Is the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K their best camera to date? I hope we will find this out together so let’s break it down. What criteria are required for someone to call a manufacturer’s camera their best yet? From my perspective, the camera has to be easy to use. The shooting experience should be so easy I only worry about the moments captured on camera and how I framed those images. Lastly, it has to, in the right hands, be able to capture great looking cinematic footage.
How did I review the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K? As a constantly busy news photographer, occasional freelance network cameraman, and production camera operator I used the camera when I worked. At times, this meant my Pocket Cinema Camera 4K footage ended up on broadcast tv. Essentially, I sneaked it in whenever I could meaning I shot on the camera every day for two weeks.
Ease Of Use
First off, Blackmagic Design listened to many of their customers and added the necessary features and controls found on a good camera. As a group of creatives, I feel like we want something that just works for whatever our needs may be. In this area, I feel like Blackmagic succeeded. Let’s break down what features make the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K a great camera.
Small, Light, and Quick
This camera is small enough to leave it ready for action. I parked the review copy Blackmagic Design sent my way on my office shelf with a lens, full battery, and media ready to go. I found myself reaching for the camera every day. This is a bit of no-brainer because larger cameras like a Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro or Arri Alexa Mini might need accessories attached, like an electronic viewfinder or shoulder kit, for some shooting situations. All of those accessories mean a larger camera will not fit on an office shelf and I store them away from the ever-curious hands of my 18-month-old daughter. But, the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K was out and ready to go.
When my daughter was running around I could quickly grab the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and capture what I wanted to do so. For a “B” camera being able to leave the camera loaded and ready to go is a definite plus. It sure was when I needed quick broll of volunteers from a murder suspect search news story. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is quick to fire up meaning a shooter can grab this camera and go. This is a must for many news shooting situations.
Is that LCD Screen bright enough? Will it be good enough to use on a bright and sunny Nashville summer day? Just. It is just bright enough to operate the camera in full sunshine situations, but just barely bright enough. It is not, however, bright enough to give me a ton of confidence in my exposure. Typically, when I shoot with an LCD screen not bright enough to use in bright daylight I tend to accidentally over-expose the image because the image looks brighter on the screen and I do not recognize the mistake I am making. Thankfully Nashville, Tennessee is not sunshine city all the time. We have more than our fair amount of overcast days. I remember a year with 90 days with constant cloud coverage and it was brutal for this Texan to survive.
I find the 4K image pleasing and the color from the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is about as good as the URSA Mini Pro was before the Pro was updated to new recording format Blackmagic RAW. What Blackmagic Design does well is their color science and here the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K does not disappoint. The image is so good I think it will be easy to use the Pocket 4K as a “B” Camera to the URSA Mini Pro. For many, the Pocket 4K may be their gimbal camera on one like the DJI Ronin S. Doing so leaves larger cameras, like the URSA Mini Pro, for tripod shooting.
4/3 Sized Sensor
Some operators might want a larger sensor, for me I am cool with the smaller 4/3 sized sensor on the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. There are a couple of reasons too. First, a larger sensor can mean a larger camera and a larger camera can mean larger power required and we can end up in URSA Mini territory. I like the size of the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K meaning I like the size of the sensor as well. I like the option to shoot with either 4/3 sized lenses like the Panasonic 12-60mm or I can use a focal reducer lens adapter and go with my Canon DSLR glass. I am going to go out on a limb here and imagine quite a few Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K users will use their Canon DSLR lenses with a focal reducer to give them that larger sensor look, brighter image, and shallower depth of field many desire. When using one of these adapters I feel like the image from the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is close to the image from the Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro. Plus, the sensor has barely any rolling shutter if any.
The 13 Stops of Dynamic Range
I really wish the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K was 15 stops like the URSA Mini Pro. The 13 stops are enough from a camera this size. As usual footage from Blackmagic cameras has room for over or underexposure where one can bring the image back in DaVinci Resolve. As I expected, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has exposure room too. Though the gradation to peaked out levels is a little abrupt. I found when shooting into the sun for a landscape shot the peaked top end of exposure gave the sun, and the light around it, a clear edge. This is not unusual in cameras with around 13 stops of dynamic range. In the image below I could have solved this problem a couple of different ways: lowering exposure or using graduated ND filters. I did try to shoot at a lower exposure but I was really interested in seeing the details in the trees and fog in the background as well as testing the dynamic range. In the image below the tree, you can also see how far a colorist may bring back a raw image. I shot and color corrected this test quickly meaning I likely would not work that way unless I was forced but you can if you want.
ISO – DUAL NATIVE
Do you know what I am not a huge fan of in cameras? Menu diving to find a critical setting which, coincidentally, I usually need about as quickly as one can need a setting on a camera. In the cameras, I have used, and I have not used them all, changing from one Base ISO to another took a little longer than I desired. Sometimes a Base ISO change even required the camera to reboot which kills time and wasted time is a missed shot and I hate missing shots.
In the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, the change from base ISO of 400 to 3200 is smooth and does not require anything more than using the finger dial to raise the ISO. It is a quick and seamless change as it should be. It is so seamless in fact one wonders if Blackmagic Design had not announced the feature when they announced the camera at NAB 2018 we camera geeks the world around might not have noticed the software or hardware wizardry initially.
Remember too, if you have shot at base ISO of 3200 you cannot change the ISO in Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve to an ISO lower than 1250 and if you shoot at 400 you cannot change the ISO in Resolve any higher than 1000 ISO. In the quick low-light, nearly zero light, test I shot below I feel like the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has a usable ISO up to 4000. In this middle of the night high contrast scene the ISO above 4000 fell apart in the transition from very light to nearly zero light areas of the scene. If I was shooting on a city street with more ambient light I feel confident enough to shoot at 6400 ISO because the scene will likely have way less deep blacks. When shooting broadcast for a network or commercial spot I think I will top my ISO range to 4000 ISO just to be safe.
Is the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K a low-light camera? There are better low-light cameras out on the market. What really impresses me is the 5000 ISO on the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is close to as good as some other cameras which have dual native ISO settings. If an operator uses a focal reducer, like a metabones adapter, then they will see better low-light performance due to the optical element in those adapters. Either way, this is an awfully impressing raw shooting camera at this price point.
The Still Image Button
I will say when I first heard about this button I thought it seemed like a needless feature. Then, while chasing my 18-month-old around the house to shoot home videos, I discovered the power of the still image button. Yep. Color me surprised. This is a very useful feature for a couple of different reasons, and one of which I needed a little thought to pick up on.
First, having the still image button works because it allows an operator to use the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, which is primarily a video camera, to be used as a still camera. This does not sound like a huge deal and many other cameras have the same function or are still cameras which can also shoot video. But what has me excited are the times I find myself in shooting situations where I wish I had a still camera with me but did not want to carry one to save space or weight. In these, oh damn look at that landscape I want to capture as a still image instead of video, it’s a nice bonus.
Second, when shooting on bigger projects the still image button can be one way for a director of photography to snap a frame of a scene which he can later edit on his laptop in his hotel room. This way he can give a colorist a direct example of his intentions and choices. The ability to edit one single Cinema DNG is much easier while traveling and shooting than color grading 4K raw video.
Finally A Finger Dial
After an ND Filter Wheel on the URSA Mini, the Finger Dial has to be one of the top requested improvements for a Blackmagic Design camera. Oh, the love for a finger dial. Let me bestow the way. Finger Dial. Finger Dial. You let me naturally change my settings. Quick on the dial means quick on the capture. Oh, finger dial. Oh, finger dial I have missed you so. Blackmagic Design please have a finger dial or wheel – whatever you are calling it, on your next flagship cameras’ hand grips. Yes, I’m an idiot.
Batteries: Better Than Original
On their website, Blackmagic Design states the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K can last about an hour on a single Canon LP-E6 battery. I used both the included battery Blackmagic Design provided with the camera and four of my own Canon LP-E6 batteries which are admittedly older but they work with my Canon well. Battery life, with the screen set to its brightest, was closer to 45/50 minutes. I find this to be acceptable considering how inexpensive the LP-E6 batteries can be. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has a large screen and it is Blackmagic Design’s brightest screen too this is a combo which can drain a battery pretty fast. Would I kit out a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K with a Gold Mount or V-Mount battery, camera rig, and rods to support all of it? Maybe but then I’d likely just pull out my Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro and move on. It’s just easier.
(Though, BMD’s LP-E6 would not charge on my canon charger)
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K Accessories
Blackmagic did not just update the camera they also updated one of the most frustrating things: wall warts. A wall wart is when a piece of equipment has a power adapter large enough to take up close to two full spots on a power strip. The original Blackmagic Cinema Camera had a huge wall wart. The URSA Mini has none. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has a totally redesigned power supply. It is skinny. Meaning it will fit on a power strip without blocking the other outlets. It is a small improvement and it is appreciated.
If you want to build out your own Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K camera rig requiring the use of larger Gold Mount of V-Mount batteries then Blackmagic has DC Cable Pack. This will give any enterprising user the option to build out their own power supply needs they may need.
3 Different Recording Media.
Whatever you already have will be used if you are like me. I have Cfast 2.0 and I have Blackmagic Design approved SD cards for the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K so I am likely to use those two options. The Samsung 500GB USB-C seems like the best bang for the buck and if I have to buy more media I am likely to go with the Samsung. It really is your choice what you want to use here, however, stick to Blackmagic Design approved media. I do not want to hear people complaining about dropped frames if they have not spent the very little time researching approved media for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. If you cannot follow what has been suggested then it is squarely your fault.
What I Do Not Like
I wish the batteries lasted longer. Originally, I lamented this camera did not have Time Code in. I was wrong. Several commenters brought it to my attention that yes, the 3.5mm audio jack is a Time Code input. This is good to know. I wish the fall off to peaked pixels was a little more gradual too. Lastly, I think a brighter LCD would be nice for those bright sunny days. Of course, if all of this was the case I am sure the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K could be bigger to accommodate.
I believe the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is either their best or second best camera they have made yet. Now, before you comment about how stupid it is for me to write this allow me to prove my point. I love my URSA Mini Pro but it is limited to 1600 ISO. I love the color from both cameras. I love the raw footage from both cameras. I love how easy it is to shoot on the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and I love the weight of the camera too. The BMPCC4K has three different recording media options which are a huge plus. The user interface on the Pocket is as good as on the URSA Mini Pro, which I feel is one of the best on the market. I like the 4/3″ sized sensor because it allows an operator to use a focal reducer lens adapter and this gives us a lot of options. One can shoot with 4/3 lenses, which are not too expensive, or with DSLR lenses. There is a lot to like from the BMPCC4K and very little to dislike. I believe Blackmagic Design hit it out of the park with this camera. I am also excited to see what else Blackmagic Design has come down the line. Could be very interesting.
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K Highlights
- 4/3″-Sized HDR Sensor
- Record DCI 4K 4096 x 2160 up to 60 fps
- Dual Native ISO to 25,600
- 5″ Touchscreen Display
- Active Micro Four Thirds Lens Mount
- Record up to 120 fps Windowed HD
- CFast 2.0 & SD/UHS-II Card Slots
- External Recording via USB Type-C
- 13-Stop Dynamic Range, 3D LUT Support
- Includes DaVinci Resolve Studio License