All videographers have a similar passion to tell their stories visually, but think how far technology has come. Around the turn of the 20th century, cinematographers including the legendary Billy Bitzer shot with Biograph cameras, which weighed 2,000 lb. fully equipped, required a two-man crew to pan or tilt, and clattered loudly while physically punching sprocket holes into the unique 68mm strip of celluloid film that was grinding horizontally past its lens at a then-uncommon 30 fps. That chad-spitting racket was a cacophonic tribute to their innovative attempt to circumvent Edison’s patents controlling the 35mm film format.
Portions of the film “Me + Her” from writer/director Joseph Oxford and cinematographer Bradley Stonesifer were shot with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. The charming short film was performed entirely with puppets made of cardboard in a one-fifth scale world.
Advances in photographic and computer technology over the past century have resulted in silent digital cameras you can hold in the palm of your hand. These, including Blackmagic Design’s Pocket Cinema Camera, record industry-standard video formats onto fast SD cards. Just about the only thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the creativity DPs invoke to get the best out of the camera technology they have at hand.
Introduced at last year’s NAB Show, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is a compact Super 16 format device (12.5 oz. without lens) designed for digital film production. The Super 16-sized sensor has an effective resolution of 1920 x 1080 and is capable of capturing 13 stops of dynamic range. The Pocket Cinema Camera records Full HD video in either the lossless CinemaDNG raw or Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) format on SDXC and SDHC memory cards. The Active Micro Four Thirds lens mount can accommodate a growing range of MFT format lenses and other legacy lenses via adapter. Costing less than $1,000 (without lens), shooters can afford to put their Pocket Cinema Cameras in tight spots where they would be reluctant to send more expensive cameras.
“We actually have a large back order for the Pocket Cinema Camera as DPs are learning that it can record ProRes HQ and lossless CinemaDNG raw file formats even in the smallest spaces,” says Bob Caniglia, senior regional manager North America, Blackmagic Design. “Since you can feed its output directly into most popular NLEs, the Pocket Cinema Camera facilitates a production’s workflow even under the tightest of budgets.”
As a result, several mainstream shows have already incorporated the Pocket Cinema Camera into their arsenals of acquisition tools.
Bill Sheehy uses a Pocket Cinema Camera to capture the weekly poker games on BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood. Pictured are Kevin Hart, JB Smoove and Nick Cannon. Photo by Tyler Golden/BET Networks.
Bill Sheehy has used Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera to capture key gag shots on BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood, a mock reality show that parodies the lives of celebrities.
“I got the Pocket Cinema Camera last November, just a few days before we started shooting, and had little time to test it out before we threw it into the mix,” Sheehy says. “Although we’re supposed to be a reality show, Real Husbands of Hollywood is actually shot on a soundstage at Paramount as well as on location. One place you can always see the Pocket Cinema Camera is the overhead shot taken during the weekly poker games. Its recordings cut flawlessly with the images shot in the SR Lite codec by our main camera, a Sony PMW-F5, once they’ve been converted in postproduction. The shots are almost indistinguishable once they’ve been color corrected at Hollywood’s Chainsaw using their [FilmLight] Baselight color grading system.”
In a shot viewers will see next season, Sheehy mounted the Pocket Cinema Camera on a wheelchair that dumped Regina Saldivar into a swimming pool. “The grips rigged some simple C-stand arms so the camera faced her,” Sheehy explains, “and we see her expression as the chair hits the water. We couldn’t get that exact shot with other cameras of the same size.”
Rodney Charters, ASC
Cinematographer Rodney Charters, ASC, has used the Pocket Cinema Camera in tight spots on TNT’s
If you watch Dallas on TNT, you’ve probably already seen several sequences shot by DP Rodney Charters, ASC, with the Pocket Cinema Camera.
“I like the fact that you can deploy this little camera inside and around cars without elaborate mounting rigs,” Charters says. “For example, I once put the camera on sucker mounts inside the windows of a limousine. We positioned it at 90 degrees from the ARRI Alexa, our main camera, linked to a Codex Digital recorder shooting down the body of the limo. It was so unobtrusive that we could get our dirty OTS [over-the-shoulder] cutaways without interrupting the actors’ scene to reposition a camera.”
Charters likes mounting a Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 lens with stabilizer on the Pocket Cinema Camera inside a View Factor Contineo BMPC cage. Although he wishes the show’s post process would let him shoot raw for greater dynamic range, he says, “For broadcast HD, the ProRes HQ format is highly efficient, and that’s what matters to me.”
Cinematographer Mark LaFleur deployed the Pocket Cinema Camera as a POV cam on Sympathy, Said the Shark, mounting it on a helmet worn by actors in the film. Pictured here is Mark LaFleur (at left), with Lea Coco in the helmet rig and Dominic Bogart looking on.
It’s a slam-dunk that the prodigious little Pocket Cinema Camera would find favor in the world of indie features. DP Mark LaFleur used it as the main camera on Sympathy, Said the Shark from director Devin Lawrence, a light thriller about a love triangle that goes strangely awry.
LaFleur deployed the Pocket Cinema Camera as a POV cam on Sympathy, Said the Shark, mounting it on a helmet worn by actors in the film. The Pocket Cinema Camera was the main camera, shooting 80 percent of the film. The rest of the footage came from a Sony PMW-F3.
“We needed its small size because the director wanted to tell the story through a series of POV shots from the three main characters. We mounted the Pocket Cinema Camera to a helmet using two Ultralight Israeli arms, then sent its output wirelessly via a Paralinx Arrow transmitter to our Panasonic BT-LH2170 production monitor so my AC could pull focus with a BarTech 900 MHz remote focus device.”
Lead actress Melinda Cohen wears the Blackmagic camera helmet on the set of
Sympathy, Said the Shark
By using different lenses, LaFleur was able to create a different look for each of the three characters. “No other camera could have given us this kind of hands-free operation and still produce images that intercut with the Sony F3 seamlessly,” LaFleur says. “We wanted a cinematic personal view angle for the film like a first-person-shooter video game.”
LaFleur and Lawrence were just finishing up Sympathy, Said the Shark when we spoke. They expect good things for the film from this summer’s festival circuit.
LaFleur has also employed the Pocket Cinema Camera on two series he is shooting and directing for the Esquire Network: Knife Fight and White Collar Brawlers.
Bradley Stonesifer used a Pocket Cinema Camera in tight spaces on director Joseph Oxford’s “Me + Her,” a live-action short that screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. “Me + Her” is set in a fantasy world in the city of Cardboard, where the main character, Jack Cardboard, goes on a journey to mend a broken heart. All of the main characters and sets were built out of standard cardboard boxes on a one-fifth scale.
The short “Me + Her” was shot primarily with a Pocket Cinema Camera.
The short was shot primarily with a Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Stonesifer explains that Oxford had been building miniature sets for “Me + Her” since 2008, so the idea of reconstructing the tight areas of Cardboard City to accommodate the production’s larger BMCC was nearly inconceivable. Instead, they brought on the smaller Pocket Cinema Camera, which began shipping just prior to the start of production.
“In one scene, Jack slides down a chute into a shredder pit and only the Pocket Cinema Camera let us follow the character along a path that was roughly 6 inches wide,” Stonesifer explains. “We were able to mount professional PL mount lenses on it, which gave us the image parameters to match with our main camera. I could choose the shutter speed, the frame rate, the compression and the f-stop, which let us intercut shots with the CinemaDNG files recorded by the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.”
Cinematographer Bradley Stonesifer, an expert in small things, says “Pound for pound, the Pocket Cinema Camera is the best camera out there.”
The 12-minute short film was shot in 18 days and assembled from 10 TB of footage. Once initial shooting was completed, footage was transcoded to ProRes Lite for editing and then back to raw files for color correction in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.
Stonesifer acknowledges that the Pocket Cinema Camera has to rely on smaller-than-standard I/O connectors because of its size, but he’d like to see a more secure method of attaching equipment than its Micro HDMI Type D video jack and single 3.5mm audio jack allow. “At least we’d like to see when the battery is about to die,” he says. “But that’s why it costs less than $1,000. Pound for pound, the Pocket Cinema Camera is the best camera out there.”
Finally, you should have some fun with something like the Pocket Cinema Camera. Jeff Moore has a background as a production manager, having organized awards shows for Viacom. When he and his brother set about raising funding on Kickstarter to build the Old Fourth Distillery & Tasting Room in Atlanta, Ga., Moore had some ideas about shooting an effective promotional video.
Jeff Moore mounted a Pocket Cinema Camera on an aerial camera platform to shoot the Atlanta skyline for his Old Fourth Distillery promotional video.
“I got one of the first Pocket Cinema Cameras on the market and went about testing its limits as a professional camera,” Moore says. That’s how it happened that one day he and his brother were shooting overheads with the Pocket Cinema Camera mounted on an eight-rotor flying platform. Suddenly the wireless connection to the helicopter platform failed and the camera came down in a spectacular crash.
“It must have come down 200 feet like a sack of bricks,” Moore remembers. “Even though there was a deep gash in the body of the camera, it continued to work flawlessly.”
So the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has already proved its viability in a variety of professional production applications. It’s going to be up to the many DPs who have already adopted it to discover the limitations of this pretty limitless little camera. Just imagine what Billy Bitzer could have done with it.