How To Use The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

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My name is Bojan Dulabic and I’m a filmmaker from Vancouver. I’m currently in the process of finishing my second feature film Project: Eugenics, which I shot mostly on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

In this article I’d like to talk about some of pros and cons, myths associate with this camera, how I used it to shoot a feature film and the post production workflow.

 Myths About The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

One of the biggest myths is that, even though the camera is called “pocket”, that it really is not, because once you start adding a rig, larger lenses and other accessories it becomes a very large camera. It is true that situations will dictate setups. But what most filmmakers don’t talk about is the fact that this camera can be used by itself with just the body and a lens.

I have used it many times on my shoot with just a bare bones setup. I wouldn’t shoot an entire film like this. But when you need to do a quick insert shot or a simple establishing shot with just the camera on a tripod, this little wonder shines.

In my current zombie flick, I needed some establishing shots of empty streets to create a bit of a creepy atmosphere. So one Sunday morning I got up early, took my camera and my Panasonic 14mm lens and a simple tripod and drove around looking for the right location.

After an hour of filming, I gathered enough establishing shots for the intro of the film. I didn’t need a second unit crew, any permits or anyone else for that matter. Don’t be afraid to use the camera just by itself, you’d be surprised at the quality it can produce.

Blackmagic Pocket

Pros Of The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

One of the things that blew me away about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is the fact that it shoots in ProRes HQ! ProRes HQ is a format you usually edit in. So for example, if you are shooting on a typical DSLR, which shoots in h.264, you would upconvert the footage to ProRes and then start editing. But any time you upconvert footage, you lose quality.

With the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, no conversion is needed. This gives you a great quality image. The amount of additional data you get with ProRes compared to h.264 gives you a lot more room to play with in terms of color grading. For example, one minute in h.264 will be about 200-400 mb, depending on the compression. That same minute in ProRes HQ will be about 1-2 GB.

That’s more than tripling the amount of data that you have to play with!

Camera RAW

If you want more flexibility and quality you can also shoot in Camera RAW. Camera RAW is an amazing format. It produces incredible footage and you have the ultimate control over color grading and adjusting for over or under exposed footage. Of course, as with any technology, everything has its limits and you should always try to get it right in camera but mistakes happen.

The fact that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has the capability of shooting in ProRes HQ (and all the other flavors of ProRes) and is also capable of shooting in RAW, is simply amazing!

Price & Updates

The fact that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera only costs $1000 US (just the body) is an incredible deal. Another, perhaps more important fact is that Blackmagic is continuously providing updates for its users. In the eight months since I’ve had the camera, there have been four major updates. Initially, there was no histogram, audio meters and you couldn’t format the SD card in camera, all those things and more have been updated. I don’t know of any other camera manufacturer who provides this kind of a service for free.

Lenses

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is a micro four thirds camera. This could be a problem if you don’t own any micro four thirds lenses, however, the good thing is that there are adapters that will fit virtually any lens out there. So, if you own a bunch of full frame lenses by Canon or Nikon, you will still be able to use those by purchasing an adapter.

Depending on the adapter you might be spending $500 or more. However, if you have lenses worth thousands of dollars, getting one lens adapter to fit all or most of them, is not bad at all. In my case I decided to get two micro four thirds lenses; the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 and the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5, which I’m very pleased with.

Cons Of The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

The is the single biggest con on this camera is the lack of extensive battery life.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera comes with a small 800mAh battery, which is the Nikon en-el20. This battery will give you 30 to 40 minutes at the most. And from my experience, it could be even less. From this perspective, the stock battery is completely useless.

One option to combat the problem is getting new batteries. I ordered four 1800mAh batteries and I am hoping each will last for an hour. These batteries are very inexpensive.

Another option is to have an external battery, which I have as well. I bought a no name CCTV battery on eBay months ago, which lasts me for about 5 hours, when fully charged. I used this battery for most of my shoot. Only problem is that using the camera bare bones with an external battery can be challenging. My solution was to use a cellphone holder and mount it on top of the camera.

blackmagic pocket set up

For situations where I needed to use my rig I was able to fit it underneath the body. I used industrial strength velcro to secure the battery and that worked just fine.

blackmagic pocket camera

This is something you’ll have to think about and the solution will vary depending on your setup.

SD Cards

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera uses SD cards to record footage. Unlike other cameras by Blackmagic, due to the size of the camera body there is no room to slide in an SSD. On one hand, this is good because SD cards are much smaller and easier to carry. However, they are also much more expensive than SSDs.

Because you are shooting in ProPres and RAW you cannot use regular class 10 SD cards that you use in your DSLR. You have to buy cards with at least 80mbps speeds. Because of the speed limitations you will find that only a few card manufacturers work on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. This the fault of the card companies because a lot of times they mislabel their cards and what looks like an 80mbps card could be in fact 40mbps.

From personal experiences you can’t go wrong with SanDisk. As long as you get the right speed you will be fine. There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding on which speed to get. For example, if you are shooting in ProRes and RAW in 24fps, you can use the SanDisk Extreme Plus 80mbps. However, if you are shooting in ProRes and RAW higher than 24fps you can only shoot in ProRes, if you use the SanDisk Extreme Plus 80mbps.

If you want to be able to shoot in RAW with, let’s say 30fps, you will need the SanDisk Extreme Pro 95mbps. This is important to know because the price difference between those two can add up.

I have seen a 64GB SanDisk Extreme Plus 80mbps for as low as $50 US. Where as the Extreme Pro 90mbps will be close to $100 US. When you compare that to an SSD drive, let’s say a 128 mb, which you can get for $50-$70 easily, things start to look different.

Also, the massive files that ProRes HQ and Camera RAW create will not give you much room to play with.

If I use any of my 64GB cards, I get about 44 minutes shooting 24fps in ProRes HQ. And I get about 33 minutes if I shoot in 30fps. If I shoot in RAW using 24fps, I usually get about 12 minutes and 9 minutes if I shoot using 30fps. Depending on your production you will need either one or two or more 128 GB SD cards, which can cost you an arm and leg, or several 64GB cards.

Crop Factor

Another thing to keep in mind is the crop factor. APS-C based DSLRs have a crop factor of 1.6. That’s essentially how much you are zoomed in. So, if you have a 50mm lens on a Canon T3i, you actually have an 80mm lens.

If you have a full frame camera you obviously don’t have to worry about crop factors. The downside with micro four thirds cameras, like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, is that the crop factor is 2.88. So if you have a 50mm lens you actually have a 144mm lens. That’s a huge difference.

As mentioned before, if you have a bunch of full frame lenses, you can get an adapter to be able to use those on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and in that case you won’t have to worry about the crop factor.

Another reason to keep the crop factor in mind is the fact that the more you are zoomed in the shakier the footage will be. For example, my Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens gets very shaky when handheld because it is essentially a 72mm lens. My 14mm lens is much better when it comes to that because it is actually a 40mm lens. I decided to get the 25mm one because it works really well in low light. When I use it with my rig, the shakiness is not a problem at all and it still works for quick insert shots when its handheld.

Deleting Clips

Another con about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is the fact that you cannot delete individual clips in camera. This can be a pain because sometimes you might have takes where you know you will not use the shot. Normally you might have deleted the footage to make more room.

Unfortunately, this is something that you cannot do with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. And as I mentioned before, Blackmagic has solved lots of issues with various updates and they know that users want to be able to delete clips in camera, so it’s just a matter of time.

Menu

The menu is not user friendly. Features that you need, so you can to change on the fly are often buried. For example, if you want to change the exposure, you will need to perform 5-10 menu clicks, depending on where you are. This might not sound a lot. But if you are shooting a live event where one second can make the difference between you getting that perfect shoot or not, this is a problem.

Again, all these things can be changed with a software update. Blackmagic has already added menu functionality with an earlier update so this could be solved very easily.

Post With The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Color Grading

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is made for color grading. While the camera gives you the option to shoot in video mode, which doesn’t require color grading (similar to DSLRs) the camera is really is meant to be used with a color grading program. This takes time to get used to. If you use the camera in film mode, you will get a flat image. It is then up to you to grade it which ever way you like.

I am playing around with Adobe Speedgrade. Adobe Premiere will do a decent job with basic color grading. Additionally, you can always download DaVinci Resolve for free. This is Blackmagic’s software.

Computer

When working with ProRes and especially RAW files you will need lots of processing power. I upgraded my 5 year old Mac Pro with a new 3 GB graphics card and 32 GB of ram and working with ProRes HQ files is not a problem but working with RAW can be challenging.

Even though I only use RAW for short insert clips, rendering can still take a while. There is also (sadly) no standardized workflow for RAW files when it comes to video. Premiere Pro will recognize the multiple image files as one video file and you can import it and start cutting as easy as any video file but if you want to make use of the RAW settings and adjust exposure or white balance, there is no direct way to do that with complete control.

One way is to open the files in After Effects, which will give you the RAW interface that you get for images. In the end it works, but it requires effort. This alone keeps me from shooting a full feature in RAW. On the other hand, the footage would look amazing!

In conclusion, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is an amazing tool for any indie filmmaker. Like any piece of technology it has its flaws, but as long as you are aware of them and find a way to work around them, you will be able to take your production to the next level.

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