When Blackmagic Design announced their new Cinema Camera at NAB 2012, the camera was instantly recognized as a game changer. Previously, the Melbourne-based company was established as a leading manufacturer of hardware and software for video recording, editing and conversion. Their entry into the camera market was met with universal surprise, and now their initial offering is poised to turn that market on its head.
When it comes to major motion pictures, digital video cameras have begun to overtake and surpass traditional film cameras. At the same time, digital cinema projectors have come to dominate traditional film projectors, and today, 2K and 4K resolution are the prevailing standards for digital cinema.
For years, filmmakers who could not afford a video camera that cost tens of thousands of dollars had been forced to settle for the video standard of 1920 x 1080, a resolution that looks great on HDTVs but falls just short of the cinema standard. Now, things have changed. The Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera offers filmmakers 2.5K resolution, 13 stops of dynamic range and uncompressed RAW file formats. Moreover, the BMD Cinema Camera offers these features at a previously unheard of price point.
The first iteration of the BMD Cinema Camera uses Canon’s EF lens mount, with electronic connections for controlling the lens’s aperture. More recently, Blackmagic has announced a second model. The Micro Four Thirds mount version of the BMD Cinema Camera features a passive lens mount with a considerably shorter focal flange distance, a notable distinction that will enable a wide range of lens adapters.
Aside from their respective lens mounts, the two cameras are identical. Both models feature a built-in SSD recorder, to capture CinemaDNG RAW, Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD files via 2.5” SSDs. Built-in metadata entry is another nice feature. Simply touch the 5” capacitive touch screen to display the slate and enter shot number, search tags, scene numbers, timecode and more.
Finally, as if the camera itself were not enough, each camera purchase includes a free software license for Blackmagic UltraScope and DaVinci Resolve 9.0. UltraScope provides technically accurate Parade, Waveform, Vectorscope and Histogram signal measurements and allows users to monitor picture, audio and phase via Thunderbolt-enabled computers. DaVinci Resolve is a color correction and color grading software platform with some of the most powerful video-finishing features in the industry.
Blackmagic Design has really brought their post-production expertise to bear and created a camera that streamlines the capture process for optimal image quality. Big-screen quality, 2.5K RAW imaging has never been so readily accessible before. Moreover, with its machined aluminum chassis and black rubber skin, the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera is a simply beautiful movie-making machine.
The BMD Cinema Camera’s integrated Lithium-ion Polymer, rechargeable battery should provide approximately 90 minutes of continuous recording time. Of course, for long production days it would be worthwhile to consider an external power option. Switronix is offering the Powerbase-70 Battery Pack, which can attach to the underside of the camera or as part of a larger support rig with a V-mount, four 1/4”-20 mounting points and a quick-release plate.
Sufficient recording media is a consideration for almost any camera purchase, and the BMD Cinema Camera records straight to Solid-State Drives. These devices provide some serious data throughput, up to 6 Gb per second. There are a variety of options out there, and here are few that merit a closer look.
The 240GB SanDisk Extreme SSD and Intel’s 240GB 520 Series SSD both feature 550 Mbps sequential read speeds, with the SanDisk capable of 510 Mbps sequential write speeds and the Intel capable of 520. For even more capacity, Samsung’s 512GB 830 Series SSD has sequential read speeds of up to 520 Mbps and write speeds of 400 Mbps. Of course, with the volume of data that 2.5K RAW will generate, you’ll want to consider multiple drives.
As mentioned before, the Micro 4/3 version of the BMD Cinema Camera will be compatible with a wide range of lens adapters. The Novoflex Nikon to Micro Four Thirds lens adapter enables Nikon F-mount lenses and even provides manual iris control for Nikon G lenses. The Letus PL to Micro Four Thirds lens adapter features a convenient adjustment ring for precision back-focus adjustments.
Other adapters for the Micro 4/3 model that are likely to be popular include Vello's Leica M mount adapter, the Novoflex Canon FD mount adapter and Dot Line's Sony Alpha/Minolta AF adapter. Vello also has a Nikon F to Micro Four Thirds adapter that is more affordable than its Novoflex counterpart but lacks aperture control for Nikon G lenses.
As you can see, the Micro Four Thirds version of the Cinema Camera will indeed be compatible with a wide range of mount adapters. However, the EF mount version is also compatible with a number of adapters. Vello manufactures EF mount adapters for Nikon F and Leica R lenses that will enable either of those renowned lens systems.
Zacuto, Shape and Wooden Camera have created support rigs that are tailor-made for the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera. B&H has bundled Manfrotto’s newly designed SYMPLA system with an LANC control unit that will facilitate remote Record Start/Stop, iris control and focus control on the Cinema Camera when used with compatible EF mount lenses. With no shortage of options, your support rig can be as simple or sophisticated as you may require.
Zacuto has an elegant solution in their Blackmagic Top Handle, which attaches to the 1/4”-20 connections on the top of the Cinema Camera. A quick-release lever allows you to reposition the handle for a front or rear facing orientation. Zacuto’s Striker rig offers a little bit more, with a Gorilla Baseplate, dual handgrips and a gunstock.
Shape’s Blackmagic Handheld Kit features a camera cage designed to fit the BMD Cinema Camera. The cage preserves full access to the camera’s various ports and control surfaces and provides a top handle, multiple 1/4”-20 connections and 15mm rod clamps on the top and bottom.
Another B&H Kit, Wooden Camera’s Blackmagic Advanced Kit features a custom camera cage, a 15mm rod clamp, the NATO Handle with Cheese Handle kit, the Mini Baseplate and two 15” rods. The camera cage features 1/4”-20 threaded holes with standard 9mm center-to-center spacing and 3/8”-16 holes with ARRI standard 50mm center-to-center spacing. Each one of the Wooden Camera components is covered with additional 1/4”-20 and 3/8”-16 threaded holes for whatever accessories you so desire.
Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera has a form factor that is both unconventional and, at the same time, strangely familiar. In many ways, the Cinema Camera is different from any dedicated motion picture camera before it, but on the other hand, it approximates the size and shape of modern DSLRs. Whatever the case, the result is a camera that seems made to get up and go.
With that get-up-and-go spirit in mind, B&H recommends two backpack style carrying cases. The CB-25B Revolution Backpack from CineBags is designed to accommodate camcorders or DSLRs and their attendant accessories. It also features a laptop pouch that is big enough for a 17” MacBook Pro, which should prove to be an especially useful accessory for the BMD Cinema Camera, thanks to its Thunderbolt connectivity and Blackmagic UltraScope’s monitoring functions.
The BKS-2XM Backpack from Porta Brace is another option. This bag’s ability to expand in both length and depth to accommodate a wide range of equipment sizes is a particularly nice feature. What is more, 1000-denier Cordura Nylon provides the strength and durability that Porta Brace is known for. Like its Cinebags counterpart, it also features exterior pouches, interior dividers and a 17” laptop pocket.
Widespread enthusiasm for the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera has launched a daunting array of accessories. We’ve examined a select few of them. Nonetheless, we hope this guide has helped you to make sense of your options. After all, independent filmmakers have rarely had better options.