The Dark Lord has arrived – My first impressions of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Our Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera (a.k.a. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, or BMPCC) has finally arrived after a long journey across the South of Sweden. The last days prior to the arrival I felt a disturbance in the Force; I sensed it was close – the pull towards the Dark Side of the Force felt stronger; that ol’ Blackmagic was working on me! Looking at the box, it gives an impression of high quality. On the front it says: Micro Four Thirds, a reference to the lens mount, being a active MFT meaning that it may electronically control the iris and apterture of the lens, as well as providing iOS stabilisation, on those lenses that support these features; Super 16 Digital Film Sensor being a 12.48mm x 7.02mm sized Fairchild Imaging CIS1910 sCMOS combining the best of analogue CCD and digital CMOS technology resulting in high dynamic range, good light sensitivity and low video noise; 1080Record Full HD in 1920 x 1080 resolution; Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) with 12 stops of dynamic range and 10 bit 4:2:2 colour space compression; Lossless CinemaDNG RAW with 13 stops of dynamic range and 12 bit 4:4:4 colour space “lossless” compression, that is, zero loss of detail but only mild compression with about 35% file size reduction for very blurry / underexposed / overexposed images ranging to around 25% file size reduction for well focused, well exposed, detailed images; SDXC Recorder that saves the RAW or ProRes HQ files into high quality fast SD flash memory cards.

pmpcc-box
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera boxed and sealed

On its back and sides the black box further boasts the following impressive “features of a professional digital cinema camera in an incredibly small size …solid magnesium chassis”: Removable and Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery, or the EN-EL20 developed for Nikon cameras; a 1/4″ Mounting Thread, which is a standard mount for tripods and accessories; a High Resolution 3.5″ Monitor with a 800 x 480 LCD that monitors the shot as well as reviewing it in play back using buttons on the top of the chassis, displaying camera status on screen, with a focus button that makes focus pulling easier with a 1:1 zoom function, as well as a Menu Button for fast access to menue for camera settings; Professional Connections on the side of the chassis providing uncompressed 10 bit “micro HDMI out with optional overlays for easy on set monitoring, LANC remote control, mini jack microphone input that’s compatible with AV microphones, plus a mini jack headphone socket for audio monitoring…” of 48kHz 24 bit uncompressed audio recording, and 12V DC input. We are told that the MFT lens mount combined with the Super 16 size sensor “lets you use lens adapters for virtually any lens mount available such as PL mount Super 16 cinema lenses!” Amature home video makers beware!

Opening the lid of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera box
Breaking the seal and opening the lid of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera box

The entire package feels quite light weighted and for a while I doubted that there was any camera present inside the larger postal cardboard box that protected the shipment. Inside the black box we find a large booklet under the flap or lid which hides the camera chassis with an attached mount cap, a international power supply adapter unit with four different AC connector adapters, a simple wrist strap and one rechargeable Li-Ion EN-EL20 battery stamped with the Blackmagic Design (BMD) brand (the high quality battery is supposedly manufactured by Blackmagic Design itself). Everything inside the black box feels securely packeted in a plastic compartmentalised form, although it isn’t water proof and the thin cardboard box hardly can be called shock proof either. However, until I have bought myself a dedicated shock and water proof case I will store the chassis and its attached accessories inside the black box. Such a purchase is a must considering the magnitute of the feautures and build quality of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, to be able to work and shoot with it in field conditions and protecting it from shocks and the elements while not in use.

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Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera software and manuals booklet

Opening the booklet one finds a personal and enthusiastic greeting from Grant Petty, the CEO of Blackmagic Design. Comparing my package to early footage of unpacking the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Pocket it seems as if Blackmagic Design has upgraded the booklet. Its emphasis now lies in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, the colour grading and editing software which now is included with a free downloadable program and manual captured on a second SD card; the first SD card (as seen in older upacking videos) contains some software and a manual for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. The back of the booklet contains some brief information concerning the main features of DaVinci Resolve, such as advanced nonlinear editing of RAW video and audio, colour correction, media management, and multi format delivery of the rendered result. The entire package, the black box, the booklet, the items contained therein, gives the impression of a high quality product. In particular the camera body or chassis itself has the feel of a very high build quality. To protect the chassis while lying in its compartment, the entire back of the body and its LCD screen is covered with a piece of transparent plastic sheet which is easily removable.

BMPCC Protective Back Cove, Active MFT Mount & Sensorr
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera protective plastic back cover, active MFT mount & Super 16 sCMOS sensor

Picking up the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera chassis it feels light and weighty at the same time. It is really small in size (128 × 66 × 38 mm), hence its designation “Pocket Cinema Camera”, but feels quite ergonomic in the grip which carries and protects the battery terminal. The front of the chassis is covered with a smoth rubber coating which feels really comfortable in the hand. The top, bottom and left side (which contains the connections) looks like aluminium but the entire chassis is supposed to be manufactured from a magnesium alloy; the top and bottom is each equipped with a 1/4″ mounting point that feels robust. The flapping lid of the battery terminal on the bottom of the camera is made of plastic tough and it’s a bit difficult to construe the material of the black back of the chassis, it might be of some light metal or heavy plastic, it’s hard to tell. The LCD monitor is of course plastic. But the chassis feels as it has been hewn from a rock; the lens mount seems to be grown out of the metal chassis, feeling extremly stable.  The lens is easily mounted to the body by joining the red dot on the lens to the red dot on the mount, and easily snaps to place screwing it less than a quarter turn. The MFT mount is released with a big button and screwed out in reverse order; very ergonomic and practical in field conditions.

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Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera battery terminal with SD-slot and USB Mini-B port

The battery terminal is easily opened by pushing a button to the centre on the lid; to close it you have to manually push it back to the side. The EN-EL20 battery is easily inserted to the terminal and snaps into place; to release it one simply pushes a small orange lock to the side. There are two arrays of buttons on the camera body, four on the top for play back of recorded material (play, forward and reverse, as well as start/stop button) and nine at the back (four directional buttons and one “ok” button, as well as iris, focus, menu and power buttons). These plastic buttons are quite small and may pose a problem for some but for me they work ok as my fingers are moderately thin; I seldom hit the wrong button. But after a while, putting in meta data or or other types of writing, the fingers tend to get a bit sour; while the buttons on the back are rounded and quite comfortable the ones on the top are edgy and flat, and a bit shallow. In darkness it is difficult to orient where to find each button but after a while you get the sense to find them with some effort; the on/off button has been depressed to prevent a accidental turning off of the camera. The left side of the chassis sports the five ports, in descending order: LANC for remote control, mini jack headphone socket for audio output, mini jack microphone for audio input, micro HDMI type D output, and 12V DC power input. These are referred to as “professional” by Blackmagic Design but are not of SDI or XLR standard; audio connections are 3.5 mm, LANC is 2.5 mm and DC 0.7 mm; the last one charges the battery while in the terminal. One push on the power button boots up the camera in less than five seconds; a long push shuts down the camera.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Buttons and Connections
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Buttons and Connections

The menue button opens up the operating software interface. After fiddling around with the menus, I must say that I love the simplicity of the camera and its functions; one learns all of its features in less than half an hour. One push to the menu button gets you to the dashboard from which you may navigate to Metadata, Settings, Format Card, Focus Peaking, Meters and Frame Guides. Focus Peaking is a function where edges in focus are highlighted with light blue, which aids in focus pulling (a very handy feature); this is accessible also trough one single push on the focus button on the back of the camera. But it’s a good feature to be able to look on the dashboard if Focus Peaking is activated, as it is easy to forget if it was activated or not, as the blue highlights sometimes are somewhat hard to spot immediately; I found myself toggling back and forth on the focus button on several occasions. Meters activates a small section on the bottom of the monitor with video histagrams showing blacks, whites and greyscales, whereas the VU meter monitors audio levels with greens, yellows and reds, yellows being the recommended audio level; these are also activated through pushing the “up” button and deactivated throgh the “down” button on the back of the camera. Format Card takes you to a submenu where you may choose to format the SD card between HFS+ (optimised for Apple computers) and exFAT (optimised for Windows); formatting is recommended on camera and is only a matter of seconds. Frame Guides activates the different aspect ratios for the monitor available in the Display submenu.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Dashboard and Card Formatting
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Dashboard and Card Formatting Menu

Navigating and chosing parameters is always done with the directional buttons and pressing “ok”. Chosing the Settings icon you enter the main interface of the camera which divides into four submenus: Camera, Audio, Recording and Display. Pressing the Menu button prolonged gets you into Settings submenu bypassing the Dashboard. Entering Camera you may choose the Camera ID (which shows in the file names); I changed my from “Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera” to the more handable “BMPCC”. Next you set the Date and Time (the time is thankfully standardised to the 24 hour format). ISO (they have removed the earlier reference to “ASA” at Blackmagic Design to prevent confusion, although they are equivalent standards) is set to 200, 400, 800 and 1600 intervals, which is quite limited compared to most DSLR’s; the BMPCC is optimised for ISO 800. White Balance has a wide range (with small increments) of 2500, 2800, 3000, 3200, 3400, 3600, 4000, 4500, 4800, 5000, 5200, 5400, 5600, 6000, 6500, 7000, 7500, and 8000K, which is good enough for most situations. Shutter Angle is set with intervals of 11.25º, 16º, 22.5º, 30º, 37.5º, 45º, 60º, 72º, 75º, 90º, 108º, 120º, 144º, 150º, 172.8º, 180º, 216º, 270º, 324º, and 360º; the 180º is set by default. As I don’t have any external microphone I have not paid any attention to the Audio submenu, so I will leave it be for now without changing any settings.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera settings for Camera and Audio
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera settings for Camera and Audio

Entering the Recording submenu the different settings for the recording format are adjusted. The Recording Format toggles between RAW (CinemaDNG), ProRes (422) HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes LT, and ProRes Proxy. Dynamic Range is set between Film and Video (Rec. 709) mode; CinemaDNG RAW is only available for Film, while all other codecs are open for both. Frame Rates toggles between 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 or 30 fps; if you want to shoot film, 24 fps is the only viable alternative, the others being adapted for television. Obviously, there is no slow motion features on the camera, which is a shame considering that the Fairchild Imaging CIS1910 sCMOS handles very high frame rates. (Interestingly enough, the new Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera, which shares the same sensor, may record in 50, 59.94 or 60 fps; I hope that a future firmware upgrade will include this feature as well for the BMPCC.) In Time Lapse Interval mode you can set the camera to take a still frame every 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th frame for each of the set Frame Rates above, creating a speeded up effect with actual frame rates of 12, 8, 6, 4.8, 4, 3.43, 3, 2.67 or 2.4 fps if the camera is set for 24 fps recording. Alternatively, the Time Lapse Interval may be set to one still frame taken every 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 seconds, or every 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 minutes. This time lapse feature is one of the strong points of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which I personally enjoy much.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Recording and Display Settings
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Recording and Display Settings

Moving on to the Display submenu one has access to different settings that governs the monitor on the back of the chassis, or an external monitor; no settings in this submenu affects the actual recorded image. Dynamic range may be set between Video or Film; many (me included) set it to Video to get a approximation of the final result after grading. Brightness is set between 0 and 100%; great brightness of course eats battery power but may be necessary in outdoors shooting. Zebra is a (great) feature which highlights overexposed areas of the picture with vertical stripes, and may be set with 75, 80, 85, 90, 95 and 100% increments; I use the maximum setting. Language toggles between English, Chinese (Mandarin?) and Japanese. Frame Guides may be set between HDTV (16:9), 4:3, 2.40:1, 2.39:1, 2.35:1 and 1.85:1; this is a good feature if you have 16 mm lenses that crop the corners, in which you may crop the picture to mask the lens cropping or/and get that cinematic look, and given the high sharpness quality of RAW this doesn’t affect the resolution noticable. Guide Opacity affects if the cropping (the black bars) are black or translucent, and to which degree, set for 25, 50, 75 and 100% (the last being non-transparent black). However, the dashboard icon Frame Guides must be activated (highlighted) for this feature to work properly; you may easily activate or deactivate this feature for your favorite aspect ratio (mine is 2.39:1).

BMPCC Frame Guides; note that the one for 16:9 actually exhibits
BMPCC Frame Guides (not in exact scale); note that the one for 16:9 actually exhibits “Thirds” which are not visable in HDTV mode

HDMI Overlay only affects the external monitor connected to the HDMI port and may be set to Off (showing a clean picture) or All (showing all previous Display settings), or if preferred only the Status bar (on top of the picture) or Guides (i.e. aspect ratios). LCD Overlay sets the Display settings on the onboard screen On or Off; this means that you may have different settings visable on the camera monitor and the external display. This is a very usable feature; the ting is that there is a final setting to Frame Guides, Thirds, which creates bars to divide the frame into nine areas for optimal composition, and I personally will probably perfer frames on the onboard monitor and aspect ratios on a external in the future. All of this makes it abundantly clear that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is a professional cinema camera, not a consumer camera. Pushing Metadata on the dashboard gives you the opportunity to enter important information concerning your project which will be visable in the editing software, such as naming your project, identifying the Reel, Scene, Shot, Take and Angle. Each clip has its own metadata file which also may be entered when pressing “Ok” while watching play back, with the possibilty to auto-increment these numbers which adds them up in the next clip. However, metadata may not be entered into a timelapse sequence; this may be remedied by taking a quick shot before the actual timelapse, naming the project and entering any data into that clip.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Metadata and Keyboard
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Metadata and Keyboard

Each time you enter Metadata all of the entries are factory preset with a project, which has to be deleted using the keyboard, which is a bit irritating. However, this may be remedied by entering your own metadata before staring to shoot your first clip on a new SDXC card, in which all of that data will be transfered to each clip with minimal need of changing data, if the requirenments stay the same through the shots. The odd thing is that when I switched over to my second SDXC flashcard (after filling up the first with footage), entering metadata all the numbers were set by tens instead of units as with the first flashcard; with a third flascard inserted, these are numbered “20”. Although entering metadata can be really daunting, considering the primitive way that you have to press each key using directional buttons on a digital keyboard, the function itself excludes the camera from the amature segment. Attached to a mount, working yourself in and out of the menus to adjust settings doesn’t seem to affect a static camera setting. The buttons don’t need any force to activate; not even changing the SD card seems to affect the position of the camera. The bypass to camera Settings is a great feature in this regard; it’s also good that the camera returns to the same submenu pressing the menu button on and off, minimizing the actual amount of pressings. However, putting in metadata to a project scene in between takes would probably make visable changes to a static camera mount. But the small size and the battery terminal grip really makes pressing buttons quite comfortable, holding the chassis in the hand without the lens or any other accessories. All in all, the program inteface of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is intuitive and easy to understand, presenting all of the vital information and control over the camera and recording in an instant.

bmpcc-status-bar-histogram-and-audio-meter
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Status Strip and On Screen Meters

The Status Strip is always visable on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera monitor for vital information, along the top of the screen. From left to right, the following information is presented: Recording status may state either “No Card” (in orange), “Ready” (in blue) or “Card Full” (in orange) regarding the SDXC flashcard, or display a Red Icon (a red dot) when recording (which flashes if dropped frames are detected) or Playback mode (a blue arrow„„). A time code with all necessary information of the duration of clips, down to each frame, during recording and playback. Recording format, such as RAW, ProRes HQ, etc. Resolution and preset frames per second. F-stop (only on lenses that support the MFT active mount) which my current configuration don’t support. The ISO setting, 200-1600. The White Balance setting in Kelvin, 2500-8000K. Battery status in accurate precentage increments. On the bottom of the display is presented the following on-screen meters: Video histograms, showing levels from blacks (left) to whites (right), and greys in between. Time remaining on the SDXC card in hours and seconds, which turns from white to red when there is 5 minutes remaining and blink when there is 2 minutes left of footage on the card. Audio meters with peak control, displayed in greens (low), oranges (optimal) and reds (to high). The data contained on the screen is more than adequate to keep track of vital camera and recording information, without getting in the way and distracting (the bottom strip is removable and the top is very small).

Spare EN-EL20 batteries and charger
Spare EN-EL20 batteries and charger

Considering the notorious reputation that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has gained regarding battery life and consumption of SD flashcards, especially when shooting RAW, I purchased two cheap no name spare EN-EL20 batteries and a no name charger, as well as two 64 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/s SDXC flashcards. I chose the 64 GB flashcard as it is reportable more optimized for RAW compared to 128 GB. Compared to the Blackmagic battery, which has a 800mAh (Milliampere hours), the no-name batterybmpcc-en-el20-battery sports 1020 mAh which should provide longer battery life on paper (however, these figures are not always honest regarding the actual capacity of a battery). I must say that the early reports are a bit exaggerated; however, I have no prior experience of DSLR shooting to compare with. I have done two shoots with the camera, using up both of my flashcards. Both 64 GB cards take apporoximately 20 minutes (19-22 minutes to be exact) to fill up RAW footage. Each time one battery spend somewhat 80% of its battery life; I never had to change my batteries (BMD 800mAh) before the flashcard was spent. However, I rutinely turned off the camera in between takes when not setting sharpness, aperture, zoom, and composing the picture; this is a suggested procedure that works effortlessly considering the fast booting procedure of the camera. In short, there is a approximate 1:1 ratio between flashcard and battery life; changing the card corresponds to changing the battery if shooting RAW. I haven’t shot any ProRes footage yet to make any comparison but it purpotedly accepts storage capacies beyond 64 GB, optimized for 128 GB, which on paper should offer more than twice as much storage time making change of batteries a necessity halfway through the flashcard. My ambition, however, is to shoot RAW as much as I can, and only ProRes 422 HQ for certain occations.

The SanDisk Extreme Pro 95 Mbs, 64 Gb storage
The SanDisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/s with 64 GB storage capacity optimised for CinemaDNG RAW

After 10 minutes or so of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera powered up, the camera body starts to feel distinctly warm. Not hot, but pleasently warm which is quite comfortable for the hand and probably may come handy in colder situations if holding to the battery terminal grip. However, being out when the temperature is below 10º Celsius seems to cool off the chassis as the warmth is hardly discernable. The international power supply adapter really comes handy when working with the camera indoors, such as entering metadata, looking through footage, setting the camera, etc. I figure that the power supply adapter really is indespensable when doing time lapses, as those can take several hours to complete which would have made battery replacement necessary, as the camera has to be powered up during the entire time lapse; after starting up the camera and just navigating through the menus, the battery status reads below 90% only after a few minutes. I wish however that the connector jack of the power supply cable didn’t stick out in such a straight way as it does, making it vurnable for shock; making the connector 90º would be better. However, this is a domestic power supply, not for field use, and in the future I will invest in a external power supply mounted onto a camera rig, with the proper and safe connections. In the mean time, it’s a good thing that my no-name charger is provided witch a car charger adapter so that I may have one of my spare batteries charging up in the car while shooting footage.

bmpcc-power-adapter
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera International Power Supply Adapter

The wrist strap that follows with the purchase and is stored in the black box is a nice feature, had it been easier to attach to the chassis. I tried for at least half an hour to loop the string of the strap into the ring of the camera body to no avail. So I have left the wrist strap unused for now. But to be honest, it makes the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera a bit more consumer friendly/oriented and when it’s time for a dedicated cage for the camera it will become reduntant anyway. The two SD flashcards that are appended to the booklet contain all the necessary manuals and software for the camera and postproduction. The Sofware and Manual SD card has the following contents: Blackmagic Camera Manual (a common manual for the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Production Camera 4K), Blackmagic Production Camera Manual (a common manual for the Studio Camera and Micro Studio Camera 4K), and Blackmagic URSA & URSA Mini Manual. It also contains the Blackmagic Camera Setup sofware for installment used for firmware updates; these are first downloaded into the computer hard drive from the Blackmagic Design webpage and then transferred through USB cable to the BMPCC. There hasn’t been any more firmware updates since 19 March 2015, with the Blackmagic Camera 2.1 update that added new Blackmagic Camera Setup software, support for more frame guide options, Japanese and Chinese language menu support, and the feature that holding down MENU will bypass Dashboard and go straight into settings, as well as peaking state being remembered after power cycle. This is the current firmware that my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera holds on delivery.

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The BMPCC with Power Supply, EN-EL20 Battery, Wrist Strap, and sofware and manuals for the camera and DaVinci Resolve

The DaVinci Resolve Sofware and Manual SD card contains the following: The DaVinci Resolve 12.2 software for installment, Resolve 12 Manual, a directory of Sample Clips containing a Chart and Houses, as well as a Tutorial Clips subdirectory that contains tutorials on Curves, Primary, Secondary, Sizing, Tracking and a Tutorial for Resolve. There is currently a Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5 version for download on the Blackmagic Design webpage as well as the current 12.5 version of the corresponding manual from 2016, making the DaVinci Resolve 12.2 software and manual from 2015 as contained in the SD card reduntant. Again I must reiterate that the Blackmagic Design folk have done the filmmaker’s community a great service presenting a freeware version of their professional grading and editing software as a companion to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. However, as the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera comes without a lens, one must either be bought in tandem with the camera or one’s own lenses be reused buying lens adapters; the camera is of no use without one. I have opted for the latter solution, at least for now, putting the Zenit Meteor 5-1 f/1.9 17-69 mm lens to the test. I have scrambled the Russian lens from my Krasnogorsk-3 16 mm camera, using a mount adapter from RafCamera, as well as the attached K-3 handle and shoulder support when shooting RAW during the past week since I received the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. I will return soon to the topic of using my Russian glass and gear with the BMPCC in a future post.

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6 thoughts on “The Dark Lord has arrived – My first impressions of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

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