In September Blackmagic shook my opinions, announcing a passive Micro Four Thirds mount. Coupled with some great-looking footage that was beginning to appear on Vimeo, this changed everything. With lenses like the SLR Magic 12mm, wide shots with a decently fast prime lens were now possible and f/0.95 lenses such as those from SLR Magic and Voigtlander opened the door to shallower depth of field. The fact that the mount was passive was a bummer, essentially excluding the use of Panasonic, Olympus, and any others without manual aperture control. With many great fully manual lenses available for M43 cameras, this was far from being a deal breaker.
After watching months of BMCC videos on Vimeo, seeing the EOSHD review, and being amazed at the results I could get using Lightroom to grade some of the RAW files available online, I preordered the M43 Blackmagic Cinema Camera in December after the company claimed that it was on the verge of resolving production issues. I expected that maybe I'd get my camera sometime in March. That date is fast approaching and very few of the EF preorders, which Blackmagic said it would fill first before even producing more M43 cameras, have been filled. There are still people who have been waiting over eight months for their EF model with no delivery in sight.
Frustrated that I could potentially have a year wait remaining, I browsed some news on other cameras. With my sights locked on the BMCC, I completely blew off the Canon C100 launch, especially with its MSRP. As my frustration with the BMCC grew I began to consider the C100 more and now I'm not sure what to do. The benefits of each, along with some mitigating factors are as follows:
Blackmagic Cinema Camera
- RAW. This is by far the biggest reason this camera is on my radar. The colors and dynamic range that can be extracted from these files is absolutely breathtaking. Nowhere else on the market can one obtain a RAW camera for anywhere near this price. I could care less about Prores on the BMCC; RAW is the selling point for me. 8-bit 4:2:0 on the C100 is my biggest fear.
- 2.5K. 2.5K resolution is nice, but let's face it, aside from select computer monitors, nothing displays 2.5K natively. Sure, the extra resolution allows for stabilization or reframing, but I feel that downscaling to 1080p is a necessity to reduce noise and increase sharpness on this camera.
- Price. The BMCC plus one SSD is about half the price of the C100. For me, however, if I decided upon the C100, I would be selling my GH2 along with five M43 lenses, thereby making the prices more comparable. Further I feel the Metabones Speedbooster, allowing from use of Rokinon Cine Lenses, would be a necessity on the M43 BMCC, adding another $600 to the BMCC package price.
- Benefits of a small sensor. Small sensors do indeed have some benefits, despite the crop factor and less shallow DOF. The light gathering of wide apertures like f/0.95 without being forced into a razor-thin DOF can be nice. This benefit is somewhat lessened by the fact that the BMCC is far from being a great low-light performer compared to the C100. Even if you were forced to stop down a bit for increased DOF on a C100, noise may still be comparable.
- EF Lenses. For me, the fact that the C100 uses EF lenses (and has a large enough sensor so that they do not instantly become telephoto lenses) is a huge, huge selling point. I love my 5D Mark III, just not for video. I hate buying pricey M43 lenses for video, but then cannot shoot stills with them. It would be wonderful to essentially get two lenses for the price of one. If I bought an L lens to shoot still on the 5D3, I could still get some use out of it on the C100 and vice versa. I also feel that M43 glass is overpriced. The Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 is great, but you're basically paying for the aperture. Sure, you get some extra light, but the DOF on a crop sensor at f/0.95 is still deeper than smaller apertures on a 50mm lens on a larger sensor camera. With Voightlander and SLR Magic, the price is all about allowing shallower DOF on a smaller sensor camera. Although priced like Canon L glass, I just do not believe these lenses are comparable when it comes to overall image, color reproduction, and contrast. Rokinon Cine Lenses are also great, but essentially require the $600 Metabones Speedbooster just to get the same field of view that they would have on a C100.
- Benefits of a large sensor. The larger Super 35mm sensor on the C100 yields the benefits of a smaller crop factor, possibility of shallower DOF if desired, and better low light performance.
- Low light performance. I've seen some stellar and even useable C100 footage even at up to ISO 10,000. The BMCC isn't horrible in low light by any means, but noise is quite apparent even in well exposed areas at ISO 800. One of my biggest dislikes about the BMCC image is this noise pattern. Well exposed skin often has a noisy grain to it. While some call this "cinematic," I call this distracting and over-justification. When I watch a great cinematic film on Blu-Ray, it is crystal clear and noise free. Sure, some noise patterns are more organic and less distracting than others, but no noise is always better in my opinion.
- Two cameras in one. Just like getting two lenses in one on this camera, it's also more like two diverse cameras in one package. I'm mostly interested in narrative work and the BMCC as well as the C100 fit this bill, but the C100 also doubles a pretty great "run 'n gun" camera. It features much better ergonomics, one-shot autofocus to quickly set up a shot, built-in ND filters, and a wide range of ISO settings, all aiding in quickly setting up a shot. The BMCC requires time and finesse to setup a shot. This is fine, and preferred, for a narrative film, but for anything live getting setup quickly can mean the difference between getting a great shot and missing it altogether.
- Upgrade options. This camera also has an upgrade path if the 4:2:0 codec isn't up to snuff. Throw on an Atomos Ninja 2 and you now have basically the same camera as the $16,000 C300. The C100 has the same sensor as the C300 and the Ninja allows for 4:2:2 uncompressed Prores via HDMI onto an SSD, closing the gap on the main advantage of the BMCC.
Both cameras undoubtedly are capable of better image quality than a DSLR and are much more robust and stable than a hacked GH2. Although RAW would give great flexibility in post and allow me to use Lightroom, which I'm much more comfortable with as compared to a video-centric color correction tool, the C100 has more that its share of advantages. I think I've watched just about every BMCC and C100 video that exists on Vimeo and I think image quality between the cameras is comparable. The colors of the BMCC are great, but sometimes corrected to be oversaturated and almost too vibrant. The C100 produces a very clean and sharp image. I also feel that I've seen a fair share of videos in which the BMCC footage looks like utter crap. There are myriad examples where the footage is polluted by noise or simply just doesn't not look like something a $3000 camera shot, especially in the hands of the more than capable people lucky enough to own one already.
What it really comes down to, though, is availability. Is my BMCC still a year away? We can discuss and compare specs ad nauseum, but when will most people even get their hands on this thing. Even if the BMCC shot 5K RAW on a full frame sensor and came with Robert DeNiro to be in your film all for $100, what good are specs and promises if it isn't available and doesn't look to be available for the foreseeable future. The C100 is available. I'm growing tired of waiting, especially with absolutely no concrete date (it could be two months, a year, or, who knows, maybe never) and for a camera that is arguably still beta hardware (black spot highlight clipping issue still not corrected in latest firmware, lack of the ability to delete files in camera, etc).
It's a tough decision and Blackmagic certainly is making it difficult to stay devoted and play the waiting game.