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Will Montgomery

Blackmagic Film Scanner

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I spoke with a BMD rep in August about this, he told me they're working on getting final production details squared away before they ship. They were also looking for industry/market feedback. It looked great in person. Incredibly simple design.

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It will be interesting to see what feedback they take from potential customers, I think there are a few things about the machine which are issues. First is that it is sprocket drive and that is not really a problem for fresh run film but for older shrunken or damages stuff it is not ideal. Second the people in the scanning business (not a huge number these days) noted that it is fixed lens and camera so it may window for 16mm. I talked to BMD about beta testing at cinelab and they were receptive to the idea but I haven't heard back in a while.

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I'd really like to hear what industry folks have to say too. I don't have archival work, just what I've shot over the last 10 years (and continue to shoot). But if someone was to purchase it for a business, I would suspect archival work could be a big part of that business. And at that price point you might be getting to where 8mm scanning could be more cost effective too...2k scans of 8mm could be a nice little side business.

 

They do seem to down play the 16mm part of the scanner, just saying that it would be an additional cost.

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I saw one and had a full hands-on experience a few months ago during a Blackmagic Design demo session. It was quite an amazing kit, plugs in via thunderbolt and will color on the fly in DaVinci using a Macbook laptop in 4k! I mean, absolutely stunning technology at work here. My biggest beef is the gear drive mechanism and the fact for $40K USD (suggested retail) you don't get a keycode reader, sound reader or even an alternate gate. It also won't do 2 perf 35mm, only 3 or 4 perf. These aren't huge problems for people still shooting film, looking for a reliable system to telecine, I think it's awesome for what it is. One semi-unknown feature which will be on the final production model is a scanning function vs telecine. It will actually pause each frame in front of the sensor, which will then take a picture and store I assume as an uncompressed DPX sequence. I'm not sure how fast it will be, they mentioned 15fps, but that could have been an arbitrary number.

 

Registration on the unit was excellent, far better then any Cintel I've ever used. The source material was newly shot 35mm negative, not a scratch or bit of grain in the image, it was flawless. We had it presented on a big monitor and I saw absolutely zero registration glitches, it looked like a scanned image vs telecine, quite amazing.

 

In summary, I'm throughly impressed with the Blackmagic telecine/scanner. It's absolutely worth looking into for those who need a telecine/scanner at their side at all times. The downsides seem minimal, though buying a thunderbolt computer with an excellent graphics card are two prerequisites. So right there, your cost of ownership just went way up!

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The downsides seem minimal, though buying a thunderbolt computer with an excellent graphics card are two prerequisites. So right there, your cost of ownership just went way up!

One of those new 5k iMacs might be just fine at 10% of the cost of the scanner...although I'd bet it would benefit from the graphics cards in the new Mac Pro so maybe 20% of the cost of the scanner.

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It also won't do 2 perf 35mm, only 3 or 4 perf.

If it can do 4 perf, I wonder if there would be a software solution to take that 4 perf scan and split it into 2 perf since you'd still be getting all the image... a little post processing might save a ton of money vs. another gate.

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It's also apparently limited to max 2% shrinkage, which isn't very much. I find this curious, since they seem to be marketing the scanner to archives and film catalog holders that want UHD files for television release. We've seen 16mm film from the 80's with greater shrinkage than 2% (our ScanStation can handle up to 5.5%).

 

It's definitely not suitable for archival scanning, at least as it's currently configured. But with such a small shrinkage tolerance, I'm not sure how it'll handle poorly stored film that's not as old. I suppose they could make an archival sprocket wheel with a more forgiving sprocket pitch, but I find that to be a clunky solution since you need a set of wheels for different shrinkage levels.

 

Also, unless this has changed since NAB, 16mm is not scanned using the full sensor. That is, the camera/lens doesn't reposition itself for 16mm, it merely uses a window at the center of the 35mm sensor for 16mm, so it's not taking advantage of the sensor's full resolution. I wouldn't hold my breath for Super 8mm scanning on this machine, and even if it does happen, if this is how they're handling smaller gauges, Super8/8mm is probably not going to look very good, since it'd only be using a tiny fraction of the sensor's capability.

 

Blackmagic has been tight lipped about shipping dates, and when a beta program might happen, if at all. I think this scanner has some very interesting uses, but I also think those uses may be inherently limited due to the design of the machine. I hope I'm wrong.

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Funny this post came up, I picked up the Sept 2014 issue of Film and Digital Times magazine 2 days ago in Adorama and it had a short article on the Blackmagic scanner, I had almost totally forgotten about it.

 

The article gives very little information other then "A 16mm gate is available as an accessory. It will be ready later this year for around 29,995." In the meantime, the year's running out quick.

 

Blackmagic's never really been know to keep their customer base/ public very well informed.

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I suspect that it's the same (poor IMO) UHD sensor that is used in their "4K" Production camera, and that it sends compressed DNG files through thunderbolt. No Macbook pro or any other laptop made can deal with 4K DPX. I also think that a sub 2K window from a bayer pattern sensor for 16mm is pretty poor I personally feel that scanning at about 3K or a bit less with a color bayer sensor gets you closer to "real" 2K resolution and color fidelity.

 

It is cheap though.

 

Also I wouldn't believe everything that you see in a product demo.

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Rob,

 

You're correct that it's CinemaDNG - that's what they were saying at NAB. Also, the demo at the time was just the film playing to a display window on the laptop - nothing was being captured, as far as I could tell, it was just pass-through to the screen. The software was as barebones as it gets, though I'm sure it's improved since then.

 

They told me that the workflow is to make DPX files from the raw capture files if that's what you need, otherwise bring the Cinema DNG into Resolve directly. So, yeah.

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I don't know if there is anything to do with faith in anything, BMD has a history of making once unobtainable technologies available at an everyman price. I think it's great that Grant Petty decided to put a film scanner into the mix at $30k and if it ever arrives I will buy one for Cinelab as I think a $30K film scanner is about as cheaply as a scanner can be made. An Arriscan was $850K last time I priced one and I don't think the sensor in the BMD will be as good as the Arri ALEV sensor so it may not be the ultimate film scanner, but it is cheap.

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Sorry ya… CInema DNG not DPX.

 

I did talk with BMD about it being a 4k camera in an enclosure and they said it wasn't because it will capture still images and the camera can't.

 

We talked in length about the current philosophy of zooming the chip. They said a different magnifying lens will be available for super 16mm and the prototype didn't have it.

 

We scanned 4 perf so yea… it can do 4 perf no problem.

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The article gives very little information other then "A 16mm gate is available as an accessory. It will be ready later this year for around 29,995." In the meantime, the year's running out quick.

 

I'm guessing that's the cost of the whole scanner with the 16mm gate at a price lower than $29k.

 

So Robert & Perry do you think there's a business case for something like this or would you be better off with a used 4k Spirit for around the same money? Seems like this would be more reliable and less costly on maintenance.

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The scanner cost is list $29k, and I think I heard them say the 16mm upgrade would be in the sub-$5000 range, but I might be wrong on that. Regardless, they were talking a very small amount on the upgrades.

 

So Robert & Perry do you think there's a business case for something like this or would you be better off with a used 4k Spirit for around the same money?

By 'business case' do you mean someone like Rob or myself, or are you referring to Blackmagic? Speaking for myself, based on what I've seen, the machine will be of limited utility. That doesn't mean it's not good, nor does it mean it's not useful. But I wouldn't consider this to be anywhere in the class of our ScanStation. It's geared towards a market I'm not sure I understand - making a sprocket-driven scanner in this day and age seems odd, because the vast majority of film to be scanned is from archives and back catalogs - all material that's much less likely to be suitable on a sprocketed machine. Of course, it depends on the machine, but based on what they've told me, it's not for archival use. That's contrary to their marketing, which says it's for exactly that purpose. So I don't really get where they're going, or frankly, why.

 

I think for Cinelab, which is also processing new film, it might be really nice for doing things like dailies. The sprockets worry me, because most of our work is with archival film. For new film, this won't be a problem at all.

 

Seems like this would be more reliable and less costly on maintenance.

I think all that any of us can say at this point is that it'll be attractive looking. I don't think any of us can say it will be more reliable or less costly on maintenance. I guess compared to a Spirit, probably yes. But to other more modern scanners? Maybe, maybe not. That remains to be seen.

 

I'll be honest, I vacillate between being excited about this, and worrying about whether the scanner will actually do what they say it will do. Frankly, that hasn't been BMD's strong suit for the past several years. Also, in terms of reliability, this is a machine with moving parts. We're not talking about solid state electronics - motors can burn out, belts can need replacing, things happen that can't be fixed with firmware alone. How responsive will they be when there's a problem, software or otherwise? Anyone's guess at this point.

 

In contrast, I had an issue with the control software for the ScanStation a week or so ago. I identified the problem, sent them a report, they reproduced it and sent me a build of the software that fixed the issue, in less than 24 hours. This allowed us to continue on with a job that would have otherwise required a major workaround with several hours of lost time, with no apparent delay to our client.

 

I will go on record as saying that that level of responsiveness will *not* happen with Blackmagic.

Edited by Perry Paolantonio

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The upside is, that at this price point coupled with the dramatically low prices of 35mm and 16mm cameras these days, one could start a small production house and do everything in-house besides processing for about the same cost-of-entry as high-end digital, without the need to upgrade every couple of years.

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Well as I said I would get one for Cinelab I suppose and sell the scans at a price point that seems appropriate, but with the assumption that you get what you pay for..;-)

 

Also our Sprocketless Xena is running really well and is all modern components and currently has a 3.3K Imperx Kodak CCD in it but we are looking at upgrading it to a new JAI 5K CMOS sensor which runs at up to 30FPS at 5K. That upgrade is more than 1/3 the price of the BMD scanner but I am pretty sure the 5K sensor will crush the BMD machine in terms of Image Quality and at 30FPS the speed will be there too.

 

Interesting times.

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I guess the days of spending $1 million on a Spirit 4k and getting all your money out of it in a year or two are gone.

 

Interesting thoughts on the sprocketed aspect. I wonder if it would be possible for them to make it sprocket-less at some point in the future with an upgrade. Does seem silly since it seems like the archival market is what will be growing (especially 4k) and modern productions are using much less film.

 

I totally agree with the service points; if you're one of 20 customers you can get much more attention than one of 20,000 customers. I've actually had pretty decent luck with Blackmagic service but they do keep their cards too close to their chest like Apple or something. Don't think that is necessary on a film scanner...maybe on the latest greatest camera where there's tons of competition but not film scanners in that price range.

 

I do think they are making this scanner for love of film more than a real strong business plan. I think the Resolve folks simply love film and want to be involved with it.

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It intrigued me at first, but I agree with what rob and Perry have been stating. I wouldn't hold my breath over this if you really want the best quality.

 

After 2 years of scanner testing and visiting, the only one that surpassed all my tests (underexposed, overexposed, 8/16/35, shrunken, torn, warped, faded, neg, reversal, black and white .. You name it..) was the lasergraphics scanstation.

 

I spent 2 days with their engineers and was repeatedly impressed that they found ways to tackle all my concerns.

 

Perry also owns the same model lasergraphics scanstation (we added the 35mm module though). And can scan in up to 5k dpx.

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