BlackMagic Cinema Camera: a review
I recently got the BlackMagic Cinema Camera, 2.5K raw.
It’s awesome. It sucks.
Let me breakdance-down this paradox for you.
1. It’s AWESOME
a) You can record to ProRes or RAW. I’ve experimented with both. There’s almost no difference, except you can colour-correct a little better the RAW image. But unless you want to render an alien world where the colour of everything is it’s opposite–the sky is purple, skin tone is green, black liquorice is white and somehow just as equally disgusting–ProRes is pretty fine to stick with. And best of all, you can just drop it in the timeline and start editing with it. Many thanks, sirs.
b) It comes with a Free copy of Da Vinci Resolve. It’s actually a pretty cool program. Some weird workflow things with it that require four moves instead of one, which is slightly irritating, but the possibilities are what makes it pretty interesting. Fingers crossed these guys don’t fuck it up, because who knows…maybe it can be The New Final Cut.
c) It’s not small, but it’s not really that awkward either. You can shoot it hand-held, but not for long periods of time. It’s ideal to shoulder-rig it, but the nice thing is if you don’t want to, you don’t need to rig the shit out of it like some insane pics I’ve seen of people incapable of reining in their desire to make their camera as ugly as possible, like some chick who can’t help getting plastic surgery. It can be elegant, is all I’m sayin.
d) The controls are simple. It’s a touch screen. There’s sliders. There’s like four menu options and within those menu options, about the same number of sub-menu options. It’s ridiculous. A baby searching for its pacifier could go through these menus.
e) There’s holes on it to put stuff. This is important, because otherwise I’d need to drill holes in myself and then we’re on the whole cosmetic-surgery-adventure again.
f) People seem to be drawn to it like flies to a porch light. It’s weird. I’m using it and all of sudden people are coming up to me and asking what this thing is. Shutup, can’t you see I’m working? Although hey, don’t stop asking questions cuz I’m really, deep down, flattered.
g) It takes my Canon lenses. Canon is what I got stuck with without having to invest in a whole bunch of other lenses, but hey it could be worse. I could be trying to convince someone that vintage c-lenses are the shit-damn. Really? Can lenses make your actress, when she’s not crying and you need her to cry, cry?
h) The SSD drives are actually ok priced, and going down in price every day. And they’re getting more stable at the same time. That’s kinda cool.
i) You can actually fit a lot of data on those SSD drives. The space forces you to treat them like a film magazine in a way. Instead of just leaving the camera on and recording, you film just the stuff you absolutely need to film, because you realize you don’t have a lot of space to waste, and/or store on your system, and/or the ability to erase unneeded footage on the disk.
j) The LCD touch screen is kind of cool. You can enter meta-data about each take, which travels with the file. That’s kinda cool. Even better, you got focus-assist and tap-twice to zoom-in focus ability. Those were life-savers.
h) Finally, the images look Kick-Ass. They really do.
2) It SUCKS.
a) You can record to ProRes and RAW. That’s IT. What, no compressed flavors of RAW? So if I feel like filling up my 4T external disk drive with about 15 minutes of footage, I can do that?!? YAY!!! I’m being completely sarcastic. (EDITOR’S NOTE March20 2015: the newest update for BMCC now puts compressed RAW on the camera. Yay. What I’d really like, though, is 2.5K ProRes, for the 80% of my shoots that I don’t feel/need to dick around with color.)
b) The firmware updates are freaking slow. And how is the Blackmagic Pocket Camera able to get a compressed version of RAW? How is that when I point the camera to the sun, I’m treated with what looks like the largest hockey puck in the universe floating in the sky, about to create a Star-Baby a la 2001? Surely BlackMagic is full of smart people that can fix this toute-suite. Hey, I bought your stupid camera. Now it seems like you’re just, almost at the finish line, and then you lose all energy and want to lie down for a couple of minutes to rest your eyes, right before the goal line. (EDITOR’S NOTE Mar20 2015: they’ve actually been pretty good about releasing updates now. Yay.)
c) In extreme conditions of temperature, weird shit happens. It’s true. I was filming in 35C degree weather and the camera functioned great. Except at one point, whenever I hit record the aperture immediately defaulted to pitch-black, as if the camera experienced a synesthesia moment and decided to equate heat with light, and compensate accordingly. It was weird…like, is some little gnome going to squeeze out some hole and pop me one in the nose kind of weird.
d) Speaking of SSD drives: I had a drive fail on me. Luckily it only contained 5 minutes of footage, but I was IRRITATED. It was made up of important one-off insert shots that I would eventually have to totally re-organize to shoot. You can’t recover that shit, and when you try to find a data-recovery software that can actually work, it forces you to buy their shitty software and won’t give a refund if you totally luck out, like it seems 99% of data-recovery software works. It seems like SSD drives are slowly getting more dependable and the early-generation of shitty SSD drives are getting replaced with newer versions, but still: you’d think there could be some backup system or redundancy built in the firmware to deal with this potentiality. (EDITOR’S NOTE Mar20 2015: Through a recent firmware update you can now format your drive in camera and that supposedly should make the drive more efficient and stable. We shall see…!)
e) There’s holes on the top to mount shit. Ok, where can I actually get something to utilize these effing holes? Most of my equipment takes a cold shoe, muthatruckas! And cages are being sold for $300 at the cheapest? That’s ridiculo.
f) Speaking of add-ons: You do, kinda, after all, need a shoulder rig or a tripod. It is a cinema camera, which is great and all, but you can’t really go to a market and film random shit, edit it, upload it with the current song of the day, and get 10,000 hits on it with people saying it’s brilliant. Oh wait: maybe that’s a good thing. I had a guy tell me I couldn’t do a run-and-gun shoot with the BMCC. Too bad, boozer! It works fine. The LCD screen is too bright though, you can’t see shit in the sunlight. I used the hood, bought some tablet matte screen, and wore a cap. Problem solved. But that brings in the whole LCD screen…
g) The LCD screen is right in front of your face. To change this I had to continually bring my finger in front of my face in order to manipulate buttons or tap-twice to check focus, like I was perpetually going through drunk-tests on the side of the highway by a sadistic cop. Focus-assist was great–if you were in sunlight. If you were shooting underneath video or film lights, it was barely noticeable. And the tap-in focus was great…if you didn’t have to keep reaching right in front of your face to deal with the monitor. Some users I see are using another monitor to use the camera. That’s kind of missing the point of having a large useable LCD screen right in front of your face, isn’t it? I’d rather be a tad inconvenient than spend more than what the camera was worth on an EVF or a second monitor. But it almost makes me think: why a DSLR shape for the camera? Why not 90 degree that bad boy and put the lens on the end and make the camera vertical rather than horizontal? Blackmagic still could have put a screen on the end, it just wouldn’t be as big, which is okay, or maybe they could have put a built-in EVF in the first place. But I digress.
h) Meta-data screen keeps popping up whenever I even look at it. They should have just put it as a button in the menu. I guess BlackMagic wants to encourage us to use it, but making me annoyed with it kinda defeats the purpose.
i) Can’t delete files off the drive, man! That kinda sucks. On the one hand, I didn’t even use up, ever, an entire disk on a whole day’s shoot, because I was selective with my takes. On the other hand, recording something with the knowledge that it can’t be deleted kind of sucks too. What if I realized in my 10 minute take, that the actor had a snot ball hanging out of his nose the whole time?
j) Internal battery doesn’t last too long. An hour? More like 30 minutes. Couldn’t do 2 hour capacity, could they?
k) Metabones speed booster can’t be done for a Canon EF mount. Waaaahhh….?!? WAAAHHH!!!
l) The crop-factor is a little bit of a pain. But not that big a deal. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing nostril hair, in fact. So thank you, BlackMagic, for introducing the movie Inner Space to me again. Ah, Rick Moranis, what the fuck happened to you man…?
j) No slow-motion? You mean I can’t get the image of a beautiful girl’s hair, slowly swinging in the wind as she runs, in poetic slow-motion, like it’s a dance of the most basic and universal proportions? Bleh.
h) The ISO only really pops at 800. So, Every Other ISO setting is pretty much useless. That kind of defeats the purpose of having frakkin different ISO settings, bro.
i) Ah yes…the Audio. I can’t plug shit into it, the preamps blow. Generally I don’t use the preamps on the cameras I use, I get that they are strictly for video. But you can at least put some decent preamps, just in case there are some situations where I, for once, would just be able to use a microphone plugged into the camera? And again, the less equipment I can put on my camera, the more elegant it looks and the less shit I have to carry around. I don’t care about the 1/4 jacks–jeez people, XLRs are just a connection for crissakes–but still, having an awesome penis and being forced to stick it in a rotten cantaloupe because that’s the only option is a little cruel, don’t ya think?
Finally, the Things I Want Improved, Like, Right Away, Man!
1) Meta-data: Maybe have another physical button programmed to access it, like the aperture button.
2) Compressed RAW codec and another flavor for ProRes, maybe ProRes 4444 or LT…sivooplaite. (Editor’s Note Mar20 2015 AGAIN: FIXED! Although again I would LOVE 2.5K ProRes now. I know, super whiny eh?)
3) Fix that Black-Hole Sun defect in the coding. Basically, everything you have given the BlackMagic Pocket Camera, please give to the cinema camera plz.
4) This may be not in BlackMagic’s purview, but please Mr. Lens Company, like Sigma perhaps…? Make a frakkin 11-70mm f1.8 lens. That would be Perfect for the BlackMagic. I don’t need to go all the way to 120mm. I’m not filming my naked neighbour down the street. Just something that I can use in all situations without having to change the lens. It’s possible. We live in a day and age where acne can be treated without a great loss to your life-span. It can be done.
5) Enable the deletion of files. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a deal nonetheless. Make it so, Picard-style.
6) Slow-motion? 60 fps would be sweet.
7) Fix the focus-assist. With natural light, it’s great. Anything else, it’s barely visible. And in fact: I don’t think it’s that trustworthy. I always double-tap to magnify and check my focus. Sometimes I still have to make adjustments even after focus-assist. If I were picky–which I am–I’d say I shouldn’t have to check my focus manually AT ALL.
8) Make the ISO settings at least comparable to each other in usefulness.
9) Just kinda tweak the audio, a little bit. Not asking for much, just a little. (Editor’s Note Mar20 2015–apparently audio meters are in the camera now. I don’t know why that was such a big deal to some critics, it’s not like I couldn’t use my ears before to determine levels. But whatevs. Now if only the audio itself could be tweaked…)
At the end of the day, Blackmagic is still putting out a very good product for its price. I certainly get the business model, and it makes me a Blackmagic fan. Backslap, Blackmagic: Back. Slap.