In the late 2000s, Blackmagic Design began acquiring digital video companies, brands only film nerds will recognize (DaVinci and Cintel to name a couple) in a move of production chess to become a one-stop shop for all things post: monitors, video switch boards, processors and converters. While working with editors, directors and cinematographers to perfect their software products, Blackmagic had an insider’s perspective on what the ideal camera would look like; they noticed a huge gap between prosumer DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark III and professional-grade digital film camera offerings from Red and Arri. Their answer? The Blackmagic Cinema Camera ($2,000).
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Debuting at NAB in 2012, the Blackmagic camera sent ripples through the digital film world. And for good reason: this was a camera compatible with both EF (Canon) and MFT (Micro Four Thirds) lenses, with a 2.5K sensor and 13 stops of dynamic range for a consumer-friendly price tag. Recording to recently popular SSDs in uncompressed RAW format for maximum data or the popular ProRes format for speedy workflow, the Cinema camera is a purpose-built tool built with post-process in mind, making filmmakers feel as though they’re working backwards, from the editor’s chair to the director’s rather than the other way around. Shoot for the edit, indeed.
Dynamic Range: The difference between bright and dark light which is interpreted as 1s and 0s to the camera’s sensor. The human eye has little problem seeing both inside a room and outside the window simultaneously, but your iPhone, for instance, exposes for the inside, making the outside look like a nuclear explosion has happened (or exposes for the outside and makes it pitch black inside).
2.5K: 1080p is what we call HD, so 2.5K is roughly 2.5 times that amount. 8K TVs appeared at CES this past year and 4K TVs are becoming more and more common; Blackmagic recently announced a 4K camera to move with that trend. Unfortunately, the larger sensor means more data and storage becomes an issue. Have 100GB worth of media for your last short film? How about 400GB to contend with?
Color Grading: Used to be just for setting the mood — blue and dark was eery, orange and green was edgy, and what have you. Now, however, the colorist is just as important as the composer in terms of communicating to the audience what to feel and creating a “look”. Why do Michael Bay films look different than a David Fincher one? The colorist.
Though it resides between pro and prosumer, the Blackmagic focuses more on the latter. DSLR shooters will find the Cinema camera almost annoyingly simplistic. It doesn’t capture photos, only records in 24.98 or 30 fps, and has no adjustments for contrast, color, etc.; it relies on an internal battery that’s good for an hour of use, and its 5-inch LCD touch display is nearly impossible to use in bright light due to glare. The square design isn’t exactly ergonomic, and at 3.3 pounds (without a lens), it can be tiring to hold for long periods. There is no auto focus, and instead of adjusting the shutter with a few clicks of a wheel like on a DSLR, users are required to dive into menus, adjust the angle on the sensor from 180 to 45 degrees, and then adjust the the aperture to set exposure. This is not the camera you’ll use for your daughter’s birthday party. Unless you’re Shane Carruth.
This is not the camera you’ll use to record your daughter’s birthday party.
If, however, your kit already includes cine-prime lenses (hat tip to Canon L), apple boxes, stingers, Kenos, c-stands and miles of dolly track, this camera will make your day. It’s perfect for short lead music videos, soundstage shooting and field/location work as long as the right equipment is present. It welcomes attachments like external monitors, batteries, lights or a Redrock micro cage; connectivity is robust with live HDMI out, audio in/out and more. Plus, it’s much smaller, lighter and cheaper than an entry-level Red. This is why budget filmmakers and editors are eager to capitalize on the 2.5 sensor and all the data it brings. In our video above, you might like the footage on the left, but it’s the ungraded footage on the right that has us itching to shoot the Blackmagic Camera even more.
In the wide world of film, a key element in a project’s success resides in the hands of the editor, who is limited by the quality and quantity of the footage filmmakers provide. The software wizardry of the 2.5K sensor on the Cinema camera soaks up so much data that the post process is wide open for color grading, stabilizing and adding the ever-important motion graphics. (And After Effects — lots of After Effects.) At its core, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is an excellent sensor wrapped in a durable, if somewhat generic, enclosure that allows a wide user base a vast amount of creative freedom. Its simplicity is liberating.
Luckily for us, the freedom doesn’t stop there. Blackmagic has a burgeoning fleet of impressive sensor-driven cameras, offering a 4K version of the Cinema Camera, a pocket Cinema Camera, and, just announced for 2014, a Studio Camera and what amounts to their all-star version, the Blackmagic URSA. The downside for creative slackers? There are no more excuses as to why your movie hasn’t been made.
METHODOLOGY: We spent two weeks with the Black Magic Cinema camera, shooting two music videos, a nature documentary and simply playing with footage.
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