T.Stops Blog

An Examination of: Black Magic Cinema Camera

Welcome back,

I have had MANY emails requesting a review of the Black Magic Cinema Camera, (BMCC).

So, I got a hold of a BMCC and spent a good 5 days with it on a production for Sesame Street.   You may remember the last time I worked with Sesame Street, “Share it Maybe” Starring Cookie Monster. This video was great fun, Directed by the Diamond Bros.  I teamed up with the “Bros” again to tackle a series of videos for Sesame.  “Share it Maybe” was shot on Epic and a Cooke 18-100 T3. This made for a beautiful look, however this project had elements that needed to be mobile and less reliant on the control of a studio.

Photo Courtesy @kendawgz on Twitter

We opted for the small and portable BMCC with Matt Duclos Modified Leica R lenses.

Our Initial Shoot featured the character “Telly” on green screen.  As you can see the BMCC when fully built is actually not very small or as light as you would think. It has quite a heft to it.   Its solidly, if not puzzlingly built.   My impressions of the camera remained unchanged from the first 30 seconds I picked it up till the last day of day 5, this impression had little to do with image quality (which was really nice, and thats about all im going to say about it for now).  Its poorly designed ergonomically.

Its definitely a first try camera.   Its essentially an off the shelf sensor, with an off the shelf LCD screen, Black Magic Hyperdeck Shuttle, Black Magic Deck Link card and a small off the shelf audio board, jammed into a small box.   It feels like it.  It is awkward to hold, with no thought to ergonomics AT ALL. This is why it needs this massive contraption to be made functional. IT would not have been hard to make this camera look like this:  An Ikonoskopp Dii.  The best hand held camera no one knows about.

It might look funny, But its hand held ergonomics are second only to the Aaton Minima.   Also, if its going to have a fixed LCD screen anyway, why not go Small HD DP4 route and have a loupe, that can make it an eye piece?  The BMCC’s screen is dead center on the back.  Meaning, with any kind of hand held rig where the rig is balanced, you cant see the screen, so you need a secondary monitor.  That just makes it more expensive, and heavier.   Its funny because, the ONE time you need the camera smaller and lighter is hand held, but thats the time when the BMCC becomes its biggest, heaviest, and most awkward.  In studio mode you can strip it down to just a lens and body.

Now the truth is, its really not that bad in the short term (I cant imagine shooting a 30 day feature with it), but for something with a $3k price tag, and the performance specs it has, a tiny bit of thought about the handling would have gone a long way.

It also has some very odd quirks in its operation.   For example, when shooting ProRes, and using LOG Gamma to preserve its dynamic range, its SDI out will only show what will be recorded to the SSD.  So if you put on the 709 LUT to make the LOG look more “pleasing”, the SSD will record the ProRes with the 709 LUT applied.  No good. This means to effectively shoot studio, you need to have a LUT generator (AKA a good DIT) to use a $3000 camera. FacePALM.  Ok fine, you can place a lut on the LCD screen on the back, but what about your client? I spent 5 days dealing with a work around; someone had suggested turning up the contrast on the Flanders monitor, while yes this sort of worked, it means that I can’t trust ANYTHING while shooting.   The On board 709 is super crunchy, throwing away the highlights and blacks, the in camera LOG is very flat and its difficult to see exactly where you are on the LCD on the back, and finally switching off the look on the Flanders monitor and using its waveform, will work, but clients do not like to see log after seeing the contrast/Saturation crank-up that was trying to fudge a normal looking image off the LOG.  This makes the BMCC a bit more wok than it should be for basic studio applications.

If they fix one thing…. please make the SDI and the SSD accept LUTs independently.

It has a few other ergonomic irritants.  The cables all connect on the left side (smart Side of camera) that goes near your face when doing hand held, IE, there is a spaghetti mess of wires in your ear, every time you try to hand hold the camera with a RIG.  Meanwhile the “Dumb” side of the camera, is where the SSD door is.   Just a smooth, flat, unobtrusive door….. If you are left handed/Left eye dominant, you will love hand held with the BMCC, it will likely be the only camera ever made for you.

Image Quality: So here is what we have shot so far.

You may not be able to tell specifically from this shot… but the BMCC’s image quality is AMAZING.  All the crap I had to put up with shooting the damn thing, is made up for in image quality.   Its basically, an F3 with sLOG, recording RAW, or to 1080p Prores directly in camera for about 1/5th the cost. Its got about 13 or 14 stops of dynamic range, low noise, great resolution, AWESOME color rendition and low moire.   Yea, the S16ish / M4/3ish sensor is a bit weird, and makes wides a pain, but I forgive the BMCC all of its qualms, simply because its picture is so pretty.    That said…. when choosing a camera for my next project…. I think I will still pick my Epic, but I cannot think of a better camera to learn on.

If you want to try out a BMCC, Josh And Jason Diamond own a BMCC and it is available for rentals. www.thediamondbros.com

Until next time when I take a look at the Rokinon Manual Primes!  Cheap, Fast and good?

Follow me on Twitter @timurcivan