So, I’m at NAB Show in Las Vegas at the moment and one of the surprise announcements has been a tiny new camera by Blackmagic that features a custom Super 16 size sensor and active Micro Four Thirds mount. The camera was on display with various Micro Four Thirds and other lenses attached. According to Blackmagic, it’ll be available through the usual Blackmagic sales channels this summer. I played a little with the camera while hanging out at their booth. I’m going to summarise a couple of the facts that they share about this little camera and add my own first impressions to that.
The camera is marketed as “the world’s most compact wide dynamic range Super 16 digital film camera“. According to Blackmagic, it covers 13 stops of dynamic range (wow!). It records 10-bit Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) 1080HD files on a regular SD card (slot is next to the battery compartment) and features an active Micro Four Thirds mount. Supported frame rates are 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 fps. The camera is built to high quality standards with a solid magnesium alloy chassis. By choosing an active Micro Four Thirds mount, the camera allows to use the wide range of compact Micro Four Thirds lenses, with the camera actively managing the aperture of the connected lens. On the back, the camera features a high resolution 3.5″ LCD as well as a clean button interface for focus assist, iris control and menu options. On the side, the camera offers a number of standard connections, including a micro HDMI output and a 12V DC input. The camera will be available this summer for US$995.
The camera was available on display with various Micro Four Thirds and other lenses (through adapters) attached and I had the chance to play with it for a little bit. On first sight, the camera body looks like an earlier Sony NEX model with a very flat body and the solid grip on the side. The camera feels high quality although it’s not on the same level as an Olympus OM-D. I would rather compare the tactile feel with Panasonic’s GF1. This is especially true for the buttons which feel plasticky. I prefer the tactile feedback from my OM-D. With a smaller Micro Four Thirds lens attached such as the Panasonic Lumix 14mm, the camera feels very comfortable in one hand with the other to support and focus. Just so everybody is on the same page, this camera does not take stills, it’s a video recording device only. Also, most would assume that the active Micro Four Thirds mount translates into the availability of auto-focus, however this is not the case. There is only manual focus using this camera. Aperture is controlled through the Iris button on the back of the camera. The camera has focus peaking which is activated using the Focus button. I played with the Voigtländer 17mm Micro Four Thirds lens attached to the camera and tried the focus assist feature and it works great. For even greater control of focus, the screen can be magnified to 1:1 size for precise focus. There is no accessory port as known from Olympus or Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras, so there is no immediate way to get an electronic viewfinder rather than using the LCD. There might be ways to connect external accessories through the micro HDMI output slot, but Blackmagic did not show any such accessories.
At a price of US$995, I think this camera will sell like hot cakes if the 13 stop dynamic range video quality is there as marketed. The unique selling points of this camera are the high dynamic range of 13 stops, the professional file format and the size at a very modest price. There’s simply no other camera which offers this at the moment. I remember that Disney used Olympus PEN cameras for shooting some action scenes on a horse track for Secretariat because the PEN was small enough and disposable while still offering good enough quality for a major motion picture. With the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera available later this year at a very modest price, that will be a thing of the past, Blackmagic will own this domain. There might even be pressure on Panasonic’s GH3 sales from this camera.