There’s no question about it, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is one of the hottest cameras out there. Let’s say you already own a small compact DSLR – you’ve honed your story and lighting techniques and you’re ready to step up your image quality – the Pocket Cinema Camera looks like a good fit. Well it’s not as simple as just buying the body and being done – here are 7 things you must consider when upgrading to a dedicated digital filmmaking camera like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
1. The Image Quality is Fantastic
Lets just start off by saying that yes indeed, the quality of the video coming off the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is quite fantastic. The fact remains that DSLRs are stills cameras first, with video added as a side thought – what Blackmagic is doing in terms of their Cinema Camera lines is build a camera with the same type of stripped down form factor but engineer it for video from the ground up. The images off the camera are cleaner, crisper and easier to manipulate than footage from a DSLR.
I got to spend some time with an evaluation camera provided by our sponsor Blackmagic Design. It really wasn’t until I got the footage into post that I really got to see the true strength of this camera – and that’s the image quality.
I asked Victoria Patton to accompany me on a short impromptu test – shooting a melancholy stroll through San Diego’s Gas Lamp District . The following short was shot on the Rokinon 35mm f1.4 and 8mm f3.8 using a monopod for stabilization. The footage was recorded using the ProRes Codec on the camera and color graded using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 10.
The Pocket Cinema Camera is not a great low light camera but when paired up with an fast lens like the Rokinon 35mm f1.4, it can still deliver a decent image even under sparse street lighting with a scrumptious bokeh. Finding focus when fully wide open can be challenge as I fumbled with the inch wide depth of field through out the night – I relied on the BMPCC’s built in peaking (which highlights edges that are in focus in green) to try to find my critical focus.
The Rokinon 8mm f3.8 lens had a harder time compensating for the low light of San Diego’s gas lamp district. But here’s where Blackmagic’s 10-bit ProRes codec comes to rescue (or RAW if you choose to go that route). Shots that may have been deemed too dark can be rescued and the noise that comes with the boost in gain isn’t not terribly distracting like the video noise in DSLR cameras. Due to the limitations of time on location, I chose to shoot in ProRes to keep from burning through my cards (more on that in a bit).
This short impromptu test with no crew or staged lighting has proven to me beyond a doubt that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is certainly up to the challenge of producing quality video images in a small and compact size. With the right resources and planning the Pocket Cinema Camera can definitely deliver stunning results. Getting that level of quality, however, will requires a different approach to the camera than I was used to…
2. You’re Going To Need New Lenses
The single most challenging thing coming to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera from Full Frame or APS-C sized Sensors is having to adjust for the crop factor. I have and still use the Full frame Canon 5D MkII for which I’ve built up a nice range of glass for it. But the smaller crop factor of the Pocket Cinema Camera means most of the glass I use on the 5D will be way too powerful to use.
As you can see from this chart above, Blackmagic Cinema Camera sensor (in red) is much smaller than the full frame Canon 5D with the Pocket Cinema Cameras sensor smaller still – about the same size as Super 16mm film. This means only a small portion of the field of view of your lens is being read by the camera sensor – resulting in a crop factor of 3.02. This means that a fisheye 8mm on the BMPCC (which you can see in the frame grabs above) will have the equivalent field of view as a 24mm lens on the Canon 5D MkII. And a wide angle 24mm on a BMPCC would have the same range as a 72mm lens – which is pushing into the telephoto range. A nifty-fifty will be like shooting on a 150mm super telephoto lens!
So if you’re coming at the Pocket Camera with a few medium or long lens for your Full frame/APS-C DSLR, you’ll need to consider investing in some really wide lenses. At the time of this article, Blackmagic is only offering the Pocket Camera in Micro Four-thirds active mount. The adapter that Blackmagic sent for review was a passive mount, meaning that I could not electronically control the aperture of the Canon lenses I had (another factor to consider). Luckily the Rokinon lenses I had at my disposal all had manual aperture control but if you need to electronically control your sensor you will have to consider something like the Redrock Active Mount Adapter.
You may also consider the Metabones Speed Booster offerings as a way to compensate for the crop factor from the small sensor size. Speedboosters essentially make the imaging circle of the lens smaller, widening the field of view and improving low light capabilities. But Speedboosters aren’t cheap – costing as much as a new Micro Four Thirds lens. But it may a necessary cost for someone with a existing collection of glass.
But if you are coming at this camera from a Micro Four Thirds background (shooting with a Lumix for example)- then you may see a relatively easy transition – at least in the Lens Department. But if you are looking into lenses – opt for image stabilization as it will help the handheld form factor which we’ll get to in further down.
3. You’ll Need Faster (and More) Cards
There are a lot of young filmmakers out there clamoring for RAW recording capabilities in their cameras but reality is most filmmakers coming from a DSLR environment aren’t ready to handle the kind of data pipeline required for RAW and most projects don’t require it. Regardless of whether the RAW workflow interests you or not, you will still need to start investing in faster cards and more memory to store all your footage.
At the time of this article’s publication, the Blackmagic Pocket Camera can record in two modes: ProRes 422 HQ which eats up memory at about 1.2 gigabytes per minute and RAW which eats up roughly twice that much at 2.7 gigabytes per minute. So a 64 gigabyte SD card will carry less than an hour of record time using the compressed ProRes codec and half that if shooting in RAW.
But you can’t record to bargain basement SD cards. You need Class 10 45Mb/s rated cards for recording ProRes (and that might be cutting it close) and 80/MB and up cards to record in RAW.
Keep in mind your storage requirements on your editing machine as well. A 15 minute short film with a 10:1 shooting ratio will eat up 180 gigabytes of storage and 405 gigabytes in RAW. That may not max our your storage but the heft of the footage is something that can’t be ignored.
Now the question is, do you really need to record in RAW? All things equal, most productions will find that the ProRes codec to be substantial enough with plenty of give for color grading. Save the RAW recording for cases where you know you’ll be needing that extra room to play around in such as chroma-keying work.
RAW and Pro Res side by side – the shots have been graded to match. Very little noticeable difference between the shots.
Extreme Grade of shot to show how it breaks. Notice the added detail in the wood stool in the RAW shot and the macro-blocking in the ProRes in the red table cloth. This is an extreme example unlikely to show up often in the real world.
4. Forget Trying to Capture Sound On-Camera
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera does come with a mini jack for audio input but as far as I’m concerned, recording sound onto Blackmagic line of cameras (including the big brother Cinema Camera) is simply not a good option. I have opted to go for recording sound onto a separate sound recorder for syncing in post (with the help of Adobe Premiere Pro CC’s auto sync – this is a snap).
If you are currently set up for recording sound directly into the camera – you may want to look into purchasing a dedicated audio recorder when working with this camera.
5. You’re Going To Need a Few Extra Batteries
The Blackmagic Pocket Camera chews through batteries rather quickly – you’ll get about 1 hour or so per battery on continuous use. Luckily there are plenty of third party battery options available which aren’t too expensive. Expect to carry at least 5-8 batteries or more for a day long shoot (depending on how much you roll).
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is an EN-EL20 type 7.4V, 800mAh lithium ion battery which is relatively common and inexpensive – but you will need several to get through a full day of shooting
6. You’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat – err… Rig
One of my initial attractions to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is it’s incredibly small size. You can take the camera anywhere and it looks like a basic point and shoot – certainly a nice option for run-and-gun situations. But the size advantage and inconspicuousness of the camera quickly vanishes as you start adding thing to make the camera work – such as a lens.
BMPCC with Canon Adapter and Rokinon 35mm lens
Because the camera is so small and light, adding large lenses completely throws the balance off – with the majority of the weight of the camera being the lens itself. This is not so much a bad thing – the Pocket Cinema Camera may be a perfect complement to a small camera stabilizer rig. In the test short above I used a monopod for both static shots and as a makeshift stabalizer in tracking shots. But having all the weight in the lens makes going handheld difficult because the body grip is far from the center of gravity shifted by by the weight of the lens. Smaller MFT lenses maybe easier to manipulate, but when using larger lenses, handheld operation is practically impossible to pull off on a bare camera. You will need some sort of rig to add some bulk and weight to the camera to get truly steady shots. Unfortunately, adding the rig adds weight and makes the camera more conspicuous – defeating the small camera aesthetic in the first place.
7. You’re Going to Need an IR ND Filter when Shooting Outdoors
If you want to shoot outdoors during the day time and you want to shoot anything wider than a fully stopped down F22 on your lens, you will need an IR ND Filter. Standard ND filters which work on most DSLRs will not work on the Blackmagic line of cameras (I’ve tested both the Cinema Camera and Pocket Cinema Camera). These cameras suffer from a Infrared light pollution – your images will look fine without ND filters but standard everyday ND filters do not filter out infrared light. What you will see in the camera is the shadows will take on a noticeably reddish cast – which is unfixable in post.
You can either opt for screw-on IR-ND filters for your lenses or go for the square filters which can be dropped in the filter stage of your mattebox.
Blackmagic Pocket Camera with a Rokinon 8mm F3.4 with Canon Adapter
The Blackmagic Pocket Camera is it’s a deceptively simple looking camera that can deliver a poweful and flexible image. It looks like and is priced like a point and shoot, but it is anything but. In my time evaluating this camera you will need to approach the Pocket Camera with a different mindset because it is a totally different work environment than shooting on a DSLR. But with the right mind set and the right tools to make it work, the Blackmagic Pocket Camera can be a formidable addition in your production aresenal.