Monitor – A Swedish Review of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Searching for well graded Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera footage, I stumbled upon a Swedish test and review of the camera. It was originally written and made for the Swedish trade journal Monitor Sverige, published for professionals in broadcast, movies, sound and light, its November 2013 issue. To my knowledge, this is the only review of the BMPCC from my native country. Therefore I think it could be interesting to summarise the review for my English readers, an article that has been published in Swedish on-line. The author Peter Östlund is working professionally with documentaries and narratives, and has had much previous experience with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, reminiscing how the launch of that revolutionary and affordable camera was like dropping a bomb shell in the camera manufacturing community. While being on a shoot in Kongo he purchased the BMPCC to be able to take footage unnoticed from government officials and to make the rig as lightweight as possible, to create a probing intimacy with the subjects during extended interviews. Getting his hands on the camera for the first time, he was struck with just how small and compact its design is, as it was entirely cast in metal. He appreciates the rubber coating which glues the hand to the camera body. With the Lumix 14 mm pancake, it literarily fits into the pocket. He notes, however, that this is as much as a curse as it is a blessing, as the lack of mass translates and augments microshakes to a lens without any image stabilisation; his solution is to add components to the camera with a broader grip, such as a monitor attached to a magic arm onto the bottom of the camera. He recognises his old BMCC in the menus, functions and operation of the BMPCC, but misses the touch screen of its big brother, having to navigate through the menus using the five navigation buttons and pressing each letter and setting, one at a time. This prevents him from typing long words and sentences in the metadata menu. It has to be remembered that the camera Östlund reviews only had the 1.41 firmware update; it could only shoot using the Apples ProRes (HQ) professional codec, and he laments the lack of CinemaDNG RAW which attracted him to the BMPCC, but still appreciates the Log profile of ProRes. The camera also lacked on screen information of remaining recording time, couldn’t format SD cards in camera (which he didn’t find to be problematic, rather “cinematic”, preventing accidental erasure), and had no audio meters. Image wise, Blackmagic Design hadn’t had the time yet to solve the notorious “black sun” and blooming artefacts. Througout the review, although noting this deficiency, he is assured that Blackmagic Design would add all of these features in a later firmware update, which they did eventually.

monitor-2013-11
The cover of the November 2013 issue of ‘Monitor Sverige’

Comparing the BMPCC with his BMCC Östlund notes that the former records in 1920 x 1080 full HD, the sensor approximating a Super 16 size, compared to the 2432 x 1366 2.5K of the latter (which gives a good margin in delivering HD material), that the connections have been shrinked to 3.5 mini-jacks, that the AC power feed uses the scarce 2.3 mm standard, and that the SDI has been replaced with the fragile micro-HDMI. He notes that one of his micro-HDMI cables has a loose connection and that the other one isn’t fitting all the way in (it extends almost two mm from the body). He also lacks the Thunderbolt connection but notes that the BMPCC has a LANC capacity. Östlund writes off the sound capacity of the BMPCC to only being capable of taking reference audio. He appreciates the removable and recharable EN-EL20 battery, though, and notes that its 800 mAh capacity is enough for almost one hour, and that 1800 mAh will extend the recording time further (it has to be remembered that he only had experience of shooting with ProRes at the time of writing). Testing the auto iris and auto focus features of the BMPCC (which is wanting on the BMCC, as it lacks the active mount), he notes that the auto iris works instantaneous and not continuous, adapting the iris to the subject’s reflection only while pressing the iris button. Autofocus works in the same manner, he notes, setting focus according to a square in the middle of the screen, with no follow focus function; he expresses his dissatisfaction that it takes the camera to long to find focus (I believe that this has been remedied somewhat with later firmware upgrades). He appreciates the focus peaking and 1:1 pixel zoom features though. Interestingly enough, Östlund notes that auto exposure works differently depending if the camera is set to Video or Film with ProRes; if set to Video mode, auto iris measures reflected exposure according to the luminance average of the image, whereas when set to Film mode it measures exposure from the brightest part of the image. There are pros and cons with both, he notes, as it is easier to overexpose in Video mode if the majority of the image is dark; shooting Film gives you better control but any bright reflection somewhere in the image may underexpose the image instead. Östlund expresses interesting views, regarding the required 64GB Extreme Pro SanDisk 95 Mbit/sec SDHC or SDXC flash memory cards, that are filled after half an hour of shooting ProRes material, that these should be treated as raw film stock, i.e. only used once and filed, using virgin cards for each roll of film, instead of being reformatted. It is obvious, reading his review, that he regards Blackmagic Design cameras to be digital film cameras, being the closest tings to a celluloid film camera. What follows is Östlunds production footage, shot in ProRes HQ with a Lumix 2.5 14mm and a Voigtländer f/0.95 Nokton 25 mm.

Although Östlund somewhat expresses his frustration that his BMCC has a Canon EF mount, and his BMPCC a Micro Four Thirds mount, he also notes that the short flange distance of the MFT makes the BMPCC compatible with most lenses using other mount systems, with or without the use of adapters, also professional vintage Super 16 lenses using the PL mount standard. He also hails the fact that the BMPCC sports a active MFT mount that may control the electronic iris and focus features of MFT lenses, such as the Panasonic Lumix G 2.5 14mm ASPH prime lens used in the test. Black hole sun and blooming aside (remember that the camera doesn’t behave in such a manner anymore), the test footage present beautiful images, especially during the first half of the movie, with rich and saturated colours that never look exaggerated, but organic and natural. All shots are taken with the native ISO 800 and shutter set to angle 180°, with the exception of the low light test (starting at 3:15) where the shutter has been fully opened to 360° and ISO been raised to the maximum 1600 (starting at 3:45). Even though the low light footage looks more video compared to the rest of the footage, it still presents quite impressing low light capacity which can be extracted from the camera when needed. Östlunds conclusion is that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has a price that may be compared to a compact camera but with features that has raised the stakes and made it possible to shoot film in a unique way. He rests assured that when Blackmagic Design has sorted out all of the teething problems with the BMPCC, we will have a tool at our disposal that will radically change the view on how to shoot high quality film. Östlund himself will use it as a B-camera, supplementing the BMCC A-camera. The fact that it looks like an amateure stills camera will provide him with new possibilities to shoot on locations and situations that he has never been able to before. It will require a radical change of mindset, Östlund ponders, with new modes and fresh concepts, to be able to utilise the BMPCC to its full potential, like any Super 16 film camera. He sees that the BMPCC will find a role in the arsenal of professionals as a B-camera, mounted to vehicles, tight spots, upon a boom, and similar situations. With its high image quality, it is ideal for travel features, as you only have to pick it up from your pocket to record in broadcast quality. Time has showed that Östlund was right.

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