The Blackmagic Cinema Camera


FORM FACTOR & FEATURES

The BMCC has a rectangular-shaped form factor that’s similar in size to a DSLR. The five-inch, built-in LCD display has received a lot of buzz because it allows you to type metadata right into your shots, similar to a smartphone. "I wasn’t a fan of DSLR-style ergonomics, and it was largely in that mold," explains Brawley, "but after having it in my hands for a while, I worried about the form factor much less. Most people are really surprised by the weight of the camera when they first pick it up. It’s a solid chunk of aluminum, and it’s actually quite robust. I’ve had it out in rain and on the beach, and it hasn’t skipped a beat yet. The screen is quite large, especially compared to a DSLR, and although it isn’t articulated, it has reasonable viewing angles. The actual picture quality is pretty good for a touch screen as well, though it can be a bit reflective if you’re outdoors in high brightness."

Along with the low price tag of the BMCC, the camera’s most talked-about feature is its ability to capture 12-bit RAW (CinemaDNG) files, which contain 13 stops of latitude. As you probably know, working in post with RAW files, you’re going to get much more highlight and shadow detail than, say, H.264 files coming off a DSLR, which are 8-bit, 4:2:0 files. In addition to CinemaDNG files, you also can capture Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD files, which are more edit-friendly files if you want to start working right away. Brawley prefers to shoot CinemaDNG because you’re able to capture everything the sensor sees, with almost no image processing or compression. In working with the intermediate codecs, the BMCC also allows you to use picture profiles—"Video," which is more of a set Rec. 709 look, and "Film," which is flatter and needs grading in post. (Think of the "Film" look being similar to Canon Log or Sony S-Log.)

"Shooting RAW is like having surgery on your eyes to remove cataracts," explains Brawley. "It’s a quantum leap in quality because the huge bit depth of RAW means you can really bend the grade around and you’re not going to run out of information. What it means is that you can now actually grade your images and not have them fall apart. People grading 8-bit H.264 files from DSLRs are used to banding and blocky keys. That just doesn’t happen with 12-bit DNG files."

For production on the short film Afterglow, Brawley treated the BMCC like a professional motion-picture camera by using a number of high-end cinema lenses and camera accessories, including a bebob GmbH Cage System and an Angénieux Optimo 15-40mm.

The other big advantage Brawley sees to shooting in RAW is that it gives you a greater safety net. If you have a high-contrast scene or the wrong white balance, RAW can save you, but Brawley also likes it because you can take the color grade in a much different direction—one you might not have imagined while shooting.

THE SENSOR

If there has been one criticism of the camera, it might lie within its sensor, which is a little smaller than the Micro Four Thirds size. A full-frame 135 sensor on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is nearly four times bigger, which allows you to use lenses that will give you more control over shallow depth of field. On the BMCC, there’s also a 2.3x crop factor (compared to full-frame), which limits your lenses on the wide end. (A 24mm wide-angle lens becomes closer to a 55mm portrait lens.)

"We weren’t going to design a whole new sensor, as it’s not where our strengths lie," explains May. "We had to find the sensor that worked for us and fit our requirements, such as size, cost, high dynamic range and higher-than-HD resolution. The sensor we implemented was an off-the-shelf part, but it fit our requirements. And when you add in features such as the 2.5K resolution and a superwide dynamic range of 13 stops into 12-bit DNG files, the camera allows users to do some amazing things."

But for Brawley, due to new wide-angle zooms, the smaller sensor didn’t have much of an effect on his shooting in terms of depth of field or crop factor. "I’m used to Super 35 as a base sensor size, not 135 full-frame, and the crop factor is only 1.6x," he says. "I don’t tend to do a lot of ultrawide work anyway, so I’ve been getting pretty good results with the 15-85 Canon EF-S, which is a fairly inexpensive Canon EF lens. I’ve also used the EF-S Canon 10-22, and I’ve shot a little with the Tokina 11-16 F2.8."

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