Which is Better for Low Budget Filmmakers? Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K vs Z CAM E2-S6

Both the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (AmazonB&H) and the Z CAM E2-S6 (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.

Of course, the Z CAM E2-S6 hasn’t been released yet, so we’re just comparing the specs and features we know so far.

Exclusive Bonus: Download 4 cinematic LUTs for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K and 4K, for free.

Let’s make certain assumptions to provide a level playing field:

  1. 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.
  2. We are shooting for 3 days, 12-hours each. No permissions, so we need to keep our system to a minimum.
  3. 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.
  4. We’ll only be using a tripod and a slider. We want to use a gimbal but both the BMPCC 6K and Z CAM E2-S6 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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-S6 we will shoot in ZRAW.
  8. We will not be using an external monitor.
  9. 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.

The basics

Let’s start with the simple stuff, like prices (taken from B&H as of this writing):

CameraPrice of Camera bodyPrice of lensTotal
Z CAM E2-S6$2,995$639$3,634
BMPCC 6K$2,495$639$3,134

We chose the same lens for both: Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art (Amazon, B&H).

If you want to learn more about the best lenses for both cameras, read this: The Best Lenses for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K.

A look at the sensors and crop factor:

CameraSensor SizeH. Crop FactorLens 35mm equivalents
Z CAM E2-S623.4 x 15.67 mm1.5428-54mm
BMPCC 6K23.1 x 13 mm1.5628-55mm

The Z CAM E2-S6 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.

Let’s move on.

Comparison of video features

Here are some important video specs:

CameraResolution we are shooting inDual Native ISOMax. frame rate in 4K
Z CAM E2-S66244×4168*400 and 1250100 fps (2.4:1)
BMPCC 6K6144 x 3456400 and 320060 fps

*We pick Open Gate because it gives us the ability to pan and scan vertically to control framing.

As of now we don’t know how the image quality or low light performance compares. They have similar sized sensors and the resolutions are not too far off.

The Z CAM E2-S6 (B&H) has the advantage here due to higher frame rates and taller sensor.

Color and codec are similar, but the data rates are different:

CameraChosen formatData Rate for 24 fps
Z CAM E2-S6Z RAW^345 MB/s#
BMPCC 6KBlackmagic RAW 5:1*156 MB/s

*The reason we are picking 5:1 is because it seems there isn’t a reliable card out there that can shoot 3:1 RAW in 6K. Please check the support page for more information.

^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.

#I’m estimating the data rate based on current information on ZRAW from the E2. This could be wrong, and we might have different compression levels in the future. The data rate for the E2-S6 is certainly higher, though this might change with future updates.

Shooting RAW gives you the best colors, and it has the most dynamic range.

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.

Media Cards

If you’re going to record in 6K, 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:

  1. 15 minute duration
  2. 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.

With the Z CAM, they don’t recommend SSDs for ZRAW at the moment. This means we’ll need to use CFast 2.0 cards. That puts a spanner in the works. We’ll need to factor in the cost of a CFast 2.0 card reader as well.

The cheapest media you can record to on the Pocket 6K 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.

The drive we are using is the Samsung T5 (AmazonB&H). The cage I’m using is the Universal Cage I’ve reviewed earlier, and let’s assume we are el-cheapo and we just velcro the drive to the cage.

This simple table should give you a good idea about the media required:

CameraMediaGB required per dayMinimum drives
Z CAM E2-S6Sandisk Extreme Pro CFast 2.0708 GB2*
BMPCC 6KSamsung T5 500 GB320 GB2*

*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.

CameraCost of MediaCageCFast 2.0 ReaderTotal
Z CAM E2-S6$1,400$0*$50$1,450
BMPCC 6K$185$110$0$295

*You most likely will need a cage for the Z CAM E2-S6 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?

CameraTotal drive space requiredCost of Backup Drive
Z CAM E2-S62,124 GB (2 TB)$220
BMPCC 6K960 GB$90

A 1TB regular USB 3.0 drive will suffice for the Pocket 6K, though you have to account for transfer times. For the E2-S6, you’ll need a couple of 2 TB drives.

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.

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:

CameraBattery life (Normal operation)BatteriesChargers*
Z CAM E2-S6100 minutes#52
BMPCC 6K30-40 minutes183
CameraCost of one batteryCost of one charger^Total
Z CAM E2-S6$60$180**$360
BMPCC 6K$40$80$960

#This is just a guesstimate based on current info on the E2. It could be totally wrong.

*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-S6 you will need two chargers so you don’t have to wake up, maybe even a third.

^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 6K: 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-S6, 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:

CameraHDMIViewfinderMonitorExposure and focus aids
BMPCC 6KType ANo5″Peaking, Histogram, 3D LUTs, False Color, Zebras
Z CAM E2-S6Type ANoNoMeter

The Z CAM E2-S6 (B&H) has no monitor or viewfinder. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (AmazonB&H) has a large LCD screen, but no viewfinder.

So we need to add $499 for an external monitor to the Z CAM E2-S6.

Workflow

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:

  • DNxHR
  • H.265
  • 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:

CameraBMPCC 6KZ CAM E2-S6
Camera and lens$3,134$3,634
Media and Accessories$385$1,670
Batteries$960$360
Monitor$0$499
Total$4,479$6,163

Remember, we might have to include some more accessories, but they are generally equal to both cameras.

That’s a difference of $1,684, 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.

However, the Z CAM E2-S6 (B&H) will be more expensive in the long run because the storage requirements are a lot higher. Two times more (we still don’t know the final data rates so this could be wrong)!

Before we conclude, check out this quick table of pros and cons for each camera:

CameraUSPCons
Z CAM E2-S6100 fps, modular, good battery life, better support for anamorphicMore expensive, no support for ZRAW
BMPCC 6KCheaper, DaVinci Resolve, support for BRAWPoor battery life, Crop in 4K

For filmmaking, the number of scenarios you’ll be able to cover spending the least amount of money without sacrificing quality is key. Here are the two features that stand out for the Z CAM E2-S6:

  1. Better anamorphic mode due to sensor height.
  2. Better frame rates

I’m not entirely convinced these two are critical features for low budget filmmaking, and definitely not important for our scenario.

On the other hand, the lack of support for ZRAW is a huge deal. And of course, let’s not forget the price difference.

If you’re really cash starved, go ahead and pick the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (AmazonB&H). You don’t have much to complain about.

Let’s revisit our original requirements:

  1. We are shooting for 3 days, 12-hours each – both cameras have no recording limit.
  2. Our final delivery platform is YouTube, though the image quality must look good on a cinema screen for film festivals. – No problem!
  3. Our film will involve tripod and slider work – No problem!
  4. Manual focus for static shots – No problem! The Art lens is not focus-by-wire.
  5. We need the cheapest system that will help us complete this project without compromising on any of the objectives above – we have our answer.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (AmazonB&H) wins. Case closed.

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