Why I won't be buying a BlackMagic Cinema Camera

Possible reasons why the BlackMagic might be a good buy.

The BlackMagic Cinema Camera looks pretty good. I wanted to make a few notes about it. For those of you with a budget that can easily digest a $3000 price point. You ought to think through a few simple things before you buy.

Everyone is clambering for the "film look." The irony is that for most of us (even pro) videographers, if you handed us a film canister and a panavision camera, we couldn't even achieve "the film look" with film. At best we'd probably open the canister to make sure it's full, and ruin the whole stock.

What we really want an imitation without having to learn the process of film. This camera (along with many others) answer this desire.

First the film look is comprised of a few things that this camera does well. 1 obviously Shallow Depth Of Field. It's such an over used term now, I'm even getting clients that are asking for depth of field. I don't take the time to explain that even on an old sony handy cam you still got depth of field, it was just a wide depth of field. What they mean is narrow or shallow depth of field. This camera has the capability of shallow depth of field... but it does have a sensor that is smaller than some DSLRs and video cameras. (check negatives below for sensor issue.)

Many people stop right there and call that the film look. I would say there is another thing that is just about as important to making a quality image. Its dynamic range. This camera has 13 stops of dynamic range. That is slap you grandma good. (don't quote me on this) but I think the original Red one only had around 11 stops. Dynamic range is a huge issue. My guess is that on the spec sheet where it says 13 stops that means they tested the dynamic range with thier raw dng codec.

As I just mentioned this camera can do something that very few other cameras can do. It can shoot in RAW. This is something that everyone has been waiting for... ok no everyone. It's a big draw though. With Raw you get a better dynamic range preserved in your footage. You get no artifacts, or aliasing. The problem is that it records huge files. So as a result they have also included the capability to record in ProRes 422. This is a not identical to RAW in any stretch - but its really good. Plenty of people color grade and edit with ProRes 422. It also records to the Avid DNxHD.

I'm sure someone would be upset if I leave this off. It shoots in 2.5K resolution... big whoop. This is not much of a draw for me... one positive is that that can give you a little crop room in the editing suite.. I would rather just get the shot right in the first place, but I haven't shot in anything over HD so maybe I'm wrong. I have edited 4K and it's nice to be able to crop in so maybe I'll be eating my words.

Don't stop here, if you are thinking this is a great buy read on.

Reasons why I will not be buying one. 

First of all, the storage media is SSD. This will cost a few hundred bucks. There is a positive in this, however. SSDs are fast and robust, like edit right off the drive fast, (with the right connection). The camera can write ProRes 422 to the drive straight away and that is a great editing format.

It is primarily controlled by a touch screen. This is very strange. I hate getting finger oil on a screen I have to also use to view my footage.

Sensor size is 15.81mm x 8.88mm. This means it's bigger than 16mm but smaller than 4/3rds like the AF100. This is a bit of limitation in my mind. A full frame sensor would have been nice. At this price point, a 15 x 8 is still pretty good but you will be getting a pretty sizable crop factor. So a 35mm lens will be cropped by 2.4. This is worse than the Canon 7D which is a crop factor of 1.6. This makes your wide angle lenses much less wide, and you medium lenses pretty tight. This is obviously a negative.

The other thing to think about is the battery situation. The specs on the BlackMagic site say that the battery will last about 90 minutes and takes about 2 hours to charge. It is a built in battery. Built in battery!!! What - like an iPad? This seems really weird to me. A cinema camera should not have a built in battery... Well ok we'll live with it. The power input options are pretty solid though. So either an external battery hookup or the included external AC adapter should work fine, but more batteries and a connection will be something you will have to buy, so more money there.

One more thing that comes to mind, is the lens set up. We own a Sony FS100 which has been a great cam but has sony a e-mount lens mount on the nose. The problem with this is lens compatibility. The BlackMagic Cinema Camera seems to be a little ahead in the race for lens compatibility. The lens mount is EF or ZE compatible. It seems that most people have at least a few EF lenses from the days when they thought they were going to be a famous photographer. So those will work - that's good news.

Another draw back is the audio input. They chose, instead of XLR inputs, to use two 1/4" audio input jacks. This is a step in the wrong direction to me. Good news is that they are balanced so provided you use balanced cables, there should be no lost in quality... But, and this is a big butt- I hate 1/4" inputs for audio capture. It harkens back to the sony Handycam days... or even the DSLR days. So all in all on audio, they have upgraded from the DSLR setup, but they chose poorly on the actual input jacks in my opinion.

Here is the link to the specs page for the BlackMagic Cinema Camera. If you have any questions please ask.

1 comment:

  1. It's a tool, not a complete solution. The internal battery is not meant to run around shooting on, it's to keep you rolling between battery swaps and plugins.

    For all your complaining up front, you haven't suggested a better camera. What WILL you buy? Within the price range of the black magic?

    Or do you accept it's the greatest camera under 3,000 but that's just not great enough.