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April 4, 2013

12 Things to Think About Before Committing to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera for Your Film


When news of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera dropped, I got that warm, giddy feeling. Everything I need in a camera and nothing I don't! A few months of research later, I decided: this will be the camera I will shoot my feature film with. The quality of images this camera produces is superb. I love the dynamic range, the sharpness, the texture, and the richness in the blacks. I feel closer to shooting on film than I ever have. However, when it comes to peace of mind on set, it can leave a lot to be desired. There's plenty of praises to sing, but I want to talk about some of the issues I've had with it, hidden expenses, and quirks to be aware of that are pertinent to the independent filmmaker. Click through for a list I've compiled after shooting two indie features with it, along with some comments from Dan May, the president of Blackmagic Design.

While my directorial debut, Menthol, is still in the early editing stages, here is a teaser from the feature I shot with Josh Beck directing, called Ever. Many of these shots are ungraded, but this gives you a sense of what we were able to do with the camera on a very low budget:

Without further ado, the list:

1. Dropped Frames / SSDs

Currently BMD's suggested list of SSDs is proving to be a bit of a minefield. Shooting my film with Crucial M4 512s -- in which it was my goal to incorporate a lot of long takes -- dropped frames were a drag. They happen randomly and frequently, even in ProRes. The only upside to this is that you know when it's happening; the camera's REC display blinks when a drop frame is detected. To minimize dropped frames, it's recommended to format your SSDs (HFS+) after each use, which can only be done when docked to your computer. In terms of SSDs, the general consensus is to go for the Sandisk Extreme 480GB, though they are not immune to dropped frames either.

It seems that the severity of the dropped frame can vary as well, sometimes the image skips, and other times it's barely noticeable and it just sends your audio out of sync. The end of the world? Certainly not, but annoying enough for me to urge you to choose your SSD media wisely, and check in with the community about various manufacturers' SSD performance before buying. Here's an example of audio drift from a dropped frame (NSFW audio):

The SSD bay itself is also very delicate and I don't think it will hold up to long-term rugged professional use. I recommend extreme delicacy when slotting SSDs in and out of the camera. Also be aware that there is no clip management inside the camera, this means no deleting clips in-camera. From Dan:

Different SSD manufacturers do things different in terms of media, they actually have their own compression built in to save space. The Crucials were really one of the big "gotchas" that we experienced, as we tested them a lot and they were working great and then a new firmware came along and it was like, okay, these don't work anymore.

The hidden cost? If you buy the correct media the first time around, you'll be okay.

2. Touchscreen

I've shot with 4 different Blackmagic cameras so far, and each LCD screen seems to have its different quirks, dead pixels being the constant, so potentially expect to see some. However, the real problem with the BMC screen is that it's completely unusable in daylight or in any situation where light is hitting the screen, and the included sun shade is not a solution by any means. A 5" monitor hood like the Hoodman HRT5 is a must at the very minimum if you can't afford an SDI EVF like the Alphatron or an HDMI to SDI converter. In regards to cheap SDI converters like this one, beware -- it won't always successfully carry your signal.

In the current firmware (1.2) the 'Video' display mode (REC 709) only works on the camera's LCD, so when  using an external monitor your only option is to view the 'Log' signal. Also on external monitors, Zebras and Peaking functions disappear while recording. The touchscreen menu is also the only place to access the camera's options and cannot be sent out via SDI.

The hidden cost? Expect to purchase a sunshade at the very least, and unless you own an external monitor already, one of those too. Or you can DIY something, like I did in a pinch with my camera bag's velcro dividers and the almighty gaff tape: 

3. Data Rates

I'll be the first to admit it: I can't afford to shoot RAW for anything long-form like a feature. On my film, we shot for 20 days and my ProRes footage totaling ~5TB, or ~60 hours, multiplied x3 for redundancy (it's all about redundancy); that's ~15TB of data, and all we had room in the budget for. The RAW data rates otherwise are just too intense. This is championed as a narrative camera, but it seems unaffordable to shoot a feature film in RAW at the sub-$100k level. I suspect a lot of indie filmmakers will make great use of the ProRes and rarely utilize RAW.

4. Internal Audio

No internal audio metering (yet). Seems like a basic camera feature, but is nowhere to be found. No phantom power. While on paper the audio preamps in the camera are of good quality, they still aren't working as intended. She's quirky: if the camera feels like the signal is going to overload, then it switches itself from MIC to LINE which, when using a PreAmp like the JuicedLink riggy, which can cause lost audio. Balanced TRS inputs instead of XLR is a minor headache, although if you're from the DSLR world you'll be used to this. Dual-system sound can't be beat, and until Blackmagic sorts out their internal audio issues, I wouldn't feed anything to the camera other than a scratch track. More from Dan:

There's one or two audio things that we're trying to work on, but I can't definitely say that we have an answer for that yet. I don't think that there are VU meters coming soon. We're working on fixes for the camera, and we're working on getting to NAB, and there's a bunch of stuff post-NAB, but to say that VU meters are coming soon wouldn't be accurate. We understand why people want VU meters on the touchscreen itself, but there are ways around it, such as using an external monitor.

More info on the BMCC's audio quirks from JuicedLink.

5. 24 vs 23.976

Final Cut Pro 7 editors: be careful! This camera has the option of shooting in true 24fps. Not 24p (23.976/23.98) but true 24. Final Cut Pro has some quirks when it comes to editing on a true integer sequence such as 24fps, the biggest issue being audio drift. You'll notice if you bring in your 48.000khz audio that it will drift. The solution for this in small applications is to speed up or slow down your audio by .01% (so either by changing your audio clip speed to 99.90% or 100.10%, depending on which version of the problem you're compensating for). Premiere doesn't have this problem, and is another reason I'm happy I made the switch. I shot some stuff on true 24 on accident, assuming it was 23.98 -- my mistake, yes, but a headache nonetheless. So just make sure to shoot on 23.98 unless you really mean true 24. As to why it's there, it's for shooting alongside film:

We were trying to find a the cross between the DSLR and the film world, so we just wanted to cover as many bases as possible.

6. Infinity Focus / Iris Control

Reports of issues with infinity focus on various lenses is cause for concern as well. I planned to shoot a majority of my film on the Tokina 11-16, a popular choice for covering the wide lengths on the Blackmagic's intense crop factor. After reading people having problems with infinity focus on the EF version of the lens, I decided to rent the Nikon version and use a G adapter with manual iris control, as the F-mount version doesn't seem to have the problem. Blackmagic has addressed this issue and is fixing cameras that show this problem.

In terms of iris control, a lot of lenses (even EF) simply aren't supported. I've always championed the use of manual lenses -- I personally need to be able to control exposure with something physical, with my hands. With this camera, you just don't know if you'll be able to control aperture with your lens until you try it.

There is no official list of lenses that we certify, obviously there are user reports and a lot of internal discussion about what works and what doesn't. I don't want to comment if there's going to be an official list because I don't think we've decided at this time.

The hidden cost? Depending on what lenses you use, it might not be a problem. Look for user generated lists on what works and what doesn't.

7. Crop Factor

While it's worth mentioning that the crop factor is workable and shouldn't be a huge detractor for many, it's pretty different from what I'm used to in S35. In general I don't like what it does to my focal lengths, and I've found myself using zoom lenses more to compensate for this. The general rule of thumb is obvious: it's harder on the wide end and easier on the telephoto end.

The hidden cost? At roughly 2.3x (from full frame, 1.6 from S35) it's an awkward crop factor, which means it might require additional lenses, depending on what lenses you currently own and what focal lengths you need to cover.

8. Moire

Those from the DSLR world will be used to this, as the moire from the BMCC's sensor can be just as bad. Perhaps Mosaic Engineering or another company will design some kind of VAF (Video Aliasing Filter) for the camera, but nothing has hit the market yet. Is it a huge problem? Not if you're used to it and know how to look for it, but definitely worth knowing about. Will BMD develop anything to solve this? Don't hold out for it:

There's so many great third-party manufacturers out there it's hard to see us spending a lot of time and energy doing that kind of stuff, unless there's a huge gap. We're a $3,000 camera, and what we deliver is a whole lot of camera. The only time we make an accessory is when a third party really falls down on the job, then we will go out and make it.

9. Power

One of my favorite things about the camera is actually the ~1.5 hours you get out of the internal battery. It's very useful if you need to be covert when 'stealing' locations. You can strip it down, pop it off your rig and it makes it easy to get shots on a public bus or a supermarket. This is something that DSLR users will find familiar in terms of form factor. However, be aware that you absolutely need an external battery system for normal all-day shooting, like a V-Mount or Gold-Mount (Anton Bauer) system. They aren't cheap, and as always, you get what you pay for. The hidden cost? Expect to pay around $500 at the very minimum for a working V-mount system. Many professional battery systems, like the IDX Indura can take an even larger bite out of your wallet. I'm glad using this camera pushed me to start working with an external battery system though -- I won't ever go back.

Also, be aware that the barrel size on the power connector is 2.5mm, slightly larger than the standard 2.1mm power pins that you find on your DSLR. You'll need something like this D-Tap cable to provide power to your camera.

10. Sunspot

Pointing the camera in the direction of the sun causes a photosite overload -- it transforms bright sources, like the sun, into a large black dot. For most situations, it's not a problem, but in the case where you have a client who needs "beautiful sunflares, blah blah blah" it's going to cause you problems. All CMOS sensors are capable of overloading like this, as did the RED ONE in an early firmware. DaVinci Resolve's 'recover highlight' function should fix this for those who need to in post. (Note: this doesn't seem to be present on all units.)

This is going to be addressed in the future firmware update that is in the works, which will definitely be post-NAB.

11. Framerates

No frame rates above 30fps. No brainer, no big deal. This is a narrative camera, but just be aware of it. It's amazing the surprise I hear when I tell people this. So if you plan on doing a re-make of Paranoid Park, you'll have to pick a different camera. A lot of clients ask for slow motion, so if your primary accounts are music videos or short / experimental films, it could be a drawback.

12. Auto Sleep Mode / Camera Death

I had one camera die on me in the middle of shooting. While scrubbing through playback, the camera shut off and wouldn't turn back on. Blackmagic support replaced the camera for me, but our production had to rent one for 5 days while it was being shipped, and it was a miracle that I even knew someone with a camera body to rent at the time. I'm now basically PTSD when looking at playback, I always think it's gonna kill the camera, and try to avoid playback in-camera as a general rule. Very stressful. BMD's support team diagnosed the problem as a glitch with its auto-sleep mode, that apparently activates when the batteries are low, and they said it must've gotten stuck in this mode. However, I was fully charged when it happened, so it's still a mystery to us -- and mysteries are scary.

I have never heard of that before. I had a really early beta camera that had a weird experience kind of in that area -- the battery died, won't revive -- but that was in March of last year. The thing should be well grounded, it shouldn't get electrical shocks, but that sounds like a freak accident, I have not heard of a camera just falling asleep with full batteries.

So the mystery remains, but is to be expected with a company blazing a new path, and the Blackmagic Support team are very helpful and responsive to your needs. More from Dan May about their journey making the camera:

Certainly we are not the first person to go out and say we're just going to make a camera out of another guy's system? It's a complicated process, the fact that we were able to actually get the camera out the door in a reasonable amount of time, granted we had lots of challenges, but a lot of the problems that you mentioned, some of them have been addressed by firmware updates or will be addressed by firmware updates, or have workarounds out there that are reasonable.

The hard part is: how much time do we want to spend developing the 'silver bullet' product, and can that be an affordable product that people will buy? If we kept the camera a secret for another 2 years and put all these features in it, all of a sudden it's a $10,000 camera and it's 2 years late. That is part of the process of being a manufacturer, it's just about trying to develop the best product as possible and get it into the hands of as many people as possible.

When asked about this year's NAB:

Unless we invent time travel I don't think we can top the shock and awe of last year, but I think it'll be another great NAB, so look out for it, it should be pretty exciting.

Remember, any camera is just a tool, and you should be aware of what the tool is providing for you that you really need. Do you need a RAW workflow? Do you need the dynamic range? Above all, shoot with what works for you. A lot about filmmaking is learning the tools so we can forget them. By now it's a cliché, but it's true. To be able to transcend the tools is so important, because when you're shooting, you want to be solving creative problems, not technical ones.

So if you have a 7D/5D and are looking for an upgrade to the BMCC, keep in mind that the camera presents a whole new set of quirks. Blackmagic Design has never made a camera before, and it comes with all the bumps and bruises you could expect from a bleeding edge piece of technology. Most importantly, it should not be looked at as a simple upgrade from a DSLR. It's a camera that delivers features at its price-point that is defying what the market offered even 6 months ago, but it's not for everyone, and you can't just jump in without a lot of consideration.

Sometimes you just can't know something until you've spent some time with it and learned how to optimize it for your use. Now that I know a lot more about how to handle it by keeping this list in mind, I feel more comfortable going out and shooting with it. As with any camera system: test, test, and test some more!

Special thanks to Dan May of Blackmagic Design for speaking with me on these points.

How many of you are planning on shooting films with this camera? Do any other BMCC users out there have anything to add or amend to my list? Share in the comments below.

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138 Comments

Very well written. Thank you

April 4, 2013

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Yes- extremely helpful to have "in the field" experiences on longer form projects.

April 4, 2013

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Agreed, awesome to have real user feedback... I'm sticking to Canon for now...

April 4, 2013

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M Jackson

Thank you BMD for a worthy replacement of film for us poor people.

April 4, 2013

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Quobetah

Incidentally with many of the same headaches of film as well.

April 4, 2013

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Hummer

Great post. I'm about to cancel my order. No kidding.

April 4, 2013

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paul

What is the alternative of BMC?

April 4, 2013

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Digital Bolex? I understand it's nearly ready, with the possibility of working models at NAB.

April 4, 2013

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Saied

You don't really think the Digital Bolex will be immune from many of these same growing pains too, do you? The BMCC has a huge advantage over the DB in that it's had a years headstart in field testing.

April 4, 2013

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Brynn

Those guys could have brought the Bolex out already, yet chose to keep refining the design with over a hundred improvements. I think they are quietly conscious of the BMCC shipping delays and are trying hard not to disappoint upon release. Of course, you may still be right.

April 4, 2013

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Saied

Digital boles has a CCD sensor with global shutter and XLR inputs are what really attract me to this camera. However it only shoots uncompressed so...

I'm really hoping there are more cameras to compete in this market soon. I'm going to be shooting an 8 episode web series in July and want to upgrade to a 12 bit camera from my GH2, but as of right now I'm really not feeling like ill be able to comfortably shoot with anything other than my GH2. I'd rather spend that money on lighting and storage if I can't have a piece or reliable gear.

April 4, 2013

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Julian

I was going to cancel, but i was going to get Davinci anyway, so im just going to keep the m4/3 version and just mess with it.

April 4, 2013

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Terry Jun

The free version of resolve is pretty much just as good. Just no 3D and other stuff like that. So it's not that great of a value getting it for free with the camera.

April 4, 2013

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Julian

For the drop frames, I have no issue with my sandisk extreme 240gb SSD in RAW at 24p or 30p.
The unusability of the screen outaide is a real bummer for me. I totally agreed with you for the data consumption of the camera. I shot some video timelapse and for 32mins of shooting in RAW I had consummed over 350gb of data. A feature film or doc will require so much HD space to make you bankrupt hahahaha. People cried dor RAW now they are asking for RAW but at 1080p instead of 2.5k or having ProRes444 for 2.5k recording.

Sound is really recommended to be recorded externally since there are issues with the internal recording.

I feel you forgot one important aspect which is having a proper rig setup for this camera. The camera feels heavier then 3.75lbs. The camera is front heavy. A proper weight balances rig makes it more versatile.

April 4, 2013

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Sebastien D'Amour

How long is your film going to be? Just 60 hours of footage sounds a fair bit. I go on the times 10 rule for narrative.

April 4, 2013

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most likely had a high shooting ratio

April 4, 2013

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David J. Fulde

As for dropped frames, I have the impression that the smaller capacity SSDs (128 / 256..) are les prone to that.
Anyone to confirm?

April 4, 2013

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Tulio

Btw DaVinci Resolve 10 and online editing? http://goo.gl/PEz5G

April 4, 2013

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Silent Bob

Well written! I've not had ANY dropped frame issues as of yet, recording mostly prores. I always double up on takes to make sure I'm covered, though. The sunspot thing is annoying, I wish that would be fixed sooner rather than later. I was mostly concerned with #12: the dead camera. THAT is frightening, but no more so than early RED shooting. Seems like the same old problems a new camera company always seems to have, and I'm looking forward to them being fixed quickly.

I think your point about indie people shooting mostly prores is dead on. I got the camera to perform nicely wit my mid-range imac with prores shooting and storage I can handle. I plan now to upgrade the editing machine and introduce a raid for storage of RAW in the future - but it's so nice to have a great working camera now that can be used to a bigger advantage later. Somewhat future proofed. (Upping the 2.5k to 4K is totally doable, as well!)

April 4, 2013

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alex

Here's some thoughts based on my recent experience.

I just wrapped a 4 day short narrative shoot on the BMC The volume of data you generate shooting RAW is astounding. 1.6Tb of footage, that's with a shooting ratio of approx 1:20. The built in monitor and internal battery was actually really useful because we had to shoot a night street scene without permits, so we were able to ninja it.

But most of the time we used V-mounts batteries and a SmallHD AC7 for monitoring, the false color in the AC7 was a great exposure aid. I'm not entirely confident exposing with just zebras.

We recorded sound externally and slated, so the missing sound levels didn't bother me. I almost never record sound in camera.

Overall it's a great camera, which I'll be using for narrative, music video and fashion (if you don't need slow motion). But I suspect a lot of the budget DSLR shooters won't be able to make the jump because the cost of the camera is just the first of many costs.

Don't waste your time with 240Gb SSDs if you're shooting RAW. I'm going to be getting 480Gb SSDs minimum from now.

April 4, 2013

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MWL

Using larger than 240GB SSDs scares me. What if one is acting up or even dying? Can't afford to loose more than 20 minutes of material (bad enough). After expensive scenes or extraordinary performance, I change the SSD, if full or not.

Also I wonder about your shooting ratios. One guy said 1:20.
I get usually around 1:5 or 1:6 max. I find 1:20 quite shocking. Why so much? Bad acting, bad directing or bad camera?

April 6, 2013

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Frank Glencairn

I'm waiting to see what gets unveiled at NAB. I have a feeling at least someone will announce a competitive product aimed at the BMCC.

April 4, 2013

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Hummer

Thanks for this!

April 4, 2013

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Chris

uhm if you buy a BMC is be cause you want to shoot in raw, if you not can afford raw workflow, don't buy a BMC is very masochist to shoot with a raw camera not in raw...

i'm so curious 60h in 20 shooting days? a rate of 3h shooted at days?
are you shooting intervew? or a tv series all in one month?
also crazy guy like kubrick not have a so high shooting/edit ratio...
most of movie production that i meet shoot since 8-10 minutes at days... when are very lucky and in a single location, 3h hours is a record... or a waste of space?

April 4, 2013

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carlo

Yeah, 10 minutes of usable material a day is what you usually get on a normal narrative set.
Even with a ratio of 1:6, that's just three 240GB SSDs and around 600GB a day.
No big deal IMHO. If you throw out all the junk and bad stuff, you end up with less than 20GB a day.

April 6, 2013

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Frank Glencairn

As for the Moire issue, I havent seen it and I have done a fair share of brick wall shoots and test. Are you seeing it more on clothes? Because compared to my 5D its nearly non existent.

April 4, 2013

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Joos

About SSDs

As long as you use usual MLC -flash SSDs you will have unstable media. If you want as reliable recording media for BMCC as possible you'll have to buy SLC-flash SSDs, and they are much more expensive (think Redmag pricing).

April 4, 2013

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Hansd

Add:

the problem here is that BMCC's raw capture is uncompressed which makes reliable recording of raw footage extremely expensive.

April 4, 2013

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Hansd

Micah Van Hove, if the difference is .01%, shouldn't that be 100.01% or 99.99%?

April 4, 2013

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Shenan

Also how many SSD's were you using for the shoot?

April 4, 2013

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and were you formatting them on the camera or computer?

April 4, 2013

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I used 2x 512 SSDs, but the Crucials are no longer recommended for use. You cannot format the SSDs inside the camera, only with a computer.

April 4, 2013

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
writer, director, dp

Micah,
Would you recommend this camera for documentary over a 5d3?

Thanks greatly.

April 4, 2013

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Nick

Yes I would, when you choose the right media (SSDs) to avoid dropped frames, the camera will be able to roll for a long time w/o cutting, unlike with the FAT32 limit of the 5D (~12 minutes per take). More info: http://goo.gl/9IQeY

April 4, 2013

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
writer, director, dp

The 5D3 can shoot for 30 minutes, has smpte, best lowlight, fullframe, cheap SD cards, cheap CF cards, Cheap Batteries, weather sealed, can even shoot the picture for your movie poster.

I vote for the 5D3 all the way.

April 4, 2013

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Tom

Thank you. This whole back and forth about what is a "cinema" camera and what isn't just kills me.

April 4, 2013

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Dave

I'm pretty sure Tom is just joking around. Everybody knows no Canon camera, MKIII included, can hold a candle to the BMCC. And the BMCC is not even a real cinema camera.

April 4, 2013

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dixter

I would. You don't have to shoot in RAW. The biggest gain from this camera is not raw but Dynamic Range. It's still present in ProRes or DNxHD.

April 6, 2013

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Sebastien D'Amour

Storage can be a problem indeed in raw...

We're a shooting in raw right now and it's insane how much data you have on hands after a day of work.

Version 2 should have some sort of compressed raw like cineform. I simply don't see cinema DNG as viable solution for daily work.

We make jokes because the camera costs $3000 (although you'll spend another $3000 with gear) but its workflow in raw is something far, far, far more expensive...

April 4, 2013

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Alex Mand

Thats why it comes with broadcast quality prores for every day work. The Raw is for top end stuff and you budget accordingly to it which with 15tb of storage should have been more than enough to shoot the whole thing in RAW.

April 4, 2013

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You right... But it's nice to have the extra benefits of Raw. It's simply not viable. we got a server, it was expensive, but to keep things up with BMCC in Raw the cost is prohibitive.

but it's a nice camera and I sincerely hope that all problems will be solved and for the next version they come up with a compressed raw feature.

April 4, 2013

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Alex Mand

Just curious, if you want Cineform, why can't you just convert to Cineform manually as you import footage? Throw out the originals and you've got pretty much what you're asking for with just a simple step.

April 4, 2013

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Clayton Arnall

I think it's just due to inexperience. Converting to Cineform is a simple step, an option, it's not difficult.

April 4, 2013

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Kholi

I Shot my first short film on the BMCC EF Mount. i had to rent a tokina 11-16 to have a wide lens for steadicam shots. I was used a lot to the 7D and 5D but yeah the BMCC is a totally new tool.

1> In freezing temperature the camera decided to shut down on its own, but then came back to life when we heated it with a HMI lamp (lol)

2> the battery life, extended with sony battery was quite short, we had to change batteries every hours.

3> shooting in raw was not possible for me as 280GB of Raw data= 30 minutes of film. and I only had my laptop and an external drive for backups on set.

4> The picture is stunning. I would highly rent it again.

April 4, 2013

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Why are you talking about a dead editing tool. Final Cut Pro is dead. Why does it keep getting brought up.

April 4, 2013

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Darren Orange

Because a lot of people are afraid to make the jump to a new or different platform. They will eventually have to upgrade or survive on niche gigs that require the edit be on FCP. Just be glad we live in an age where we don't have to splice and tape our edits, or figure out a swipe on film. Sadly that's what it feels like whenever I use FCP compared to CS6 Production Suite.

April 4, 2013

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Jorge Cayon

I think it's important to keep in mind that until this camera came out BlackMagic Design was never a camera company, and nobody even saw it coming. I can't imagine how difficult it was for them to decide, ok, we're going to make a camera now, and it's going to be the camera everybody in the indie community would want, and it's going to be cheap to acquire and make the most awesome images south of RED. These are indeed growing pains, and I think it would be crazy to expect this camera to be perfect at this time. I've had BM products for years and I love the company, but I'm not sure I'm ballsy enough to rely on this camera yet for a feature. It will get much better soon, I'm sure. In the meantime, I have to say that for sheer ease of use and versatility, I'm loving my C100.

April 4, 2013

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Great post. Thanks for taking your time to share your thoughts. Very helpful.

April 4, 2013

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Thank you for this post. It's exactly what I needed to hear. I've basically been drooling to get rid of my 5D3 for something more professional, the image is great out of this camera but it being a more "professional" camera I don't think so ill wait for some updates.

April 4, 2013

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Caleb

Let's wait and see what the 4:2:2 firmware update offers for the Mk III. I doubt it'll solve the overall resolution issues, but it might be a nice way to shoot at higher ISO's with less compression noise.

April 4, 2013

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Hummer

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