In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can get started with recording with your BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
How to Record Video with the BMPCC: Best Settings for Common Uses
‘Best Settings’ is a bit of misnomer in that there are only the best settings for your particular intended filming use rather than a one size fits all. I use the BMPCC 4K, so there are specific references to that camera here, but most of the information should apply to all models and hopefully you’ll be able to get a sense of what you’re choosing and why, so that you can make decisions and changes as your filming with the BMPCC progresses.
First things first, make sure your BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera is up to date with the latest software.
Once you've checked your camera software is up to date, press Menu and go to Record in the settings. You’ll see three screen options – or tabs. On the first screen or tab, you’ll need to choose your preferred codec and quality, and the resolution you want to shoot at.
Codec and Quality
Here is a short video that compares video recorded on the BMPCC in raw and ProRes with compressed video footage from a Canon 7D. If you're already roughly familiar with these formats you can skip this video, as we'll get in to all the details below.
BlackMagic RAW is a codec that aims to give you all the benefits of RAW recording while keeping file sizes down. A big difference of BMR compared to other RAW formats is it's designed to be cross-platform rather than proprietary and not only that, it includes a developer toolkit (SDK) so that support for BMR can be added to other software.
BMR actually does part of the codec’s de-mosaic processing in the camera, so you get better performance, smaller file sizes (than traditional codecs) but still the same quality, range and so on that you’d expect from a RAW format
When you choose BMR, you’ll get additional options and which you decide on will depend on your filming requirements. BlackMagic recommend Q0 or 5:1 for effects-heavy films or commercial work, and Q5 and 8:1 for episodic TV or independent films. They also say you can use 12:1 and 18:1 for broadcast-suitable files that are still comparatively small.
ProRes are a series of codecs by Apple. They’re designed for video editing and use intra-frame compression, meaning each frame is independent and can be decoded at the other end without relying on other frames. These codecs aim to preserve as much of the image quality as possible but at a reduced data rate, still maintaining a high encoding and decoding speed.
If you’re feeling particularly nerdy, Apple have a great white paper on ProRes. As with all things, it’s a balance between speed, quality and usability. When selecting ProRes in the BMPCC 4K you can choose from HQ, 422, LT, and PXY sampling. We use 422 as we find it the best balance between file sizes and quality. HQ is great if you’re using amazing lenses but there isn’t an enormous amount of visible difference for the average user and the HQ file sizes are a lot bigger. LT has greater compression, so smaller file sizes but a bigger compromise on quality, PXY stands for proxy and again is highly compressed.
For a more in-depth look at ProRes sampling sizes and what they mean, read Apple’s About Apple ProRes page.
For this section your options are:
- 4K DCI (4096 x 2160)
- 4K 2.4:1 (4096 x 1720)
- Ultra HD (3840 x 2160)
- 2.8K Anamorphic (2880 x 2160)
- 2.6K 16:9 (2688 x 1512)
- HD (1920 x 1080)
As with your codec choice, your resolution will be a balance between what you need, file size and so on. When we’re filming, we use HD most of the time for our documentary shooting—because that’s our intended output, and that’s your key thought when choosing. What will you be using the footage for, ultimately?
It would be great to shoot everything in a higher resolution like 4K, just in case, but the fact is that even using a ProRes codec, the file sizes are still comparatively very high and storage can become a real issue. If you need to leave the camera running for long periods then 4K will chew through your storage; you’d get a lot more mileage out of HD.
You might want to think about flipping to other resolutions for specific filming, though. Recording in 4K can be useful, for example, when filming an interview, so that you can crop in post. This is particularly handy if you aren’t able to have a second camera on your subject. You’re still shooting the same angle of course, but the option to crop and be tighter in can add extra visual interest. 2.6K and Ultra HD are good ‘next steps’ before committing to 4K – though UHD is closer to 4K than it is to HD—each gives you slightly more wiggle room than standard HD but again your file sizes will creep up (or leap up, in the case of UHD) and unless you know you might need to crop or zoom a little in post then there’s no real visual benefit to these.
Anamorphic is designed to be used with anamorphic lenses. If you aren’t familiar with those, they’re essentially lenses that compress the image, and so they need stretching in post-production. Originally, they were used to help fill the full film area of 35mm frames, rather than leaving a space at the top and bottom. Digital anamorphic lenses are now sometimes desireable because that ‘squishing’ of the image (except in unusually large aspect ratios) preserves more pixels. They also make really nice bokeh (out of focus background light and shapes) and, produce a shallower depth of field—which many consider to look more cinematic—than a spherical lens. Unless you’re shooting a feature film for cinematic release you probably won’t be using this option.
Dynamic Range, Project Frame Rate and Off Speed Frame Rate
The second screen in Record deals with choosing a dynamic range, frame rate and selecting how you want the camera to choose storage.
Dynamic Range offers you a choice of:
- Video – a quick, lightly processed look designed to require no post-processing (sort of the equivalent of a JPEG in photography)
- Extended Video – a bigger dynamic range than Video but with some added contrast.
- Film – probably the preferred option, the biggest dynamic range with a ‘flat’ unprocessed look. This can look a little uninspiring or hard to judge on the monitor, so you can add a display LUT.
Project Frame Rate and Off Speed Framerate
Frame rate refers to how many frames (photographs) are taken per second. It isn’t the same as shutter speed, which is the length of the exposure rather than how many exposures you take.
Project Frame Rate refers to the frame rate your film will be viewed in during playback. It has lots of options from 23.98 up to 60fps. 24 frames is standard for films and is a ‘cinematic’ framerate, though there are notable exceptions like The Hobbit films which were filmed at 48fps. 24fps is also what most TV shows use now, though it used to be 30.
I couldn’t begin to explain the ideal for each FPS or we’d need multiple tutorials, but Master Class have a great article that gets into the details: How Frame Rates Affect Film and Video.
You’ll likely use 24fps and that will probably also be the eventual output (the speed it’s viewed at). Remember, the recorded frame rate and how its viewed have to match up or they’ll look weird. If you shoot at 60fps and watch it back at 24 you’ll see it in slow-motion. Likewise, if you shoot at 24fps and try to watch at 60 it’ll be super-fast.
A bit like with 4K, shooting at something like 60fps would be really useful just in case you ever wanted to slow the footage down. If you try to slow down 24fps it’ll look jerky because it’s stretching what’s there without being able to fill any ‘gaps’.
Off Speed Frame Rate
Shooting at 60fps is another deliberate choice you’ll make if you’re thinking about how your footage will be used. For example, you’d very rarely need to slow down an interview with someone, so 24fps would be fine in most cases. If you’re shooting water or some really cool action shots like sports though, for example, that you might want to slow down later, then filming at 60fps will give you that flexibility. This is where Off Speed Frame rate comes in (this can go up to 120fps in cropped HD sensor mode). It’s designed to be used for either time-lapse or slow motion. So if your Project Frame Rate is 24fps and your Off Speed Frame Rate is 48fps, it would play at half the speed.
Best settings only really apply if you know what you want, so think about things like:
- Is storage an issue?
- What's my intended output?
- Do I need extra flexibility in post-production?
When you know the answers to these—and others—you'll have a much better idea of what settings are right for you. Hopefully, you've now got a good idea of what the main recording choices in the BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera are and can make an informed decision about what to choose. Remember, your needs might change and then too, your required settings. The best thing to do is to practice as much as possible and play around with your different options to see what works.
More Resources for BlackMagic Users
About This Page
About the Authors
Marie Gardineris a writer and photographer from the North East of England. After gaining her degree in Film and Media, Marie worked in the media industry, before leaving to set up the business she runs with her partner: Lonely Tower Film & Media. As well as writing about visual practices like photography and video, Marie is also the author of Sunderland Industrial Giant (The History Press, 2017) and Secret Sunderland (Amberley Publishing 2019). Her photographic work focuses on landscapes and industrial ruins, particularly those of the North Pennines as she continues to work on her long-form documentary project Changing Landscapes.
Christopher Kenworthy created the overview video comparing BMPCC raw, ProRes and compressed footage.
Jackson Couse edited and published this page September 25th, 2021.
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