I got my hands on a prototype BlackMagic Cinema Camera
for a couple of hours last week. To cut to the chase, I was blown away by the dynamic range recorded by this camera, was impressed by the level of detail in the images, and I didn’t find the super-16 sized sensor to be nearly as much of a limitation as I’d expected. Using great Canon EF-mount lenses I already own, I was able to execute the kind of images I wanted, and at better quality than the video from any DSLR.
If you haven’t yet heard of the BlackMagic Cinema Camera (henceforth BMCC) and you are a filmmaker, it’s time for you to read up on it, watch a review, and view a great comparison between the BMCC and the Canon 5D mark III DSLR. As long as BlackMagic manages to ship the BMCC in bulk, people will be making tons of very good looking low-budget films using this camera, and it’s going to displace many DSLRs and prosumer camcorders. The image quality for the price is unmatched.
Did I mention dynamic range? Here’s a still frame from a clip shot at the latter end of dusk. The camera was set to its minimum ASA setting of 200, which explains why the initial image looks very dark. Because The BlackMagic Cinema Camera records each 2.5K frame of video as an individual 5Mb 12-bit raw file, and because its sensor captures a staggering 13-stops of dynamic range, there is much information in the shadows (and highlights) of the image that can be revealed when adjusting the image. I knew this, but was still amazed to see just how much information was waiting in the shadows. Click the ‘graded’ link below the image, drag the green handle to the left and right, or tap around within the image if on a mobile device, to compare the original image to the graded version.
Here’s another still, from a clip shot slightly earlier in the evening. It initially looked unsalvageably dark, which is pretty close to how it looked to the naked eye in real life. I adjusted the image and warmed the color temperature a little bit to see how far I could pull it. The result I’m going to call “night-for-day shooting”! (again, click the ‘graded’ link or drag the handle to compare the original and processed image).
One more before-after comparison; I do prefer the stark, silhouetted look of this as shot, and our model Erik really knows how to create drama when striking a pose –but if it were part of a scene in a film in which the actor’s facial expression was important, it’d be nice if there were detail in the shadows to bring up. With the BMCC, there is that option.
My biggest concern with the BMCC related to its sensor size. I was worried that, in order to shoot a decent medium shot of an actor while throwing the background slightly out of focus, I’d need to back away from the actor so far that the image would take on a distant, flattened, surveillance-ish feel. But this shot reassured me that this wasn’t going to have to be an issue.
Canon 24-105mm f4L at 24mm (58mm equivalent considering a 2.4x "crop factor"), shot from a few feet away. The shot has the kind of immediacy and presence I was worried would be difficult to achieve on the BMCC’s small sensor, but it wasn’t difficult at all. This shot’s been slightly graded in DaVinci Resolve and output at 1080p resolution, click to see a larger image to wonder at the detail level. I did play with the image a bit, and noted that there was plenty of information in the shadows of the eye sockets, so if this were a crucial shot I could track a couple of "power windows" to the eyes and reduce the darkness of the shadows.
It was great to get a chance to play with this camera and evaluate its potential. It exceeds the hype. We’re going to see good things coming from BMCCs, assuming BlackMagic can get them shipping in bulk soon. And I hope they do, because a couple of days after I shot these tests I sold off a piece of equipment I’d deprecated and pre-ordered my BMCC.