04 Mar 2014

Want another opinion on the Blackmagic 4K camera? Here's our second, independent, review. Featured

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Blackmagic Production Camera Blackmagic Production Camera RedShark


Opnions, although mostly favourable, are pretty mixed about Blackmagic's new 4K camera. So we've commissioned two completely independent reviews of this important new product. Here's the second, from experienced cinematographer Phil Rhodes

Before we start, we're going to have to come to an agreement. That agreement recognises the fact that the Blackmagic Production Camera is a very serviceable little device, and the fact that it's very cost effective. So, should I happen to write something even slightly less than positive about this camera, I want you to assume that the mitigating words “...but it's very cheap” are inserted thereafter. Because the Blackmagic Production Camera is indeed extremely competitively priced, but astoundingly, it's probably still a better camera than the earliest efforts of some other manufacturers to build 4K cinematography devices at many times the cost.




Immediately at home

Anybody who's used the little 2.5K brother of this camera will immediately be at home, because the ergonomics, user interface and general behaviour are so close to the earlier model that there's not much to talk about. The menus, in distinctive and friendly grey-and-orange Blackmagic style, have spawned an option to select either 6Gbps quad HD output, or 3Gbps HD. One caveat of the inbuilt TFT display is that it's very difficult to use in bright light – even a bright overcast – and most owners will want an EVF with an eyepiece, or will end up under a black drop cloth like a Victorian photographer. There are a couple of frames of delay on the SDI output and therefore it'll be important to find an EVF with minimum internal delay of its own. The downscale on the HD output is of reasonable quality and I can also imagine circumstances where one might choose to record raw on the camera, and something else on an external recorder. This might enable an online-offline workflow, although the camera doesn't seem to output timecode over SDI in a way that an Atomos Samurai Blade was able to recognise and some other solution would therefore be required.




The physical layout is, again, more or less indistinguishable from the old model. The chassis seems designed to imitate a DSLR and fits neatly enough into the hand, although the sheer mass of the camera's sturdy metal chassis (nearly six pounds with a Sigma 24-105 f4 zoom) makes this a short-term approach at best. As is widely recognised on the 2.5K version, any serious application will need to be part of a larger rig to offset forearm fatigue and make battery life more reasonable, among other things. The same transport controls (with a nice tactile click beneath the  rubbery fascia) operate the same functions, and the display touchpanel is clearly a capacitive type, with excellent responsiveness, including potentially tricky operations such as dragging audio level controls.





Audio is unfortunately the first place we need refer to my notes about this being a very economically priced camera. Nobody expects the built-in microphone to be much use, but while I didn't have time to do objective lab tests, the mic preamps on the jack inputs are audibly far from the best ever made and any serious user will need to budget for better. There's no phantom power – which is  forgivable at this price point – but there's also no audio metering of any kind, which is less forgivable, especially as this has also been the case on each of the predecessor cameras to this product. While we're on the subject of things that aren't there, there is also no indication of the remaining disk space. This has also been the case on previous Blackmagic products (the cinema and pocket cameras as well as the Hyperdeck Shuttle recorder) so I don't think anyone should buy into this camera on the assumption that these features will soon appear. The battery-remaining indicator went from 75% to 10% and back to 75% in the space of 15 seconds at one point, which is hardly something to rely on; happily, most applications will use external power and treat the internal as a hotswap adaptor. Power consumption is 1.7 amps at 12V (20W) when charging the battery, and about 2.1 amps (24W) when active, which is downright frugal for a 4K camera.





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Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes is a Cinematographer, Technologist, Writer and above all Communicator. Never afraid to speak his mind, and always worth listening to, he's a frequent contributor to RedShark.

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