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Is the Blackmagic Cinema Camera Finally Ready for the Spotlight?

If you haven't actually ordered a Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMCC), you might be unaware of the drama that took place behind the scenes as the camera missed its targeted July shipping date and customers holding pre-orders started to worry about the delay. The mood at the Blackmagic cinematography forum these last couple of months could best be described as anxious.

For Blackmagic, the bad news is that the supplier of its sensor, which is bonded to a layer of glass that keeps the actual sensor clean, ended up being ill-equipped to deliver parts. First, the supplier was sending out sensors with glass that was contaminated. (Obviously, a digital-cinema camera requires glass that is utterly free of blemishes.) Making matters worse, the firm — which previously made only monochromatic sensors for scientific markets — wasn't even able to properly test the color sensors for problems. 

The exact nature of the problems apparently took months to identify and troubleshoot. Blackmagic CEO Grant Petty was fairly candid in describing the problems at the company's discussion board.

We are the only camera that’s used this sensor and glass combination. It's like designing and building cars but no one at the company has ever driven one.

The good news is that the process of bonding glass to sensor has been changed. The company has updated its testing process, based on advice from Blackmagic, and has shipped a small run of sensors that Blackmagic says seem to pass muster. This week, Blackmagic has slated a small production run of cameras and hopes to move back into production after verifying that quality is back up to snuff. 

But cameras were trickling out before those sensor problems came to the fore, and real-world videos shot by working cinematographers have been showing up online. Planet5D has a roundup of some of the first clips that have surfaced, including the head-to-head comparison with a Canon 5D Mark III from OneRiver embedded below. Planet 5D says the BMCC looks "too clean and crisp," but it looks pretty darned good to me, especially head to head with the Mk III. (And OneRIver's Marco Solorio agrees, saying that he expects the BMCC to take the place of DSLRs in his own arsenal.) Planet5D also notes that some clips (but not all) suffer from the appearance of black spots when the camera is pointed at a very bright light source.

The BMCC has a 2.5K image sensor and records in 12-bit raw, ProRes, and DNxHD formats with 13 stops of dynamic range. When you can actually buy one, it will cost you $2995. Once production does get back up to speed, it's not clear how fast Blackmagic can actually build the things, so some (many?) users may be looking at 2013 delivery dates. If you get a chance to shoot with one of these suckers, let us know what you think!

UPDATE 11/20/12: A shared chat log from a conversation between a user and B&H customer service seems to indicate Blackmagic is "very confident" that cameras will ship "in the triple digits" before the end of 2012.

10 Comments

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  • Walter Riggi

    Ok forgive me if I’m wrong (I’ve never used a Canon or BMCC for video shooting), but doesn’t this side by side filming seem wrong here? I mean isn’t the BMCC filming at 2k and the Canon filming at 1080?

    Unless I’m wrong here but one camera is filming at twice the resolution anyway…

    Please someone enlighten me on this testing…

    Thanks in advance.

    • http://twitter.com/planetMitch planetMitch

      Walter, actually, video is measured in the horizontal number (1080 is the vertical component) – so HD is 1940×1080 – and 1940 is darn close to 2000 (or 2k), so 2.5k is not double the HD resolution.

      • acky

        but you mean 1920, right? Or am I missing something?

        • http://twitter.com/planetMitch planetMitch

          yes, it was a typo – sorry – thanks for noticing

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.kitzen Jon Kitzen

    the “black spots” are called the “black sun” effect and this is not an easy thing to get rid of. If anything it shows the manufacturer of the sensor has a hardware issue. The sensor is reading oversaturated pixels as “black” rather than “white”. You can minimize black sun via software but not really get rid of it. Tis quite an issue actually. Shoot stadium lights or reflective objects (cars) on a track and it can be very much the problem. I did try a camera at Cinegear and it seemed to have had the black sun minimized (not visible with the lights there) whereas it was with the IBC version. Overall I still like it as a camera option over the 5D (which I own)

  • FiniteBoy

    I thought this camera comparison very well done. Thanks for the effort! It takes a lot of time to produce this, so thank you. Cool music too!

  • http://twitter.com/zachnfine zachnfine

    I’ve seen the same ‘black sun’ effect within the past several months on footage captured by 3 different cameras — Arri Alexa, and Red One MX, and Canon 5D mk II. This is not a problem unique to the BlackMagic, I expect it’s an issue common to most (all?) CMOS sensors.

  • Sean Masterson

    What about a removable battery? How tough is it for them to make it with a removable battery? Ready to buy one, waiting for this issue to be addressed.

  • Joe Mahma

    2.3 crop factor – NO thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/meetdannyk Danny Kastner

    Wow! What a great, professional video. Great work!