Blackmagic – Cinema Camera – and what it means to me

Blackmagic Design announced at NAB 2012 their new Cinema Camera: 30 fps 2.5k RAW files in 12-bit CinemaDNG format, plus bundled DaVinci Resolve 9.0 color grading software.


My previous video camera was a Sony VX1000e MiniDV, which I used to create nature videos in Canada. This is a major step up :)

Sony DCR VX1000e - Wikipedia

Low-res DV nature video footage link

Currently I take many more photographs than video, and color grading in Lightroom to me is essential and enjoyable. Occasionally I’ll try exposure fusion as well.

My Canon 550D purchase was both an upgrade from the Nikon D40 in still photo resolution and HD video replacement for my Sony VX1000e. Coming from film photography in my teens, what I missed most with the Sony was a selection of lenses.

Click to view my Flickr portfolio.

Getting into the Canon also meant buying EF ‘L’ series lenses and legacy M42 primes for a different feel to the image. The 550D’s APS-C sensor still feels ‘off’ to me due to the crop sensor, but as a price/quality compromise it’s suited to my purposes – light, portable, and excellent quality. Paired with the Magic Lantern hack I get back most of my video functionality.

My TARDIS tour video from the Doctor Who Convention

TARDIS Tour 2012, Doctor Who Convention – Canon 550D + Tokina 11-16mm f2.8

I’m enthusiastic about color grading. Not as enamored with lighting and photographing ‘flat’ to suit the latitude of grading, although it’s the way to go for max choice in post. With the HDSLR it’s back to 8-bit color space. I’d been wishing for a way to combine the bit depth and color processing of my still photos with the higher quality video HDSLRs and lenses offer.

Black Magic Design have manifested my wish into the world.

First though the compromises: first and foremost, sensor size. The imaging sensor is somewhere in between Super-16mm film and Micro 4/3, with a crop factor of around 2.3x compared to 35mm film and full-frame sensors. This translates into less low-light ability and difficulty securing ultra-wide angle shots.

blackmagic cinema sensor size

Now the benefits as I see them, and they are many.

For (less than) the price of a Canon 5D Mark III, I’d have a device that works with my current Canon, M42 and Pentax-M lenses, whilst matching my still photography in terms of bit depth and color correction space.

With a 13-stop dynamic range, forest location contrasts and ‘filmic’ look becomes possible. I can capture footage in a wide variety of settings and have the latitude to explore the emotional impact of a shot in post.

The built-in battery doesn’t bother me at all. An in-built battery does away with all the superflous plastic and metal casing, and functions as a backup for an external battery belt or other technology.

The crop factor gives me pause, mostly because it restricts ultra-wide angle use and shallow depth of field.

I like shallow DOF because in the right context this effect conveys increased intimacy, adding a sense of other-wordly presence to the subject.

Memorial in Prague for Vaclav Havel

That said, the compromise then to me would be to plan the shot and use either the 550D or a 5D Mark II to capture that particular ultra-wide angle of view.

Even at 80% of the dream spec for the purchase I’d access a cinema-presentable quality image that lets me explore the motion sequence in post as I would otherwise explore a still image in Lightroom.

What about lenses?

As for the nature videos, a purchase of a modest Canon EF L 300mm IS lens buys 600mm reach, or 800mm with a 1.4x teleconverter. My PSix 180mm CZK 2.8 lens becomes roughly a 400mm f2.8 lens. Bases covered.

Looking to extreme close-ups, the Cinema Camera will also accept my bellows/extension tubes/macro lens combo, adding cinema quality to my extreme close-up termite, ant and bee photography.

European Paper Wasp

The Cinema Camera chassis is small enough to backpack as I would an SLR, a match with hiking and biking nature locations or walking urban locations. My preference is for composed shots on tripod. I don’t really need the chassis and extras essential in a production setting which a hired professional would bring as a matter of course.

Without hands-on time, my final opinion is positive. Whereas Canon had created an SLR with usable video options, Blackmagic Design have answered with a cinema camera with SLR connectivity.

My vote for Blackmagic’s Cinema Camera: 80% spec, 150% value for the stories I could tell with it out of the box, not another lens needed, for the price of a DSLR. Signed and sold.

On another note, please check out my iPad game, SteamPunk Hockey HD:

Apple Store Link Website: http:www.steampunkhockey

Photographed with Nikon D40