I bought the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera second hand just days after it was released. I have a feeling there will be plenty of them to go around. This is a very special piece of gear and many people will be struggling with the caveats. The cool features are that it records ProRes and raw, has 13 stops of dynamic range and is extremely small and weighs almost nothing. It’s micro four thirds lens mount allows you to attach a wide variety of lenses on it. You can use old s16mm c-mount lenses that are relatively cheap that cover the sensor nicely.
The camera does have quite a few very annoying features. The battery life is nothing to gloat about. One battery lasts for a little less then an hour and it takes 2 hours to charge and you need to charge it with the battery inside the camera. It also doesn’t turn itself off even if the camera is idle for a long time. If you leave it on accidentally (which is pretty easy to do) it will drain the battery.
Good thing is that the BMPCC uses Nikon EN-EL20 batteries that are widely available. The brand names cost around 45-70€ but I’ve bought no name batteries from Ebay branded Ex-Pro for 7 euros each and a dual charger for 20 euros by Ex-Pro (if you do buy this charger beware not to leave the batteries in after charging as I think they deplete). With four batteries I can pretty much work for one day. But if not I can charge two while shooting and have them ready for when I need more power. There are more professional and bulky power solutions but for me the BMPCC is all about being a small stealthy camera and that’s how I want to keep it.
Recording options and formats
Another hassle are the SD cards. There’s only a few that work with the camera and only one that is recommended for raw mode! Here’s a list of compatible SD cards. On a 64GB card you can fit about 37 minutes of ProRes and only about 20 minutes of raw. You will also be needing loads of storage space to back up and edit your videos on your computer. ProRes at this quality also requires a fairly new computer to play without a hitch. My old Duo Core laptop is not up to the task anymore.
You will need loads of hard drive space. A commercial I shot recently with my Sony FS700 with the internal AVCHD codec came to about 8GB total in data – that was 45 minutes worth of material. That’s very little for Full HD and you can see it in the quality of the AVCHD codec (which is amazing compared to the size of files it creates). Had I shot the commercial with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera in ProRes 422 HQ total data would’ve come to about 70GB. That’s a lot! With raw it would come to about 135GB! I will definitely keep shooting with my FS700 on most occasions for this reason alone.
I’d love to see a ProRes 422 LT recording option on the Pocket camera. This would be really handy for live concerts, interviews etc. At the moment the only sensible raw compression codec out there is Redcode raw codec that the Red cameras use exclusively. Cinema DNG is very good quality but the file sizes are massive. Red has proven that this doesn’t have to be the case – you can have great quality and still have small files. If you are used to DSLR file sizes you will be in for a massive surprise with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
It’s very small!
I think I will be mainly using the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for documentary type work. This camera is so small! With c-mount or pancake lenses it looks like a cheap point and shoot. Compare that to any other camera with this type of picture quality and you’d have a massive rig on your hands! With the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera you can walk to any public place and no one will even glance at you. The subjects will also be more at ease with the camera when you follow them around. It’s a really great tool for capturing real life events unnoticed.
If the BMPCC had a bit more proper audio for ambient like on GH2 or 3 it’d be great. Alas you do need an external recorder for it. The audio is very poor quality and the mic picks up all the camera noise. It sounds like there are cicadas inside the camera and it’s unusable. Here’s a sample audio shot in a quiet room with 20db gain so you can hear the problem.
The picture quality is stunning! I remember buying myself a CD burner in the early 2000 and making a real CD by myself out of my 4-track tapes. That was amazing and really changed how people did music. Just a year or two and you can make movies with uncompromised quality with a very small budget. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is the first camera with an affordable price to come even close to this. The word cinema in the name is very much deserved. The quality of the picture is worthy of the silver screen.
The ProRes codec definitely beats the AVCHD format. The BMPCC’s highlights roll off very nice, no complaints there. There is almost nothing that says video in the image. There’s a slight rolling shutter and moire that are present but I can live with both. With a f1.4 lens and 1600 ISO you can shoot at night in a dimly lit room. It looks very good and you can push it another stop or two in post as well. You can capture what your eye can see, a bit more even really if you really need to.
There is a very film like noise and texture in the underexposed parts that comes up when you push things in post. This looks very pleasing to my eye and the noise doesn’t bother me at all. I can easily use 1600 ISO but if you want totally clean material I’d suggest staying at the native 800 ISO. You can dial the ISO as low as 200 so that will help when shooting in bright sunlight. It’s the darkest season in Finland at the moment, but once the sun comes out and the land is covered in snow I will certainly need some ND filters in addition to everything else.
With this camera you can really start comparing lenses as well. The BMPCC image quality really renders the characteristics of a particular lens well. This allows you to use old lenses with chromatic aberrations, softness etc. to their advantage. With for example the Panasonic GH2 it just looked bad, the marriage of a bad lens and a bad codec doesn’t work. However, put a vintage lens on a high quality camera and it will be able to render the age, wear and tear of the lens and still manage to look pleasing. I love this and will probably end up spending a bit of money on old cheapo lenses to try them out!
Here’s two stills comparing BMPCC ProRes with the Sony FS700 internal AVCHD codec. The image quality is very similar in terms of sharpness. There’s more noise in the BMPCC and the depth of field is where you see a big difference with the larger sensor camera. I’ve color corrected both images to get them as close to each other as I could to see if can use them on a two camera shoot. First image is from Sony FS700 with a Samyang 35mm at f2.8. Second image is the BMPCC with a Samyang 24mm at f2.
Battery life and accessories
The camera is so small that you do need some sort of stabilizing. There are some good IS lenses available but I don’t own any so I opted to use a very simple support. A rod that pushes against my shoulder and a handle. The LCD screen is not perfect by any means but you can work with it. Of course it would be much more versatile if it had a swivel screen. Why it is not a standard in cameras these days is beyond me! I like the Blackmagic user interface. It’s simple and everything is easy to access although it could be better organized. It would be nice to have a thumbnail view of all recorded clips to browse, now the only option is to scroll through clips one by one.
What is a must though is to be able to format an SD in-camera. There’s also no audio monitoring nor a histogram! Zebras will do though for most occasions. One big concern I have is that once your warranty runs out Blackmagic apparently do not have any repair support for their cameras.
Overall the build quality of the BMPCC is very good and the lens mount is sturdy. I like the hand grip and the buttons. Only thing that is not up to par is the power jack and the micro HDMI connector. Those are gonna break at some point. Hence why I bought a dual charger and loads of batteries so I don’t need to use it.
You do need to spend more than just the price of the camera to get it working. I would say at least four batteries, dual charger, 4 x 64GB SD cards and if you need audio an external microphone and a recorder. If you don’t have lenses you need to buy those as well. I happened to own the m4/3 12mm SLR Magic f1.6 and a c-mount Kern-Svitar 50mm f1.4 already. I bough an Angenieux 16-68mm f2.2 Type 4x16B zoom and would still like to get a fast 24mm and 35mm prime lenses to cover all my needs. That’s another 500 to 1000 euros extra spent on this camera. Even if you do have some lenses handy be prepared to spend at least around 250-500€ extra on top of the camera to get the bare necessities.
Blackmagic have made quite a bad reputation for themselves due to missed delivery dates and the lack of firmware updates for very basic features like audiometers. They are not famous for their customer service either and don’t have much of a presence on their support forum. It really is a shame.
Taking into account all the pros and cons I don’t think this is the camera that takes digital affordable cinema to the level of s16mm film yet. It’s nearly there but with too many problems. I’d say the digital home movie making revolution is just around the corner, we have the Digital Bolex just starting to ship and many others during 2014 I’m sure. Other manufactures will respond and most likely out-do this camera in both price and performance. At the moment however Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is unchallenged and you will be able to create stunning images with it.
A big thanks to Anna-Mari Nousiainen who helped me with the comparison shots!
UPDATE – 25th Feb 2014
I’ve now done four shoots with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. It really is a very nice camera. I’ve shot two music videos with it and two documentary sessions. The four batteries that I own have been enough for me on all my shoots. Shooting in -20 degree weather did eat the battery power really quick though. They won’t last more then 20 minutes in this type of weather. The image quality is very, very good. I love the deep depth of field for a change. It’s a very nice tool to have on certain shoots.
There’s loads of problems and issues though. The audio being the most annoying. You really need a separate recorder for it. The BMPCC audio is only good for sync. This is a shame since I really loved using my GH2’s audio as stereo ambient audio to complement the lavalier mic’s dry sound.
To handle the audio I bought two Zoom H1’s and a Rode Lavalier. The Zoom H1’s are pretty good for the price. They’re plastic though. The bottom screw attachment doesn’t really work properly at all. Be carefull though! The Zoom H1 picks up every move of your hands touching the camera. I spent a long time figuring out how to avoid this. I ended up attaching a Rode mic rubber on the camera and just stuffing the Zoom H1 through it. Works really well.
I really like shooting with the camera and I love the s16mm look of the image. Please watch Barry Andrewsin Disko music video I shot with it.
UPDATE – 15th March 2015
I’ve sold my BMPCC and most of the accessories that go with it. Not because I didn’t like it but because I upgraded to a Sony A7s and couldn’t justify keeping two cameras. I do wish I could’ve kept it though just because sometimes it’d be really good to have that deep dept of field that comes with such a small sensor.