After Blackmagic first announced the Cinema Camera, and started showing real samples, it soon became clear that it was going to have a lot more dynamic range than even cameras costing two or three times as much. Dynamic range numbers may vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer (since their testing procedures can be completely different), but looking at sample images really allows you to see how far you can push this camera before it clips in the highlights or the shadows. Frank Glencairn, who has been testing the Blackmagic Cinema Camera extensively, wanted to see just how well it would perform in a difficult dynamic range situation.
The dynamic range stress test:
This is what Frank had to say about the test (which was filmed in RAW):
I shot some DR tests today. Nothing fancy or artsy, emphasis was on contrast handling (not on smooth camera moves – had that lightweight travel tripod with the crappy head again – but walking several miles with a 40lbs Vinten?) Point is, the material it looks not really spectacular, but just natural – more what your eyes see (not exactly but you get the idea)....So yeah, mission accomplished BMC – on all other cameras under 18000 bucks most of the lights would be completely blown out and the shadows just dark blotches. This is RED HDR and Alexa territory IMHO. Quite impressive for a camera at that price point.
Many argue about the advantages of a higher resolution camera if your material is just going to go online in heavily compressed form. That is certainly a debatable point (though I definitely think there's definitely a difference if the video is viewed in 1080p), but the one point that can't be argued is that dynamic range will find its way through to the final compressed form. That's clearly evident by the video above, and also evident in the BMCC/Mark III test from OneRiver Media. One of the advantages of film -- and now high-end digital cinema cameras -- is that you can retain a ton of highlight detail. Many digital cameras have more of their dynamic range in the shadows (the Cinema Camera is no exception), but if you expose for the highlights, it means you can bring back those shadows later, and have an image with a nice gradient from lows to highs.
One of my personal pet peeves is seeing a nicely composed image, but completely blown out highlights in the background. Up until now the only option under $10,000 was to heavily underexpose (which can lead to ugly skin tones). Now we've got a camera that is capable of retaining detail in both the extreme highlights and extreme shadows, and for less money than any of the competitors. For those few people who say, but what if I want the windows or highlights blown out? Well, it's fairly easy to make that happen in a far more controlled way during grading. It's a lot more difficult to go the other way -- recover highlights that are either clipped or almost clipped.
The only thing left is for Blackmagic to work out their shipping issues, and we'll start seeing some actual films made with this "mini-Alexa".