NAB 2012: A Closer Look At The Blackmagic Cinema Camera

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

This rig will seems counter to the DSLR video wave, unless you talk to Aussie cinematographer John Brawley.  It’s the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and it’s got an amazing ability to be able to record directly to either a computer or its built in SSD drive.  Yes, that right, I said SSD drive.

Blackmagic Design who are known for their recorders and transcoding boxes have announced a new cinema camera! Bloody hell! … damn it’s cheap!! It’s going for the low budget crowd and that is great news!

– Phillip Bloom

Designed with a price point of about $3,000, it’s meant to attract very low budget filmmakers who are seeking a high resolution (2.5K) studio alternative.   We think.  Features include:

Raw recording.  13 stops dynamic range. Integrated SSD to record Cinema DNG Raw, ProRes and DNxHD, EF and ZF mount lenses , output via SDI and Thunderbolt, Integrated touch screen LCD, and  support with DaVinci Resolve (which is included).

Phillip Bloom also says that while there are no specs for chip size, he’s guessing it’s based on a Super 35mm application.  He also thinks that would put it square into the cross hairs of the Digital Bolex, which could be it’s main competitor.

But Blackmagic seems to have it’s sights set higher.  In it’s press release (see below) the company believes that most HD digital video cameras suffer from limited contrast range,are just HD centric, and use heavy compression for file recording due to limited space to it’s storage media.  And DSLRs aside, the quality of lenses that get built into them aren’t as good as they could be.  Blackmagic decided to focus on these shortcomings with their design and improve the metadata management support in non linear editing.  And it seems to pay off.

Many of the raw footage I’ve seen with cameras coming out seem a bit muted in their contrast until they’re color corrected.  So having 13 stops of dynamic range, while not worrying about capturing RAW video due to space limitations can really make the image pop naturally (see the videos below).  This is largely due to the ability to record to it’s slide in SSD Drive which enables storage sizes far above the current compact flash storage capabilities.  And that means you don’t have to settle for H.264 like compression and then use a utility to strip it in post.

Compression and bit depth is the natural enemy of awesomely grade-able pictures.  As anyone who’s tried to grade .264 originated material knows…it’s great if you’re happy with what comes out of the camera, but as soon as you want to “do” anything with it, then you’re really screwed. – John Brawley

And with that price point, it’s certain to make a serious splash in the guerrilla/low budget market that seems to be sown up by such cameras as the Canon 5D Mk. III. As Brawley said after his experience with it:

In a way, this is not a camera for DOP’s and working cinematographers like me.  This is a camera for the masses.  This is a camera for everyone that’s bought a canon 5Dmk2 or a GH2 and wanted more than what a “consumer” camera can do.  This is a camera for those that can’t afford a scarlet or EPIC or a C300.

Competition is always good because it drives down price and drive up quality.  So here’s hoping that Black Magic is onto something and we see more and more coming out of them.

You can see sample videos here, here, and here.

Hat Tip – Philip Bloom

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.


  1. Matthew says:

    The useable area of the imager is not based on Super35, rather it is roughy 16mm x 8mm making it just larger than Super16. So yes, very strong competitor to the Digital and from a more established company.

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