It’s a great day for anyone waiting on their 4K Blackmagic Production Camera as the first footage from the camera has finally been released. This means we are getting much closer to actually seeing these cameras getting shipped and into the hands of DP’s, Directors and Producers that have been patiently waiting for quite a while now. Unfortunately it’s been a very long wait for those who have been waiting on the camera since it was announced last April, but thankfully there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. Much like the delays associated with Blackmagic’s first camera, the culprit that was causing this cameras delay was also a sensor issue. The issue seems to have now been solved, but I would still speculate that it will be some time before we actually see these hitting the shelves as they will likely start to roll out in small numbers initially as we saw with the original BMCC.
In terms of the footage itself, Grant Petty (CEO of Blackmagic Design) just released a 10GB zip file that is downloadable here. It includes all of the 4K files that were shot by him personally as a test. If you don’t want to download the 4K package yourself, I’ve uploaded a 1080p video file of the shots to Vimeo for you to check out. I’ve included both the ungraded footage and a lightly graded version of the shots as well:
So how does it stack up to the original BMCC? At this point it’s tough to draw comparisons as the camera is not yet finalized and this was shot by the CEO of the company, not a dedicated DP. Even so, I do believe it gives us an accurate representation of what we can expect with the camera as it’s unlikely to change drastically from here. Judging the footage based on these clips alone, the look is closer to the original BMCC than I thought it might be considering they are using two different sensors. I would have to say though that I personally still have a preference for the original BMCC footage, and even the Pocket Camera footage over the new 4K material. What attracted me to the original BMCC was the dynamic range and Alexa-like quality of the images. Based on these clips, there’s definitely still a very nice amount of dynamic range, but it does seem to be noticeably less than the original BMCC. In some shots is more noticeable than others, but particularly I don’t feel that it’s holding detail in the shots of the sky/clouds as well as the BMCC can. That was to be expected as the 4K sensor is rated at 12 stops which is 1 stop lower than the 2.5K camera. In fairness to the 4K camera though, it is tough to judge these shots when not compared directly beside a 2.5K camera to measure the difference. And it’s also worth noting that the shots may be clipping in the sky because the exposure wasn’t set perfectly. Regardless I think it’s safe to say that the original BMCC will outperform the 4K camera as far as dynamic range which shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.
This quote from Grant Petty is also worth noting:
This camera is not a low light camera, however I have included some clips at night so you can see that. I spent a few weeks wandering around with the camera taking some different types of shots. One shot of the jetty has some clipping in the sky to see the affect of clipping. All the shots are ProRes as I did not shoot RAW. I did notice that later when the guys did some more tests on the camera and lens that it was not shimmed correctly so I think the results could be better than this. Some of the shots have different shutter angles and I used standard still camera lenses.
The two things I take away from this are: 1 – The footage is likely going to improve to some degree from this test footage, and 2 – It isn’t a great low light camera. Number 2 is something to really take into consideration especially for those of you that still haven’t upgraded from your 5D or other DSLR and are considering an upgrade. The BMCC (2.5K) is still one of my favorite cameras out there but it really isn’t a low light camera either and takes some getting used to if you’re coming from a camera that is great in low light. Grant’s statement leads me to believe that this camera probably doesn’t even perform as well as the original BMCC in low light, which may mean that you 800 ASA is where you should always be shooting if you want really clean footage. Once again this is just speculation though as I haven’t shot with the camera myself.
The biggest benefit to this camera is of course the global shutter, which differs from a rolling shutter in the way it captures the images and effectively can eliminate those micro jitters and skew associated with BMCC, DSLR, RED, and other cameras that suffer from rolling shutter artifacts. I’ll admit though, I thought the rolling shutter on the initial BMCC would give me a lot more trouble than it ever has. Because the camera is relatively heavy, it really helps to stabilize the footage by naturally acting as a buffer between your hand and the sensor. Rolling shutter is more of an issue on the Pocket Camera as the body is so small and there isn’t anything to absorb the shock of even light movement, which ends up hitting the sensor. The point being, the 4K camera will always have an edge when it comes to fast motion and whip pans, but in most real life shooting situations there may not be a huge difference.
Here’s another interesting quote from Grant Petty:
The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is very different to our other cameras, but I personally think it’s quite filmy in its look, even though it’s not really a digital film camera but more of a general production camera.
This really put things in perspective for me because I was having trouble wrapping my head around this camera when it was first announced. I understood that it shot 4K, but didn’t necessarily see it as a step up from the BMCC as it was said to have less dynamic range which is one of the factors that really made the original BMCC produce such amazing images. But this statement really cleared things up. It seems like the intention with this camera is to use it more in a broadcast environment than in a narrative film environment. I don’t believe this is the camera for indie filmmakers on a budget (even though the camera is still very cheap). This is a camera for single or multi camera episodic television or other broadcast studio work, all of which will be well lit and as such not demanding a camera that can shoot at a high ISO or with 13 stops of dynamic range. It’s an affordable way to shoot 4K on productions that want to future proof by having Ultra HD masters, but don’t need an ‘available light’ camera that can shoot in the dark.
I’m glad Blackmagic is releasing this camera and I really do think there is a place for it. That said, I don’t see it’s impact being nearly as big as the Pocket Camera or the original BMCC and can’t see myself buying it because I mainly shoot narrative independent films, not episodic television. Global shutter is great, but not at the expense of dynamic range (speaking for my own work), and as it currently stands I still prefer the image off the BMCC even though the two are close. Hopefully by the time I am actually delivering 4K regularly there will be another iteration of the 4K camera that has both global shutter and the added dynamic range, but for now we can’t have everything!
You also might want to check out an article I wrote a while back titled Why Blackmagic’s Pocket Cam Will Be More Disruptive Than The 4K Production Camera.
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!