Growth from Hate: how frustrations led to the acclaimed Blackmagic Cinema Camera

Originally Published: 9 July 2013

Australia’s own Blackmagic Design is currently taking the film world by storm with its Cinema Camera, the overall winner at the 2013 Australian International Design Awards. CEO Grant Petty spoke with Digital Retailer from the company’s northern California satellite office.

What gave you the original idea for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera?

It I was trying to shoot with a DLSR but was unhappy with the results. I also wanted there to be more wide dynamic range cameras around that would let more people shoot with the quality of digital film; so they could use colour correction to get amazing results.

It was frustrating that all the video cameras only have video contrast range, and with normal video cameras it is so hard to get a nice result, even with (Blackmagic’s) DaVinci Resolve colour correction.

The next step was to think about the problems and experiences I had when working as a telecine engineer in post production back in the 1990s. In those days, I was frustrated that no one made a camera that was close to film in how it worked creatively.

So all that came together to guide us on what to build when it came to a camera. The overriding question was then, ‘why couldn’t there be a digital camera that gave a ‘filmic’ look and worked as easily in post production as film?’.

“Once a product is launched, I then need to seriously think about what I hate about it.”
-Grant Petty, CEO.

Why is replicating film so important in a digital camera?

The main advantages of film are high resolution and wide dynamic ranges. You have these beautiful images and you a lot of range to work with when doing colour correction.

Colour correction is the “emotion track” of video and it is just as important as sound and vision, so you really need to go into colour correction with as much range as possible, so there is a much higher creative range available. When you see movies and high-end television commercials, you can easily see what that advantage is.

Explain the thinking that went on during the design process?

The design process basically focused around several main points. It had to have a wide dynamic range, it had to be easy to use and able to work with standard post production tools, and it had to include colour correction.

The ergonomic design of the camera had to be built to make the camera usable by anyone looking to shoot high quality projects. Everything in the design of the camera was built around usability by professionals, from its form factor, to aircraft grade aluminium chassis, to adding in a touchscreen that allows you to save metadata on shots and using standard connectors for things like audio inputs.

Did you ever have doubts or second-guess yourself?

We were worried when it was first released that people might not understand it, but they have understood it well and the reception has been great. People tell us that the design seems so obvious and solves so many problems with cameras, but it sure was a lot of work to get to that design!

Was there a particular problem Blackmagic was looking to overcome with the camera?

To make a film quality camera that was small, strong, simple to use and had all the features built in so you did not get stuck needing to buy extra accessories just to make it work.

So we needed everything to be built in: the screen, a good quality audio recorder and a fast solid state hard disk recorder; and it had to have ProRes video formats, which is the video format of the editing software used in high-end television production.

If any of these features were not in the camera, it just would not have been the solution it needed to be.

What has been the industry response to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera?

It has been great. We’ve seen everyone from well known directors of photography shooting on it to film students sending us footage they have shot, and the enthusiasm they have is great. As a designer you always know what you envision your product being able to do and then to see it in the hands of customers who go beyond that is just amazing.

Have any films or short films that are well-known been filmed on the Camera?

Yes. A number of films, commercials, music videos and short films have used the camera. For the Australian audience, the TV show Puberty Blues has used the Cinema Camera quite frequently, and programming such as Sesame Street has as well.

What’s next for Blackmagic? Is more innovation on the way?

The minute you stop innovating you should retire. For us, we are working on future ideas all the time.

My approach to product design is simple. Once a product is launched, I then need to seriously think about what I hate about it. I know that sounds weird but I actually need to look at it and think about what it does not so well and what could be better and then think if it needs to be replaced with a better model or perhaps another product design might be a better idea.

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