The Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera (BMCC) is a unique and polarizing camera, a combination of good and bad.
In my two year experience with this camera, it has provided me with some of my most beautiful footage to date and has also pushed me to consider selling it more than once. Since it’s inception, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMCC) has undergone several significant firmware updates, developed a loyal following, and been succeeded by a handful of new Blackmagic Design cameras. Albeit, many owners have been seriously disgruntled by the camera’s shortcomings and the significant price drop, $2995 to $1995; I must admit I am one of those owners.
Thinking outside the box. The people at Blackmagic Design wanted a different approach to the affordable, handheld, video camera.
When I first saw the BMCC online in 2012, I was intrigued. It looked like a DSLR raised by a family of iMacs except it didn’t take photos and you couldn’t browse the web. Instead, it did what the very expensive video cameras did – shot in raw, or at least 10 bit, to produce a very beautiful, more filmic image – and it did it all for less than $3000 (currently less than $2000). I was using the Canon 5D Mark II as my primary “video” camera and the BMCC seemed like the sensible upgrade. I wanted a more robust codec, better dynamic range, and above all – a digital film camera! I think it was love at first sight. And then the honeymoon fizzled…
The final image is both high quality and uniquely filmic. Dollar for dollar, it is the strongest point of this camera.
Let me get straight to the point, when it comes down to it, the reason to own this camera is to be able to produce a fantastic looking image for an affordable price. How do I know? I have been shooting with it for over two years and let me tell you it packs a punch. We are talking about a camera capable of 12 bit raw, 2.5k resolution, 13 stops of dynamic range, a ton of flexibility in post, and the professional full version of software to go with it (DaVinci Resolve). But this camera goes beyond just specifications, there is something truly filmic about it’s image – it’s very satisfying. Now, is it worth getting?
Remember, this was Blackmagic Design’s first camera.
If only I could describe how much anguish this camera has caused me. Just so we’re on the same page, this camera is confused. It is an oddball. A sort of blueprint. “What is that?” people ask me. “Are you taking pictures?” Or maybe they just give me a perplexed look, and personally, I couldn’t disagree. I do not understand the design and probably never will.
Blackmagic calls these cameras, “the professional digital film cameras you can hold in your hand.” On their website there are polished photos of young males in different shooting scenarios using it handheld and while you can shoot that way, it is difficult. I like shooting with minimal gear but even with something like a monopod, I find the camera too cumbersome. This is not a camera you unbox and run around shooting anything and everything.
With a non-removable battery that doesn’t last, a screen so reflective, audio best suited as a scratch track, and as I just mentioned, an odd form factor, this camera requires many expensive accessories. On a positive note, I must say the design for attachments is very respectable and incredibly robust.
The frustrations did not end.
I had had enough and felt it was time to write about The BMCC: 10 Things I Wish I Had Known! The more I used it, the more my list of dislikes continued to grow. Then suddenly, the morning I was supposed to film some humpback whales, the screen faded to white. The primary logic board (PLB) had failed.
I was more than ready to cast this robust hunk of junk off the cliff and into the ocean. Instead, I sent it to Blackmagic Design where they finished their repair. After receiving it back, fully functional, I was just moments away from passing off this annoyance to someone else. Then suddenly it hit me – keep it (actually my wife convinced me). Yes, it has its draw backs but I had learned how to use it as a highly effective digital film camera. Plus, over the months, Blackmagic Design had impressed me with their dedication to continue firmware updates. Now the BMCC is capable of lossless raw, multiple recording formats, in camera formatting, improved focus peaking, audio meters, a histogram and more.
What does it all mean? And how does the BMCC stack up against other cameras?
As of today, I can tell you, the BMCC is not for everyone. As simplified as it may appear, this isn’t necessarily an easy camera to use. It isn’t a DSLR replacement or killer, nor a solid primary camera. It has great dynamic range and holds highlights brilliantly but the image falls apart miserably in low light. It doesn’t have a micro 4/3 sensor, nor a super 35, nor a super 16. The BMCC is uniquely its own. It looks that way and it performs that way. It can do things that only higher end cameras could do, whether that be heavy chroma keying, color grading, or cropping an image to 2K or 1080p resolutions.
The BMCC has made its way into the hands of filmmakers all over the world, has been rigged in every way imaginable, and has even been used in large budget motion pictures. The BMCC, for now, is here to stay.
And now for my humble conclusion.
Rent it. Borrow it. Try this camera out and use it as much as you can. It is that simple and it will change the way you shoot. Whether that is a change for the better, well, that’s up to you to decide.
There are many video camera choices and it seems every year there’s a new one to consider. More so than ever, and similar to the computer market, the video camera market has become fast-paced, extremely competitive, and increasingly uncertain. I find it unnerving yet exciting. The BMCC fits into this marketplace quite well, with it’s original design, affordable price, and progressive image capabilities. And while this disruptive-like camera took many by storm, remember, this was Blackmagic Design’s first camera. It has many limitations and is far from the “one” camera to own. It is a filmmaking tool that has a solid place in the market – at least the way I see it. As of today, do I regret buying this camera? In many ways, but I would do it again because of the direction it has pushed me and more importantly, how much I have learned because of it (and DaVinci Resolve). The road has been rocky but the BMCC will stay nestled amongst my gear as a powerful tool.
Thanks so much for reading and as always, feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear what you have to say about the BMCC or any of Blackmagic Design’s cameras. Until next time…