Black Magic

Firstly let me prefix this by saying I see a film camera as merely a tool. I believe far too many people (myself included not so long back) chase their tails with techno-porn (such as Alexa, RED etc) when they should actually just be out making films on whatever they have available.

I finally got to see a Black magic camera in action last Thursday evening (which is one of the few in the UK right now – I heard “there are only 4 in the UK” being banded around). You can find full spec elsewhere, here are my thoughts:
BlackMagic1
[Image courtesy of CVP]

  • The footage itself looks absolutely fantastic and very cinematic. Watching on vimeo isn’t going to do it the justice it deserves.
  • RAW Output is 2.5K (2432 x 1366 pixels). It’s not quite RED 4K, but it does allow the ability to reframing a bit when outputting to HD (1920 x 1080). Only RAW shoots 2.5K. In reality the amount of footage you would actually shoot on RAW is probably negliable. I suspect most will just shoot on compressed ProRes or Avid DNxHD.
  • The ISO ranges are currently limited (400-1600). Even so, the amount of dynamic range (up to 13 stops) in RAW looks incredible. It will also change the way you need to work. You will need to grade all your footage using DaVinci Resolve. But you’ll be able to pull back many of those highlights which would have been over or under exposed.
  • Talking of which, yes – this comes bundled with DaVinci Resolve+Ultrascope – software which is worth about £1K in it’s own right. Superb grading software – this!
  • There are serious issues with the file management in my view. Yes, you can add meta-data to your clips which is all very nice. But you can’t even delete an unwanted file from an SSD! Poor!
  • It records on SSDs (Solid State Drives). The capacity on these are increasing and the prices are slowly coming down. However it’s important to know that not all SSDs are equal. It is recommended you use Sandisk as some other brands struggle to keep up with the high data-rate. You also need some hot-swappable method of getting the footage off the SSD via your computer.
  • The rolling shutter effect on faster shots was extremely noticeable.
  • In terms of run and gun, this probably isn’t the camera for you. It can be shoulder mounted with a rig, which makes it heavier, but it’s a manageable weight (for shorter periods) and the balance seems reasonable. The camera element itself feels robust and well made.

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Film pal Jim Gwilliam gets handy with the Black Magic camera
[image courtesy of Film Oxford]

  • The camera comes with no built-in neutral density filters or XLR ports for sound recording. It does come with an built-in battery, which is actually another major caveat. If you want to shoot unplugged for an extended period of time, you will need an alternate battery rig. All resulting in more bulk, expense and weight you didn’t want!
  • The controls on the screen are easy to use. I do wonder how the screen would hold-up in extreme daylight brightness however.
  • You have the choice of an EF mount or a Micro four thirds  (eg. Panasonic, Olympus + adaptors for other lenses) mount. I saw it with the EF mount. The advantage of the EF mount is that lens electronics will work (eg. Auto-focus etc). The disadvantage is you are tided down to just Canon lenses. Micro four thirds offers more  choices, but the disadvantage is that none of the lens electronics will implemented (not that this is strictly a bad thing).
  • Perhaps the biggest deal-breaker for me was the crop sensor. Oh my,  was it was cropped! Bear in mind I saw the EF version – but you’d need an extremely wide-lens to get any decent panoramic shots from this camera. I was bitterly disappointed with this. The crop factor is 2.5 – meaning that a 50mm would look more like a 120mm lens on a full-frame camera.
  • The frame-rates are pretty bog-standard (eg. up to 30fps), so forget the idea of shooting any super-slo-mo. But to be fair I find super-slo-mo massively overused anyway.
  • The Thunderbolt connection is currently only useful for viewing waveform monitors on a Mac. It doesn’t allow the ability to download footage off the card via the cable. These cables are still rather expensive.
  • The release date keeps getting pushed back.
  • Ultimately the camera feels very much like a work-in-progress rather than a fully featured cam. Many issues may get fixed in a future firmware upgrade.

To be honest, I was hoping to be completely wowed by the camera. I was merely  rather impressed, and this was more in terms of its price than its features. The body + DaVinci Resolve is undoubtedly a superb deal. But the crop + fact you need to spend about the same amount of money again on a decent rig + other equipment negates that. Even so, this camera will revolutionise the low-budget shooting market, and let’s hope Canon, Sony, Panasonic etc are all taking note.

If you want to see more of the camera in action, then I recommend checking out Philip Bloom’s 45 minute video review of the camera here:

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4 responses to “Black Magic

  1. I didn’t understand a word of that 😉

  2. Ah, it’s all geek-speak! You don’t really need to. Bottom line – a nice camera at great price with just a few too many issues for me to truly recommend it. Hopefully the opening sentence was okay? 🙂

  3. First paragraph WAS especially good! 😉 Splendid review…Thanks for this overview, I had the benefit of a negative friend to review it for me. So still looking, but very much trying to be subscriber to your opening ideas…which in my case is of modest means. 🙂

  4. Thanks! My advice would be shoot with whatever you have available and adapt your shooting-style accordingly – every camera has it’s pros/cons. It is far more important to make engaging content, only the techies will care what it’s been shot on…

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