EXCLUSIVE: Blackmagic Design Answers Your Questions about Their New Cinema Camera

It has been awhile since a new camera has caused as much buzz as the new Cinema Camera by Blackmagic Design. The fact that it has not even been released yet has not stopped passionate opinions from all directions. In a effort to shed light on this exciting new camera we sat down today with Blackmagic President Dan May to answer some burning questions from our readers.

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[John Hess - Filmmaker IQ] Hi John Hess here from FilmmakeIQ.com and I’m here with Dan May the president of Black Magic Design the company behind Black Magic Design Cinema Camera a very interesting much talked about new camera they came out with at NAB 2012.

Let’s start off with the most basic question- A person who’s never heard of this Cinema Camera can you give a quick speil of what is the Cinema Camera?

[Dan May - President, Black Magic Design] The whole idea behind the Black Magic Cinema Camera – we’ve been plugging into cameras for a dozen years now and we continue to see this divide between what we call a cinema like camera and kind of like this DSLR market that exist out there and we felt that there was somewhere in between those that a product was kind of missing that people were striving for. Something that had part of the functionality, cost and usability of DSLR type cameras but that gave some of the cinema quality and the workflow benefit that you see on high end post production cinema like cameras. And that was really the goal we set out to acheive on this device.

[IQ] What was very interesting at NAB – it was kind of a big shock because no one was expecting you guys to come out with a camera. How long have you guys been working on this thing before it was announced?

[BMD] It’s been a couple of years of development… It was kind of a – three years ago: We could make a camera, two years ago ok we can make a camera if we did these things and had these bits in place and then probably be a year and a half ago it was: we have those bits in place lets put forward the camera. Not a long time by a lot of people’s standards, kind of a long time client of Black Magic standards. We are kind of a fast paced development based company

It took several large pieces to get in place before we can really go to task, a lot of the things you’ve seen in this camera – one of the things we’re really excited about in this camera is it pulled in so much technology from across all of the intellectual property that Black Magic has: it has the Thunderbolt we’ve been working on, it has the ProRes and DNxHD bits we’ve been working on, it has the SSD technology from the hyperdecks, its got Resolve technology not only because it comes with Resolve but there’s bearing – things that comes from Resolve Color… There’s a lot of different pieces from a broad spectrum of Black Magic IP that kind of fall into place with this camera so realistically even though you can say we’ve only been developing the camera for a year and a half it’s got years of different Black Magic IP that’s been home grown IP or IP that we’ve acquired over the past few years kind of all pull together and this product

[IQ] I’ve heard you’ve recently removed the hyphen in your website address and I guess the intenet when a little crazy with conspiracy theories. What do think about all the excitement about this camera and what’s going on?

[BMD] I think that the greatest part of it is when we can occasionally step back and kind pull away from the crazy zone of chaos of trying to get good information out and get these products finished and out the door. We really had to step back from that I think we’re really happy to see that – I think there was a kind of a key moment at the end of NAB where we reflexively said we kind of changed the way professional video cameras will be made from now on. So regardless how successful the camera becomes or where it’s used and all the different creative uses, it’s kind of a neat thing to think about it in the way that you know an iPhone has changed the way phones have been made, that i-shift. It’s kind of neat to think of the cinema camera we put out there who will change the way people think and look at cameras.

Obviously the response has been fantastic and overwhelming and great and we are excited to get products out there and and into people’s hands hopefully in the next couple weeks here and get more feedback and continue to move forward with the product line.

[IQ] So you’re saying in a couple weeks we’re going to start seeing products being shipped?

[BMD] We are just waiting finish a few bits of certification the product is lined up and ready to go we just need to get these last bits tightened up and they’ll begin shipping. The challenge is they’re going to ship from our manufacturing plant in Australia and they’re going to come over and then they’re going to go to channel partners so even if we turn the knob next week and said ‘hey they’re shipping in July’ its still going to take them a week or the filter their way out there so I’m always a little leery of that because people get excited about that -they probably will be shipping in July but that doesn’t mean there’s 5,000 units sitting out there in reseller’s hands fulfilling them out to customers or customers are shooting with them on July 31…

[IQ] There’s a lot of excitement about the camera and part of it is maybe there’s not a lot of test footage that’s circulating… just John Brawley…

[BMD] John Brawley was fortunate enough to be located right where the camera was being developed so he got to do a lot of the stuff there. And part of the challenge has been because this something we’re doing all this development on at a rapid pace we’ve been continually making improvements over the past few months since NAB.
John literally went out two weeks before NAB with kind of the first prototype of a unit of the camera and did some of those that we called ENG shots where we wanted to take the camera out there.

But every time I’ve gone back out to do shots we’ve continually found things to improve upon leaving so we’ve been really leary about putting up more footage and calling that the gold standard. We let John kind of put that stuff out there to let people see what we’re doing but we’re kind of leary putting stuff out there and saying “this is it” because it seems like every week or every two weeks to find a way to be able to create even better image processing and whatnot.

Literally for the past three or four weeks it’s been a “we’ll get some footage up next week” – go shoot stuff… oh wait we can improve this, change some of these bits, some processing can be done… Fortunately or unfortunately its just delayed getting Gold Standard footage put out there … it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s great to have that much excitement it’s great to know that we’re continuing to improve upon a time of the things that we found but then I know it drives people crazy. We’re almost to shipping a camera and there has been very little footage put out there.

[IQ] Let’s talk about the specs of the camera. A lot has been talked about the sensor size. What is the sensor size?

[BMD] It’s basically a 4/3rds sized sensor… the thing we’ve had to kind of explain to people and on and obviously I think we all, whether it be Black Magic or when I speak to potential customers customers about the camera we always seem to try to get back to the same place which is: it’s an amazing camera – Specs or cost or whatever all of it’s to do this exciting product there’s always that “Why couldn’t you” or “Couldn’t you have done” and I think the important thing on this answer that you have to understand is two or three years ago when we said we could build a camera, one of the things we had to do was find a sensor. It wasn’t like we were going to go out and design a whole sensor from the ground up – that’s not who we are or our forte. Nor were we going to be ringing up people asking for quotes on sensors because you know we can’t just tip our hat tip our hand that way. We had to go shop for the sensor we thought we wanted. There were several different things on that shopping list, how big could the sensor be, obviously now much would the sensor cost -we knew we wanted a really high dynamic range, we knew we wanted higher than HD resolution… \

And the sensor we eventually found was just an off the shelf part and we got most of what we wanted on there to build you know kind of incredible camera that we have there.

So one of the things we hear a lot of is could you do a full size sensor or a 2/3rds sensor… certainly we could if we could find that one discreetly that would be less than ten thousand dollars and do higher than HD resolution and high dynamic range with a large degree of stops – that would have been great. Would have been a 25 grand camera maybe…

Now that the cat’s out of the bag once this camera ships and we can do so updates or tweeks into this camera we can really figure out where we go from there.

As it stands in talking to the guys that have been able to play with the camera that sensor size is still really acceptable when you add in things like the 2.5K resolution and the 13 stops and such a broad dynamic range there. The camera does allow you to do some amazing things. When people start getting concerned about things like depth of field – it becomes less of an issue compared to so many of the other pros the camera has in there that you don’t find yourself lacking in some of thos other degrees. And just the fact that its such a flexible camera being about to do the RAW cinema as well as ProRes and DNxHD, there’s a whole load of workflow benefits that someone moving from that DSLR environment … we know that most camera guy are very passionate about their cameras but they’re always looking for that tool for the tool box. There are certainly, I find myself wanting to say these kind of standards like there are very few camera operator who only operate with one camera. There certainly are but its a tool for the tool box and given what you get for it it’s quite an exceptional tool.

[IQ] now is there is any possibility of changing the mount on the camera so maybe two to four thirds lens?

[BMD] On the camera itself there’s not an easy way to change the mount – it’s our own mount built into the turrent of the camera. Like I mentioned before we are kind of focus right now and getting the camera out the door as is . There’s certainly plenty of internal water cooler talk about you know sometime down the road you make a different mount type camera available – it would have to be a different type camera camera altogether because there’s no way of saying ok we’ll sell an extra different mount and people will change it. Or do people just use rings to change to different mounts or we might go with a different camera altogether or was this camera thing just a crazy pipe dream and this is the one and only camera. We kind of have to play it by ear but there’s certainly a lot of internal discussion about them and what we do after this but for now we don’t have the answers .

[IQ] So there’s no plans for a like you’re saying a larger – full size sensore camera?

[BMD] I mean it into a discussion about all that there’s no plan. I mean if we get out there and find this whole camera business is just too crazy – we’ll make this camera, it’ll be great and we’ll see how it goes. But you know there’s no real… Black Magic is not a company that lays down firm and hard and find yourself committed to things that are not going to be conducive for business practical reasons. We can certainly talk about that. Certainly there have been sensor manufacturers that have contacted us about the possibilities. These are things we want to explore. We don’t have the bandwidth as aggressive as a company like Black Magic is we don’t have the bandwidth to continue making multiple cameras at any given one time. So first step – ship camera A. And then kind of regroup and figure out where we go from there.

[IQ] Let’s talk about frame rates. What frame rate possibilities will this camera ship with:

[BMD] The camera as it is at lauch will be a 30P and lower camera. You’re talking all progressive 30, 29.97, 25, 23.94 – these are the frame rates we knew we could get out the door and they would support but traditional cinematic frame reates. Obviously the number one request we have is to do things like 60p. Kind of goes back to that same discussion as we have to get a camera out the door but we know we can do there are several challenges of doing higher frame rate like 60p such as heating and can you do RAW DNG to an SSD and do you have the throughput necessary to do that at 2.5k. Could you do it at a lower resolution? Perhaps. Could you do it in compressed only? Perhaps. But again heating is obviously always a challenge on cameras.

This camera itself has the molded aluminum body to dissipate heat as well as a fan as well as a refrigeration unit on the sensor but you know the more processing and more data you’re jamming through there the more critical heat is going to be. Back to that water cooler discussion about could we do we do it or does it have to be a different device… as it is, out the door 30p and under.

[IQ] Let’s talk about the battery -that’s a thing people are asking about. The camera has an internal battery is there any plans perhaps for an accessory for external battery hookup?

[BMD] We won’t do that but we’ve been sent probably a half dozen external battery by all the name guys out there that are doing third party batteries for other camera devices. We don’t forsee there being any shortage of ability to use third party external battery. We’ve been getting specs and recieved units from the Anton Bauers of the world… As much as some people are like “eh they can’t have” – our rigs have been fine without having any battery. It’s not something we see being a massive problem for people to get around.

[IQ] Let’s talk about something that I think people are missing. You’re shipping with DaVinci Resolve?

[BMD] We wanted to be able to provide as much value in the camera as possible and the most obvious thing to do was to include Black Magic Software because it’s ours so we’re kind of bundling with ourself. You do get a full copy of Resolve. Which is important because a lot of people may be dealing with RAW Cinema DNG for the first time and Resolve is a great tool to be able to work with that. The raw footage does need to be color graded so we might as well provide the solution for doing that as well.

You also get Ultrascope software which runs on Thunderbolt on there. You can do things like on set scope monitoring so you get quite a bit of software there for that total package price. Its a lot of products for the dollars spent.

[IQ] Are these pieces of software both PC and Mac?

[BMD] It is both PC and Mac. Thunderbolt is just moving onto PC now. The Ultrascope side of things will currently only run on a Mac but the Resolve is both a Mac or PC software. It’s the same dongle and you put your software on your OS of choice.

[IQ] Well that’s all the questions I have unless you have something you want everyone to know about what you’re doing with the camera or any final thoughts.

[BMD] … We do watch boards and forums and we do go out to a lot of people. It’s kind of funny where we get out and people are so excited about this camera and they’re literally begging us to ship the camera as if we didn’t want to ship it. We are dying to get these out to people. We’re just tryign to get these last certifications done and make sure everything is in tip top shape so we’re horribly excited and looking to get these out there.

[IQ] Well I’m excited to see what’s going to happen with it. You are hitting a part of the market that I think no one has the balls to touch – sorry.

[BMD] I think they’ve tried. I think there’s just been some missed marks out there. As odd as it was for people to come in at NAB and go, “oh wow, Black Magic is making a camera” – the fact that we had so much IP lined up to do this and the fact that we…. I can remember as many of the different camera to come out over the past ten years… I can remember seeing these cameras or seeing presentations and thinking Man that is a great image, but what do you do with it in post production or how DSLRs have changed the way people acquire video but that compression rate – what do you do with it in Post Production?

That whole Post-Production thing always seemed like the awkward unthought of step-child of some of these cameras. So for Black Magic who is really a post production background come and in and say ‘we think we understand the camera aspect well enough but the post production part of things we really understand and that’s a… that’s one of those things that got people excited about Black Magic entering that kind of camera forey.

[IQ] For my own purposes, I work on a PC with Adobe Premiere. I understand ProRes because you have a history with ProRes, DNxHD is that something that you guys have been developing for a while now?

[BMD] That’s Avid’s compression. With media composer – that’s their Pro-Res equivalent for lack of a better word so… we wanted to be able to create … well technically the cinema DNG Raw is actually an Adobe format… We wanted to be able to have both the RAW for that “uncompressed RAW cinema workflow” but we also wanted a couple of compressed options like the Cinema DNxHD and the ProRes that are a little more workflow friendly.

Almost everything in the camera we didn’t want to hold you to a “You must do it this way”. We wanted people to get the camera and you choose the compression you want, you buy the SSDs that you feel (no proprietary storage requirements), you choose whether you want to use it on a tripod or a handheld. We wanted people to make a choice as to how they want to use the camera rather than us going out there and saying look this is a shoulder mount camera that has to be used this way, this format, with these different parameters based around that. that was a lot of the design goal there.

[IQ] and that was Dan May in Black Magic Design. Thank you so much. thank you so much Dan for a great conversation about the Black Magic Design Cinema camera. Let me just say this we are living in extraordinary times for filmmakers absolutely extraordinary time for filmmaking do not let anyone tell you otherwise. I can’t wait to see a camera in action. For more information about the Black Magic Cinema Camera, hop over to their site: http://blackmagicdesign.com

My name is John Hess for more great tutorials and articles and talk about filmmaking – feed the soul the filmmaker – hop over to our site FilmmakerIQ.com.