First look: Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

Following on from NAB (where we placed the first UK order for the camera), we spent this weekend with Blackmagic Design at their Summer Reseller Event in Portugal, which was designed to allow us to have a look at their range of new kit. Most prominent were the two new items in the Blackmagic Design line up: Teranex and, personally most interesting for me, the Cinema Camera.

James using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera

There has been a fair amount of conjecture and so much unsaid about this camera, so it was great to get alongside it with the guys from BMD. In a very similar setup to NAB, we were able to get hands-on with the camera and its menu structure as well as a range of lenses and accessories. Alongside using the physical unit, we had the opportunity to talk in depth to the guys from Blackmagic on a number of levels, and it’s worth pointing out that the camera is still in development (and will be up to shipping, though you can pre-order it now) so the details are still fairly fluid.

Using the Cinema Camera: controls and codecs

From the pressing of the power button, it’s roughly three seconds until the screen is illuminated and you get to dive in. The controls on the touchscreen are available to use. Blackmagic are going to be referring to this as the ‘slate’, and with this in mind it certainly underlines the fact they are targeting it at more cinematic productions, something which is confirmed by the codecs that will be available for use.

In terms of codecs, people have been asking us about how many and what flavour of ProRes/DNX will be supported, and the details below help give some confirmation around this:

Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera menu screen

ProRes 4:2:2 HQ at 10bit 220Mb/s 1080p (scaled not crop).

This is the only ProRes option, so there is no low quality record function in this camera, but personally I don’t mind that. These days we have the storage and the machines to cut this at lower and lower costs. Plus, as the name and branding suggests, this is not a run and gun camera, this is a camera to take your time with, compose your shots and treat properly; it’s perfect for drama, adverts, staged interviews and those annoying shots where people have told you to shoot through a window.

DNxHD 220Mb/s 4:2:2 10bit 1080p (scaled not crop).

The camera deals with this in much the same way as ProRes. You’re still getting 13 stops of dynamic range, because that comes from the sensor not the encoding, but it’s only a 1080p output. There is only one flavour of DNxHD, so the opportunity to work both natively from the camera and in Media Composer in the one codec will make the whole Avid workflow easier and quicker.

12bit Cinema DNG RAW at 130MBps (dependent on frame rate).

This was very interesting to me, and I wanted to know exactly what it consisted of. CinemaDNG is recorded as still sequential images with .dng extension, an audio file metadata file. There are no Proxy record files involved in this, so if you want a proxy workflow for your offline edit you’ll have to handle that yourself, but Adobe Prelude, FCPX and Avid Media Composer all include easy ways to deal with that (although Cinema DNG files aren’t currently supported in FCPX).

The interesting bit for me was how this handles things like picture profiles and ISO. It is true RAW, in that it doesn’t bake any of this into the file itself (although it does if you record ProRes or DNxHD). All the ISO and profile information is held in the metadata. This way you always have the RAW unadulterated information and all the dynamic range. I would expect as well to get about 40-50 minutes on a 500GB SSD.

A word on RAW

To avoid any misunderstanding, it’s worth pointing out that the RAW format, or Digital Negative, doesn’t treat colour in the same way as a DCT-based compression (like any MPEG based codec, AVC XDCAM, ProRes, etc.) Cinema DNG RAW is the entire output of the sensor recorded. It doesn’t work in RGB, YRGB or YCrCb, it is the full readout of the sensor at that moment in time, much like film negative. It would only be once you debayer and transcode that into another codec that it would have a corresponding subsampling value (4:4:4, 4:2:2 etc).

Formatting your SSD

The SSD needs to be HFS+ formatted, and this can’t be done inside the camera – it needs to be done on your actual machine. For Mac users this isn’t an issue at all, but for Windows users it can seem like more of a problem. It isn’t really though, as a company called Media Four make a program called Mac Drive that gives users the ability to use and format Apple drives natively inside Windows. If Windows users download this then there should be no real issues with the camera workflow, although it will be worth investing in some SSD eSATA bays. Other than that, it’s the same qualified drives as the Hyperdeck series, including the Kingston V200+ and HyperX.

Using the Cinema Camera: recording times and picture quality

With the same data rates for both ProRes and DNX. you’ll be looking around 5 hours to a 512GB SSD, and about 70 mins shooting DNG RAW (but that will vary dependent on frame rate).

The sensor is, as we know, a 2.5K, single chip CMOS sensor with characteristics inbetween a one inch sensor and a micro four thirds sensor, and it comes with all the characteristics of a single chip, large sensor CMOS camera. It scans left to right in lines from top to bottom. and because of this it is possible to get some bending (“jelly lens”) with fast movement. We are, however, well-versed in these characteristics and know how to deal with them now, so I don’t really see this as an issue because, for £1,925, this is still a better production camera than anything in its price point.

Demonstrating the Blackmagic Cinema Camera's dynamic range

Dynamic range-wise, 800 ISO is where you get your full 13 stops of dynamic range, which is only one stop away from standard film stock. The best available film stock only has a dynamic range of 14 stops, so this shows you the kind of power that this gives. With the Blackmagic Cinema Camera it works out at around eight stops in the lowlights and five stops in the highlights. This is because it creates a far more natural look to the image as the human eye, with its 30 stops of dynamic range, is much more sensitive to low light than it is to high light. The images on the “slate” or the TVlogic EVF looked good, and the detail was fantastic, though setting exposure requires you to reconsider how you are approaching the shot, especially if you’ve been used to cameras with traditionally lower dynamic range where you generally have to leave parts of the image to burn out.

On to the crop factor. We now have a much clearer idea of crop factor, which is really useful when thinking about lenses. It is a crop factor of x2.3, which you need to take into account when selecting any lens. To put this into perspective, APS-C sensors in our 7Ds are around a x1.6 crop, micro four thirds is a x1.9 crop and the BMD Cinema Camera weighs in at a x2.3 crop. (A great illustration and comparison of crop factor has been put together here.)

The crop factor is most definitely not a bad thing, more of a consideration you need to factor in to your creativity. An ideal stock lens to have in the bag for this camera is the Zeiss Distagon T 15mm 2.8F, which would have a comparative field of view to a 35mm (34.5mm) lens on a on a full frame camera (5D). It definitely works as a positive for telephoto work, as you can get huge zooms without needing massive lenses. So for example, the classic 70mm – 200mm becomes a whopping 161mm – 460mm zoom without needing the associated price and weight that comes with a long zoom.

The EF mount on the front of the Cinema will take EF, EF-S and ZE mounts without a problem, but for other lenses you have to think about how to get it on there and the flange characteristics. Generally any mount with a larger flange will have an adaptor to adjust the flange distance to meet the lens’ requirements, but you can’t go back down to a smaller flange size. Here is a list of popular lenses and their flange distance:

Blackmagic Cinema Camera with lens adaptor

Sony E – 18mm

Micro Four Thirds – 19.25mm

Canon EOS (BMD Camera) – 44mm

Sony Alpha – 44.6mmNikon F – 46.5mm

Arri PL – 52mm

A lens is always calibrated to focus light to the sensor, which requires very exact measurements. Any slight deviation from these measurements will result in a change in the lens characteristics. Zeiss do, however, do a mount changing kit, so if you have a few CP2s with a PL mount it becomes very easy to swap out the PL mount for an EF.

Using the Cinema Camera: the menus

There is lots in the menus that you would expect: zebras at scalable rates (currently 5% increments); shutter angle at 45º, 90º, 144º, 172.8º, 180º, 270º, 360º; frame rates of 23.98, 24, 25, 29.98, 30; a choice of three ISO options (400ASA, 800ASA and 1600ASA) and a number of white balance temperature choices.

The touch screen, referred to as the slate, is 800 x 480 pixels and the fact that it’s called the slate gives you some indication of what they see it being used for. It is an interface for the menu as its primary function, with secondary reference. Realistically, you’ll need an EVF or a separate monitor for a few reasons, chief among them being that the screen isn’t high-res enough or good enough to use as reference, and in the wrong place when the camera is shoulder mounted (you shouldn’t be touching the glass of your critical preview monitor with your grubby fingers anyway). Take note that the HD-SDI output is 1080p or only, so the current Cineroid will not support it but the TVlogic we were using would be a advisable investment, as it also adds focus peaking.

Using the Cinema Camera: Thunderbolt out

The Thunderbolt output is something we didn’t get to see in action, but it’s designed to pass out live information to a Thunderbolt-aware version of Ultrascope running on either a Mac or, in the future, a Thunderbolt enabled PC. The available information really allows you to get the most out of a shot, but you’ll need your laptop close to hand as the current crop of Thunderbolt cables are limited to two metres long.

Using the Cinema Camera: Peripherals, accessories and audio

We saw a number of different mounts, rigs, controls and remotes. Manfrotto, Vocas and also a new Bebop rig specifically for this camera, with a specifically designed mount place, a wealth of mount points and a carry handle. The Canon lanc will provide record and iris control, but focus will be limited to lenses that support that feature.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera cage

On the audio front, the Cinema Camera has two balanced audio jack inputs but they have no phantom power, so these can either be used as reference audio for a location recorder or, by using an additional Beachtek or Shure XLR pre-amp that will give you phantom power, for audio control and monitoring that you can’t get otherwise.

There is so much more to say about this camera and we’re even more excited about it than when we first saw it at NAB, so if you want to know more about it feel free to get in touch.  We are accepting pre-orderswithout a deposit.

Update: Test footage and cases

Since this article first went up, we’ve had a couple of exciting announcements. Firstly, DoP John Brawley released some test footage stills on his blog, and the dynamic range looks fantastic.

“These are framegrabs out of Resolve for a little test I did this weekend with writer/director Ben Phelps,” John explains on his blog. “You’re looking at ungraded and then graded stills.  My Resolve skills are still amateurish at best,  and these grades are single node grades with no noise reduction or sharpening.The footage was shot using ProRes 422 (HQ) with the “film” curve.  This is still something that’s being feverishly developed, so it will still change by the time the camera ships, but you can see these lovely flat ProRes files are grading up beautifully.”

Once you’ve taken a look at that and decided that you really definitely need a Cinema Camera, head over to the Portabrace site, where they’ve just released details of a series of cases recommended for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.

In the meantime, give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or Like’ our Facebook page.

Call us: 03332 409 306

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *