ARC @ NAB 2012: Blackmagic Rocks the Boat with 2.5K, 12-bit RAW Cinema Camera under $3K
Entering the digital video world is not for the faint of heart. Taking on staid behemoths like Canon and Sony, 75 and 66 year old blue chip companies, respectively, is a daunting prospect. Sometimes a company with just the right amount of chutzpah and comes out of nowhere, guns blazing. RED did it a few years ago with aplomb, and today Blackmagic, previously a purveyor of external video recorders, Thunderbolt capture and playback devices and other niche high tech hardware, just threw down the gauntlet, introducing the remarkable and innovative tentatively named “Cinema Camera” that, on paper at least, has a set of digital cinema stats generally reserved for $10k and up cameras, all for the jaw droppingly low price point of a entry level full-frame DSLR (under $3,000).
The camera sports a jaw-dropping 2.5k, 12-bit raw, 4:2:2 video output, allowing for 13 stops dynamic range, and recording to hot swappable solid state drives, with Thunderbold I/O. It accepts EF and ZE mount lenses, meaning you can pair the full range of existing Canon glass with it. The shutter angle is adjustable from 45 to 360 degrees. Native ISO is 800, though the demo unit I looked at only had three settings: 400, 800 and 1600, though I was told this could change when the final unit lands in the market, or via a firmware update later. Also, WB is currently limited to 3300K tungsten, 5600K daylight and 6500k D65, so basically for cinema/TV scenarios, though more range may be available at launch as well. Audio jacks are quarter inch rather than XLR, to conserve space. It shoots a variety of codecs natively, including 12 bit Adobe DNG RAW and Prores 422. Via the SDI out you can achieve 10 bit 4:2:2. It has Log Gamma for flexible grading. Framerates for the prototype are limited to 24, 25 and 30p with current SSD technology, though this too, could be upgraded via firmware as faster drives hit the market.
With the user interface, Blackmagic has clearly decided that the many legacy technologies we’ve come to expect from a camera, inherited through generations of refinement, are in fact expendable, opting for a completely redesigned and undeniably modern new interface paradigm from the ground up, in a diminutive package that looks like an sleek external hard drive with a touchscreen, and almost no external controls besides the peripherals jacks dot the exterior. Instead, all controls are managed through the spacious touchscreen which covers the back of the device. Rather than use the screen just for playback and recording, Black Magic borrowed a page from simple touchscreen technologies that are quickly becoming the predominant way we interact with our devices, and extrapolated those into the pro filmmaking world. This is a saavy move, especially for the younger generation, which is increasingly comfortable with this method of interfacing. It remains to be seen, however if speed will be lost while fiddling with menus and submenus. Presumably this will be used for films, which allow greater flexibility for setup time.
The sensor size sits somewhere between Super 16 and Micro Four Thirds, which, depending on what you’re trying to shoot, could be a blessing or a curse, with forgiving depth of field, but without the super creamy bokeh achievable with Full-Frames at the other end of the spectrum. I think its a great size, having enjoyed the both AF100 and my old Bolex’s balance of practicality and cinematic quality. The company was mum on the sensor tech it sports, but it sounds like Blackmagic took a high-end sensor designed for space imaging, and successfully persuaded its manufacturers to opt for a volume model rather than a premium model.
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera will shake things up profoundly, offering features once reserved for only the top echelon of pros. Now, along with Prometheus, I’ve got a new itch I can’t scratch until this camera lands in July. Will we have a blockbuster on our hands? Only time will tell…