The release of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K’s was highly anticipated. Blackmagic announced the camera in April 2018 and I got mine exactly a year later in April 2019. This Blackmagic Pocket 4K review will concentrate on how to get the best out of a very versatile camera and how it compares to the other cameras I’ve used.
The Pocket 4K is still backordered. I put my name on a waiting list in April 2018 from a bigger vendor and then on another waiting list by a smaller vendor in March 2019. Surprisingly I got my camera in just two weeks from the smaller vendor! Apparently Blackmagic sends cameras in equal numbers to all vendors. Best bet is to place your order with a smaller vendor if you want one.
Since 2012 most of my work was shot with the Sony Fs700 & Odyssey 7Q+ recorder. The set up cost seven times as much as the Blackmagic Pocket 4K. I’ve used the Sony FS700 for seven years now. I shot a feature film Samurai Rauni Reposaarelainen and many other projects with it and have been extremely happy. We’ve crossed the point with digital cinema cameras that we finally get the colour rendition, resolution and dynamic range we’ve come to expect with film.
The size and weight are the only reason I’m looking for an alternative to my current camera rig. Handheld documentary work with the Sony FS700 + Odyssey is quite hard if not impossible at times. I’ve never had any problems with it technically and never lost any footage. I will definitely miss the internal ND’s, the pro audio XLR inputs and the proven reliability of the Sony FS700 & Odyssey combo.
The Blackmagic Pocket 4k form factor is that of a DSLR. It is quite surprising since the camera is definitely made for video. Although the body only weighs 680 grams it is surprisingly wide. It feels a little bit too wide and bulky to me. Pocket 4k can shoot up to 60fps in 4K and up to 120fps in Full HD windowed mode which is plenty for almost all situations.
The form factor of the camera brings up a few dilemmas. The camera extends quite far to the sides. This can cause issues with some accessories like gimbals and follow focuses. A camera meant specifically for video doesn’t really benefit from the DLSR form factor. It is a minor inconvenience though. So far I’ve managed to fit everything on my rig with a bit of fiddling and I do like my rig as small as possible.
Although the button layout on the Pocket 4K is great it’s not ideal for me since I have quite small hands. I’m not able to access the custom buttons with my right hand fingers at the same time as holding the camera. I like how the buttons feel though and the body feels solid, if a little plasticky. The buttons are easy to push and you get a physical feedback. You need to be careful not to press them accidentally though.
The menu system
The menu system on the Blackmagic Pocket 4K is really easy to use. You don’t need the manual to figure it out and you can every setting easy and with just a few clicks. Nothing is buried too deep inside submenus. Setting the white balance and tint on the camera is a joy. Click, click and you’re done! The menu system is simply the best on any camera I’ve ever used.
Only thing I found lacking is that you can’t set all the settings to the custom function buttons. It would be nice to be able to assign the “status text” or 100fps windowed shooting to a custom buttons.
The Pocket 4K has a bluetooth connection. There is a free app called tRigger that acts as a remote rec start and stop. It is easy to connect via bluetooth and works well. You can embed a GPS location on the video file and choose which media to record to. There is also a more fully featured app called Bluetooth+ for Blackmagic that costs 5,49€. You can control most of the camera settings from the app and it works great.
On a recent music video shoot we rigged the Pocket 4K on a hood of a van to get some driving shots. We ran power and an HDMI cable inside the car. With the bluetooth app I was able to change settings on the camera and monitor the image from the passenger seat. I was able to change ISO setting to get a proper exposure when we drove into a dark tunnel. I’m a actually amazed how well the app works. The connection to the camera is rock solid and it runs without any delay.
A nice example of a well thought out menu system is the shutter speed versus shutter angle display. If you shoot 25fps at 1/50 shutter speed and change to 50fps slow motion the shutter speed stays at 1/50. But if you’ve chosen to display the shutter angle (180 degrees) it automatically changes the shutter speed to double your frame rate. Very convenient!
So the big question is how good is the image quality? I’ve often compared the Sony FS700 & Odyssey 7Q+ image quality to being almost on par with the Red and Alexa. I actually think that the Blackmagic Pocket 4K is breathing right down the neck of the top end cameras on the market.
I still need to do more actual real life shoots but the tests and the projects I’ve shot so far make me very excited. I’ll be using the Pocket 4K on most of my upcoming projects. I wouldn’t even exclude the possibility of shooting a feature film with it. If a project would require a lot of handheld work or two camera shoots then it would make a lot of sense to go with the Pocket 4K.
There are many recording format options ranging from seven different BRAW compression ratios and several Prores options. It will take some time to find the optimal settings for different shooting scenarios. On the surface they all seem equal and you only see the differences when shooting very difficult scenarios like water, foliage, brick walls, or pebbles on the beach with the whole frame completely in focus. The more stuff in focus and detail the more the compression needs to do work. I’ve seen very minimal moire on some shots with window blinds but nothing that would’ve worried me.
Is it as good as my Sony FS700 with Odyssey 7Q+? It’s so close it’s amazing. Blackmagic have really managed to build a camera that is hard to compete with at this price point.
The color science of Blackmagic cameras has always had a pleasing look that I’ve enjoyed. It’s very much made to emulate the film look and shines especially on skin tones. Most of the DSLR’s I’ve used lack in skin tone reproduction. There’s a certain plastic quality to skin tones. 70 per cent of The Goodiepal Equation feature documentary was shot with the original Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Compared to the Sony A7s footage it was a joy to colour grade.
Dual native ISO
The Blackmagic Pocket 4K has a dual native ISO of 400 and 3200. The camera will perform best at these two ISO settings and provide the most latitude. Stick to either 400 or 3200 ISO as much as you can. The ISO is divided to two “banks”. First is from 100 to 1000 and second from 1250 to 6400. The LOG curve resets itself at 1250 so there is a noticeable difference between the jump from 1000 to 1250. If you need more sensitivity you should use 1250 ISO instead of 1000 for best results.
The 400 base ISO is such a great thing. Nowadays many cameras shooting LOG formats have a single base ISO of 2000 or even 3200. This makes ND filters a necessity even when shooting indoors. With the Pocket 4K’s 400 base ISO you don’t need to use ND filters that often. That is a big bonus since there are no internal ND’s on the Pocket 4K.
Any camera that lacks internal ND’s is a big drawback in my opinion. You need ND’s all the time and changing external ND’s especially in run and gun situations it’s quite a big hassle. Proper quality ND filters are also quite expensive and variable ND’s are often not that good quality either. You need to budget proper ND’s and a matte box or filter ND’s to go with your Pocket 4K.
BRAW, compression ratios and Prores
At the moment Davinci Resolve is the only NLE that supports the new Blackmagic RAW format. You can download a free version of Davinci Resolve but the Pocket 4K also comes with a studio version of Resolve. Studio version includes noise reduction and few other features missing from the free version.
Blackmagic RAW aka. BRAW offers Constant bitrate (CB) and Constant Quality (CQ) modes. Constant Quality mode is a variable bitrate mode. It takes less space because the compression varies according to the needs of the clip. I’ve tested all the modes and to be honest it’s really difficult to see the differences. On the other hand this is a good thing but it also creates a lot of uncertainty of which mode is “good enough” for your needs. At BRAW CB 12:1 you are just about able to see some compression artefacts to differentiate it from the other compression modes. The consensus seems to be that BRAW CB 12:1 is the only level to avoid even though it is really good quality as well.
In the new Pocket 4K firmware (6.2.1) you can record Prores HQ, 422, LT and Proxy in 4K, Ultra HD and Full HD. Full HD can be recorded in full or windowed sensor mode. Blackmagic RAW compression ratios are Q0, Q5, 3:1, 5:1, 8:1 and 12:1 in 4K, Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) and Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolutions. The BRAW Full HD is only available in a windowed sensor mode. Unfortunately there is no 2K format available but I really hope this will be available in the future.
My use of the Pocket 4K is mostly based on what is economical in terms of quality versus hard drive space. The first thing I wanted to find out if there is enough quality difference to justify shooting BRAW versus shooting Prores. For me the upside for Prores is that it is easier to handle and can be read by Premiere Pro which I currently use. BRAW can be read only by Resolve and on Premiere with a plugin that is available for Windows only.
What does interest me with BRAW is the highlight recovery option available in Resolve. In the images below you can see its effect. The top image is recorded in BRAW (highlight recovery is turned on) and the bottom is Prores HQ (highlight recovery option is not available for Prores).
Highlight recovery only works if there are clipped highlights in the image. If you record everything within the dynamic range of the Pocket 4K the highlight recovery button does nothing. When you do have clipping highlights it does add a little bit of perceived latitude. But at some point windows and practical lamps have to clip anyways. So it’s a good question how much use for this one can find as you can’t monitor the recording with it applied to the image. It is nice to have though.
The Blackmagic Pocket 4K has a Micro Four Thirds mount that is extremely versatile. I think this alone gives this camera an advantage that is only surpassed by E-mount’s versatility found on Sony cameras. The Micro Four Thirds mount can be adapted for most available passive or active photo and cine lenses. So far I’ve mostly filmed with Samyang 12mm T2.2 Cine and Samyang 21mm Cine MTF lenses that are native lenses and do not require an adapter. I’ve also shot with full frame Canon FD 35mm and the Samyang 14mm T3.1 Cine EF lenses. They are fully manual lenses and work with cheap passive mount adapters.
A lot of people use the Sigma 18-35 f1.4 with the Pocket 4K and it seems like a great option. The Sigma requires an active adapter or a Metabones Speed Booster to control the aperture. I also shot a music video with a Micro Four Thirds mount lens Olympus M.zuiko 12-40 f2.8. It is another popular lens for the Pocket 4K. All of these lenses work well with some caveats and I find the quality decent for the price. I’ve never shot with expensive high quality cinema lenses so I can only speak about these lower priced alternatives.
In addition to passive manual lenses the Pocket 4K can use active lenses with autofocus as well. Basically if you have an autofocus lens you can touch the LCD screen for 2 seconds on a point you wish to focus and it will do so. Unfortunately during shooting most (if not all) lenses will hunt for focus. This makes it useless for any real world usage outside of using it to focus on a subject and then turning record on.
There are a lot of great lenses that I think would work great especially for documentary work. The Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 is equivalent to a 24-80mm. It is a MFT mount lens and works without an adapter on the Pocket 4K. The lens is sharp, it has nice colors and at f2.8 it is fast enough for most work. The lens seems a tad too sharp though for my taste and the focus throw is a bit too short. It’s a shame since otherwise it would be a perfect lens for documentary work. If these things don’t bother you it is a very good lens.
On the Olympus 12-40 lens the focus throw is less then 90 degrees from infinity to close focus. Even a one millimeter rotation of the focus ring makes a huge difference. It’s way too easy to overshoot your focus and get confused. It’s doable but for this reason I’m not buying the Olympus.
Focus throw is one thing to consider when buying lenses. It simply means the degree of rotation it takes for the lens to focus from close to infinity. Many of the lenses I own have a focus throw of about 130 – 225 degrees. This is really good when you’re shooting alone. It’s enough rotation to be accurate but short enough to that you can handle it with one hand. Real cine lenses rotate almost all the way around at about 300-350 degrees. That is why they require a focus puller as it’s a bit too much to handle alone.
Most old photo lenses have a really nice focus throw. For example the Canon FD 35mm f2 has a focus throw of 225 degrees. The Samyang 12mm and 21mm Cine MFT lenses have a focus throw of about 135 degrees. Perfect for one man operation in my opinion.
Pocket 4K crop factor
Buying wide angle lenses for the Pocket 4K can be a challenge. There aren’t as many alternatives available for the Pocket 4K’s Four Thirds (18.96mm x 10mm) sensor size. The Pocket 4K’s 1.9x crop factor is significant. A 24mm full frame lens on the Pocket 4K shows a 46mm field of view. A 35mm full frame lens effectively becomes a 67mm lens.
The Sony FS700 camera on the other hand has a super 35 sized sensor that is only a 1,4 crop factor. The essential lenses on a super 35 or full frame sensor cameras for me are a 24mm, 35mm and a 50mm. To achieve the same field of view on the Pocket 4K you need to look into buying a 12mm, a 20mm lens and a 24mm or 35mm lens to get the same results. The Samyang Cine MFT lenses are a great affordable option.
I bought the Samyang 12mm T2.2 Cine NCS CS and the 21mm T1.5 ED AS UMC CS lenses for the Pocket 4K after a lot of research. They are both native Micro Four Thirds lenses and a 12mm equals a 24mm field of view and 21mm equals a 40mm lens in full frame terms. I’m pretty pleased with the image coming from these lenses so far. With the Sony FS700 my favourite lens is the Samyang 35mm T1.5 full frame cine lens. The Samyang 35mm lenses field of view has been a sweet spot for the Sony FS700 that covers 80% of my needs. The Samyang 12mm and 21mm lenses seem to hit the spot for me on the Pocket 4K sensor.
There is also an alternative solution to using native Micro Four Thirds lenses. A magical adapter called the Speed Booster! Speed Booster (aka. a focal reducer) is an adapter that reduces a full frame lenses image to fit a smaller Super 35, APS-C or a Four Thirds sensor. As an added bonus it also adds about a stop of light and a bit of sharpness as well! It sounds a bit too good to be true but it really works! With the Metabones Speed Boosters the quality is top notch with no caveats! I would stay away from other manufactures if you can afford it. Here is my review of the Metabones EF – to Sony E-mount Speed Booster that I’ve been using for years with my Sony FS700.
Metabones have already announced that they will be making a Speed Booster specifically for the Pocket 4K. There is no release date as of yet. In the meantime there are Speed Boosters available that can be used with the Pocket 4K. The new Metabones Pocket 4K Speed Booster will most likely be specifically designed for the Pocket 4K’s slightly strange sensor size.
If you use only full frame lenses and want the full frame look the Speed Booster XL 0.64x is the one to get. But be aware that the Speed Booster XL will vignette on APS-C lenses. For for APS-C lenses (of which the Pocket 4K’s sensor size is closest to) the Speed Booster Ultra 0.71x works best. For example the Sigma 18-35 that is made for APS-C size sensors will only work without vignetting on the Speed Booster Ultra.
With the Speed Booster Ultra both APS-C and full frame lenses will work. If you use the Ultra it will make your Pocket 4K effectively a super 35 sensor camera. Super 35 sensor is my favourite for video so that is why Ultra would be my personal choice for a Speed Booster on the Pocket 4K.
4K, super 35 and a 16mm camera in one
One exciting possibility the Blackmagic Pocket 4K offers is the ability to use vintage 16mm lenses. This is another advantage of the Micro Four Thirds mount. It can be adapted to a lot of different lenses via cheap adapters. You can basically use the camera as a 4K camera, s35 camera, a 16mm and even a super 8 camera. I have really nice old 16mm c-mount Kern Svitar 10mm f1.6 and 50mm lenses which have an amazing character to the image.
Of course 16mm lenses vignette heavily on the Pocket 4K. The trick is to either use the windowed sensor function to zoom into the image or crop a 4K recording afterwards. Windowed sensor mode means that the camera records a cropped area of 1920×1080 from the full 4096×2160 sensor area. When you are in a windowed sensor mode a 24mm lens shows a 50mm lens angle of view. The advantage is that you basically have a 2x zoom button on your camera. As a downside there is a little more noise in the windowed mode.
With the Kern Svitar 10mm lens I am able to extract a 2,5K image from a 4K recording (see images below). Every lens will be different so you need to test how much you can resolve with each lens. You have to monitor an image that vignettes while recording. I can create custom guide with a matte to get the 2,5 crop view on my Swit to help monitor the correct framing (2nd image below).
A fun thing to try would be to extract a vertical and horizontal Full HD image simultaneously from the 4K image. You could also do a full 360 degree roll with the image on your NLE. I will try this out at some point for sure!
There’s a lot of confusion about which media can record which formats. I’ve tested many SD cards, two SSD drives and an Angelbird CFast card (not to be confused with the old CF format). The Samsung T5 512GB SSD drive is very popular for the Pocket 4K. Although it is officially supported by Blackmagic I was not able to get it to work properly on my camera. The SSD would not record anything higher 12:1. I returned the drive to the store and bought a more expensive SSD that works great with all compression ratios. Blackmagic did offer to take a look at my camera and I might send it to them when I have less projects with the camera.
My recommendation is to the get the Angelbird Blackmagic Bundle that contains a 512GB SSD drive and a 256 GB CFast card. Even though only the Cfast card is officially supported to record BRAW Q0 they both handle it and CB 3:1 in 25fps. The Angelbird SSD is very small and has a cool and handy recessed USB-C cable insert. The cable is 15cm. Not too long, not too short. The SSD is smaller then a match box. Seriously, it’s so small! In my rig it fits neatly under the camera plate (see image below). If you only shoot projects that require BRAW 8:1 or BRAW Q5 you are good to go with many cheap SD cards. You really don’t have to buy expensive media to get great results with the Pocket 4K.
Second monitor or an EVF is a must
When shooting handheld a second monitor is a must. I don’t know if it’s just my shooting style but I am not comfortable with the LCD screen on the Pocket 4K. It’s in a very awkward position. I prefer to rest the camera close to my chest or keep it on my shoulder. Shooting with arms extended and keeping the camera eye level in front of you so you can see the Pocket 4K’s LCD brings about micro jitters very easily. You really need to have at least two but preferably three points of contact to keep the camera steady.
The Pocket 4K’s LCD monitor is good but not extremely bright. Using it in direct sunlight is not really possible even with a sunhood. For this you really need an EVF. One thing that most DSLR’s have in advantage of the Pocket 4K is a small electronic EVF that works great in sunny outdoor shoots. The only proper EVF’s on the market are the Zacuto Graticals which are very expensive.
I bought a very inexpensive 5″ Swit CM-55C monitor for the Pocket 4K. There’s lot’s of tools on the monitor and you can also resize the image. I tested and as it happens my Sony FS700 loop fits the resized image perfectly. As a bit of a DIY project we built an extender with my friend Tomas. The loop works like a charm on the monitor!
Rigging the Pocket 4K
I bought a SmallRig Half Cage (model 2254) for my Pocket 4K. I like it because of the small footprint. But it widens the camera to the left even more. This caused an issue with my Lanparte follow focus that had a hard time fitting properly. I assume this would happen with other follow focuses as well when you are using small lenses.
Luckily I had a larger gear ring for the follow focus and it I was able to just about fit it. Only a few millimeters of space is left between the cage and the follow focus. I’ve used this follow focus with many cameras and this is the first time I had this problem. I pulled the plastic port protectors off the side of the camera as they were constantly in the way. They need quite a bit of force but they come out in one piece (image on right).
For me a camera rig can be both too heavy and too light as well. As a rough estimate I’d say a 5kg rig is the weight I find optimal. Anything heavier then that becomes cumbersome and tiring. If the rig is any lighter the movement loses some fluidity and becomes less filmic quality in my opinion. Micro jitters are a dead give away that there’s something wrong with your rig.
Powering the Pocket 4K
According to the manual the Blackmagic Pocket 4K battery input connection is rated from 6.2V to 10V max and the DC input is rated from 10.8V to 20V max. This allows for a very flexible use of power sources. The camera itself uses Canon LP-E6 batteries that are widely available. I bought three Swit S-8PE6 batteries in addition to the one that comes with the camera. The batteries last around 45 minutes each. I’m ok with four batteries for one days shooting in my arsenal if I can charge while I shoot. The Hähnel ProCube 2 charger is a little bulky but works really well and charges fast.
If you have V-lock or other batteries with a d-tap output you can buy a D-tap to Weipu 2-pin cable. There’s many battery plates available in ebay as well including a single battery Sony NP-F plate. Blackmagic also sell an official cable pack.
For longer shoots without access to the power grid I can use my Hawkwoods battery plate that I bought for the Odyssey 7Q+. It fits two Sony NP-F batteries and has a d-tap output. With two NP-F770 batteries the camera powers for at least two hours.
I also purchased a dummy battery adapter that connects from the Swit monitor power output to the Pocket 4K battery compartment. One Sony NP-F770 on the Swit monitor powers both the Pocket 4K and the Swit monitor for about an hour.
It’s good to have multiple power options for different purposes. Going handheld I like using the Pocket 4K’s internal battery or the dummy battery from the Swit monitor. When shooting longer interviews or events it’s nice to have a longer lasting power solution that you don’t need to change that often.
Proposed shooting formats for projects
The versatility of what you can do with the Pocket 4K is a huge advantage. If you know that a particular project is suited to record in ProRes Full HD you have the choice to record full or windowed sensor area. 256GB card will fit 180 minutes of Prores HQ in Full HD. I see myself using this mode especially in documentary and event shoots. To top it off you can also burn the LUT into the image so it’s ready to deliver immediately after the shoot.
You can also use the windowed sensor mode to crab quick close ups without the need to change lenses. When you change to windowed sensor it will stop recording so you need to restart recording. Shooting at 120fps is also restricted to windowed sensor. This makes it difficult to get wide angle shots at 120fps.
You shouldn’t always use the lowest compression. It is more sensible to think in terms of what the production requires. You could even shoot different formats on one project. Here’s how I suspect I will be shooting my projects. Recording times are all calculated at 25 fps.
DOCUMENTARIES, LIVE CONCERTS
Prores HQ Full HD – 256GB card fits 180 minutes (Windowed or full sensor)
BRAW-Q5 4K – 256GB card fits 147 minutes
Prores HQ 4K – 256 GB card fits 42 minutes
MUSIC VIDEOS, SHORT FILMS
Prores HQ 4K – 256 GB card fits 42 minutes
BRAW-5:1, 4K – 256GB card fits 61 minutes
BRAW-Q5 4K – 256GB card fits 147 minutes
FEATURE FILMS, HIGH END COMMERCIALS
BRAW-5:1, 4K – 256GB card fits 61 minutes
BRAW-3:1, 4K – 256GB card fits 37 minutes
BRAW-Q0 4K – 256GB card fits 37 minutes
There are a few issues with the Blackmagic Pocket 4k. One is that it does not always recognise SSD’s. Blackmagic claims that it is fixed with the new firmware (6.2.1). But I’ve experienced this with both the Samsung T5 and Angelbird SSD’s on the newest firmware. If the SSD is not recognised when you turn the camera on you need to unplug the SSD, turn off the camera, then turn the camera on again and then plug the SSD back in. This usually fixes it for me. It might be my camera is faulty but I’ve read others having this issue as well.
If there is no SSD detected the camera automatically changes the card it records to. If you have a CFast or SD card in their slot it will start recording to that if it doesn’t find the SSD. I was on an actual shoot when this happened. I did not notice the camera switching to the SD card by itself. The SD card wasn’t able to handle Prores HQ and the recording stopped. I noticed this too late and the take was lost. So make sure you don’t have an SD card in the camera if you don’t intend to record on it. In general it’s always safer to record to an internal media.
The Pocket 4K HDMI input died just after a few days of use on my friends camera. Blackmagic fixed it within a week which was great. I’ve also experienced a loss of a signal via HDMI twice.
The power input cable seems like it’s a bit loose when you wiggle the cable. Blackmagic confirmed that this is intentional. If you bump the cable and there’s a little flex it is less likely to break the port.
I’ve also had weird issues with the function buttons. They don’t seem to work properly all the time. It’s very rare but sometimes a button just does not work. Turning the camera on and off fixes this issue. The Pocket 4K LCD screen has also gone crazy a few times. The screen can start making selections on it’s own. I had a similar issue with my Odyssey 7Q touch screen as well. A firmware update solved the problem in that case.
All of these problems suggest that there are indeed some teething issues with the Pocket 4K. This isn’t a surprise as many of the Blackmagic cameras have suffered from various problems in their early days. Hopefully they can fix some of these via future firmware updates.
I’ve now shot a couple of proper projects with the Blackmagic Pocket 4K. I really enjoy the smaller size and weight of the camera compared to my Sony FS700 and Odyssey 7Q+ setup. There’s a few downsides like the battery life of the camera, the problems with recognising the SSD’s, no internal ND filters and to some extent the shape of the camera.
Overall however the pros outweigh the cons. The 680 gram camera body allows the use of smaller and cheaper dollys, jibs, cranes and tripods. You could even buy two or three cameras for a fraction of a cost to other options.
The jury is still out whether I will sell my Sony FS700 & Odyssey 7Q+ combo and do all of my work with the Pocket 4K. It will definitely be the go to camera when it comes to music videos, documentaries and commercials. There’s no doubt it is the most cinematic and versatile camera you can buy for the price at the moment.