Review: the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera

Super16mm cameras

Filming with the Pocket Cinema Camera

The Pocket Cinema Camera is easy to set up and use: as it has relatively few controls it is really just a question of setting the time and date, recording format and frame rate, and choosing between ProRes and CinemaDNG recording. This is all a simple enough exercise.

One thing the Pocket Cinema Camera cannot do, though, is format a memory card. The camera has a reputation for fussiness when it comes to storage media, and indeed we thought that was the case when trying to film on the supplied SD 64GB card. This may, though, have been a card formatting issue, as reformatting the card in a Mac seemed to cure the problem, and an alternative Sandisk 95MB/second card worked fine.

For our tests, we opted to work only in ProRes, as this seems to offer the best balance between storage, workflow and quality. Here, there are two further choices for the video: Log or the more video-friendly REC709.

Log offers the most flexibility for grading in post, whereas REC709 should offer a quicker turnaround.

Our initial tests, though, suggested that the camera’s interpretation of REC709 was still not really suitable for editing straight off the card – at least not in a way that would cut together well with other footage, such as that from a Nikon D800, and a Panasonic GH2 – which we used for our studio test. It seemed better to stick to Log where possible.

All the test footage was filmed with a Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm f2.8, supplied with the review camera by Blackmagic Design.

In practical terms, shooting with the BMPCC quickly raises a number of issues.

The first – and it is well documented elsewhere – is the battery life. Contrary to some reports, it was not awful: with careful planning it was possible to film for a decent length of time, certainly a couple of hours, on one battery. In our tests, battery life was comparable to a Panasonic GH2.

The second issue is the screen. The rear screen itself is fairly sharp and clear, but it is not articulated in any way, and it is a struggle to use in bright light. This is where the lack of an electronic viewfinder tells against the Pocket Cinema Camera; an option might be a loupe adapter, such as the Zacuto Z-Finder, which is available in a version to fit the BMPCC.

We also struggled with audio monitoring, finding it hard to deliver enough volume out of the camera’s 3.5mm jack to drive a pair of standard stereo earbuds. Again, this is more of an issue filming outdoors, than in a studio or an interior location. Our outdoor tests were all carried out with a Røde Video Mic Pro.

Audio quality for in-camera recording is passable, rather than good. With more time with the camera, it would be possible to test out whether the Pocket Cinema Camera could be used on its own for interviews. The internal mics’ audio is certainly good enough for audio sync in Final Cut Pro, as long as the audio volume is loud enough.

Next: Autofocus