Confession—I had a one week loaner of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. After tearfully returning it to Blackmagic, I ordered one.
Measuring 7x3.4x3.8 inches, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K isn’t exactly a camera that can fit into your pocket, but at a $1,295 price point you also don’t need to dig deep. No piece of equipment is perfect, but the Pocket 4K is an ideal price/performance device that has applications ranging from low budget to high production value projects.
Since the original $995 Blackmagic Pocket Camera, BMD has been under consumer pressure to create a comparable device for the 4K world. Hence, I suppose, the Pocket nomenclature was retained. Actually, the camera felt to me much more like a small medium-format camera from still film photography days. But weighing under 13 ounces without battery or lens, the camera is exceptionally easy to handle and suitable for smaller gimbals.
Let’s just start with some specs. The camera brain centers around a 18.96 x 10mm four-thirds sensor with an active MFT mount. The mount is fixed but a whole host of adapters could allow the camera to be used with a wide variety of optics. The sensor is a dual ISO 400 and ISO 3200 and can record up to ISO 25,600. Recording to either a CFast or SD card, it can capture up to 4K DCI resolution with 13 stops of dynamic range. Depending upon the lens, it can operate in fully automatic or manual modes. It can record up to 60fps in 4K DCI or 120fps in a windowed HD format.
While there are no video inputs for recording from other devices, for audio it offers a mini-XLR with phantom power as well as a 3.5mm stereo input. Headphone output is also via a 3.5mm connector but playback can also be monitored through a built-in speaker. Audio is analog only. The built-in stereo mic system can also be selected via audio input menu.
A useful feature is a USB-C port which, with a compatible external drive (Blackmagic lists certified drives and memory cards on its website) can power both the drive and record all available video formats. This provides more recording time for example, for RAW files than a CFast card at a lower cost per gigabyte than the expensive CFast memory.
Recording formats include:
- CinemaDNG RAW with uncompressed, 3:1 or 4:1 ratios
- ProRes 422HQ
- ProRes Lite
- ProRes Proxy
It can record straight Rec 709 video (called “Video” by BMD) or Log (called “Film”). The rear 1920x1080 resolution monitor can display either recorded signal or apply a LUT for Rec 709 viewing. Blackmagic also includes an “Extended Film” gamma, which achieves maximum dynamic range.
DaVinci Resolve Studio (a $299 value) comes bundled with the camera not only to make it even a greater bargain but also to facilitate working with the files. Resolve’s built-in Film or Extended Film LUTs make a good starting point for grading LOG footage shot in camera while Resolve 15 and greater takes advantage of BMD’s latest color science. I personally find that latest color science particularly pleasing to the eye, especially on flesh tones.
The camera is powered by Canon LP-E6 batteries and it is here that shooting the camera alone provides some weakness. It can deliver around an hour of 24p shooting but I find in real world applications I wouldn’t count on it beyond 50 minutes and even less for 60p. It could of course be operated via AC if available but most likely an operator would need an external power supply.
STILL CAMERA VIDEOGRAPHY
That leads me to a more general comment about mirrorless or still-camera style videography. Most likely operators will need a rig. While there are numerous third-party cages, bases, mounts, power supplies, battery plates, monitors, etc on the market, it does mean that your small pocket camera requires a kit that could cost several times the cost of the camera and may even be more cumbersome to shoot than conventional-format dedicated video camera. And because the Pocket Camera4K has no built-in ND, many shooters may need to opt for fixed or variable ND filters over the lens. I don’t like variable ND filters and the vast difference in price and quality of these filters may cause artifacting or color shifts.
Whenever my camera arrives, I personally intend to keep the kit to a minimum with some kind of external battery, but mostly use it on a small gimbal such as a Zhiyun Crane or DJI Ronin-S.
I tested the camera with the Panasonic Lumix Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4. This compact zoom offers internal stabilization and is lightweight. The Blackmagic folks expressed a preference to me of the Olympus zoom, but the only MFT lens I owned is the Panasonic/Leica.
Like all Blackmagic cameras, the touchscreen menu system is straightforward, fast and easy to move between setups. I find the ability to enter user metadata for scene and take info to be invaluable.
The USB-C connection to an external drive didn’t give me a problem but being a user accustomed to locking BNC connections, I am suspect of all non-locking connectors. Third-party cages can provide additional connection security. It did record CinemaDNG flawlessly to the external SSD but I never exceeded 60 seconds or so in a test take.
I have tended to shoot Blackmagic Cameras in the CinemaDNG 3:1 RAW format. CinemaDNG files are large but with this modest compression, 4K DCI or UHD footage to my eye barely shows artifacting. Blackmagic has indicated that they hope to bring their BMD RAW formats to the Pocket. Currently only available on the Ursa Mini 4.6K Pro, BMD RAW is a native format with files smaller than ProRes but with all of the flexibility of shooting and grading RAW files. Certainly the availability of BMD RAW will add even greater value to the Pocket.
The dual-ISO sensor of this camera makes it a low-light champion. Once over ISO 1250, the sensor switches to its native ISO 3200 mode. That means that an image shot at, say ISO 1500, is cleaner than an image shot at ISO 1000. This helps greatly in the positioning of this camera in the marketplace as I’ll describe.
The audio pre-amps are clean and recording through the built-in mics is well, what you would expect from any built-in microphone system. For street video and lightweight operation the built-in mics are decent enough.
I find the image from the camera and the Lumix lens pleasant. Manual focus is a bit tough to nail with this lens and despite the peaking features on the camera, so many of my test images seemed a bit soft. This could be the result of the lens but more extensive testing with an assortment of glass is called for in order to determine sharpness. And, as always, the acceptability of an image is based upon individual preferences, target project and often just the whim of a producer. For my application of web delivery, images from this camera-lens combo are perfectly acceptable (when I nailed focus).
CAN FIND A NICHE EVERYWHERE
But the real question here is target market and the usefulness of the camera to TV Technology readers.
I would not hesitate to use this camera for any level of web delivery. With an external battery to extend shooting time and a USB-C drive to extend recording times, it is an ideal reality-TV camera (whether for web or broadcast). Throw it on a gimbal with an appropriately lightweight lens and it can get the shot in tight spaces and easily follow the action. It can easily cut together with other cameras and be a B or C camera in a higher-budget shoot. I’d even send it out in the field with reporters for interviews or action-following formats.
Let’s keep the perspective when looking at this camera. I have heard far too many niggling comments of “it feels too plastic-ky” or it doesn’t offer ProRes 4444 or why doesn’t it have video inputs. The fact here is that for $1,295 including DaVinci Resolve Studio, Blackmagic has delivered a camera which can find a niche everywhere from individual web shooter to broadcast production to ENG to promos to big-screen cinema. It is lightweight, versatile, can be used alone or with a massive kit that dwarfs the camera, shot on gimbal, tripod, monopod or handheld and with a dual-ISO sensor for all kinds of lighting conditions, to popular formats and with 13 stops of dynamic range.
It is a tool well-worth considering for just about any content creator.
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
Pros: Compact and lightweight. Dual-ISO Micro four-thirds sensor. Sharp built-in screen. Records to SFast, SD or USB-C devices. Powerful but simple menu system
Cons: Internal battery insufficient. Most likely requires a rig. No video input. Mini audio XLR input.
Summary: A remarkable value in a camera with application across the spectrum of production, equally at home with the solo web creator, a broadcast outlet or a cinematic shoot.