… you may as well read this one too!
Actually, when I tweeted I’d be using the BlackMagic Cinema Camera for three days on a shoot several people tweeted back and messaged me to please do a write up on it. I am therefore happy to oblige.
To be honest, I wasn’t that excited to be using the camera as I had just read the week before about the back focusing issues the BMCC camera was having for some lenses set to infinity. Knowing I would probably doing the same given I was going to be shooting my subjects primarily on chroma key, this knowledge was not giving me confidence on having a great user experience. None the less, I took it in stride.
I also should preface that this is not an in depth look at the camera from a tech side. There are plenty of articles and videos out there that cover this in detail so I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. This is just a post on my own experience using the BMCC. And, unfortunately, I will not have any video footage to show as this was an internal project for Gaylord Hotels and the videos are not for public use. If that changes, I will definitely edit this post.
To let you know what I had to work with, here was my gear list for both camera and lighting:
BlackMagic Cinema Camera with EF mount (duh!)
Compression: ProRes 1080p 29.97
Canon 16-35mm L lens
Canon 24-70mm L lens
Arri HMI 1.2k with Chimera soft box (key light)
Kino Diva 4 bank (fill light)
(2) Arri 750 tungsten lamps with full CTB on each (rear rim lights)
We used some other lower wattage Arri lamps for stylized lighting on one shot but the list above was pretty much used the entire time.
So before you guys start yelling at the screen “will you freakin’ get to it already!?!” I’ll go ahead and dive into the upside of the camera.
Image Quality: I will say the image quality is superb! We had the editor in the studio and after doing some test shots, he was able to take that test footage and key it with very little effort. Of course the prideful side of me would like to think that was due to my lighting skills (cough, cough) but I’ll go ahead and chuck it up as the camera’s ability to capture an awesome image. AND, we were not even shooting RAW at 2.5k so even at 1080p using ProRes, the produced image on chroma key was excellent, the best I’ve seen. I’ve even shot with the Sony F3 on chroma key and it did not key as easily. I didn’t even like the way the Canon C300 did on chroma key (and many of you know what a fan I am of that camera!).
Now before going further, I will say we decided to use the “Video” profile instead of the “Film” profile for the chroma key capture. We found that in the “Film” mode we had to boost the saturation almost to 100% in order to get a proper tone of the chroma key background (green) which gave us very little room to work with after keying. We did not discover the same situation when using the “Video” profile. We barely boosted the saturation at all in this mode.
Footprint/Build: Like the Canon C300 the footprint on the BlackMagic is very small comparatively to other cameras. I was actually surprised the feel how heavy the body weighed, even without a cage. Given the look of the aesthetics, price point, etc, I was expecting something more plastic feeling and lightweight. However, the small footprint made it easy to setup and get moving during prep. This also allowed me to have monitors attached (with cage of course) and battery mounts without adding that much size and weight to it. This too was a plus for me.
Back Screen: This may go under a pro or a con. In the studio, the screen looked beautiful. Simple colors made everything easy to read and find. I found the touch screen to be responsive and easy to operate. However, once we got it outside, it was nearly impossible to see it in the daylight, even with the small sunshade that’s included. The reflectiveness of the screen is horrible and I would highly suggest having an external monitor for reference when shooting outside with the BMCC. As well as you may need some flags and/or duvetyne to eliminate glare in order to navigate the touch screen.
Unfortunately, this is where the pro’s end and the con’s begin.
SSD Compatibility: We had 3 brands of cards (Samsung, SanDisk and Crucial) on set and even though two of them were listed on the BlackMagic website (Sandisk and Crucial) only the crucial’s worked the best. Even then, we still had some minor hiccups with those as well. We had the SanDisk Extreme SSD 240GB and the website only listed the 480GB cards. Same brand and model, just different capacity. Why would capacity matter? I have no idea but obviously it does. With the Crucials, things went great until you got 2-3 minutes in and then the audio would skip, throwing the whole clip off (and losing the take in which the audio skips!). After contacting BlackMagic about this we learned that the Crucial SSD drives are not optimized for the latest firmware (in which we were updated with) thus causing the issues we were experiencing. I’m not an expert on data capture but having only a dozen or so options for SSD drives I can use does not intice me. Even DSLR cameras, even though you have certain speeds of CF cards you need to adhere to, you still have many options for brand and storage size.
Input/Outputs: For some reason I was thinking the BMCC only had a single stereo input so when I saw there were two individual jacks for audio, that gave me some relief. Even though they were still quarter inch inputs. I get it, quarter-inch jacks are smaller than XLR however by the time you add the adapters to convert the signal, you have a pair of large connectors coming out of the camera. And even then, they don’t fit parallel because the adapters are wider than the inputs on the camera allows. This puts strain on the camera inputs and can wear them out. No good. Why didn’t they just make the camera a quarter inch deeper to allow for XLR inputs puzzles me.
Also, when you have a cage connected to the camera (which you most certainly should is order to make the most of the camera) getting to the inputs with the rubber flaps is not the easiest unless you are a female or have some small fingers. Me and my audio engineer Tommy would laughingly (and begrudgingly) see how fast we could get cables in and out of the connection bay with our Wooden Camera BMCC cage. Needless to say we were both losers!
Variable Color Temp: I know many people have stated how they dislike the limited options for setting the color temperature and I’ll go ahead and join the club. In a studio environment having the ability to really dial in your color temperature is a great asset. Expecially when using mixed lighting. So many times I wish I could have had a 4800k or a 5200k just to dial in the flesh tones but you can’t. You’re limited to 3200k, 4500k, 5000k, 5600k, 6500k and 7500k choices. I’m hoping this is something they can upgrade later with firmware.
ISO: Again, like color temperature, limited ISO choices in a controlled environment is good to have. Even though 800ASA is optimal for the BMCC, I would have liked a little less grain and have dialed down to 600 or 650ASA because my key light was very plentiful. However, at 400ASA I wasn’t able to get the benefits of my backlighting because the wattage wasn’t powerful enough (Had I had a better budget this would have not been an issue but again, a more variable ISO would have fixed the problem).
Focus Assist: Here is another example of BlackMagic adding value to the camera but not quite usable to the point I would say it’s a plus feature. Yes, there is focus assist built into the camera. However, the fact that you cannot change the indication color from white to… well, any other color is why this is a downside as far as features go. Having the indication color only in white severely limits the operator. For instance, while shooting on green screen, I could only see it when we were shooting close up detail shots. On wide shots I hardly noticed the focus assist was even on. On location, outide, it was useless. Not having the ability to change the indication color to red or even yellow made this feature unusable for my first time use.
Well, given the space dedicated to each section I’m sure by now you can tell the “cons” outweigh the “pros”. And you may be quick to say that there’s no chance I would opt to rent or buy the BlackMagic Cinema Camera in the future… (I’m going to pull Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear here…) well… you’d be wrong!
You see, most of the “cons” I mentioned will most likely be fixed with firmware upgrades or a future release of a version 2 of the camera… I hope. Given they’ve come this far with the camera and in reading Q&A with some of the company’s representatives, I do believe the release of this version of the camera was just to get it into market. Many manufacturers adopt the “just ship it” Seth Godin mentality when it comes to releasing their products and rightly so. There’s a huge amount of R&D investment that goes into these products and manufacturers need a way to at least recoup those costs in an effort to move forward and create sustainability for the product and the company. If you have just enough features to attract early adopters then that “just ship it” philosophy can pay off. That allows the capital from sales of version 1 to go back into R&D to improve the product and I believe BlackMagic is doing just that.
So even though I may not be jumping on the bandwagon rushing out to purchase a BMCC right this minute, the quality of image the camera produces and the price point (even if future versions go up 25%) are very attractive and makes this camera one to watch as a tool to use in your cinematic and video creation.
Have you used the Black Magic Cinema Camera? Please share your experience, would love more feedback!