When you think about it, the most magical word for beginning and low-budget filmmakers is: 4K. Mention of it brings to mind the silver screen, movie stars and fantastic images. There’s just some juno se qua about the idea of shooting with a 4k camera.
When Blackmagic Design announced the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K at NAB 2013, many indie filmmakers felt their pulse rise. And I was one of them. 4K for $4,000? Yes, please!
But before we throw our money at the Aussie company, we need to do some evaluation.
The Good: Blackmagic Production Camera 4K
- 4K for $4,000. The price isn’t everything, but you can’t ignore it.
- Super 35mm 4K sensor with global shutter. This is great because there is not the dramatic crop factor of the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMCC) and we will not see jello (rolling shutter) in our footage. Twelve stops of dynamic range is nothing to sneeze at, either.
- Blackmagic color science. Some would disagree with me on this point (and this is still a matter of speculation – see below) but Blackmagic, in my opinion, did a great job of matching the images of the BMCC and the Blackmagic Pocket Camera (BMPC). This creates such a consistency between the cameras that there might be times that it would be difficult to distinguish between footage shot from each camera. Shooters can use a BMPC as a B cam for a BMCC, then use the BMCC as a B cam for the BM4K camera. It’s an almost Apple-esque ecosystem for the cameras that is well though out for multi-cam shooters.
- 4K and 1080p, raw and Prores. Both are good options for shooting, and shooting 1080p off of a 4K sensor can yield some beautiful results from the over sampling.
- Canon mount. I know that some people were not thrilled with this mount, and using a more easily adapted mount (e mount?) would have made sense, but with the number of Canon shooters with Canon lenses sitting around, there is a built-in base of users ready to jump the 4K shark (more in this later)
- Form factor. Wait, this is a good thing? Well, yes – it’s design is seemingly intended to be built up on a rig, which is what most productions will do with their cameras anyway.
The Not So Good: Blackmagic Production Camera 4K
- Form factor. Wait, didn’t you say the form factor was a good thing? Yes – unless you are considering handholding the camera itself – but in all honesty, would anyone who busy this camera actually do that?
- Internal power. An external power supply is basically a prerequisite, so bear that in mind when you consider the purchase.
- Fast SSDs. Even the BMPC requires very fast storage media, and I’m sure the 4K camera will be a storage hog in many ways. And you though raw from the BMCC took a lot of space?
- Limited audio inputs. No XLR inputs does limit your ability to record on-camera audio, which can speed up your workflow if you don’t need to synch sound in post.
- No high frame rates. The BM4K maxes out at 30 fps, and it includes the “standard” 23.976, 24, and 29.98 frame rates that we all know and love, but you won’t get slow-mo out of this camera.
The Bad: Blackmagic Production Camera 4K
- The worst for me is- this is still all speculation at this point. The general public has not seen any 4K footage, and the camera that was originally supposed to be released in summer is still waiting… Somewhere. While some complain, rightly, about missed deadlines, I’d prefer to wait for a higher-quality, finished camera then a rushed design.
Having access to an affordable 4K might be something that smaller filmmakers are now slobbering for, but here is what you have to remember: the camera is just a tool. If you don’t know how to use it. Buying a 4K camera will not solve your problems.
The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K has a lot to look forward to, but be sure that you know your tools and have a good story to tell before jumping on the 4K bandwagon.
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Michael Head is a filmmaker and full-time geek living the the Dallas-Fort Worth Metromess. Follow him at @michaeldhead.