Operating the Black Magic Cinema Camera

Black Magic Cinema CameraIn part two of my series on the Black Magic Cinema Camera, I will talk about my hands-on shooting experience with the camera. While I’ve only had the camera for four weeks, I’ve shot several test in both the studio and on-location.

The EF mount and lens issues

We had ordered our BMCC in August of 2012 through Adorama and finally received the camera in March of 2013. And it is an EF mount, as there are still no Micro 4/3 mounts shipping. I ordered the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 DX II lens before we received our camera and we also have 24-105mm F4 and 100mm F2.8 Canon lenses from our Canon 5DMk2.  My tests do show that the Tokina does not achieve infinity focus unless it is stopped down to about F8. (see the video below.)  This is definitely a problem. Black Magic will fix your camera if you send it to an authorized service center, however, in searching the Black Magic site, I haven’t seen a procedure for doing this. Anecdotally I have heard that the turn around time for the fix is 7-10 working days.

This issue is one reason that I would prefer the M4/3 mount model if it were available. The EF mount, while it is an intelligent mount,  has some limitations. First, not all Canon or third Party EF lenses are electronically compatible with the mount. Second, using full frame lenses with BMCC is wasting a lot of optical quality, both, due to the 2.4X crop factor and only utilizing the center glass of the lens. Third, the M4/3 mount with it’s shorter flange distance will allow you to use a much greater variety of lens than the EF mount, including vintage 16mm film lenses. However, be aware that the M4/3 mount model is not an electronic mount, so many M4/3 lenses like the Lumix series will not work with the BMCC.

Operating the camera

The BMCC does not come with a lens or a Solid State Drive when you purchase it. You must supply your own SSD. While the BMCC manual list a couple of tested  drives, there is no definitive list of drives that will and will not work with the camera. I had purchased an OCZ  512GB 6G drive to use with camera, never imagining that such a fast drive would have problems. The first shoot we took the camera out on, we discovered that the camera was dropping frames. Fortunately we had already planned on shooting that day with a 5D and ended up shooting with the Canon, since the BMCC footage was unusable.

We are now using 240GB 6G drives from Other World Computing and have had no issues with those drives. Fortunately I was able to use the OCZ drive in my edit suite. Another thing to note about the SSD is that you have to format it as either ExFat or MacOS Extended. And to use it with a PC that means you need to format it as ExFat. Also note that you cannot format the drive in the camera, you have to format the SSDs on a computer.

The SSD and the lens issues aside, the camera is really simple to operate. The menus are simple and straight-forward.  There are basically two ways to shoot with this camera; in RAW 2.5K mode or as HD in either ProRres or DNxHD format. In order to shoot in RAW, you need to have a considerable investment in SSDs and storage.  You need to plan on going through a 240GB drive every twenty minutes of shooting, and have a plan for swapping drives and transferring footage to safe storage. For bigger budget productions where quality is paramount, RAW is the way to go. While ASA and color temperature are somewhat irrelevant when shooting in RAW, You should still set them, to have the most flexibility in post.

Shooting in HD is much more affordable and easier to manage than shooting in RAW. The Prores and DNxHD codecs are both high quality 10bit 422 codecs and are well suited for editing most content. There are two profiles that you can select when shooting HD; The film profile that uses a log gamma curve and gives you 13 stops of dynamic range for color grading, or the video profile that uses the REC709 standard gamma curve for traditional video editing and monitoring. An important thing to note with the camera is that you can record using the film profile, while monitoring with the video profile to give you a better idea of what the final graded footage will look like. This is really helpful in judging your lighting and exposure because if it looks good in the video profile monitor, the actual recorded footage should give you even more latitude in post-production. Below is a short film we shot as a test of the BMCC in Prores HD mode with the film profile.

Like I said before, the menus are simple and straight-forward, and practically all the settings are manually adjusted and tailored to a knowledgeable professional that knows what color temp and shutter angle are and how they should be set. Beside the menu and transport buttons the only two other buttons you have worry about on the camera are the focus and iris buttons. When you press the iris button, it stops down the EF compatible lens so that no pixels are clipped and displays the f-stop. The focus button toggles focus peaking in the monitor. I’ve found that these buttons are intuitive and effective.

While the camera is simple to set-up and shoot with, there are a couple things that a cinematographer needs to be prepared for. You really need to have a high quality eternal SDI monitor or electronic viewfinder to compose and light your shots. The built-in monitor is practically useless, even with the provided hood, the glare from its shiny surface makes it unusable in daylight. You will also need an external battery power source. The internal battery should not be depended on, period. My experience is 40 minutes from totally charged battery till the camera shuts off. Beware.

I cut my teeth shooting 16mm and 35mm motion picture cameras, film cameras had 20 minute reels, manual settings, needed external batteries, and their viewfinders where far from ideal. Not to mention the hassle of dealing with film and processing. But they were preferred over broadcast video cameras for the quality of the final image. The Black Magic feels like a film camera except without all the hassles.

In Part three of my series on the Black Magic Cinema Camera, I will talk about workflow and post-production for this camera.



5 thoughts on “Operating the Black Magic Cinema Camera

  1. wilfredo

    thanks for this…I’ve been shooting on and off with a BMCC since Feb, finally took home my own BMCC a few days ago..my next gig will be in LA with it…again thanks for the info and for sharing your time.

    as for my own thoughts on the BMCC, yep it’s a new type of camera for a new type of cinematic video professional – new form factor, new rules, new workflow, new way of thinking entirely for the typical HDSLR guy…but I love it so much. lol

  2. cristhian

    Hey there! Thank you so very much for this article. Quick question, what brand and model is the SSD that caused no dropped frames?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *