NAB 2012 – Blackmagic Design launches a revolutionary digital cinema camera – The Blackmagic Cinema Camera
At NAB 2006, RED Digital Cinema announced the 4K RED ONE camera, which became the talk of the show for both ASC cinematographers as well as eager film students. Show attendees crowded RED’s booth to peer at a prototype behind glass and surrendered their credit cards to place $1,000 deposits at the chance to buy one. Within a year, RED created a new type of indie shooter who could own a professional camera system and compete with the studios in terms of image quality. As a result, industry-standard companies like Kodak and Panavision were the collateral damage.
At NAB 2012, a similar game-changing event took place. Australian company, Blackmagic Design – mostly known for their video converters, routers, disk recorders, etc. – announced the arrival of a new digital cinema camera, which is simply titled the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. The compact rectangular box-shaped camera can comfortably fit in the palm of your hand and includes impressive features such as 13-stops of latitude, a high-resolution 2.5K sensor, a built-in SSD recorder, and the ability to capture 12-bit RAW motion picture files. Like the Scarlet-X, Blackmagic is smartly releasing the camera with an EF-mount that will be compatible with Canon EF, Zeiss CP.2 and ZE lenses. (With Canon having 70 million EF lenses out in the field, I think it’s safe to say indie filmmakers will be living in an EF-world from here on.)
I’m sure your interest is piqued, right?
For monitoring, the camera contains a large touch screen LCD that you can type your metadata into as if you were using a smartphone or tablet. The 5” monitor is fixed to the back of the camera and can display record status, shutter angle, ISO, battery level, record time and more. Unlike many of the new compact cameras that contain one HDMI output, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera contains a 3-Gbps SDI output, as well as a Thunderbolt connection to offload footage to a computer or hard drive.
With RAW capture becoming more common with cinematographers shooting for post, a professional finishing solution is needed. Included in the purchase of the camera is DaVinci Resolve, an advanced color correction system and Ultrascope, which enables waveform monitoring. Previously a $20,000 system, Blackmagic Design purchased the company a few years ago from JDS Uniphase Corp. and is now offering the program to customers for $995. So now you’re basically getting a $1,000 app thrown into your camera package.
So far, so good, right? Wait, there’s one more thing.
This would be big news for a camera costing in the ten to 20 thousand range but the most revelatory aspect of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is it’s price point, which will be $2,995. Yes, you heard that correctly. It’s going to be $500 cheaper than Canon’s new 5D Mark III and less than 1/5 of the price of the Canon C300, RED Scarlet-X and Sony F3.
Has your jaw hit the floor yet?
In terms of capture formats, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera uses CinemaDNG, which is an open file format led by Adobe that enables 12-bit RAW recording. With 12-bit RAW and DaVinci Resolve, you’ll be able to pull out extra information and detail in your highlights and shadows unlike working with a DSLR or the Rec 709 environment. If you don’t want the hassle of working with large RAW files, you can also record compressed yet near lossless Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD in 2.5K or 1920×1080 resolution in 24, 25, 29.97 and 30-fps. For me, one of the genius aspects of the camera is the internal SSD recorder. SSD drives are becoming pretty affordable now (64GB for roughly 80 bucks) and with an integrated system, you won’t need to cable out to external recorders that will typically set you back $2K or more. After recording, you simply pop the drive out of the camera, connect to your computer and begin copying files to your NLE or edit straight from the disk.
The only thing I can criticize about the camera system on paper is its sensor, which after speaking with Blackmagic employees on the NAB floor, it was revealed to be a 4/3s sensor, which is the same size as the Panasonic AG-AF100. Super 35mm-sized sensors tend to be the most popular for film production with the Sony FS100U, Canon C300 and RED cameras containing them. Finding a fast wide-angle prime lens will be difficult with a 2x crop from full-frame. (Essentially a 24mm will now become more like a 50mm when compared to a 5D Mark III or Nikon D800.) If I were to take a guess, it might be because a 4/3s-sized sensor is more efficient and easier to cool when capturing RAW files, which uses a lot of processing power.
Another small quibble is there are no XLR inputs so you’ll still probably have to stick with dual-system sound as you would with a DSLR.
But for a price point under three grand, this is as close to a perfect system you’re going to find. Although 4K will soon be the norm for production, I would still take wide latitude and high dynamic range any day over higher resolution. Also, at this price point, it’s going to force camera manufacturers to rethink their own price points and margins. These lower margins will further democratize the filmmaking landscape (e.g., Autodesk Smoke 2013 for a price point of $3,495).
In my opinion, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is most forward thinking digital camera system in years and at this price point, it will definitely disrupt the production industry like the 5D Mark II and RED ONE before it. But before we put such high expectations on the camera, let’s wait until we see a few images first. As I’ve said previously, real results in the field always trump tech specs on paper.
For more information, please visit www.blackmagic-design.com.