Back in grade school I used to enjoy playing handball with all the kids at recess. At first I had no idea what I was doing, fumbling around trying to hit that ball, eventually I some kind friends and older kids decided to show me the ropes and taught like the 'chop', an 'ace' and the 'lob'. After a while I got the hang of it and started getting good, but there was also that one kid with the move I could never defend against, the dirtiest of tricks, the 'Black Magic'.
So I have an idea of how Canon must feel at this year's NABshow (National Association of Broadcasters) when their newest competitor, Black Magic Design, showed up with this:
The Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera is a Full HD (1920x1080) resolution video camera that records its footage without any added processing, generally called RAW recording. This is a very important feature for a video camera to have if image quality is important to you.
The DSLR Revolution bought with it 'close to' Cinema camera image quality for a tenth of the price, creating an explosion of Indie Filmmakers and Videographers, wonderful as they are were not without their short comings.
Canon ultimately pulled ahead of the competition, due in no small part to the help of their 'kind friends' in the Magic Lantern community which provided their DSLRs with very useful video centric features aimed at the professional and enthusiast users. Five years after the release of the first video enabled DSLRs and many updates later the manufacturer's finally began providing the features their users were looking for; but by doing so hit a proverbial wall of advancement, any further would start to contend with their Professional Camcorder and Cinema Camera offerings so it seemed the remaining issues left unattended were here to stay.
Common Video DSLRs
Like myself learning grade school handball, the manufactures made plenty of mistakes in their early models; Nikon fumbled their D90 with a limiting resolution option and poor encoding codec, Canon improved on that with the 5D mark II but forgot manual exposure settings and limited their frame-rate options, Panasonic with their GH1 was arguably the best hardware and software for the job but had very limited bit-rates for their encoding bandwidth while Sony and others slowly crept into the market.
magiclantern on Canon EOS 7D
Just as the DSLR manufacturers started to get the hang of this market with real winners like the Canon 5D mark III and Panasonic GH3 a relatively new company to the camera manufacturing game shows up with a real 'game changer'. This new camera from Black Magic Design not only addresses the issues plaguing all DSLR but it also provides an image quality that directly competes with the Professional Camcorder and Cinema Cameras, revealing just how fragile the line between the two are.
|The Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera with a $26,000 Cinema zoom lens.|
Many have rightfully said how the Canon 5D mark II (along with Magic Lantern) has broken down the walls of entry to the professional video industry but this camera has just blown up any remanence of that wall to dust! But that's enough hype, let's get down to specifics and see what this camera is all about.
The most important part of any camera is the imaging sensor, thanks to some friends on the EOSHD Forum, they've narrowed down the likely sensor as either the CIS1910F or the CIS1021 both from Fairchild imaging which they described as sCMOS sensors "...ultra low-noise CMOS image sensor intended for scientific and industrial applications requiring high quality imaging under extremely low light levels." this estimation was based on the fact that Black Magic Design's other model, the 'Black Magic Cinema Camera', currently uses an sCMOS sensor from Fairchild imaging which Black Magic Design's Public Relations has claimed offers the exact same image quality as the new BMPocketCC.
|Fairchild imaging's CIS1021 sCMOS|
|BMPocketCC diagram mockup|
Which ever sensor ends up in the BMPocketCC promises 13 stops of Dynamic Range in 12 bit image files, minimal rolling shutter and a 1600 ISO image clean of signal noise. Compared to Canon's 5D mark III with its 10 stops of dynamic range the BMPocketCC offers 6x more detail in the highlights and shadows of the image. The 12 bits color space means 4,096 shades of each color which is 8x more accurate color reproductions than any current DSLR with their 8 bit codecs and even more accurate than some Professional Camcorders. Rolling shutter effects appear better than any DSLR I've seen but that is a subjective matter and the ISO noise is on par with today's current offerings from most newer models.
Even having the best sensor in the world, which BAE Systems considers to be the CIS1021, means nothing if coupled with a poor quality image codec. Encoding codecs are very important in a modern day video camera, it compresses the image data so that it can be easily stored on a removable media device such as a memory card or on computers with smaller hard drives. I mentioned before that the BMPocketCC provides RAW video footage, in a CinemaDNG lossless compression wrapper, but that may not be the best choice for every situation so the camera also provides a 10bit 4:2:2 ProRes HQ lossy compression Intra-frame codec which 'throws away' some image data while only causing a minimal amount of visual degradation unlike DSLR's 8bit 4:2:0 AVC lossy compression Inter-frame codec which throws away twice the color information as well as reducing the color accuracy by a factor of 4 when compared to Apple's ProRes HQ. The AVC was designed as a 'delivery codec' meant to help stream a video over the internet or squeeze onto an optical disc while ProRes is an 'acquisition codec' which reduces size while attempting to preserve the information needed for editing and manipulating an image.
|Apple iPhone 4 smart phone|
|Sony's NEX 3 mirrorless camera|
Its looks remind me of an Apple iPhone 4 while its form factor is clearly inspired by Sony's NEX line of mirrorless cameras. It uses the very affordable and common Nikon EN-EL20 battery, the lens mount accepts Micro Four Thirds lenses and employs an 'active' electronic communication for those lenses to control their apertures with either a push button auto exposure or through manual incremental steps. Their are no automatic modes for shutter speeds, image gain, white balance or focus which may turn some people away but it was intended for those that require manual settings to ensure the camera stays locked in to their delicately chosen settings. The camera does however offer focus peaking which outlines object that are in focus to help manual focusing accuracy and 'zebras', an exposure assist feature to check for blown out highlight details, it also does not take photos but supports a time-lapse function.
The idea of having a pocket sized RAW video recorder is too good to pass up, especially considering its price at just $995, so I suggest pre-ordering this because it's very unlikely you'll be finding BlackMagic Design in any retail store and judging by its popularity since the announcement, if you don't order early you might not be seeing them at all since BlackMagic Design doesn't have the best record at filling their back-orders quickly. Understand though,
technically it will 'work' with as little as a $13 SD card and a $100 lens, but that just makesthis a suitable toy rather then a tool, which is perfectly fine if this is for a hobby or you're using it to learn on; if you need this to make you money prepare to spend a bit more than $995. To incorporate it into my work I'm not only going to need more accessories to run it as a reliable A or B cam but also more drive space and beefier computer parts to handle the bigger files and higher quality images, so I'm likely looking at another $1,100 - $2,000; potentially the same cost range as adding a 5D mark III or D600 or GH3 or NEX VG30 if not more... but with the BMPocketCC it forces me to get ready for a 'RAW/Low Compression' workflow which I think was BlackMagic Design's point and not really a bad idea for me to do.