Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Blackmagic Design Production Camera 4K - initial thoughts.

The old adage "be careful what you wish for" may be true in fairy tales but in real life it can sometimes work out pretty well. In an earlier blog back in January I wrote the following lines:

"My dream machine though is the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera MKII with a larger sensor (so wide angles are possible) that can shoot 2.5K in RAW and 4K in GoPro's Cineform codec. Even if the price doubled for such a beast I doubt Blackmagic Design would have much trouble selling them."

I even posted a mock-up of the apple of my eye:

My mock-up in January of a dream camera
Well I don't know if Blackmagic Design had been reading my blog but yesterday on day one of NAB 2013 this is what they released:
The Blackmagic Design Production Camera 4K

So I got the logo on the wrong side and it looks like the same designer from Channel 4 in the UK drew up the logo but that doesn't matter, here is a "proper" 4K camera for less than $5,000. To clarify that, you can shoot 4K using a $400 GoPro but not at a broadcast frame rate and the new Blackmagic camera is officially $3,995, but won't work without a fast SSD inside it, oh and a lens would be handy. So let's call it $5K for 4K.

Blackmagic Design have elected not to take up my suggestion of using GoPro's Cineform codec and instead chosen ProRes which is a great format but not when you are using Windows machines. Avid's DNxHD codec has been dropped altogether but if Avid can get their heads out of the sand and come up with a good 4K codec it may be added in a later upgrade. 

A pleasant surprise is that you can shoot compressed CinemaDNG RAW in 4K which for stock material will be fantastic but there is no information I can find about file sizes or how much footage you can shoot in CinemaDNG on a SSD, but with ProRes 4K maxing out at 880 Mbs you only get 36 minutes on a 240 Gb drive. Little caveat here, one bit of the BM blurb says a full version of the DaVinci Resolve grading software is included with the camera but only the lite version is listed in the included software on this Blackmagic page:

Blackmagic Design have dropped the 2.5K resolution that was the main feature of the BM cinema camera, which gave HD editors a bit of leeway for stabilising and shot positioning; now the choice is 1920x1080 or 3840 x 2160 the specification for Ultra-HD. At least it looks like all frame rates including PAL 25p will be working from the start although rather strangely considering the CMOS sensor there are interlaced options in the 1920 resolutions but I can't see this camera being used for sport much.

Although I didn't get the Cineform codec of my dreams I did get my wish for a larger sensor to get wider angles. Below are a couple of grabs from the very useful Abelcine website where you can check field of view for a variety of cameras and lenses. 

The first shows the Super 35mm sensor from the new Production Camera and the field of view using a 35mm lens and on the right is the FOV of the original Cinema Camera. The new camera offers a 39.1 degree angle compared to 25.5 degrees on the original.

The second grab compares the Production Camera (again on the left) with the Canon 5D MKII full frame sensor. The 5D doubles the FOV again with a 54.4 degree so although the new Production Camera gives a much wider view, if you are used to using a full frame DSLR to shoot then you may be disappointed. In fact the new camera is very close to the Canon 7D or Nikon D3100 in field of view.

Within hours of the NAB launch I read criticism of Blackmagic Design retaining the shape of the original camera and the fixed internal battery, but there must have been a huge amount of development to get this form factor and it is also instantly distinguishable from other cameras, which as any marketing student will confirm is a huge advantage. Also like the GoPros, a large number of 3rd party companies have produced vital accessories for the BMCC and these will still be compatible with the new camera.

I think this will be the perfect camera for shooting ultra-hd stock footage and I am extremely pleased that I resisted my urge to order the original camera 12 months ago and can now use another old saying - "good things come to those who wait". Just hope it won't be as long a wait as for the first version; the first cameras are due to ship in July 2013.

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