If you haven't noticed, "disruptive technology" is a term that has been overused in the tech media lately. But if any product deserves this title in the production industry, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera takes the crown.
At NAB 2012, the Australian company pulled off one of the biggest surprises in years by announcing its first digital motion-picture camera, and its specs blew the socks off the NAB show floor. The small, rectangular "boxlike" camera contains a 2.5K sensor, records 12-bit RAW files at 2432x1366, has 13 stops of latitude, an EF lens mount, a touch-screen LCD, a removable 2.5-inch SSD, HD-SDI out and more. If that weren't enough, Blackmagic was also throwing in DaVinci Resolve (previously a $250,000 color-grading system) and UltraScope, which enables on-set waveform monitoring. Even more shocking than the specs is the camera's price tag, which is just $2,995.
So how did this camera come about, and why did nobody see it coming? According to Blackmagic Design President Dan May, because of the company's background in the production and postproduction industries, their products have been working alongside cameras for a long time. "That experience, coupled with the fact that we were able to include a lot of our own intellectual property in the camera, allowed us to create an amazing product at a very competitive price point," he explains. "We felt there was a void between cinema-quality cameras and the DSLR market, and we could create something that a lot of other companies and users were missing that included the functionality, cost and usability of a DSLR camera, but that provided cinema-quality results and the type of workflow benefits of higher-end cameras."
As of this writing, one of the only shooters who has shot with the BMCC has been Australian cinematographer John Brawley. Brawley, who has shot numerous long-form network dramas (Offspring, Puberty Blues), as well as feature films (The Perfect Host, 100 Bloody Acres), was invited by Blackmagic to be a part of the design process and to give feedback from a cinematographer's point of view.
"I have known Grant [Blackmagic Design CEO Grant Petty] and some of the BMD staff for years," explains Brawley. "I had watched Grant literally change the postproduction landscape with the introduction of his low-cost video-capture cards. They really revolutionized the cost of postproduction, and along with the introduction of Final Cut Pro, they really put nonlinear editing into the hands of a lot of people that would not have been able to afford it."
After running into Petty at a service for Brawley's mentor, Brawley inquired about the possibility of a Blackmagic camera. Months later, to his surprise, he met with Blackmagic's engineering team, who gave him a keynote presentation of a prototype camera. "They still had not told me the price, but I was already blown away by the audacity of what they were proposing," he says. "They were kind of grinning at me across the table and asked if I wanted to be involved. Hell, yeah!"
Although the specs of the camera veer more to the professional side, Blackmagic didn't build the camera with one type of user in mind. In terms of the $3,000 price point, it's still remarkable that they were able to include professional applications DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope. May explains that since Resolve was part of Blackmagic Design's intellectual property, it just made sense to include it. "It was simply a matter of capitalizing on our own technology that allowed us to build the camera at a competitive price point," he explains. "We also wanted users to be able to take advantage of the superwide 13 stops of dynamic range with Resolve, as well as the ability to color-correct for the same high-quality results currently only possible on more expensive cameras."
Although as of yet, not a lot of projects have been shot with the BMCC, Brawley has shot substantial parts of the TV series Puberty Blues, as well as a great-looking short film Afterglow ( vimeo.com/47933090), directed by Ben Phelps. For the shoot, Brawley treated the BMCC like a professional motion-picture camera by using a number of high-end lenses and camera accessories. For the housing, he used the bebob GmbH Cage System and a set of ARRI handles that slide into the bebob cage for handheld work. He also used bebob's Dtap double plug, which allows him to run cables both ways. Brawley also made use of Zeiss CP2 EF prime lenses and an Angénieux Optimo 15-40mm.