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Blackmagic Cinema Camera: Putting It Through the Paces

Blackmagic Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Cinema Camera

 
It has been almost two 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.

 

Blackmagic Pocket Camera

Blackmagic Pocket Camera

 
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

BMCC, Arri Alexa, Sony F5
 
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.

“The Lenses”

The BMCC lens is a Canon 8-64mm old style zoom from the ‘70s.
The Arri Alexa lens is the Panavision Primo 75mm.
The Sony F5 lens is the Panavision Primo 75mm.

Canon 8-64mm Zoom

Canon 8-64mm Zoom

Panavision Primo 75mm

Panavision Primo 75mm

camera tests

“More Tech Specs”

BMCC with EOS Mount
Letus BMCC Cage and Sliding Baseplate
AlphaTron EVF
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

 

Shane with the BMCC

Shane with the BMCC

Shane with the Sony F5

Shane with the Sony F5

“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.
 

BMCC and F5

 
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.
 

BMCC fill test

 
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 F5 side by side fill test

 

Watch this video in 1080p on Vimeo.
 

Arri Alexa

Arri Alexa

“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.
 

BMCC vs ALEXA FILL test

 
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.
 

BMCC vs ALEXA FILL test

“The Background”

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.
 

Watch this video in 1080p on Vimeo.

“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 over exposed horizontal

“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!
 

BMCC LATITUDE UNDER exposed

 
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?
 

Author: Shane

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40 Comments

  1. I saw need for speed ….GREAT WORK !!!! I would love to see you do sci-fi……. I thought the native iso for the Black magic camera was 800 not 400. Please Advise

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    • Rapheal – Thank you, and sorry for the typo. You’re right – that should be 800 and we’ve updated in the post.

      Post a Reply
    • Is there a Blackmagic 4k review coming? I’ve seen a few reviews and would like to get your opinion on the quality and the global shutter vs other high-end cameras like the Arri Alexa.

      Post a Reply
      • We have some more info coming for the BMCC, but not the 4K model just yet. We’ll look into the potential of seeing what it can do in the future.

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  2. Shane – Love your blog. Thank you for providing these invaluable tests. I’ve owned the camera for about 8 months and haven’t done nearly enough testing myself. I’m looking forward to seeing what you might do with it in a narrative piece in the future.

    Post a Reply
    • Luke, thank you for those kind words and support. I would love that as well, got to find the right piece.

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  3. Hey Shane

    Fantastic article thank you, at the moment I shoot everything on the BMCC at prores and it’s quite scary at as I’m still learning about the camera so I’m really craving these posts.

    I’m shooting a short film at the moment and it’s all been shot on the camera, I’m really critical of the skin tones as I’m worried they’re too hot- it’s mostly outdoors and I’ve been lucky to have amazing weather on my side but I’ve been sticking ND 8 on my lenses and underexposing- if you have a chance could you check my tumblr, all the pics are from the BMCC –

    http://www.raybros.tumblr.com

    thx C

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    • Corry, thank you for your wonderful words. I looked at your images and keep doing what you are doing. They look very cinematic, what lenses are you using? Great job

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  4. Hi Shane, great job. Thanks for sharing your work. I was having a test with the new BMPC 4K and I had some unpleasant surprises. From white pixels constantly on screen to a very nasty fixed noise pattern in the shadows. I also tested Canon C 300 and Red Epic. Here is BMPC 4K:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJIWWQHvIPU
    Have you ever experienced this?

    Thanks, Luchian

    Post a Reply
    • Luchian, Thank you for your kind words. I have not had the opportunity to use the 4K version yet, looking forward to it though. Thanks for sharing

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  5. Thanks for sharing with us, Shane! The BMCC has been a great investment for me, and it’s awesome to see your testing methodology.

    Here is a test I did with the BMCC: http://vimeo.com/87841148

    I was curious to know if extreme over/under exposure had an effect on middle gray and the way skin tones were rendered. While shooting second unit, I was challenged on set by the DP that I wasn’t setting exposure by the middle gray point of the camera. My thesis was that as long as your exposure was consistent within a scene, you didn’t need to worry about where middle gray fell on the waveform monitor if you were shooting raw. You could hit the exposure slider, and middle gray would remain intact (due to the bit depth of the sensor). Exposing over/under would control the grain structure of the image and your clipping points. I was called lazy and unprofessional, so I created this test to make sure I was getting the best image out of the camera.

    The flaw with this test is that I’m using an older Nikkor lens. I feel this accounts for the red color shift wide open. If you look closely, there is some slight green/magenta shift as we go from stopped down to wide open. I feel this is the lens at work (since this lens is know to produce this color cast), but I haven’t replicated the test with another lens.

    Let me know what you think! Am I crazy?

    Post a Reply
    • Jared Caldwell, this is a very good camera to cut your chops on. I am a huge proponent of getting the middle grey area up to know that you can always bring the image back down. I found that on Need for Speed I underexposed the images a little too much because I was not looking at the middle grey values. I would not consider you lazy, it is just that things are changing so fast and rules that worked for one camera will not work for another. Difficult times in the camera etiquette side of things. Thank you so much for sharing all of this info.

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  6. Thank you for the informative post Shane !!!! BMCC been my camera of choice for a solid year now. Great quality picture. Of course it may struggle against big boys, but for the quality and price nobody even come close. Picture comes out extremely cinematic.

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  7. Great test! Your findings are interesting, as many in the Blackmagic community recommend ETTR (exposing to the right) and then bringing it back down – it appears you recommend the opposite, which would be in line with my findings too…

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    • Greg, Thank for the kind words, yes, everyone told me I had to overexpose this sensor but I find it right in the pocket at -1.

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  8. When seeing how far the BMCC EF can be exposed to the right without too much image degradation, I found it to still reproduce great colour as far as 2.5 stops above the native ASA! The most I have ever ETTR is 3.5 stops – but that scene did not have a high dynamic range, but when corrected it still looked great.
    Even in prores mode, when bringing back the exposure in post, it was not bad!
    This can be seen in this Raw vs Prores comparison video I did a while ago:
    https://vimeo.com/85360995

    I also noticed a great consistency with colour regardless of how far it was overexposed
    https://vimeo.com/75704863

    Great tests Shane, would have liked to see perhaps a more forgiving lens on the BMCC though.

    The BMCC has its quirks, but that image for that price – cannot be beat imo.

    -Tom

    Post a Reply
    • Tom Majerski, thank you for the kind words and for sharing all of this info. This is great!!! I agree, all good cameras that are small have their quirks. Hell I shot a movie on an untested still camera for christ sake. ha ha

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  9. Try the old Konica Hexanon AR 50mm 1.7 on the BMCC. You have to watch out for CA, but there is magic in that lens on the BMCC.

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  10. Hi Shane, Great test! Did you shoot raw or ProRes?

    I’m shooting with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, with dedicated BMPCC Speedbooster and an IR cut filter. With the Speedbooster it becomes effectively a crop 1.75, so closer to Super 35. As we know the Blackmagic camera’s have no built in IR filtration, so using an IR cut filter is a necessity I believe.

    The BM camera’s shine in daylight, with beautiful color and dynamic range. With tungsten light the color become a little dull or less pronounced. But the footage holds enough information to make it look good with grading. Skin tone is always a bit to red but easily corrected.

    I recently shot this teaser on the BMPCC:
    http://vimeo.com/95393842

    -Hans

    Post a Reply
    • Hans, that was all RAW, and thanks for your kind words and Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Great post as always, Shane, many thanks. I own a BMPC 4K and love the organic images it produces. I’ve not experienced any problems with the fixed pattern noise that’s been reported.

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  12. I shot my first film on the BMPCC on a bright day with lots of moving clouds, I thought I wouldn’t be able to use any of the shots where the sun burst out from the clouds but found I could bring the image back and used the moving light a number of times in the film. A very versatile little camera.

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  13. The BMCC definitely has a nice image I’m just not a big fan of the ergonomics of the camera.

    Post a Reply
    • It reminds me of the early stages of the 5D when it came out, putting it in a rig solves that problem baby!

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  14. YES!

    The BMC C 2,5 fits perfect in my work for little sf-thriller
    ( writer/director/3dman/postpro/sound/oneman army)(since doctor comes)
    and i can put all the organic shoots into the nuke compositions to bring
    it with studio-greenbox-shots in one direction.
    What i like is to take verry old and organic lenses ( some are from 1950)
    and mix the image dome lighning with 3d shots from other stils cam to one
    pice. The gap of fast interaction i solve in first with 6 kinekts and super
    slow action ( humans in there are 3d-meshes/z-brush..and so on) and refit this
    in rendering ( between arnold and vray..yes the doctors assitant is coming)
    to refit it in resolve-back to nuke-a.e( and others)-to line it in one perfect pice.
    nothing is lost-and it fits the skintones well ( former F3 work arronds is a good
    train..) And so one day in end 2014-it runs.
    Then i will go for a bigger one.. im just a writer with a camera wholives in protools
    with my synthis..
    cracy and out… h9

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  15. Thanks for the test! I think I’m most impressed with the F5 considering the Alexa and the BMCC were 2.5k Raw and the F5 was compressed 10bit 1080…Would like to have seen how the F5 in its raw form would have held up. Shane, have you experimented with the F5 with raw recorder? Any thoughts?

    Thanks for all the great info!

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  16. Thanks for these tests, Shane. Hadn’t noticed how the BMCC handled fill lighting so, much appreciated. But I do admit I preferred the BMCC throughout this test. The more red skin tone looked more natural, maybe because of the shadow falloff. Also looking forward to Tiffen releasing the Vari IRND filter. Keep us posted.

    Thanks again.

    Post a Reply
  17. Thank you so much for those tests. Your work is stellar and your commitment to teaching is unprecedented. What are your feeling’s about 5d mark III magic lantern RAW? Have you tested 5D RAW against the black magic cinema camera? Which would you go with? I’m a little conflicted. Thanks for your help.

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    • You’re welcome on the tests. I haven’t tested the 5Dmk3 yet with the RAW hack, but I plan to soon.

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  18. A little off topic, I was wondering if fog/haze would be overkill in “most” situations when used in conjunction with glass filtration like Tiffen Glimmerglass on cameras like the 5d and BMPCC. I understand that each situation is different but In most cases do you stick to one or the other? Would the combination overly soften the image and remove contrast? And lastly, if you had to choose between the two for the rest of eternity which would you go with, Glimmerglass or a Fog machine.:) Just looking for a little Info on the matter. Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with us!

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  19. Damn, it’d be really difficult to decide between these two for an A camera on certain films. On one hand, I like how the BMCC reacts to underexposure, where you can see much further into the shadows. Also it has a softness (but not Super 16 soft) akin to film more so than the Alexa and even more saturated (though as you’ve said, possibly due to Canon glass).

    On the other hand, while the Alexa looks like it dips hard into the blacks- right into a luma channel, the skin becomes more of a golden tone the further underexposed it gets. This may be great for period films where candle light within a palace of some sort would be a theme.

    BOTH great cameras. Maybe I should look into the BMPCC more than I have.

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  20. Good to read a professional’s take on this particular camera that isn’t negative. Although the camera has it’s flaws (what camera doesn’t) it’s image quality is truly filmic and beautiful. Thanks for your informative tests!

    I bought one (mtf version) recently and shot a steampunk music video for a friends band. I struggled with the colour grading (not my forte!) but as my first foray into using the BMCC (and resolve) it was a great litmus test of what this little camera can do.

    http://youtu.be/rDyWEXmxMsk

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  21. Just curious – if and how anyone is using the Thunderbolt feature of this camera?

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  22. Shane
    Thank YOU (and everyone else) for your kind words. In a world where hostility, rudeness, and fanboyism pollute the nets, I am glad to know there are places where politeness and compassion prevail.
    And by the way, what is the best mic for use with the BMPCC?

    Post a Reply
  23. Hi Shane,

    Very much looking forward to attending your Illumination workshop. I’m ready to take the plunge into video. Your reviews have been very helpful.

    Cheers,
    Zan

    http://www.ZanPhotos.com

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