It's been a great day for anyone waiting for their 4K Blackmagic Production Camera, as the first footage from the camera has finally been released. This means that we are getting much closer to actually shipping these cameras to DPs, directors and producers who have been patiently waiting for some time. Unfortunately, it has taken a long time to wait for the camera since it was announced last April, but luckily there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. Similar to the delays associated with Blackmagic's first camera, the culprit that caused this camera delay was a sensor problem. The problem now seems to be resolved, but I would still speculate that it will take some time before we actually see them on the shelves, as they will likely hit the market in small numbers like we did initially saw at the original BMCC.
Regarding the footage itself, Grant Petty (CEO of Blackmagic Design) has just released one 10 GB zip file that can be downloaded here. It contains all 4K files that he personally recorded as a test. If you don't want to download the 4K package myself, I uploaded a 1080p video file of the footage to Vimeo so you can check it out. I have recorded both the ungraded footage and a slightly graded version of the footage:
So how does it stack up with the original BMCC? It is difficult to make comparisons at this point because the camera has not yet been completed and this was recorded by the company's CEO, not a dedicated DP. Still, I think it gives us an accurate picture of what to expect with the camera, as it's unlikely to change drastically from here. Judging the footage from these clips alone, the look is closer to the original BMCC than I thought two different sensors could be used. However, I have to say that I still personally prefer the original BMCC footage and even the Pocket Camera footage over the new 4K footage. What interested me about the original BMCC was the dynamic range and the Alexa-like quality of the images. Based on these clips, there is definitely still a very good dynamic range, but it seems to be noticeably less than the original BMCC. This is more noticeable in some shots than in others, but in particular I do not have the feeling that details are contained in the sky / clouds as well as in the BMCC. This was expected because the 4K sensor has 12 stops, which is 1 stop lower than the 2.5K camera. However, to do justice to the 4K camera, it is difficult to judge these shots unless they are compared directly next to a 2.5K camera to measure the difference. It is also worth noting that the shots may be cut off in the sky because the exposure was not perfectly adjusted. Regardless, I can safely say that the original BMCC will outperform the 4K camera in terms of dynamic range, which shouldn't come as a shock to anyone.
This quote from Grant Petty is also worth mentioning:
This camera is not a low light camera, but I added some clips at night so you can see it. I spent a few weeks wandering around with the camera and taking different types of pictures. A shot of the jetty shows some sections in the sky to see the effects of the section. All recordings are ProRes because I have not recorded a RAW. I later noticed as the guys continued testing the camera and lens that they weren't set properly, so I think the results could be better. Some of the shots have different shutter angles and I used standard still lenses.
The two things I take away from it are: 1 – The footage is likely to improve to a certain extent compared to this test material, and 2nd – It's not a great camera in low light. Number 2 is particularly important for those of you who have not yet upgraded your 5D or other DSLR and are considering upgrading. The BMCC (2.5K) is still one of my favorite cameras, but it isn't a low-light camera either, and it takes some getting used to if you come from a camera that is great in low-light conditions. Grant's statement makes me believe that this camera may not even work as well as the original BMCC in low lightThis can mean that you should always take pictures with 800 ASA if you want really clean footage. However, this is only a speculation, since I did not take pictures with the camera myself.
The biggest advantage of this camera is, of course, the global shutter, which differs from a rolling shutter in the way in which the pictures are taken and the ones associated with BMCC, DSLR, RED and other cameras that suffer from rolling Microjitter and skew can effectively eliminate occlusion artifacts. However, I admit, I thought the roller shutter at the first BMCC would cause me much more problems than ever before. Since the camera is relatively heavy, it really helps stabilize the footage by naturally acting as a buffer between your hand and the sensor. Rolling shutter is more of a problem with the pocket camera because the body is so small and there is nothing to absorb the shock of a steady movement of light hitting the sensor. The point is, The 4K camera always has an advantage when it comes to time-lapse and whip pans, but in most real shooting situations there may not be much of a difference.
Here's another interesting quote from Grant Petty:
The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is very different from our other cameras, but I personally find it quite cinematic, although it is actually not a digital film camera, but rather a general production camera.
This really put things into perspective for me as I had trouble wrapping my head around this camera when it was first announced. I understood that it recorded 4K, but didn't necessarily see it as a step further than the BMCC because it is said to have a lower dynamic range, which is one of the factors that really made the original BMCC take such amazing pictures to produce. But this statement really clarified things. It seems that the intent of this camera is to use it in a broadcast environment rather than in a narrative film environment. I don't think this is the camera for indie filmmakers on a budget (although the camera is still very cheap). This is a camera for episodic television with one or more cameras or for other broadcast studios, all of which are well lit and therefore do not require a camera that can record with a high ISO value or with 13 stops of the dynamic range. It's an inexpensive way to shoot 4K with productions that want to be future-proof with Ultra HD masters but don't need a camera with available light that can shoot in the dark.
I am glad that Blackmagic is releasing this camera and I really believe that there is a place for it. Still, I don't see the effect almost as big as that of the Pocket Camera or the original BMCC, and I can't imagine buying them because I'm mainly making narrative independent films, not episodic television. Global Shutter is great, but not at the expense of the dynamic range (which speaks for my own work), and as it currently looks, I prefer the picture of the BMCC, although the two are close together. If I actually deliver 4K on a regular basis, hopefully there will be another iteration of the 4K camera that has both a global shutter and an additional dynamic range, but at the moment we cannot have everything!
You may also want to read an article entitled I wrote some time ago Why the Blackmagic Pocket Cam is more annoying than the 4K production 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!