By now, you’ve probably heard of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, announced in 2012 and reviewed here earlier this year. A revolutionary camera that shoots ProRes at 1080p or RAW Cinema DNG at 2.5K across, straight to a SSD with 13 stops of dynamic range. It’s wonderful, even though it took a while to become a reality.
Here’s the tiny beast.
If you haven’t heard, Blackmagic announced two additional cameras this year: the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and the Blackmagic Production Cinema Camera 4K. The Pocket uses a smaller version of the same sensor as the original BMCC but uses a tiny form factor, while the 4K camera shares the form factor with the original but uses a new, larger, global shutter sensor. While the 4K has been delayed, the Pocket is here, and that’s what we’re looking at today.
Now mounted precariously on its bigger brother below.
Because five words are a great way to build any review:
Small, Functional, Simple, Fussy, Beautiful.
It’s really, really small, and to see it is to want it, just like the original BMCC or a new iPhone. In fact, the back of the camera is almost exactly the same size as an iPhone 5 or 5s, and to rig this camera up almost seems like a misinterpretation of what it’s about. This camera was born of the desire to have the image from the BMCC in a form you can handhold and fit in a pocket.
That’s a M42 adapter on the BMPCC and the new iPhone 5s behind it.
In that, it succeeds, with the added bonus that it’s light enough to work with the cheapest steadicams and sliders out there. Most lenses will protude too far to fit in most pockets, but there are certainly low-profile options available which stay quite flush — even a fixed f/8 lens cap option. And speaking of lenses…
The Pocket uses Active Micro-Four-Thirds lenses, which are a better match for the smaller sensor size than a Canon mount would have been. MFT can also take adapters for almost any older format, including PL, Canon, Nikon, C-mount and more. Dumb adapters are cheap, but you can spend several hundred on fancy adapters like the still-delayed SpeedBooster which promises to widen, sharpen, add light to and provide aperture control for Canon lenses. Certainly, though, this camera opens the doors to decades of legendary 16mm film lenses as well as modern Panasonic and Olympus lenses.
My first lenses from a film SLR have been given new life, though modern options are also tempting.
While the kit lenses are predictably slow and affordable, more professional lenses are quite expensive. A decent f/2.8 Panasonic zoom will set you back the price of the camera, and there’s not the depth of the Canon EF/EF-S lineup. In fact, there are very few lenses on which optical stabilization is supported. Cheap Panasonic kit lenses aren’t compatible (they omit switches and need proprietary commands to enable the function) and Olympus MFT cameras use in-body stabilization instead, leaving the lenses without. Professionals who don’t care won’t miss it, but as a handheld camera, you need to double the purchase price or use a rig.
While there’s a 16:9 screen on the back, it’s not a touchscreen. Instead, you use Menu/Power/Iris/Focus/arrow/OK buttons to the right of the screen and transport/record controls on the top of the camera to operate it. Though the interface is almost identical to the bigger brother BMCC, the menu has you guiding a yellow selection box around the screen with the arrow keys, a little like using the accessibility aid VoiceOver on an iPhone. Unfortunately, this can make changing some settings harder than on the touchscreen of the BMCC, which is a shame, but it’s manageable — except for metadata entry, for which the on-screen keyboard is too painful.
The interface, in all its up/down/left/right/OK glory.
In general operation, modern lenses use the arrow keys on the camera back to change aperture, and while some modern lenses can (helpfully) autofocus, that can be somewhat slow. As on the BMCC, the simplest way to use the Pocket is probably to use manual controls. Fully manual lenses and ND filters allow you to simply set the camera to your desired shooting settings (the closest available white balance and probably 180° shutter angle and ISO 800) and then control incoming light directly on the lens. If it’s framed correctly, exposed to avoid clipping, and not too dark, you should be able to achieve the image you want in the edit.
Even more than the original, the Pocket demands specific accessories, and you will need additional batteries — the provided EL-20 compatible battery lasts under an hour. Luckily, generic clones are cheap enough, and mine have lasted about an hour. As usual, generic batteries often fib about their capacity, and may even report they have 15% left when about to die, but as you can buy several for the cost of one first-party battery, it’s not a bad trade.
A stack of accessories that you’ll need.
You can’t be so cavalier with SD cards, however. You can shoot ProRes HQ at a data rate of around 24MB/s (it varies along with your frame rate) or (thanks to the recent update) Compressed RAW Cinema DNG at something much higher. Sadly, SD card manufacturers prefer to focus on (and advertise) the maximum data rate of their cards rather than minimum, so buying any card other than the ones tested by Blackmagic is a lottery with few winners and plenty of dropped frames. A Sandisk Extreme 64GB can be found at reasonable prices online (from around US$65) but it will only cover you for around 45 minutes. A faster, pricier SanDisk Extreme Pro is needed for reliable RAW recording, and will only manage about 20 minutes in the same 64GB, so embrace that workflow with a larger wallet.
As mentioned, the interface is harder to move through than it should be; imagine a Canon DSLR without dials, and you’re close. Worse is the screen outdoors, which doesn’t really have a great viewing angle and can be hard to see if you’re in the wrong spot or the wrong light. Audio isn’t great (it’s quite quiet at best) and you should use an external recorder if possible.
So, you have a camera that’s great with manual lenses or with expensive native lenses, with a slightly tricky interface and a screen that’s not great outdoors. Why would you buy that? Because like the bigger brother, the image is beautiful. While the original BMCC’s 2.5K sensor produces a slightly sharper image (due to sharpen further in a promised firmware update to that camera) the Pocket’s native 1080p sensor comes pretty close. From the same sensor family, it shares the very useful 13 stops of dynamic range, and the issues reported early on (blooming light orbs, black hole sun) have been fixed by prompt firmware updates. It’s a lovely image to look at and to work with.
A 100% zoom of the BMPCC image (on top) compared to the original BMCC (on the bottom) and corrected with Antler post’s plug-in.
While the camera isn’t for everyone, it’s almost perfect for locked-down documentary or corporate filmmaking, as a B-cam to a BMCC or a single camera for a low-budget user with vintage lenses. It’s not perfect, but it's still very, very good. If you want to rig it up and have existing Canon lenses, then look to the BMCC instead, but the Pocket succeeds on its own terms. With or without RAW, it’s a compelling package, and it’s the camera that comes with me when the BMCC is just too much to manage. Get one if you can.