The Blackmagic Production Camera 4k John Ford - Head of Film by John Ford, Head of Film

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It’s been an exciting few weeks in the Contra Film department. We’ve recently added a few key components to out in house kit:

A full on, heavy duty, properly awesome tripod – the O’Conner 1030D

A set of beautiful Canon C-ne Primes

A new Motion Control Timelapse slider – the TB3

and a brand new, rock solid slider.

All this is great and makes our already awesome kit even more awesome! But it’s also been a year of development from the new camera world. We recently got our hands on the new Blackmagic Production Camera. The 4k version of their already very interesting 2.5k cinema camera. This 4k camera caught my attention when it was announced over a year ago as it offered a ridiculous spec. Global shutter, 12 stops latitude and 4k recording in camera. All at a very affordable price.

So we hired it in for a recent shoot to see if it could work for us. I was sceptical having heard a few horror stories so wanted to try before buying. This is my experience.

First up – you obviously need some kind of external battery supply for this camera. The internal battery is just utterly and completely rubbish. It’s not removable which is just insane. So we shoved a nice big heavy duty v-lock on the back. This is what that means:

The form factor of the Blackmagic 4k (and 2.5k) is just insane. I admit to being a little old-fashioned and liking video cameras to feel like video cameras but this is clearly stupid. The monitor – where the very very limited menus can be found – is on the back of this camera. Which is the most logical place to mount a battery if you’re using a shoulder rig.

Idiotic.

So you also need to know that the monitor that is built into this camera is utterly useless for judging – well – anything. Focus, exposure – you’re going to need an external monitor. Which leads me on to my next big gripe – NO COLOUR BARS! I couldn’t actually calibrate my trusty external monitor (the stunning Sony OLED 740) to ensure what I was filming was what I was actually filming. Fortunately I have scopes on my monitor but check this out. Seems to me that the signal being output is quite off from the signal being recorded. Peaks on my monitors scope seemed to be hitting nearer 90% rather than 100%. So I adjusted the monitor by eye to account for this and it looks like all is as it should be in the edit. But can anyone explain to me why the signal is so off? And why on Earth Blackmagic didn’t include colour bars on this camera?? Am I missing something?

Which brings me on to my next big gripe – the menus and options for this camera are frighteningly basic. At present you can literally only chose two recording modes. HD Prores or 4k Prores. When it comes to important adjustable parameters – let’s chose colour temperature for example – the increments are far too limited for me! it goes from 3200 to 4500!! wow… that’s nuts!

Iris control??? ok so we used the L-series primes on this shoot and if you want to darken the image during a shot then forget it. you have a button called ‘Iris’ and pressing this – in theory – sets the correct exposure. Except for me it would randomly set to whatever it wanted to be. I had to control the exposure by half covering the lens and adjusting the amount of light entering and just keep trying the Iris button until I found the nearest exposure that would work! so when doing walking, following shots you would regularly need to stop, ask the contributor to hang on a sec while you adjusted, and carry on! I’m used to working with decent primes and having very subtle adjustments to hand and it seems to me the only way to properly work with this camera would be to use the C-ne Primes with ND filters. So that’s not a huge problem, just don’t try and use L-series lenses in any variable light setting (like interviews with any natural light coming in!)

ok, what else – oh yeah audio. Just don’t. That was the advice given to my by a colleague and he’s right. crazy high noise all over the place so record sound separately. A couple more… You cant delete clips or format cards in camera, you need to do that on a laptop. It also doesn’t tell you how much of the media you’ve used and to my eyes there was no way to set the timecode so we were kinda guessing as to how much we’d shot and when to change cards.

We suffered on our camera from the black dot issue, as well as a strange grid pattern that showed up on some highlights but I have read a couple of posts that seem to have this fixed so maybe that’s just our camera. If anything else I’ve mentioned seems to have been fixed please do let me know! I’ll gladly be told how to solve these things!!

There may well be a few more idiotic things that come to mind (like the fact that when shooting outside you need the ‘free included’ sunshade but be prepared to lie down on the ground if you want to shoot any low level shots – or get a decent EVF… a must with this camera in my opinion, or perhaps the fact that we only really have two ISO settings, 200 and 400. don’t try and use 800. and don’t use this camera in low light. It needs light).

But there is only one other thing about this camera that I have to add to this review… and it’s a biggie. In fact the biggest biggie there is. It’s stunning. Just stunning. The images are quite simply beautiful.

The questions is – does this make up for the fact that every other element of this camera is basically – stupid.

John Ford - Head of Film by John Ford, Head of Film
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