If you’re planning to make your masterpiece on a low budget, and have read great things about the Blackmagic Pocket Camera, you’ll probably want validation that it is better at video than any other sub-$1,000 camera in the market.
The king of that price point is the phenomenal Panasonic GH3, which came second in my estimation of the best DSLR for video, behind the Canon 5D Mark III.
The Blackmagic Pocket Camera has to earn its crown, so let’s do a fun comparison to see which one comes out better for real-world, practical filmmaking.
Let’s start with the camera bodies:
|Price of Camera body||$995||$998|
|Included Accessories||Wrist strap, Turret Dust Cap, 12V AC Adapter, EN-EL20 Lithium Ion Removable /Rechargeable Battery||Battery pack, Battery Charger with AC Cable, Body Cap, USB Cable, Shoulder Strap|
|Lens Mount||Active Micro Four Thirds|
Same price. Almost the same stuff is included in both packages. Same active mount, which means you can use the same lenses and adapters, except for the difference in crop factors and angles of view.
As far as this section goes, it’s a tie. Hence the comparison!
Comparison of sensors
The Panasonic GH3 has a larger sensor:
|Sensor||12.48mm x 7.02mm||17.3mm x 13 mm|
|Horizontal Crop Factor based on FF 35mm||2.88||2|
|Required lens resolution||150 lpmm||110 lpmm|
|Maximum Resolution||1920 x 1080|
The difference is proportionately similar to the difference between FF 35mm and APS-C or Super 35mm – it’s not insignificant.
I have to give this section to the GH3, simply because the smaller crop factor gives it better wide angle ability. You also get easier ‘shallow’ DOF – somewhat. And, better ISO performance combined with a larger sensor means better low-light performance.
There’s another ‘problem’: the low height of the Blackmagic Pocket Camera makes it tough for lenses to fit within the camera and the lower base plate, which means you’ll need a riser with bigger lenses.
Comparison of video features
Here is the first big difference between the two:
|Frame rates at max. resolution||23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p||23.98p, PAL (25p, 50p), NTSC (29.97p, 59.94p)|
|Claimed Dynamic Range||13 stops in RAW||10.5 stops|
|Recording Format/Codec||Lossless CinemaDNG RAW and Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) at 1920 x 1080||Interframe H.26 (IPB) 4, Intraframe H.264 (All-I)|
|Data rate||RAW (75 MB/s*), 220 Mbps for Prores HQ||50 Mbps for IPB at 60p, and 72 Mbps for All-I at 30p|
|HDMI Output||10-bit 4:2:2||8-bit 4:2:0|
|HDMI Connector||Type D||Type C|
*Assumed, at 2:1 compression. The data rate has to fit within commonly available SDXC card speeds.
If you’re looking at frame rate options, the GH3 can do 60p (or 50p). The Pocket Camera can only do up to 30p.
As far as dynamic range is concerned, the Pocket Camera in Prores mode probably trumps the GH3 in All-I mode. Let’s look a few videos to make sure:
The dynamic range advantage of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera in both Prores and RAW modes is clearly visible. And, as the following video shows, the BMCC and the Pocket Camera are very close in performance:
The HDMI out on the Pocket Camera is a very respectable 10-bit 4:2:2, which you can record as uncompressed HD should you wish. The GH3 is in a different league here (and not in a good way). However, the GH3 produces excellent video quality (some say it is almost film-like as long as you stay within the dynamic range limits of the sensor):
The additional data rate and better codec (as an acquisition codec Prores and CinemaDNG are both stellar) might be acceptable if your focus is on ultimate quality and if you are prepared for the data rate in post production.
Many don’t need the post production ‘headaches’ associated with large files, and would prefer the Interframe or Intraframe codec from the GH3. How does this affect media requirements?
To put it simply, the media cost for the Pocket Camera is going to be at least three times that of the GH3, if you shoot in Prores. If you’re shooting RAW, it might as well be eight times!
If the cost of media is eating at your wallet, and you can’t live without 60p, then the Panasonic GH3 might be right for you.
For everyone else, I believe the Pocket Camera knocks the GH3 out of the park in terms of overall video quality.
Comparison of audio features
Here’s a look at the audio features:
|3.5mm TRS headphone jack||1||1|
|Microphone inputs||3.5mm analog stereo||3.5mm stereo|
|Audio Specs||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit||LPCM/Dolby Digital AC-3 16-bit 48 KHz, 2 channels|
The Pocket Camera is seriously limited without any audio levels control, regardless of what else it has. The GH3 provides better audio, but only because it has levels.
Generally, though, I wouldn’t use either camera for audio recording without an external mixer and/or recorder.
This one goes to the GH3.
Comparison of miscellaneous features
Of course, there is much more to a camera than its audio and video features. Here are a few important things that affect usage:
|USB||2.0 Mini-B||2.0 Mini-B|
|LCD Monitor||3.5? (1,152K dots)||3″ (610K dots)|
|LANC inputs||2.5mm LANC for Rec Start/Stop, Iris Control and Focus||No|
|Battery life||1 hour||2.5 hours|
|Still image shooting||No, max 2 MP RAW||Yes, 16 MP RAW|
|Dimensions||128 x 66 x 38 mm||132.1 x 94.0 x 81.3 mm|
|Weight with card and battery||415g||550g|
The GH3 is the larger camera, but surprisingly not a lot heavier!
The Pocket Camera has a better LCD screen and a LANC port. These are important features for some.
On the other hand, the battery life is poor to say the least. It has no viewfinder and cannot shoot stills. The GH3 is primarily a stills camera, and it is fully weather sealed – and it has better battery life.
However, the EVF on the GH3 is unlikely to be used for video. The stills feature is good, but not necessary. The weather-sealing is a big one though.
No winner here, because these are totally project-related features – all having utility at some point.
Which is cheaper to own?
The important thing to notice is that the Pocket Camera is more expensive to own:
- It needs 3 times the media.
- It needs 2 times the batteries.
- It needs an audio recorder.
- For wider angles, it will benefit from a Metabones Speed Booster.
It’s hard to quantify the costs directly, but it’s not hard to see that lenses aside, the cost will be at least twice as much as a GH3.
The cost of the body is actually a red herring. The Pocket Camera is definitely going to be more expensive to run on a professional shoot.
The GH3 is the cheaper camera.
Who wins? Here’s a recap:
|Sensor size and ISO||GH3|
Oops! The GH3 is more camera than the Blackmagic Pocket Camera will ever be, even in RAW mode. But, the Pocket Camera has RAW mode and 10-bit 4:2:2 video. That’s what filmmakers care about first and foremost.
Don’t agree? Think about it in this way: If you wanted to add any functionality from the GH3 to a Pocket Camera production (except for shooting 16 MP stills), you can, as long as you are ready to pay extra for accessories. On the other hand, the GH3 can never shoot RAW or even Prores, even if you were willing to pay for the privilege.
That settles it. The Pocket Camera is the better tool for filmmakers looking for the best quality for their money. But they better account for that much more money.