Blackmagic movie cameras are most often compared to cameras like the RED Epic, Arri Alexa and other raw video cameras – and for good reason. They play in the same league as RED and Alexa, largely due to their ability to take raw, high dynamic range images that are not possible with any other compressed format, including DSLRs.
But the big difference between the BMCC and any RED or Arri camera is, of course, the price, and of course a lower price will attract another demographic group of users of the camera. While the BMCC has sparked a lot of curiosity in the professional film industry, most of the early users of this camera are aspiring filmmakers and artists with limited budgets. And most of these people have DSLR backgrounds – like me. After shooting hundreds of projects on DSLRs, I always hoped for a camera like the BMCC that would bridge the gap between what was affordable and what was possible.
While the BMCC has met these requirements in almost every way and of course is a superior cinema-style camera over any DSLR, the low price comes with some components. The only feature I really wished it had was higher frame rates. The maximum speed is currently 30 fps. If you want to record slow motion footage, you can only slow down to 80% in a 24p sequence. For example, my GH3 can record 1080 / 60p and enables a really nice slow motion that impressed me from day one. I'm not a fan of slow motion overuse, but I like to use it tastefully and sparingly and I like to know that my camera can deliver a frame rate of at least 48 frames per second. The point is that this is a very important function of my GH3 that my BMCC does not have. And logically that means that I – and probably many other BMCC shooters – will use GH3s as B-cams for the BMCC.
The GH3 always felt like a natural addition to the BMCC for many reasons. The sensor size is pretty close (BMCC has a slightly smaller sensor), the BMCC is available in MFT (or will it be soon?) And the GH3 shoots 60 fps at 1080p, which very few DSLRs do. And finally, the GH3 has a very high-resolution 1080p picture and, in my opinion, cuts well with the BMCC.
I will be shooting a feature film titled "Brother Sister" in late summer, which will mainly be shot with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. We're going to use an epic for a couple of shots, but I'm also going to shoot B-Roll, slow motion, and second unit footage on the GH3 and have it with me on set at all times. I will publish more information about the film shortly. Please check back soon for updates and information on what we're doing.
With the upcoming feature on the horizon, I decided to do some quick and dirty tests with the cameras to see how they would work together. These are by no means scientific tests. They were created spontaneously and there are many small variables that were beyond my control. But that's how I like to test my cameras. I find that sometimes it is best for me to pull them out and take pictures to get an idea of how the cameras fit together in a practical sense, because in reality I will be interacting with them on the set. Not in test charts for studio recordings (though this can be an amazing way to really understand what's going on under the hood).
Check out the comparison video and take a look at my notes:
For a higher quality version of the test, you can download this video directly from the vimeo website: https://vimeo.com/66950139
For this test, I set the Rokinon 35mm cine lens to T1.5 on both cameras. The footage shows that the GH3 is a louder camera than the BMCC. While the GH3 is by no means an overly grainy camera (I actually find it very clean at ISO 800 and below), the noise really shows up in this scenario. Even with relatively low ISO values such as 400 and 800, you can clearly see noise in the “intermediate areas”. The under-lit midtones always show more noise than the hot spots or the completely underexposed areas, which appear quite black. The BMCC has comparatively less noise up to ISO 3200. Since the BMCC only records up to ISO 1600 in the camera, I simply put the midtones in the mail to adjust them to the brightness of the GH3 at ISO 3200. Even if the midtones were pressed The noise pattern on the BMCC remains very smooth and cinematic.
However, what this test also showed was the big difference in dynamic range between the two cameras. On the BMCC, I shot this in ProRes mode (I only used Raw once in this shoot), and I have no doubt that the DR difference in Raw would be even more obvious. But even with ProRes, it's pretty drastic when you look at how much detail is lost in the GH3's candle flames at ISO 800 compared to the BMCC at the same ISO. The BMCC really holds these highlights – you can really see the difference the BMCC makes here.
One last note: the noise in the BMCC footage is much more pleasant, refined and easier to suppress with decent video than the digital-looking, blocky noise in the GH3 footage. Of course, this is largely due to the minimal compression of ProRes compared to AVCHD. However, it is very obvious when you actually transfer it to your monitor and see the difference side by side.
I would like to do a more extreme dynamic range test later because this setting didn't push the GH3 as far as possible. This is a good sign for the GH3, as the way I made this setting would definitely have given more struggles to other DSLRs with less DR than the GH3. The GH3 also had an unfair disadvantage in this scenario because I filmed it in raw form on the BMCC. I did this because in a real-world scenario, I would take raw photos at the BMCC. When I take a high contrast shot that could use that extra stop or so of dynamic range.
Of course, this was an area where I knew the BMCC would be the clear winner, but what pleasantly surprised me was the fact that the difference in this scenario was not as big as I thought. The GH3 held its own and proved that it retained a decent amount of detail when exposing the highlights. If I had to shoot a slow motion sequence with this type of lighting, I would certainly do it with the GH3, knowing that I could pretty well match the cameras in the post.
The key to the GH3 is exposure for the highlights and not worrying about slightly underexposing the subject, because the camera has a decent level of detail in the shadows and lower midtones.
The GH3 has never been terrible with moire, but it definitely showed more than its predecessor, the GH2. The BMCC has no OLPF and is therefore very susceptible to problems with moiré. Nevertheless, for no reason in real situations, a camera has ever caused real problems with moiré during an actual shoot.
I only had a couple of hours to take pictures with my BMCC today as I had to send it back to Blackmagic in the late afternoon to complete my flange repair. So that meant that the whole shoot had to be done in and around my apartment. Almost nothing I photographed (including clothing, bricks, and other fabrics) produced moiré on both cameras. The only thing I did was my couch and I really had to look for it so that it showed up on both cameras. I'm sure if I could venture further I could find something to photograph that would have created a worse scenario, but this was the best thing I could get out of the cameras today. When I took the picture, I thought that both cameras would look much worse because the image on both LCDs looked like it had a lot of moiré (more than on the actual footage). This was mainly due to the fact that the image was reduced in size to naturally fit on the lower resolution monitors. But something to keep in mind when taking pictures.
After all, I would definitely say that the GH3 has the edge here. They are pretty close, but the BMCC's moiré is a little more pronounced. In some scenarios, the GH3 may be able to save you in an emergency, although it still has moire problems and should not be considered fail-safe.
This was the most unscientific of all tests as I had to take each camera individually. I wanted to roll both of them at once to get a more accurate end result, but the longest lens I had with me at that time was a 50mm Canon EF mount and I didn't have any other 50mm lenses to put on GH3 at the same time. I could have photographed on a wider lens and rolled both cameras at the same time, but the longer lens shows the rolling shutter much more clearly.
I think once again that the GH3 is the winner here. And again they're both close together. There was no massive difference between the two, but in my opinion there was a noticeable increase in rolling shutter artifacts in the BMCC footage. This could partly be due to the somewhat larger harvest factor, but appears to be present independently.
The downside, however, is that the BMCC may experience fewer rolling shutter problems in real-world shooting scenarios, especially when it comes to micro jitter. This is because the BMCC is a much heavier camera. So if you're shooting with your handheld or on a shoulder rig, it's probably a lot more stable and therefore doesn't have as many jelly problems.
I am definitely safer now when I use the GH3 alongside the BMCC for slow-motion and B-camera shots. You have to be extra careful with the GH3 to make sure you fine-tune the look in the camera, as you have much less flexibility in the post. However, once you get the right look in the camera, the GH3 can assert itself as a solid slow motion / rear view camera for the BMCC.
It seems to have fewer problems with moiré and rolling shutter than the BMCC, but is not as clean in low light and has a much smaller dynamic range, especially when compared to raw BMCC. It's not the type of DSLR you use to replace the BMCC in low light conditions – since the BMCC is actually quite good in low light conditions and is quite undervalued in my opinion.
The cameras are nowhere near close enough to use in a multi-camera environment unless they are documentary based and you want to achieve this look. But for slow motion, very tight spots and other tricky scenarios, the GH3 holds up exceptionally well and is definitely a camera that complements the BMCC very well.
If you are interested in the Gh3, be sure to read my comparison between the GH2 and the GH3 as well as my article about filming a feature film about the GH2.
If you've kept an eye on the Blackmagic pocket camera, read this article, which explains the effects compared to the Blackmagic 4k camera
Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!