Naked Filmmakers & The Ultra-HD Future: The Black Magic Cinema Camera

Published On January 5, 2014 | By Mike Carroll | DSLR, Filmmakers, Naked Filmmaking

For a while now we’ve all been hearing about the Black Magic Cinema Camera capable of shooting 2.5K RAW. Your typical local movie theater is now running mainstream Hollywood movies that are projected at 2K. Netflix recently announced that season two of House of Cards will be presented in 4K for those with UHD (Ultra High Definition) TVs. This is thanks to the recent innovation of H.265 video files. (It’s much more complicated than that, but I want to keep this as simple and easy to digest as possible—for myself as much as everyone else.)

We’ve also been hearing a lot over the past year about 4K cameras becoming more affordable with the Canon 1DC at $12,000 and the Black Magic Cinema Camera 4K at $3,995.

What does all this mean?

In a nutshell it means that HD is approaching the precipice that SD went over. A year or so ago 4K televisions were in the over-$10,000 price range. Now they are coming out in the $2,700-$3,700 range. At this rate I would fully expect that by Super Bowl 2015 there will be 4K TVs in the $1,000 price range.

What this means, as I see it, is that producers of content (a very sterile and inartistic term that I hate) need to start anticipating the UHD momentum and start considering stepping up their game for any productions that would be not be completed until 2015 and beyond.

Naked Filmmakers & The Shift To Ultra-High Definition

Even though I may be a no-budget filmmaker, I still want my films to have a competitive, high-quality look.

I have the Canon 7D, which shoots in 1080 HD 24p. I haven’t heard of it successfully being hacked to be able to shoot in RAW yet to produce much more dense and visually rich content images.

So at the moment the most affordable camera for me is the Black Magic Cinema Camera (“BMCC” for short), which is capable of shooting in 2.5K RAW files. The BMCC was first introduced in 2012 at a staggeringly low retail price of $2,995. Then just in the past year Black Magic Design announced another bombshell by lowering the cost to the even more staggeringly low jaw-dropping price of $1,995.

This is only $300 more than what I paid for the Canon 7D body. Truly amazing.

Black Magic Cinema Camera 1 (1)

Getting Hands-On With The BMCC

Filmmaking comrade & KCRA-3 co-worker Jason Knight, a former TV news shooter now creating commercials for the station promotions department, has a friend who owns a Black Magic Cinema Camera and loaned it to Jason to test drive.

During a lunch break Jason let me take the BMCC around the station for a few minutes to shoot some short clips of footage under lighting conditions to briefly test out what the camera’s sensor was capable of.

Over about twenty minutes or so I shot eighteen clips that amounted to 2½-minutes of footage . When I loaded these files into my laptop that totaled all of 154-seconds it took up 35.5 GB of space.


That’s right. Two-and-a-half minutes worth of nothing ate up just over 35GB of hard drive space.

At first I was astounded. And shocked.

There’s no way I could ever afford to make another feature film using media anywhere this massive! I thought. Forget about the camera—how much would all the hard drive AND back-up hard drive space cost?

But when I started manipulating a RAW frame from the BMCC and saw all the cinematic visual potential it contained and my imagination started to think about all the possibilities, I decided to do some math and calmly (if this is possible) and logically try to price out what it might cost to make a feature film with this.

I opened up one of the clip files, which are recorded in individual frames, and clicked on one of the frames to see how big it was:

5,003,400 bytes


Now my mind was really reeling. Each frame that this cinema camera shoots is over five million bytes of computer information and space! I was suddenly hit with the memory of my very first personal computer, the Sanyo MBC555 back in 1984, which ran on 128K memory. The floppy disks only held 30K! I ran the numbers in my head and a single frame of 2.5K RAW that comes out of the Black Magic Cinema Camera is forty times bigger than my first computer!

But how much space is needed for an hour of BMCC footage?

Black Magic Cinema Camera 2 (1)


1 Frame                       5,003,400 bytes

1 second                    12,008,160 bytes

1 minute                   720,489,600 bytes           720 MB

1 hour              432,293,760,000 bytes           432 GB

Holy Christmas!!!!!!

All my films thus far have been shot on mini-DV cassettes, either in SD or HDV, where:

  • 5-minutes = 1GB
  • 60-minutes = 12GB
  • BMCC 2.5K 60-minutes = 432GB
  • BMCC footage is 36-times bigger!

My first film, Year, was shot with the Panasonic DVX100A:

  • 160 mini-DV cassettes
  • 1.5TB of hard drive space.

My last film, Nightbeats, was shot on the JVC GY HD110U with considerably more confidence and with significantly less footage:

  • 40 hours of footage
  • 40 Panasonic HQ (High Quality) metal-based Mini-DV cassettes recording HDV 720 24p footage.
  • First rough cut – 120-minutes.
  • Final run time – 89-minutes.
  • 20-1 average shooting ratio—20-minutes of footage shot for every minute of footage that finally was used and appeared on screen.

The next feature-length film I am envisioning would run an hour-and-fifteen-minutes. Applying the above figures that would breakdown to:

  • 75-minute running time
  • 20-1 shooting ratio = 25-hours of footage

When I shot my previous films on mini-DV cassettes I treated the cassettes as if they were film negative, only shooting one-pass on them and saving them all—never shooting over them. In fact, when I sold my JVC GY HD110U camera and moved into the tapeless world camera I donated all of my over 200 mini-DV cassettes to a local filmmaking group.

  • Year – 160 Mini-DV tapes @ approximately $6 each = $960
  • Nightbeats – 40 HQ Mini-DV metal cassettes @ approximately $13 each = $520

With the Black Magic Cinema Camera tapes will not be an issue. A single internal solid state drive is all that’s required to shoot and record onto:

  • Extreme 480 GB Internal SSD Serial ATA-600 2.5” – average cost: $400

Having made the shift to tapeless filmmaking I would no longer have the back-up of the original tapes so I would have to back-up all of my footage onto a duplicate hard drive.

I’ve learned how to be more frugal in my shooting methods, seldom shooting more than two takes on the master shots and generally only one take on each of the other coverage angles. This makes editing much easier to wade through.

Also, in the past, since DV footage took up so little space, I would load everything—good takes, bad takes, sloppy shots. In the new UHD world I could become even more efficient by deleting shots that I absolutely will not use.

Crunching The Numbers:


1 Frame                       5,003,400 bytes

1 second                    12,008,160 bytes

1 minute                   720,489,600 bytes          720 MB

1 hour              432,293,760,000 bytes           432 GB

2 hours             864,587,520,000 bytes          864 GB

4 hours           1,729,175,040,000 bytes          1.7 TB

Four hours of 2.5K RAW footage could fit onto a 2TB hard drive.

At approximately $100 per 2TB hard drive* = $25 per hour of footage. Having a mirrored back-up hard drive would make it $50 per hour of footage.

(*The average cost of a Seagate 2Tb hard drive on Amazon is $89. Factor in taxes and shipping, round that off to an even $100 per 2Tb drive. Although, I think I could get them for $80-$90.)

NOTE: I’m not bothering to estimate for storage of audio files since they comparatively take up so little hard drive at all.

Now let’s look at a storage cost breakdown for a feature film:

  •             4 hours 2.5K RAW footage – 1 2TB hard drive           $200
  •             25 hours 2.5K RAW footage – 7 2TB hard drives       $1,400

Add another 2Tb hard drive for the work & rendering for the edit:

  •             8 2Tb hard drives @ $100 each                                 $1,600

Hmmmm . . .

Looking at it from this light, the costs of using the Black Magic Cinema Camera is no longer looking quite so outlandish. In fact, it starts to look more and more affordable—and an incredible filmmaking opportunity.


In Summation


1 Frame                       5,003,400 bytes

1 second                    12,008,160 bytes

1 minute                   720,489,600 bytes           720 MB

1 hour              432,293,760,000 bytes           432 GB

2 hours             864,587,520,000 bytes           864 GB

4 hours           1,729,175,040,000 bytes           1.7 TB

Black Magic Cinema Camera                                        $1,995

Camera peripherals—matte box, filters, lenses, etc.       $1,000

Extreme 480 GB Internal SSD Serial ATA-600 2.5”       $   400

8 2Tb hard drives @ $100 each                                    $1,600

TOTAL              $4,995

Even with the purchase of a new camera, shooting at 2.5K RAW, I could still make a feature-length movie for an approximate cost of $5,000.

This is very, very, VERY impressive!

**NOTE: The film I have in mind would be locally made over the course of a year at locations that I have access to. I already have all the microphones, recording equipment, computer for editing, etc.

At this juncture I anticipate editing in Adobe Premiere. However, Chris Fenwick of The Digital Cinema Café and FCPX Grill podcasts has got me so curious about Final Cut Pro X that I might be tempted to edit the film in that. Also, at a mere cost of $300, it’s almost impossible to pass up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

QUICK FOLLOW-UP — Just got this note from Chris Fenwick:

As for your your Black Magic post… don’t forget, all those dng files have to be trancoded don’t they? or maybe Premier doesn’t need to transcode them? I don’t even know anymore. But I believe the workflow is take the folders of .dng frames into Resolve, kickoff prores proxie files, cut with the the proxies, and then kick back out to Resolve, re connect to the folders of frames and do the final color work from there. I’ve looked into it a bit and it seems like a real pain in the ass.

Okay, so maybe it’s going to be a little more. Probably a few more hard drives involved. I’m going to be exploring the BMCC workflow & will write about all that’s involved in a coming post. But as a filmmaker & cameraman, how can you not resist wanting to get the most from the images that you’re making. And if it’s only a few more hard drives — a few more hundred dollars — that’s still peanuts in filmmaking.

MORE TO COME . . . . . . . .


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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

5 Responses to Naked Filmmakers & The Ultra-HD Future: The Black Magic Cinema Camera

  1. Dan says:

    Thanks for the article and math/cost of raw workflow. I’m a FCPX user(I started with fcp 5, and have used premier and avid) and use it nearly every day for work at our TV station, Foothill 7 TV. I love FCPX because of how fast it is to edit, and the program really gets out of your way and lets you tell the story. I haven’t got to work with RAW yet but will be doing some RED editing in it soon. Give it a try, and you may love it too!

  2. Joshua says:

    Chris is right. If you go to fcpx you will have to transcode your material. It shoots native avchd codec of MTS. You can re wrap your footage but at that point you would have to buy another 8TB or less depending on what you rewrap. I believe you can download a codec plug in for fcpx and then make it work. The problem you’ll run into then is in Resolve. It hates this codec and won’t except it. But the plus side of all this is Premier will edit it no problem. You can then rewrap your final clips into h22, relink it and send it out having to save 8th worth of hard drive space.

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  5. Lionel says:

    As of this date the Canon 7D is doing a very good job as a Digital Cinema Camera with Raw footage. FYI.
    BTW love your film making books. Got both editions on Kindle!

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