Blackmagic Design Drops Price

(news & commentary)

The Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera just got a big price reduction (now US$1995). 

I normally don't do news stories on price adjustments. But when they're big drops on a significant piece of hardware, then I think it important to step in and comment. 

If you're seriously into production video (as opposed to documentary style video), the new Cinema Camera price has to raise your eyebrows. These aren't perfect cameras, but they've got some very special attributes that make them very useful. 

Let's talk about the "not perfect part" first.

While you can get the camera in both Canon EF and m4/3 mount versions, the sensor itself is more of a 16mm size (8.8 x 15.6mm). This has implications on lens choice, as it implies a 2.4x crop from 35mm full frame. That 12mm Olympus lens on the Blackmagic is more like a 28mm effective lens, therefore. To shoot true wide angle with the Blackmagic cameras, you need very wide angle lenses. (Note that the m4/3 version is a passive mount: no electrical connections, so lenses that don't have aperture rings or require power for focus rings are out; the Canon version has electrical connections that allow aperture control.)

Autofocus lenses need not apply, either, as the Cinema Camera will manage automatic exposure adjustments, but doesn't have autofocus support. 

No built-in "viewfinder" (it has a 5" touchscreen LCD on the back) also means it's not so good for handheld (documentary style) use. 

But the pluses on this camera are many: it's a large enough sensor configured with large photosites that you can get some DOF isolation but also get very good dynamic range and decent low light capability. Blackmagic claims 13 stops dynamic range when recording 12-bit DNG files, and from what I've seen in terms of original footage from that camera I have no reason to doubt that claim.

One huge plus for production video is that the camera records Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD files direct to SSDs. Up to five hours on a 480GB SSD. If you're really into processing, just shoot 2.5K uncompressed CinemaDNG RAW in 12-bit form and use the supplied software (DaVinci Resolve) to do post. In both cases, the Cinema Camera provides a very straightforward workflow that doesn't involve transcoding (decompression and recompression), as happens with AVCHD and many other of the compressed formats we deal with in the lower cost video products. Put another way, with ProRes or DNxHD what you capture is typically going to be what you edit and what you output, so quality stays high. 

One of my favorite features on the Cinema Camera is the metadata entry. Blackmagic has come closest to what I suggested six years ago should be the metadata workflow. While Blackmagic didn't go as far as I want, it is useful to have the scene number, take number, and other information entered at the camera and available to all the downstream workflow.

At the new price, I'll need to reconsider my commitment to the Sony FS cameras, which are far more expensive and much more cumbersome in workflow. Coupled with a couple of the Pocket Cinema Cameras for B-roll and confined space shooting, the Blackmagic solution would be workflow nirvana compared to what I'm doing now. 

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