It’s Not a DSLR, It’s Not a Camcorder, It’s Black Magic!

Black Magic Cinema Camera

I’ve been shooting with the Black Magic Cinema Camera for the last month and what follows are my first impressions. In part one of this series on the Black Magic Cinema Camera, I will explain why this camera is different than DSLRs or even pro camcorders

Everybody knows that the Black Magic Cinema Camera was a revolutionary product when it was unveiled at the 2012 NAB show. Why then do they try to compare it to any other camera, and especially the Canon 5DMK2 DSLR?

When I say it’s not a DSLR, I mean that the BMCC doesn’t do a lot of the things that DSLRs do. The full frame and even the APS-c sensors on DSLRs shoot better stills, gather more light and have narrower depths of fields than the ”Super 16mm” sensor on the BMCC. DSLRs also have much more sophisticated automatic exposure and focusing features and they are much more forgiving to non-cinematographers. So with a DSLR it is much easier to make pretty images easily. Notice that I didn’t say better images.

Jay Shaffer with BMCCBefore I get into extolling its virtues, I need to point out a couple other things that DSLRs and pro camcorders have an advantage over the BMCC. The DSLR form factor is lousy for shooting handheld video, The BMCC is even worse. It’s heavy and it’s totally non-ergonomic. If shooting with a DSLR is like shooting with a brick, the BMCC is like shooting with a cinder block. This is, of course, why the camera rig business is doing so well. Audio inputs generally suck on DSLRs, While the audio inputs on the BMCC suck a little less, they still suck. I’m sure there is an excuse for not having phantom powered XLR inputs on the BMCC, it’s already a big heavy brick, why not make it a slightly bigger brick that’s much better? And then there is the fan, The BMCC gets hot, not as hot as a Red One, but pretty hot. And like the Red, it has a noisy fan, unlike the Red, the BMCCs fan doesn’t turn off while you’re recording. Another irksome thing is the battery life, which is to say that there is none. You turn the camera on and within 5 minutes the battery indicator is reading 75%, a half hour later the battery is flat, My experience is that the stated 90 minute battery time is wishful thinking on Black Magic’s part. So basically the internal battery is useless, either keep the camera on AC power or find an external battery solution.

Now let’s talk about some of the great things about the BMCC. Some genius at Black Magic Design woke up one night and had the brilliant insight that if you slapped a sensor and a lens mount onto one of their HD video recorders that you would have a pretty good video camera. Forget about the 5-year (or longer) R&D cycles of the big boys, Black Magic just went and made it. Of course, there were teething pains like the long sensor sourcing and QC delay, and the miscalculated EF mount flange distance. But in the end they have produced a very elegant solution for shooting cinema quality 2.5K and HD video.

While the ability to shoot 2.5K RAW is a great solution for some shots, it is not really practical to shoot raw on a daily basis. My test got about 22 minutes on a 240GB SSD. Then add the transfer and transcoding time involved as well as disc space on your edit system and you realize that you might want to reserve RAW recording for special situations. This is actually a good thing, in that the Prores 422 HQ recording mode can get over an hour on the same 240GB drive. And it is extremely high quality video, especially in film mode. Simply stated, even in Prores, the video quality from this camera is as good or better than cameras costing 4-5 times as much. But you have to know what you are doing to get the best from this camera. You have to manually set color temperature, shutter speeds and shutter degrees for example. And shooting with film mode requires color grading in post production. So while it is not as easy to use or a convenient as a DSLR or pro camcorder, it more than makes up for it in the quality of its images.

In part two of this series I will talk more about the nuts and bolts of operating and getting quality images from the Black Magic Cinema Camera.

One thought on “It’s Not a DSLR, It’s Not a Camcorder, It’s Black Magic!

  1. David Himot

    Great article Jay. I like your insight into shooting this new camera. It sounds very exciting and technically challenging to operate. Looking forward to hearing your opinion on how the final images compare to both regular video cameras and dslrs.

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