August 11, 2017
field test

FIELD TEST: Cintel Film Scanner Still Impresses, Now with Keycode and Audio Improvements

Blackmagic's Cintel Scanner still blows our minds years after release.

Blackmagic keeps up such a rapid pace of updates with Resolve and the URSA line of cameras that it's easy to forget that the company is simultaneously keeping alive one of the coolest pieces of technology around.

You buy the scanner, move it in, and plug in a simple wall cable and a Thunderbolt 2 cable. That's it.

After buying DaVinci and rebuilding Resolve from scratch, Blackmagic bought scanner company Cintel and released the Blackmagic Cintel Scanner, a $30,000 4K film scanner that connects to your computer with a single Thunderbolt cable. Now, a brand new KeyKode and Audio reader is available, adding improved functionality for an additional $3500.

Credit: Blackmagic

History of KeyKode

KeyKode was a system developed by Kodak (hence the double Ks) that printed small numbers next to each individual frame of film you shot. Reading KeyKode is incredibly useful for a scanner since it can help the scanner quickly find a distinct part of a 2000-foot roll of film if you know the KeyKode. Additionally, if scanning film for the first time, you can capture and record KeyKode information with your dailies. This gives filmmakers who later want to cut their negative the essential information to do so, since each frame of video is matched back to an individual frame of film. 

Credit: Blackmagic Resolve Scanner Control

The new audio reader

The scanner has long had the ability to extract audio information after a scan by analyzing the waveform of film captured visually, but adding an audio reader that works in realitime will make the workflow faster for labs or post houses doing volume scanning of older prints for archiving or re-release.

The new audio reader also supports both magentic audio or optical audio, using deep red LED illumination for both 16mm or 35mm color or black and white optical tracks, including high contrast optical audio prints.  As prints degrade over time, they introduce wow and flutter, or speed changes that don't track consistently across a print. This can be a real frustration with the audio being separated from the picture with a print, since it causes sync to drift. The new reader uses a precise encoder on the captan to correct for this and keep the audio in sync despite speed changes. 

A single thunderbolt cable is the only connection required.Credit: Blackmagic

Now with Thunderbolt 2

Blackmagic was nice enough to let us visit its secret facility a few months ago and rescan some old film, and the announcement of new accessories for the scanner seems like the perfect time to share what we learned. The biggest, most amazing takeaway for the Cintel is the single Thunderbolt 2 cable. You could potentially run the scanner with a laptop.

7 pin accessory plugs ready for new accessories like the KeyKode reader.Credit: Blackmagic

The last telecine we helped install required the hiring of an engineer that flew over from England for two weeks, at a price that nearly matched the purchase price of the telecine. Miles of cables were purchased, labelled, and installed. Special power was routed to the room. The schedule was tight enough that the pressure was on to make sure the install would go well in that two week window. Today, it's a device that weighs only 140 lbs., can sit on a normal table, and you just plug in a thunderbolt cable and you are ready to go. It's mind blowing.

You buy the scanner, move it in (you'll need a friend for the weight and size), and plug in a simple wall cable and a Thunderbolt 2 cable. That's it. 

All for $29,999.

Credit: Blackmagic Cintel by Charles Haine

Why to consider one

Unlike the advanced panels, which came in at a similar price point but recently got little buddy panels, it would be a shock if Blackmagic came out with a Mini and a Micro scanner anytime soon. It just doesn't make sense, and there isn't the demand for the volume sales that those panels are likely to see.

But the scanner remains available, and if you have film materials in good shape, it's an option you should consider. It primary weakness is that it's not designed for archival work where the film might be heavily damaged or warped by time. This isn't the scanner for that, and there are many, many options out there that will perform well, though none of them come in at anywhere near this price point.

Testing

To put it through its paces, we brought a very rough roll of film that had be torn in-camera and hand re-perfed by the folks in the lab at Deluxe. We've transferred this film before on an SD Ursa Diamond, a 2K Spirit, and were curious how the current Cintel 4K scanner would handle it, despite not being traditionally an "archival" scanner.

Very rough old filmCredit: Charles Haine

It can out surprisingly well. As you can see by the below side by sides, comparing a 2006 scan from a Spirit 2K with the 4K scan from 2017, the color reproduction is stellar, and maybe just a tiny hair more latitude was eked out of the new transfer. Most importantly is the tiny hair more resolution you see in the eyes.

2K vs. 4K is an argument that is nearly pointless, and the differences in the two scans wouldn't be noticeable at normal viewing size, but it is interesting to see a slight hint of extra resolution when you zoom in. We also were able to compare with a project that we only ever scanned on standard definition, back in 2006 again on a purple door diamond, and unsurprisingly the resolution bump of going to 4K was fantastic.

Credit: Charles Haine
4k image on the leftCredit: Charles Haine
4k fresh scan on the leftCredit: Charles Haine
In terms of running the scanner, everything can be controlled directly from within the DaVinci Resolve interface, which is, of course, free. Playback, capture, framerate, framing, everything is controlled with an easy to use interface from within Resolve, capturing to 4K files up to 30 frames per second realtime. You can even extract audio from your print after the fact without the audio accessory if working on archival projects that had embedded audio, but it won't be as fast as using the audio reader.

An hour of film dailies will require a 240GB SSD.

The biggest drawback is the size of the files and the speed it writes to. Be sure you have SSDs available (the scanner spits out files too fast for an HDD), and be prepared for the data rate of 4GB/minute to eat up your drive space fast. We'll repeat for emphasis: that's 4 gigabytes per minute of footage for the .cri files. An hour of film dailies will require a 240GB SSD.

Credit: Charles Haine

Conclusion

If you are thinking about doing more film projects, it's worth seeking out a house with a Cintel. If you have a pile of older projects sitting in your closet, reluctant to retransfer them because of the cost when you last got a bid a decade ago, it's worth taking a look again. Because of the low entry cost of the Cintel, there will be houses out there offering lower costs transfers. If you are a company with any interest in archival film work, it should be considered. If you and your friends want to get into archival and film transfer, it's cheap enough it could potentially be purchased by a group of dedicated film nerds. If you are those film nerds and buy one, let us know, as we'd love to hear about the adventure. And now it'll read KeyKode off your dailies for future negative cutting.

If only they would make an Aatoncode reader.....

For more info see Blackmagic.com.

Tech Specs

  • UltrahHD 3840x2880 Super35mm 1.33 Resolution
  • 4096x3072 native resolution
  • 2000ft film reel capacity
  • Thunderbolt2 and HDMI connectors
  • Single cable power, 200W draw
  • Audio and KeyKode Reader
  • Optical audio extraction
  • Realtime scanning up to 30fps
  • 100fps scrub
  • 132lbs
  • 15" deep, 35" tall, 42" wide when closed, 80" wide when opened

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1 Comment

Fantastic. 'Love to read about film getting cheaper.

August 14, 2017 at 1:15AM

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Doug
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