Black Magic Pocket Camera Review Compared To DSLR and Red Epic

Is this small camera a game changer like the Canon 5D2 was?

Testimonial-david-d

In this video I am going to be reviewing the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera. There is a lot of excitement out there about this tiny little thing.

Before I started this review was most excited about 3 things:

  • High dynamic range

  • A good codec for editing and playback

  • and the price of only $995

A lot of you might be saying, I have never heard of this company Blackmagic Design. Well there is a good reason, they just started shipping their very first camera probably less than a year ago, and now they have 3 models including this one.

Blackmagic Design is Disruptive

I watched a lot of interviews Black Magic has given at trade shows and I have talked to them as well, they don’t come right out and say it but they are frustrated by the lack of speed at which companies like Canon were innovating. Blackmagic develops products for post production, and that is an important note to remember, because this camera is designed for post production. Blackmagic might be small compared to a company like Canon with around 200k employees but what they lack in size they make up for in guts for being disruptive to the market which is good for us, and think of Canon as a conservative large company that is slow to give is what we want. Blackmagic is the fire under Canon’s butt.

The Pocket camera is designed to work with their free Davinci Resolve Lite software which is pretty much the same software that many feature films are graded with. So you have powerful combination of free software and camera that can give you pretty awesome stuff at 1080 for less than $1,000.

Matching Skin Tones to My DSLR is Not Easy for Me

Matching Skin Tones Canon 5D3 vs Black Magic Pocket Camera

Now remember that this camera is designed for post processing because of Blackmagic’s background. What does this mean, it means it will not give you pretty pictures right out of the camera, you might be thinking, “Dave these log images from the Pocket camera look terrible compared to your Canon 5D”. Yes they do, but this camera is designed to have it’s pixels punished in post, think of it like a blank canvas for you the artist to repaint with color and re-light. After you punish the pixels it looks like this, which looks a lot better.

Let me start off by saying I do not have enough experience yet to do a proper review of this camera. Why? Because I am not a professional colorist that works on log images on a daily basis. However, I can give you a good run down if you are just starting out or at a level like me. The Pocket camera has taught me a lot in the past 30 days, in fact the images that I tried to grade a month ago I have since re-graded with much better results. I have asked several colorists and others many questions over the past month to help me get better with this thing. Guys I really think this is where things are heading so if you like me you need to start investing in yourself by either taking some advanced grading courses or experiment a lot with a camera like this, and at this price point this looks to me THE camera to learn on.

Black Magic Pocket Camera at NCAR

Pocket Camera vs Canon 5D Mark III

I have mostly been testing it  side by side to my Canon 5D3 which produces beautiful images right out of the camera. I have also tested it against a Red Epic which I will talk more about later. About half the time I am frustrated with the pocket camera because I can’t get the results similar to my 5D, and the other half when I do get the results I want I think it’s a wonderful image. Why is this? It’s not the camera’s fault, it’s because I am not an advanced colorist. The Canon 5D has spoiled me because I never had to work the image that much, but with the pocket camera in film mode you have to work each image a great deal. I understand the basics of color correction using ProLost settings and CineStyle, but correcting a log image is a different animal and a different workflow is needed, such was which node to place the LUT in to.

BMPCC vs 5D3

Let me give you an example. I was trying to test the ProRes codec one day to see how less banding I would get from the pocket camera compared to my 5D. As you can see the 5D gives us great color of the sunset pretty much right out the camera, but where is the color on the pocket camera? Now I knew what they looked like because I had my 5D, but what if I didn’t have the 5D as a reference? How would I know looking at this image days later what colors were in the sunset so I know which colors to pull out? I might forget and end up saying, “Well I guess there is not much color there, I don’t think I’ll use that shot”. But there is color info there, but it is not easy for me at my level to get the color out. It is not as easy as pumping up the saturation all the way. Here let’s try. See not much color.

Now some of you that are more experienced than me will say, “But Dave you need to apply a LUT”. I know what a LUT is, but some of you might not know, or you might not know what Rec709 means, what a 4:2:2, 10 bit, or lift gamma and gain, gosh I am learning all these terms with you. The point I am trying to make is there is a steep learning curve into processing the images out of this camera using the log film mode. If you are thinking that the film mode is like CineStyle, think again, it is a log format that is very flat without much color at all it is not as easy as adjusting the black and white point and adding some saturation. This shot I could never match after an hour of trying, some nice people in the forums helped me get them to match.

Image Quality

OK with that warning out of the way, what do I think of the camera? I really like the image after I have processed it correctly. I like the amount of detail within the image, it is not like a sharp video image, but detail as in resolution, when you compare it to my 5D, the 5D looks soft especially on close ups like this one. Look at the detail in her eye lashes, pours and her hair.

Next up I really like the dynamic range you can get out of the film mode. I don’t know how much more dynamic range it has compared to my 5D but it is definitely noticeable, just look at the trees in the background. I like how I can see detail in the shadows and they don’t get all muddy or blocked up like on my 5D, the 5D has a tendency to crush the blacks at a certain point and it is hard to get detail back in post.

I really like the ProRes codec, while the file sizes are about 4 times bigger than my 5D they playback a little bit smoother than my 5D footage within Resolve with fewer dropped frames.

10bit 4:2:2 (pocket) vs 8bit 4:2:0 (5D3) Not Much Difference?

Here I exposed for the doll on the right and underexpose myself two stops, in post I lifted them back up but they both held up pretty well. I shared this test in one of the forums and they came back and said you really need to father than 2 stops. For me the biggest advantage of ProRes 10 bit over my Canon 5D is in this test where I exposed for the window and then lifted the highlights and mid-tones that exact same amount for each camera and as you can see the Pocket camera’s image is not falling apart as much as the 5D3 is.

I also tested my 5D against the pocket camera for green screen work, knowing that the pocket camera has more color information to k ey with I thought it would blow away my 5D but I was surprised that the 5D did really well. I am not a special effects type person so this is something I need to run more tests on.

Pocket Camera vs Red Epic

The hard to see BMPCC screen

Next up I met with my friend James Drake and we compared the Pocket camera to his Red Epic. We tried to test in locations with high dynamic range to see how well it did. As you can see here the Epic has a bit more more dynamic range but it wasn’t a ton more, as James told me you could definitely use both cameras together on a shoot and match them up well. I know it is sounds obvious but since we were recording at 5k on his Red, the Red has a lot more detail or resolution than the pocket camera. So the 5D3 is pretty soft, the pocket camera has more detail and the Epic has even more detail to the image. But keep things in perspective as James told me a one day rental of the Red Epic is the same as the price of the Pocket camera.

BMPCC straight from Camera #1

Black Magic Pocket Camera vs Red Epic

Red Epic vs BMPCC

Aliasing and Moire

I ran some aliasing tests on this power line, I have done this with other Canon cameras and when there is aliasing it is very obvious, but not here, also I checked for moire patterns on this roof and I could not see any. That being said I did have only one shot where I picked up some moire patterns on the brick behind me in this shot.

DOF

Since the sensor is much smaller than my 5D the depth of field is different, it is not as shallow. I know people say you can get around this with the pocket camera, but I do miss not having super shallow depth of field on the Pocket camera. That being said, on the flip side I have been looking for a second camera that is easier to have everything in focus.

Rolling Shutter

It does have rolling shutter, without testing it to heavily I didn’t see much of a difference between my 5D and even my iphone for that matter so I didn’t spend much time on that.

I’m not a Colorist

So the pocket camera has better image quality than my 5D? Yes but remember that only happens about half the time for me currently because I am not a colorist. I realize I need more practice at grading to get to a point where I am with the 5D, it’s just going to take some time where I’m not so frustrated on half my shots.

For example here is grade in Resolve I did when we were comparing the Red Epic, it took me several attempts and about 15-20 minutes to get it to look like this from this.  But what does it look like when a professional colorist works on the image for only a couple of minutes, here Juan Salvo’s version which is clearly a better image than mine and he did it much faster.

Issues

So let’s say you like the Pocket’s footage and unlike me you are good and fast at grading your images, should you get it? Well I need to point out a few issues first. When I am going over the issues I want you to glance over that the price in the corner every now and then to keep thing in perspective that this thing only costs $995. If it seems like I am hating on this camera during this list, it’s just that I know Blackmagic is watch this video and perhaps something I will say will make it in a new firmware or hardware update. It’s important to point out that like all my reviews I do not have an affiliation with companies like Blackmagic, I got this camera from B&H and B&H doesn’t tell me what to say or what to review.

I’m not going to talk about the ‘white orb’ or the ‘black dot’ issues because by now those items have been fixed, which is amazing they fixing items this fast.

The issue that bothers me the most might be surprising, it is not the battery life, it is the lack of white balance control, this is because I am not a colorist and I want to get it right in camera. You can not make real time white balance changes you have to enter the menu and then come back, I want to see the difference in color temp when I change it so I can dial it in. Which brings me to the next issue you can’t dial in the Kelvin like you can with a 5D because you have these massive gaps between temperatures. Also I would love to see a custom white balance feature so I can not only set the Kelvin but the green / magenta shift at the same time. When I do my review on this camera when it shoots raw I am sure this issue will not bother me as much then.

Luxi Light Meter with the BMPCC

Where to Set 18% Grey in Film Mode?

Black Magic Pocket vs Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 5D Mark III vs BMPCC ProRes

I want to see more tools for setting exposure, right now we only have three tools, the auto iris button that only appears to work in video mode, zebras for protecting our highlights and the rear display for using your eye to determine exposure which is not the best tool when shooting in log mode, it is hard. I’m finding that using a light meter is important, but hard to do when you are using variable ND filters. You can not trust the auto iris button while in film mode, but I did ask Blackmagic about where to expose 18% grey for on the waveform scope and they said 50% which surprised me since other manufacturers from what I understand say something lower like 40 or even 32% when in log mode.

BMPCC with the Luxi Light Meter on Iphone 5S

Hard to Focus

This issue might be isolated to me but I am missing focus on a alarming number of shots which is not good. Take for instance this lizard which I zoomed in digitally and manually focused on, as you can see I nailed it with my 5D but really soft on the Pocket camera which is odd because it was an indoor shot and I could see the screen well. This could be a function of shooting with lenses that I don’t know well, or like this shoot at f/22 that seems soft too.

BMPCC Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm Lens Focus Issue

If you are thinking about using auto focus a lot because the screen is so hard to see when the sun is hitting it, don’t trust it because for the lenses that I used they were either slow or just couldn’t lock focus at all. I have a feeling this is a lens issue. Also if you think you are going to manually focus with the handy focus peaking outside, again the screen is so hard to see sometimes and you can’t zoom in digitally like 5X or 10X like on a DSLR you only get 1X which makes it really hard.

No 60FPS

It does not have 60fps even at 720p. I really like to add some slow motion when it calls for it, so I will need to carry a DSLR. Isn’t it odd that my iPhone and a GoPro that costs less than this can shoot at 120fps but this can’t?

Battery Issue

Upgrading BMPCC to Firmware 1.4.2

BMPCC Can't Charge battery from USB

The battery is an issue, but I can cut them a little slack because these batteries are cheap and it is really not that hard to carry 5 of them. However, I would like it if they allowed the battery to be charged via USB. I’m sure as Andrew Reid has pointed out that someone will make a battery grip for this camera soon that will solve this issue.

Audio Issues

It does have audio issues, my unit exhibits a high frequency noise element when using the internal mic even without the lens IS turned on. The bigger issue is the lack of audio meters. I think it is somewhat funny they will give us a professional codec but not audio meters. That being said on the good side they have a headphone jack, that is something Canon has been very stingy with on their cameras at this price point.

Other Issues

Here are a few items while not minor I hope they get fixed soon in a firmware update such as formatting the card in camera, deleting files in camera, assigning the left and right button for real time ISO and WB changes, audiometers, time left on the card, remember the settings from the last time you shot.

Black Lantern?!

As I have said, Blackmagic is a disruptive company, wouldn’t it be cool, if they embraced the open source community and publish the source code for the camera and opened it up to groups like Magic Lantern, and they could give us these features much faster than Blackmagic can. That would be a bold move which Blackmagic is know for.

Pocket vs Canon 5D3 Raw

Canon 5D3 ML Raw vs H.264 vs BMPCC

Speaking of Magic Lantern, how does the Pocket camera compare to my 5D3 in raw? I didn’t really want to spend too much time on this because I will review this camera again when it shoots raw, but in terms of resolution the pocket camera seems to have the same amount of detail as 5D3 raw, but in terms of dynamic range I would give the win to the 5D3 raw.

Construction

The construction of this camera is really nice, I like  it a lot. If I were to be picky I am not a fan of how you close the battery door and I would rather have the record button on the back instead of the top. Also for you in wet environments this thing is not even close to weather resistant.

Who is this camera for?

If you want to really push you image around in post, let’s say you do a lot of green screen, this is the camera for you at this price point. It is for a person that wants to get a good shot without a permission or a permit like sneaking in an art museum. It is for a person that has a lot of time they can devote to post. It is for a person like me that is not good as grading log images yet but wants to grow in to this camera.  This camera is for people that use a Red Epic that get tired and fatigued by carrying it around and when they want a break they can pick this up.

Who is this camera Not for?

Who is this camera not for? Not for people that want a fast turn around time, not for someone that doesn’t want to learn a new skill of grading a log image. Not for someone that wants to carry one camera and take pictures too. Not for intermixing with DSLR’s if you are not good a grading an image, I will admit it this camera is a pain to match shots with a DSLR especially for skin tones.

Thanks!

Before my conclusion I have few people to thank because I was asking them a ton of questions for this review.

James Drake for testing the BMPCC against his Red Epic

Juan Salvo helping me out with color and many other things

Terry Frechette director of marketing for Americas at Blackmagic Design

Ryan Walters answering questions I had about exposing for log footage and light meters.

Jem Schofield helping me with the log film

Andrew Reid for helping me pick out MFT glass

Alex MacLean for helping me out with log exposure.

Caleb Pike for sharing notes on his review of the BMPCC

Matt Scott for ideas on how to test it

Scott helping me with Resolve

Conclusion

You should be excited about this camera even if you are not going to buy it. Because it will force conservative Canon to be more innovative and give us what we want because their point-and-shoot market is dying and we filmmakers are really supporting their dslr market, they need us.

Bang for your buck this camera is amazing. Nothing less comes close at this price range for image quality and dynamic range. If you want to help support what I do here please use the link below or on my gear page if you are going to purchase this camera or check out the in depth training I have on DSLR cameras.

As for me I am not giving up on post processing with this camera, right now it is very frustrating when I can’t get the look I want, but I know that will come. If you haven’t go watch Zacuto’s last shoot out where made even an iphone look pretty good compared to a Red Epic. This camera gets you 50% of the way there, the other 50% is up to you on how well you can process it.

Wish List I Sent to Black Magic

  1. While shooting it would be nice to assign the left and right arrow keys to adjust white balance or ISO.
  2. Change the first menu around so the most used items such as ISO and WB are at the top so you don’t waste time scrolling through items you only set once.
  3. The ‘project name menu’ is very annoying while you are trying to zoom in, can we change the location of that?
  4. Provide a “screen display LUT option” that is similar to what is in Resolve 10 for the BM cameras that provides a lot more saturation.
  5. Format card in camera.
  6. Delete files within camera.
  7. Time or space indicator left on SD card.
  8. Keep one ‘ASA’ or ‘ISO’ but don’t confuse with both in the same menu item
  9. Audio meters
  10. Faster autofocus.
  11. 5x and 10x zoom instead of just 1x zoom.
  12. Remember settings. If I turn off the camera or even come from playback mode my aperture changes from the previous setting.
  13. 60fps recording
  14. A menu screen that shows which firmware you are using.
  15. Hardware: LED on the outside of the camera letting you know it is charging and when it is done charging.
  16. Hardware: Charge battery from connected USB cable. Nikon’s batteries are $63 for 1000mha, these are 900Mha for much less.

BLack Magic Pocket Camera Viewfinder

Which Camera Did I Use to Film Me Talking?

  • Since I wanted to hold the Pocket Camera, I used my Canon5D3.

My Basement Studio

Brochure Misleading?

BMPCC-TN-small

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Equipment Used

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