Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

Does The Blackmagic Camera Still Have a Future?

As NAB 2013 is only weeks away, you may be wondering what camera companies have up their sleeves. Will someone else come from out of nowhere and release an amazing camera at an affordable price, stealing Blackmagic's thunder? If you are like me, these are real questions that I continue to ask myself as I wait for my pre-ordered camera. If I already had my camera, it wouldn't be an issue as I would be out shooting with it. But as NAB 2013 gets closer I wonder about the camera's future... Should I keep my preorder for the MFT version of the camera?...

In order to make an informed guess about the future, I think it is helpful to evaluate the present. If the Blackmagic were available in mass today, how would it stack up? Let's take an honest look at what it offers:
  • EF Mount/MFT Mount
    • This camera has begun shipping in small quantities with the EF mount. With more than 50 million EF lenses on the market, that is quite a supply to pull from. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the first cameras that have been released have a problem with the EF mount not allowing lenses to focus to infinity. I experienced this same issue with the camera I used for my extreme testing. And to make matters worse, the camera has to be returned to be fixed. (Does that sound oddly like the early days of the Red One?)
    • The MFT version of this camera makes a LOT more sense to me, as the camera can be fitted with just about any lens (PL, EF, Nikon, Oct-19...)  through the use of an adapter. The sad news is that Blackmagic has chosen to not ship the MFT version of the camera until they have their EF pre-orders straightened out. While understandable, it means I have to wait longer, since I switched my order to the MFT. Realistically, I will not see my camera until after NAB.
    • What I like about the mounting options is that I can fit any lens on to it that I want. It can conform to the lens investment I have already made. That is a big win for me.
  • RAW & Log Color Space
    • The ability to shoot RAW at this price point has been unheard of until this camera came onto the market. This is what drew me to the camera. The ability to have complete control of the image in the grade at such a high bit depth is an enjoyable thing. If your only experience is working with the 8-bit images from DSLR's, then you don't know what you are missing. When compared to shooting DSLR's for video, the image quality out of the Blackmagic is hands down the best. This comparison video does a great job at highlighting the differences. However, RAW does come with a heavy price tag in media, and additional crew. So even though the Blackmagic is priced like a DSLR, it is not a DSLR. (If you haven't done so already, I recommend reading my article on How To Prepare Yourself for RAW.)
    Color Science Of The Three Cameras
    • As I put this camera through my extreme testing, I found that the color science from this camera was very similar to the Alexa. Similar, not exact. This is a VERY big deal to me, as the Alexa is my favorite camera to shoot on, if I have the crew to support it. The way it renders colors, and most importantly, skin tones, is very pleasing to my eye. So the fact that I can pick up a camera in this price range that has similar color properties is impressive. The mere fact that it can even be compared to cameras like the Epic and the Alexa says a lot.
    • If you are used to shooting RAW on the Red One M or MX, then you will find yourself in familiar territory with this camera. While the color science in these two cameras is extremely different, the early days of shooting and transcoding your footage will be familiar. This biggest difference will come in the amount of media you will need for the camera and for your edit suite. The wavelet compression of the Red files is much more efficient than the completely uncompressed raw nature of the Blackmagic. 
  • Lack of an OLPF
  • The "extra sharpness" of the Blackmagic. Results from my testing.
    • This camera does not have an OLPF which means that the images are prone to being tack sharp. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on your perspective. Nikon released their D7100 without an OLPF, so there is a market for it. However, this ability to be tack sharp also introduces the possibility for aliasing and moire, which can be annoying. But the bigger issue for me is how the talent looks in a close up. Seeing every pore on someone's face, or clearly seeing the application of makeup, is not an attractive look. This is why I'll be using diffusion filtration on this camera.
    • The lack of an OLPF also means that it is more prone to IR contamination than other cameras. And while the Schneider filters do an okay job at cutting out the contamination on the Blackmagic, I'm still looking for a solution that performs better at higher ND values. 
  • 15.81mm x 8.88mm Sensor
    • If you come from the world of photography and use full frame cameras, then this sensor is a 2.3x crop factor. This fact could be a huge deal breaker, as that 18mm lens will now only see the same field of view as a 42mm lens would. If, on the other hand, you come from the motion picture world, then you are used to the Super 35 frame, and this camera is only a 1.6x crop factor. That gives your 18mm lens the same field of view as a 29mm lens.
    • I am used to the Super 35 frame, so while I am disappointed by the 1.6x crop, it doesn't make it a deal breaker for me.
    • Even though the sensor is so small, the fact that it has an MFT mount gives me A LOT OF HOPE. Companies like Metabones are offering an adapter called the speed booster that will take the image circle from your lens and reduce it down to fit on a smaller sensor. Pair this with the Blackmagic camera and all of the crop factor issues go away.

If the camera were widely available today, then I see it as the perfect entry level RAW cinema camera. It gives you similar colors to the Alexa, and it has a similar over-exposure latitude to the Epic without HDRx. If I had the backend to support the RAW files that this camera puts out, but not the budget for the Alexa, or the Epic, then I would gladly shoot with the Blackmagic. Or I could easily see adding it as a B or C camera in order to cut camera rental costs on a multi-camera shoot with the Alexa.

(You might also like: How To Prepare Yourself For RAW)

But the current reality, as of this post, is the camera is only shipping in small quantities. Furthermore, there is only the potential for adapters to solve the crop factor issue. As NAB 2013 approaches, there is a real possibility that someone could come in and offer an affordable RAW camera that shoots in the Super 35 format and offers an interchangeable mount. The Chinese are attempting to do just that with the KineRAW-Mini made by Kinefinity. If someone does upset the market at this NAB, my guess is that it will be someone from outside the big name manufacturers. Sony, Canon, and even Red have too much invested to cannibalize their high end RAW cameras.

The golden ticket to success for whoever accomplishes this feat will be in avoiding the pitfalls and technical difficulties that both Red and Blackmagic encountered as they first came to the market. It is those technical difficulties that make me leery of anyone else who comes to the market promising to deliver.

My prediction for NAB 2013 is that we will not see anything as revolutionary as the Blackmagic 3k camera for $3K that will deliver as promised by the manufacturer. Even if someone does release an affordable RAW camera, the past has shown us that it will more than likely be at least a year before the camera  is widely available. So it looks like the Blackmagic has at least another year of viability, and probably even longer if adapters like the Speed Booster are made for the camera.

But does that mean I'll continue to keep my preorder? That is a tougher question. I'm continuing to debate, as my patience is starting to wear thin. As I have not owned a cinema camera of my own for more than three years now. I'm itching to have something I can just play and experiment with at a moment's notice...

What does the future for the Blackmagic cinema camera look like to you? Are you keeping your pre-order? If you have canceled, why did you cancel, and what camera did you go with?

Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot!
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