All of the news and product releases at NAB last week were exciting to be sure, but the unveiling of Blackmagic's Cinema Camera is the one bit of news that has my full attention and Canon and Nikon would do well to key a very close eye on it.
If we're being honest, the price of creating a professional-caliber production, whether it's a documentary or commercial or music video, has plummeted in the past few years. With the high quality, low cost DSLR market opening the doors to new filmmakers and the modular, fully expandable digital cinema cameras like the RED Epic and Arri Alexa making truly filmic output readily available for a fraction of its former cost, it's a good time to be in the industry. There exists a significant gap between these two extremes, however, one that's ripe for some disruption, and that's where BlackMagic's Cinema Camera fits nicely.
The Playing Field
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is groundbreaking in a lot of ways: the first camera to have a Thunderbolt port, the first 2K camera under $3000, and the first camera, period, from BlackMagic Design. It has a handful of features that would fit right in on cameras costing well over $10,000, but is priced in such a way that it doesn't compete with them. Rather, Blackmagic has set its sights squarely on the DSLR market. For all of the recent announcements from Canon and Nikon, the DSLR market has begun to stagnate with only modest boosts to ISO performance, megapixels, and sensor sizes rather than improving areas that deperately need it like audio (inputs) and form factor.
It seems like Canon saved a majority of their groundbreaking video features for cameras like the C300 and C500, which makes good sense from a business perspective, but in doing so they've made the release of their flagship DSLR, the 5DMkIII, seem a little lackluster. While they brought some rather compelling features like 4K recording to the EOS-1D C, at $15,000 for the body only I'm a little curious who they think will actually buy it. Nikon has only just recently stepped up their game and acknowledged that there's even a market for DSLRs and released the rather impressive D800 and D4. Up until this BlackMagic announcement, I was pretty much set on the D800 as my next major camera purchase because I was stunned by how well it handled high motion and low-light situations, but that's no longer the case for me and, perhaps, many other folks as well.
The Camera Itself
The camera's sensor is 15.6mm x 8.8mm, which is actually a bit smaller than some prevalent Micro 4/3 cameras currently in production like the Panasonic GH2, so the crop factor for your lenses will be a bit higher than you're used to, especially if your current weapon of choice is the full-frame, crop-free 5DMkII. However, if you can look beyond that shortcoming, there's a lot to love.
Perhaps most impressively, this camera can record raw 12 bit CinemaDNG files with 13 stops of dynamic range. I've also read that if you're not setup to accommodate CinemaDNG files, you can choose to record directly to Apple ProRes for use in Final Cut Pro or DNxHD for editing with Avid. This will save people a ton of time as their footage will basically be editable as soon as its shot
As mentioned earlier, this is the first camera to have a built-in Thunderbolt port but it also comes equipped with HD-SDI, two 1/4" audio jacks, and a headphone jack for monitoring audio. It's basically everything you need wrapped up in beautiful machined aluminum design.
The extra stuff that will really set this camera apart is the capacitive LCD on the back which can be used for both monitoring footage as well as entering data, the use of standard EF lenses, and the inclusion of both DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope, two products also developed by BlackMagic. I've played around with DaVinci Resolve a bit since their entry version is completely free and am sold on the claims that it's one of the most powerful color correcting programs currently available. With my limited knowledge I was able to significantly improve a few scenes that I shot. UltraScope is something I've never heard of, but seems incredibly useful: viewing accurate scopes and audio levels on any computer connected via Thunderbolt. A laptop is something that's usually out with you on a shoot anyway, so to have all of that information available with instant feedback as you change shutter speeds or f-stops is a godsend.
What BlackMagic is doing here, beyond upsetting the natural order of things, is laying a groundwork for their future. This type of quality in a camera at this price point utilizing this kind of interoperability with their other products means one thing: they're just getting started.
For the DPs, Cinematographers, and Filmmakers
BlackMagic is clearly taking a few cues from Apple here: simplifying across the board, creating a product as beautiful as it is functional, and fostering an experience as opposed to just being a cog in the machine. Including a copy of DaVinci Resolve will not only get people using it, but it'll get people talking about how great it is to use. People like myself who were unaware of what UltraScope is might be interested in scooping up the hardware version for use in their own production workflows. Hell, I've taken a close look at almost all of BlackMagic's other products and have added more than a few to my watch list.
Unless there are significant image quality or low light issues, which certainly doesn't seem to be the case, this camera will do incredibly well. The DSLR market has an honest rival here that shouldn't be taken lightly. What BlackMagic is aiming for, no doubt, is furthering their reputation as a company that's deeply entrenched in all manner of digital filmmaking. I have no doubt that we'll soon see a professional or high end version of this camera, also competitively priced, that shoots 4K, supports more framerates for slow/fast motion, and maybe even has that full-frame sensor everyone goes crazy over.
Not since the RED One have I so eagerly anticipated a product reaching the professional video market, the difference being that this camera is within the budget that I currently operate at as opposed to the perpetually just-out-of-reach REDs. BlackMagic has broken the mold in an excellent and completely unexpected way. Their Cinema Camera is what we hoped the 2nd generation of DSLRs would be, but both Canon and Nikon have clearly missed that mark by a long shot.