In the last years, I had the opportunity to shoot with many exciting and at the same time very different cameras. In addition to industry standards such as ARRI Alexa or RED EPIC I have also worked with many small and sometimes very special cameras, e.g. the DSLRs.
But I must admit that no camera has impressed me as much as the Blackmagic Cinema Camera: This little beast combines the form factor and price of a DSLR with the technical skills of a RED or Alexa. It is able to capture phenomenal 2.5K RAW images like no other in it's price range. Lately, there have been RAW hacks around the web for the 5D Mk III and hell yeah, thats very cool - BUT: I talk about a reliable camera which, on the one hand, I can carry straight to a clients production and, on the other hand, won't let me down in any situation.
Since a few weeks I finally can call a BMCC my own and already shot several productions with great success.
SURPRISE - THE BMCC
In early April, I was surprised by UPS with a package on which I had to wait a little longer: The Blackmgaic Cinema Camera. A big "thank you" to A.F. Marcotec who was able to sent me the camera within 24 hours after they received their first delivery from Blackmagic Design.
It was a sunny day and I took the cam directly out to do some shooting tests. I found a nice location and was lucky to capture some RAW shots of a very chilled Frog :)
After these tests and some rigging I was sold and used the camera directly on the first two upcoming productions - with great success.
One thing at a time:
The form factor of the camera is special and it needs a good rig to be practically useful. Based on the photos and videos I've seen on the web, I actually thought that the housing would be rather unstable or toy like - far from it, the housing is made of solid aluminum and the camera feels heavy, stable and high quality. The rubberized keys are easy to use and make a solid impression. The touch screen has a good touch sensitivity and works perfectly so far.
The menu is reduced to the essential needs. You have to get used to at first, but as time passes by, you learn to appreciate the simplicity and enjoy the fact that a RAW camera doesn't need 1000 settings for picture etc. Everything remains in the file and can be adjusted later.
A great benefit for a camera in this price range is the connectivity to the chassis: Two sturdy jack inputs for sound and an solid industry standard SDI output. Most other cameras in this segment only offer HDMI outputs, which must be converted (for use in a professional environment) via external converters to SDI. Additionally, the camera features a modern Thunderbolt port, e.g. for the Blackmagic Ultrascope.
As I mentioned earlier: The BMCC needs a rig. The form factor of the camera is similar to DSLRs and rather impractical. I have searched a lot on the internet and found a few options for the rig and finally ended up with the Chinese company named TILTA.
I must admit that I'm actually a total advocate of the well known and old brands and trust blind in the quality of Arri, Chrosziel, O'Connor and co. Therefore, I was initially kind of skeptical about TILTA and their build quality. However, their rig absolutely made a good impression and is well thought out in all relevant points and ergonomics. Not to mention the value for money, which (with the purchase of a complete camera setup) also plays a definite role.
So I ordered the TILTA Set with Shoulder-Support, V-Mount Plate, Dovetail Plate, EVF Mount and the totally practical Video/Power/Audio Adapter (2 x XLR input, 2 x SDI output and a 4-pin XLR power connector). As a supplier I chose the English distributor CINEGEARPRO. They shipped completely uncomplicated within 48 hours via express parcel to Germany. Highly Recommended service and pricing! And no, they don't pay me for that ;)
As mentioned before, the camera absolutely needs an external EVF via SDI. Although the display is not bad, but not to use for shoulder operation and in direct sunlight. In addition, an EVF helps with its integrated audio levels - more on that topic later.
I decided to use the Alphatron EVF. Firstly, because I own it already and also because it is, in my opinion, the best Thridparty EVF on the market. It works wonderfully with the BMCC and is predestined for the BMCC through the SDI port.
My rig is designed in a way that the V-Mount battery powers both the camera, the EVF and also the SDI-HDMI Converter with power. This saves me an extra battery and need to monitor a second charging status. The TILTA V-mount plate offers a D-Tap connector, which extends the battery voltage by 1:1 also connections with voltage-converted to 5 volts, 8 volts and 12 volts. Its very convenient that the Alphatron works perfectly with 8 volts.
The Power supply is by the way an interesting topic at the BMCC.
In several camera forums I found a lot complains about the integrated battery. But once you look at this topic from the other side, the BMCC is a camera (as any other camera as well) which is powered by an external battery. But unlike most other cameras, the BMCC has an "emergency power supply."
If the V-Mount battery is empty I still have the entire internal charge as reserve available. In addition, I am able to switch batteries while not even turning off the cam, because in the meantime the internal battery buffers the supply. Actually a very positive feature. Every cameraman knows that situation:
"Sorry guys, we need to break and do that take again - my batteries just went low". Forget about It ;)
The rig looks a little bit chaotic due to the massive amount of cables - but is nice to handle and very practical. Cable management is the key to prevent loops and most of the wires are custom soldered exactly to the needed length. The Marshall in this configuration is optional and could be mounted anywhere around the setup.
THE ALPHATRON EVF & BMCC SOUND RECORDING
The power consumption of the camera and EVF is minimal. With a 140Wh battery I can run the whole rig for a complete day of shooting. The BMCC lacks customizable framing guides (beside the normal 16:9 ones), internal Audiometers (that should really be fixed in an future Firmware update) and internal Histograms. All these features are provided by the Alphatron EVF (Histograms have been added with the newest Alphatron Firmware). So beside the shoulder and sunlight advantage the EVF fixes the biggest Issues with the actual BMCC firmware.
The EVF uses an 800 x 480 iPhone Display and provides a nice and sharp image. The only negative aspect of the Alphatron is the danger of display burn-in's if you accidentally point the EVF toward the Sun. It has an integrated Iris to protect the display but lacks of a coating to prevent that further damage is done. So better keep that in mind and be careful.
Sound on the BMCC is a bit of a tricky task at the moment. There are no internal meters and the right input settings are always a guessing if you work without an external mixer / preamp.
For our actual Production sound was an critical issue and also not an easy task. Recording interviews beside a racetrack during a running race is tricky because you have to handle a lot side noise from the very loud race cars etc.
It was clear that we need a external mixer & preamp with an integrated recording option for safety reasons. I decided to go with the Sound Devices SD-552 - which is, in my opinion, the best on the market. I set the BMCC inputs to LINE / 90% and my Assistant did all the mixing in the SD-552. Sound is great and we had no issues with that solution. However, i really hope that Blackmagic hears the community and fixes audio in the next firmware update.
LENS CHOICE FOR THE "SMALL" SENSOR
The Sensor of the BMCC is very small. Really? No it isn't. A lot of the web crowd complains about that and compares the BMCC with Full Frame DSLR's like the Canon 5D Mark II or III. But thats plain wrong. In fact for cinematic camerawork the sensor of the FF DSLR's is oversized (36mm wide). It's as big as a Vistavison and around 1.5x bigger as Super35mm (which is the real reference). The BMCC (15,6mm wide) is smaller as Super35 (24,89mm wide) but even bigger that Super16 (12,35mm wide).
To be clear: Super16 was used for Oscar winning Movies like "The Hurt Locker" and most of the TV commercials before the digital revolution. If you keep all that in mind you will see the sensor size in a different light.
However, in cause of budget reasons i couldn't go with cine lenses on this production for the BMCC and needed cheaper photo lenses. We own a wide arsenal of Canon Primes and Zooms with the lowest focal length of 16mm. Knowing the crop factor of the BMCC i needed a additional lens for the wide shots. Something around 8mm.
I searched the internet and found a lot positive comments and articles on the SIGMA 8-16mm wide angle zoom lens. Also there are a lot very nice BMCC Demo videos around which were created with this lens.
Especially "Meet Me In Big Sur" by Andrew Julian impressed me a lot.
The only downside of the lens is the f-stop of 4.5-5.6. Beside that its a great choice and worth the (little) money it costs.
When the camera arrived, I still had a few weeks to one of my biggest productions in 2013: The 24-hour race at the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife. My client, the Japanese tire manufacturer FALKEN participated in this greatest endurance race of the world with a Porsche 911 GT3 R and asked us to document this year's racing season and the preparations for this highlight race in a movie.
After the first tests with the BMCC it was clear to me that I needed to take that camera to the race track. The weather forecast was for rain and changing conditions (a prediction which should be confirmed in the most violent way) and was ideal for a highly dynamic RAW camera. Mixing conditions of sun, rain and clouds are the worst case scenario for camera with low dynamic range.
I put the BMCC parallel to a Sony FS700 and the camera would not let me down: Sometimes, during a single interview I had switches between complete cloudiness and full sunshine. The BMCC was not impressed by that (normally problem situation) and the high dynamic range of the camera performed like a rock.
As the volume of raw data in this documentary would have been too high, I decided to work in ProRes. The 422 - 10 Bit ProRes images are fully adequate for the purposes of a documentary and the ratio between storage size and image quality is very good. As my primary storage I used the OCZ VERTEX 3 - 480GB SSD. The SSD worked wonderful and gave me enough space for hours of ProRes footage.
For comparison: RAW would fit a little more than an hour footage on the SSD. From time to time i switched in the RAW mode for mood images to keep the full latitude in later color correction and keep all options open. Diskspace is an issue with the BMCC. Blackmagic has no indication on the remaining disk capacity in the current firmware. Hopefully this will not be added in the next update.
If your running ProRes or DNxHD on an 480GB SSD this not much of an issue - but in RAW mode. Even if you have two SSD's you need some time to copy the 480GB from SSD to your Backup Storage. If your shooting fast it could be possible that the second SSD runs out of space before you cleared the first. Keep that in mind and buy more storage :) AND never go lower than USB 3.0 / Thunderbold. The 20-25 MB/Sec of USB 2.0 is way too low for the amount of data.
I was able to capture some wonderful images with the BMCC and am really impressed what this little beats is capable of. During the night we used two TECPRO Felloni High Output - Daylight LED Panels to lit up interviews and both the camera and lens produced stunning images with good latitude even at f-stop 5.6.
The BMCC handles cloudy/grey daylight as good as low light. The right and lower image are shot at f 5.6 - native ISO 800. Click on the Images to enlarge and look at the details in the darker areas and how nicely the camera renders the falloff areas.
I really like the "FILM" / Log Colorspace of the camera. It has a very nice and natural look and produces nice and perfect gradable skintones. The overall look is very Alexa like. Some call it the "Baby-Alexa" - that's my first impression too. And please keep in mind: These pictures are "only" ProRes-422.
On the upper image you can see direct sunlight (5pm) on the face. The area on the left is in full shadow.
One week after the 24H Race i had the next Production with the BMCC: A 60" Commercial fr new VOLVO V40 HPC modified by HEICO SPORTIV. We had 2 sunny outdoor shooting days on schedule and this time i used the BMCC in 2.5K RAW. The movie is still in Post-Production and will be released shortly. The Camera performed perfectly and the images are absolutely stunning.
Follow me on TWITTER or check back here soon to see the finished commercial and some more behind the scenes stuff.