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Blackmagic Cinema Camera vs. Lumix GH3

Blackmagic’s lineup of cinema cameras are most often compared to cameras like the RED Epic, Arri Alexa and other raw shooting video cameras – and for good reason. They’re in the same league as the RED and Alexa mainly because of their ability to shoot raw, high dynamic range images that simply aren’t possible on any other compressed format, including DSLR’s.

But the big difference between the BMCC and any camera from RED or Arri is of course the price tag, and naturally a lower price is going to attract a different demographic of users of the camera. While the BMCC has sparked loads of curiosity within the professional film industry, most of the early adopters of this camera are up and coming film makers and artists that are on more limited budgets. And most of these people are coming from a DSLR background – like myself. For me, having shots hundreds of projects on DSLR’s, I was always hoping for a camera like the BMCC to come along that would close the gap between what was affordable and what was possible.

While in almost every way the BMCC fulfilled these needs and is of course a superior cinema style camera to any DSLR, it’s low price tag does come with some comprises. The one feature I really wish it had above all else is higher frame rates. Currently it maxes out at 30fps, and if you plan to shoot any slow motion material, that only allows you to slow down to 80% in a 24p sequence. My GH3 for example, can shoot 1080/60p and allows for some really beautiful slow motion that has impressed me from day one. I’m not a fan of overusing slow motion by any means, but I do like to use it tastefully and sparingly, and I like knowing my camera is capable of delivering a frame rate of at least 48fps.  The point is, that’s one very important function that my GH3 has that my BMCC doesn’t. And logically that’s going to mean that I – and likely many other BMCC shooters, are going to end up using GH3’s as b-cams to the BMCC.

The GH3 always felt like a natural fit with the BMCC for many reasons. The sensor size is pretty close (BMCC has a slightly smaller sensor), the BMCC is available in MFT (or at least it will be soon?), and the GH3 shoots 60fps at 1080p, which very few DSLR’s do. And lastly the GH3 has a very high resolution 1080p image and in my opinion, cuts nicely with the BMCC.

I’ll be directing a feature film in the late summer titled “Brother Sister” that will be shooting primarily on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. We will use an Epic for a few shots, but I will also be shooting B-roll, slow motion and 2nd unit material on the GH3 and will have it with me at all times on set. I’ll soon be posting some more information on the film, so please check back shortly for updates and behind the scenes info on what we’re doing.

With the upcoming feature on the horizon, I decided to shoot a few quick and dirty tests with the cameras to see how they would perform together. These are by no means scientific tests. They were purely done on the fly and there are lots of small variables that were out of my control. But that is how I like to test my cameras. I find just pulling them out and shooting is sometimes the best way for me to get an idea of how the cameras match up in a practical sense, as in reality that is how I’m going to interact with them on set. Not in a studio shooting test charts (although that can be an amazing way to really understand what’s going on under the hood).

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Take a look at the comparison video and see my notes below:

For a higher quality version of the test, please feel free to download this video directly from the vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/66950139

Low Light

For this test I had the Rokinon 35mm Cine Lens on both cameras, set to T1.5. It’s obvious from the footage that the GH3 is a noisier camera than the BMCC. While the GH3 is not an overly grainy camera by any means (I actually find it very clean at ISO 800 and below), in this type of scenario, the noise really starts to show. Even at relatively low ISO’s such as 400 and 800, you can clearly see some noise in the “in between areas”. The underlit mid tones always show noise more than the hot spots or the completely underexposed areas which appear quite black. The BMCC comparatively has lower noise all the way up to ISO 3200. Since the BMCC only shoots up to ISO 1600 in camera, I simply pushed the midtones in post to match the brightness level of the GH3 at ISO 3200. Even with the midtones pushed up, the noise pattern on the BMCC remains very smooth and filmic.

What this test also showed though was the big difference in dynamic range between the two cameras. On the BMCC I shot this on ProRes mode (I only used raw once on this shoot), and I don’t doubt that in raw the DR difference would be even more obvious. But even with ProRes, if you take a look at how much detail is lost on the candle flames on the GH3 at ISO 800, as compared to the BMCC at the same ISO, it’s pretty drastic. The BMCC really holds those highlights – you can truly see here the difference the BMCC makes.

One last note on this – the noise in the BMCC footage is much more pleasant, refined and easier to denoise with neat video as compared to the more digital looking, blocky noise present on the GH3 footage. This of course is largely due to the minimal compression of ProRes vs. AVCHD, however it is really apparent when you actually get it on your monitor and see the difference side by side.

Dynamic Range

Later on I’d like to do a more extreme dynamic range test, because this set up didn’t quite push the GH3 as far as it could have. This is a good sign for the GH3, as the way I had this set up would have definitely provided more of a struggle for other DSLR’s with less DR than the GH3. The GH3 also had an unfair disadvantage in this scenario as I shot this in raw on the BMCC. I did this because in a real life scenario, this is when I would shoot raw on the BMCC- When shooting a high contrast shot that could use that extra stop or so of dynamic range.

Obviously this was an area I knew the BMCC would be the clear winner in, but what I was pleasantly surprised about was the fact that the difference in this scenario wasn’t as huge as I thought. The GH3 held its own, proving to maintain a decent amount of detail when exposing for the highlights. If I had to shoot a slow motion sequence with this type of lighting, I would confidently do it with the GH3, knowing that I could match the cameras reasonably well in post.

The key with the GH3 is exposing for the highlights and not worrying too much about underexposing the subject slightly as the camera holds a decent amount of detail in the shadows and lower midtones.

Moire

The GH3 has never been terrible with moire, but it’s definitely exhibited more than its predecessor, the GH2. The BMCC has no OLPF and as a result it is quite prone to having issues with moire. With that said, for whatever reason in real life situations, neither camera has ever given me any real trouble with moire on an actual shoot.

I only had a couple hours to shoot with my BMCC today as I had to ship it back to Blackmagic in the late afternoon to get my flange fix completed. So this meant the whole shoot had to be done in and around my apartment. Almost nothing I was shooting (including clothing, bricks and other fabric) were creating moire on either camera. The only thing that did was my couch and I really had to look for it to get it to appear on either camera. I’m sure if I was able to venture out further I could find something to shoot that would have created a worse scenario, but this was the most I could get out of the cameras today. When shooting, I thought both cameras would look significantly worse as the image on both of their LCD’s looked like it had a ton of moire (more than on the actual footage). This was mainly because the image was downscaled to fit on the lower resolution monitors of course. But something to be aware of when you’re shooting.

With all that said, I would definitely say the GH3 comes out on top here. They’re pretty close, but the BMCC’s moire is a bit more pronounced. So in some scenarios the GH3 might be able to save you in a pinch, although it can still have it’s own issues with moire and shouldn’t be considered a fail safe.

Rolling Shutter

This was the most unscientific of all the tests in that I had to shoot each camera separately. I would have loved to have rolled them both at once to get a more accurate final result, but the longest lens I had with me at the time was a 50mm Canon EF mount, and I didn’t have any other 50mm to put on the GH3 at the same time. I could have shot on a wider lens and had both cameras rolling simultaneously, but the longer lens shows the rolling shutter a lot more clearly.

Once again, I think the GH3 is the winner here. And once again, they’re both close. There wasn’t a massive difference between the two, but to my eye, there was a noticeable increase of rolling shutter artifacts on the BMCC footage. This could be in part because of the slightly larger crop factor, but regardless it does seem to be there.

The flipside to this though, is that in real life shooting scenarios – the BMCC may actually have less rolling shutter issues, especially when it comes to micro-jitters. This is because the BMCC is a much heavier camera, so when shooting handheld or on a shoulder rig, it will likely be a lot more stable and as a result not have as many issues with jello.

And in conclusion…

I’m definitely more confident now using the GH3 for slow motion and b-camera shots alongside the BMCC. You need to take some extra care with the GH3 to ensure you set the look in camera more accurately, since you have a lot less flexibility in post. But once you’ve achieved the right look in camera, the GH3 holds its own as a solid slow motion/backup camera for the BMCC.

It seems to have less moire and rolling shutter issues than the BMCC, but is not as clean in low light and has much less dynamic range, especially when compared to BMCC in raw. It’s not the type of DSLR you’ll use to replace the BMCC in low light situations – as the BMCC is actually quite good in low light, and in my opinion pretty under rated.

The cameras are not nearly close enough of a match to use them in a multi camera environment, unless it’s documentary based and you’re going for that look. But for slow motion, really tight spots and other tricky scenarios, the GH3 holds up exceptionally well and is definitely a camera that compliments the BMCC very nicely.

If you’re interested in the Gh3, be sure to check out my comparison between the GH2 and GH3 as well as my article on shooting a feature film on the GH2.

And if you’ve had your eye on the Blackmagic pocket camera, check out this article discussing it’s impact as compared to the Blackmagic 4k camera. 

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

7 Comments

  • Marc
    August 5, 2013 at 7:36 am

    I’ve read this article again since landing some work with a helicopter company. Its most reassuring since I use the GH3 buying a second body instead of the BM pocket – or waiting to buy it. I’ll have to say the GH3 is brilliant in the field for many of the reasons listed above. Its a camera that just does it leaving my brain (such that it is) to 100% focus on the shots. I’m torn between 50p and 24p Intra. The advantage with 24p is the immediate slow mo frame rate up to 40% and 72mbps providing a high quality master. Being able to lower the frame rate in camera to help stabalisation is a brilliant feature.

    Great article, thank you.

    Reply
    • Noam
      August 14, 2013 at 5:53 pm

      Hi Marc,

      Yes the GH3 is really excellent for the type of application you’re likely using it for. It’s always a toss up between frame rates, however one thing to note that in most scenarios the 24p mode will look better when shooting at 50mbps rather than the 72 Intra mode. Just one of the quirks of this camera!

      Reply
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  • Marc
    June 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Hi, You mentioned AVCHD for the GH3 – surely not.

    If not did you use the 50 or 72mbps setting.

    Cheers

    marc

    Reply
    • Noam
      June 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm

      This was using the 72mbps setting, but I would also like to do further tests in 50mbps mode as apparently that can be cleaner, especially in low light.

      Reply
  • Muh
    June 5, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    This is awesome, thanks for doing this! These two cameras are the ones I keep coming back to…the images generally look good, and with proper grading look amazing. And I’ve been deciding which to get. I might lean to the GH3 because of some of the other things that it does, and the fact that I don’t need the big battery and more expensive cards and such, and the sound meter is good too. But they both seem pretty great to me.

    Reply
  • Xiong
    May 28, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Great information as always, will be looking forward to your update soon on your new project, especially actually using the BMCC on a real life project rather then tests.

    Reply
    • Noam
      June 2, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      Thank you Xiong, I will definitely be posting about it soon, and releasing my experience with it on some other film making blogs as well. Check back soon for updates!

      Reply
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