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Small Gets Big: Interest Grows in the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design’s Pocket Cinema Camera was a hit as soon as it was announced at the 2013 NAB Show. The pint-sized HD camera offers much of the same technology found in Blackmagic’s successful 2.5K Digital Cinema Camera in a form factor you can slide into your pocket.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is called a Super 16 digital film camera thanks to its Super 16 size 1080 HD sensor. It is designed to record Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) files to inexpensive SD cards. About the size of a cell phone, it features an active Micro Four Thirds lens mount for interchangeable optics and spans 13 stops of dynamic range.

Very early models were reported to demonstrate “blooming,” or hard clipping in the upper regions of exposure, but that issue has apparently been corrected by Blackmagic Design engineers. You can select either of two dynamic range settings, Film (log) or Video (Rec. 709 color space), and the camera’s promised ability to shoot lossless compressed CinemaDNG raw files to fast SDXC cards should become a reality this month with the release of a firmware upgrade.

“We received a lot of positive response from the Blackmagic Digital Cinema Camera we released last year,” says Dan May, president of Blackmagic Design. “As we looked toward the other boundaries we could push, it became apparent that a small, flexible secondary camera could also find a ready market. Our Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is designed to fill the role of either a main camera for professional HD projects, a B-camera for indie shoots, or an ideal tool for students and prosumers to raise their video capabilities to a higher level.”

When I asked about the delay in the Pocket Cinema Camera’s raw capabilities, May was honest enough to say, “It’s been one of those ‘any day now’ targets for several months. But we should see it very soon, and of course the firmware upgrade will be free to all users. This should be especially useful to fans of raw recordings, since Blackmagic Design provides a free version of DaVinci Resolve Lite software on its web site for sophisticated color correction and file transcoding during post.”

Now that some early adopters have gotten their hands on this mighty mini, what can they reveal to other digital cinematographers who are considering putting this arrow into their quiver?

Kholi Hicks

Kholi Hicks, an independent DP and video consultant in Los Angeles, received his Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera in late summer and says he likes it as much as Blackmagic’s Digital Cinema Camera, which he quantifies as “a lot.” Hicks was able to test the Pocket Cinema Camera’s raw capabilities in beta release.

Kholi Hicks with Pocket Cinema Camera

“I’m shooting Adobe’s CinemaDNG raw format at 24 fps or 30 fps, recorded to a 32 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro [SDHC] card at a 90 MB/s write and 95 MB/s read rate, and it looks great,” he says. “The HD images look as good as [from] its larger Cinema Camera brother. Outside of resolution and a hair of dynamic range, it is uncanny how precisely the two match.”

The flexible MFT lens mount lets Hicks put almost any glass on the camera.

“Right now I’m using a Hot Rod PL mount attached to a View Factor Studios Pocket Camera cage so I can use cinema lenses, and trading that off with a Canon EF adapter that lets me put Sigma’s new 18-35mm lens on it, which, at f/1.8, is pretty fast,” Hicks says. “I’ve found that most of the small-format cameras being released these days are basically a sensor in a box, but the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is really a filmmaker’s point-and-shoot because I can use it practically anywhere I need a professional HD camera. It’s all about the image quality.”

Hicks suggests employing a pre-amp if you want to record audio on the camera itself. “One area where Blackmagic Design has been criticized over the past year is in the audio features of its cameras,” he says. “The onboard microphone is fine as a reference mic, but for production audio I’d recommend using a preamp like the juicedLink RM333 to boost the input.”

Josh Diamond

Josh Diamond, half of the filmmaking team The Diamond Brothers with his brother Jason, had been testing the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for six weeks when we talked. “It’s basically the same as Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera—in a reduced form factor with a smaller Super 16 sensor—but it’s still shooting ProRes 422, giving you, for example, about an hour’s recording on an inexpensive 64 GB SD card,” which costs about $50 on Amazon.

Josh and Jason Diamond

Diamond had taken the Pocket Cinema Camera along on a helicopter shoot for a documentary that benefited from the flexibility of the camera’s small size. “It’s nice to have something small for behind-the-scenes shots that you can just slam into your pocket,” he notes. “We’re also considering it as a B-camera on some VH1 interstitials we’re planning to shoot.”

It’s the look of the recordings that really impresses the Diamonds. “The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has much better image quality than other small-form cameras,” Diamond says. “But the real magic of this camera is its ability to shoot ProRes 422, which really simplifies the postproduction workflow.”

Diamond appreciates the variety of lenses the camera can accommodate. “The ability to go to any rental house, select an adapter and choose from a wide range of lenses is a huge advantage,” he says. “We had a 32mm anamorphic Elite lens mounted on the Pocket Cinema Camera, and although it was five times the size of the camera, it worked just fine. I really like options, and Blackmagic choosing the Micro Four Thirds mount makes this the most versatile camera it could be.”

Diamond could think of just two downsides of the camera, one being the lack of a touchscreen interface. “It’s not that big of a problem—we are accustomed to a touchscreen on the Digital Cinema Camera—but you can quickly get used to the direct button control on the Pocket version. Other than that, I just wish it had audio meters in the display.”

Marco Solorio

Marco Solorio with Pocket Cinema Camera

Marco Solorio, owner of OneRiver Media, a full-featured production and post facility in Walnut Creek, Calif., has calculated that the Pocket Cinema Camera’s raw recordings measure about 2.5 MB per frame, depending on the content. “The CinemaDNG format is a series of still image files, but I’ve been told that Blackmagic Design is looking to implement a QuickTime wrapper that will give it more of a video sequence. For now I just bring the CinemaDNG files into DaVinci Resolve to create proxies and edit them in my Adobe Premiere or Avid Symphony NLE.”

That’s going to let a lot of digital cinematographers get their first experiences shooting raw, since the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera sells for less than $1,000.

Solorio finds that one of the Pocket Cinema Camera’s strongest features is its ability to shoot 10-bit ProRes in either log or Rec. 709 encoding. “To me, that is absolutely huge,” he says. “We are in the middle of a large BMW documentary, and having the ability to intercut shots from the bigger mainstream cameras with the Pocket Cinema Camera has been a significant benefit. We tend to shoot the beauty shots in raw, but for the vast majority of our shooting, 10-bit ProRes blows the doors off of any 8-bit system we have ever used.”

Solorio recommends bringing a lot of extra batteries with you on shoots. “We get about 35 to 45 minutes use with each of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera’s rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. It chews through them, so I’d recommend bringing a pocketful of them—or, as we do, use either internal third-party 1,800 mAh batteries, giving us 45 minutes to an hour each, or an external battery source through the camera’s 12-20V DC port.”