Blackmagic Design pulled off the surprise product launch of this year’s NAB with the unveiling of a new digital camera. Chief executive Grant Petty reveals the thinking behind the device.
When people ask why we built a camera I point to the postal service. The post office has been dealing with envelopes for years and if they designed an envelope they’d probably make an awesome one. And it’s like that with us. A lot of our products have been plugging into cameras for decades. We know a lot about the post process and none of the cameras out there give us the files we need, with the exception perhaps of the Arri Alexa.
Why can’t we have files with metadata in DNxHD, in Pro Res, in CinemaDNG, with no closed formats and just the NLE formats? Why can’t the camera adapt to the NLE guys, instead of the editors having to adapt to all these weird camera formats all the time?
People don’t give the Canon 5D the respect it deserves. I think the 5D is beautiful, but I wanted a camera that was optimised for video and had a cinematic look; something that would complement the 5D and use the same lenses.
The three things that make a cinematic look are higher than HD resolution, a wide dynamic range and colour correcting the shot. Those three things are what make a feature film look like a feature film. I knew that if we could capture those three things with a better workflow than the 5D we’d have a great product.
We don’t care about other manufacturers’ products. We don’t build products to compete with other products, we build them because we think they’re cool and we want to make them. In that sense, I guess we’re not a normal equipment manufacturer.
We’re a bunch of post-production guys who used to walk the halls of trade shows asking for products, but a manufacturers wouldn’t make them because there wasn’t enough profit or it didn’t fit in with their technology strategy, so we thought ‘screw it’, let’s make them ourselves.
I have always been amazed at the way people have to compare products. I’ve always found it strange that people have to compare creativity. It’s bizarre. Some people will love this camera, others will hate it, but it is such a diverse landscape.
In the old days everyone had Sony monitors in their post suites and Sony TVs at home. Now there are thousands of brands of monitors and TVs. It’s all about making products that fit certain groups. Everyone assumes there will be one type of thing, but that’s a very old, monoculture way of thinking. We’ll never go back to a world where there is only Avid.
Ultimately, what I’m looking for doesn’t exist. And if I can’t buy it, why don’t I make it? That’s how we as a company started. The answers are in the corridors of a trade show, not in the booths. I talk to our customers but I never look at competitor’s websites.
If one of our rivals makes something cheaper than us someone will tell me, and I’ll probably drop our prices, but ultimately I’m not interested. All I care about is talking to our customers and making great products.
As a kid I wanted to make trucks and billy carts. I didn’t grow up thinking about market share. Imagine working for Coke or Pepsi and spending all your time worrying about half a per cent market share? That would be my idea of hell. I don’t want to be a businessman; I just want to make things because it’s fun. Everything at Blackmagic is aligned towards making great products and you can’t do that in a corporate culture.
The suggestion that there won’t be a decent level of support for the camera because of its price is complete bullshit. That’s the first thing other camera manufacturers say. I’ve seen the support offered by other manufacturers when you complain about something, and they snap back at you because they’re using their engineers as support people. We have got awesome support, and camera customers are some of the smartest in the world.
People have asked if we’d make accessories but I feel it’s corrupt to do so. I have a real problem with the way some manufacturers make a product and jack all these accessories onto it to just to turn it into what they promised in the first place.
It’s something that riles me; products should be released when they work properly, not after 50 software updates. The people we sell to are professionals and they deserve to be treated as such. When I was a post-production engineer nothing annoyed me more than an unreliable product that kept shitting itself. Our products work first time because we have a great QA process.
We don’t have any real long term plans. We’ll just see where this camera takes us. The whole strategic analysis for getting into cameras was me asking one of our engineers if he thought we should make a camera, and he said, ‘yeah, that’s a good idea’. And that was it.
I’m not sure if we’ll make another model or another camera. I think it would be wrong to plan the next model without seeing how people respond to this one.