The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Guide (Part One): Ergonomics and Specifications

Disclaimer:

Since the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K isn’t out yet at the time of this writing most of this guide is conjecture – the result of relying on information provided by Blackmagic Design, educated guesses and my personal experience and analysis. It is only a starting point, from which you will hopefully continue to research and find what best suits your workflow. The information provided here might not be accurate or relevant. You are solely responsible for your decisions and actions.

This guide covers everything from how to select the right lenses and accessories for the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, to workflows in production and post production to get the best out of your footage. It is divided into six parts. The main menu which links to all sections can be found here.

I have one bit of important advice: Buy only what you need. If you can’t judge rationally, get somebody with experience to assist you. A complete camera system is a constantly evolving thing, and you’re better off starting with the bare minimum and adding stuff later, than spending all your money on a setup that will evolve anyway.

In this part we’ll cover:

  • The ergonomics and controls of the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K.
  • Camera specifications, and what you can expect.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

BMPC4K1

Who is the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K for?

In Blackmagic Design’s own words:

Shoot Ultra HD TV or 4K feature films with the new Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. Independent film production no longer needs to look like video because of budget!

Now you can shoot the most amazing high resolution music videos, episodic television productions, television commercials, sport, documentaries, interviews and feature films. The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K features a single 6G-SDI output for incredible Ultra HD live production.

In documentary filmmaking the camera goes where the story takes you, so you need to be agile enough to move quickly and never miss a shot. With the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K you get a camera that is responsive and easy to operate as there are no complicated menu structures or difficult to adjust settings.

Ultra HD 4K is perfect for the most amazing live production. With the increasing size of giant screens at events HD resolution is no longer good enough.

In short, Blackmagic Design has created a product so revolutionary, that they themselves don’t really know which market it will ultimately end up serving the most. To be fair though, judging by initial videos from the Blackmagic 4K Camera, it looks like a winner, and somebody will buy it!

Here is a video from the camera, shot on Prores, courtesy Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic Design:

And here’s a completed music video, shot on Prores:

I don’t have to tell you that the image quality is far superior to what you get with DSLRs, or even more expensive cameras like the Canon 1DC (controversial!), FS700, etc.

Based on what we know already, the black spot problem we saw in the Blackmagic Pocket Camera seems to be present on this one as well, and it looks like Blackmagic Design is working on fixing it. There are also some ‘complaints’ about image softness, but at 4K your focusing skills better be top grade. Once a few production models ship, we’ll have a better idea of the overall image quality.

Blackmagic Design have delivered two outstanding cameras already (even if they were decades late shipping them!) so I’m going to assume they will ‘nail the brief’ on this one as well.

The difference between Ultra HD and 4K

If you have to ask, then I know you’re a noob. Start by reading What is 4K Television? In short, there’s no practical difference. And yes, the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is capable of generating movies good enough (actually way better, because Super35mm scanned film never had a resolution of 4K!) for theatrical 4K projection.

Some might complain about using the nomenclature ‘4K’ when, in fact, the camera is UHD. Dude, is everything else in life perfect for you?

Ergonomics, Dimensions and Weight

It’s funny how, when the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMCC) came out, the technical specifications page was severely lacking in information about dimensions of the camera. At the time, I used what information was available, and reverse-engineered my own specs. I’m glad to see they have followed my system of marking the dimensions of the camera in a clear manner:

Here is the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K in comparison to the Panasonic GH3 (hopefully similar to the GH4; click here to read a fun comparison between the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K and the Panasonic GH4), so you know what size we are talking about here:

BMPC4KvsPanasonicGH4

The Blackmagic 4K Camera is bigger in all dimensions. What about weight? The Blackmagic 4K Camera weighs 1700 grams (with card and battery) while the GH3/GH4 weighs about 550 grams. That’s three times the weight!

For my philosophy on camera ergonomics and rig design, please read the Chapter on Ergonomics in the Comprehensive Guide to Rigging Any Camera.

The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is a seriously front-heavy camera. All you have to do to tip the balance is add a lens in front, which you must. It’s not a camera designed to be used as a DSLR.

Mounting Options

The camera offers four mounting screws – three at the top and one at the bottom. The center screws are in line with the vertical center of the lens. These are 1/4″ -20 UNC screw threads. The bottom mount is obviously for the tripod plate, while the top screws can accommodate a handle and a coffee holder (just kidding). These top mounting points will also accept BSW screws of a similar gauge.

Many of the mounting options on the BMCC apply here as well (probably all of them, since there is no difference between the two).

The camera chassis is machined aluminum, which is both light and strong. Even so, it is still heavier than a Canon 1DC!

Connectors and Buttons

Here are the connections available on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K:

 BMPC4K Connections

We’ll get into details in subsequent chapters. The specification also mentions a USB 2.0 Mini-B port, which is behind the SSD cover on the other side.

At the back is the 5″ capacitative LCD touchscreen with a resolution of 800 x 480 (about 185 ppi), and the IRIS (automatically adjusts aperture, more later), Focus (turns on focus peaking), Record and Playback Transport Control buttons.

 BMPC4K Controls

Note:

The cycle clips (forward and back) buttons have two functions. When you hold them down, they act as fast forward and fast reverse. If you just click them, they go to the next clip (press forward once), start the same clip (press back once) or go to the previous clip (press back twice).

If you tap on the touchscreen once, you access the clip metadata page, where you can input the scene, reel, project and shot info, etc. English is the only language supported. If you tap the touchscreen twice during live view, the image will zoom in to a 1:1 crop so you can focus more accurately. Focus peaking works while zoomed in as well. More later.

The other buttons are pretty self-explanatory. On the front is the second Record button. Why is it there? Beats me.

Specifications and what you can expect from the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

The important specifications of the camera are as follows:

Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Specifications
Sensor Size (Super 35mm) 21.12mm x 11.88mm
Horizontal Crop Factor based on FF 35mm 1.7
Lens Mount Active Canon EF mount
Maximum Resolution 3840 x 2160
Frame rates at max. resolution 23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p
Claimed Dynamic Range 12 stops
Recording Format/Codec Compressed CinemaDNG RAW and Apple ProRes 422 (HQ)
SDI Connectors 6G-SDI
HDMI Connectors No
Thunderbolt Connectors Yes, version 1
3.5mm TRS headphone jack 1
Microphone inputs 2 x 1/4” balanced jacks
LANC inputs 2.5mm LANC for Rec Start/Stop, Iris Control and Focus
LCD Monitor 5″ touchscreen at 800 x 480
Audio Specs 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit
USB 2.0 Mini-B
Included Accessories Detachable sun shield, camera strap, turret dust cap and 12V AC adapter
Included Software DaVinci Resolve, Media Express software, DiskSpeed Test
Warranty 12 months

If we go by precedent, audio is the camera’s greatest weakness. To see how the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K compares to the other two cameras in their lineup, read my Comparison of Blackmagic Design Cinema Cameras.

My take on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

There is no peer to this camera. There are a few manufacturers who claim to be the vanguard and champions of the indie film fraternity. That is, until you see their prices. I won’t take any names, but you know who they are.

In my opinion, the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is a camera that every filmmaker aspires to have. I started my career with DV, then moved on to HDV, DSLRs and finally am working with the C300. I’m in the same market most cash-starved filmmakers are – the sub $10,000 market. What I’ve always wanted were:

  • 4K.
  • Super 35mm sensor.
  • 24 and 25 frames per second, progressive.
  • A global shutter.
  • A price that lets me come in at under $10,000 for the full kit (more later).
  • Professional scopes and zebra.
  • Great lenses.
  • Reliable brand with worldwide support.

Now, I ask myself: Is there any other camera that can fulfill all these requirements at the same price point? NO! Not even if you double the price.

Could Blackmagic Design have priced their cameras for twice what they cost? Of course. They could have sold half as much for the same profit. But the demand is so great that they would definitely have made greater profits if they had priced their cameras higher. This tells me there’s a heart somewhere in Blackmagic Design, and it beats for the indie filmmaker.

With all its limitations (which we’ll look at one by one in the following parts), this is the one camera that I’ve always aspired for. If I had to improve on it, I would add the following features:

  • Two XLR inputs with full audio monitoring. Blackmagic can eliminate the unnecessary Thunderbolt port and make space for it.
  • Up to 60p in 4K (or 120 fps).
  • A much better battery.
  • A professional grade screen with customizable frame guides. No touchscreens – didn’t anybody tell them that hardworking camera operators have sweaty palms?
  • Wireless keyboard, to enter metadata.
  • Genlock – otherwise what’s the point of SDI?
  • Weather sealing, to go with Canon L series lenses.

I believe all of these features (except maybe 60p and weather sealing) can be added to the current chassis. What a camera that would make!

I believe the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is good for the following kinds of projects:

  • Features films and all kinds of fictional work
  • Corporate video
  • Music video

For documentaries, I’ll reserve judgement. It’s not a low-light camera, and documentaries are almost always about low light. What it’s definitely not suited for are:

  • ENG style videos – news gathering, reality, etc.
  • Sports

In Part Two we’ll look at the lens options for the Blackmagic 4K camera, as well as filters, matte boxes and follow focus systems.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.