This article will look at some of the important quirks and features of theBlackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K.
Video Record Modes
There’s a lot of confusion about the codecs, data rates and compression levels. Here’s the complete table:
Tip: Start with the resolution you want. Then work your way to ‘Frame rates’ and choose the frame rate you want. Finally, select from one of the ‘Data Rates’. If it’s not 30p, then use the multiplication factor to get the approximate data rate for the frame rate you want. That’s it!
|Data and Color|
|Resolution||Codec^||Data Rate (MB/s) at 30p/29.97p*||Storage for 1 hour of data (GB)*||Color|
|4096 x 2160||CinemaDNG RAW||272||956||12-bit RAW|
|CinemaDNG RAW 3:1||129||454||12-bit RAW|
|CinemaDNG RAW 4:1||97||341||12-bit RAW|
|ProRes 422 HQ||118||415||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422||79||278||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422 LT||55||193||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422 Proxy||25||88||10-bit 4:2:2|
|3840×2160||CinemaDNG RAW||255||896||12-bit RAW|
|CinemaDNG RAW 3:1||122||429||12-bit RAW|
|CinemaDNG RAW 4:1||92||323||12-bit RAW|
|ProRes 422 HQ||110||387||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422||74||260||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422 LT||51||179||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422 Proxy||23||81||10-bit 4:2:2|
|1920×1080||CinemaDNG RAW||66||232||12-bit RAW|
|CinemaDNG RAW 3:1||32||113||12-bit RAW|
|CinemaDNG RAW 4:1||24||84||12-bit RAW|
|ProRes 422 HQ||28||98||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422||19||67||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422 LT||13||46||10-bit 4:2:2|
|ProRes 422 Proxy||6||21||10-bit 4:2:2|
*Rounded to the highest number
^Estimated, rounded to the highest number # Needs to be confirmed. This is a windowed mode, you won’t get the full size of the sensor.
Update: Check out this video I made comparing different storage options:
- For CinemaDNG, the best compression level seems to be 3:1 – based on past data.
- For Prores, the best setting in terms of data rate is 422. This should be great quality for straight to the web with minimal tweaking.
- For zero color correction, Prores LT will be the best and fastest workflow for straight to the web content.
|No.||Options||Film System||RAW Limit*||Prores Limit||Notes|
|1||SD Card (UHS-I)||exFAT for Windows/Mac and HFS+ for Mac||Some 4K, might be possible (4:1, 24p) 1080p||1080p only, till data limits||Don’t recommend this at all|
|2||SD Card (UHS-II)||No limit||Great for low budget shooters and straight to YouTube work (YouTube prefers UHD over 4K)|
|3||CFast 2.0||No limit||No limit||Recommended choice, but the most expensive option|
|4||SSD 2.5″ via USB-C||No limit, as long as the drive is capable of sustaining write rates||No limit||Best value, though highly risky for run and gun work. Great for long recordings in a studio/fixed setting. Due to poor battery life of the camera you can’t record for long!|
*See above video and update note
UHS-II SD cards can record UHD up to 30 fps, and for many that might be good enough, if your work is straight to YouTube. UHS-II cards have a sustained write ability of about 260 MB/s, so anything in the table above that’s lower should be fine (don’t forget to use the multiplication factor).
On the whole though, CFast 2.0 is the most convenient and robust solution, though the most expensive (see below). SSDs might seem like a great idea, but the connection is just USB-C, which is not designed for movement or “bumps”. You need a way to reliably affix the SSD to the camera or a cage to ensure there’s no movement. One way to do it is to get a 1/4″ adapter for mobile phones, like this one.
Assuming you are recording to either CinemaDNG 3:1 or Prores 422 HQ or just 422, here is what you can expect:
|Sandisk Extreme Pro||4K At 30 fps||SD Card (UHS-II)||CFast 2.0||SSD 2.5″ via USB-C|
|Price per card (Amazon)||$243.00||$340.00||$130.00|
|Price per minute||$30.26||$42.33||$8.63|
|Price per minute||$14.35||$20.08||$4.09|
|Price per minute||$13.13||$18.37||$3.75|
|Price per minute||$8.79||$12.30||$2.51|
|Price of reader||Usually free||$58.00||Free|
|Total Price per hour CDNG 3:1||$860.97||$1,262.65||$245.65|
I’ve stuck to Sandisk Extreme Pro versions just to keep the numbers consistent. You can get slightly cheaper options if you want to go that route.
Going by past experience with Blackmagic cameras and shooting RAW in this price range in general, a 3:1 compression ratio is good. You can see how it’s better to go CFast 2.0 or SSD, and avoid SD cards altogether. Two good reasons that justify the extra cost:
- You can record all data rates.
- CFast 2.0 cards are just more reliable overall as well.
- You can even record uncompressed CDNG if your computer can’t handle compressed RAW.
You cannot record to two kinds of media at the same time (a shame!), though it would be a great option to use SSDs and a UHS/U3 SD card as backup/proxy.
It might be a good idea to format all cards in exFAT, which is what I’ve been doing for many years – unless you are sure you’re going to be restricted to a Mac ecosystem entirely. There is no recording time limit on any media.
Important: At this time, you can’t copy data from SD/CFast to SSD via USB-C
RAW or Prores?
I will be shooting RAW, for the following reasons:
- I have a workstation that can easily handle it.
- I will test both uncompressed RAW and 3:1, though I feel 3:1 might be fine – so storage isn’t that big of a deal.
- Windows users should avoid Prores. I might pair it up with an Atomos Shogun (see below) for proxy recording or recording simultaneously to DNxHR.
- RAW gives the greatest options in post production – white balance, color grading, highlight recovery, noise reduction, the options are endless. That’s why you’re buying this camera over something like a Panasonic GH5.
If I really didn’t need RAW, then I’d pick the Panasonic GH5 or GH5s over this camera in a second – no exceptions. Here’s a comparison between these cameras if you’re interested in finding out why.
External monitor options
- The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has a full-sized HDMI A port.
- It is 1080p 10-bit only. No RAW or 4K.
- Only if 4K is enabled: You need cables that support 4K. Many HDMI cables do not. HDMI 1.4 cables that support 4K should work as well, as HDMI 2.0 is backward compatible.
- The camera has time code, though I need to test in the real world to see how useful it is. Some reports say you can input timecode, but no timecode via HDMI. Need to test!
- There is no control from monitor to camera.
The other advantage of this is you can use SSDs along with the camera, so you don’t need two kinds of media. So you can record 4K in camera, and a proxy for editing on the recorder.
For me the most important advantages of an external monitor are:
- Exposure – the Pocket 4K camera doesn’t have a waveform monitor, and the histogram is not a professional tool at all. It does have false color and zebras, though I’m not sure how well they’ll work outdoors on the LCD.
- I get an HDR display that will work great outdoors.
- LUTs will be more accurate.
- I can tilt or move the screen to any desired position. The Pocket camera has a fixed 5″ LCD screen that is hard to use when you have to bend low or raise the camera high.
The downside of an external monitor is that you no longer have a Pocket camera, but the Pocket Cinema 4K camera is not a pocket camera anyway, unless you’re talking giant pockets.
What is “Dynamic Range”?
Blackmagic design has its own definition of dynamic range as it pertains to their cameras. It’s just the preset or profile you can select. Here are your options:
|RAW||Film||Maximum dynamic range|
|Prores||Film||Maximum dynamic range|
|Extended video||Better than Rec. 709, new color science. Needs to be tested.*|
|3D LUT||Apply your own LUT over the Film dynamic range and record that|
*This could be full swing and the option to include super whites.
Which one to pick?
I’ll probably be shooting most of the time in Film dynamic range, in RAW.
Assuming the new extended video color science is good, that would be my pick for direct to YouTube-kind of stuff.
Many who shoot straight for YouTube might find baking in LUTs interesting. I prefer to do this in post, it’s a simple thing anyway to slap on a LUT in Resolve, and you have the added benefit of being able to tweak it in case something gets messed up.
The camera does give the ability to output different LUTs each to the LCD and via HDMI. You can load up to 10 custom LUTs. You don’t have to bake it in if you don’t want to. That’s excellent!
What format should I choose for the best image quality on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K?
This is just a preliminary article, the camera hasn’t started shipping yet. But this is where I would start:
- 4K DCI – 25p.
- Uncompressed (or 3:1) CinemaDNG.
- Film mode – this is by default.
- I’ll probably record to SSDs via USB-C, since I already have a Shogun recorder and SSDs. All I need is a SATA to USB-C adapter, like this one.
- I will use the Shogun to monitor for exposure. The camera probably has the IRIS automatic exposure feature but that won’t give me consistent exposures. It needs to be tested against the new sensor.
- Edit and grade in Davinci Resolve, using my Threadripper workstation. Here’s a video outlining it:
What about slow motion and high speed?
The camera has a dedicated HFR button.
I’m not sure how it works, and how it affects data rates. We’ll wait and see. Seriously, if 120p is your main goal, you might want to just pick a Panasonic GH5 or GH5s, and you get a bigger sensor size in 1080p as well.
There is one major downside to HFR – for 120 fps the sensor is cropped (windowed). By how much, needs to be seen. If they’re doing a straight crop then you might want to look at 16mm lenses. More on lenses in the next article, though.
The Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has a rolling shutter. Performance needs to be tested in the real world.
What’s this dual native ISO thing?
Traditionally, and on most cameras, when you bump up the ISO you get more noise. The “native” ISO is the ISO which gives the maximum dynamic range. Anything below or above this has reduced dynamic range.
A “dual-native” ISO is marketing speak under the promise that you get the best dynamic range at two ISOs instead of just one. This isn’t possible completely. Even the Panasonic Varicam (the first camera in modern times to introduce this) has differences in the two ISOs.
BMD haven’t officially revealed what the two ISOs are, though it is widely believed to be ISO 400 and ISO 3200. The camera has a maximum ISO range of up to 25,600. This needs to be tested in the real world.
How will do in low light?
It’ll probably do better than the original Pocket camera. How much better? That needs to be tested. Better to adopt a wait-and-watch approach here.
Moire and IR pollution
The camera has no optical low-pass filter (OLF), so we’ll have to see how it performs with moire.
The camera has some IR filtering, though BMD still recommends you use an external IR-cut or IRND filter.
This also applies to any sensor aliasing issues.
There is no internal image stabilization. You’re restricted to what the lenses are capable of doing, if they are supplied the adequate power.
Lens information and metadata
Electronic micro-four third lenses can transfer f-stop and focal length information to the camera, and that is recorded. You can also manually populate metadata with slate data such as project, scene number, take and special notes.
You can control the iris (aperture) and zoom if the lens is electronic (Panasonic and Olympus lenses qualify, mostly). We’ll look at lenses in another article.
You can also enter lens data manually, or via bluetooth.
Control via Gimbals
One thing I’ve noticed is there’s no control port for gimbals. That’s strange, and a serious drawback.
Which Metabones Speedbooster?
Since the sensor is larger than the older Pocket camera, you need to use the Speedbooster version designed for the GH5 or Micro-four third sensors, so either:
- 0.71x ULTRA (APS-C lenses) or
- 0.64x XL (full frame lenses)
Can I autofocus?
Yes, but only with compatible lenses. We’ll have to see how this does in the real world before drawing conclusions. For now, the autofocus is single-AF only, no continuous autofocus.
The camera does have a focus peaking function for manual focus.
Blackmagic OS has frame guides. These are the options available:
You can toggle the opacity as well. I wish they had custom frame guides.
Notes on the LCD display
The 5″ LCD is a touchscreen, but in my experience it’s hard to use touchscreens in tough outdoor productions. We need to test how well it performs to know for sure. From current info I can gather the LCD is between 350-500 nits, which is not bad (if it can sustain that over the entire area).
But it’s not HDR.
The biggest drawback that I mentioned earlier as well, is that it is fixed and can’t be tilted. I really don’t know how low or high angles will work. It’s just a silly oversight on their part – a serious disadvantage for run and gun shooters.
On the other hand, the menu is the simplest possible, and you can save up to 12 custom presets for fast shooting. You can decide what parameters are displayed on the LCD and which ones are transmitted via HDMI. Really cool.
The camera has the following audio jacks:
- 1 x mini XLR analog switchable between mic with phantom power support and line level (up to +14dBu). 48V.
- 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack. Can also be used for Timecode input (LTC).
- 1x 3.5mm headphone jack.
- The camera also has dual onboard microphones for scratch audio.
You can buy mini XLR to XLR adapters here.
You can switch between the two input options and monitor volume via the LCD. You can also record from both jacks to separate channels.
Battery and power
There is a 12V port for DC input and a 2-pin locking connector for AC power. That’s great, because the battery life sucks with the included battery. You only get about one hour, if no USB-C device is connected.
The camera uses Canon LP-E6 compatible batteries, and you can get cheap ones that work fine as well. The downside is they don’t ship chargers with the camera!
You can also power the camera (and charge a battery) with a powerbank via USB-C. Typical power banks deliver up to 5V (around 5A). Don’t just buy without reading the specs – because the camera needs between 12-20V. There are power banks that give you the choice between 5/12/20V, etc., like these ones.
The camera has the following buttons for quick access:
- High Frame Rate
- Record – top and front
- White Balance
- Function buttons – I, II and III – three customizable buttons. Nice!
I’ll need to physically shoot over a period of time before coming to conclusions.
There are two 1/4″ threads – one on top and one at the bottom. That should provide a stable platform for cages, though I really don’t see the need for one with this camera.