How to upgrading to the blackmagic cinema

There’s no question about it, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is one of the hottest cameras out there. Let’s say you already own a small compact DSLR – you’ve honed your story and lighting techniques and you’re ready to step up your image quality – the Pocket Cinema Camera looks like a good fit. Well it’s not as simple as just buying the body and being done – here are 7 things you must consider when upgrading to a dedicated digital filmmaking camera like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

1. THE IMAGE QUALITY IS FANTASTIC

Lets just start off by saying that yes indeed, the quality of the video coming off the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is quite fantastic. The fact remains that DSLRs are stills cameras first, with video added as a side thought – what Blackmagic is doing in terms of their Cinema Camera lines is build a camera with the same type of stripped down form factor but engineer it for video from the ground up. The images off the camera are cleaner, crisper and easier to manipulate than footage from a DSLR.

I got to spend some time with an evaluation camera provided by our sponsor Blackmagic Design. It really wasn’t until I got the footage into post that I really got to see the true strength of this camera – and that’s the image quality.

I asked Victoria Patton to accompany me on a short impromptu test – shooting a melancholy stroll through San Diego’s Gas Lamp District . The following short was shot on the Rokinon 35mm f1.4 and 8mm f3.8 using a monopod for stabilization. The footage was recorded using the ProRes Codec on the camera and color graded using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 10.

The Pocket Cinema Camera is not a great low light camera but when paired up with an fast lens like the Rokinon 35mm f1.4, it can still deliver a decent image even under sparse street lighting with a scrumptious bokeh. Finding focus when fully wide open can be challenge as I fumbled with the inch wide depth of field through out the night – I relied on the BMPCC’s built in peaking (which highlights edges that are in focus in green) to try to find my critical focus.

The Rokinon 8mm f3.8 lens had a harder time compensating for the low light of San Diego’s gas lamp district. But here’s where Blackmagic’s 10-bit ProRes codec comes to rescue (or RAW if you choose to go that route). Shots that may have been deemed too dark can be rescued and the noise that comes with the boost in gain isn’t not terribly distracting like the video noise in DSLR cameras. Due to the limitations of time on location, I chose to shoot in ProRes to keep from burning through my cards (more on that in a bit).

This short impromptu test with no crew or staged lighting has proven to me beyond a doubt that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is certainly up to the challenge of producing quality video images in a small and compact size. With the right resources and planning the Pocket Cinema Camera can definitely deliver stunning results. Getting that level of quality, however, will requires a different approach to the camera than I was used to…

2. YOU’RE GOING TO NEED NEW LENSES

The single most challenging thing coming to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera from Full Frame or APS-C sized Sensors is having to adjust for the crop factor. I have and still use the Full frame Canon 5D MkII for which I’ve built up a nice range of glass for it. But the smaller crop factor of the Pocket Cinema Camera means most of the glass I use on the 5D will be way too powerful to use.

As you can see from this chart above, Blackmagic Cinema Camera sensor (in red) is much smaller than the full frame Canon 5D with the Pocket Cinema Cameras sensor smaller still – about the same size as Super 16mm film. This means only a small portion of the field of view of your lens is being read by the camera sensor – resulting in a crop factor of 3.02. This means that a fisheye 8mm on the BMPCC (which you can see in the frame grabs above) will have the equivalent field of view as a 24mm lens on the Canon 5D MkII. And a wide angle 24mm on a BMPCC would have the same range as a 72mm lens – which is pushing into the telephoto range. A nifty-fifty will be like shooting on a 150mm super telephoto lens!

So if you’re coming at the Pocket Camera with a few medium or long lens for your Full frame/APS-C DSLR, you’ll need to consider investing in some really wide lenses. At the time of this article, Blackmagic is only offering the Pocket Camera in Micro Four-thirds active mount. The adapter that Blackmagic sent for review was a passive mount, meaning that I could not electronically control the aperture of the Canon lenses I had (another factor to consider). Luckily the Rokinon lenses I had at my disposal all had manual aperture control but if you need to electronically control your sensor you will have to consider something like the Redrock Active Mount Adapter.

You may also consider the Metabones Speed Booster offerings as a way to compensate for the crop factor from the small sensor size. Speedboosters essentially make the imaging circle of the lens smaller, widening the field of view and improving low light capabilities. But Speedboosters aren’t cheap – costing as much as a new Micro Four Thirds lens. But it may a necessary cost for someone with a existing collection of glass.

But if you are coming at this camera from a Micro Four Thirds background (shooting with a Lumix for example)- then you may see a relatively easy transition – at least in the Lens Department. But if you are looking into lenses – opt for image stabilization as it will help the handheld form factor which we’ll get to in further down.

3. YOU’LL NEED FASTER (AND MORE) CARDS

There are a lot of young filmmakers out there clamoring for RAW recording capabilities in their cameras but reality is most filmmakers coming from a DSLR environment aren’t ready to handle the kind of data pipeline required for RAW and most projects don’t require it. Regardless of whether the RAW workflow interests you or not, you will still need to start investing in faster cards and more memory to store all your footage.

At the time of this article’s publication, the Blackmagic Pocket Camera can record in two modes: ProRes 422 HQ which eats up memory at about 1.2 gigabytes per minute and RAW which eats up roughly twice that much at 2.7 gigabytes per minute. So a 64 gigabyte SD card will carry less than an hour of record time using the compressed ProRes codec and half that if shooting in RAW.

But you can’t record to bargain basement SD cards. You need Class 10 45Mb/s rated cards for recording ProRes (and that might be cutting it close) and 80/MB and up cards to record in RAW.