BMPC 4K Firmware Update 1.9 FPN Test Results

BMPC 4K Screen
The latest camera equipment is always top of mind for us. We loved this firmware update for the BMPC and just had to discuss it. Get in on the gear hype with us!
Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 10.47.55 PM

Blackmagic released the new Camera Utility 1.9 which updates the firmware for the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K in the following ways:

  • Add histogram, time remaining and audio level indicators
  • Includes improved sensor calibration processing

The histogram, audio levels, and time remaining calculations are a welcome addition to the firmware for the BMPC 4K. The improved sensor calibration processing is designed to improve the FPN (fixed pattern noise) that has plagued this camera from the onset. This new sensor calibration is what gets me most excited about this update because it could potentially mean being able to record clean shadows and a generally more pleasing image. In my experience, the BMPC 4K looks great as long as everything is exposed above 20 IRE (which can be difficult to accomplish at all times). The BMPC 4K is a camera where you really must expose to the right (of the histogram) in order to get the best results. Shots that are underexposed (exposed to the left of center) look horrible and do not correct well in post production. Therefore, the histogram is very nice to have now since it’s the fastest and easiest way to ensure that you are utilizing the sensor to the best of its abilities by exposing to the right.

In order to test if this new 1.9 firmware really lives up to the claim of improving the FPN, I shot some test footage of the worst possible case scenario – shooting a gray wall in the dark, at 800ASA, where the gray is exposed at 20 IRE. This scenario is where the FPN will really show it’s ugly face. So I set up the test as follows: We have 2 BMPC 4K cameras. Each camera shot the same gray wall, with the same lens (Canon EF-S 17-55 F/2.8), the same lighting, the same camera settings, (800ASA, 180º shutter, F/2.8, 3200K WB, ProRes 422 4K), and the same firmware 1.8. Then I updated both cameras and shot the same exact thing with the new firmware 1.9 to see if there really is an improvement. Below are images for you to compare. Be sure to click to view full size.

Camera 1 Before Update (Below):

Brandon Before Update

Camera 1 After Update (Below):

Brandon After Update

Camera 2 Before Update (Below):

ECG Before Update

Camera 2 After Update (Below):

ECG After Update

As you can see from analyzing these images, both cameras show a dramatic improvement. Camera 1 appeared to be worse off than camera 2 to begin with so camera 1 still exhibits some FPN. However, camera 2 must have been a good egg to begin with because after the update it exhibits virtually no vertical banding. I’m very excited about these results because it really opens up the possibilities for this camera. I also like that detail is not lost. Blackmagic is not simply applying noise reduction or blur to improve the noise, which would have a negative affect on detail. They have calibrated it so that detail is not lost in the process. I know this from analyzing the videos because in the video I pan left and right from a bright area of the wall to the dark area. And in the video clips you can see that there is no loss of the fine texture on the bright part of the wall. Here are some more photos so you can see for yourself:

Camera 2 Before Update (Below):

ECG before update bright wall

Camera 2 After Update (Below):

ECG After update bright wall

If anything, the sensor might actually be resolving even more detail with the new 1.9 firmware.

I know that with the GH4 and Sony A7s out now, there may be a lot of people who regret purchasing a BMPC 4K. I used to be one of them. But with all of the updates Blackmagic has been rolling out lately, they have really turned this camera around. I no longer regret buying the BMPC 4K. In fact, I’m glad I bought it because it’s always been a great piece of hardware it was just severely limited by it’s firmware at the time of release. However, with the current 1.9 firmware, it’s a different camera altogether.

There are still 7 features that I desperately long for:

1) Ability to record at 60fps. The sensor is rated for up to 60fps and with the new ProRes codecs the camera is definitely capable of achieving 60fps. From my calculations from a data write speed standpoint, it should be able to achieve 60fps at 4K ProRes 422 or lower (such as LT and Proxy). Hell, I’d be happy even if they only allowed 60p at 4K ProRes Proxy.
2) When you double tap on the screen to view critical focus, the location of your double tap is what should be expanded. It’s annoying how it only shows a center crop because often you want to see other areas of the sensor (for example the upper left or right third where an actor’s face typically would be). Where you double tap should make a difference.
3) Fix the black sun. This is so annoying.
4) When playing back clips, it would be nice to see a thumbnail view along with other data like clip name, exposure, and other metadata.
5. Format SSD in camera.
6. Allow slower shutter speeds for timelapse (in order to get motion blur).
7. Allow 1600ASA.

These 7 updates would make the BMPC 4K in a league of it’s own. Please, Blackmagic, please give us these updates in order to keep up the good work that you all have been doing lately.

Link to download Blackmagic Camera Utility 1.9

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