The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera has been a revolutionary product ever since it landed on the scene, first with the 4K and eventually the 6K model.
It’s safe to say both cameras have an aura and a charm of their own that has put cine level quality in more hands thanks to its aggressive pricing. Blackmagic sent both cameras to be reviewed, and while the 6K is better, with more horsepower at its disposal, I chose to shoot my project on the Pocket Cinema 4K.
I did this for two main reasons: the absence of an adequately powerful editing system that can handle 6K video files at my end and the 4K is cheaper making it a bit more accessible to the aspiring cine buffs. Don’t get me wrong in most cases shooting in 4K is going to be more than sufficient for broadcast quality commercials and short films.
What’s under the hood?
Before getting into the real-world usage of the camera, let’s focus on a few key specs that make the Pocket Cinema cameras an absolute beast to use.
The 4K uses a 4/3 sensor as compared to the 6K which uses a Super 35 sensor (on par with an APS-C sensor). On the numbers front the 6K’s senor is much larger in comparison to the 4K that means it is able to let in more light, making the 6K ideal for low light situations.
It’s important to note the crop effect caused by the difference in sensor sizes. In a full frame camera, what you see if what you get, in the sense what you see in the viewfinder is exactly the same visual representation of the image or video you end up with. The 1x changes to a 1.5x on a Super 35, and we see a further crop of 2x on the 4/3 sensor.
In terms of ISO, the 4K features dual native ISO up to 25,000 and 13 stops of dynamic range, that does promise a rich image however highlights can be blown out quite easily. That coupled with the smaller sensor size on the 4K makes it somewhat of a given to get the Pocket Cinema 6K instead. But we will save verdicts for later on.
In terms of the controls, the full HD 5-inch LCD touch screen is more than adequate to use as your viewfinder, and Blackmagic’s clean user interface means toggling between the settings is a child’s play. The screen fails to tilt or flip out in any direction, but in most cases DOPs will make use of the full size HDMI port on the camera to hook up an external monitor.
Speaking about the settings interface, it has always baffled me as to why more camera manufacturers don’t simplify their settings windows. Right off the bat, Blackmagic have the settings UI game nailed down to an absolute perfection.
Another strong point of both Pocket Cinema cameras is their ability to record in RAW. The Blackmagic RAW format, which shoots in 12-bit video, is something of a treat to process on the post-production table.
I was not too convinced with the backlit footage I took on the 4K, especially in the colouring process where after applying a LUT or grading the shadows get blown out slightly. I’m given to understand that the larger sensor size corrects this problem in the 6K but this is something to note while making your decision.
In terms of ports, Blackmagic has thrown a fair bit in there with future-proofing in mind. To think the 4K has been out for a while now and still feels modern enough (thanks in part to the presence of a USB-C port) is a testament in itself.
The camera also comes with a mini XLR mic / line input along with a 3.5 mm mic and headphone output, not to forget Bluetooth functionality as well.
Make no mistake either the 4K or 6K cameras need a bit of TLC before you take it out there in big wide world and start shooting. The battery, for instance, doesn’t have the best of run times especially when recording in max resolution. Personally, I received no more than 7-9 minutes of recording time, however, I was assured that it been a problem with the battery units I received.
Nonetheless it isn’t something that cannot be solved with a handy battery pack, which Blackmagic sells as an add-on. Slapping it on is easy and given the camera(s) a bit more heft to hold-on to.
You can record using two card slots, the CFast 2.0 and SDXC UHS-II card slots. The USB-C port means you can add an external SSD, which I would highly recommend espcially while filming in RAW.
If I had to recommend one piece of add-on, it would be the battery pack, you can still do without the SSD storage unit and external monitor.
Footage and edits
Armed with a tiny story board I hit the streets of Karama in Dubai to film a test video with the Pocket Cinema 4K. I strolled in a bid to capture the vibrancy of the old Dubai town, as people went about their day-to-day activities. This was pre-Covid-19 so don’t be surprised when you see people with no masks or social distancing guidelines being followed.
I’m no pro-cinematographer, colourist or video editor but I have a bit of formal training in the field and if you head to my IGTV (NikhilPereira17) you will see the sample video with the most basic of LUTs on my IGTV page.
Once I finished the shoot and got home I was left stunned watching the footage. Personally, I never imagined that a 4/3 camera sensor could have reproduced the kind of footage I was able to see. I shot in 4K RAW at 30fps that then allowed me to slow down the footage wherever I needed.
Pro-tip: You will need a super steady hand, which comes with experience, as the camera picks up all movements, jerks and footsteps. You could also jerry rig the unit to a stabiliser if you are working with bigger crews.
For the edits I opted to use the Da Vinci Resolve version 16 software instead of my go to Adobe Premier Pro. The learning curve to understanding the different tricks isn’t that steep. In fact Blackmagic has several tutorials, and then there is always YouTube to help you with specifics.
For a free software, I appreciated Resolve even more for all the functionalities it offers. You can colour grade and do many other complex tasks, which in some cases you require After Effects to achieve. There are countless effects and titles, widgets and settings can be customised. I hadn’t used resolve before this, but I pushed myself to get out of the Premier Pro comfort zone and I couldn’t be happier. Barring a few stability issues and system crashes, I would recommend Resolve any day of the week. And in case you didn’t hear me the first time, it’s free to download and install.
The Pocket Cinema 4K camera body is currently retailing for close to US$1,360 (AED5,000), while the 6K starts at $2,000 (AED7,500). The difference in price isn’t much and you are getting vastly different features when you take a look at the spec sheet in detail. Most importantly, the 6K allows you to shoot in full resolution and oversample to 4K packing a punch for every pixel in the world.
That’s not to say the 4K will not do the job because in the end it all boils down to what the user wants to achieve with the footage.
To summarise the Pocket Cinema 4K is better suited to independent filmmakers who have the luxury and liberty of re-takes. The 6K with its better low light capability and superior overall video quality will appeal to creative agencies and production companies looking to get bang-for-buck performance with no compromises. Either way you will be satisfied.