Black Magic Design – What it Is & What It Isn’t

Black Magic Design logo

For the last few years Downpour Productions has been a Black Magic Design fueled business. Black Magic Design’s various camera solutions and DaVinci Resolve Studio serve as the heart of our video production operations. Their organization has created quite a buzz in the filmmaking community as a cost-conscious alternative to pricier options.

I have come across would-be filmmakers that have misconceptions of what the organization is. Let’s set the record straight:

What Black Magic Design isn’t: A camera

Ok, this is more a pet peeve of mine than a legitimate misconception. For some reason I’ve run in to many filmmakers that refer to a camera by saying “a Black Magic”. That isn’t even the full company name. Also, you do know BMD has 15 different cameras, right?

Like I said, a pet peeve. But this lazy-speak is what contributes to misinformation in the industry, eventually. Also it can lead to confusing or trouble-causing circumstances if DPs and editors miscommunicate on the nature of the shoot.

This also extends to DaVinci Resolve. BMD does software and hardware, and actually started with hardware first before purchasing Resolve in 2009.

What Black Magic Design is: A solution for the little guy

Ever since I discovered this company, I’ve been their biggest advocate. The $300 price tag for DaVinci Resolve Studio is far and above the best value for post-production software I’ve found. The Pocket 6k is outrageously affordable. No, I’m not sponsored in any way by anybody. I really do believe in these products.

As for their cameras, the Ursa Mini Pro line takes the throne as far as I’m concerned. For around $10,000 you can build a complete kit around their Ursa Mini Pro G2. Or if you want to go all out, spend a little more and get the flagship UMP 12K model with native PL mount. Any of them can compete with cameras that are far more expensive.

If you were looking to start from scratch, you could purchase your camera and post production solution from Black Magic Design and be set for years. If you were to go the RED Cinema or ARRI Alexa route for your cinema camera purchase, you’d be spending a hell of a lot more. Panasonic and Sony are respectable brands as well, but in my opinion you won’t find a better dollar-value than the BMD Ursa series.

BMD is only a few products shy of a true turn-key filmmaking solution. If they were to release a pre-production software similar to Movie Magic or Studio Binder, it’d be received with open arms.

What it isn’t: Adobe

Adobe has dominated both the business and customer marketplace in terms of creative content software. It probably has something to do with a massively expensive advertising campaign, because it sure doesn’t have to do with quality standards or technical support.

Black Magic Design’s DaVinci Resolve aims squarely at a non-linear editing solution. This means no Photoshop alternative, web design tool, or document reader/writer, like Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription has. As far as I know, BMD does not market any of their products under the (stupid) “software as a service” moniker. Good.

BMD has wisely chosen to keep Resolve, the ATEM Software Control, and all its other programs out of the subscription fee model. My sources tell me this has caused quite the stir at Adobe over the last few years, though you don’t need insider info to figure that out. And if you’re an indie filmmaker there’s almost a too-cool-for-school factor when you dump Adobe and go to BMD.

In the end they are just tools. What’s more important is the project they are used on. But the one-time $300 price tag, arguably better software stability, and inarguably better native color grading tools in Resolve make Adobe’s CC seem rather questionable.

What it is: A Community

This one may seem weird. But when I was using Adobe Premiere exclusively (the majority of my filmmaking history), every once in a while I’d attempt to ask questions via Adobe’s official forums. Not only was the website itself confusing to navigate (is Adobe run by human beings or focus group spreadsheets?) but my questions largely went unanswered. I’d find a work-around myself, or just go read Reddit.

Black Magic Design’s official forums are the opposite. Most questions have already been asked/answered and can be found on the forums (or in BMD’s excellent documentation). I think there’s an element of counter-culture at play here. A large swath of BMD customers are those who’ve dumped Adobe, owner/operators who couldn’t afford an Alexa or RED, and DIY live streamers. Economy of value mentality is already built-in to the community. I think that free information exchange comes naturally with such a mentality.

And before I get flamed, I love

What it isn’t: A Substitute for Thinking

Brand myopia is bad. It doesn’t matter the brand. Tools are tools, no matter their cost or quality. Unless you can articulate justifiable reasons why any one product works better for you, anything else is a tongue flapping contest. I do believe there are certain professional thresholds that can be met. But cameras, editing software, computer hardware…anything from any of the big brand names is professional. Avoid closed minded thoughts. Find what works for you through diligent research and hands-on experience. Then go make movies instead of arguing over the Internet on what camera has the most dynamic range.

What do you think about Black Magic Design or their products? Let me know with a comment.

Author: Karland Paez

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