A Quick Hands-On with the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera fitted with a Zeiss CP.2 Compact Prime Lens, Matte Box & Follow Focus

This morning Craig from Blackmagic popped in to the CVP Midlands showroom in order to let us have a quick ‘play’ with a prototype of their Cinema Camera

Since it’s one of the most eagerly awaited products of recent years I thought I’d better share my observations with you!

The first thing that everyone at CVP who hadn’t previously seen the camera at NAB said was “I really didn’t expect it to be that big!” – It seems that most people expect the Cinema Camera to be not much bigger than an iPhone, yet the reality is that it’s a fairly chunky unit that weighs in at a hefty 1.8Kg for the body only… At this weight it’s far heavier than an SLR and the lack of any natural handgrip position means that in standard form it’s really suitable for tripod mount use only.  BMD are offering an optional pair of ‘cow horn’ style handgrips which will facilitate comfortable handheld use, however with both hands on the grips any kind of on-shot camera adjustments will be impossible without a focus puller and / or a (yet to be invented) BMD Cinema Camera remote control system!

The prototype was fitted with a Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 zoom lens and the camera’s approximately mFT (Micro Four Thirds) sized CMOS sensor delivers a crop factor of just over 2:1 when compared to using the same lens on a 35mm full-frame camera such as a Canon EOS 5D, so to achieve ‘standard’ angles of view you’ll need short focal length lenses (approx 24mm).  At 24mm f/2.8 (or any other setting) the camera’s depth of field is not as shallow you can achieve with a larger Super 35mm or full frame sensor equipped camera, so in order to get a shallower depth of field I would want to use either Zeiss’ new T/1.5 CP.2 Super Speeds or Canon’s f/1.2 prime lenses.

The Cinema Camera’s native sensitivity is a healthy ISO400 and at f/2.8 it delivered fully exposed images in our fairly dimly lit studio set.  Sensitivity can be increased to ISO800 and 1600 for lower light environments and the increase in noise was minimal.  Adjusting the EF lens’ iris is easy using the |< and >| buttons, however it is stepped, so for precise or in-shot iris adjustment you’ll need a proper manual iris lens.

The camera features both Thunderbolt and HD-SDI terminals, so we connected the camera’s HD-SDI output directly to a 42″ monitor and framed up a few shots in the demo studio.  Unfortunately the prototype was far from complete and non-recording so I can’t share any captured images with you, but what I can confirm is that the output images were surprisingly good considering the camera doesn’t feature any internal gamma curve adjustment or presets – Instead it’s set up to capture the widest possible dynamic range which can then be colorised in post production using the bundled Da Vinci Resolve software application (or any 3rd party grading software).  What this means is that in its native form, in most cases, untreated footage from the camera will look washed out…  It’s therefore aimed primarily at non-live productions!

The camera is equipped with a peaking function for accurate focusing – This is activated by a physical ‘focus’ button and it greatly facilitates accurate determination of the focus point, even with the integrated monitor…  And on the subject of that monitor I was pleasantly surprised with its image quality and also the clarity and ease of operation of the touch screen menu system.  Whilst only a limited number of set up parameters could be changed on the prototype , where adjustments could be made it was a cinch!  The brightness & contrast of the display will be adjustable through the menu system, however the prototype was preset to a fairly low brightness level suitable for use indoors – I’m hoping that the panel can be set bright enough to allow outdoor use, as otherwise a third party EVF will be essential.  Actually, the truth is that if you buy one of these cameras you will need a third party EVF for handheld operation anyway!  It’s worth noting that the pictured LCD viewfinder sunshade (hood) is included with the camera.

One of the major differences between this camera and every other dedicated camcorder on the market is that more in common with Apple’s iPhones, iPads & iMacs the BMD Cinema Camera has a non-removable internal battery.  This battery allows only about 1.5 hours of constant operation between recharging, so if you want to use it on location you will definitely need a supplementary battery system for all but the most brief of shoots.

Whilst we’re on the subject of the extras you’ll need in addition to the camera body itself here’s a quick list of the essentials:

  1. Lenses
  2. BMD approved SSD Media
  3. Supplementary battery power supply & cable
  4. Solid ND Filters
  5. Matte Box
  6. Rig & EVF for handheld & shoulder-mount use

Of course the number 1 question we asked is “When do we get our stock” and the absolute truth of the matter is that Blackmagic are un-reassuringly vague on this point, saying merely that deliveries will start in July BUT at the moment precise dates and delivery quantities can’t be confirmed!

From that we presume that initial deliveries may be constrained, so  we may still be fulfilling customer back-orders for some time…

So we apologise in advance to those customers who are understandably eager to get their cameras – When the Cinema Camera was announced on day one of NAB CVP ordered more than enough units to cover all orders to date and we’ve ordered more since, so we, and hence our customers are at the front of the queue for delivery – However it’s clearly going to be a frustrating wait for the vast majority and our best advice is that if you want one of these cameras and haven’t ordered it yet then do so without further delay as orders will be fulfilled in order of placement and we realistically don’t expect to see it in ‘free stock’ for some time!

As another well known manufacturer says to those waiting for their forthcoming products “Expect delays and you won’t be disappointed!”

18 thoughts on “A Quick Hands-On with the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

  1. Will a servo zoom be available? And do BMD have definite plans for a remote control?

    1. At the moment there are no EF mount servo zoom lenses available. You could use a PL adaptor and then a Fujinon ZK4.7×19 19-90mm or Angenieux Optiomo with servo zoom handgrip BUT these are many times more expensive than the camera itself! Most users will probably opt for a 24-70 and 70-200 as a standard lens set and just avoid zooming!

      As for a remote control there are no official plans for this that we’re aware of yet!

  2. I think BMD is go wrong with canon eos mount choiceable. It is near to m43 crop.. so whay not joint with m43 system? in m43 system BMD can go with many lens mount. Remember BMD is proffesional product, olympus 43 system have many delicious lens that can make BMD so wonderfull.

    just for my 5 cent.

  3. The crop factor is a non issue. The M4/3 world has addressed the crop factor by making lenses to specifically address this – Teh outstanding Voigtlander 17.5mm f.95 – Voigtlander 25mm f.95 – Other standard lenses become your portrait and zooms. This camera is ALL about M 4/3 stepping up to RAW… or Canon people dipping down to get RAW. If I owned Canon glass and 5D etc, I would probably pass… or just get one of these – The price of a new EF lens! This camera was made for shooting in 8bit-4:2:0-killing lighting conditions, and seems like a great thing to have on an interview location, where you get one chance to nail the lighting -> but have RAW to save the day in post.

    Being heavier, at least a little weight helps stabilize the sensor, dampening some wiggle while shooting. The GH1/2 is a “baby-camera”, weighs almost nothing, but sometimes you wish it was heavier, believe it or not, because it jitters like holding a cellphone. So far, it looks like this BMD cam will solve 2 things I am loking for: Monitor I can focus with (GH1/2 have no ext monitoring solution), and RAW to allow a lot more freedom in post (at a 4X cost in storage!). Metadata is very cool as well.. and being able to set the filename.. add notes.. etc to shots on the set is a time saver… although how practical?

    I think they built this cam to address practicality. There are tradeoffs… shooting handheld is a tradeoff (and handheld shooting is not a great idea with rolling shutter), but I think their price reflects that. This is the only cam that has a price this low that you can shoot with ‘as is’ (if you have a lens), in RAW that is over $16,000 cheaper that any other solution.

    All this said, I have NOT pre-ordered one. I am still using GH1’s to great effect, and I do not like to buy 1st revisions unless I have to have certain features. Maybe later this year, I would pick one up if they are shipping -> right now there is nothing out there that does what it does for 3x-6x the price.

    1. It was on continuously for a couple of hours during testing and did get warm but not what I’d call hot!

  4. Small sensor.
    Less depth of field than a DSLR.
    Native ISO too high.
    Not much choice of lenses.
    Internal battery is non removable.
    Heavy.
    The supplied software has no Linux support !

    No way I would purchase this.

    1. “Small sensor”

      So what. A lot of feature films have been shot on a smaller medium (Super 16mm).

      “Less depth of field than a DSLR.”

      5D’s aren’t the norm for depth of field. APS-C cameras are closer to what Super 35 is (what most people are seeing in major motion pictures). This is only a 1.5x on top of APS-C.

      “Native ISO too high.”

      RED Epic, Canon C3/500 and ARRI Alexa cameras are all ISO 800 (850 for Canon). This is normal and addressed by using filters.

      “Not much choice of lenses.”

      Only the entire set of Canon EF lenses, Carl Zeiss and Carl Zeiss Compact Primes with EF mount…

      “Internal battery is non removable.”

      Use external batteries, like most cinematographers have to.

      “Heavy.”

      Lighter than a RED Epic, ARRI Alexa and C300, even the Digital Bolex which has a smaller sensor.

      “The supplied software has no Linux support!”

      I suspect their target market more often than not does not use Linux.

      DSLRs produce terrible video for any seriously gradable image. I’m glad I pre-ordered.

  5. Why are people interested in a camera that has a battery life of 1.5 hrs?
    My shoot days ,of late,are 14 hrs long -this is surely a crazy design fault
    And whilst i’m on the subject-who buys a camera with cropping issues ,where the Zeiss/Canon glass costs twice the price of the body?
    Maybe i’m missing the point,but this camera isn’t for me…..

    1. Can’t imagine using this as a main camera, the form factor is just too tricky. I am sure there will be some great uses for it though as the image quality sounds amazing and it is incredibly small.

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