Review: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera offers pro features at a consumer price

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2015
From iPhone to mid-level DSLR cameras, the video production world has many options for the amateur and prosumer videographer. Blackmagic's Pocket Cinema Camera offers users a next step into the pro video world, along with pro video challenges.




The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) was first shown at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas back in 2013 and became available July of that year. Many of the initial reviews pointed out some missing features which Blackmagic has added via software updates.

First off, this camera is not for the video novice. While it's hardware and menu may seem simplistic on the surface, taking full advantage of the great footage it captures comes with a learning curve and will require some post-production prowess.

Hardware

The BMPCC closely resembles the bodies of other micro four thirds cameras, namely the Sony NEX models. It features a metal construction with rubber-like exterior that provides welcome grip while shooting handheld.




Despite its small size, about 5 inches wide, the camera has a sense of weightiness. The BMPCC can accept a variety of micro four thirds lenses, but larger lenses make the camera front-heavy and awkward to use without a tripod. For our tests, the camera came supplied with an SLR Magic 10mm T2.1 Hyperprime Cine Lens, which provided enough flexibility to shoot both free-hand and mounted.




On the rear of the camera is a large 3.50-inch non-touch screen. The display isn't particularly bright and can be difficult to see on a sunny day. On the side of the device you will find the charging port, micro HDMI out, microphone, headphone and LANC remote control ports.




The built-in microphone on the camera is small and will not provide sufficient audio by itself. We recommend using an external mic plugged in via the port on the side. A complaint in the initial reviews of the BMPCC was lack of audio level monitoring on-screen, but Blackmagic has since rectified the oversight with a software update.

There is a minimal number of hardware buttons around the device, with physical controls limited to power, directional-pad and menu buttons, iris, focus, menu, power and footage preview buttons. Unfortunately, there is no way to adjust settings such as white balance and ISO while previewing live. Users must dive several layers into the menu, adjust the settings, and return to preview. This can be a cumbersome process while settings up a shot.




Another feature lacking upon its initial release was the ability format SD cards in-camera. This has been added and can be done from the main menu.




Underneath the device is a compartment that houses the battery, SD card slot and mini-USB jack in case your computer does not have a built-in SD card slot.




In regard to SD card usage, Blackmagic recommends SDXC Extreme or Extreme Pro cards. This is a requirement more than a suggestion. Cheaper SD cards will not have the read/write speeds necessary to capture footage from the BMPCC. The result of using lesser SD cards can be seen below:

Battery Life

The battery that came new with our Blackmagic camera had issues charging. Even when left on the charger for several hours, the battery percentage did not increase. B&H Photo quickly sent us two additional batteries which worked as expected.

Even fully charged, shooting continuously and even navigating the menu for extended periods of time will drain the battery quickly. If users plan to shoot for more than 45 minutes, extra batteries will certainly be needed.

Camera Sensor and Footage

While the controls on the exterior of the camera may appear simple, this camera houses a professional-grade sensor inside. With a 16mm sized image sensor, impressive 13 stop dynamic range and the ability to shoot Lossless CinemaDNG RAW or Apple ProRes 422 (HQ), the footage quality captured by the BMPCC far exceeds its $995 price point.




Users are able to record full 1080p video at 23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p and 30p frame rates. In addition to iris, ISO and white balance settings, the BMPCC is able to shoot in "Film" or "Video" dynamic range modes.

Shooting in "Film" mode will give the user much more freedom in post-production, especially stretching the colors in any desired direction. The "Film" mode is also much more forgiving of poor lighting situations, whether low light or over exposure, and will be easier to correct in post.



The "Video" mode will add slightly more color upon capture and may have a more familiar look to those used to shooting with DSLR's. This will limit the possibilities in editing and coloring though.

That being said, the footage captured on "Film" setting, ProRes 422 (HQ) looks great. The greater quality raw footage plus increased possibilities in post is certainly a step or two up from most mid-level DSLRs.

Post-Production

If you plan on importing directly into Final Cut X, you'll want to shoot in ProRes 422 as opposed to RAW. Final Cut X will be able to do some coloring and exposure adjustments to your footage, but to take full advantage of what's captured users should make themselves familiar with DaVinci Resolve. The Lite version comes free with the BMPCC.




While the full version of DaVinci Resolve can do everything from color correction to editing, users can just use it to color correct and export Quicktime files for Final Cut X. If users can incorporate DaVinci Resolve into their workflow, it pays off to shoot RAW in the Blackmagic camera, color, then export to Final Cut X for editing.




Again, if users have been shooting video with their iPhone or entry to mid-level DSLRs, working with footage from the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema is going to be a different experience. With some color correction and exposure training, your finished product will look professional.

Conclusion

Videographers looking to up their game from standard DSLR shooting should take a hard look at the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema. Keep in mind there are some shortcomings in it's design, namely the menu and settings navigation. You will also need to add lenses, external audio equipment, possibly a larger preview monitor and some kind of rig to make it useful in a variety of situations.

But you would have to invest in similar equipment with most DSLR cameras as well. The price point should allow many amateurs and prosumers an accessible step up from their current rig. Owning the BMPCC will also require users to stretch their post-production and capturing skills, which is a good thing for those looking to make a career out of video.

Score: 4 out of 5

image

Pros:
  • Excellent RAW footage
  • Large dynamic range provides lots of flexibility in post
  • Takes standard micro four thirds lenses
  • Compact size
Cons:
  • Short battery life
  • Requires expensive, SDXC memory cards
  • Cumbersome menu to change simple settings (ISO/White Balance)

Where to buy

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is available at B&H Photo video for $995 (with no sales tax collected outside NY), where you can also purchase a variety of lenses, SD cards, batteries and other accessories as well.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 32
    draomindraomin Posts: 1member
    This camera was so incredibly bad I joined this site just to comment on my experience. First of all if you expect to run and gun after opening the box, forget it. Battery was almost nonexistent. Audio was laughable and focusing off the camera monitor is a joke. I quickly added up the expense to bring this very portable camera in the ball park for actual real-world use: $1200! Handheld it was absolutely abysmal so I put the $1200 into a Lumix GH4 and although it is twice the camera it isn't that much larger, I mean the BMPCC is cute but you are not putting that thing in your pocket with a lens on. The fringe I received from the GH4 was 4K and none of the "necessary" post-sale add ons were necessary allowing for more $$ for glass. My original thought before the purchase was; a very small package for climbing and travel capable of handheld or monopod stabilization. The fact that you can pick one of these up for $750 or used (usually with accessories) for $500 should tell you something. You may like this camera but be prepared to spend money on things like Zacuto Camera Z-Finder for Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 3.5" LCD Screen ($300), SKIER Portable Blackcage Cage ($279) and the power, audio will not be wonderful until you spend another $600 that covers either a proper Senn 100 EW ($600 @) Forget about the power bases, too costly and very, very awkward (especially the Switronix units). BOTTOM LINE: Not a very well thought out camera (period). Before plunking hard earned cash consider the importance of these three things: FOCUS, 2.88 crop factor and one hour shoots (can't swap batteries on the fly). This plus the lower number of lens that work well with this camera all add up to a much more expensive package. Did I mention FOCUS?
  • Reply 2 of 32
    dacloodacloo Posts: 890member
    The BMPC has been released around september 2013 and is most likely going to be replaced with a new version in a month at NAB; I wonder why AppleInsider is reviewing this camera - and why now? There are far better resources to check the camera's capabilities.

    The biggest cons of the camera:
    1. the super-16 sensor but the micro four thirds lens mount, which makes it hard to shoot with wide angle lenses.
    2. Like stated the shitty menu structure and cumbersome navigation to change basic settings
    3. Bad in low light, but since this camera is most ideal for fiction / directed productions anyway you can setup lighting properly beforehand.
    4. Battery life is horrible, horrible! I shot 4 hours and depleted 5 batteries. After each take, turn off your camera or you will deplete even more batteries.
    5. If you shot with 4K cameras it's hard to get back to a 1080p camera.
    6. RAW is nice but you won't most likely use it; it's too much data and too much hassle. Great you CAN though.
    7. Audio sucks. AppleInsider recommends external audio, recorded in-camera, but I do not recommend that. Use an external solution altogether and due-record for easy syncing in post. E.g the Zoom H4N or H5 is great for recording audio.


    But...

    - You are shooting beautiful 10-bit 422 ProRes! This opens up so much possibilities in post. On a tiny camera!
    - it has film log with a true flat profile. Together with the 10 bit codec this allows for great images.
    - shooting is fun! The entire camera focuses on just one thing: film. It feels like you are really... Filming. Cameras such as the GH4 which I own as well don't give me the same pleasure. It has character.

    The above three points outweigh the cons for me.

    Summing up, this is an unpolished gem. I expect great things from the revised version in April, whatever the product may become. I expect a larger pocket cinema with touch screen and hopefully 4K, but fore and foremost a solution the battery issue.

    Don't buy the Pocket Cinema until announcements in April, unless you need to start shooting right away.
  • Reply 3 of 32
    dazabritdazabrit Posts: 273member



    Hey Dacloo!

     

    I agree with most of your points (especially battery life) but some of these things are subjective so just wanted to throw my hat in to the ring in case people stumble across this and are interested in purchasing!

     

    First off it makes sense for Appleinsider to review this camera (they are a bit late though!) as BlackMagic Design are arguably the closest aligned to Apple in terms of design and hardware support. They have always championed the use of Mac for video production and have supported key technologies such as Thunderbolt from an early stage. Apple have even featured BM products when showcasing the Mac Pro/iMac.

     

    Shooting in 4K is a huge tax on resources/workflow currently due to hardware, storage rates etc and I'd suggest this product and site is aimed at guys starting out in video so 4K is probably something they should avoid for now. A 2.5k pocket camera would be very nice though for more creative cropping/reframing options in post production,

     

    The sensor size is all about preference it's NOT a con. There are groups of people who prefer Micro Four thirds - you get great depth of field (Bokeh) and there are lots of nice lenses and adapters so you can use old cine lenses. The GH2 DSLR was a fantastic M43 product for amateur filmmaking (I wish I still had mine) and the BMPCC is it's spiritual successor IMO! :)

     

    If you want truly wide shots with this camera you can buy a metabones later on that allows you to attach either EF or Nikon mount lenses, gives you a wider shot and it's better in low light! The transformation is borderline voodoo. Philip Bloom has a great review of the camera which you can see here: http://philipbloom.net/2013/12/02/part3-2/ and he demonstrates the benefits of the Metabones speed booster too, here are a couple of pics from his article:

     

    BEFORE

    50mm lens with no Metabones Speedbooster

     

     

    AFTER

    50mm lens with Metabones BMPCC Speedbooster

     

     

    I do expect we will see an upgrade to the pocket camera soon but there are no guarantees. I usually disagree with holding off on purchases as there's always something new around the corner and this camera is ready to produce great images right now. That said NAB is weeks away so it does make some sense to wait on this occasion and see what's on offer.

     

    For anyone interested in this camera, here are some links to give you a more in depth feel for the product. Plus it's always advisable to take a camera for a spin before you purchase ;)

     

    Philip Bloom Review

     

    Vimeo (Footage)

     

    BlackMagic

     

    Metabones

     

    BMPCC Camera Rig

  • Reply 4 of 32
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,270member
    I love this camera. I actually bought two of them. Great price for multi cam shoots. And although the the high quality ProRes HQ and RAW settings are definitely the best, the ability to shoot in ProRes LT is just fantastic! It's a very good codec, and surprisingly tolerant to colour grading.

    Another thing that I'm using it for occasional is for streaming live to VJ apps like VDMX. Very low input latency, and stable exposure settings. Also for streaming live on YouTube it's a really great alternative, but requires some inventive realtime grading.

    It's really good.
  • Reply 5 of 32
    rick 007rick 007 Posts: 16member

    At first, I disagreed with calling the BMPCC as having a consumer price.  After all, it's just a camera body and to make it work, you need to bring much more to the table:


    • While the video quality is outstanding, to get better audio quality you will need a microphone and probably an audio recorder.

    • Lots and lots of storage.  Even ProRes LT will record around twice the data of 10-bit 4:2:2 XAVC-L at 50Mbps

    • Extra batteries

    • Most likely some ND filters

    • And last, but certainly not least, a lens!

     

    For example, the BMPCC with say a Panasonic 12-35mm fixed f/2.8 (~35 to 100mm 35mm equivalent), a Rode Stereo video mic, and a Tascam DR-60D, add up to around $2,400.  High capacity SDXC cards and misc supplies will ratchet that up easily to $3,000.

     

    Still, 3K for a mini cinema setup is quite awesome.   As many may know, a good cinema setup can be incredibly costly.

     

    But for those that do not shoot cinema, the BMPCC makes no sense, IMO.   e.g. you can get broadcast quality (albeit the bare minimum) with a Sony PXW-X70.    For the Sony (or any other professional-grade event camera), you typically only need to bring storage and a microphone to the table.  Also around $3,000 for a decent setup.

  • Reply 6 of 32
    nhtnht Posts: 4,190member
    I agree with dacloo. The bmpcc is a poor buy today and AI does their readers a disservice by reviewing so late and semi-recommending it.

    For a consumer or prosumer starting out from zero and had to buy gear today I'd get a GH4. You can get very good video out of the camera at more than 20 minute blocks before changing batteries. If you really need 10 bit 422 getting atmos shogun later is an option. It does look more video but that can be addressed in post.

    If you run and gun I feel the gh4 setup is more portable once you account for everything you need to carry IF you don't need 10 bit natively. If you shoot with a rig the shogun display is a nice to have anyway.

    And you're shooting 4k which imho is better despite the increased requirements for storage and processing.
  • Reply 7 of 32
    stevehsteveh Posts: 479member
    Nit: Sony NEX is not micro FourThirds.

    Olympus and Panasonic make micro FourThirds cameras and lenses, Sony doesn't.
  • Reply 8 of 32
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,899member
    Something people don't get it's the lenses which won't change in size. So, compact body is useless. If one actually wants a SLR, he/she needs to carry at least 2 lenses. Then, why not just get a Nikon or Canon which are proven excellent?N
    I don't trust any reviews from people in here but go to dpreview for actual tests btw.
  • Reply 9 of 32
    B&H had these on sale for around $500 last year, and I almost got one. Reviews were pretty consistent with this one as far as pros and cons. One thing you did not mention was the relative lack of resolution in the captured image. Even though it's spec'd at 1080p, the image has less sharpness and detail than, say, the original 2.5K BMCC. However, the ProRES 422 more than makes up for it. This is perfectly fine for filmmaking, especially for shooting close-ups with lots of bokeh. Perception of detail is subjective and depends on the scene. The dynamic range and flexibility (to color and manage gamma) in post more than makes up for that.

    I disagree with (1) comments that say this review doesn't belong on this site, and (2) that this isn't a consumer camera price.

    BMD has been a very Mac-centric, pro-centric video products company from the beginning, and their camera is one of the few that records ProRES out of the box. For anyone editing on a Mac, this takes away the need to transcode.

    On the second point, it's true that at $1000, it's priced above most consumer video cameras, but there are consumer camcorders that go as high as $1500. Canon, Panasonic and Sony routinely sell consumer ("prosumer"="consumer with lots of money") camcorders in the $1K-to-$1.5K range. Which is what you'll spend to outfit the BMPCC like a camcorder because the $1K price only includes the body.

    Overall, a nice article. The BMPCC is definitely not perfect, nor is it for consumers used to more point-and-shoot solutions and a one-step import-to-iMovie workflow.

    BTW, I've heard about some noise around da Vinci Resolve running poorly on Mac Pros. What did you run it on and how fast is it?
  • Reply 10 of 32
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by nht View Post



    The bmpcc is a poor buy today and AI does their readers a disservice by reviewing so late and semi-recommending it.



    I disagree with the "disservice" comment. A disservice is not recommending it because some rumors are floating around about an unannounced replacement. Making recommendations based on rumor rather than fact feels...wrong. It's fine to mention those rumors, but you ought to be able to recommend a camera based on its availability and actual specs & performance, and that is what Stephen Robles has done here. But he can't review it against future, unannounced products.

     

    I don't assume that professional (or semi-professional) filmmakers and videographers think like spec-chasing hardware enthusiasts. Sure, there is overlap between those two sets of people, but consider how many of those pros are shooting with older 8-bit 1080p cameras like the Canon 5D mk2. The 5D is still a popular choice for feature-length movies, as well as shorts and documentaries. BMPCC would be a great alternative. Even with the Metabones Speedbooster, the BMPCC would cost less than the 5D mk2 body, and ProRES 422 grades better in post. And you'd want to use external audio with both.

     

    As far as "so late" well, that's true insofar as the camera has been out for over a year, and it has been reviewed extensively elsewhere. While I'm glad to see a review on AI, it doesn't reveal anything new for someone who is considering buying it today.

  • Reply 11 of 32
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,136member
    How much does the lens weigh? Geometrically it looks unbalanced.
  • Reply 12 of 32
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,270member
    How much does the lens weigh? Geometrically it looks unbalanced.

    420g
    SLR Magic has got many really good lenses. http://www.slrmagic.co.uk/slr-magic-10mm-t21-hyperprime-cine-lens.html
  • Reply 13 of 32
    nhtnht Posts: 4,190member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

     



    I disagree with the "disservice" comment. A disservice is not recommending it because some rumors are floating around about an unannounced replacement. Making recommendations based on rumor rather than fact feels...wrong. It's fine to mention those rumors, but you ought to be able to recommend a camera based on its availability and actual specs & performance, and that is what Stephen Robles has done here. But he can't review it against future, unannounced products.


     

    Except that you don't compare the bmpcc against an unannounced products but other CURRENT options like the GH4 and A7s.

     

    An A7s has equal DR (in prores) and designed with grading in mind.  The GH4 is sharper.  Both are 4K and yes both are more expensive but the bmpcc isn't that usable out of the box.  For $500 more I'd much rather start with a GH4 body.

     

    Quote:

    I don't assume that professional (or semi-professional) filmmakers and videographers think like spec-chasing hardware enthusiasts. Sure, there is overlap between those two sets of people, but consider how many of those pros are shooting with older 8-bit 1080p cameras like the Canon 5D mk2. The 5D is still a popular choice for feature-length movies, as well as shorts and documentaries. BMPCC would be a great alternative. Even with the Metabones Speedbooster, the BMPCC would cost less than the 5D mk2 body, and ProRES 422 grades better in post. And you'd want to use external audio with both.

     

    Skill trumps gear every time but that doesn't mean you should pick sub-optimal solutions if you can afford to avoid them.

     

    And if 8 bit is fine the GH4 a better option and you can do 10 bit 1080p ProRES 422 with a relatively cheap external recorder.  And if you're going to 1080p and shooting 4k you have options in post to do a zoom or pan.

     

    As for the 5D mk ii most those folks are shooting with magic lantern if they are still using that body and I don't recall any feature length movies since 2013 using the Mk II.

     

    Quote:


    As far as "so late" well, that's true insofar as the camera has been out for over a year, and it has been reviewed extensively elsewhere. While I'm glad to see a review on AI, it doesn't reveal anything new for someone who is considering buying it today.


     

    Its late not just because the reviewed so late but offered no insight on its strengths and weaknesses vs current 2015 competitors.

  • Reply 14 of 32
    desuserigndesuserign Posts: 1,316member

    Good God, Vimeo sucks!

    AI, stop using Vimeo to post video. It just doesn't work reliably, which reflects poorly on AI.

    Most annoying how Vimeo is such a POS, when I really want to see something,

    I've essentially given up clicking on any Vimeo link—otherwise I'll end up blowing an artery in my brain or something.

  • Reply 15 of 32
    desuserigndesuserign Posts: 1,316member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rick 007 View Post

    . . . you need to bring much more to the table: . . .

    • Most likely some ND filters


    Why ND filters? Someone else said it perfumes poorly in low light, so your two views seem possibly somewhat contradictory. Or is this just to target a lower f stop for DOF control.

    Just curious (not a cinema guy.)

  • Reply 16 of 32
    thepixeldocthepixeldoc Posts: 2,257member
    desuserign wrote: »
    Good God, Vimeo sucks!
    AI, stop using Vimeo to post video. It just doesn't work reliably, which reflects poorly on AI.
    Most annoying how Vimeo is such a POS, when I really want to see something,
    I've essentially given up clicking on any Vimeo link—otherwise I'll end up blowing an artery in my brain or something.

    Vimeo hosts most of the leading cinematographers and some of the most beautiful individual footage to be found in the world.

    I can only suggest: you're clicking on it wrong.;)
  • Reply 17 of 32
    desuserigndesuserign Posts: 1,316member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ThePixelDoc View Post



    Vimeo hosts most of the leading cinematographers and some of the most beautiful individual footage to be found in the world.

    I can only suggest: you're clicking on it wrong.image

     

    Perhaps so. But the fact that it might be clicked on wrong would tend to be an indicator of a severe problem. ;-)

    Admittedly, I don't have the greatest bandwidth. But if Vimeo can't gracefully traverse that deficit (as other video hosts seem to do,) it's pretty f'in useless. 

  • Reply 18 of 32
    thepixeldocthepixeldoc Posts: 2,257member
    desuserign wrote: »
    Perhaps so. But the fact that it might be clicked on wrong would tend to be an indicator of a severe problem. ;-)
    Admittedly, I don't have the greatest bandwidth. But if Vimeo can't gracefully traverse that deficit (as other video hosts seem to do,) it's pretty f'in useless. 

    Your guess that it's a bandwidth problem is more than likely correct. Be sure to click on the HD bottom right and choose a lower res. It's the HD and the fact that Vimeo allows artists to upload videos without any further compression on Vimeo's part, that makes it the platform of choice for so many digital cinematographers.

    I will grant you that the site UIX does it no favors, and the iOS app is traditionally a PITA. Don't even bother unless you have a newer iPad Air and a super fast wifi connection. Buffering hell!
  • Reply 19 of 32
    desuserigndesuserign Posts: 1,316member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ThePixelDoc View Post





    Your guess that it's a bandwidth problem is more than likely correct. Be sure to click on the HD bottom right and choose a lower res. It's the HD and the fact that Vimeo allows artists to upload videos without any further compression on Vimeo's part, that makes it the platform of choice for so many digital cinematographers.



    I will grant you that the site UIX does it no favors, and the iOS app is traditionally a PITA. Don't even bother unless you have a newer iPad Air and a super fast wifi connection. Buffering hell!



    Yup, I'd love to see stuff in full res. That's the major issue for me. It seems there is no way to have it fill the buffer.

    You are correct on the iOS problem. I will no longer click on anything Vimeo when I'm using iOS.

    RE the UI/UX: Indeed, why even have a timeline, controls, or buffer indicator if nothing actually responds or even works?

    Anyway, not your fault. Thanks for the tips. I'll give them a try. Wish me luck (and no burst aneurysms!)

  • Reply 20 of 32
    chasmchasm Posts: 753member
    The videos posted for this article all look incredibly "blue" for the daylight scenes (much better for the night scenes) ... what's up with that?
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