Blackmagic's camera - The dark art of digital cinematography (part1)

Chris Zwar
By Chris Zwar 08.10.12

Blackmagic Design attracted a huge amount of attention with their plans to release a digital camera. John Brawley, an Australian cinematographer, has been helping Blackmagic with the development by using the camera in real-world production environments to give them professional feedback. In this four-part video interview, we chat about the art of cinematography, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and answer all your questions.

Blackmagic Design certainly know how to grab the headlines.  Earlier this year at NAB, the company best known for its video editing cards announced that it was making a camera.  Although this surprised everyone it was the price that grabbed people's attention - less than $3,000.  What's more, they promised their camera would deliver raw, uncompressed files ideal for grading - and it would come bundled with a copy of their DaVinci Resolve software, which itself retails separately for $1,000.

There was a huge response from the announcement, with articles and comments springing up all over the internet.  Everyone was hungry for details and more information about the camera but it seemed that very few people had actually used one, which only fuelled the speculation and rumours.

I was as interested in the camera as everyone else, and when some test clips surfaced on the internet I got a double surprise - firstly, the test clip I was watching had been shot on a street only a few blocks away!  And the second shock was the source of the footage - the clips had been recorded by my friend, John Brawley.

John Brawley is an Australian Cinematographer who has been consulting directly to Blackmagic about the design of the camera.  We're good mates from university days - John went on to work behind a camera, and I went on to work behind a computer.

John has over 15 years of professional experience and works at the very highest level.  He has been the Director of Photography on several feature films, and is the D.O.P. on many Australian TV series - including the hit series Offspring and the offbeat comedy series Lowdown.  John has just finished shooting the eagerly anticipated drama Puberty Blues, which gave him the opportunity to test the Blackmagic Cinema Camera in a real, broadcast production environment (BTW if you look at the link, it's set in the 1970s.  I'd hate you to think it's modern day Australia...)

As an objective, unpaid consultant to Blackmagic, John has been working directly with the engineers who created the camera and has offered feedback and advice based on his experience as a working DOP.  John has not been paid by Blackmagic - he is not a marketing department, or a salesman, or a journalist looking for headlines.  He's a professional cinematographer who has dontated his time, experience and advice to help make the camera better.

John's been blogging about his experiences with the camera for some time, and you can catch up with his latest news here.

When I saw the amount of interest that the Blackmagic camera had generated, along with the rumours and speculation, I realised that John was the best person to ask for answers.

We caught up for a coffee and a chat about the camera, and recorded everything so you can hear the answers for yourself.

After chatting for almost two hours, it was obvious that the technical specs of the camera were only one small part of the overall picture.  A common theme was that numbers, charts and technical data have little relevance to the performance of any camera in a real production environment.

I've split our conversation up into four parts, to help make it easier to watch.  To keep John's comments in context, I think it's important to watch everything.  What you won't get is a comparison of various digital cameras based on technical data. What you will get is real-world knowledge, and some really crappy audio (totally my fault).

If you can stand the low quality - and after a while you start to ignore the hum - you'll find the videos divided up into four parts:

Part 1 - An introduction, and a general chat about the art of cinematography

Part 2 - The impact of digital cameras

Part 3 - The Blackmagic Cinema Camera

Part 4 - Post-production with the Blackmagic camera

I have to apologise again for the poor audio, and can only suggest that you shouldn't send a compositor to do a sound recordist's job, but perhaps the annoying hum is a reminder that this isn't a professional production, just a casual chat amongst friends- and we've invited you to join us.

Thanks very much to John Brawley for his time and willingness to help out.

If you'd like to get in touch with me and offer tips on the correct way to plug in a microphone, or you're interested to know if I'm better at compositing than I am at sound recording, head over to my website and look around.

(N.B. Many thanks to Andrew Deme for cleaning up the audio. I had a number of emails offering advice but Andrew went ahead and processed the files for me. Cheers Andrew!)

iPhone/iPad friendly - Part 1