Be Still No More: A FIrst Look at the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday September 15, 2016

That Old Black Magic

That old black magic has me in its spell
That old black magic that you weave so well
Those icy fingers up and down my spine
The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine

    —Harold Arlen


Name: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
Video format:  Super 16
Sensor Size: 12.48mm x 7.02mm
Effective Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Shooting resolutions: Lossless Cinema DNG RAW, Apple ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes 422 LT, and ProRes 422 Proxy at
1920 x 1080.
Frame Rates: HD 1080p 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30.
Dynamic range: 13 stops
Lens Mount: Active MFT
Focus: Focus button turns on peaking, plus auto focus on active lenses.
Display: 3.5 inch LCD
Storage Type: Removable SDXC, SDHC cards.
Full specifications:  Here

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is incredibly simple. There are no front controls and the top controls are just for recording (the red button) and playback. There is a top-mounted thread for attaching accessories, stacking cameras, etc.

Tiny Wonder: The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

If you want to feel really old sometime, just look at the size transition that video cameras have gone through in the last 30 or 40 years. Well, come to think of it, since I can look back 30 or so years I must be getting old anyway. I clearly recall when my father opened up a CD at a local bank, probably in the late 80s, and as a gift the bank gave him a full-size shoulder-mount camcorder. (Remember when banks actually gave you gifts for banking there?) Videotaping a kid’s birthday party looked like a CNN news event. Things shrunk down a decade or so later when Sony and others put out palm-sized camcorders. But even those camera were purely amateur quality and most pro video cameras were still  a pretty substantial size.

Imagine how surprised and pleased Hollywood must be then to see cameras like the diminutive Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) come along offering full 1080 HD in a camera the size of a pack of playing cards (the body is just over five-inches wide and weighs just 12.5 ounces). When you consider that the BMPCC sells for under a grand (sans lens), you can just hear the sound of giant video cameras crashing to the equipment-closet floor to make room for a Blackmagic shelf—where they can (and probably do) store several dozen BMPCC cameras where one video dinosaur once slept.

Make no mistake about it, I think this camera is destined for just such a position in production studios where it will be regarded as a high-level video camera capable of being embedded in shots and sets where no other camera has ever fit. If you were filming a scene in a diner, for example, you could easily stash one behind (or even in) a napkin dispenser provided you had a small enough lens.

Simple as the BMPCC is, it can be rigged out to the max. Here is is with an Arri zoom, on a rail and with a matte box.

The BMPCC, which has actually been on the market for a few years, is pretty much a pro camera and it is probably not the camera that amateur/consumer video shooters will lust for since, for most of their needs, a DSLR shoots video that is perfectly acceptable. Also, much of the output quality of this camera comes from its ability to capture RAW footage which enables you to adjust the same things you can in still RAW files: ISO, white balance and contrast (among others). Those post-production techniques fall into an area that filmmakers refer to as “color grading.” Here is a really nice article by Patrick Inhofer that explains color grading and its roll in video production.

Speaking of RAW, the BMPCC ships with very sophisticated pro software called Davinci Resolve and while I did install the software, that was about as far as I got. The software comes with a 900-page pdf manual. Enough said? I’d love to take a class in using this software and I hope that opportunity comes along but for now, that’s also beyond my skill set. There is also a full pro version called Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Studio for Mac/Win/Linuxif you want the full studio verison.

This is the very first video that I shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Not very exciting as far as video goes, but I shot it at ISO 800 on a heavily overcast day (with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens). I was pretty happy just to get something recorded. One of the things you forget when you're a still shooter is that it's harder to find action subjects than you think. I kept directing the swans: Do something! Swans just live in a world of their own.

Simple is as Simple Does

The camera has an active MFT (micro four-thirds) lens mount (which means it has electronic connections to activate AF and image stabilization if they are part of the lens), so you can use any native MFT lenses from Sigma, Lumix, Leica, Zeiss, Olympus and Voightlander, etc. Sigma was kind enough to loan me a Sigma 30mm F1.4 Contemporary DC DN lens. The BMPCC has a micro four-thirds (MFT) lens mount and with the crop factor of 2.88 the lens was actually about a 90mm lens. If I had this camera longer to test I’d love to do some wildlife shooting with a big long lens like the magnificent Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM lens (read my review of that lens here). You would need a might heavy tripod to control that, but imagine filming with what would effectively be an 1800mm lens at maximum zoom. Yikes.

You can buy adapters and speed-booster adapters from Metabones to adapt Canon EF and Nikkor lenses to the BMPCC. The Metabones Canon EF to BMPCC Speed Booster, for example, increases maximum aperture by 1 2/3 stops and makes the lens 0.58x wider. That’s a significant consideration if you’re trying to shoot wide-angle shots since a 3x crop factor pretty much kills all wide-angle considerations. To be honest, I was kind of happy that the Sigma lens I had was boosted 3x because it meant I was shooting at roughly 90mm. Still, as much as I love prime lenses, I was craving a zoom lens the whole time I was shooting.

The compact size of the BMPCC is pretty impressive when you consider that it records full HD video and has RAW recording capability. The controls on the back are very simple: Iris (for setting exposure), Focus (autofocus an MFT active lens), the menu button and a power button, as well as the navigation controls.

The BMPCC is very simple to set up and use and basically once you set a recording format and set the ISO (200 to 1600), white balance and shutter angle (a type of shutter speed, that’s as much as I know), you’re ready to rock. Shooting is just a three-step process: click the Iris button to set exposure, click the focus button to focus and then hit the red shoot button at the top of the body and you’re recording.

The LCD screen is 3.5-inches and really provides a big window for viewing shots. I think in the future I'd bring a black cloth with me to help me see on really bright days, but in shade or in dim light, it's a very bright screen. The back of the camera is very clean and your entire focus is on the image.

The swan video that you see above is my very first video shot with the camera. Not a great video (and that’s being kind), but on a cloudy day and shooting handheld, I was pleased just to get something the first time I pressed the button. I shot everything during my tests either handheld or resting on dock railings or picnic tables. I would much prefer to use a tripod all of the time, but with such a small camera, if you have a pretty steady hand, you can indeed shoot handheld. There is no built-in stabilization (love to see sensor-based stabilization in a future generation), but if you have a lens with stabilization the active mount will activate it. The fishing video below was shot handheld in deep twilight and the colors held up nicely.

I shot this kid fishing using the BMPCC handheld at ISO 800 in the fading light of the sunset.

What’s Your Complaint?

I had a few issues with the camera in the brief time I used it and while certainly none of them were deal breakers, I’d have to find workarounds if it was being used for serious work. Here are some of the things that annoyed me:

Battery:  Oy. If one thing drove me nuts shooting with this camera it was that you can watch the battery capacity (it’s in the bar at the top of the LCD) deplete as you shoot. It drained so fast that I actually had to stop shooting several times and run home to recharge. You get about 30 mins of actual shooting time but the very first time I went out shooting I had to spend time mucking around in the menus and that drained half the capacity before I even began shooting. An external battery pack would be great.

Exposure. In many situations the exposure was surprisingly good (especially in dim light at high ISOs—see the fishing video). But I also found that in contrasty situation where the scene was dominated by a large dark area (water) or a bright area (sky) the camera’s meter was fooled. So what about the 13-stop dynamic range? I gather this is only a true asset when you’re shooting in RAW and can modify ISO and contrast after the fact. So no points off for that, but something to keep in mind. While shooting white boats on a dark river, lots of the boats were grossly overexposed. There’s no exposure compensation feature, so you can’t shoot, tweak and then shoot again (something you can do with a DSLR).

LCD: The LCD is big (3.5-inches, nice!) and it’s pretty good but you have to use it at 100-percent brightness in full sun and that drains batteries even more. I personally dislike shooting with an LCD (particularly handheld, less so on a tripod) and in bright daylight, the LCD was not that easy to see. I think a pop-up hood around the LCD would be a brilliant idea (my Speed Graphic from the 1940s has one!). On a tripod you could use a dark cloth and that would totally solve the problem.

Other than those issues (and the fact that there is no way to mount a neck strap to the camera) I have to say it was fun shooting with a camera that was so utterly easy to use and that was shooting video quality that I knew was far superior to what most DSLRs can capture. The ability to shoot and work in RAW, for example, is wonderful for those with skill in editing. And the simplicity of using the camera is very alluring. I could teach a kid to use this camera in five minutes. It also has complete VCR-type controls (did I really say VCR?) on the top of the camera so you can playback scenes on that big LCD.

This is my favorite video shot in the brief few days that I tested the camera--a local high school football practice. One of the players or coaches tried to bounce me out of the practice because they someone apparently thought i was spying for another school and taping their secret plays. They even started aiming pass plays right in front of me trying to scare me off--one almost took the camera out. Sorry kids, I've worked the sidelines at NFL games, you'll have to gain a few hundred pounds to intimidate me! Nice camera for shooting sports though, so easy to handhold. Now about that secret play...


As someone who is almost entirely a still shooter, I have mixed feeling about the BMPCC when compared to a DSLR. Certainly the small size of the BMPCC (it really will fit in a shirt pocket, sans lens) is fantastic and I think journalists are probably already using the camera for that reason. On the other hand, I’m so used to hauling around a DSLR that small size isn’t much of an issue for me. As I said earlier, I don’t really see this as a consumer camera (and I don’t think Black Magic intends it to be), but if you’re willing to learn the DaVinci software, this camera will put you leaps and bounds beyond DSLR video.

Also, at under $1,000 street, the BMPCC is incredibly affordable, particularly if you have a good stock of MFT lenses or are willing to spring for the Metabones adapter. The simplicity of the camera is also an attraction: this is a no-fuss video camera. Once you know your setting requirements it’s as close to a point-and-shoot camera as pro video cameras will ever get. Would I choose this over a DSLR? Maybe if I had some training in the DaVinci software, yes. Do I think it will attract consumers? I’m not sure—I don’t see a lot of amateur BMPCC videos on Youtube. For now I think the camera has absolutely inspired me to shoot more video and to learn more about editing and for that reason alone I’m grateful that I fell under the spell of this BlackMagic camera.

Comments from users of the camera are particularly welcome for this newsletter because as I said, I’m a novice, so I’d like to be schooled in its advanced capabilities.

Look Ma! No paddle! Check out this guy kayaking near the mouth of the Housatonic River--he's powering that kayak with his feet. The BMPCC is meant for far more serious video shooting than this, but it's great that it's so quick to use it's virtually a point-and-shoot camera once you have it set up. I hope to get a chance to put a nice long zoom on this body.

New Products News

Think Tank Airport Helipak™ for 3DR Solo. Think Tank Photo has introduced a new full-featured backpack designed specifically for the 3DR Solo quadcoptor. The Airport Helipak™ features padded dividers to carry your quadcopter and all of your accessories. There’s enough space for your 3DR Solo, accessories, multiple chargers, a controller, extra batteries, an iPad or Andrdoid tablet and/or a 17-inch laptop—plus a small DSLR or a mirrorless camera. The case measures 14” W x 20.5” H x 9” D (35.6 x 52.1 x 22.9 cm) and weights 4.6 pounds. Presumably you’ll have to carry lunch in a separate case.

Canon EOS M5. Canon EOS M5. Canon is bringing out a new body in its M series of mirrorless camera bodies, the EOS M5. The camera features a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor using Dual Pixel technology and running the fast DIGIC 7 Image Processor. It also features very fast continuous shooting at up to 7.0 fps (up to 9.0 fps with AF Lock). It has some impressive video specs, too:  it will shoot full HD 1080/60p video with 5-axis image stabilization when shooting movies—plus even greater image stabilization with both lens optical IS and in-camera digital IS when you’re shooting with an IS lens. There’s also a 3.2 tilt-type (85° up/180° down) touch screen LCD monitor (approx. 1,620,000 dots) that lets you touch focus even when you’re using the EVF. Cool. It will hit the market in November…Dear Santa.


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