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Blackmagic Production 4K Camera Review & Tests

Almost every filmmaker and video expert out there wonders what kind of quality they can expect from the new Blackmagic Design Production 4K camera. I say ‘wonders’ because of most of you out there that ordered the camera a year ago are still waiting to get it. Seems that this camera has been plagued with problems right from the start. But now that I’ve had a chance to use the camera on two projects, I thought I would do a review and shoot some test footage that will hopefully answer all your questions about the camera.

Here is the video portion of the review

“American Dream” clips courtesy of Earl Reginhard http://earlreginhard.com/

Here you can see the test footage in full 4K compared to Canon 7D DSLR. I perform the following tests:
– latitude test
– rolling shutter test
– low light test
– skin tone test
– moire test

So what do I think of the camera? I think it’s great! Specially when you consider that it sells for just $2995. Of course, like all cameras out there it’s not perfect. It can produce amazing quality if you know what it’s limitations are and how to work around them.

Here’s what I like about the camera:
-clean 4K resolution images
-great ProRes 422 (HQ) compression at 880 Mbps
-global shutter means no more jello or rolling shutter issues
-SSD recorder built in
-6G SDI output
-Super 35 image sensor
-12 stops of dynamic range

Now here’s what I hate about the camera:
-monitor like a mirror (useless in bright daylight)
-built in battery lasts max 20-30 min. & can’t be exchanged
-awkward design makes it uncomfortable for handheld use
-no way to delete clips or format SSD in camera
-no audio pre-amps results in horrible audio
-no way to monitor audio levels
-bad low-light performance
-no slow motion, maximum 30 fps (despite what the company claims about 60i)

You can download the RAW 4K files here.

You can buy the BlackMagic Production Camera 4K at B&H Photo Video

Alternatively, you can buy the camera on

Having work experience with the BlackMagic cameras, I recommend several additional purchases.

Battery
Yes, the camera has a built-in battery, but it’s a battery that’s not removable and it only lasts about an hour! So, this means that if you charge up your camera and go out on location, you’ll be done using the battery before you even get really started. Therefore, investing in an external battery source is a must.

The camera accepts from 12 to 30 volts. Before, there was only one solution to power the battery – expensive V mounts and batteries. Now, there are a few other options that also work, I have found.

Bescor now offers the cheapest battery solution that will power the camera for about four hours. That is great. On the downside, the battery comes in a carry bag that you will somehow have to modify if you want to mount the battery on your camera or rail system.

Other solutions that are also affordable are these two Sony and Canon battery mounts.

Sony battery mount
Get this rail block so you can put the battery mount on your rail rig


Canon battery mount


Here is another option that’s a bit more expensive, but works great


The most tried and tested way to power this camera is to use the industry standard V mount batteries. They are however not cheap… but they work great and will power the camera for a long time!

Battery
Battery Mount
Battery charger


Battery+Mount+Charger


Media Storage
When shooting RAW, you will need a lot of hard drive space. For one day of shooting, I recommend at least 4 Terabytes. This camera ONLY accepts SSDs (Solid State Drives) that are more often used for laptops, etc.

Here is the best deal I found from Scandisc.


You will also need a docking station so you can copy the footage to your computer and to format your hard drives. Note that you CANNOT delete or format the drives in camera. So, when doing this on location, you’ll have to employ a laptop.

This is the best SSD Dock with USB 3.0 and eSATA connections


Here is a great dock for a more portable use with USB 3.0


Monitor
The camera has a built-in touchscreen so you might wonder why you need this expense. From first-hand experience, I can tell you that the monitor on the back of this camera is useless unless you’re working indoors on a controlled set. Once you step out into the sunlight or any bright lights, the monitor is so reflective that I, at times, used it as a mirror to check my hair.

Also, the monitor doesn’t flip out or tilt at all… so if your camera is high up or at a weird angle, you will not be able to see what you are recording. Trust me, you need a good monitor – a monitor that’s got a lot of pixels and also accept the SDI signal.

Here are some monitors I recommend.
This is a cheaper version with the SDI input


You will also need something to mount the monitor


Shoulder Rig
This is not a must, but since the camera is not designed to be held – and you will now need to attach those accessories like the batteries and monitor – I suggest you get a good rig with a standard rail system.

I tried using this camera once just by itself, hand-holding. The camera is made of aluminum and has no handles or grips like DSLR’s… it ended up slipping from my hands and falling. Thank god, I was filming a steamy love scene and the camera landed in the bed. Otherwise, it would have been one expensive slip.

Here is a decent rig to get you started

Here is another rig that will work great with this camera


Other Accessories
You will also probably want to invest in some kind of an audio solution. Even thought you can connect microphones directly to the camera, it doesn’t use the industry standard XLR connection. Plus, there is no phantom power coming out of the camera. Therefore, I recommend you get this audio adapter

When shooting outdoors, you will also need a neutral density (ND) filter. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to shoot at very high shutter speeds – upwards of 1/1000s, giving you no motion blur. Here are a couple of very good options.


Finally, it’s a good idea to get a protective case. Here is a good deal

4 thoughts on “Blackmagic Production 4K Camera Review & Tests”

  1. Does it also have drop frame issues like the bmcc? After all the add-ones. This seem to get up to around $4000 or so.

    Looking forward in seeing your review of the gh4 :)

    1. Nope… I haven’t had any issues with dropped frames yet. Im using only the drives that are on the approved SSD list that Blackmagic Design posted on their website thought. With slower drives it might have problems.

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