Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera was one of the most talked-about products at NAB 2012. Now that the Twitter storm has died down and the first pre-orders are coming in, we thought it was time to ask our camera expert, James Graham, to give it a once over and see what chance it stands of living up to the hype.
The key specs
One more time for anyone who missed they key facts: the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera has a 2.5K resolution, Micro 3/4″ size sensor and is capable of shooting 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW footage at 2432 x 1366 and ProRes and DNxHD at 1920 x 1080. It records to an internal 2.5″ SSD recorder (the SSD itself is removable, but Mac OS formatted, so PC users will need to install MacDrive to read it). You get four channels of HD-SDI audio and video (4:2:2 with a choice of film or video dynamic range), a Thunderbolt port to speed up transfer, two 1/4″ audio jacks and a headphone out, and DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope are thrown in, too.
Image quality is the dealbreaker for any camera, and Blackmagic Design are promising great things. The Cinema Camera has 13 stops of dynamic range, which is more than most cameras and will hopefully mean we get detailed shadows and highlights, with plenty of latitude to work with in post (the below image, snagged from Blackmagic’s site, seems to bear that out – it looks really flat with the highlights and lowlights nicely exposed).
Currently the sensor is still an unknown quantity, so we don’t know its limitations, how organic any noise is, moire and where the signal to noise ratio might take over – but we’ll be the first in the UK to get stock, so we’ll do some experimenting and get the results to you as soon as. A definite good sign is that it’s compatible with Canon EF and Zeiss ZF lenses, giving you access to some really beautiful glass.
Battery and recording time
According to BMD’s specs, the camera has a 90 minute battery life and takes two hours to charge when not in use. However, there’s a 12-30V port for external power and a 12V AC adaptor, so you should be able to use additional external batteries if need be.
Blackmagic also reckon you can get 30 minutes of 5MB per frame RAW footage at 24p on a 256GB SSD, and about five times that amount of ProRes or DNxHD.
This is the other big question mark over the Cinema Camera. It’s got two 1/4″ audio jacks, so you’re obviously supposed to be able to attach a mic, but there’s no hot shoe on the camera or the official BMD stand, and no way to know how much a mic in the jack will rattle. Given how compact and lightweight it is (1.7kg), people are probably going to try using it handheld, and for that you’d ideally want a more stable audio setup.
You’re probably going to want to pick up a BeachTek adaptor and attach your mic via that. This is no bad thing in itself – the high end DSLRs this is competing against (5D MkIII, D4, 1D-C) need them too, and using an adaptor at least ensures you’ll have a flexible audio setup.
Let’s be honest, it looks amazing, and from what we’ve heard so far it’s nice and ergonomic. It’s machined out of solid aluminium with a rubber facing and grip, and the members of our team who saw it at NAB were enthusiastic. We’ve haven’t had a chance to drop it from a great height in the rain or drive a tank over it yet, but so far it seems solid.
Metadata, logging and software
The bridge to post is where the camera really shows its Blackmagic roots. Resolve and UltraScope software is included, so you can hook your SSD up to your MacBook Pro and monitor your picture view, audio levels and phasing, or perform rough grades while you’re still on-set – great if you’re working to tight deadlines or in close collaboration with a post-production team and want to give them an idea of the look you’re after.
There’s also the slate, an intuitive interface that looks a bit like an iPhone keyboard but lets you log metadata directly into the camera, then search shots by tag, timecode, shot number or scene number. The metadata you input here should be compatible with your NLE, so your post team will get all your tags and shot info at the same time as they receive the footage, which is a great timesaver.
Is it for you?
If you’re considering buying a 5D MkIII or using something like a Nikon D4 with an Atomos Ninja, this is at a similar price point and seems to offer far more functionality (all that metadata management, plus extra dynamic range). However, if this camera is as good as Blackmagic say, it will be a worthy contender to the AF101 or FS100, making it well worth further investigation. Using 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW files will mean you to re-evaluate your workflow, but that’s another conversation. In the meantime, we can’t wait to get our hands on the first stock…