The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has been revolutionary for filmmakers, providing a portable film camera that shoots great quality footage and is available at a reasonable price for the features. It’s not without its problems though too, and we’ll look at some of those and how to get around them in this quick-start guide.
This is the second version of the camera, and currently there are three models:
- Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
- Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K
- Black magic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro
Aside from the increase in resolution with a larger sensor, the main changes seem to be Blackmagic Design ironing out some of the main kinks of the first-generation PCC, including a new tilting screen and built in neutral density filters.
Although this article is about the BMPCC 4K, there’s a lot of overlap and much of the advice will be the same, including for earlier cameras. When it comes to adding a cage, make sure you double-check your camera’s body size to be sure it’ll fit.
1. Internal Settings
If you’re unsure about what codecs are or what that means in terms of what you should use, then check out What is a Video Codec for a run-through of how they work.
Generally though, a safe bet for filmmakers is to use ProRes 422 or ProRes 422 4K. Although there are a lot of options, this setting is a good balance between quality and file size. If your ultimate output will be in HD then you might prefer to record in HD, forgoing the option of 4K to keep your file sizes down. Conversely, shooting in 4K with an intended HD output will give you other options, like cropping or reframing interview subjects for variety without needing a second camera.
Look-up Tables (LUTs)
You can apply a LUT in camera so that your otherwise flat raw profile looks better to view on your monitor. The best way to do this for most people is to preview the LUT in your in-camera view, without applying the look to the footage directly. This way you can later apply the same LUTs in your post-production software, while keeping all the original raw data in the recordings. There is the option to apply the LUT to the footage while recording, effectively flattening it and baking in the look, but it's probably best not to do this unless you are on a very tight production timeline.
Focus assist is another useful tool to adjust when you’re getting started. It has different intensities and also lets you change the colour. The screen is quite small and hard to see in bright sunlight, so the focus assist can be really useful in making sure you nail your focus, particularly if you’re shooting people when soft facial features would be really noticeable. An extra benefit to focus assist is it actually lets you see if your footage is becoming noisy, as it starts to highlight the grain as focus points. Again, really useful when it’s difficult to see your screen clearly.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera will take a CF card, SD card and an external hard drive. It’s important to check which storage cards or devices are compatible with your camera, though. For example, when it comes to the BMPCC 4K it will only take a CF2 card (CF doesn’t work at all) and will record onto a Samsung T5 external SSD but not the newer T7.
You might also need to purchase a separate data cable for your SSD, depending on what it comes with. Again, the Samsung T5 comes with a cable that doesn’t have a fast enough data transfer speed, so that needed upgrading. We’ve also had a data cable fail, so if you’re buying one remember to buy a spare.
The BMPCC comes with a battery, but like most film cameras today it’s woefully inadequate for any long-term shooting, it lasts about 20 minutes continuously and that’s if you’re only shooting HD, at 4K you can expect it to die even sooner.
An external battery is definitely something to invest in sooner rather than later and if you shoot hand-held. A battery changes the grip, too, and you’ll find that this extra bit bolted onto the camera also helps it feel more secure in your hands.
The camera has onboard mics with two sources for stereo recording. While the internal microphones aren’t bad, you’ll probably want to add a mic at some point.
To save space, the BMPCC has a mini XLR input (as well as a 3.5mm jack) and microphones tend not to support that, so as well as a mic, you’ll need a convertor from mini XLR to regular XLR. Add a microphone mount and then you can keep the cable attached all the time.
5. Protecting the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
The BMPCC feels – and in many ways, is – a delicate thing and there have been problems aplenty with it. So much so that we’re going to dedicate another tutorial to how you can protect your PCC and avoid some of the pitfalls others have had happen, like broken inputs and general damage and cracking to the body.
I recommend that you get a cage for your body, it’ll help protect it from knocks and wear and tear, but it’s also a useful platform to bolt other things onto, like the microphone mount I mentioned earlier, but we’ll go into all of that in a lot more depth in the next tutorial.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera doesn’t come with a lens as standard, so remember to factor that into your costs as it’ll bump it up a fair bit. If you’re moving across to Blackmagic from another camera then you might want to invest in a decent lens mount so that you can port your old lenses across to your new camera.
If you’re starting from scratch then get yourself a good allrounder to start with, something like a 14-140mm that’s going to cover a lot of your bases. Although the BM doesn’t have image stablisation, many lenses do and when you attach one of those you’ll be able to switch that option on in your Setup menu.
7. Notable Features
Dual Native ISO
This is a very cool feature that takes a little bit to get your head around because it’s so different to what we’re used to when shooting either photo or video.
Usually, your sensor will have a circuit for each photosite/pixel in the sensor. With dual native ISO there are two. As you increase the ISO, the level of noise or grain you introduce to the image increases, that is until you hit the point when that second circuit kicks in. Suddenly you have much more light and far less noise at much higher ISOs, which feels very counter-intuitive. In real terms, you can get the same result from 25,000+ ISO as you can from 3200 on a regular camera without dual native, which is just incredible.
The touchscreen is great for adjusting settings while recording. Some options are locked out, but lots are available for ‘one touch’ settings, like exposure, white balance, audio input etc. Also you can swipe the screen to hide the settings and take advantage of the full view.
One of the problems with the screen is it’s quite small and the earlier models don’t tilt, making it quite impossible to see what you’re shooting if you’re above eye height or on a bright day. It’s worth adding an external monitor if you can or, at the very least, buying a sunshade for the screen.
If you’re buying your BMPCC new then you’ll get a copy of DaVinci Resolve which is an excellent all-in-one editing suite, and it’s particularly noted for its colour correction tools. There are also a ton of LUTs and templates available to make use of too, so it’s certainly worth getting to grips with.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera series has made high-quality filmmaking portable and affordable. As with everything, there’s a trade-off, and the BMPCC undoubtedly has its issues. Some of these have been solved in later models, and some… well some are still causing the forums to be lit up in fury or frustration on a regular basis.
I think that the benefits of the BMPCC far outweigh the negatives, but there are some really important things to remember:
- Work out the true cost of everything you need. It’s easy to underestimate what you’ll be spending, so remember to add on costs of lenses, storage, battery etc.
- Protect your camera. The delicate body of the BMPCC is definitely prone to some issues and they can be very expensive to fix once out of warranty. Give yourself the best possible chance of keeping your camera in good working order by protecting it with cine cage, a decent bag, and some other nifty bits.
- If you’re making a leap to a greater resolution, like HD to 4K for example, then as well as considering storage and data transfer for the Blackmagic you’ll also need to make sure your current editing setup and computer hard drive space are adequate.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials and Templates
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