The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has dramatically raised the bar, bringing full-sized quality in a miniature-sized package with impressive dynamic range and an attractive price point.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera may look like a small, mirrorless, still camera, but we all know that looks can be deceiving... In 2012, Blackmagic Design wowed us with its standard-sized Blackmagic Cinema Camera which set new standards in image quality and color reproduction at an unprecedented price point. This year, Blackmagic Design is pushing the limits again, this time bringing us a miniaturized version, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, that promises the same 13 stops of dynamic range as its big brother, but in a much smaller and lighter package.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera uses a Super 16 size sensor and an active Micro Four Thirds lens mount to take full HD 1080p video using the robust ProRes 422 codec. Support for the lossless CinemaDNG RAW codec is coming soon. This combination of the sensor and codecs brings up to 13-stops of dynamic range, giving you much more detail in shadows and highlights than you might get with other DLSRs. The ProRes 422 codec also features an enlarged 4:2:2 colorspace compared to many other codecs used by cameras in this price range. This increased color detail can help greatly in post-production, especially if you are working in low light or need to do lots of color grading. We have a lot of ground to cover here, so lets get started!
Out of the Box
While the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is very small, we didn’t realize quite how small it was until we saw the flat rate box in which our review unit was shipped. Inside the box you are greeted with a manual, an SD card, a small wrist strap, an EN-EL20 battery, a 12V AC adapter for charging and power, and of course, the actual Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with a lens cap.
When first picking up the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, we were surprised by how dense and solid it felt in our hands. Weighing in at 12.5oz., it feels very substantial for its small size. Without a lens attached, it is similar in size to a larger point and shoot camera and can easily fit in many a loose coat or pants pocket. The Micro Four Thirds lens mount protrudes just slightly beyond the large right-handed grip. For us, the grip was just the right size and felt very nice in hand. The somewhat rubberized texture that covers the front and back of the camera provides a very comfortable and reassuring grip. The top, bottom, and sides all show off the smooth magnesium alloy construction that help make this camera feel so durable.Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera features a 3.5-inch 800x480 LCD screen that is fixed in place against the left edge. Towards the right edge are Iris and Focus buttons, followed by a four-way controller with an OK button in the center, and finally, both Menu and Power buttons near the bottom. On the left side you’ll find a LANC port for using a remote control unit, a headphone output, microphone input, Micro HDMI output, and a 12V power input used for powering the camera and charging the battery. memory card slots, and there is a 1/4-20-inch thread tripod mount centered under the lens mount. The top features simple playback controls and the Record button, placed where a shutter button would be on a still camera, as well as a second 1/4-20-inch thread mount for accessories. The Micro Four Thirds lens mount is active, providing focus and iris controls to compatible lenses, and also works perfectly with passive lenses and adapters for different lens mounts.
After getting familiar with the physical features, we powered on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera to look over the user interface and settings menus. Upon startup you go straight into the recording mode which shows an image from the sensor across nearly the entire display, except for a very small strip along the bottom that shows the camera’s current settings. Pressing the Menu button brings up the settings which are divided into camera, audio, recorder, and display. As we looked through each menu, we found that the controls were somewhat simplified compared to many cameras we have worked with. For instance, the Camera Settings section lets you set the name of your camera, the time and date, the ISO sensitivity (four settings), the white balance (six settings), and the shutter angle. Our first thoughts about the simplicity of the settings and lack of more physical buttons had us a bit worried, but after further evaluation, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has all the essential features needed to capture and review your footage. Overall, the design is simple, yet elegant, and shows off Blackmagic Design’s ability to cram a lot of power and features into such a small package. Now it is time to see how the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera performed in real life.
Into the Field
The day that we received the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, we were very excited to see what it could do. Fortunately, nature cooperated wonderfully, providing some unstable weather and beautiful, cloud-filled skies to go along with it. Before heading out, we set the frame rate to 24 frames per second, white balance to 5600K, and the recording and display Dynamic Range to “Film.” We hurriedly drove to a nearby vista point that overlooked the valley and a truly spectacular sunset which we could not wait to start shooting. We quickly unpacked our gear, mounted the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera to our tripod and attached a passive Carl Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 28mm f/2.1 lens, the only Micro Four Thirds lens we had available at the time.
With the battery fully charged and glaring into the sun, we turned on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, only to be greeted by a display full of zebra stripes. Even after stopping the lens down to f/22, many sections of the image were overexposed. Not having any proper neutral density filters for the Zeiss lens, we made do by grabbing a smaller ND filter from our still camera kit and holding it in place to get a proper exposure. We could now see that all the zebra stripes were gone from the display, but in the bright outdoors, it was very difficult to see the framing of our shot. In the film dynamic range mode, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera records a very flat image that has a washed-out look. This allows for more creative latitude in the editing bay, but makes for a bit of a headache when trying to view your shots on the built-in display when shooting. We changed the display Dynamic Range setting to “Video” which helped slightly, but was still very hard to see in the late afternoon light. Focusing was difficult on the small screen without the peaking feature turned on. Also complicating matters was the fact that the Zeiss lens was a full-frame lens, so our image was being cropped by two times, effectively turning the 28mm lens into a 56mm lens, far too narrow for the landscape shots we wanted. We also only had one battery, which, after having the camera on for about 30 minutes was already reporting 40 percent remaining. Working with what we had, we managed to get a couple shots that were great, but also a lot of footage that was more or less unusable. We drove home, feeling disappointed and hoping that we’d have a better experience the next time out.
Later in the week we expanded our kit to include a small, HD field monitor, a passive EF to Micro Four Thirds lens mount adapter, and an EF mount lens with a variable ND filter. The adapter allowed us to use some of our own EF lenses as well, although the iris on our lenses could not be adjusted through the adapter, so the iris was always wide open. Lastly, we armed ourselves with a large hand towel to drape over our head and the field monitor, just in case we still had trouble viewing the image outdoors.
Feeling optimistic, we drove to the local university campus and started assembling our gear. We started with one of our own lenses, an 18-50mm zoom set at f/2.8. With all the attached bells and whistles, it was amusing to note that the smallest object mounted to the tripod was the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera itself! We walked around the campus, looking for areas of high contrast that would stress the capabilities of the sensor.
As we set up each shot, we were floored by how much better of an experience it was just by having a few more tools at our disposal. The larger field monitor made framing and focusing much easier, as did the adjustable mount that allowed us to set the monitor at any angle. The variable ND filters together with the zebra stripes made adjusting exposure a snap and the zoom lens allowed us greater flexibility in tripod placement and framing. A task which was daunting only a few days earlier, had now become fun and exciting!
We made our way through campus, getting lots of footage of scenery in mixed lighting. Even though we were having a much better time than our initial experience using the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, there were still a few more challenges. Even with the field monitor, it was hard to judge proper exposure. The flatness in color, along with the extremely small text on the display allowed us to make a silly mistake, in which we left the white balance set at 3200K rather than 5600K for more than half of our shooting that day. Also, there is no indication on the display that tells you how much space you have left on your memory card, only a warning when it is near full. We didn’t experience an issue with the SanDisk SDXC 45MB/s 64GB SD card we used, as the faster and more space your card has, the easier it’ll be to use. The battery also discharges at an alarming rate, so it would be best to have several spares. After meandering through the campus for about an hour, our battery was already down to 21 percent, so we decided to head back home and see what we could do with the footage we had captured.
Home to the Studio
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera currently captures files in ProRes 422 which runs at 220 Mb/s bitrate, providing approximately 35 minutes of footage on a 64GB card. After copying the footage to our computer, we installed the included DaVinci Resolve Lite software to apply the Blackmagic Rec.709 Film LUT to our footage for initial color grading. In short, we were stunned by the results. Our flat and somewhat dreary looking footage had become something wonderful and popping with color and detail.
After exporting our clips into Adobe Premiere Pro we were able to further adjust them and really play with the latitude provided by the Super 16 sensor. It was awesome to be able to pull detail from shadows and highlights that would have been considered lost on other cameras. The high bitrate ProRes codec provided excellent image quality of quickly moving water, and shots taken at 1600 ISO didn’t produce much visible noise.
The Final Cut
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera provides astounding image quality for its asking price, even if the other features and settings are on the minimal side. One fact made clear by our experience is that you are going to have to spend some money on lenses, filters, and support equipment, but that is true for most cameras in this class. The workflow has a few more steps than working with other small cameras, but the results are worth it. If you are willing to put in the time and money necessary, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera can give you results that go up against the big boys for a fraction of the cost.
SIDEBAR: Carl Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 28mm f/2.1 LensZeiss Compact Prime CP.2 28mm f/2.1 lens is a professional cine lens for use with high-end cameras. Available in several lens mounts, it has an aperture range of f/2.1-22, making it suitable for a variety of lighting conditions. The lens iris creates a nice, round opening throughout the f-stop range producing smooth bokeh. The focus and aperture rings are notched for use with a follow focus and rotate very smoothly. Using the lens, we found it to be very sharp across all aperture values. The construction is all metal and provides a true feel of quality. The large housing allows the Compact Prime to be used with cine-style matte boxes more easily than smaller lenses.
Active Sensor Resolution: 1920x1080
Sensor Size: .5” x .3” (12.5mm x 7mm)
Shooting Resolutions: Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) at 1920x1080
Frame Rates: 23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p
Dynamic Range: 13 stops
Focus: Manual, peaking
Iris Control: Automatically adjusts the lens iris settings so no pixel is clipped (active lenses only)
Lens Mount: Active Micro Four Thirds
Metadata Support: Automatic camera data and user data such as shot number, filenames and keywords.
LCD Display: Integrated 3.5” 800x480
Microphone: Integrated stereo microphone
Speaker: Integrated mono speaker
Mounting Options: 1/4”-20 (2)
Power: Removable, rechargeable Lithium Ion battery for EN-EL20, 12V-20V DC port for external power and battery charging
Battery Life: Approximately 60 minutes of continuous recording time
Storage Type: SDHC/SDXC cards
Compressed Recording Formats: Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) 220Mb/s in QuickTime MOV (lossless CinemaDNG RAW coming soon) in 1920x1080 Film or Video Dynamic Range
Input/Output: 1/8” (3.5mm) stereo audio input; Micro HDMI Type D Output; 1/8" (3.5mm) stereo headphone output; 2.5mm LANC for remote Rec Start/Stop, Iris Control and Focus Control: USB 2.0 Mini-B port for software updates and configuration
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Manufacturer’s Warranty
Camera Dimensions: 5” W x 2.6” H x 1.5” D
Camera Weight: 12.5oz. (350g)
- Truly remarkable dynamic range and image quality
- Low cost
- Difficult monitoring
- Poor battery performance
- Limited settings
Adam Vesely is a Videographer/Director of Photography and Still Photographer in Northern California.