How I Use The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

My name is Bojan Dulabic and I’m a filmmaker from Vancouver. I’m currently in the process of finishing my second feature film Project: Eugenics, which I shot mostly on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

In this article I’d like to talk about some of pros and cons, myths associate with this camera, how I used it to shoot a feature film and the post production workflow.

 Myths About The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

One of the biggest myths is that, even though the camera is called “pocket”, that it really is not, because once you start adding a rig, larger lenses and other accessories it becomes a very large camera. It is true that situations will dictate setups. But what most filmmakers don’t talk about is the fact that this camera can be used by itself with just the body and a lens.

I have used it many times on my shoot with just a bare bones setup. I wouldn’t shoot an entire film like this. But when you need to do a quick insert shot or a simple establishing shot with just the camera on a tripod, this little wonder shines.

In my current zombie flick, I needed some establishing shots of empty streets to create a bit of a creepy atmosphere. So one Sunday morning I got up early, took my camera and my Panasonic 14mm lens and a simple tripod and drove around looking for the right location.

After an hour of filming, I gathered enough establishing shots for the intro of the film. I didn’t need a second unit crew, any permits or anyone else for that matter. Don’t be afraid to use the camera just by itself, you’d be surprised at the quality it can produce.

Blackmagic Pocket

Pros Of The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

One of the things that blew me away about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is the fact that it shoots in ProRes HQ! ProRes HQ is a format you usually edit in. So for example, if you are shooting on a typical DSLR, which shoots in h.264, you would upconvert the footage to ProRes and then start editing. But any time you upconvert footage, you lose quality.

With the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, no conversion is needed. This gives you a great quality image. The amount of additional data you get with ProRes compared to h.264 gives you a lot more room to play with in terms of color grading. For example, one minute in h.264 will be about 200-400 mb, depending on the compression. That same minute in ProRes HQ will be about 1-2 GB.

That’s more than tripling the amount of data that you have to play with!

Camera RAW

If you want more flexibility and quality you can also shoot in Camera RAW. Camera RAW is an amazing format. It produces incredible footage and you have the ultimate control over color grading and adjusting for over or under exposed footage. Of course, as with any technology, everything has its limits and you should always try to get it right in camera but mistakes happen.

The fact that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has the capability of shooting in ProRes HQ (and all the other flavors of ProRes) and is also capable of shooting in RAW, is simply amazing!

Price & Updates

The fact that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera only costs $1000 US (just the body) is an incredible deal. Another, perhaps more important fact is that Blackmagic is continuously providing updates for its users. In the eight months since I’ve had the camera, there have been four major updates. Initially, there was no histogram, audio meters and you couldn’t format the SD card in camera, all those things and more have been updated. I don’t know of any other camera manufacturer who provides this kind of a service for free.

Lenses

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is a micro four thirds camera. This could be a problem if you don’t own any micro four thirds lenses, however, the good thing is that there are adapters that will fit virtually any lens out there. So, if you own a bunch of full frame lenses by Canon or Nikon, you will still be able to use those by purchasing an adapter.

Depending on the adapter you might be spending $500 or more. However, if you have lenses worth thousands of dollars, getting one lens adapter to fit all or most of them, is not bad at all. In my case I decided to get two micro four thirds lenses; the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 and the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5, which I’m very pleased with.

Cons Of The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

The is the single biggest con on this camera is the lack of extensive battery life.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera comes with a small 800mAh battery, which is the Nikon en-el20. This battery will give you 30 to 40 minutes at the most. And from my experience, it could be even less. From this perspective, the stock battery is completely useless.

One option to combat the problem is getting new batteries. I ordered four 1800mAh batteries and I am hoping each will last for an hour. These batteries are very inexpensive.

Another option is to have an external battery, which I have as well. I bought a no name CCTV battery on eBay months ago, which lasts me for about 5 hours, when fully charged. I used this battery for most of my shoot. Only problem is that using the camera bare bones with an external battery can be challenging. My solution was to use a cellphone holder and mount it on top of the camera.

blackmagic pocket set up

For situations where I needed to use my rig I was able to fit it underneath the body. I used industrial strength velcro to secure the battery and that worked just fine.

blackmagic pocket camera

This is something you’ll have to think about and the solution will vary depending on your setup.

SD Cards

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera uses SD cards to record footage. Unlike other cameras by Blackmagic, due to the size of the camera body there is no room to slide in an SSD. On one hand, this is good because SD cards are much smaller and easier to carry. However, they are also much more expensive than SSDs.

Because you are shooting in ProPres and RAW you cannot use regular class 10 SD cards that you use in your DSLR. You have to buy cards with at least 80mbps speeds. Because of the speed limitations you will find that only a few card manufacturers work on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. This the fault of the card companies because a lot of times they mislabel their cards and what looks like an 80mbps card could be in fact 40mbps.

From personal experiences you can’t go wrong with SanDisk. As long as you get the right speed you will be fine. There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding on which speed to get. For example, if you are shooting in ProRes and RAW in 24fps, you can use the SanDisk Extreme Plus 80mbps. However, if you are shooting in ProRes and RAW higher than 24fps you can only shoot in ProRes, if you use the SanDisk Extreme Plus 80mbps.

If you want to be able to shoot in RAW with, let’s say 30fps, you will need the SanDisk Extreme Pro 95mbps. This is important to know because the price difference between those two can add up.

I have seen a 64GB SanDisk Extreme Plus 80mbps for as low as $50 US. Where as the Extreme Pro 90mbps will be close to $100 US. When you compare that to an SSD drive, let’s say a 128 mb, which you can get for $50-$70 easily, things start to look different.

Also, the massive files that ProRes HQ and Camera RAW create will not give you much room to play with.

If I use any of my 64GB cards, I get about 44 minutes shooting 24fps in ProRes HQ. And I get about 33 minutes if I shoot in 30fps. If I shoot in RAW using 24fps, I usually get about 12 minutes and 9 minutes if I shoot using 30fps. Depending on your production you will need either one or two or more 128 GB SD cards, which can cost you an arm and leg, or several 64GB cards.

Crop Factor

Another thing to keep in mind is the crop factor. APS-C based DSLRs have a crop factor of 1.6. That’s essentially how much you are zoomed in. So, if you have a 50mm lens on a Canon T3i, you actually have an 80mm lens.

If you have a full frame camera you obviously don’t have to worry about crop factors. The downside with micro four thirds cameras, like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, is that the crop factor is 2.88. So if you have a 50mm lens you actually have a 144mm lens. That’s a huge difference.

As mentioned before, if you have a bunch of full frame lenses, you can get an adapter to be able to use those on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and in that case you won’t have to worry about the crop factor.

Another reason to keep the crop factor in mind is the fact that the more you are zoomed in the shakier the footage will be. For example, my Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens gets very shaky when handheld because it is essentially a 72mm lens. My 14mm lens is much better when it comes to that because it is actually a 40mm lens. I decided to get the 25mm one because it works really well in low light. When I use it with my rig, the shakiness is not a problem at all and it still works for quick insert shots when its handheld.

Deleting Clips

Another con about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is the fact that you cannot delete individual clips in camera. This can be a pain because sometimes you might have takes where you know you will not use the shot. Normally you might have deleted the footage to make more room.

Unfortunately, this is something that you cannot do with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. And as I mentioned before, Blackmagic has solved lots of issues with various updates and they know that users want to be able to delete clips in camera, so it’s just a matter of time.

Menu

The menu is not user friendly. Features that you need, so you can to change on the fly are often buried. For example, if you want to change the exposure, you will need to perform 5-10 menu clicks, depending on where you are. This might not sound a lot. But if you are shooting a live event where one second can make the difference between you getting that perfect shoot or not, this is a problem.

Again, all these things can be changed with a software update. Blackmagic has already added menu functionality with an earlier update so this could be solved very easily.

Post With The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Color Grading

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is made for color grading. While the camera gives you the option to shoot in video mode, which doesn’t require color grading (similar to DSLRs) the camera is really is meant to be used with a color grading program. This takes time to get used to. If you use the camera in film mode, you will get a flat image. It is then up to you to grade it which ever way you like.

I am playing around with Adobe Speedgrade. Adobe Premiere will do a decent job with basic color grading. Additionally, you can always download DaVinci Resolve for free. This is Blackmagic’s software.

Computer

When working with ProRes and especially RAW files you will need lots of processing power. I upgraded my 5 year old Mac Pro with a new 3 GB graphics card and 32 GB of ram and working with ProRes HQ files is not a problem but working with RAW can be challenging.

Even though I only use RAW for short insert clips, rendering can still take a while. There is also (sadly) no standardized workflow for RAW files when it comes to video. Premiere Pro will recognize the multiple image files as one video file and you can import it and start cutting as easy as any video file but if you want to make use of the RAW settings and adjust exposure or white balance, there is no direct way to do that with complete control.

One way is to open the files in After Effects, which will give you the RAW interface that you get for images. In the end it works, but it requires effort. This alone keeps me from shooting a full feature in RAW. On the other hand, the footage would look amazing!

In conclusion, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is an amazing tool for any indie filmmaker. Like any piece of technology it has its flaws, but as long as you are aware of them and find a way to work around them, you will be able to take your production to the next level.

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If you would like to check out the trailer for my feature film and see what the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is cable of, visit: http://www.projecteugenics.com. And for more tips and tricks on low to no-budget filmmaking check out my blog at http://www.filmmakingtoday.com

The Best HD Video Camera For Filmmakers On A Budget

If you’re looking for the best HD video camera, you’re not alone. Over the past year, my inbox has been inundated by ambitious filmmakers seeking advice on gear. And if you’re like most filmmakers, you can’t wait to get your hands on the best HD video camera and lens package you can.

To help us out, I reached out to filmmaker and self proclaimed gear nerd, Michael Head.

Michael, what is the best HD video camera and lens package for filmmakers on a budget?

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That is actually a great question, and I’ll start by saying this:

Having the best HD video camera in the world will not make your film look better if you don’t know how to use it. You’ll want to know how to properly light for the camera and how to record awesome sound. I’ve seen videos shot on RED Epics that look awful and videos shot on handicams that look spectacular.

Think about it this way. Nobody asked Leonardo Da Vinci what kind of brushes he used. It was his skill that made the difference.

I don’t know what your budget is, but I’ll make any recommendations I can based on my knowledge and experience. Let me directly answer your question on selecting an HD video camera and lenses.

HD Video Camera

Photo © ra2 studio / Dollar Photo Club

The Best HD Video Camera For Filmmaking

1. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera: The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is great little HD video camera, around $1,000, micro-four-thirds lens mount with a small sensor. But the camera is very workflow and add-on heavy. You’ll either need a lot of batteries or an external power source.

The Blackmagic can shoot both ProRes (compressed) and raw (uncompressed), but both require more storage (a LOT more) then the AVCHD that comes out of the 7D. And while this HD video camera uses SD cards, you are going to need very fast cards (write speeds of 90+ mbps, which are the more expensive cards).

The raw files are amazing to work with but require good knowledge of color correction to make it look right (but at least Da Vinci Resolve, an outstanding color correction software, has a free version). It has around 13 stops of dynamic range and can look very filmic if properly exposed and color corrected.

2. Panasonic GH4: For around around $1,400 this HD video camera comes with a micro-four-thirds lens mount, small sensor, and great images recorded 4k internally. This makes the Panasonic GH4 a great choice if you want to capture 4K in-camera. But similar to the Blackmagic, higher resolution requires more storage.

The Panasonic GH4 also has an add-on unit that allows for XLR audio to feed directly into the camera, but I’ve heard several reports of the audio “drifting” (becoming out of sync) when utilized. Capturing external audio is still a best practice that applies to any HD video camera you choose.

3. Sony A7s: With this HD video camera, $2,500 gets you the body, an e-mount lens mount (highly adaptable) and a full-frame sensor, which allows for very shallow depth of field with the right lens. The Sony A7s gives you around 12 stops of useable dynamic range, which makes it extremely sensitive in low light. As a consequence, it is very easy to overexpose. So you’ll probably need filters if you plan on shooting outside during the day, especially if you want any depth of field.

The Sony A7s is capable of 4k output to an external recorder which, of course, costs more money. And as a possible downside, the battery life is short. So you’ll need extra batteries (there’s a reason it comes with two). Despite these costs, this is actually the camera I choose to adopt, and it has been outstanding for me so far.

Again, it’s not necessarily the HD video camera that makes the most difference. Good cameras can help, if you know how to use them properly. But in reverse order: Make sure your lighting is good, make sure your audio recording is outstanding, and make sure your story is interesting. Without a good story, the camera won’t help much. And without good audio, your audience won’t care what kind of images you’re putting out.

Thoughts on The Sony FS7

It is great when companies listen to their users. Sony obviously listened to comments about the ergonomics of the FS100 and 700 when they designed their newest XDCAM, the Sony PXW-FS7.

The Sony FS7 is an ergonomic prize. It sits nicely on your shoulder and has an extendible handle that puts controls in perfect reach for a one man shooter.

The Sony FS7 sports a super-35 sensor that can shoot Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) with a planned upgrade to full 4K (4,096 x 2,160) available next year. It boasts a base 2000 ISO so it will be great for low light situations, and it shoots up to 60 fps at UHD and 180(!) fps at 180p internally.

Sony FS7

Thoughts on The Sony FS7

The Sony FS7 also utilizes the dual Sony XQD memory cards to record Sony’s new XAVC format, but it does require faster cards then normal, so look for some expensive media for the moment.

The Sony FS7 E-Mount system is remarkably adaptable, and many Speedbooster users will be thrilled. There will be a several add-ons that change it’s recording capabilities,

The Good of The Sony FS7:

– Ultra HD up to 60 fps, 1080P up to 180 fps (with full 4k coming)
– Super-35 sensor with base 2000 ISO
– 10 bit 422 internal recording up to 50 Mbps in HD (broadcast quality)
– Great ergonomics (mostly)
– E mount is highly adaptable for almost any lens 2k raw (at 240(!!) fps) and 4k raw output to Sony’s new XDCAM-FS7 unit and a capable recorder (such as Odyssey7Q)
– ProRes recording (kind of – see below )
– Reported 14 stops of dynamic range
– S-Log 3 profile (great for getting the most out of your dynamic range)
– Built in ND filters
– The Sony FS7 is under $10,000

The Not So Good of The Sony FS7:

– Expensive (for now) media
– Convenient handle folds up into an awkward position

The What?

ProRes recording requires a hardware and firmware upgrade Raw requires same hardware, plus a capable recorder. What will this do for users invested in the FS700 and F5?

Final Thoughts on The Sony FS7:

The Sony FS7 is another amazing looking product that seems aimed at Canon’s C line, and the high frame rates for a (relatively) low cost make it a great option. I don’t really understand why they require a hardware add-on for ProRes, but if Sony’s XAVC is as good as their AVCHD implementation then it should hold up well under some grading. The sample images look great, and the flexibility of frame rates and ergonomics make it an extremely well designed and thought out camera.

The Sony A7s Camera

Thoughts On The Sony A7s Camera by Michael Head

I once had a cinematography professor tell me that the video DSLR trend is just a fad. But for whatever reasons, camera manufacturers didn’t hear his message.

New and more powerful cameras are coming out everyday, and each model strives to be better then the one before it. This makes it hard to be a tech-nerd in the film industry! (I want ALL this gear!)

One DSLR-style cameras with excellent video features is the Sony A7s.

The A7s comes out of the Sony A7 mirrorless SLR camera family that includes the A7 and the A7r. Both of these are great full frame (large sensor) cameras. While it might seem odd at first, the A7s, has the smallest number of pixels, weighing in with 12 MP.

However, while it is “only” 12 MP, it is a full 4K sensor – which means the pixels are bigger and can therefore actually be more sensitive to light then the same sensor with more MP.

How much more sensitive?

Some early tests have shown video taken in the woods at night with no lights.

And the image OVEREXPOSES – in the DARK!

As filmmakers, we live in an interesting time.

The extended ISO of the A7s’s sensor lets you record downsampled 1080P video at up to 409,600 ISO (yes, you read that right) and 60 frames per second (720P up to 120! FPS). That’s an amazing sensor.

Sony A7sThe Sony A7s Camera

Although shooting that high of an ISO is not likely to happen often, it is an amazing option for making sure that dark shadow in the corner of your room is only a jacket and not a vampire or something. And surprisingly the sensor doesn’t line-skip like many of the popular video DSLRs. This means moire and alaising are reduced.

But that’s not all!

The full frame sensor gives you the same depth of field you can get with other Full Frame sensors, but it also will shoot in a crop sensor (x1.6) mode. In other words, you can choose to use a smaller sensor size. Why might you do that?

Some lenses don’t cover full frame sensors, and those lenses can still be used on the A7s. In effect, you can double your number of lenses using full-frame lenses and the crop fame shooting. Your 35mm full frame sensor can shoot as a 50-ish (56mm) lens is crop sensor mode. While this does affect your depth of field, it’s a nice for those with limited budgets.

Sony also seems to have moved away from the A-mount lenses. Instead, the A7s has an e-mount, which has numerous adapter options for almost any lens.

Another video-centric feature is the inclusion of S-Log 2 built in. That’s right, the flat Sony picture profile that was included in the FS700’s $400 upgrade is built. If you haven’t seen what S-log is capable of in the hands of a skilled shooter, do some research on Vimeo – it’s an amazing option.

The Good of The Sony A7s:
– Full-frame (and crop) 4k Sensor with no line skipping 1080P/60fps internal video
– Ultra-HD 4K Output through HDMI (see wrap-up)
– Highly adaptable e-mount len mount
– S-Log 2 picture profile (native 3200! ISO) at around 13 stops of dynamic range
– Clean ISO up to 64000 (although I still don’t recommend shooting that high)

The Not So Good of The Sony A7s:
– No 4k Internal (see wrap-up)
– Extremely sensitive sensor (a Sony quality) means you need to invest in some quality ND filters
– Limited Battery Life

Final Thoughts on The Sony A7s:
I asked Philip Bloom about the dynamic range, and he said that it gets up to about 13 stops. This is a similar dynamic range to the outstanding Blackmagic Pocket and Cinema Cameras.

While the The Sony A7s is priced between the Blackmagic 2.5K and 4K Production cameras, it has a 4K powerhouse of a sensor and I am very excited to see what good cinematographers can do with it. Internal downsampling is nice, but being able to output full Ultra-HD 4K over HDMI is a great option.

Check Out the AJA CION

Check Out the AJA CION by filmmaker Michael Head

AJA has jumped from the realm of video capture and post conversion, and into camera design with the AJA CION, a 4K capable camera that looks like it sits right above the Blackmagic URSA in specs and in price.

The AJA CION uses a Super-35 (APS-C) sized sensor to record up to 4K resolution with reportedly 12 stops of dynamic range with a global shutter to eliminate rolling shutter artifacts.

AJA even built in an Optical Low-Pass and IR Cut Filter to reduce artifacts like moire, aliasing, and infrared contamination that many digital sensors experience (smart move!).

AJA CION

Check Out the AJA CION

The AJA CION is well versed in Prores capture, and this camera shows off that expertise.

It records 4K in all of the popular Prores flavors and even achieves high frame rate capture internally up to 60 FPS and 120 FPS through 4 x 3G-SDI outputs.

Internally it records to AJA’s Pak media, which is cost-effective for what it does but might be a bit pricey for some owner-operators. It will allow capture of “AJA raw” through multipe 3G-SDI outputs up to 120 FPS and a Thunderbolt connection up to 30 FPS.

Ergonomically speaking, the AJA CION is a step towards a ready-to-shoot-out-of-the-box camera which can easily be shouldered with the built in shoulder rest – which is great.

The AJA CION is also designed with multiple mounting points around the camera, include Arri Rosettes for handles and 15mm rod support on the body of the camera.

As nice as it is to have a sensor in a box, the ability to shoot without investing tons of extra money in rigging is a welcomed change.

AJA CION – The Good:

  • Super-35 4K sensor with 12 stops of dynamic range and global shutter
  • Built-in Optical Low Pass and IR Cut Filter
  • Records full 4K (4096×2160), Ultra HD (3840×2160), 2K (2048×1080) and 1080P
  • Apple Prores 4444 ( up to 30 FPS), 422 (60 FPS), AJA Raw up to 120 FPS through 3G-SDI and 30 FPS through Thunderbolt
  • 2x 3G-SDI output and 2x HDMI for monitor output
  • Ethernet output for monitoring and control through a computer
  • 2x XLR input with phantom power
  • Nice, almost ENG style design but flexible with multiple mounting points

AJA CION – The Not So Good:

  • No ND filters internally (but the OLP/IR filter is welcome)
  • No raw recording internally
  • PL Mount only (not great for those who are heavily invested in DSLR lenses but pretty easily adaptable)
  • Linear capture only – no LOG recording for now
  • Proprietary SSDs are a bit pricey (but AJA has a good reputation for them)

The Questions:

  • What is AJA Raw and when will we be able to fully use it?
  • Will the sensor be a problem?

AJA has a great reputation for on time delivery, which is a problem that has haunted some of the other camera manufactures.

The decision to go with only linear capture is interesting, but with raw capability it might not be too bad of a choice. AJA is apparently trying to nail the color science so that there is an “AJA Look” that people might try for.

With a price of around $9,000 AJA is aiming for a market above the Blackmagic cameras but still firmly in the realm of the owner-operator and small indie film market. The AJA CION looks to be a great entry into the market.