My Final Thoughts on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

I always wanted to do a full review on my BMPCC but that never happened because I just didn't find the time to do so. Since I have now decided to sell my BMPCC I want to write down at least my final thoughts, what I think about the camera and where I think it will shine.

What I like about the BMPCC

First of all I love the fact that Blackmagic created a low-cost RAW shooting digital film camera for the masses. This was and always will be the first RAW movie camera I ever bought. I dreamt about buying a RED back in the days when the RED Scarlet was going to be $3K for 3K and I am glad ever never bought that far more expensive RED Scarlet that came out. Technology is just moving too fast, if you can't get a return of investment wihtin a year, maybe two years you shouldn't buy it. It's only 2,5 years ago that RED announced the current Scarlet and Canon announced the C300 on November 3rd, 2011. Look how much has changed since then, Blackmagic Design came along and gave us a 2.5K, a 1080p and a 4K RAW shooting camera for less then the original $3K Scarlet.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera allowed me to explore what it is like shooting RAW, it forced me to learn more about camera sensors and how differently they can behave so I needed to test for myself how I could use this camera in the best way possible. It made me learn how to use DaVinci Resolve to get to most out of my RAW and ProRes footage, I will definitely be using Resolve for my Colour Grading in the future, I really love using it.

So to sum it up this is what I like about the camera:

  • The Image, mostly:
    • The colours
    • The Dynamic Range
    • The Highlight roll-off
  • RAW recording
  • ProRes recording
  • Simplicity of the menu's and controls
  • The tiny form factor
  • Micro 4/3 lens mount

The most important thing on this list is ofcourse the image, that's why you buy a camera, to create a beautiful image, but there are also a lot of things I do not like about this camera.

What I do not like about the BMPCC

The things I do not like about the camera are all the little things, but I understand that for Blackmagic to create a camera with these capabilities for this price they have to make compromises on a lot of stuff. Here's the list of things I do not like:

  • The LCD screen. It's not good enough. Especially when you expose to the right, sometimes you can't even see what you are shooting, this is really annoying.
  • Having to process RAW footage before viewing
  • Battery life
  • No indication of how many minutes or megabytes left on SD card
  • No rubber on the bottom of the camera, when using a quick release plate (for example a Kwik release plate from Kessler) you get metal on metal and that slips real easily.
  • grid pattern with lens flares (https://vimeo.com/79550920)
  • order in which features of the menu are placed
  • The more you record on your SD card, the slower the startup of the camera becomes
  • The need to buy more harddrives because of high bitrates

I want to explain some of these points a little more:

LCD Screen

The quality of the LCD screen is just not good, it's not what you come to expect when buying a camera for this amount of money, but again, this is one of those compromises Blackmagic makes to keep the price down. Professional shooters in a controlled environement probably hook up an external monitor anyway.

But since this is a pocket camera, in my opinion it would have made far more sense to give it a very good Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). Now you have a pocket camera that really can't be used as a pocket camera because you have to put a loupe on the back of your LCD screen to see how your exposure and focus is.

Battery Life

This wasn't really an issue for me, if you turn off the camera when not shooting, you can do quite some time with only two batteries, but there is the chance that you miss something because your camera was turned off.

Blackmagic gave us a lot of information on how much juice the battery has left, in percentages, just like a mobile phone. In my opinion they would have been better off just showing the battery icon in three compartments, just like most camera's. Because of the percentages you will notice it every time the battery becomes more empty, and since it needs a lot of battery power, also for cooling the sensor when not recording, the showing of the percentages isn't helping psychologically.

I also noticed that when using a Nikon EN-EL20 battery the percentage indicator says like 1% left and I still can record with it quite some time, it's isn't very accurate either.

Space left on card

If it's hard for Blackmagic to tell how many minutes are left on SD card to record, why don't they show how many Megabytes or Gigabytes have been used thusfar or are left on the card. That way the camera operator at least has some kind of feedback.

Grid Pattern with lens flare

When testing the camera I came across this issue and posted it on Vimeo:



In reality it really didn't bother me at all. There wasn't any footage that I shot that I deemed unusable afterwards because of this issue.

The Menu

The firmware and thus the menu are probably ported from the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera which had a touch screen to control the menu's. But since you have to use buttons on the Pocket camera it kind of annoyed me that the things you have to change most often are at the bottom of a menu screen:

Shutter Angle, Colour Temperature and ASA all can be after you have gone through the camera id, date and time settings, this doesn't make sense. Put ASA on top, then Colour Temperature and Shutter Angle.

This shouldn't have to be that hard.

Storage Space and RAW processing

Together with the LCD which should have been an EVF these are the two issues that really counted the most for me to decide to sell the camera.

As I have explained in a previous article on how to set exposure on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera to get the most out of the camera you really have to expose to the right. When you have shot like this, especially in broad daylight, you really cannot watch the footage you have shot after you have processed it in Resolve or any other program that can deal with the Cinema DNG RAW files. This makes the footage you shoot much less accessible to judge.

And brings us to the storage space issue. When you have just 64GB of RAW footage, that you need to process and render to ProRes to make it usable, your harddrive will fill up fast, really fast.

From the first 33 years of my life, and even from before I was born I have digital / digitized footage that together take up 2 TB of storage space. From last year, my 34th on this planet, I have shot footage on mostly my Nikon D800 and some on my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, the footage from this year alone also takes up 2 TB of storage space.

Now truth be told I could probably optimize my FCPX libraries a bit, but I think it makes my point clear anyway. RAW and ProRes HQ footage takes up a whole lot of space. It would be great if Blackmagic would put in a ProRes LT option, which is more than good enough for most footage you shoot.

Why I sold my BMPCC

So, why did I sell it? Well, if you consider all the pros and cons mentioned above, for me this camera is just not the most practical. With the release of the Panasonic GH4 along came a camera that has a great EVF, with zebras and focus peaking, with a more efficiant but still very good gradable 4K image that fits my needs better then the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and since I do not have an infinite amount of money on my bank account, I have to sell this camera to get the GH4.

From now on I will be shooting on the Panasonic GH4 and Nikon D800, but how long will I still have the D800 with the soon to be released full frame Sony A7S? With incredible low light and S-LOG recording, which should make it very gradable... :-) more on this and ofcourse the GH4 in future blog posts...

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