IRL: Bluelounge Messenger and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera

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IRL: Bluelounge Messenger and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera
Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL Bluelounge Messenger and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera

How do you make our one-man French bureau really, really happy? Obviously, the answer is to give him sparkling wine, a baguette and maybe a striped boatneck shirt. And also, hand him a $3,000 camera to tinker with. If you're at all interested in the three-grand Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Mr. Steve Dent has some detailed impressions (and complaints) after the break. And if you're not, we're still on the hunt for the perfect gear bag.

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Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

IRL Bluelounge Messenger and the Blackmagic Cinema CameraBlackmagic Design's Cinema Camera, like many of the company's products, is an enigma. It fits into no particular market segment, since professionals who'd get the most out of it could afford to spend much more than the $3,000 list price, while amateur videographers able to drum up the cash might still have no idea what to do with the thing. On top of that, it has huge strengths and glaring weaknesses, giving pause even to those who can see the inner beauty behind its rather beastly form factor.

One thing is for sure: it takes gorgeous images. Using a variety of EF and EF-S lenses like Canon's EF 50mm f/1.2 and EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM, I was able to create sharp video, completely lacking in the types of moire and aliasing apparent in almost every DSLR -- including those costing a similar sum or more. Even shots thick with fine detail like trees and branches rendered perfectly, thanks to the uncompressed 12-bit RAW or lightly compressed 10-bit ProRes files it produced. The camera also outputs "flat" images which look washed out at first glance, but give the best possible results when doing color retouching later in post-production. Operationally, the camera is dead-simple to use, but also dead-manual, with only a few settings to fiddle with like the "shutter angle," a film term for shutter speed compared to frame rate. The screen itself allows manual focus to be set fairly precisely (thanks in part to a canny focusing option). Unless, of course, you're outside in the sun, in which case it's impossible to see and requires a shade or hood.

After that, things start to get a bit muddy. The first hitch is the sensor size, which is even smaller than those on Micro Four Thirds cameras like Panasonic's GH3. Smaller CCDs yield less depth of field (a bummer in and of itself), but my biggest problem was with the Canon EOS mount on my demo unit. Its small sensor size more than doubles the effective focal length, meaning that an EF 50mm lens becomes a 115mm telephoto, making that glass much more difficult to use for video than it should be. To get a normal focal length, you actually need a flat-out wide-angle 24mm lens -- which not only costs much more, but can never be as sharp, or fast, as a standard lens. Luckily BMD's Micro Four Thirds mount option addresses some of that, but it highlights another big catch to the camera -- no autofocus. Filmmakers with on-set focus pullers may not care about that, but the many independent producers who may want, and can easily afford the camera may see that as a dealbreaker.

Despite those faults, it's hard to take issue with a company that's managed to produce an incredibly cheap (yes, cheap) camera that makes strikingly cinematic images. None of the criticism leveled at its debut model has dissuaded BMD anyway, as it just announced a new camera at NAB that brings a Super-35mm sensor and 4K resolution for the ridiculously low price of $4,000. And even with the funkiness of the original, I still want one -- which bodes well for the upstart company and its entire camera lineup.

-- Steve Dent

Bluelounge Messenger Bag

IRL Bluelounge Messenger and the Blackmagic Cinema CameraWhat you're looking at here is the Bluelounge Rust Messenger Bag, which I acquired fairly recently. It's a $139 eco-friendly shoulder throw that comfortably houses my 15-inch MacBook Pro, with room enough in the pouches and front flap to stuff a good deal of cables and accessories. The outer material is a rust-colored, weather-resistant canvas made of recycled PET. While I wouldn't recommend wearing it out during a hard rainfall, I've found it does repel a substantial amount of moisture with that Rain-X sort of effect. The design is fitting too: it brandishes sandblasted aluminum carabiners and buckles that would make any MacBook feel at home. To me, it's a solid mix of fashion and quality that says, "I could hike the trail" or, "I could attend a business meeting." Just not both at the same time.

I was actually a bit wary at first of using a messenger-style haversack, but this one, at least, is seriously comfortable. You won't get that laced, snug fit that you look for in a pair of running shoes, but it still holds to the shoulder quite nicely. There's a decent amount of padding in the larger laptop compartment and on the base, though not enough to keep me from consciously using lighter hands during the dismount. Though it's not particularly suited for bulk and weight, I've been able to cram in my MacBook, a few good-sized textbooks and a bunch of assorted gadgetry without overloading it. It's a win in my book -- provided you're willing to shell out $139 for a bag, anyway.

-- Andy Bowen

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