Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Putting It Through the Paces
- June 4, 2014
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
It has been a few years since I started prepping Need for Speed in the fall of 2012. The slew of camera tests that I conducted gave me a comprehensive ability to go inside the digital sensor and see how each camera functioned and what it could effectively deliver under a wide range of conditions. I came away with a full understanding of how to use the Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s (BMCC) full functionality and with perspective for some of its limitations.
Since shooting these tests, the Blackmagic Pocket Camera (BMPC) has been released and with a little testing, I found it looks and reacts exactly the same way as the BMCC. So use these tests as a benchmark to what the BMPC would look and feel like, which is pretty impressive for the price point of $995.00.
So why release these tests now? Well because there are many of you who use the BMCC as your capture device.
I thought it would be fun to show you how the BMCC performs in a little shoot out. How about a mud wrestling match on fill ratio, latitude and skin tone? I remember when I first came to LA, the place to go was the Tropicana for mud wrestling. It was the rage in the 1980s. The Tropicana is long gone but the image of mud wrestling is a good subject for our test. We are getting down in the muddy, underexposed nature of sensor technology. You remember the late great John Candy in Stripes.
“Skin tone is the vitality of a sensor”
I believe that how a digital sensor renders skin tone is the true test of image capture quality. WHY? Think about how you connect to characters; their emotion, their performance, their struggles, their happiness, their sadness, their expressions, their FACES. I work tirelessly to find the right sensor that delivers realistic skin tones and simultaneously portrays life and vitality in a dramatic way.
“The Fill Ratio Tests”
I took three cameras and compared the skin tones they produced along with how the sensor transitioned from light to dark. Finding a camera that responds the way you like as an artist is a very important part of this test.
The Main Event
In this corner, weighing 12.5 ounces and a length of 5 inches:
The Black Magic Cinema Camera.
In the next corner, weighing in at 13.7 pounds and a length of 13 inches:
The Arri Alexa.
In the third corner, weighing in at 4.8 pounds and a length of 7.1 inches:
The Sony F5.
“The Formats and Native ISOs”
The two cameras that we compared to the BMCC at 2.5K RAW @ Native ISO 800 were the Arri Alexa shot at 2.5 K ARRI RAW @ Native 800 ISO and the Sony F5 shot at 1080 @ Native ISO 2500. A mixed bag, but the comparison was very informative.
“More Tech Specs”
BMCC with EOS Mount
Letus BMCC Cage and Sliding Baseplate
O’Connor HD 10-30 Fluid Head
Sachtler Medium Duty Sticks
Anton Bauer 90 Dionic Batteries
Anton Bauer P-Tap Breakout
Arri MFF-2 Follow Focus
Letus MCS Top Handle Kit
Letus MCS Medium EVF Knuckle
Letus MB-1 Matte Box
“BMCC vs F5”
These cameras look very good next to each other. While Sony cameras are not necessarily my first choice, I do find certain functional utility in the Sony F5. It produces great skin tones and looks very filmic. Dialing down the camera to 1080 gives it a certain magic for me. Any of the Sony cameras in 4K are way too sharp and deliver less than ideal, a video feel. The F5 delivers beautiful golden skin tones as well as providing coolness in the fill light. While the F5 seems to have much more contrast as I decrease the fill level, the fall off was more radical than the BMCC. The BMCC held the detail and trailed off into the shadows very effectively, all the way down to -5 stops under exposed.
The BMCC delivered more redness in the skin tones, but that was likely a result of using old Canon glass. Their recipe on glass coatings has always been on the red side. You can see when I decrease the fill light, which I have added 1/2 CTB to, that the red color transitions to a more gold tone, but with the F5, it stays pretty consistent.
I felt the skin tones looked alive on the BMCC, albeit a little thin. The fall off into the shadows was amazing and really showed the power of this little sensor. I felt that using this old Canon glass really showcased its filmic nature.
Look at the background light tone on the pictures in the background. The BMCC sees it as a cyan color, which I like, but it lacks color vitality, so I will have to crank up the saturation a little more to match the F5. The Sony sees it more as a purple/ blue tone which helps our model, Monette Moio, separate a little more from the background. I believe I could get the BMCC in the pocket with a little more saturation and a tonal shift.
“BMCC vs Arri Alexa”
In the last test, I addressed what I felt the BMCC did well. I want to point out some if its limitations with regard to color information and depth.
When looking at the BMCC vs the Alexa at -2 fill level side by side, you can see how the Alexa, like the Sony F5, displays the cool fill tonality on her downside, which is her right side of her face, our camera left. The BMCC doesn’t display that coolness at all; the tones appear pooled in a more red/orange vibe.
The Alexa appears to have more color depth, where the BMCC looks a little thin. While saturation will help, there is a thinness that is evident. This will not be helped by cranking the old color knob. The BMCC lacks a degree of richness.
“The Fall Off”
Again, the BMCC shows its power in the shadow transition area compared to the Alexa. This is a major advantage for this camera. The transitions from light to dark are AWESOME! Images immediately feel more creamy and forgiving in nature.
The tonality on the wall in the background behind Monette is a visually appealing cyan tone on the Alexa, but a little too green on the BMCC. Again, I think this is no problem with a little color correction.
“Pushing the BMCC to its Breaking Point”
This is something that I learned from McG when we collaborated on two films, We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation. When he was in the color correction bay with me, he would ask the colorist to ruin it, destroy it and then review the results. These modifications may create a new look or a unique way to color a scene. I’ve always held on to this idea.
“BMCC Over Exposed”
We decided to really push the limits of the BMCC. I set up a test where I slowly, in 1/3 stop increments, over exposed the sensor and simultaneously brought the image back to normal to see how far we could stretch this camera. You quickly see that the little BMCC has spunk. + 2 and 2/3 stops over exposed was the threshold of losing detail in the male model’s face and not being able to bring it back. But overall very good.
“BMCC Under Exposed”
A significant advantage of the BMCC is its resiliency to being underexposed. These tests provide evidence for how you can underexpose the BMCC in ways that gain interesting night exteriors and unique image looks that you might not otherwise imagine.
For this next test, we are now going to under expose our image in 1/3 stop increments, to see how far we can push its underexposure and by doing this when it starts to get muddy and noisy. I worked carefully in keeping the image the same as we underexposed it and was very impressed in how far this camera could go way down. Even when I was all the way down to -3 stops under, I was able to bring the image back. When I went beyond that point, the detail in the shadow areas got really muddy and noisy. At -4 1/3 stops, I gave up, which you can see in the video. She goes BLACK! There are always limits to our creative ingenuity!
I’m confident this information will be as useful to you as it was for me. Take advantage of the knowledge I gained in putting this small little compact camera through its paces. For $1995.00, the BMCC is a great bargain. I will be using this camera more often with the right glass and armed with the insight I have obtained through extensive testing.
What tests have you done with your BMCC?