PDR & a look into the Black Magic Cameras (2.5 + 4K)

Since I know them, PDR and I have become really good friends and I’m absolutely happy to have met them! So of course it’s always a real pleasure to work with the indie/post-pop band, which is why I was in great anticipation for their new EP, which they invited me to accompany. The plan was to do something special, not the traditional ‚record-then-release‘ way. I actually don’t want to talk too much about the exact thoughts behind everything, because those questions will be answered in the mini-documentary about said EP.

One thing I can say is that we filmed PDR performing their new songs live in front of an exclusive audience in the Tresorfabrik, a great studio in Duisburg. We, that is me and a good friend of mine, Marcel. I don’t usually work with other people, because it can cause problems you wouldn’t face alone. But of course, you can solve problems you couldn’t solve alone. For example operating a boom microphone, which is a really important thing for decent audio of course, but really tough to manage while handling the camera(s)…
With Marcel, everything worked fine, I’m glad we had him with us! He’s actually an extremely talented cameraman, take a look at this video he shot. Some very cool and unique ideas!

We shot on the Black Magic Production cameras. The new 4K and the 2.5K; the 2.5K on a shoulder rig with a 35mm (but of course, thanks to the enormous crop of the 2.5K more like an 80mm+) and the 4K on a dolly with a 10-20mm and 50mm rotating. Apart from the project itself I was really looking forward to test the Black Magic cameras, since I’ve never worked with them before. The opportunity was perfect.



Of course I can’t even slightly call myself a professional and on no level is what I say absolute, this is just my opinion. Further more my opinion is only taken from that one-day shooting, so I could have simply missed a few things or whatever. But what I took from the shooting is this:
Negative first: the handling is far from ideal. Really, the ergonomics suck – sorry. Since most of the cameras setting is set up via the touchscreen you could at least think the touch control is decent. Which it is not. Everything that is controlled by a slider (like brightness, the audio levels etc) is really inaccurate, especially when you try to match two cameras. What I really don’t get is why the setting for the ASA is inside the menu, where you can’t even see the difference – so you can’t really tell if your setting is okay or not until you get out of the menu. No histogram either. Bummer. The few buttons that the Black Magic has, don’t help too much. They are mostly for watching your media – that you can’t delete by the way. The record button is on the left under the display, which i found very uncomfortable while handling a rig. Also the battery is an absolute K.O. factor for me. The Black Magic only has an internal battery that can’t be changed, and you don’t have much time before it runs out of power (a little more than an hour i guess). You can and should get an external battery if you’re looking for decent time to shoot. As bad as the low battery power is the charge indicator for it. The only status-updates the display gives you after 100% are 75%, 50%, 25%, 10%. That’s it. Nothing in between. I read online that this should be fixed with a new firmware, so maybe that issue is solved already. It wasn’t in our case. I want to put the crop factor in here, at least for the 2.5K Black Magic. You more or less lose the capability of wide-angle shooting. The crop factor for the 2.5K is 2.88x, which is a whole lot. The 4K only has 1.7x. This doesn’t have to be a definite negative thing. If you know the fact and you know what you need, you’ll be able to get your image either way. It just might be a lot harder with the BM camera.

The biggest issue though was with the 4K model. When going up to 800 ASA the sensor somehow started to act crazy, leaving us with vertical stripes all over the image (see picture). When we first noticed we hoped for a mistake on the display only. It wasn’t. What a pity, that should really be fixed, I read some articles about the same issue afterwards, so it doesn’t seem to be a one time thing.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-04-08 um 20.26.27Also there was this highlights problem that I haven’t seen since my first digicam back in the 90s. Highlights_Fail


Now for the positive part: the BM4K has a global shutter. I truly find that extremely important, especially handheld shooting or hectic movement profit a lot from that. And of course the most positive thing about the BM cameras: the image. It simply looks fantastic. I didn’t get the chance to shoot any raw footage, since that simply would have been insane considering the amount of data. So we shot 1080p 422 Prores 10-bit, which is amazing. Still, with very manageable amount of footage, we ended up with 300GB of data. That’s enough for the little filming we did. I’m very excited for the color grading, I never had my own 10-bit footage before.
The price should be a definite positive factor. But of course you will need a lot of extra-equipment to really use the camera properly. To be honest, I wouldn’t buy one. As a rental, when you really want your image to be brilliant: yes! Definitely! But that’s about it. For personal use I’d be simply unable to cope with the huge amount of data. Who can afford a new hard drive every week? I can’t. At least not right now.
I haven’t mentioned the display yet. There are a lot of bad words about it online, but I can’t really say the same. We only used the cameras inside (and outside for a couple of minutes, but the sun was almost gone then), and I didn’t have any problems with the display turning into a mirror. Maybe – or even probably – it does become sort of a mirror in daylight. I can’t tell you, sorry.
Although the negative list is a lot longer than the positive list – at least at the moment (and in MY opinion, by no means in general!) – I’m still looking forward to another chance to work with the BM4K – as a rental. The image quality makes up for the lack in handling. As. a. rental. Can’t stretch that enough.


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