The long-awaited BlackMagic Design Cinema Camera, hereafter BMCC, arrived at my favourite independent Vancouver ciné rental house yesterday. Dylan asked if I wanted to come in and try it out… oh, and could I bring an SSD along as well…
He put a deposit on the EF model at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters annual convention) last year the day they were announced in April. It arrived yesterday after some well publicized delays due to manufacturing woes.
The question on everyone’s mind: Was it worth the wait?
Let me start with several caveats: I’m not a filmmaker. I’m a verité broadcast documentary DoP and editor, a corporate video guy and a webcast and live event multicam technical director. This camera certainly doesn’t fall into any of those categories.
“But WAIT a minute!” cry the dSLR kiddies… “I’m a documentary filmmaker and I want five of them!”
You’ll notice I state that I’m a BROADCAST doco guy. Not just news but full EFP production. Absolutely the wrong tool for 95% of what I do. The ProRes and DNxHD shooting modes are useless (as I will explain later) and the RAW workflow for anything even remotely time sensitive will end in failure, in my experience and humble opinion.
What the dSLR “revolution” did was allow shooters and editors to “forget” the technical aspects of video… like how to successfully get it into the edit bay in the first place. I consulted just this week with a client I shot for on a broadcast documentary who called in a panic stating “the editor just told me there is NO FOOTAGE on those drives you sent us! Do you still have the backups???” I calmly asked “How young is the ‘editor’? It’s a young guy, isn’t it?” SIlence. I continued with “okay… you hired a dSLR editor who is trying to IMPORT XDCamEX footage using Import or Log and Transfer… You can’t do that. You need to use the XDCam Transfer Tool… let me walk you through it…”
Let me explain: Sony’s XDCamEX codec is used in some of the world’s most successful video cameras… the venerable EX1, EX1r, EX3, PWM320 and 350, the replacement for the EX1 the PMW200… the list goes on and on… it is a WORKHORSE. A bit of a complicated and convoluted ingest stage but the technology has been in use for better than 5 years. I’d consider that stable.
Why do I bring up the XDCamEX workflow in an article about the BMCC?
The workflow involves opening your edit software (in the case mentioned FCP7.0.3), importing using a tool and then editing normally.
The BMCC RAW workflow involves learning DaVinci Resolve (primarily a colour correction suite) which is far more of a database than creative tool in order to figure out how to actually apply a basic grade so that you can then export an editable file either in proxy for later matchback and online colour and post OR for editing at 1080P.
I understand that DaVinci Resolve is a world-class colour correction tool; I am in NO WAY dismissing what it can do. Let me show you what the first three screens you need to work with in Resolve look like:
Yeah. Three icons and a menu bar… I’ll open File and then select Import to bring my media in…
Hmmm… that didn’t work. Okay, I’ll select one of these Icons and see… oh! It’s doing something… I’m so excited I could… um… oh oh… what now???
See… Resolve is a PRO tool. Made for people that do this every day. The BMCC appears to be marketed to the filmmaker looking to move up from a dSLR. This is FINE if the workflow process involves having a DEDICATED Post Production person in the loop. For the DIY folks, this is going to be fun to watch…
“All right then Mister Smarty Pants… we’ll just shoot in ProResHQ or DNxHD instead then. Satisfied??”
The camera as near as I can tell is DESIGNED as a RAW workflow camera. The implementation of Digital Intermediate file types like ProResHQ and DNxHD seems an afterthought. The BMCC takes a lot of design and functionality cues from the iPod Touch… a big sexy screen, a brushed aluminum or Unobtainium case, some grippy plasticky stuff and some cute menu items (look up the Slate default text to see what I’m talking about here…). I can set ISO over a range of 4 stops (ISO200 – 1600), shutter angle in a small number of preordained values, frame rate (23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 – forget overcrank…), some silly audio controls, no timecode controls besides Time Of Day and 6 selections of preset white balance from 3200k to 7500k.
Wait… 6 white balance presets… where is manual white balance where you show the sensor what white looks like under the prevailing light and it compensates using the RGB proc amp? There is none. Oh, and 3200k is FINE if you are shooting under STUDIO tungsten… useless if shooting under household filament practicals (usually around 2600-2800k).
What if there is a green cast in your lights as many vapour type and older fluoros have? The preset white balance settings are obviously there to “bake in” a look for RAW recording just so the director and shooter don’t have top look at a completely “whacked” image.
In short, ALL workflows with this camera REQUIRE post production colour correction. There are no “engineering” controls such as Colour Phase or Detail or Black Level or Saturation that we have come to expect in video cameras and even dSLRs these days.
And then we have the double whammy of an odd resolution (2.5k) and a 4/3″ sensor introducing crop.
Let me leave this discussion at this: the math doesn’t work with 2.5k. You either need to resize to 2k, 1080P (1920×1080 so ESSENTIALLY 1.9k) or upscale to 4k. The pixel-peepers know what I’m talking about here. I’m not going to try and explain all the tech involved but I find the 2.5k resolution selection strange. My understanding is that the sensor is from medical imaging gear which is NOTORIOUS for being completely in a world of its own (this coming from a guy who has worked in two healthcare centres and has had to try to interface with medical imaging equipment… I think that’s why my beard went grey prematurely…). That would explain a lot…
Sensor crop… sigh… there is enough misinformation out there right now but let me leave you with this: a 2x crop on a 35mm lens doesn’t make it a 70mm… it gives you a Field of View similar to a 70mm lens but with all the other artifacts of the original 35mm focal length.
Oh… and then there is the form factor. It feels like someone has been feeding their iPad after midnight and then strapped a Canon L series 70-200mm zoom on the front of it. If it was a clown you’d call it Topples. MASSIVELY front heavy with no easy way to handhold it.
Oh yes… I guess I COULD buy the BlackMagic Cinema Camera Handles for $185USD. My buddy Dylan and I both agreed that two little “grippy” nubs on the front would make it less prone to trying to “run away” by falling out of your hands at an inopportune moment.
And the choice of 1/4″ TRS audio inputs makes some technical sense from a space utilization standpoint but I suspect we shall see a rash of broken jacks and electrical connections to the logic board as filmmakers use adaptors instead of adaptor cables. I also anticipate lots of “oopses” of uncaptured audio, which seems to still be the Big Enigma amongst Indie filmmakers.
“So Mister Smart Guy… Almost a year late and they didn’t get ANYTHING right?”
Unlike the primary competitor in this market (RED), the BMCC doesn’t require a proprietary recording media. A garden variety SSD drive from the list of approved SSDs will work just fine. As I write this, SSDs from OCZ Technology cost about $100 for each 120GB in Vancouver, Canada ($120 for 120GB, $200 for 240GB and $400 for 480GB). Price that against RED Drives…
As well, they included a serious video output: HD-SDI. No HDMI on the camera! My not-so-humble opinion is that HDMI is only good for connecting your BluRay player or XBox360 to your big screen LCD panel.
The Focus button gives a decent edge enhancement (“true” peaking” as well as the modern colourcast edges on in-focus edges.
The image is quite decent. Noise is low at ISO800, the camera’s native sensitivity.
Where I give BlackMagic Design HUGE kudos is the power supply option.
The DC input (either 2.1 or 2.5mm – I’m not sure) works with a range from 11v DC to 30v DC allowing use of virtually any pro power solution.
I powered Dylan’s off of an Anton Bauer Dionic 90 lithium-ion battery on an Anton Bauer mounting plate with a D-Tap cable out and converted to the appropriate connector. Besides powering the camera, it simultaneously recharged the internal battery for later handheld untethered shooting. Well done, BMD!
Lastly the price point. 2.5k for $3000. Yeah… all the above is academic navel gazing when you realize one VERY important thing about this camera…
IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO REPLACE THE 5D, 7D or C300.
After I left the office I figured out what this camera REALLY is.
A cinema camera.
As in FILM camera.
35mm cinema cameras had a handful of functions: record a moving picture to a medium with sync sound for later post production. It was a tool used solely to capture what happened in the field and be brought back to seasoned pros for post.
I get it now.
This camera does EXACTLY what its name states it does.
Too bad end users won’t see that and will try to use it in ways it was never designed to be used.
So where is all the footage I shot?
Frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. I shot a sum total of 5 minutes of footage with the camera and then decided to do something more constructive with my time.
Much like a carpenter doesn’t fawn all over his new hammer, the BMCC is only a tool. An attractive feature set at an attractive price.
But it isn’t any fun.