Our Hands-On Review of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
Art and Experience: Blackmagic continue to shake things up with some major revision for the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K.
Let’s take a hands-on look at the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (which, if interested, you can purchase here). We’ve been excited about this camera for quite awhile now – and have been covering some of the early news and add-ons for external power solutions, camera cage build-outs and attachable SSD options. So, without further ado, here is our hands-on field test review of the BMPCC 4K.
Field Test: Blackmagic Pocket 4K
True innovators feel free to break all the rules. This can be amazing, when a company opens up a completely new space, like RED bringing raw digital cinema cameras to the marketplace. But it can also be very frustrating, like when the original RED camera used mini-SDI connectors for no good reason. By setting yourself free from legacy constraints, you push things forward but run the risk of having some annoying stuff along the way.
While Blackmagic is hugely dominant in post with their hardware and the Resolve software platform, in cameras, they get to play the “innovator” card. They don’t have 20-year long customer relationships that they have to keep happy by not obsoleting a technology too quickly, nor making sure their parts play well with last year’s accessories. They kind of get to do whatever they want – and that leads to some amazing things, like the URSA Mini Pro, but also leads to some quirky choices.
Their newest camera, which we first got to see in an interview with Grant Petty the day before NAB, is the Blackmagic Pocket 4k. This camera, for a launch price of $1295, ticks off an insane number of boxes. It uses an internal standard Canon battery, but also accepts external power through a robust 12V connector that feels set ready. It shoots RAW internally to CFast cards, but can also connect to a hard drive via USB-C. You can even plug in a thumb drive and shoot straight to that. It has two run buttons, one to make it easier to use in self-shooting mode.
Recording 4K Raw Footage
4K Raw. $1300. Pick up a Samsung T5 SSD and shoot straight to that. It’s kind of insane just how well it all comes together. It’s amazing. It’s raw for less than $5000, by a huge factor, which isn’t a combination that has really existed before, and won’t until manufacturers start supporting ProRes Raw over HDMI, which Atomos is ready for but camera markers aren’t doing yet. This might just push them over that edge.
The image quality holds up well, even against the URSA Mini Pro (here is a side-by-side comparison between the BMPCC 4K and the URSA Mini Pro), though of course the URSA Mini Pro already supports the new Blackmagic Raw codec, which is much smaller than the Cinema DNG of the Pocket 4k, though I think we all expect the Pocket to get the new .braw format soon. In fact, it kind of has to. The current Cinema DNG format files are just too big. Even working in ProRes, the dynamic range and color reproduction where quite pleasing and felt very flexible in post. As you grade the footage, it feels “fuller’ than comparable H.264 DSLR footage, with more room to be pushed around, and that is a huge, huge plus.
We were initially worried about the smaller sized sensor, but actually it doesn’t bother us. While we always felt like 1/3″ was too small, creating massive depth of field, the MFT size has always been kind of great for it’s “deep but not too deep” depth of field that makes it easy to pull focus yourself or use in a run and gun situation, as opposed to the Sony or Canon 5D Full Frame sensors where the depth of field gets so small it’s truly difficult to be out alone without a focus puller and an external monitor. MFT feels like the right sensor size for this camera, and we would’ve been shocked to see a full frame sensor in here regardless, though perhaps with the new L mount we might see that in a few years.
There are some little ergonomic frustrations, mostly with the power switch. The power switch doesn’t matter much on a real shoot since you aren’t switching it on and off very often, but on “run and gun” type shoots, it’s placement is just far enough from the hand grip to field weird, especially since the internal Canon batteries don’t last long.
It’s also shockingly not noisy in low light at 25600. Yes, of course, there is noise, but nothing that Resolve’s built-in noise correction wouldn’t handle. Especially since it’s such a small sensor we were very impressed. Remarkably little noise for the sensor size, but noticeable. The biggest frustration, though, was the lack of image stabilization.
Stabilizing the BMPCC 4K
We’ve just entered a world where so many cameras like this (GH5, XH1, etc.) have great image stabilization built in and personally we’ve all gotten very used to it. It is very noticeably absent here. Would we take RAW over stabilization? It really depends on the job and the shooter. If we knew we had a dedicated Ronin-S operator with us every day, then the Pocket 4k becomes an amazing option. If it’s a one mule team shoot, all day all hand held, we don’t know that it necessarily is the right choice.
Without image stabilization it doesn’t feel like a “do anything” platform, but that’s OK, there isn’t actually a “do anything” camera. And the image quality is so good for it’s price that it really is worth using on jobs where image stabilization isn’t a priority. For many shoots where it will be on a tripod or stabilizer all day, this camera is a no brainer.
The familiar wedge shape.
One of our small frustrations is the inconsistency of the naming conventions with Blackmagic. We already noted that, while we love the panels, the Micro and the Mini feel oddly named for us, and this camera being called the “Pocket” just doesn’t feel right. With a pancake lens, the old pocket could fit comfortably in a pocket. Even with a pancake this camera won’t fit in the vast majority of human pockets.
This camera should definitely be the “URSA Micro Pro.” Or, really, the URSA Mini should just be the URSA (it’s by far the most common size, we rarely if ever run across the full sized URSA outside of trade show floors), the full URSA should be like the URSA maxi, and the pocket should be the mini. It also really shows a serious legacy from the original blackmagic cinema camera, with a similar wedge feeling, and it feels more like a revision of that camera than of the pocket. Of course, these aren’t criticisms of the camera: what it’s called doesn’t affect how it works. It’s just an observation.
Is the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K Right For You?
Overall, there is literally nothing out there that will give you RAW, and this image quality, at $1295. This is a huge, huge, huge thing. If you have an URSA Mini this is a great B-camera, and if you are working on jobs where the raw will be put to use (the way the original pocket was used on Spiderman Homecoming, for instance), this will be great.
But image stabilization is something that many of us are getting very addicted to. It’s absence here is more noticeable in a way than in a larger camera, since most of your URSA Mini Pro Jobs will have a stabilizer, a dolly, a team. Or at least it’s heavy and stable and sits on your shoulder. Most Pocket jobs are hand held, and hopefully IS of some sort will roll out in the next major revision for the camera, or you can pair it up with a Ronin-S. Actually, this and a Ronin-S still costs you less money than the next step up in the raw 4K universe.
Overall, for those who want to create really amazing narrative cinematic imagery, especially those working with a stabilizer or gimbal, this camera feels like a lot of threads coming together for blackmagic. Especially once it gets Blackmagic RAW.
- Full size 4/3 sized sensor
- Native 4096 x 2160 resolution
- 13 stops of dynamic range
- Up to 25600 ISO
- Carbon fiber polycarbonate composite body
- Built in SD, UHS-II and CFast card recorders
- USB-C expansion port for external SSD or flash disk
- Features full size HDMI output
- Professional mini XLR
- 3.5mm audio jack
- Built in 5” LCD touchscreen a
- 3D LUTs
- 4th generation Blackmagic color science
- Supports remote camera control via Bluetooth