NAB 2012 was an important year for the camera market. That year saw a slew of new camera tech announcements and products flood the market, like Canon’s C300 and Sony’s F5 just to name a couple. But one announcement seemingly trumped them all, Blackmagic announcing the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. That put the production and post-production community on edge as the fabled 3K for $3K concept that RED failed to deliver on was finally in sight. Blackmagic had a heck of a time launching the camera as manufacturing setback after manufacturing setback pushed the actual release into 2013.
However, those setbacks didn’t stop Blackmagic from showing up at NAB 2013 and promising even more new camera tech. Last year the BMD Pocket Cinema Camea and the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K were announced. While the Pocket Camera shipped about a month after it’s promised release date, the Production Camera under went many of the same struggles as it’s Cinema counterpart. Manufacturing delays pushed the actual release of the Production camera into early 2014.
Having just received mine this past week, I was eager to test it out to see what it’s capable of. While I haven’t yet brought it on set in a “live production” environment, I have a decent feel for what seems to be the capability of this little 4K for $3K brain.
If I could sum up the entire camera in one word it’s the word production. It’s the most important word in the name of the camera. Why? Because this camera is meant to (1) be on rails or in a rig (like it’s counterpart), and (2) be in a well lit, completely controlled environment like you’d find in a studio setting. It’s no surprise that Blackmagic then also updated it’s line of ATEM switchers to handle 4K cameras. The expectation being that if you purchase 2 or more BMPC4K cameras you’ll need a switcher capable of digesting UltraHD (3840x2160) signals, and who better to supply you that hardware than Blackmagic.
What I would immediately caution people towards is thinking that this camera in any way, matches up with the BMCC. It doesn’t. I believe they are intended, built, and specced for entirely different markets, though BM’s advertising ( http://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/blackmagicproductioncamera4k/uses ) does claim the camera to be suited to areas I think it would struggle. Does that mean you can’t use the BMPC as a cinema camera? No. But it does mean there are several serious limitations that will make it extremely difficult to use in a cinema/documentary/indie film sort of way. So let me get right to the main negative then!
BMD equipped the 4K camera with a Super 35mm sensor (21.12mm x 11.88mm). Many were clamoring for a larger sensor after the BMCC’s paltry 15.81mm x 8.88mm sensor was deemed “too small.” The BMPC’s sensor provides plenty of surface area for the cinematic bokeh that so many enjoy shooting. The size of the sensor isn’t the problem. The sensitivity is. The camera has 3 ISO settings - 200ASA, 400ASA, and 800ASA. Just 3. That’s it. 200 and 400 appear to be perfectly suitable for anything shot under well lit, well controlled conditions (i.e. studio setting or daylight outdoors). In my limited tests the 800ASA struggles. One can see vertical smearing of the image even on the less than desirable 5”, 800 x 480 LCD of the camera (and really...no HD LCD screen?). However, the 10-bit ProRes(HQ) recording does give you quite a bit of room in grading to pull the shot up, but still doesn't deal with the vertical streaks created at 800ASA. Coupled with that the noise pattern at 800ASA looks more like digital noise than cinematic film grain.
While the BMPC4K is no low light king, I don’t even think it’s worthy to call it a low light contender. It barely functions in low light environments. When shooting the camera at 800ASA I feel like I’m looking at an image from a low-end video camera circa 2002. The image appears muddy, streaky, and generally poor (download sample footage here). I can’t understand how this sensor made it into the camera in 2014. With cameras like the Arri Alexa, Canon C300/C500, 5D Mark III, Sony F5, Nikon D5300, and Panasonic GH3 (and soon to be released GH4) on the market which all have incredible ISO range, performance, and usable noise patterns (also see the newly announced Nikon D4S with a native ISO of 25600 and an extended ISO of 409600!). The BMPC's sensor seems like a strange design choice unless it’s primarily meant for highly controlled production environments.