early January to update everyone on how production is progressing.

As for the micro four thirds model, it's ready to go, however the problem is I feel until we are shipping a whole bunch of EF model cameras, there is little point building any of the MFT model. So we will ship as many as we can and then perhaps see where we are mid Jan and do a few MFT models then.

It is sure a relief seeing this problem coming to a close. I cannot believe this happened and it's been an incredibly frustrating delay. However I am feeling really positive now."

My speculation is they do have more EF preorders than passive MFT ones, but what he is really doing is buying time to see where _active_ MFT development has reached in a few weeks. If active is far enough along, they will just bail on the passive model altogether and ship active ones sometime in 2013 to those customers. No one's going to want a passive MFT mount when an active one is available.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
Peter

I wonder if BM is actually working on an active MFT. Perhaps it's better to wait until NAB season. I don't like buying expensive gear if it becomes obsolete soonafter. Conversely if Mr. Petty denies, cannot confirm, or doesn't say anything about active development, then the passive model would be OK, in my bookkeeping, and be valid for a year or so before being superseded.

I simply dislike products that go to landfill early....accordingly, I don't have any Apple mobile devices.

December 14, 2012

0
Reply
animal_264

Pages