It’s a once in a lifetime chance to be involved with something as big as this. I was approached in late 2011 to be a part of something that every cinematographer dreams of…building a new camera.
I’ve known the guys and owners of Blackmagic since they started the company (and also the company before that)
BMD Engineering Test Shoot. Camera has a Zacuto Rails setup, Arri FF and Mattebox.
BMD have always been a post company. And they’ve been incredibly successful, literally revolutionising and enabling a whole new generation of filmmakers and producers of media. Their model of really high quality and incredible low cost meant they quickly became leaders in the field. They have alway gone for uncompressed and high end for ridiculously low cost. I’d hate to be in competition with them !
I was actually at the service of my great mentor John Bowring when I bumped into them. They’d recently acquired DaVinci and adapted their model to it. As a cinematographer, it was great to see a tool I’m so familiar with, the awesome colour correction tool that DaVinci is, get a new life, thanks to BMD.
I joked with the guys that they should look at doing a camera, now that they had all the post pathways to do a RAW based camera. Just before Xmas I was summoned to the BMD offices for a special presentation. I’d have to sign the usual NDA’s. At the time, I’d actually been pestering them to do an Arri RAW recorder for the Alexa. I assumed that’s what they were going to show me.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. What they showed me totally blew me away….
BMD aren’t just a company that does post production gear anymore. They are very firmly in the business of doing production gear.
Starting with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, BMD are now a camera company.
I was handed a prototype of the camera and I saw a powerpoint presentation detailing it’s very impressive specs. The real jaw dropper was the price. It was kind of ludicrous. I didn’t know where to start. The body shape of the camera took me a while to come at. It was fairly unconventional and radical.
BMD Engineering Shoot
After a while, I started to think of it as being ultra cool, something between modernist and retro. It felt pretty good in my hands. It was certainly solid and hefty. I wondered about it’s ergonomics, but in a way, it’s simple shape and elegance are it’s strength. It could easily be pimped up if you want extra handles, mounting brackets shoulder rigs etc.
In fact, it really was a simple as a camera could be. A box, with a screen, a sensor and a lens mount. It doesn’t get more basic than that does it ?
Everything else can be added…if you want…or you can go simple and naked.
It’s worth mentioning who I think will love this camera. In a way, this is not a camera for DOP’s and working cinematographers like me. This is a camera for the masses. This is a camera for everyone that’s bought a canon 5Dmk2 or a GH2 and wanted more than what a “consumer” camera can do. This is a camera for those that can’t afford a scarlet or EPIC or a C300.
The main sticking point for these dSLR consumer cameras is their data-rate limiting bottleneck of compression.
Compression and bit depth is the natural enemy of awesomely grade-able pictures. As anyone who’s tried to grade .264 originated material knows…it’s great if you’re happy with what comes out of the camera, but as soon as you want to “do” anything with it, then you’re really screwed.
“do” anything could mean, simple or complex grading. Pulling a secondary, doing a key, or any kind of layered VFX work. It’s a compromise….big time.
So now there’s even a big market for data based external recorders that can record either the HDMI or SDI if it has it out of the camera and to try and have less compression. In fact, even BMD do one of these recorders, the Hyperdeck Shuttle.
BMD Engineering Test Shoot.
The camera itself has a 2.5K sensor. Now I can feel a bunch of you rolling your eyes at the camera being a “mere” 2.5K. The truth is, and this has been borne out by some recent tests I did in preproduction for a film I just shot, resolution counts, but dynamic range and compression count more.
I’d done a shootout between an EPIC @ 5K and an Arri Alexa, in both RAW@2.6K and ProRes (1.9K), and none in the cinema could pick the graded ProRes from the EPIC on the first viewing. After multiple viewings, you could start to see very small differences in resolution.
Let’s not forget that the benchmark drama camera right now is the Arri Alexa. A camera which has a sensor resolution that’s about the same as this camera.
And most of the work it’s doing in my part of the work is lowly HD 1920×1080. The truth is, Alexa is a camera with a slightly oversized sensor size gives you a really nice downscale to 1920. And that’s just what this the Blackmagic camera does. It’s an oversampled 1920 and this gives still puts a lot of resolution in your hands. Just take a look at the “Bondi” clip below. Notice, even when replaying from vimeo, there’s a lot of fine detail in the sand and in the buildings in the background.
Having shot extensively with the EPIC and RED in drama and episodic TV, the 4K files are nice if you want to blow or crop a frame, but usually they don’t really make very much difference to the end result. Dynamic range counts for more than pixels for most of the work I do.
BMD Engineering Shoot.
The same thing happened with the megapixel race in photographic cameras. Marketers chase numbers because consumers think it’s an easy way to compare. Just let your eyes be the judge. Yes 4K and beyond will sometimes make a difference, but rarely for a TV, broadcast or computer screen. The only time it makes a difference is on the really big screen, and even then, it’s only a slight improvement.
WORKFLOW – What is RAW ?
OK, so there are two ways to shoot with this camera. RAW, or ProRes.
Now before we go on, I want you to realise how significant this is. We’re talking about a camera that does RAW and uncompressed. For just $3000 bucks. Insane.
Having an uncompressed and RAW workflow is really amazing because it gives you back the power to finesse your images with a lot more control. You have so much more working range because a RAW workflow basically captures the images from the sensor and doesn’t really “do” anything to them. You can choose how they look. You as the user get to decide how far to push the look along.
Cameras like the 5Dmk2 or the C300 can be loaded with “logish” picture profiles, but you’re still limited by how much data there is for each frame. This camera doesn’t throw any of that information away to try and compress it into a smaller file size. It’s all there for you to use if you want it.
DaVinci Frame Grab
If you don’t want that extra step of grading and transcoding your RAW images, that’s fine too. You can “shoot to edit” by simply shooting ProRes. You can even choose a LOG or 709 version of prores. If you really want to be able to take the files straight from the camera and use them straight away, you can !
The camera produces really nice ProRes files that look pretty damn good straight out of the camera (and I promise I’ll show some soon!), without grading. In this way, the camera is definitely faster to use than a h.264 style camera, because you’re shooting native ProRes and the files can be used right away without the messy transcoding steps.
Not only that, but you can enter metadata right from the camera interface that flows though to FCPX. You can basically log in the field, and they are embedded in the camera’s files and available to FCP.
If you want really fast to work with ProRes files that retain the extra dynamic range of the camera, then you can choose to shoot LOG ProRes. You’ll get mild compression and a lot more files saved on your SSD’s. You get to still “shoot to grade” with the ProRes advantage of smaller files.
Then of course, you can choose RAW. RAW simply means you get everything the camera produces. The only thing that’s baked into this file is the white balance point. Everything else is up for grabs. There is no reducing image resolution or colour compression. You get all that information and you can choose how you want it to look with the greatest range and flexibility.
It’s a wonderful new workflow that’s actually been around for a while…it’s just few used it !
DNG. A standard developed by ADOBE for stills, and then broadened to encompass moving images as well, DNG, or CinemaDNG for the cinema version of this, is an open standard for using, storing and accessing images. Initially owned by Adobe, it’s now a freely available image standard.
When you’re shooting RAW, every frame is a DNG image file. That means you can open them in Photoshop, and presumably everything else ADOBE like After Effects.