Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blackmagic Design crashes the cinema camera party

Last year at NAB, when I spoke with Blackmagic Design's CEO Grant Perry and Director of Marketing Americas Terry Frechette about the company's new video production switchers, I noted that they sold just about everything for video except cameras. This year, they corrected that oversight. The new Blackmagic Cinema Camera shown at NAB was a huge surprise--to my knowledge, there were no rumors that Blackmagic was working on a cinema camera, especially one as "out of the box" as this design. It looks like a simplified, trapezoidal DSLR with mounting points on both the top and the bottom of the case. It should work with a variety of cages and mounting systems from companies such as Redrock Micro and Zacuto.

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera has a 2.5K sensor (2432 x 1366) with an active area of 15.6 x 8.8 mmbigger than Super 16mm but smaller than Micro Four Thirds. The company claims 13 stops of dynamic range. It supports Canon's EF-format lenses, including Canon's autofocus lenses, as well as Zeiss's EF-compatible ZE mount lenses. The camera can output RAW using Adobe's 12-bit open-source Cinema DNG format at full 2432 x 1366 resolution, as well as compressed video in Apple's ProRes and Avid's DNxHD formats, at 1080p/23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 fps. It saves onto a SSD using a built-in recorder and outputs through both 3Gbps HD-SDI and Thunderbolt interfaces. (A 256GB SSD can store 30 minutes of RAW footage or more than two hours of video in ProRes or DNxHD format.)

Virtually all interaction with the camera is through a built-in 5" 800 x 480 touchscreen display that comes with a snap-on hood--there's no separate viewfinder. A handful of buttons are used for recording (buttons on both the front and back of the camera), automatic iris, focus, transport control, bringing up the menu and power. Audio in is via standard stereo mic/line inputs. The camera can run on 12V to 30V DC and has a built-in battery. And, I forgot one important thing: Its list price is $2,995 (U.S.). That's not a misprint--it's priced less than $3,000. The Cinema Camera is scheduled to ship in July.

According to Blackmagic's representatives, the company learned from customer feedback that, while cinematographers love the price and video capabilities of today's DSLRs, they're tired of working with cameras that were designed for still photography first. That includes small LCDs designed more for changing menu settings than for accurately judging image framing and quality, limited recording time, no built-in support for industry-standard video recording formats and HDMI outputs that are useless for live recording.

The Cinema Camera fixes all these problems, drops all the still photography-oriented features, and sells for $2,995. It also comes with a full copy of DaVinci Resolve software for color correction on Windows and OS X PCs, and Ultrascope for monitoring output--the software alone costs $995 when purchased by itself. Of course, the camera's not perfect--it's not 4K, the imager is small, the compressed output is 10-bit 4:2:2, there's no 60p mode, slow motion or ND filters--but it's $2,995, which covers a bunch of complaints.

As I always say when new cameras are released, you'd be smart to hold off on placing an order until good third-party reviews of the Cinema Camera are released, along with sample footage. (Australian John Brawley was the first cinematographer to get his hands on a prototype camera for in-field testing. He's posted footage on Vimeo.) However, I suspect that there are lots of people who aren't going to wait--they want to be among the first to get their hands on it. 

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