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BMPC-4K: Worth waiting for! [Updated]

May 2, 2013

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UPDATE 2/28/14: I finally received my own BMPC-4K camera, and I love it. Sample footage below.

UPDATE 2/21/14: BMPC-4K shooting tips from early users.

UPDATE 2/9/14: The BMPC-4K finally started shipping today, and at a new lower price of $2,995! Official announcement.

UPDATE 10/2/13: The BMPC-4K still hasn’t started shipping yet.

UPDATE 9/4/13: BMD missed their “July 2013″ initial shipping deadline for the BMPC-4K. About a month later Grant Petty posted a 2nd update concerning shipping delays for the camera. BMD now says it’ll take at least another “… 3 to 4 weeks …” before the camera starts shipping.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I had a Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K (the original “EF” lens mount version) on pre-order since April 2012.

By mid-February 2013, a couple of months before the NAB Expo in mid-April, the BMCC-EF hadn’t arrived yet, so I switched my pre-order to the BMCC-MFT model, the version with a Micro Four Thirds lens mount announced in late 2012, which at that time hadn’t even started shipping yet.

One of the many reasons I switched my pre-order from BMCC-EF to BMCC-MFT was to buy myself some time just in case Blackmagic Design announced a new camera at NAB 2013. It was only a hunch on my part that BMD might do so, but it proved to be a lucky guess.

As soon as the new Blackmagic Production Camera 4K was announced at NAB 2013, I switched my pre-order again.

About the BMPC-4K:

BMPC-4K sample video footage can be seen here.

BMD announced at NAB 2013 that the BMPC-4K camera will initially ship with 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes HQ 4K (“UHD” 3840 x 2160 resolution) and HD (1920 x 1080 resolution) recording capability (with Film/log or Video/Rec.709 gamma). Its new, visually lossless compressed 12-bit RAW CinemaDNG 4K UHD recording feature won’t be included when the cam first ships. BMD says the visually lossless compressed RAW capability will be available “soon” as part of a free firmware update. BMD hasn’t announced yet the exact data rate its new visually lossless compressed RAW CinemaDNG format will be recorded at.

BMD’s published specs for the BMPC-4K claim it has 12 stops of dynamic range, 1 stop less than what they claim for the BMCC. BMD beta tester John Brawley and early users of the BMPC-4K report that it is somewhat less-sensitive (has a lower native ISO) compared to the original BMCC’s native 800 ISO. Native ISO is the setting at which a camera records its “best” balance of dynamic range and low noise. The native ISO of the BMPC-4K appears to be ISO 400. See: BMPC-4K shooting tips from early users.

I’m OK with the BMPC-4K having slightly less DR and sensitivity than the BMCC. For me, the BMPC-4K’s new features (“S35″ size sensor, 4K and 1080p ProRes HQ, global shutter, plus 4K visually lossless compressed RAW when available) is well worth the extra $1K in price compared to the BMCC.

The BMPC-4K’s 4K and 1080p ProRes HQ is recorded at up to 884 megabits/sec. As a result, the quality is fantastic compared to the vast majority of other video cameras, which usually record only 1080p, 8-bit 4:2:0 color, and at a fraction of that data rate. For example, human skin looks noticeably more life-like (less like “plastic”) when recorded at 10-bit 4:2:2 vs. 8-bit 4:2:0. And 12-bit RAW should look even better.

In general, high data rates result in cleaner-looking video with far less motion-induced artifacts. Video is about motion, and the BMPC-4K records motion beautifully. The BMPC-4K can record about 72 minutes of 4K ProRes HQ footage on 480GB SSD media, and 4 times that length in 1080p mode.

In my informal tests, there’s no significant performance penalty when editing ProRes HQ at 4K vs. 1080p resolutions. For example, my 3 yr. old MacBook Pro 17″ can easily edit and render ProRes HQ 4K in FCP7 from a single external 7200 rpm SATA-3 hard drive connected via eSATA-3. Mac and Windows users with newer hardware and software, and faster I/O (such as USB-3 or Thunderbolt), should have no issues handling ProRes HQ 4K files.

Because the BMPC-4K’s CMOS sensor has a global shutter — unlike the rolling shutter sensor in most CMOS cameras — it records motion with a natural-looking cadence, with absolutely no rolling shutter “jello”, skew, and no partial-frame exposure (flash-band) artifacts.

For example, camera shake or vibration doesn’t cause BMPC-4K video to distort like undulating jello, and vertical lines in a scene (such as while panning across architecture/lightpoles, passing vehicles/trains, etc.) don’t become slanted lines, and spinning objects (such as propellers, wheels, etc.) don’t look strangely distorted, and still camera strobe flashes (such as at events, weddings, photo shoot BTS, emergency vehicle lights, nightclub lighting, etc.) won’t cause ugly white horizontal streaks across the video frame. Everything that moves looks better: People walking, dancing, playing; water flowing, crashing surf; sports; wildlife; and so forth. Instead of rolling shutter artifacts, the BMPC-4K’s global shutter records natural-looking motion cadence and blur, similar to what our eyes see.

I’m happy the sensor in the BMPC-4K is relatively large (21.12mm x 11.88mm), similar to standard “S35″ motion picture film and DSLR APS-C format. I’m comfortable shooting with video cameras that have relatively “small” sensors such as 2/3″ and Micro Four Thirds, and the one in the original BMCC which is in-between those two. The BMPC-4K’s S35 field of view makes it easier to get wider shots in smaller locations, when you can’t always “step back”. See ProLost’s sensor size diagram and Abel’s FOV Comparator.

In a previous post I describe my current thinking about how I plan to “rig” my BMPC-4K for hand-held and tripod shooting.

Why shoot 4K?

I’ll probably shoot 4K ProRes HQ “Film” gamma most of the time. Of course, if a client or project requires it I’ll shoot 1080p ProRes HQ (@ up to 220 megabits/sec) or “Video” gamma instead, but otherwise 4K ProRes HQ Film will be my normal shooting mode.

The BMPC-4K’s extra resolution in 4K ProRes HQ and RAW recording modes makes it possible to get a very high-quality, naturally-detailed 1080p finished edit, and while doing so, have the flexibility to crop/zoom shots in post. So, for example, a medium-wide shot can be used as-is, or be cropped in post to obtain a medium shot — or a medium close-up can be cropped to a CU, etc. — without objectionable digital artifacts. Whereas 1080p footage can usually only be scaled to about 110% or so before artifacts make the blow-up unusable, 4K ProRes HQ and RAW footage in a 1080p editing timeline can be scaled 125%-150% or more with excellent quality.

Another benefit of shooting 4K is that noise in the 4K video will become less-objectionable (smaller/tighter) after scaling to 1080p in post. And the extra color depth and resolution, and reduced motion artifacts in 4K 10-bit ProRes HQ and 12-bit RAW files enable cleaner chromakeying, and cleaner compositing of titles, graphics, and 2D/3D effects.

The BMPC-4K cam’s CMOS sensor with global shutter may also be helpful when doing image stabilization (IS) in post, because editing software IS processing may operate more efficiently and accurately. The IS software will only have to deal with normal shakes and bumps, and not that plus jello and skew.

Relatively speaking, 4K ProRes HQ files don’t take up much room on 4TB SATA-3 hard drives, which currently cost less than $185 and can store about 10 hours of ProRes HQ 4K footage. Or if space is at a premium, 1080p ProRes HQ files only require about 1/4 as much storage compared to 4K ProRes HQ files.

Note: Big files can take a relatively long time to copy and back-up, so that’s something to be aware of and plan for!

I think shooting 4K ProRes HQ “all the time” will make a lot of sense, unless of course I need to immediately hand-off 1080p footage to a client who requires it. That’s cool; the BMPC-4K camera can also shoot beautiful 1080p, too, so no worries.

4K files might have a longer useful life — maybe — in the “4K future” which allegedly is fast upon us. Because technology continuously changes & improves, “future proofing” is perhaps over-sold. In truth, one’s always behind, even if you try to stay a step ahead, because the technological goal posts keep changing. However, several years from now it may be an easier “sell” to use 4K footage (shot today) than to use 1080p or 2K footage. Even though well-shot 1080p, 2K, or 2.5K footage can be up-scaled to 4K — and can look very good if handled properly — well-shot native 4K footage may look better. In the future, it may be easier to convince others that old 4K footage is not “out-of-date” compare to lower-res formats. Unknowable.

As for shooting RAW video vs. ProRes, I say “go for it” if you have computer hardware & software capable of handling RAW video. Myself, I may use the BMPC-4K’s 12-bit RAW for especially-challenging shots that might tax the industrial-strength capabilities of 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes HQ. When I have a new, faster computer and GPU, and more storage, I might shoot RAW all the time. But for most things I shoot now, RAW isn’t necessary. It’s great that BMD’s cameras can do both when needed.

None of the above negates the fact that a BMCC has slightly better DR and sensitivity, and uncompressed 12-bit 2.5K RAW (and 1080p ProRes HQ). At $1,995 a BMCC costs $1,000 US less than a BMPC-4K. The BMCC’s 2.5K RAW files up-convert to 4K quite nicely if needed. Whether BMCC 2.5K RAW video will always look as good or better than 4K video from a BMPC-4K cam — or vise versa — it’s too soon to say.

The above are some of the reasons why I’ve decided to buy a BMPC-4K instead of any other ~$2,995 camcorder. You may have reasons for choosing a different camera. That’s cool. It’s all good.

Remember: There’s no 1 perfect camera ideally suited to every production, shooting style, budget, or schedule.

Cheers.

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UPDATE: BMPC-4K shooting tips from early users.

UPDATE 2/28/14: I finally received my own BMPC-4K camera, and I love it. I’ve revised my previous post on how to mount a Hoodman HRT5 LCD shade on my BMPC-4K, and used it to shoot this video on the Oregon coast (details on the Vimeo page):

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I also used my BMPC-4K to shoot a TV promo video.

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My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

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For my words, videos and photos only: ©2014 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved. http://www.peterdv.com

Note: I don’t receive income or remuneration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.

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