4K is the new Black

Bring Your Own Camera

If you have ever build your own computer you what it’s like: buy a lot of parts, drop them in a box and in the end you have a workstation. The Blackmagic Production camera feels a bit like buying a motherboard in a box, it has a sensor, interface screen and a recorder sandwiched in between. To turn it into an actual camera you need to go all Meccano on its ass and bring your own everything else.

The things missing that will probably come in a future upgrade, but you need right now are: A good monitor or EVF, the only option is SDI unless you want to add yet another device that needs power. The screen is just amazing when you look at it the first time, it is almost like you are looking into a mirror so sharp. Then you realise it so damn reflective, you are looking at a mirror and not the image you are shooting. It is ok if you work inside and control the light hitting the screen, but for anything else, a nice SDI screen or viewfinder is a must. In daylight, the screen will become useful about 5 minutes before the light is gone and the camera will only shoot plaid noise patterns. It is great for checking your hair and/or if you really look like a filmmaker.IMG_9756_1

If you are not just using it to shoot stock and need to record sound, it is possible. But it needs either a proper pre-amp or sound mixer for audio, I’m using my Sound Devices, MacGyvered a Jack -> Stereo Mini XLR to the line level output of the mixer and output at full line blast to counter the pre-amp noise from the camera. Have two sets of Neutrik stereo jack -> female XLR ready to be MacGyvered into an XLR set but the Line/tape out setup works so well I’m in no rush to finish it. The big advantage of the Sound Devices 302 is that you can put it on the rig because it is pretty light. It can run from the v-mount battery or on just 3 penlights and still provide phantom power to your microphones for hours. It also adds a nice limiter and great controls to your sound.

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Feed me, Seymore

Almost as hungry as Audrey II it definitely can’t live without a big bag of blood or a battery. Now it just so happens I have a bunch of V-mount batteries for my lighting kit and from the time I powered my EX3 + Zylight with one. Together with a Redrock Micro cheese plate and ID-X v-mount plate, it makes a nice counterbalance for tripod or shoulder balance if you use something like the Zacuto recoil rig.

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So how is the image? It’s lovely, a lot of detail, great tones and it looks totally different from what I have seen on any DSLR, even like it more than the 1Dc which is a fabulous camera. The only difference is the 1Dc handles highlights better, or at least in a way I prefer. So it is only 12 stops of dynamic range instead of 13 compared to the BMCC, I don’t really see any difference, the detail in 4K and a rendered 1080 version is fantastic. We finally have the image we always expected from the DSLR’s but only showed up with the ML raw hack. And I’m not sure about you but the only thing I liked hacked raw is sushi.

4K Screengrab

You have a Blackmagic fan

The minute you turn on the camera the first thing you realise is: you just met a fan. Not one that asks you for an autograph and says “omg you are so amazing because you know things I did not know”, no this is one that quietly blows a lot of hot air from its bottom into your general direction. Honestly, it’s bloody annoying when you have the camera on your shoulder. The blowing might also explain why battery life sucks, it sucked a big 160 V-mount battery dry in few hours, usually, I can run an EX3 + Zylight half a day on that battery. Bring more batteries or turn the camera off as much as you can seem to be the best options.

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Blackmagic, not low light magic

Everybody should know this by now: this is not a low light camera. You know those striped shirts we had to avoid when shooting video back in the ’80’s? No? You don’t even remember the ’80’s? Anyway, this camera has that pattern build in, at ISO800 it gives you not so pretty vertical banding. Very visible when you push the material, not good news, I was hoping with the solid Prores codec we would give us the ability to push the material beyond ISO800. With the banding that will be difficult, we can only hope there will be a firmware update for this, perhaps a heatsink issue?

The vertical lines are pretty obvious in the material I shot: Did a little test shoot in the Harbour of Scheveningen 10 minutes from home, shot it between 18:01 and 18:36 (hurray for Black Magic file naming), after 15 minutes it got too dark for the camera. The video was only graded with Filmconvert, I used the BMCC preset with FJ 8543 VD film stock setting, 0 noise and film colour set to 62% to retain the atmosphere. In the exposure tab from about 0:48 I changed the exposure to 0,200, at around 2:14 you can see this creates vertical banding. This is probably when I switched the ISO to 800.

You can check out a 4K version on youTube:

Back when we thought Milli Vanilli were really singing and Madonna looked her age this would have been a low light camera, for most controlled situations where there is time to set up light this camera is going to do fine. Offcourse I would love to have a 4K camera like the F55 for this money, but that’s the point, at 2300 euro you can’t expect an F55. It is a re-invention of the wheel by people who used to make IO gear, and it’s basically a beta camera. It seems that every time there is a revolution in one direction, everything else drops all the advances we made in ergonomics, sensitivity and sound in the past 25 years to go right back to the beginning and build from there.

Could it be Magic?

It is a weird box, when you look at it you realise it is just an SSD recorder sandwiched in between a sensor and a touchscreen. Because of this the lens mount sticks out and depending on the lens all the weight is far away from you making it hard to hold for long if you are crazy enough to try handheld. Actually, with the 35IS 2.0 handheld was not a big problem for a few minutes.

Holding the camera in both hands is a possible way to shoot as long as you don’t overdo it, the focus button is handy and the front rec button is in the right place. The focus assist works well and as far as I can see it was possible to focus pretty accurate without too much effort.But this was all inside, outside in the sun it is almost impossible to see the screen, but you can check your hair and see if you look like you know what you’re doing. Sometimes that’s good enough.  There is an option to double tap the screen and get a magnified view, not sure this is a good idea with long lenses during shooting and it doesn’t show up in the SDI output. It would be nice to have an option to set the focus button to either magnification or focus assist on the screen and SDI out.

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How do you turn this into a working camera

To be honest for a while I was thinking about other camera’s like the Sony F5 or even an Arri Amira, but this means a big investment in camera, lenses and a good tripod only to satisfy my own wish for a certain look. The best all-around camera for me is still the EX3, for pretty low light stuff I can use the 5DIII, I find it easy to focus with just the Z-finder on the back LCD, a lot easier than with the 4K perhaps because of the H264 codec averages everything out. For anything that is not low light, the Blackmagic Production Camera is really nice. Perfect for talking heads where you can crop like never before. It’s prores UHD, so you can basically zoom in 4X before anyone notices, but you better be sure your focus is spot on because in this image everything shows up.

So how do we turn this sensor recorder module into a camera? we go look for the evilest things ever: RIGS! To be honest, I hate rigs, most of the time it feels like they just add weight and a bit more comfort and ease of use, advantages you forget as soon as you have to lift the rig. On the other hand, I also like the inertia it brings, perfect for shooting handheld with longer lenses. For this purpose, I got a full Zacuto recoil rig with the tornado focus dildo.

The weight of the rig helped a lot with keeping things stable

The problem I had with the Zacuto recoil rig was that every screw was loose and even now the Axis EVF support seems to be falling apart. That nato rail on top of the camera seems to be the best solution, when I use the half cage the whole damn thing vibrates and shakes when you touch the viewfinder. Not something you want in windy conditions while shooting 400mm stuff. But that is another story, the only thing I can say is if you want to trick out the BMPC it is a good idea to try some stuff next to each other before buying. You really want something solid that does not translate any rumbles or vibrations to the camera, even with a global shutter that’s not what we want.

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The other problem is: at the bottom, there is just a single screw and a little hole to keep things in check, but it means if you connect the camera to a baseplate and build everything else on top with the NATO rail you are putting all the pressure on the single screw at the bottom. Not a situation I really like and to be honest for me the biggest design flaw of the camera.

So first impressions of the camera

It is really lovely to shot with 12 stops of dynamic range and be able to see it on the screen instead of the 5 stops video we are so used to. for the price, well it has it’s issued, one of them being sound, but so does a 5DIII. The only thing about a 5DIII would be the fact that I can use it in a very small setup with just a Z-finder and a Sennheiser G3 receiver and shoot a full production.

One of the first things I need to do is MacGyver a box so I can use the XLR’s, plugin my Sound Devices 302 and get some good audio. But it means yet another box to carry, power and operates. Another thing we expect from new camera’s with hip new S35 sensors is at least 48PS and really 96FPS, now sure what it would do with 4K, the amount of data would probably set fire to the SSD, but to have it in 1080P would be really welcome. So yes this big LEGO brick is just the beginning and I can only hope the programmers at Blackmagic Design are as clever and resourceful as the people at Magic Lantern and find a way to squeeze 96FPS 1080 and perhaps 4K 48FPS out of this box.

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Author: maarten

Long career in short films

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