Let’s get right down to the elephant
in the room—Blackmagic Design
has been having problems delivering
their Cinema Camera which was announced
at the 2012 NAB Show and slated
for shipment 90 days thereafter. However,
sensor defects stalled those deliveries. After
a year, shipments are beginning to catch
up with backorders. Blackmagic worked
earnestly to solve the sensor manufacturing
problems (it was supplied by a third
party) and to be as transparent as possible
with its customers during all this. The wait
was well worth it.
This 2.5K camera shoots 12-bit raw,
ProRes HQ and 10-bit DNxHD and is bundled
with a full version of Blackmagic Da-Vinci Resolve and Blackmagic UltraScope.
Initially Blackmagic announced the camera
would ship with a Canon EF mount
capable of electronic control of Canon EF
lenses. Several months later Blackmagic
revealed a second version, with a Micro
Four Thirds mount, albeit without electronics.
The camera is based on a 15.81 x 8.88-
mm sensor—larger than a Micro Four
Thirds, but smaller than the APS-C or Super35
sensors used in many DSLRs and
dedicated digital cinema cameras. Blackmagic
advertises 13 stops of dynamic
range and after some very loose tests in
my favorite camera torture chamber (New
York City’s Times Square), I have no reason
to dispute that figure.
A great deal of this camera’s charm—
and its limitations—stems from the utter
simplicity of its design. Pushing the iris
button auto-exposes; exposure on non-aperture
ring lenses is adjusted by pushing
the iris button, followed by transport buttons,
to open or close the iris. The focus
button turns peaking on or off for focus
The large view screen includes a sunshade,
but often isn’t enough for bright
outdoors work. The screen also displays
menus that are limited but adequate.
Camera menus allow setting of camera
name, date/time, ISO and shutter angle.
ISO is limited to 200, 400, 800 and 1600.
The camera itself is rated at ISO 800. There
are six color temperature presets (3,200,
4,500, 5,000, 5,600, 6,500, and 7,500 degrees
Kelvin). There is no auto white balance
option, but when shooting raw, color
temperature is far less an issue. Finally,
the shutter angle defaults to 180 degrees,
with slow and fast shutter settings, as well
as a 172.8-degree shutter that optimizes
24p shooting in 50 Hz lands.
Audio settings control channels and levels,
but there’s no audio level indication,
making external meters a necessity unless
you simply want to guess. (I don’t and hope
that Blackmagic will address this deficiency
in future firmware updates.)
The recorder menu controls recording
format, frame rate and time lapse, as well as what Blackmagic calls “dynamic range.”
There are two options in dynamic range:
film and video. “Video” means Rec. 709
color space; “film” means log. These are
available only for ProRes HQ or DNxHD
formats. Raw defaults to film mode.
Display settings control brightness,
zebras, SDI overlays and dynamic range.
Another note: the only camera metering
consists of zebras, which do not go below
75 percent. (Exposure control is the weakest
part of the camera.) However, there is
an amazing feature hidden in non-standard
As noted above, dynamic range presents
“film” and “video” as choices. What this
means is that when recording in film (log)
mode and viewing in video, you are applying
a Rec. 709 look-up table to the image
for more accurate viewing.
If you tap the viewscreen twice, it
zooms for expanded focus. Tap once and
you get a slate with mini keyboard with
anything entered being written to clip
The camera writes to solid-state drives
inserted into a slot. These have limited
insertion/removal cycles and a more permanent
caddy mount would prolong media
life. Blackmagic has a list of qualifying
drives, but more about that later.
I/O ports include BNC SDI out, Thunderbolt,
headphones and two audio channels,
with the audio input jacks being RCA phono plug-type, rather than XLR.
The camera’s internal battery is rated
for 90 minutes of use between charges and
there’s a connector for AC power or external
Far too often I end up testing cameras
by shooting sleeping cats, skittish squirrels
and the like. I decided to test this time in
some actual video production, and connected
with Josh Apter at the Manhattan
Edit Workshop and Peter Olsen, DP, who
were working on a project.
My test camera came with a Kingston
120 GB SSD, qualified by Blackmagic for
raw recording. That card would hold about
15 minutes of raw footage. We recorded
perhaps 10 minutes for the first scene before
switching to a SanDisk Extreme 480
GB SSD that I own.
The camera was mounted on a Zacuto
mini-baseplate, and rear rails attached for
my Zacuto cheeseplate with Anton/Bauer
battery mount. I brought along two Dionic
90 batteries and a charger for the occasion,
but the camera’s internal battery and
one of the Dionics saw us through the all-day
shoo. When we finally wrapped, there
was still charge remaining in the one Dionic
that we did tap.
Audio is an issue. For this shoot, I borrowed
a dual XLR-to-phono plug adapter
to allow use of a Sennheiser MKH 416 mic.
That solved that, but we still had to deal
with exposure and levels. My solution was
to connect the camera to my MacBook Pro
Retina with a Thunderbolt cable and use
Divergent Media ScopeBox for setting exposure
and monitoring of audio levels.
We found that the Blackmagic Camera
can get hot—actually so hot that I burned
my fingers in removing the SanDisk SSD.
This was after about 30 minutes of continuously
being powered on and used for
number of takes. The camera didn’t shut
down, but heat is nobody’s friend.
Peter felt the camera was a bit awkward
in its form factor, but that didn’t
impede his workflow. And we all agreed
that the smaller-than-Super35 sensor combined
with f/2.8 lenses meant that depth
of field was not as shallow as we would
have liked for a couple of interior shots.
When shooting indoors, the large display
screen was easily visible and it was easy to
achieve focus with the camera’s peaking
and zoom features.
We shot raw only to test workflow, image
quality and usability of the raw format—
and it was here that we encountered
Throughout the shoot, I transferred
footage from the SSDs to an external drive
for the editor, reviewing clips only on the
camera. By the time we wrapped, I’d transferred
everything to the drive for my work
and later made a copy for the editor.
I first looked at clips from the SanDisk
480 through DaVinci Resolve. Thumbnails
came up properly in the viewer window
and everything moved nicely into Resolve’s
However, when I checked the establishing
shots from the SanDisk I got folder
icons, meaning there were dropped
frames. Opening the folders showed a
number of DNG files and the separate audio wav, but they had to be imported as individual
DNGs rather than as an assembled
clip. Several more tests with the SanDisk
revealed dropped frames after 10 seconds
As I later learned from the forums (and
not in Blackmagic’s documentation), the
record light should be solid red when
you’re recording. A blinking red light indicates
dropped frames. As much as we had
read about the camera, none of us knew
this on set, so we were not looking for
it. (In addition, anecdotal reports online
revealed numerous failures with this SSD
after a week or more of use.)
Fortunately, the editor was able to reconstruct
the scene from several takes
and we ended up with useable footage.
Be forewarned that using consumer-level
SSDs to write the massive data rates and
quantity of raw footage really pushes the
technology to its limit. (I should note that
anecdotal reports of the SanDisk 480 have
revealed it to be rock solid and I have yet
to have read of a reported failure.)
The images were the nice part. When
brought into Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve
we had superb skin tones and almost no
noise at ISO 800 (and very little at ISO
1600). In short, it was difficult to imagine
that a $3k camera could produce such
beautiful images as the ones we had captured.
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is
revolutionary in its technology and price
point. It’s the next level beyond the DSLR
and I strongly recommend it for those
graduating from DSLR work. However,
it should not be compared to RED, Sony
F3/F5/F55, or cameras costing many multiples
of $3K. Use it for the same jobs you
would use a DSLR. Use it for documentary
work with one of the many rigging
options available. Be wary of SSD drives
and watch for dropped frames, particularly
in raw. Always carry a spare SSD. And
be prepared to spend more for rigging,
monitoring and other options. Blackmagic
has an aggressive firmware development
program and I hope that the issues mentioned
will be addressed.
Ned Soltz is an independent video
shooter, editor and producer, as well as
consultant and general technology guru.
He has more than 30 years experience in
video, first learning to shoot on a “Sony
Portapack” and editing on reel-to-reel tape.
In addition to current production and
consulting projects, he is a contributing
editor for Digital Video magazine.
Digital cinema-style shooting
Great image quality, simplicity,
attractive price point, bundled