Blackmagic Cinema Camera Review

Published on in Equipment / Tech Reviews

by Kholi Hicks

Blackmagic Design’s first Cinema Camera offers great value in a small package: 13 stops of dynamic range, 2.5K Resolution, Linear RAW data in an open-source format (Cinema DNG), options to acquire in high quality, straight-to-the-edit industry standard formats such as DNxHD and ProResHQ, as well as both PAL and NTSC options in one single unit.

These features, along with a modular form factor, create an instinctively new and worthy option for many productions that seek high quality with a low footprint whether the purpose is to match an existing camera for additional coverage, or as the primary image.

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s most valuable asset, however, is the unique picture it produces. At a time when many digital cameras produce a very similar look and feel, Blackmagic’s first Cinema Camera affords the end-user the ability to craft stand-out looks in motion. It provides a robust base image in all categories, which can be altered with confidence at nearly any stage of acquisition, to create some of the most unique and project-specific visuals to date.

Revealed to me over one year of extensive use on various types productions as well as consulting with producers, cinematographers, and future owners — the flexibility in operation and image fidelity that all in-camera recording formats offer, coupled with Blackmagic Design’s award-winning post production software DaVinci Resolve (full license included with purchase) allows the user to create a very unique, project specific look.

These points have influenced my decision on camera choice on numerous occasions, most recently in preproduction on a fiction short film, where the narrative’s design required a John Hughes feel and a poppy, nostalgic 80’s aesthetic. The options narrowed down to a tight shooting ratio on Super 16mm Film, a Super35 high resolution base with RED EPIC, and Blackmagic’s 2.5K cinema camera; I chose Blackmagic.

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s uniqueness begins at the sensor size, falling somewhere between micro-four thirds and a super16 film format. This initial characteristic impacts depth-of-field, perspective, and many other factors. The sensor size allows the use of fast lenses known as “Hyperprimes”, with minimum apertures as wide as 0.95, they combine with the camera in “lowlight” scenarios for interesting outcomes.

Many more inherent characteristics of the sensor’s design further influence the base image, including noise characteristics, motion cadence, and color reproduction. Digital imaging has long-since struggled with capturing skin in a faithful manner. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s sensor, along with Blackmagic Design’s background in post production color, brings the operator one step closer to consistent, accurate skin tones.

Each of these characteristics can be influenced at three junctions to manufacture a signature look for the project:

Before Acquisition

Choosing to “feed” the sensor more light yields less noise, while exposing for the final image produces a very “film-like” luminance noise pattern. Under-exposing shows a gritty, grungy image which may be appropriate for certain types of projects.

Unlike other digital cameras in its class, high quality recording options means lens choice also has a great impact on the base image.

Acquisition Format Choice

Cinema DNG is the RAW recording format in Blackmagic’s Cinema Camera. As a linear, 16-bit format (each frame stored in a 12-bit log CDNG file), the Resolve Operator is given freedom to alter the image with minimal degradation in the process at the expense of greater storage needs.

ProResHQ and DNxHD are compressed from the RAW signal in camera. The image is slightly softer than RAW, and less flexible, yet the 10-bit formats still provide ample information to mold from.

Choosing to acquire Cinema DNG in camera, then finishing from ProRes4444 2.5K masters has also become a viable and comfortable workflow for many. The ProRes4444 2.5K masters provide near-to-RAW image quality while requiring less space to archive.

Each choice slightly affects the final look.

Project Finishing

There are many ways to finish a project helmed on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. The included DaVinci Resolve software is suited to the task, some users may wish to explore different options.

Cinema DNG is an Adobe format, supported by many Adobe Products including Lightroom and Photoshop. These applications have extensive and developed tools for DNG processing that enable the operator to create more unique looks.

In the future, I would welcome a high frame rate option or a matching high frame rate camera from Blackmagic, more tools for exposure in camera such as a raw histogram, and more user-friendly display items such as remaining media.

For me, however, Blackmagic’s care in image crafting, and open-ended recording formats, affords the end-user with the ability to craft standout motion picture at a time when many digital cameras produce a very similar look and feel.

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