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  • Writer's pictureGlenn

The Pros and Cons of Black Magic Cameras

The Pros and Cons of Blackmagic Cameras – By N. Reville A Personal Note For most of my working life, I have been involved in the use of specialised equipment for the recording of music , performance and pictures. Visiting orchestras, sporting events, choirs, musicals, ballet and performers from Australia and overseas. Not to mention “big” events like the Brisbane Commonwealth Games and the worldwide broadcast and telecast of the opening of our Cultural Centre. To guarantee success, the use of quality, professional equipment was required and an expectation of reliable results became a daily norm over the years.

In my personal life, my budgets were rather different but the need for, and expectation of quality results remained. So there has always been the quest for the best quality for an affordable price. Not everyone shares this background or expectation. Everyone is different. So, my conclusions and expectations may not be yours, to a greater or lesser degree. Just so you know where I am coming from ... What sort of Movie Maker do you want to be? Movie making is an activity that can, and often does, fill a lifetime. I’ve been at it since 1945 when my Father let me take a couple of shots in our front yard with his 9.5mm film camera. It’s of no less interest to me now than it was then. So, why did you take the trouble to visit a movie making club (group, organisation call it what you will). Is it because you want to be a good, amateur shooter? Is it because you want to efficiently add to the millions of disconnected clips we all gather over a lifetime? Or, could it be that you suspect, or even know, that there is something behind the curtain – something that, these days, sees literally millions of non-commercial movie makers around the world, in festivals and all manner of vehicles, turning out work of a quality that matches the commercial movie industry? And you want to be part of it. So, this raises the question, “What do you want and expect from the Club”? Is it a loose association with those of a similar bent? Is it the opportunity to sit and watch the efforts of other amateurs? Or, is it the opportunity, or expectation, of being absorbed into the fabric of the secret art – the information, practices, and knowledge that allow one to rise above mediocrity and use the available technology to enhance your artistic endeavours? It is not by accident that the previous motto for the club was, “Where art and technology meet”.

At times in the past, the club was heavy on technology (especially as computer editing was being introduced) and light on creativity. Today, it’s high in creativity but light on technology. What’s the best? Neither. An even balance between the two is essential. One cannot live without the other. Which is why the commercial cinema has specialists for every job. They simply swap people to keep their balance right. What sort of camera should the club buy? Simple – one that meets the needs and aspirations of most of the present and future members. And what is that? We don’t know, do we? And unless members communicate their needs and aspirations to the President/committee they won’t know. This situation has, of course, been a perennial problem. And many now and future members will be in no position to make an informed choice.

Let’s try to be objective. There is a heavily creative membership. Most have at least a basic knowledge of the art of movie making. There are currently aspirations to tackle some quite advanced projects. Eg. the “Futures” project. This is exciting stuff! It’s getting well away from “home movies” and knocking on the doors of commercial cinema, with prospects of possible broadcast and theatrical release.

Can we do it? Yes, we can! But. What do we, as a club, know about acceptable picture quality to allow even basic admittance to the theatrical and broadcast world. What do we know about CALM regulation OP-59, theatrical/broadcast audio routing, Theatrical/broadcast surround audio routing? Dolby ATMOS and so on? Several members have expressed the opinion that the club camera should take a step toward this higher world to allow all members the opportunity, with assistance where appropriate, to use and get experience with a higher level piece of equipment, rather than perhaps buy themselves a camera they may well regret.

What is wrong with the proposed camera? Nothing! It’s a perfectly fine camera. (As I mentioned to Peter, it’s almost identical to the Panasonic AF100 which I bought in 2010 and still runs perfectly). For the average newcomer, it’s a camera he/she could grab and be turning out acceptable pictures in no time. An admirable choice for a beginner! And that’s part of the problem. From at least the nineties, manufacturers have had a philosophy of “auto everything”. Auto exposure, auto white balance, auto sound control, auto focus, auto you-name-it. All aimed of course, at taking the “difficulty” out of the camera and thus selling more of them. As people have become less capable, the output results have deteriorated but many users regard it as “normal”. But this automation frenzy does not work everywhere. The vast majority of professionals still do not embrace it. In the movie industry, almost all cameras (and other equipment), are strictly manual. Why? Because nearly all practitioners are well aware that quality images and story-telling come from their hands, guided by their eyes, ears and brains. Making good movies is a human art-form. It comes from the heart, soul, nature. Ever since the first images were scratched into a cave wall. In many aspects, it is not something to be handed to a cheap robot.

Now for one big drawback. The recording format. Many, many consumer cameras record in something like H264. This, and other formats like it, are highly compressed, low bit-rate presentation formats. They are not designed for editing. [About a couple of years ago, I saw a little item from Sony that said 97% of video taken by their cameras is never edited] That there are programs that will edit this stuff says a lot for the skills of the developers, but most of the higher end editors, while some will edit it, don't like it at all. As a for instance, many of these files are 8 bit. Good editors run at 32 bit.

Blackmagic Design – thought you’d never get here! Blackmagic is an Australian company, based in Melbourne, that manufactures a wide range of video equipment, including cameras, and has offices all over the world. A few years ago, they rocked the movie world by releasing a (rather awkward) cine camera. What was special? Well, the international standard for motion picture production was the Arriflex Alexa. It cost around $100K. This needed to be fitted with quality (of course) lenses that could each cost around the $25K mark. The Blackmagic camera put out video that was barely distinguishable from the Alexa for a retail price of around $2000. When the shouting died down, after about six months, a few drawbacks of the Blackmagic camera began to appear, like limited battery life. But the damage was done. The link between astronomical pricing and quality output was broken forever. Awareness of Blackmagic and interest in the brand spread world wide.

Blackmagic also owns DaVinci Resolve. An editor. A colour grading program. A digital compositing program. An audio editor. A delivery page. They have been working hard for a couple of years to combine all of these separate programs into one, complete post-production tool. And they are getting there! Resolve, today, is hugely improved from the version I first looked at a couple of years ago. The idea is that a number of specialists can work on a project simultaneously. An editor, a colour grader, a digital compositor, a sound designer. All without once having to pack the project up and cart it across town. So, you have never heard of Resolve? Well, the colour grading function was born around thirty years ago. I understand the price was around $US1M. Since then, almost every movie you have seen on a screen has been graded in Resolve. Yes, all of them. All the Star Wars, the Marvel movies, the Pirates, everything. And it continues. And most of the marvellous special effects have been done in Fusion, the compositing program. Not to mention Fairlight, the audio post page. Fairlight was written by two Uni students on Sydney’s North Shore around the late eighties. They named it after a ferry that often passed their Grand- mother’s house. It was the world’s first Computer Musical Instrument, and hugely successful. Ahh, you say, but what does all this cost? Nothing. Yep, nothing. Just download Resolve from the Black- magic website. There is a slight catch: The free version is a little inhibited compared to DaVinci Studio, a paid version that costs A$469. There is no extra cost for either version and all (frequent!!) upgrades or versions are free. I have included this slightly long-winded item on Resolve, as it’s important to know that it works hand-in- glove with Blackmagic cameras when shooting BRAW (Blackmagic Raw), the near ultimate shooting format for quality and convenience. Having tried it, I desire nothing more! If you buy any hardware, you will probably be given a copy of Resolve Studio for free. That’s how I got mine!

The Cameras There are three cameras of interest The original pocket camera (about 2018). Micro 4/3 interchangeable lens. 13 stop dynamic range. Dual gain ISO up to 25,600. Shoots up to 4K DCI and ProRes. Shoots BlackMagic RAW (BRAW). Generation 5 Colour science. 125mm Colour monitor. Huge number of operational controls all set by a simple touch- screen. Far too many features to describe, check Blackmagic website.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K A$ 1755 (Videopro) Similar to 4K, except slightly enlarged to take Canon EF lenses after many customer requests. Larger,6144 x 3456 sensor. Shoots 6K. Shoots ProRes. Shoots Blackmagic RAW (BRAW) Some features modified and enhanced over 4K model, but early 4K has also been upgraded via several updates. (free) Similar features to 4K, except larger sensor and 6K shooting. Check website.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K A$ 2695 (VideoPro) 6K Pro A$ 3485 (VideoPro) The Cinema Camera 6K Pro is the latest, highly enhanced version in this line, apparently again the result of a couple of years of debate and discuss- ion on the forums among users. Tiltable, rear monitor screen. Optional viewfinder. Built in, motorised Neutral Density filters. (Very convenient) Shoots up to 6K, including true anamorphic. Shoots ProRes and Blackmagic Raw. High Dynamic range. (13 Stops) EF lens mount. Generation 5 Colour Science. Extra bright rear monitor. Can be used as a live studio camera. (Extra hardware required) Many, many additional features – check Blackmagic website.

Notes All of these cameras have similarities. The original was the 4K (which I have) from about 2018. It is reputedly the biggest selling camera of all time, but I don’t know. I placed my order in November and got delivery in April. Some people waited 12 months. I have had no problems at all. A few reported failings at first, but Blackmagic did the right thing and replaced cameras without debate. I have had three upgrades to keep my camera up to date, all free. All cameras should now be on Colour Science 5. Skin tones, which were excellent, can now be superb, but needs a little effort from the user. I was given a copy of Resolve Studio 14, which is usual practice but have had many updates to Version 17.5.5, all free. Just watch the Forum!

lenses Panasonic Lumix GX 12-35mm f/2.8 Mk 2 Micro 4/3 A$ 934.15 All prices and digging for lenses from DigiDirect, Adelaide St. Panasonic Lumix GX 35-100mm f/2.8 Mk 2 Micro 4/3 A$ 1223.15 Canon EF 24-105 F/4 Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 A$ 2049 A$ 2761.65 Finally, some pros and cons .... (Pros first)

  1. Picture quality, especially skin tones. With a little care in shooting, it’s just beautiful.

  2. Carbon Fibre camera construction.

  3. The brilliantly easy and simple set-up menus on the monitor. (I notice DJI is copying it)

  4. The 125mm viewfinder monitor.

  5. The colour-calibratable viewfinder monitor.

  6. The ‘dead pixil’ eliminator function for the monitor.

  7. The tilting monitor. (Only on the P6K Pro)

  8. The optional viewfinder. (Only on the P6K Pro)

  9. The many exposure aids. Like zebra, false colour, histogram with clipping indicators.

  10. The ability to set shutter speed also as shutter angle.

11. Extensive, but optional, range of Focus Assist. 12. Wide selection of shooting codecs. ProRes, but especially Blackmagic RAW. (Note that to gain maxi- mum benefit from BRAW, it is advisable to edit in Resolve (supplied) or Adobe Premier) 13. The multitude of other options and facilities. That should do – now some cons.

  1. The name. Thank goodness most owners call them simply P4K, or P6K.

  2. The fixed monitor on the P4K. When the camera is up high or down low it can be hard to see.

  3. The lack of a viewfinder on the P4K. If the sun shines on it, it can be tricky to see. I use a shade!

  4. The slightly inadequate LP-E6 battery on the P4K. The P6K uses a larger NP-F570. (Plenty of fixes)

  5. The cost of high write speed C-Fast cards. Any camera of this class outputs huge files at high write speeds. I have only a 256GB card, but it’s enough for a day’s shooting.

  6. Can’t think of anything else!

Summing up I was asked to check out current pricing on these cameras, with a view to giving members a possible choice on the sort of camera the club should buy. Were we to spend $10K - $12K we could buy an out-right feature shooting camera like an Ursa, but that’s out of budget for now. These pocket cameras (BIG pockets!) are a bit of an anomaly. Designed by a company that’s spent years hanging around Hollywood, they knew little about “consumer” equipment or practice. They are learning fast. Instead of the world- travelling, selfie shooting group the camera was designed for, it was snapped up by hordes of Indie movie makers who could not believe that a camera of such picture quality had appeared before them so cheaply. It became obvious to me, that pricing the cameras was useless unless everyone who needs to make a choice had some background on what the club was proposing, the direction we may be heading and what may be needed to allow growth. You may be an absolute newcomer, but you also need to consider what facility you may need to move ever upward. These cameras are basically simple to use, just a little different. If one is to advance, it’s stuff that needs to be known. They can easily shoot average quality material that can be edited on average quality editors. They can also turn out video that looks like the best the world can offer. Where you want to sit is your choice. Just be sure you enjoy it. - for all the information

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