The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K shook things up when it was announced earlier this year thanks to a competitive price and a comprehensive feature set.
After testing it for over a week for location based shoots and a studio based commercial, does the reality live up to the hype?
On paper, yes it does. Delivering a huge amount of film-making clout in a package that undercuts the rest, this Micro Four Thirds camera packs a huge 5-inch touch screen, external SSD recording capabilities and shoots pin sharp 4K raw footage.
Following on from the original Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, despite being far from perfect, it still ended up being used as part of blockbuster productions like Avengers: Age of Ultron thanks to the excellent bang for buck it delivered.
This time round, there’s more bang, less buck and a generation of eager YouTubers and video enthusiasts looking for a premium, yet value-centric 4K option, and this could be just the ticket.
Price and availability
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera should be available globally now, and will set you back around £1,034 in the UK, $1,295 and AU$1,815 in Australia. Stock issues are rearing their heads though, so if you’re unable to pick one up right now, availability should improve throughout the rest of 2018 and the first few months of 2019.
This bulbous camera looks playful and, truth be told, a touch dated, but the combi-polycarbonate/fibreglass body feels well weighted and solid in the hand. Its bulbous shape also ensures it is comfortable to hold and not too angular, with easy to access buttons, a dial, some bold air vents and a huge, huge screen on the back vying for your attention.
The grip is ribbed and has a secure tactility, with a new improved dual microphone set-up to the right of it. There’s also a front-mounted record button and an LED light as well. the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has a standard tripod thread mount at the base with an additional mount where the hot shoe might be on a stills camera, perfect for an external monitor or LED light.
At the base is a slightly flimsy battery door which is removable so the potential for third party battery grips is a reality, while to the left you’ve got a dual card slot which feels a bit more sturdy. The camera takes SD and CFast cards, with the CFast cards required for the highest quality raw 4K video.
On the right are all the ports, and we mean all the ports.
Easily the best kitted out camera for the price when it comes to connectivity, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has a full sized HDMI port, which is significantly more secure than the flimsy mini or micro HDMIs of old.
There’s also a USB-C port, supporting data transfer and slow charging. A point to note – this won’t keep the camera alive while shooting, just supplement the battery power to ease the load.
If you want to film plugged in, you’ll need to go for a DC connector that plugs into the lockable 2-pin port. This will set you back around $65 (£49), and as we will cover when we talk about battery life, will be a worthwhile investment.
Speaking of optional extras, you can also pick up a mini XLR to XLR adaptor for roughly $30 (£25), which plugs into the mini XLR port to give you audio capabilities usually reserved for pro-grade shooters like the Canon C100.
The two final ports are 3.5mm jacks, one being a mic in and one an audio out, so you can easily monitor levels.
Not quite a port, but the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K also has totally revised on-board mics, and they aren’t terrible – an impressive accolade for any shooter this size, giving you excellent reference audio – though the fan noise can be heard when things heat up.
If the best thing about the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K’s body are the ports, the second best thing has got to be the screen, or is it the other way round?
Clocking in at 5-inches and with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, the LCD display is about as sharp as an iPhone X’s screen and thankfully, it bright too, helping out in sunny conditions.
Bigger than anything you’ll get from a competing device from Canon, Nikon, Panasonic or Sony, for video, it’s a blessing to have a 16:9 aspect ratio display. That it’s so big and optimised for video means you can check your focus with reliable accuracy while simultaneously framing up without black borders, potentially saving you buying a monitor to hook up to it.
We found when we relied on the display exclusively when setting exposure, we had a tendency to overexpose slightly, so if you’re anything like us, underexposing by half a stop should save your highlights.
Despite this, the screen doesn’t look washed out per se and its touch interface is comprehensive and responsive. Sounds good so far, but there is one major drawback – it doesn’t articulate, not even a little.
This definitely feels like the biggest omission here, as with a flip out screen, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K would have been the ultimate advanced YouTube camera. Even for traditional videographers, when hand-holding the camera, there’s a conflict between being able to see the screen and securing the steadiest shooting position possible.
As for the user interface, it’s responsive and highly customizable, giving you a huge amount of control over everything from firing up focus peaking to shutter angle, audio input control, zebra levels, histograms and more. There’s a steep learning curve, especially if you’re coming from a simpler system, but after over a week with the camera, it started to feel more like a Swiss Army Knife and less like a Rubik’s Cube.
For more in-depth information, we’d actually recommend you check out the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K’s picture heavy user guide that deep dives into specifics.
The main topside buttons include a record button and a 4K stills capture button along with quick access to ISO, shutter angle and white balance. Three handy customizable function buttons are also in easy reach as too is the power switch.
On the back, to the right of the screen are other key function buttons, such as Iris, Focus, High Frame Rate, Zoom, Menu and Playback.
The Micro Four Thirds mount system means that the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K supports an excellent range of glass at launch. If you plan on shooting any handheld video, make sure you opt for stabilisation in the lens, as it’s absent from the body, and results should be stunning. We used the 12-35mm lens for the most part, benefiting from the versatility of some zoom coupled with a very helpful wide aperture.
We know, we know, when you’re shooting video, a true professional never uses continuous autofocus. But, we’re not true professional videographers, we’re video journalists and on some occasions, needs must.
In turn, if your needs must rely on continuous autofocus, like us, then the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K won’t deliver that – Canon is still ahead of the pack here.
Despite no continuous autofocus, there is autofocus on board, and it works with either a single tap of the screen, just like a smartphone, or by hitting the focus button on the back of the camera. In good light, it works great, in bad light or when focusing on dark objects, it’s more hit and miss.
What’s also interesting is that the manual electronic focus on MFT lenses requires a very long turn of the focus ring by contrast to, for example, the GH5. It can feel inconsistent and potentially hamper you from getting that pan-focus you want, especially if you’re winging it without any supporting accessories.
With no in-body stabilisation, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K offers a similar proposition to the GH5s, giving videographers maximum control over their set-up. For tripod or gimbal users, this won’t be a problem, but handheld users rocking older glass will definitely want to bear this in mind.
Additionally, there’s no ND filter in the body as found on the likes of the significantly pricier Canon EOS R and C100. This is a big deal for video, owing to the restrictions around manipulating shutter speed, so old school ND filters or a quick swap adaptor for your favourite lenses will be the way to go if you shoot outdoors often.
The Pocket Cinema Camera 4K isn’t the first camera to feature dual native ISO, but it implements the feature to great effect. With native ranges at 400 and 3200, when recording in low light, you’re better off ramping up the ISO to 3200 as opposed to 2400, for example.
This is a double edged sword – on the one hand, it perfectly matches the limits video places on exposure control by contrast to photography. On the other, it means you really need to know your camera to get the most out of it.
Especially in our first few days with the device, after years of shooting on other systems, we found it incredibly counterintuitive to actually bump up the ISO in order to get the better noise handling.
When we remembered though, it worked really well, especially when shooting in ProRes or RAW, as the range in these modes is excellent, giving us tons of room to manoeuvre in post and pull out detail from shadows.
In fact, across the board, video quality was seriously impressive for the price.
4K video was beautifully sharp, but free from visible over-sharpening. With no noticeable artifacting to speak of, the results were amongst the best we’ve seen on any sub-£2,000/$2,000 camera.
We tried shooting RAW and the range of detail we could pull out was even better than ProRes, but the file sizes and additions to processing time meant for our needs, it wasn’t worth it despite the tangible benefits.
The key noticeable difference in our experience was that the RAW video we captured was better at managing the highlights than ProRes, so we ended up exposing down a bit more than we usually would.
Colors are predictably filmic and flat. This means anyone looking for an ‘out of the camera, onto YouTube workflow’, this probably isn’t it, even though you do have a number of recording formats that help out with this. Meanwhile, if you’re looking to flex your post processing muscles and make the footage look exactly like you want it to, you have maximum flexibility.
Using Canon LP-E6 batteries, it shouldn’t be too costly to pick up a few extra for shoots – and boy will you need them. The quoted 50-minutes of battery life out of a single charge was very optimistic, with real world results closer to 35-40 mins.
This isn’t surprising, not only does the Pocket Cinema Camera have a giant screen to power, it’s also got a air vents to keep things cool – and even so, it gets hot.
With such massive power drains, if you’re doing any studio based work, we’d recommend stumping up for a 2-pin DC connector. As for on location shoots, packing in excess of ten batteries wouldn’t be a bad idea.
In addition, and probably the most unforgivable thing about the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K – it can die without warning. You can be on a shoot, happily filming with what looks like a quarter of the battery meter full, only to have the camera power down and take the footage you were capturing with it. This should be addressable in a software update, and we really hope Blackmagic is able to do something about it.
Another consideration, especially for anyone coming from systems with more aggressive compression like Canon’s photography line is storage. We were lucky enough to be using lighting fast, very attractive Angelbird storage in the form of a 256GB CFast card, a 64GB SD card and a 512GB SSD for USB-C recording, and it worked flawlessly with the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, making short work of getting the files off the camera and onto a computer.
All that kit costs around $1,035 ($800), a reasonable amount for a pro or even an enthusiast, but not for someone on a budget.
With 4K CinemaDNG RAW recording at 272 MB/s and ProRes 422HQ recording at 117.88MB/s, you will want a lot of storage media, even for short projects. Getting specific, a 256GB card will capture 14 minutes of 30fps raw footage.
What’s unique about Blackmagic is that the company makes hardware and industry recognised video editing software, with DaVinci Resolve, an industry favourite tool delivering an experience that rivals Premiere Pro, and beats it for many filmmakers.
Shipping with a license for DaVinci Resolve Studio, a $299 (£239) piece of software that gives you 4K editing makes the Pocket Cinema Camera incredibly appealing to amateur enthusiasts and first time film camera buyers.
That means that if you have a computer, a lens and storage media, you can pick up the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and not have to spend a penny more to get creating stunning 4K content – that’s really unique to this product, democratising pro-grade video like never before.
There’s no getting around it, the BlackMagic Pocket Cinema camera isn’t perfect – it doesn’t have an articulating screen, the battery meter isn’t always reliable and battery life isn’t great generally. While that all matters though, it’s also very easy to cut it a lot of slack.
The value for money this film camera delivers is unrivalled. Despite not articulating, the huge 16:9 screen puts it head and shoulders above other MFT shooters from a video-centric operational point of view. The range of connections on-board is also class-leading, and the fact there’s a dual card slot trumps much pricier cameras like the EOS R.
With the UI being so film-focused, an excellent selection of glass available from launch, decent on-board audio recording capabilities and of course, the sweetener to the tune of $299 worth of software – a license for DaVinci Resolve Studio, it really is a gift that keeps on giving.
Finally, and most importantly, the fundamental quality of its 4K video takes on much pricier cameras and, when you know how to work it, handles noise better than some full frame sensors too, thanks to its the dual native ISOs.
So, without being an apologist for its flaws, they are overshadowed by more pros than we would ever have expected from a $1,295 / £1,034 pro-grade film camera.