Some of the things that really created quite a rumble at NAB this year was Black Magic´s Cinema Camera. I´m not gonna list the tech specs, since most folks that read my blog already know them by heart (for everyone else, look them up on the BM site). I want to share my thoughts, why BM took a step in the right direction, but on the false foot.
I love BM. We use their video-cards and products since SD days in everyday postproduction and I never had a problem with the hardware. Build and signal quality is outstanding and they made a lot of stuff available and affordable for smaller facilities and even self contained film makers.
I trust them to develop and bolt together everything that has a video signal going trough, but they are definitely not camera guys yet.
What I want to say is, they have not much experience, in what it means and takes, to wrangle a camera in the field or on the set everyday.
You can easily see that at things like, all the connectors on the wrong side. Bummer!
They poke right in your ear or face, if you have the camera on the shoulder. Especially the longer audio plugs.
The handles BM provides are nice but useless. Do you really want to hold the camera with both hands (tourist style) in front of you? How do you control focus or iris? Let one hand go? Bad idea.
That brings me to iris control on EF glass. Do you really want to dig into a touchscreen menu just to change your aperture? (I herd they changed that now to buttons on the back).
Next thing is the mount. And yeah a lot of guys where whining, that they can´t use their precious Canon glass with anything else than Canon. But hey, BM announced a CINEMA camera. CINEMA like in PL mount. So we have a cinema camera that doesn’t mount the industry standard of cinema glass.
But if BM is smart, they make an universal mount, with a super short flange distance (like the e-mount) and sell adapters for everything and the kitchen sink. So people can adopt about every glass on the planet. That´s what I would call “open”.
Talking about “being open”. The SSDs must be MAC (HFS+) formated. All software I tried, to make my PC talk (and format) HFS+, seriously screwed up my system and the transfer was slower than with NTFS on the same hardware.
ExFAT – like ATOMOS does it – that would have been be “open”.
The Camera comes with Resolve and Ultrascope. Problem is, you only can use Ultrascope if you have a laptop with thunderbolt (aka Apple). What´s wrong with USB3? I got a Black Magic UltraStudio SDI and it works just great with USB3 on my Dell laptop. And BM offers a USB3 version of Ultrascope. But no, they (again) have that Apple centric approach.
And what do you gonna do with that Thunderbolt? Download the SSDs? Can´t imagine a DP downloading material from his camera while the rest of the crew, director and actors stand by. Come on – you gonna pop out the SSD and hand it over to your DIT or stick it in a Peli case for later transfer.
So what else? You can plug the camera via Thunderbolt in to your laptop and look at the curves of Ultrascope or even capture the material, skipping the need of a SSD – as long as you have one in your laptop (cause a HDD will be to slow) – and hopefully you are not planning to capture on your system drive? Do you? Bad idea!
So I can imagine a former Canon MKII shooter, that has upgraded to the BM Cinema Camera, holding the camera in one hand, the laptop in the other hand, on his back a rucksack with a raid and ether a ton of batteries or he tows an AC-generator behind him, on a little red wagon. I know, thats exaggerated, but you get the picture, when I say “they are no camera guys yet”?
Form factor is about the same as any DSLR. That means nothing if you are on a tripod, but if you want to go hand held, you need some sort of rig. The same dilemma a lot of guys face these days. They want super small and lightweight (what they call “ergonomic”) but at the same time they see, that most of their material is so shaky that they can throw it away. You need mass. There is no free lunch, no way around and no way to stretch the physics, you need mass, and you need it on your shoulder, if you go freestyle.
That means you need a rig, and while at it, you need a monitor, to see what you shooting at. And there comes the batteries, a follow focus, a matte box andwhatnot. There you have it. The super small and lightweight camera sits in a huge rig and you finally can go shoulder shooting – stable and smooth, like we did in the 90s with our Digibetas. But now it´s not small and lightweight anymore.
There is a touchscreen and some buttons on the rear (where you want to mount your V-mount battery, but that´s an other story). That might be workable on a tripod, but on the shoulder its a pain in the ass. I understand that they can add features or change things better in firmware that way – even some things that would be impossible with hardware buttons, but some barebone switches in better places would be really nice.
My FS100 has buttons (some even assignable) all over the place, and I can use them blind, instead of fumbling my way trough menus.
One thing that is really annoying is the build in battery. I know you can run the camera on external sources, but the battery always gets charged and uncharged. So how many cycles does it last that way? What happens when it is toast? Can you just open the housing and pop in a new one, or do you have to break out the soldering iron? Actually you have to send the camera in, to have the battery changed.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and actually I dont give a damn what my camera looks like. As long as it delivers the images I want, they can make it out of cardboard and duct tape. On the other hand, everyone likes sexy gear. I´m not a RED fanboy, but I´m a fan of RED´s tactical design.
When my girlfriend saw the BM camera (and she really don´t cares about cameras) she laughed and said: “This looks like something Mickey Mouse could have used, like a camera out of a kids comic book”.
Well I would not go that far, but this pseudo 70s Ikea design is not really appealing to me. The only thing that´s missing is some fake leather applications.
To me, it looks like they try to match their gear to Apple products so that they sit beautiful and nicely between MacBooks and iPhones, instead of coming up with some original design. But maybe their chef designer is just a big Apple fan. Who knows?
So what is this camera for?
Run and gun?
Probably not. You run out of battery quickly, so you need an external battery that mounts where? So you need a rig – you need that anyway, if you want it on the shoulder. But on the shoulder you can´t control aperture, because of the touchscreen on the back. Let´s say you hold it in your hands (both hands) – now you can´t control aperture and focus, unless you have a third hand. (3 handed DPs are a small market, i guess). Even if you have a third hand, there is no aperture readout on the screen – and no, there is no auto-focus ether – glad you asked. Maybe you want sound. But you don´t have audio levels on screen during recording and the plugs are poking in your face, while you search for a place to mount your microphone. A powered microphone, I might add, cause there is no phantom power ether. Also you only have Histogram/Waveform if you carry a Thunderbolt Laptop with you. Not what I would call a run&gun configuration.
As Mike Curtis wrote in his Article on PVC:
However, BMD’s experience is in the above listed kudos. What they DON’T have experience in, and it shows, is making a physical device where the ergonomics, the physical human interaction is critical -and for a camera, it just IS. How to hold, monitor, power, connect, and add other things are critical if you care about your image. And while they’ve made a camera that can record a given image extremely well (RAW/ProRes/DNxHD/metadata), they haven’t shown similar care to how you GET that image.
In their press materials and talking points, they discuss the resolution…but never the sensor size. I actually think a smaller than Super35mm sensor size is a good idea for low cost cameras that are likely to be solo operated and not have a crew to pull full frame depth of field. But they seem to be most excited about what happens AFTER the image comes in the lens and hits the sensor, not what happens DURING.
Narrative work on a set or in a studio
This is where the BMCC shines, cause you have it on a tripod or dolly. You can attach as many batteries, field mixers, monitors, laptops andwhatnot to it, as you like – it doesn’t matter.
Okay, having said that, will I buy one?
Probably yes. The BMDCC is a minimalist camera for a minimalist price. It’s close to what many people wanted the RED SCARLET (including me), but never happened. Ultrasope (if I ever have something with Thunderbolt) and Resolve are worth half the price of the camera.
Shooting raw is something the geek and gear slut in me wants for quite a while, but was obscene expensive till now. At least it takes my Nikon glass with a dumb adapter.
I will have to invest in something like a Tokina 11-22, some SSDs and (grrrr) in some software that can read and format that dammed HFS+.
I think it is a step in the right direction. After the megapixel race – like in the photo world – we will see a picture quality (dynamic range/high bit-low compression) race in the next years. When everyone shoots 4k, that´s the next big thing.
It´s a great camera, though I think it has some design flaws and I will have fun shooting with it, but in my humble opinion, it´s not ready for production or professional field work in the moment.
I hope they fix some of those issues on the production model and that camera flies of the shelfs though, so BM has the money and motivation to make a 2.0 version with a super 35mm sensor and a more professional body.