The Blackmagic Cinema Camera isn’t new, but when it was first introduced it created such a buzz that actually getting one’s hands on the new video camera proved difficult. Though Blackmagic has since pumped out the Pocket Cinema Camera and the 4K Cinema Camera, the original 2.5K camera is still quite the looker. I wanted to know, would it be possible to transition from my beloved DSLRs and over to the Blackmagic, which boasts some rather impressive specs, without much trouble?
Warning, this review is a bit long since there was a lot to cover (ok it’s really long), so for you TL;DR folks, just watch the video above or skip down to my summary at the bottom.
I don’t want to spend an excessive amount of time talking about the nitty gritty of what this camera can do. If you want to know what the footage from the camera looks like or what it is capable of, there are plenty of other sources you can get that information. What I want to focus this review on is if it is possible (and how easy is it) for a seasoned DSLR video shooter to move from a Canon 5D Mark III, 60D and 70D over to a Blackmagic. Can it be done easily and, perhaps more importantly, would it be worth it?
Let’s start with the way the camera feels and handles. If you shoot video with DSLRs, you’ll notice the build is pretty similar to the Nikon or Canon bodies you are used to. It doesn’t have a grip, but it does sport the same boxy design. Unlike cameras such as the Sony FS7000, visually the design makes me immediately more comfortable with the camera since it mimics the look of what I know and love so closely. Not only that, it easily fits into nearly the same arrangement in bags and backpacks that my DSLRs do. It’s as if the Blackmagic is holding my hand and assuring me that everything will be ok, and making the move away from my beloved Canons surprisingly less difficult.
What isn’t similar to my DSLRs, however, is the weight and terrible ergonomics of the Blackmagic. It’s heavy. Much heavier than a 5D with a battery pack. That weight is made more noticeable with the aforementioned lack of the grip. What this means is that this camera is impossible to hand hold with any effectiveness, even with a Tamron VR lens attached which has allowed me to get away with hand holding in the past on both a 60D, 70D and even occasionally on a 5D Mark III. But that’s ok, I shouldn’t be hand holding anyway. The bag ergonomics means if you plan to put this anywhere other than a tripod, you will require a rig. If you want to use a Steadicam or Glidecam, I would probably recommend the vest-kind, unless you have forearms of steel. Otherwise, tripod it.
The build quality is, as expected, solid and reliable. A steel frame surrounds the camera, making it feel solid and dependable. Would it break if I dropped it? Probably, however it would likely reliably continue to record video even if the buttons were damaged and the screen was broken. It just strikes me as the kind of body that would maintain functionality of the guts even when the outsides were dinged, battered or dented.
What is absolutely necessary is the removable visor that comes included with the camera. Even indoors, the massive screen on the back of the Blackmagic is pretty reflective and can be hard to see unless this is affixed. Even with the reflection issues, with the visor I found that I could easily see the screen even in some pretty harsh light. I only ran into one situation where I was impeded by bad reflections.
Speaking of the screen, let’s talk about the touch interface. Though it has the focus, iris, record and standard playback buttons on the back of the camera, much of the functionality is can only be controlled via the touch interface or the Ultrascope software Blackmagic also makes. On a level of responsiveness and reliability out of 10 (10 being the latest generation iPads or iPhones), the Blackmagic would score about a 7. The screen is not glass, but a very taut plastic that you only barely tell is pressure sensitive, not heat or moisture sensitive. Because of that, it can sometimes miss your taps or commands, requiring multiple attempts to get the white balance to shift or to adjust the ISO. Not enough to be annoying, just enough to notice it’s happening. In terms of brightness, color reliability and playback functionality, the Blackmagic knocks it out of the park. I will sorely miss that beautiful enormous screen.
The left side of the camera is home to a set of different cable options, from power and audio to a Thunderbolt connector. It doesn't have XLR or 3/4 audio inputs though, which was a bummer. Speaking of that...
The Blackmagic lacks good audio control directly from the camera. It doesn’t show audio levels and the on-camera microphone isn’t the best, but if you are using this camera odds are you aren’t going to be using on camera audio anyhow. As for the lack of visual levels, for the past several months I have been recording audio separately on a Tascam 60D PCM Linear Recorder, therefore not having great audio options built into the Blackmagic was, for me, a non-issue. Even if they existed in camera, I probably would not have used them.
Let’s talk for a minute about the video footage from the Blackmagic: it’s spectacular. But you probably already knew this. Though not a full frame sensor, the Blackmagic captures beautiful footage in a style that is jaw droppingly sensational. I am overselling it? No, I’m not. When you see what you can produce with a Blackmagic, you’ll be just as impressed. There is something to be said about the way it captures video. It’s unique to what you would see in major motion pictures and it’s really something you have to experience for yourself.
One of the major features many of you are likely excited about is the ability to shoot natively in 2.5K raw. This is, of course, an amazing option to have, but when we look at it in the context of producing video for corporate clients for use on the web, it’s not something I personally feel like was worth the monumental effort. Monumental how? Firstly, raw video consumes a preposterous amount of storage space. 30-35 minutes of straight raw video capture translates to about 250 gigs of footage. I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes my shoots take all day. Attempting to process four terabytes of footage for a single day of shooting is daunting, time consuming, and almost completely impractical. And that’s only out of one camera! Most of my days are spent with at least two cameras, sometimes three or four running at the same time. If you plan to produce a landscape scene, short set piece, or short indie film it might be different, but when shooting for corporate clients who want me to shoot on a Monday and have something to show them by Thursday, dealing with 100% raw footage is cumbersome. Luckily, the Blackmagic doesn’t only shoot raw, and I found myself plenty happy shooting in Apple ProRes for much of the time I spent with the Cinema Camera.
As an aside, please note that the Blackmagic does not use SD or CF cards, the mainstays for us DSLR video shooters. The Blackmagic shoots to a solid state harddrive accessible from the right hand side of the camera. If you plan to shoot raw for any reason and for any length of time, you’ll understand why this is such great design. Solid state drives come in a plethora of sizes, and if you have deep enough pockets you can buy some huge ones to help store those terabytes of footage you will be shooting. For me on Apple ProRes, 250 gigabytes was plenty. On this note, transitioning from DSLRs to the Blackmagic will require you to acquire these hard drives, but if you have the business to accommodate the Blackmagic, you likely will have no problem grabbing the necessary storage devices as well.
One of the only features (or lack of features, depending on how you look at it) that really actually bothered me about the Blackmagic was the camera's extremely limited white balancing settings: it only has 5. If the light you are shooting isn’t exactly, say, 3200 or 5600 Kelvin, you are going to have to adjust color in post. If you are like me, you do your best to nail focus, color, and light balance in camera to limit the amount of time you have to adjust settings afterwards. It can take a lot of time to properly get everything perfectly dialed in if you didn’t manage to do it on set. When you don’t, you do have to use either Photoshop or Premiere to get things looking right. For Blackmagic, that is where DaVinci Resolve comes in.
DaVinci Resolve is Blackmagic’s footage management, color corrector, and video editing software that is available in the full and lite versions. It’s incredibly powerful and designed for the highest level of professional. They recently added limited editing functionality that is supposed to work side-by-side with either Premiere or Final Cut. When I used Resolve, I was only able to do really get a solid grasp on a few of the functions, like color correction. Why? Because the program is daunting. It was just a slightly less frightening interface than Adobe After Effects, a program that I opened once and closed moments later in a cold sweat. Yes, I was able to use some of Resolve’s features after a few weeks of watching videos and testing it myself, but I feel like a real lesson or class on the software is in order to consider myself adept at it. It’s powerful and the best thing you can use to edit any raw footage you get from the Blackmagic, it’s just not easy or user-friendly. It’s straight hard. But the camera does come with Resolve included, so that’s a nice bonus. Plenty of time for you to figure out how to use it.
Random: Resolve requires the computer using the program to have a USB dongle attached. That means if you buy the software online, you have to wait for Blackmagic to send you a dongle to have access to the software. The Lite version is powerful and free though, so you would have that in the meantime. I only mention this because it is unusual and unexpected, and it does make pirating the software incredibly difficult.
Back to discussing the functionality of the camera, much like the color balance limitations, the Blackmagic only has four ISO settings to choose from: 200, 400, 800 and 1600 ASA. Take a look at these stills (click any for the full resolution file) from each of those settings, lit only with that candle off to the left and in order from lowest ISO to highest:
If you plan to shoot in very dark environments, your best bet would be to select a very fast lens and also shoot in raw. Let’s look again at that 200 ASA shot, and I will show you what you can expect from the 13 stops of dynamic range:
Not bad right? I personally would avoid shooting in that dark of an environment, but if you are ever forced to, the camera doesn’t leave you up a creek entirely. But you will notice some areas where I couldn't get any details, which is disappointing. So in this category, the performance in low light is good, but not fantastic.
I want to briefly discuss the battery life on the Blackmagic, and it’s not good news. The built-in battery doesn’t last long at all. After shooting for only 10 minutes I was already at 75%. 10 more minutes? 50%. The battery drained at a coronary-inducing rate. I did have an Anton Bauer battery pack that promised an additional 4 hours of charge time, but it wasn’t small or light (and it's almost as expensive as the camera). The charging apparatus that would attach to the Blackmagic is a bit cumbersome and took up more room in my bag. Most definitely not ideal. But if you have the space in your kit or plan to expand, this should only be a minor inconvenience.
One of the biggest selling points of the Blackmagic is, well, its selling point: it’s not absurdly priced. The Blackmagic 2.5K can be yours for just under $2000, right between a high-end DSLR and the prosumer models. Not cost prohibitive at all, and makes taking the “risk” and jumping ship to a standalone video camera a lot easier to swallow.
What I liked:
Gorgeous "cine look" to video
Accepts all Canon EF Lenses
Though reflective in bright light, it has a fantastic video screen
Brilliant and easy-to-use focus assist
What could be improved:
Atrocious battery life
Few white balance options
Only four ISO options
Touch screen less responsive than I’m used to
Bad ergonomics means it requires a rig
So back to my original question: could I easily introduce the Blackmagic into my workflow? Could it just slip into my camera bag without trouble? Would it be worth it? Absolutely on all accounts. It not only accepts the same lenses that I already work with, it’s about the same size and form as my current cameras. It feels like that next step up and it doesn’t even cost me much (in money or in physical capacity). That said, the pitiful battery life did force me to lug along an exterior battery and the camera itself does weigh more than most DSLRs, so your bag will feel that much heavier. But when you see the footage this camera captures, how easy the camera is to use, and the well-implemented focus assist, those cons that at first seemed like a big deal suddenly shrink in size.
Do I wish it was full frame so that I got the most out of my Canon lenses? Yes. Did I really end up missing it all that much? No. You can adjust; I did. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is an excellent piece of hardware that does a heck of a lot right, despite a few shortcomings. It could be that logical next step for DSLR video shooters looking for a camera that looks and feels familiar while offering video footage that has that “cine look” many of us crave.
why would i .. the blackmagic sucks in so many ways.....
Nice review Jaron. Bummer about the WB... no option to set it manually? Weird. Seems like a great low light solution when working with fast lenses and shooting in raw.
If there was one, I couldn't find it. Not being able to toggle it to exactly the WB I wanted was probably the only thing about the BM that felt like a colossal let down.
if you work in RAW it dosent matter.. do the WB in editing/after effect you can work even in Adobe camera raw! :)
Right, and in DaVinci Resolve it's not hard. But if you don't want to shoot in raw because you lack the horsepower in post or don't want to suck up a ton of hard drive space, it's annoying. And I like to try and get it in camera.
Since the BMCC is designated to shoot video, don't you think it would at least shoot 120fps at 720p or 1080p? 60fps doesn't quite do the trick for slow motion.
Great review! I've always been interested in the blackmagic cameras. However, I would love the opportunity to try before I buy.
Thanks Cody! You can always rent pretty affordably from a bunch of reliable sources these days if you want to try before you buy.
I don't see this camera as a DSLR replacement at all, at least not yet. There are WAY too many limitations and quirks with this thing. The WB/ISO limitations and terrible battery life you covered, but there's also the issue of crop factor. With a 2x crop, getting wide shots are going to be incredibly difficult. While the quality is fantastic, it's just not worth the limitations and awful ergonomics. Considering a huge chunk of DSLR video shooter are event shooters, like weddings, those things are deal-breakers.
1.) WB/ISO limitations? With Raw your latitude is so broad ISO its not a factor.. we shot in the lowest of lights and resolved it in post with minimal grain with 13 stops you get the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. WB we goofed on in many shots and you can change your color temp to whatever you want in post without having to specifically dial it in.
2.) Your crop factor argument is thrown out the window
3.) Ergonomics arent terrible.. we used this camera in a run & gun environment at a very FAST pace and made it work. At times I would solely rely on focus assist to achieve critical. Watch this and scroll down to read the comments regarding rigging and battery.
1) Just because you can fix something in post, that doesn't mean it isn't an issue. I'm like Jaron in that I want to nail WB in camera. I never want to have to rely on post-production for something as simple as WB
2) The adapter does solve that issue, but it's one more third-party accessory you need to make this camera work.
3) If you have to rig up a camera to use it handheld, it's not an ergonomic camera. There's no way you take the BMCC with no rig in a run and gun environment.
I'm not saying the BMCC is a bad camera. The image quality you get is incredible. The point of my comment was that a good chunk of DSLR users are in the wedding/event industry, and the BMCC just has way too many issues to be considered a worthy replacement.
Did you watch our video? Shining example of run & gun
Yes I watched the video. It was very well done.
But again I say, you needed a rig. What makes a camera ergonomic or not is whether you have to rely on a rig to make it work. If you can't just pick up a camera and go, it's not an ergonomic camera.
Yet most cinema cameras are never held without some sort of rig, the only cameras that truly come ready for hand held out of the box are ENG cameras. If you look at virtually any BTS shot from a film or commercial production, the camera has a rig for hand held use. Arris, REDs, and the rest aren't ergonomic for hand holding either.
Just wanted to jump in here... this was about DSLRs and the BM. I hand hold a DSLR right out of the box. You absolutely cannot do that with any effectiveness with the Blackmagic. Is that a breaking issue for me? Of course not.
In the end, this one issue is kind of squabbling over breadcrumbs and missing the loaf. No it's not great as a standalone camera in hand. No, that's not a reason to ignore the camera.
Note: This isnt an angry post haha just my logic as a cinematographer and what ive learned by shooting with as many cameras as I can get my hands on.
Let me start by saying I dont believe you can accurately assess a camera until you have put your hands on it. "Putting your hands on it" however does not translate to a few minutes or hours of use but rather a few days to see it in multiple environments and scenarios of ***your*** shooting style (not others). We think by watching / reading reviews that we are being told what works and what doesn't work for us and we are so quick to pass judgement or disregard equipment because said trusted reviewer. My first reaction when I opened the case of our rental was wow.. thats a lot smaller then I thought. This was a genuine reaction because I could not assess something so simple as the size of the camera by all the video reviews I had watched. Now to me the size and weight was not an issue and only a 1.91lb difference between it and the canon 5d mkiii we use. To my colleague however, this was a huge difference that he did not care for or felt comfortable with shooting (which baffles me because my personal camera I use weekly is a Nikon d3200 weighing in at only 0.584375 lbs and I had no issues transferring to the bmcc) These are things a reviewer can never reveal to you because they are a matter of personal preference from tactile experiences.
I think while the advent of DSLR video is fantastic we have become accustom to a certain workflow.. a workflow so specific a lot of us have shut off all other possibilities of how we shoot grade & edit footage. White balance has become a common standard to dial in on all professional cameras. This is what I refer to as a familiar luxury workflow. Familiarizing yourself with a white balance chart or simply remembering what time of day it was when you shot is not all that difficult and the results of raw yield such higher flexibility then the perk of an auto white balance or specific dial in. Where some see a pitfall I see opportunity to change a white balance to whatever I want. The BMCC can dial within the ballpark you are looking for and when you go to grade, simply tweak that information to create to result you want.
In terms of the meta bones adapter you are right it is a 3rd party piece but your perspective from what I am reading sounds negative based on the familiarity of full frame technology and lenses you may own. This adapter is not "fixing" the camera.. it is enhancing it. When you go to purchase a Panasonic gh3 you are purchasing a micro four thirds sensor. This is a conscious decision you are making that results in a certain stylistic look. To broaden a sensors coverage was not intended by the manufacturer and to some having a 2x crop is beneficial for telephoto shots which would be the flipside of the arugment. This of course is all based on your needs, shooting style, lens collection etc. I can tell you we did not have an adapter and I was able to achieve the wides and the CUs by simply keeping the conversion in my head and having a variety of glass.
Lastly in my comments on my vimeo page I discuss the rig we had used and why, I do however make mention of altering the rig as we went and it is possible to mount an external battery to your belt or to the top of the camera. While having a battery is not ideal again it is all about weighing your options. If you are shooting weddings I would ask yourself some marketing questions.. What am I charging and can I charge more based on an increase in quality? Does my client have a need for higher imagery? Will they notice the difference (consciously or unconsciously) Will this slow me down or is this a shift in my workflow?
Anyway I had no idea what to expect out of this camera, I had never shot raw, and I loved it. I feel our video (while it has its flaws) is a great example of run and gun and I can tell you that with how fast we were moving it absolutely can exist in that environment only if you are open to the idea of changing your tactics! :)
I guess some people may find it more useful than others, but yes, perhaps it's not ready for "prime time" for many people just yet. Maybe it's something that can be used alongside a DSLR until it's refined more.
how does this compare to the 5dM3 being able to capture raw video with magic lantern.
I say give black magic another year or two to work out some kinks and we will all want one. Canon and Nikon are both dropping the ball when it comes to cinematography. I love that black magic is breaking some barriers, now all we need is black magic and magic lantern to team up!
I have worked with the predecessor very much. The first time I do not have to think about the quality of the picture and focus on creating .. DSLR is so much worse!
As soon as Black Magic shoots 120fps or more, then I will purchase one. Right now its not worth the purchase simply due to that missing feature.
Great review and hit many of the questions that I had about the camera. Based on the review I would love to give it a try sometime, with all the above mentioned accessories of course!
Definitely a tool for video shooting unlike the DSLR
The BMCC has all of the relevant WB setting's for the environment it's intended to be used in, they are perfectly configured presets for the most used lighting packages in film and tv. Based on film stocks we would have only two white balance settings (tungsten and daylight) the DP and Gaffer would balance the lighting in the scene to that of the stock and use colour temperature as an imaging tool that would then be processed for the final print. The WB only matters when shooting ProRes or DNX-HD as that is debayered footage and that is why there are 6 WB setting's intended to get the slightly compressed 10 Bit footage closer or bang on the needed WB setting, there is never a reason in film or TV to be dialling in 5218.7 WB!
When shooting in Raw the camera is always shooting every WB that is possible from the camera and is always shooting at ISO800 no matter what you set it at in the menu (unlike ML 5D Raw), though for viewing purposes you can lower or increase the ISO to the level you will use in post (this is also the ISO you should be metering at). We balance the scene to the camera not the other way around (as the DSLR crowd would tell you) a camera like this is not intended for events and could never compete with a DSLR or more correctly an ENG camera in that environment, sure you can make a compromise with any camera and make it "work" but you are still compromising.
This is a low cost "CINEMA" camera, it is not hand holdable out of the box, it does require a rig for stable shots, it is intended to be used with external power, it is intended to be used with Matte Boxes for ND and filtration and it is optimised for film, tv and high end commercial work.
The only reason the question above can even be asked is because the camera is affordable to the DSLR owner. Please, do a similar video but with a RED Epic or an ALEXA and let me know if you don't find the exact same problems with those that you do with this (oh and I'm sure $£$ will be an issue too)
it's utterly amazing as an in studio video camera. basically, if you can plug into AC power and you have some genuine control over your lighting conditions this camera is great.
but, If you have to go shoot on location somewhere and you have to put it up on a shoulder rig you should go get yourself a Costco sized bottle of Aleve.