Time for a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera?

So camera upgrades come more and more often these days.  I had a crap-sounding, rugged and reliable Sony EVO-9100 Hi8 camcorder from CBC which I used and abused from 1992 until 1998, then a Canon XL-1 from 1998 to 2007 (Man, that one shot a lot of video!), then I moved to an HDV Canon XH-A1 til 2011 and lately, an HMC-150 which is very cool but has some serious drawbacks.*

Right now I am starting to look for a new camera package for what I do:  mostly shooting live events, some interviewing, documentary, corporate gigs etc. and, well, drama.  The HMC-150 isn’t the best dramatic rig, since it has a typical video small sensor and wide depth of field.

POSSIBLE BLACK MAGIC CINEMA CAMERA ENG PACKAGE

But wow, is it ever hard to beat a dedicated ENG-style camcorder for features and function.  What I need is:

* Good sync audio with XLR inputs – GOOD audio!  NOT scratch track, NOT “you should hire a sound guy,” but THE audio for my recording.

My first professional camcorder - the Sony EVO 9100 Hi8.
My first professional camcorder – the Sony EVO 9100 Hi8.

* A powerful zoom lens.  My HMC-150 has the 35mm equivalent of 28 to 368mm zoom at f 1.8.  Beat that, DSLR’s!!

* Preferably unlimited, but at least one hour of recording time free of AC power.  Twice a week I shoot stuff that is an hour long, live.  Sometimes two.  Can’t do any tape switching, battery changing, or whatever because I roll continuously – and I’m the only shooter.  Plugging in to power can introduce ground hum and requires more work for the venue – running me a cable and making sure it’s not going to trip the public.

The trouble is, despite these solid needs, I want a camera with a nicer “look” than these prosumer handicams.  They serve my function well, but the problem is they don’t get that fancy depth-of-field thing that DSLR’s are doing.

So along comes the Black Magic Pocket Cinema camera and I begin to wonder if it’s time to take the leap from Camcorder Land into Cinema.  I’m not convinced yet.

At VIVO, I checked out the Black Magic Cinema Camera, which is a sweet sweet piece of kit.  It lacks most of what I’m looking for, however.  The audio controls are inadequate, it’s not designed for hand-held, it’s too expensive for my needs, and it chews up HD space with its RAW files.  However, the design and concept are starting to entice me, and so when I hear about the Black Magic Pocket Cinema cam, I start to crack.

Why?  Because at only $1000, I might be able to tack on the gear I need to make it work for me without going way over a reasonable budget.  The XL-1 was $6400 (in 2013 dollars), and the XH-A1 was $4,300, and the HMC-150 equates to $3,000.  So I guess it should just keep getting cheaper to buy a camera that does what I need!

So after some reading, and learning about Micro Four Thirds lens mounts, I started to consider this as a future camera setup.  For $2500 it’s a lot of power.

But: Bah!  It seems like the cons might outweigh the pros for me.  With the Canon XA20 out there, doing everything I need, it’s hard to justify.

It includes:

Blackmagic Design – Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Pros:

Schwanky lenses on a dedicated video cam.

ProRes or RAW video.  ProRes is 32-bit, which isn’t ideal (I think the next Premiere will do it at 64-bit) but it’s nice quality and easy to work with.  RAW might be too much for all but the most expensive SDXC cards… and at 100MBps bitrate, it looks like the BMD pocket cinema camera might outpace all the cards on the market??  That means expensive new cards, unless they downgrade the spec before the actual release.

Small size means amazing video without drawing too much attention.

Cons:

It’s only 1080 – not 2.5k or 4k or something.  I was really interested in shooting hi-res, especially for stabilizing in post.

Audio is not going to suffice, needs a second device.  This can be done cheaply with the H4n, which I included in my kit, but it’s more work.

Aaaand the battery is only one hour.  Maybe enough for most purposes, but not ALL!

Olympus – M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6 Zoom

Main problem with this: much slower that the HMC-150 lens, which goes down to f/1.8. Curses!!  Also, at 28-300mm in 35mm equivalent, it’s not QUITE as powerful as my HMC-150’s zoom.  Zoom range will never be as big as a handicam with smaller chip?  Is that the problem?

I’m new to these lenses, and the micro four thirds system, so I’m not sure what functionality (autofocus, exposure etc) works with the BMD Pocket Cinema Camera.

Zoom – H4n Handy Mobile 4-Track Recorder

I think I could roll audio on this, with it mounted on top of the camera, and then run it into the camera.  That way I might get perfectly good sound on the video file, either from the stereo mic or from XLR inputs, while having the zoom recorder as a backup.  Sure will bulk the thing up though.

Barska – ACCU-Grip Camera Handle Pistol Grip

I confess, I already ordered one of these from Amazon.  I think they are awesome.  I remember the old Sony had one on the front for shoulder-mounting, but I used to take it off and put it in the middle of the rig for that super-8 style.  Worked ok, a bit heavy at the time… but nowadays it would work perfectly with the lighter cams.

* What’s wrong with the HMC-150?  Well, My Canon rigs proved that great-sounding auto audio levels are not only possible on a prosumer camcorder, they are a godsend.  I shoot mostly live events like dance and theatre.  If I have to take my hand off the zoom / focus / exposure to chase the audio (always too late), then I will often miss the action.

The prosumer camera world’s answer to this is usually, “record separate audio!” to which i say, “why don’t you pay for it?  And do the extra work?  And check the sound device while I’m shooting to make sure I set it properly and remembered to hit record?”

The other problem is that I am sick of dealing with AVCHD’s stupid sync bug in Adobe Premiere.  Every time I think I’ve gotten this problem licked, it pops up again.  ClipWrap seems to be a good solution but it adds a step to the process, and every step introduces the chance of error (and more work, dammit!).

11 Comments

  1. The crop factor of the pocket cinema cam is 2.9x vs 35mm (FF)
    Not 2x , because the sensor is S16 sized and not MFT sized.
    Only the mount is MFT , do not be misleaded 😛

  2. The Pocket Camera only has a SCHD slot, not a SDXC one (XQD, actually). It means your data transfer is limited to 40Mbps, and not the one necessary for RAW. For that, you would, most likely, need an external recorder.

    • But.. but… nothing about the camera seems to indicate it HAS an external recording slot… the connections listed don’t include this. Hmmm…

      I think this Sandisk Extreme Pro card is 95Mbps so it could theoretically almost do it – if they lower the spec slightly before the release…

      And the BH Photo description of the camera seems to indicate that it DOES have SDXC anyway – look under “specifications.”

      And, praise the gods, they have finally started allowing exFAT or HFS+ recording, which means faster Mac file transfer speeds I think, but definitely no stupid 3.99 GB file size limits. Then again, smaller file sizes might ultimately be safer for file corruption… would hate to lose a whole hour of show because of one hiccup in the recording stream. Maybe I’m paranoid.

      Never heard of XQD – any pointers to good info about them, besides Wikipedia?

      • Correction – the Sandisk card is max 90 (not 95) MBps (not Mbps – grrr). So slower still.

        The ProRes on the BMPC is 220 Mbps, which is only 27.5 MBps (according to Numion).

        The lossless CinemaDNG RAW is 64MBps, well within the Sandisk card spec. Hmmm… not sure where I got the 95 MBps from, can’t find it now.

        • Hey there, my crew and I often shoot live events and to be quite honest, I have the small camera set up and the large ENG camera setup. On the smaller jobs – interviews, speaking events, (stuff that doesn’t really require servo zoom lenses) I’ll shoot on the small – which in this case is my 3 Panasonic GH2s. Yep I’ve recorded separately with the Zoom H4n and now with Premiere Pro’s Automatic Audio sync function it’s no problem. Now as for having the built in XLRs, I’ll tell you my two favorite cameras but I feel they are over priced. The Canon C300 and C100. C100 I would say is for the internet audience. C300 is if you need to deliver to broadcasters, TV, or theater screen. If I had my way the C300 would be available at the C100 price point and the C100 wouldn’t exist, and the C500 would be at the C300’s current price. The 1DC is a great doc camera at 4k as well, but again, $12,000. Canon just plain makes me mad. They overcharge for everything. So now that the Pocket camera has come along it’s going to be a good small camera setup for me. Audio syncing I know can be worrisome (forgetting to press record as you say) but in general it’s what I’ve been doing for a long time and I’ve never forgotten. There are so many solutions to mount the Zoom these days anyway that it’s really not an issue.

          As for the C100, it can be had for $220+ a month through Texas Media Systems or Canon itself. For low light it’s not an issue. I’ve rented it and it’s a breeze to work with having virtually everything I’d want built into a camera. Built in NDs, XLR inputs, Gamma, Different color presets, Log mode, and excellent 12 stops of dynamic range. It’s super light weight and a great size. But if you’re looking for 4k, this isn’t the answer.

          In truth this is why I’m waiting to see how the new Blackmagic 4k camera will perform at 1080p. Because by all accounts it should perform as well as the C300 which would be a great “TAKE THAT CANON” moment for me. I want them to be humbled so bad, but it’s terrible because well, they’re HUGE. I don’t own a single Canon product, not even a lens, but I do think their stuff is good.
          So I would continue to shoot with your ENG solution for now and if you’d like something similar, get a C100 to deliver great images to your online based clients.

          For me when a client needs high end broadcast work, I’ll rent a C300 as I just cannot justify the price even after they “LOWERED” the cost to $14,000. Yippie! While Vincent LaForet and Philip Bloom talk about it like it’s pennies to buy, the rest of us mere mortals need a cheaper solution. So there you have it. I’ll include the GH3 as a contender by the way.
          Small setup – Gh3 or Pocket Cinema Camera (selling my Gh2’s to get these)
          Larger setup (For online clients – Canon C100 and possibly the Blackmagic 4k camera (1080p Pro Res will be mostly used for longer stuff).

          I should mention the Canon C100 battery is excellent. But in general I tend to buy extra batteries and am happy to do so. Our ENG cams require larger Hytrons or Dionics and I’ll use the same thing on the Blackmagic.

  3. I use a Tascam DR60-D for audio capture. Attaches to any of my cameras and provides 2 channel XLR with Phantom power. Ordered two BMPCC and already own a collection of MFT lenses including a couple of Voigtlanders.

    • Damn autocorrect! No way to edit post. Last sentence should read: a collection of lenses including a couple of Voigtlanders.

      • I edited it for you…

        I actually never heard of Voigtlander lenses – coming from the straight video world I think it’s going to be a lot to learn; when I buy a cam it usually has a lens built in, no need to think!

        What’s the reason for choosing Voigtlander?

        • Voigtlander lenses are full manual with a crazy shallow DOF as they go up to f0.95. They have 10 aperture blades with a really soft creamy bokeh. I have the 17.5mm (50mm equivalent) and the 25mm (75mm equivalent). There is a 42.5mm (120mm equivalent) coming out in August. I love the way they handle (full metal construction and smooth aperture and focus rings), my other lenses feel cheap and plasticky by comparison.

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