Both the Z CAM E2 (Amazon, B&H) and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (Amazon, B&H) are so close together in many ways it’s hard for the low budget filmmaker to decide which is the better camera.
Let’s compare the two in a real-world filmmaking situation to see which is truly the better value for money for short films, feature films and web series.
Let’s make certain assumptions to provide a level playing field:
- We are making a 15-minute short film with shooting at a ratio of 7:1. That means we’ll have 105 minutes of final footage.
- We are shooting for 3 days, 12-hours each. No permissions, so we need to keep our system to a minimum.
- Our final delivery platform is YouTube, though the image quality must look good on a cinema screen for film festivals. The final specs are UHD, 24 fps, 16:9.
- We’ll only be using a tripod and a slider. We want to use a gimbal but both the BMPCC 4K and Z CAM E2 doesn’t have autofocus so we decide it’s not worth the hassle. We can’t afford a focus puller or wireless system. Manual focus it is.
- We need two focal lengths, a 25mm and 50mm in the full frame equivalent. One zoom lens would be simpler than two primes, but low light is a concern so we have to account for that.
- We are recording audio via one XLR microphone. Since this is common to both cameras, we will not account for this. But it is an added expense.
- We will be shooting Blackmagic RAW because this is easy on our PC. You need Resolve 15.3 at least to read BRAW from the Pocket 4K camera. And it gives us the option to use film LUTs for a quick finish. We are not experienced colorists. With the Z CAM E2 we will shoot in ZRAW. You need to update to firmware 0.88 for ZRAW.
- We will not be using an external monitor.
- We need the cheapest system that will help us complete this project without compromising on any of the objectives above. If there is more than one option for best camera, we will base our choice on low light ability and future value.
Let’s start with the simple stuff, like prices (taken from B&H as of this writing):
|Camera||Price of Camera body||Price of lens*||Total|
|Z CAM E2||$1,999||$798||$2,797|
If you like, you can use a focal reducer like the Metabones T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x Adapter (Amazon, B&H) or the Aputure DEC LensRegain (Amazon, B&H). Note: We are using ULTRA over XL because ULTRA is designed for APS-C lenses.
If you want to learn more about the best lenses for both cameras, read the Best Lenses for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K.
A look at the sensors and crop factor:
|Camera||Sensor Size||H. Crop Factor||35mm equivalents|
|BMPCC 4K||18.96 x 10 mm||1.9||23-66mm|
|Z CAM E2||19.0 x 13.0 mm||1.9||23-66mm|
The Z CAM E2 has a taller sensor, which is better if you want to shoot anamorphic. Otherwise at this point there is no distinction between the two cameras as far as specs are concerned.
There are other things to look for as well. Let’s move on.
Comparison of video features
Here are some important video specs:
|Camera||Resolution we are shooting in||Dual Native ISO||Max. frame rate in 4K/UHD|
|BMPCC 4K||3840 x 2160*||400 and 3200||60 fps|
|Z CAM E2||3840 x 2160*||250 and 2500||30 fps^|
*We pick UHD because it gives us 16:9, and that’s our final delivery.
^Support for 60 fps Z RAW is coming in the future.
Both the BMPCC 4K and Z CAM E2 are similar performers in low light for all practical considerations.
Color and codec are similar, but the data rates are different:
|Camera||Chosen format||Data Rate for 24 fps|
|BMPCC 4K||Blackmagic RAW 3:1||108 MB/s|
|Z CAM E2||Z RAW^||115 MB/s^|
*3:1 gives us the best quality.
^Z RAW is a similar RAW format to BRAW. I’m not even sure both are true RAW formats, because neither company explains what “partial debayering” even means. The data rate for the E2 is certainly higher, though this might change with future updates.
Image quality-wise, I have no doubt both will perform adequately. Any minor differences between the two will not be taken advantage of, because we really need to be a world-class cinematographer to do so. This, we are not.
Now that we’ve understood a bit about image quality, let’s look at how much all this is going to cost.
If you’re going to record in 4K, you need to know how many media cards you’ll need, and how much they’re going to cost. We have our limits for our short film:
- 15 minute duration
- Shooting ratio is 7:1.
What this means is we will end up with 7 x 15 = 105 minutes of video. And since we are shooting for three days we’ll end up shooting 35 minutes of video per day.
The cheapest media you can record to on the Pocket 4K is SSD via USB-C, so that’s what we’ll pick. This means you might have to get a cage for the cameras to hold the SSD in place. I’ll have to add the cost of the cage, the holder and the USB-C cable to the BMPCC 4K.
For the Z CAM E2, we have to use CFast 2.0 cards because at the moment Z CAM doesn’t recommend using SSDs for ZRAW. That puts a spanner in the works. We’ll need to factor in the cost of a CFast 2.0 card reader as well.
These simple tables should give you a good idea about the media required:
|Camera||Media||GB required per day||Minimum drives|
|BMPCC 4K||Samsung T5 500 GB||222 GB||2*|
|Z CAM E2||Sandisk Extreme Pro CFast 2.0||236 GB||2*|
*Why 2? Because it’s a dumb idea to record everything to one drive over an entire day. Better to shoot for a while, then copy your footage and make backups during a break.
|Camera||Cost of Media||Cage||CFast 2.0 Reader||Total|
|Z CAM E2||$580||$0*||$50||$630|
*You most likely will need a cage for the Z CAM E2 as well, because there’s no easy way to attach a top handle. But since we are no-budget production for this article, I’m going to assume we’ll make do without it.
This is just the media card. What about the backup drive?
|Camera||Total drive space required||Cost of Backup Drive|
|BMPCC 4K||666 GB||$45|
|Z CAM E2||707 GB||$45|
A 1TB regular USB 3.0 drive will suffice, though you have to account for transfer times. With the BMPCC 4K, you can use the 2 Samsung T5 (Amazon, B&H) drives as your backup drive. A second copy resides in your computer or laptop. Don’t forget that!
For a short film the cost of drives isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. If you can keep your shooting ratio to a low number you should be okay. For feature films or documentaries things change drastically.
Overall, the price difference isn’t very significant for our short film.
Battery life and Power
We are shooting for 3 days, 12-hours each. This means we need enough batteries to last us 12 hours. And we should be able to charge them during the night.
To know more about the shooting problems, watch my comprehensive real-world review:
Here are the numbers, when you can’t afford external power solutions:
|Camera||Battery life (Normal operation)||Batteries||Chargers*|
|BMPCC 4K||30-40 minutes||18||3|
|Z CAM E2||120-150 minutes||4||2|
|Camera||Cost of one battery^||Cost of one charger^||Total|
|Z CAM E2||$60||$180#||$300|
*Be prepared to wake up in the middle of the night to charge 18 batteries. Or hire an assistant. If you are shooting in an exterior location without reliable charging points, then be prepared for a world of pain. If you want to get a full night’s sleep, you might need 4 chargers at least. And remember to turn off the camera when not in use (not very practical). For the Z CAM E2 you need two chargers so you don’t have to wake up.
^Batteries and charger are from Watson. The charger is a Watson Duo dual charger (Amazon, B&H), and it usually takes 6 hours – or all night – to charge batteries. I’ve picked Watson for both just to be fair.
#The kit comes with two batteries included.
For the Pocket 4K: Even though it might seem cheaper to go with smaller batteries it will kill you if you have to charge them overnight. We will need 9 dual chargers (each dual charger takes about 6 hours to charge one battery). You could go for bigger bricks to power your camera longer, but they are more expensive.
We decide (remember we are not rational) we can wake up in the middle of the night for two days to charge our batteries. We’ll do it somehow. Yeah!
As you can clearly see, this is where a lot of low budget dreams shatter. To work with cameras that have a poor battery life you need to power them with larger batteries. This means bulking them up to be cost effective or spending more money to stick with smaller batteries.
For this article, we’ve decided we can’t bulk up our camera because we don’t have permissions. We have to stick to small batteries and tons of chargers. Seriously though, this is not really practical.
Lesson here is, be very careful about the camera you buy, and don’t listen to the hype!
Do you want to see your footage?
With the Z CAM E2, you also need a monitor to control the unit, like a PORTKEYS BM5-Z 5.2″. That adds to the cost and weight of the rig.
That’s not all:
|Camera||HDMI||Viewfinder||Monitor||Exposure and focus aids|
|BMPCC 4K||Type A||No||5″||Peaking, Histogram, 3D LUTs, False Color, Zebras|
|Z CAM E2||Type A||No||No||Meter|
So we need to add $499 for an external monitor to the Z CAM E2.
This is one major area of concern for Z CAM, if you’re shooting with ZRAW. Currently, no NLE supports it.
You need a program called ZRAW VideoSuite to convert ZRAW to one of these three:
- Uncompressed YUV
You cannot color grade ZRAW directly, unless you are happy with the tools inside VideoSuite. To make matters worse, the ZRAW VideoSuite is currently only available for Windows.
These are dealbreakers to a professional RAW workflow, in my opinion.
Time to total up everything.
Which is the better camera for filmmaking on a budget?
How much does it all cost? Here are the final figures:
|Camera||BMPCC 4K||Z CAM E2|
|Camera and lens||$2,093||$2,797|
|Media and Accessories||$340||$675|
Remember, we might have to include some more accessories, but they are generally equal to both cameras.
That’s a difference of $878, which can be used to buy additional lenses or better yet, spent on actors, food, locations, etc.
What about longer projects?
What if you want to add more lenses and accessories to your camera? Or what if you’re shooting a feature-length film or web series?
What we’ve calculated so far is just for a short film where we try our best to save money. For long-form work we’ll be spending considerably more for both cameras.
Before we conclude, check out this quick table of pros and cons for each camera:
|BMPCC 4K||Cheaper, DaVinci Resolve, support for BRAW||Poor battery life|
|Z CAM E2||160 fps, modular, good battery life||More expensive, no support for ZRAW|
For filmmaking, the number of scenarios you’ll be able to cover spending the least amount of money without sacrificing quality is key. The Z CAM E2 (Amazon, B&H) is designed to cover more scenarios like drone/gimbal usage, and slow motion. But it’s hard to recommend just for this benefit, when it is not a requirement for most low budget shooting.
Let’s revisit our original requirements:
- We are shooting for 3 days, 12-hours each – both cameras have no recording limit.
- Our final delivery platform is YouTube, though the image quality must look good on a cinema screen for film festivals. – No problem!
- Our film will involve tripod and slider work – No problem!
- Manual focus for static shots – No problem! The Art lens is not focus-by-wire.
- We need the cheapest system that will help us complete this project without compromising on any of the objectives above – so we know who the winner is!