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Review: The 4K Blackmagic Production Camera

4K For Everyone?

Blackmagic’s New 4K Production Camera is here and I have been shooting with it as soon as I could rip the box open. If you’ve had time to shoot on any of Blackmagic’s cameras then this camera has a few pleasant surprises in store for you.

BMPC BDH-1

QUICK OVERVIEW

What’s amazing to me is this: $3,000.00 for this camera.  That is so inexpensive and makes the 4K Production Camera an instant contender for a lot of people looking to move to 4K.  The price + the specs alone, that’s enough for quite a few shooters to buy. Think about it: ProRes 422 in 4K and 1080, Loss less compressing coming via firmware, sometime soon, and a Global Shutter.  The next camera that is even close is more than twice the cost, or the GH4 with MFT sized sensor which does not have a global shutter or a S35mm sized sensor.

Ergonomics?  Like it or not, If you have used the Blackmagic Cinema Camera then you can pick up the 4K Production Camera and start shooting immediately.  It has an identical camera body as the Cinema Camera.  It, also, has an identical menu structure.  I’ve been shooting on the Cinema Camera for nearly a year and all of my accessories work on the Production Camera as well as they do on the Cinema Camera.  Actually, the Production Camera recognized my Canon 28mm F1.8 which the Cinema Camera does not… a nice bonus.

BMPC BDH-6 The 4K image is, to me, fantastic.  The color and the resolution is everything I was expecting and then some.  There is no Aliasing or Moire.  The 4K files?  Large.  I wondered, will one be able to play the clips on a MacBook Pro.   Thankfully, my MacBook Pro easily played the 4K ProRes 422 files.  My computer is a less than spectacular piece of hardware so trust me, if the 4K footage plays on my MacBook it’ll likely play on your computer too.  Technical note, I was playing the footage off the SSD cards via thunderbolt.

The Global Shutter is rock solid.  This is huge for me, at times I have the need to shoot hand-held run & gun style and to not have to worry about a rolling shutter is very nice.  I had the camera on my shoulder whip panning with no problem.

The Dynamic Range? I feel like it’s a hair less than 12 stops, but I’m shooting ProRes clips and I’m sure the loss less raw, coming in a future firmware update, will have the full 12 stops of range advertised.

IMPROVEMENTS

BMPC BDH-3 Hello Super 35mm!  The larger sized sensor in this camera is something I have looked forward to for awhile.  F4 or F2.8 are the sweet spots where the footage is pleasing to the eye without having the “I have to shoot everything wide open look” to all your interviews, over-the-shoulders, or close-ups.

The Audio is way better with the Production Camera.  I do not know what Blackmagic Design did, but it is hands down much better.  No longer will one have to EQ all their sound recorded on the camera.  This saves time in the edit bay, and puts this camera in the realm of a run & gun category.  Of course, to really run & gun one will need a couple accessories.  An EVF, a battery, and a rig will be needed.

The color… wow.  There is a marked improvement in color reproduction over the Cinema Camera and the Pocket Camera.  The colors, to me, have a much more saturated feel… more true to the screen as shot.  The Skin tones are less yellow and have more orange in them giving them life.

WEAKNESS

The dreaded sun spot.  Present… still.  Why?  I have no idea, but it is about time that Blackmagic Design started fixing this issue before releasing cameras to reviewers.  Plus, it is complete drudgery to fix in post.

Infrared light pollution in higher Neutral Density strengths.  NDs .03, .06, .09 are fine, but there is a gradual shift starting around ND1.2.  Once one starts using ND1.5, 1.8, or 2.1 you will want to get a set of IRNDs.  In the video still below one can see an example of 4K ProRes shot with a 1.2ND and a .09 ND stacked together.  There is a clear Red/Orange cast.  No, I did not shoot the footage that way.

The details on the image below: 400ISO, 5600K, F/2.8, and the color checker chart was in strong sun light at 4:30pm.  Now, before we call this a problem I’ve heard the Arri Alexa reacts to ND and IRND in a very similar way as Blackmagic Cameras.  Again, just a weakness to be aware of when one takes this camera out to shoot.  Best to be prepared.

 

BMPC BDH-2

HOW’S THE FOOTAGE?

Without a doubt this is a very capable camera, and the footage can look amazing.  At 200 and 400 ISO the footage is clean with rich colors and deep blacks.  At 800ISO the noise is too much for client work, however I hear that a future firmware update will make the 800ISO much more usable.  To shoot at night at 400ISO can be a challenge, but it can be done.  Here are a couple of samples I have shot and edited so far: one in day light, and the second at night of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center at night.

MORE THAN A PRODUCTION CAMERA

This camera is billed as a production camera not a cinema camera.  To me that is a mistake.  I see a lot of producers and DPs looking at this camera for their next short film, music video or commercial.  I would be inclined to shoot my next short film on this camera, and have even booked my next music video to be shot on this camera. The footage is too great, and the camera is too easy to use to pass up any project interested in shooting with this camera

OVERALL

My initial thoughts are… I like this camera a lot more than I thought I would.  The S35mm sized sensor, the 4K ProRes, and the Global Shutter have all become something I have enjoyed quite a lot from this camera and I look forward to diving deeper into the nuances of the 4K Production Camera in the coming weeks and to share with you all my experiences and thoughts.

Find me/follow me

Twitter: @hallettbrian

Vimeo: www.vimeo.com/hallettbrian


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Brian Hallett, is an award winning cameraman, editor, and producer. He has shot everything from Network broadcast news, promotional image campaigns, music videos, short films, and documentaries. Check out his reel at hallett-brian.com

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