I haven’t had a chance to post a new blog for quite some time as I’ve spent the last month moving to Los Angeles. But at NAB today, Blackmagic Design dropped two new bombshells on the film making community that warranted an immediate post.
For those of you that don’t know yet. The two new cameras that came out were the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. Neither of these two new cameras are set out to replace the current Blackmagic Digital Cinema Camera, but rather round off their lineup – presumably in hopes to satisfy a wider demographic after having some backlash over choices they have made with the original version in regards to sensor size and mount. Currently, I own the original EF model and am extremely happy with it. It’s far from perfect, and I’m working around it’s limitations as I do with any camera I own, but the results are truly remarkable. I can only assume that the same DNA will be present in these new cameras and that they too will continue to dazzle indie film makers around the globe.
The specs for both cameras are readily available on www.blackmagicdesign.com, but in a nutshell, the Pocket Camera shoots a maximum resolution of 1080p onto SD cards from a S16mm sensor and uses a MFT mount. The Production Camera 4K shoots at 4K resolution onto SSD’s from a near Super 35mm sensor and has an EF mount (PL to come in the future). Both cameras can shoot ProRes currently, but in future firmware updates will be able to shoot a new compressed version of Cinema DNG which will be a huge relief for those of us that want to keep file sizes down without losing the flexibility of a raw workflow.
What I love about Blackmagic is that they cause disruption within the industry. They create (or in some cases, re-create) tools that are of extremely high quality but also very affordable. They’ve done this with DaVinci Resolve, Teranex, and most recently with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera – amongst other things. But out of their entire lineup, I would speculate that the Pocket Camera will be the most disruptive of any of their cameras, and probably out of any of their products period. The big reasons being affordability and quality. Right now, most ultra low budget productions lean towards shooting on DSLR’s which may very well become a thing of the past for many shooters soon. Although no images have been released as of yet from the Pocket Camera, based on the specs alone it will blow just about any DSLR out of the water. And the camera is under $1000. Based on these two factors, there is no doubt that Blackmagic will sell these things like they’re go-pro’s and we’ll soon see them flying off the shelf (that is if they manage to get them on the shelf in the first place). Just like with the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera, there is going to be a HUGE market for these little cameras, and in capable hands they will be able to bring dramatically better results to no-budget productions, bringing them that much closer in look and feel to budgeted films. This will directly affect the DSLR manufacturers that are catering to the video market.
Sure, there will always be shooters that need a 5D or a GH3 – in most cases because they also shoot stills. But strictly talking about the true indie film maker, why spend thousands more on a 5D MKIII, when you can buy one of these, use the rest of your camera budget for beautiful MFT glass and get far superior results with a few bucks left over. It’s a no brainer for many. Again, there will always be those that need a DSLR, but I don’t doubt this camera will put a massive dent in that market, as it will with other prosumer level camcorders that are being used on indie productions. This camera really has so much going for it, and in such a small package. That in itself is also one of the biggest benefits. For guerilla film makers or documentary shooters, the ability to hold raw 1080p image capture in your pocket is exceptionally powerful. And on the high end, I don’t doubt we will start to see this used regularly on Hollywood level productions as a crash cam or C-cam to hide in small spaces.
Now, let’s talk about the Production Camera 4K. Another absolutely amazing piece of technology. It is essentially the same design/build as the original EF camera but with a Super35mm sized sensor and the ability to capture 4K. The very fact that you can get a camera like this for under $4000 is nothing short of astonishing. But although in some ways it has a leg up over the original Cinema Camera, in other ways it has taken a step back. It has 1 stop less of Dynamic Range and a lower base ISO, which will mean it will be less sensitive in low light. These aren’t by any means deal breakers, but in the context of how this camera will change the market – I don’t see it affecting things any differently than the original camera did. I think it will essentially appeal to the same market, and depending on what your needs are, some buyers may still opt for the 2.5K version. For bigger budget productions, the biggest upside to this camera (the price) won’t necessarily be a selling point. Camera rental price is such a small fraction of an overall production budget, that typically shooting on an Alexa or a Blackmagic wouldn’t make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. So ultimately, I believe that this camera will appeal to the same demographic as the current 2.5K model. That’s not to say that in many ways it may be a better camera for many scenarios (especially if you want the S35mm look), but simply to state the fact that I don’t think it’s affect on the industry will be as large as the Pocket Camera.
For me personally, I have already pre-ordered both of the new cameras, but may very well cancel my order for the 4K model. My current BMCC is working beautifully and in some ways I still have a hunch that it may lend itself better to the type of film look I am after. 4K is absolutely the future, but more often than not when shooting 4K on RED I end up with footage that looks overly sharp and starts to feel more like video again. Until I see some footage from the new 4K Blackmagic Camera, I’m not sure I want to commit to it. I’m sure it will have its place, but I’m not certain if that will align with my purposes as much as the current model. It is possible that it will be best suited for episodic/live TV or documentary work for all I know at this point. After all, even in RAW mode, the Alexa still only shoots 2.7K and we all know how nice that looks. Resolution certainly isn’t everything. Conversely though, it may be a necessary step up from the current model, but at this point – If it ain’t broke, why fix it. I think I may just love the 13 stops of DR and 800 base ISO too much to take a step back. We’ll see though – I need a few days to digest!
Regardless of who adopts what, the one thing that’s certain is this will cause a disruption on the industry. How can Canon get away with charging $15,000 or more for a C300 that only shoots 8bit when for $995 you can get a raw image out of a Pocket Camera. Obviously these are for different markets, but still there is a point to be made. The customers that enjoy the form factor of a traditional video camera will surely start to question why they need to pay an extra $14,000 for XLR inputs and built in ND’s.
I’m shocked that Canon, Sony, Panasonic and the rest of the major camera manufacturers haven’t come up with anything this year to rival the Blackmagic camera, but then again it would probably throw the rest of their product lines off course. I look forward to seeing the ripple effect that this causes, and I’m sure NAB 2014 will be just as exciting.
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!