Blackmagic Design Digital Cinema Cameras and Accessories
Blackmagic Design has really shaken things up with their entries into the digital cinema camera market. First announced in 2012, the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera shocked the industry with a remarkably progressive feature set in an entry-level, professional camera. In April of 2013, they did it again, announcing two new models: the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K.
Each one of these cameras seems designed from the ground up to disrupt conventional concepts. In fact, these cameras are so unconventional that some professionals have balked at seemingly odd design choices, like the BMCC’s internal battery or its ¼” TRS audio inputs. Those who were most resistant to change may even have questioned whether or not Blackmagic Design knew what they were doing. Of course, once the world got a chance to see what these cameras could do—namely, capture film-like video—it became clear that Blackmagic Design does, in fact, know what they are doing... and they do it well.
There is no question that these cameras have their share of idiosyncrasies, which altogether present a unique learning curve. There is also a whole new range of accessories designed to support the unique features of Blackmagic cameras. This article will take an in-depth look at each camera model and also, many of the accessories that B&H recommends for use with these cameras. You’ll learn everything you need to know to start shooting with one of these strange and beautiful cameras.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is the entry-level model. Although, when you take a look at what this camera has to offer, you can hardly call it “entry level.” The term “pocket camera” has all kinds of connotations in the photo and video world, and often times you might expect consumer-level performance from a pocket-sized video camera. However, the BMPCC (aka: the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera) offers truly world-class image quality.
The camera’s Super 16mm-sized image sensor shares much of its DNA with its big brother, the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera. The sensor is capable of capturing Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution images at up to 30 frames per second and, with 13 stops of exposure latitude, it generates extraordinarily film-like images. The camera’s internal recorder utilizes SD memory cards to record those film-like images in either the Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) or CinemaDNG RAW formats.
The camera’s internal recording formats are among its greatest strengths. Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) is a high-quality, edit-friendly format, and many professional editors will spend time transcoding other recording formats to ProRes because they find that it compromises neither quality nor efficiency. ProRes alone would make the BMPCC a pocket-sized powerhouse, but Blackmagic Design’s recent release of firmware 1.5 has also added the CinemaDNG RAW recording mode.
CinemaDNG RAW preserves much of the raw sensor data, with no video compression and without “baking-in” modifiers like ISO and white balance. This gives you the maximum amount of latitude for creating specific looks in post production. Before the release of the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera, few professionals could afford to own a camera that was capable of recording a raw format internally. The costs were extremely prohibitive. Now, with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, they can afford to have that capability in their pocket!
Other key features of the BMPCC include a 3.5” LCD screen with 800 x 480 resolution, a 3.5mm audio input jack, a micro HDMI video output, a LANC port, and a Nikon EN-EL20-compatible, rechargeable lithium-ion battery. All of this, in a camera that measures approximately 5 inches long, 2.6 inches tall, 1.5 inches thick, and weighs less than one pound.
Accessories for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
First of all, we’ll take a look at required accessories. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has some rather unique needs. For one thing, recording Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) requires a memory card that is capable of recording 220 Mbps. Of course, CinemaDNG RAW requires quite a bit more. This means that you will need an SD memory card that is significantly faster than those used by other cameras in this category.
A SanDisk 16GB SDHC Extreme UHS-1 should work for recording ProRes only, but even a card this fast is likely to drop frames occasionally. For professional use, that is a deal breaker, so we have to recommend the SanDisk Extreme Pro cards. With a maximum write speed of 90MB/s, these cards can handle either ProRes or CinemaDNG RAW. The SanDisk 64GB SDXC Extreme Pro is the only currently available memory card that Blackmagic Design recommends for recording CinemaDNG RAW on the BMPCC.
For recording ProRes only, Blackmagic Design also recommends Delkin Devices Elite UHS-1 cards. In addition to read and write speeds, capacity is another important consideration. Both ProRes and CinemaDNG RAW require more storage space than your average recording formats. A 64GB card allows the BMPCC to record approximately 21 minutes of CinemaDNG RAW or 46 minutes of ProRes.
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Batteries are the next most important consideration. The camera includes a 7.4v 800mAh Lithium-Ion battery, so you don’t exactly need to purchase a battery in order to start shooting. However, the BMPCC is an especially power-hungry camera. Blackmagic designers estimate that the included battery will provide enough power for 50 minutes of continuous recording. This might be enough for casual shooting, but for professional use, you will need several spares. You may also want to check out Watson’s EN-EL20 compatible battery, which has a capacity of 900mAh.
While the benefits of a smaller and lighter camera may seem obvious, it is important to note that a smaller camera can be harder to keep steady when shooting handheld video. Of course, this is easily compensated for by adding support equipment, but remember that you do not want to negate the benefits of having a pocket-sized camera. Wooden Camera and Shape both offer camera-support gear that is tailor made for the BMPCC. These systems should add stability without compromising too much on size.
Finally, an external microphone is another accessory that may not be entirely necessary but is certainly highly recommended. The BMPCC features a built-in stereo microphone, but this mic is not intended for professional-quality audio recordings. We recommend the RØDE VideoMic Pro shotgun microphone, which features a compact, integrated shockmount. If you do decide to go with a “shoe-mount” microphone like the RØDE, you will need a ¼”-20 shoe-mount adapter to mount it on the BMPCC.
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
The original Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera with MFT mount are considerably larger and more powerful cameras. Much like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, the BMCC offers 13 stops of dynamic range and Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) and CinemaDNG RAW recording. As you might expect, the images produced by the BMCC and the BMPCC have very similar qualities.
However, the BMCC adds several features that make it a significant step-up. In addition to Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) and CinemaDNG RAW, the BMCC is able to record in the DNxHD format, which is kind of like Avid’s version of Apple ProRes. Of course, the BMCC’s larger sensor size and superior resolution are arguably more compelling advantages.
The BMCC’s sensor measures 16.64 x 14.04mm, which makes it quite a bit larger than Super 16mm and only slightly smaller than the Micro Four Thirds standard. This sensor has a native resolution of 2432 x 1366, which means the BMCC is capable of capturing 2.5K resolution video when recording in 12-bit raw. One might argue that this particular spec is sort of the camera’s namesake, as 2K resolution is a prevailing standard for commercial, digital cinema projectors.
The built-in LCD screen is another nice touch—literally. What I mean to say is, the built-in LCD features touchscreen technology which, cheesy puns aside, is a nice touch. The touchscreen makes it very easy to adjust camera settings and enter custom metadata. This 5” display features 800 x 480 resolution.
The BMCC’s recording media of choice is yet another defining characteristic. The camera features a built-in SSD recorder, which utilizes standard 2.5”, 9.5mm thickness solid-state drives. SSDs offer extremely fast read/write speeds and larger capacities than most traditional media. Other key features include an integrated, rechargeable Lithium-Ion Polymer battery, left and right ¼” TRS audio inputs, an SDI video output, a Thunderbolt port and a complimentary license for Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope software.
Accessories for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera
Much like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, when it comes to accessories for the BMCC, your first consideration will be recording media. As we mentioned before, the BMCC uses 2.5” SSDs, a data storage device originally designed for computer systems. For recording either compressed video or CinemaDNG RAW, Blackmagic Design recommends the following models:
- Intel 335 Series 240GB SSD (SSDSC2CT240A4K5)
- Kingston 240 GB HyperX 3K (SH103S3/240G)
- Kingston 480 GB HyperX 3K (SH103S3/480G)
- Kingston 240 GB SSDNow KC300 (SKC300S37A/240G)
- Kingston 480 GB SSDNow KC300 (SKC300S37A/480G)
- Sandisk Extreme 240GB (SDSSDX-240G-G25)
- OWC 120GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G (Firmware Rev 5.0.7) (OWCSSDMX6G120T)
- OWC 240GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G (Firmware Rev 5.0.6) (OWCSSDMX6G240T)
- OWC 480GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G (Firmware Rev 5.0.6) (OWCSSDMX6G480)
Batteries are another basic concern, when it comes to properly outfitting the BMCC. The camera’s integrated battery can power the camera for approximately 90 minutes, continuously. This is enough for casual shooting and hot-swapping external batteries, but you are going to need more battery power for professional shoots.
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The BMCC can accept any 12-30V power source via a 2.5mm DC input connector. The Switronix PowerBase-70 is a popular choice. The PowerBase-70 offers approximately 4x the run time of the camera’s internal battery and features integrated V-Mount and quick-release systems. Of course, if you already own a D-Tap power source all you need is an adapter cable, in which case, Zacuto’s 18” right-angle D-Tap cable is a good option.
The BMCC’s unconventional form factor is somewhat less than ideal for handheld shooting. For your most basic needs, Blackmagic Design offers a simple pair of handles, but many third-party manufacturers make any number of support accessories for building up your camera in seemingly limitless configurations. Some of the most popular options come from ikan, Shape, Wooden Camera, Movcam, and Zacuto.
Again, like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, the BMCC’s internal microphone is really only recommended for capturing reference audio. For professional audio, you will want to use an external microphone, and for that, the BMCC features two 1.4” TRS audio jacks. These can be adapted easily to industry-standard XLR inputs with a device like Beachtek’s DXA-BMD or Wooden Camera’s A-Box.
Metabones Speed Boosters for Cinema Camera 2.5K with MFT Mount and Pocket Cinema Camera
Many claim the biggest detractor for the Cinema Camera, and especially the Pocket Cinema Camera, is the crop factor. The Cinema Camera will effectively magnify the image approximately 2.5x compared to a full-frame 35mm DSLR, and the Pocket Cinema Camera nearly 3x. So, for example, a 50mm lens attached to the Pocket Cinema Camera becomes the equivalent of a 150mm—in other words, what would have been a “normal” lens on a DSLR ends up being a telephoto lens when used on the Pocket Cinema Camera. This means that when using a lens designed for a full-frame DSLR, not only are you capturing strictly from the center of the lens and potentially losing sharpness and increasing aberration, it makes it nearly impossible to find wide-angle lenses.
Enter Metabones with a solution: the Speed Booster. They make two versions, both compatible with most Nikon G mount lenses, and both featuring stepless aperture adjustment. One for the Cinema Camera 2.5K with MFT Mount and one for the Pocket Cinema Camera. What makes the Speed Boosters clever is that they contain an optical element that acts like a wide-angle converter sandwiched between the lens and the camera. The Cinema Camera version reduces the crop factor to 1.53x, slightly less than the crop factor on an APS-C DSLR, and very close to the crop factor of a Super35 sensor; the Pocket Cinema Camera version reduces the crop factor to 1.75x, or a bit more than APS-C. This means the focal length of the very popular Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 becomes equivalent to 28-54mm on the Cinema Camera and 31-61mm on the Pocket Cinema Camera. In addition, as their name implies, the glass in these adapters helps concentrate more light on the sensor, increasing the effective aperture and improving low-light performance. For example, an f/1.8 effectively becomes an f/1.0 on the Cinema Camera and an f/1.1 on the Pocket Cinema Camera, a not insignificant increase.
The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K
Available for pre-order, the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is Blackmagic Design’s future flagship model. Although it shares a nearly identical form factor and many of the same features with the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera, the BMPC 4K is a far more powerful camera. Here’s the rundown: 3840 x 2160 UHDTV 4K recording in Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) or compressed CinemaDNG RAW, a Super 35mm-sized image sensor, a global shutter, and a 6G-SDI output for transmitting Ultra HD video via a single cable.
Blackmagic Design is unable to confirm many specifics regarding the BMPC 4K until they are closer to a firm release date, but the camera’s marque features promise to make it a real game changer. Be sure to “stay tuned” for more information on recommended recording media and battery systems.