Blackmagic’s pocket cinema cameras have disrupted the film market. The 4K version was well received by the industry, and the manufacturer upped the ante with a new 6K version last summer. Dubai-based DoP Acen Razvi puts the camera through its paces and gives us his verdict.
Back in 2012, when Blackmagic released the classic BMCC 2.5K, I was really excited to try it out and own one. It was followed by the BMPCC camera, which boasted lots of dynamic range in the image, flat log, high bitrate ProRes and Cinema DNG codecs, all within a very small form factor. The image from these cameras still holds up today. It’s staggering to think we now have these high-end spec cameras giving us the same room in post for a fraction of the price of huge cinema cameras like the ARRI Alexa Mini or the RED Epic Dragon.
Unfortunately, the fairytale experience of owning those first new cinema cameras was short-lived; the clock struck midnight and the unwieldy form factor soon caught up with me on everyday projects. I hoped that by throwing more money at the camera, with cages, EVFs and shoulder rigs, it would all pan out, but the ergonomics became frustrating, especially with battery life, and I quickly realised that the new digital cinema cameras needed to evolve a bit more to deal with the rigour of a daily shoot for an owner op/DoP like myself – or perhaps it just wasn’t the right camera for me at the time.
Fast forward to 2019, and Blackmagic Design has come on in leaps and bounds. The company has transformed into one of the big players and has significantly disrupted the market with its mantra of value for money, catering to every filmmaker out there with its pocket series. This holds true with the launch of the latest line and the recent flagship camera release, the URSA G2, which now makes Blackmagic a real contender for the likes of ARRI and RED. It really seems to be dominating the industry with exciting tech launches year on year.
The newest launch, the BMPCC 6K, is what we’re looking at here. It looks like Blackmagic has once again delivered a very exciting piece of kit, one with a lot more long-term functionality and usability, finally putting the power of 6K RAW in the hands of the many for just under $2,500.
That is truly extraordinary! The fairytale seems to be real after all.
First off, the camera feels quite sturdy in my hands, with a good firm grip but a lot of plastic at the same time, and in the form of a classic DSLR. It’s light and durable, like a Korean car, but with the high-end sheen of German tech – not a bad thing at all. It also runs on the legendary Blackmagic operating system, which is where this camera really shines; it is beautifully laid out and a joy to navigate without getting lost deep in the menus. It is accompanied by the very powerful DaVinci Resolve software, which makes the whole package even more irresistible.
Physically, the camera is very similar to the 4K version, which was released not too long before the 6K. The backside has an impressive hi-tech five-inch touchscreen, which looks great indoors but is a bit of a let down out in the bright sun. This is where you’ll wish it had a sun hood or an electronic viewfinder like on mirrorless cameras, as it’s almost impossible to pull focus or gauge exposure.
It’s a beautiful screen, but I also wish the screen was articulating. In fact, third-party manufacturers like Tilta have already announced an articulating screen solution in the form of a user-installed kit. The kit doesn’t require you to make any permanent changes to the camera – it can be returned to its original configuration if needed. This solution has been welcomed by the BMD community, and I think it will be a popular modification.
Next to the screen are six buttons: auto-exposure, auto-focus, HFR (high frame rate), focus assist, menu, playback. Apart from the bigger lens turret and some large air intake vents, both the 4K and 6K models share the same materials, buttons and controls, and the Canon E6 battery system. The 6K camera features an S35-size sensor along with an EF mount, which means there’s no need for a speed booster adaptor.
One thing to point out here on 6K recording is that it only offers ProRes recording up to 4K resolution. Beyond that, it records in RAW (Blackmagic RAW) up to 6K. According to Blackmagic, the formats are optimised for the largest field of view and frame rate.
What do we need 6K for? Well, it can be argued that all those extra pixels downsample to an even sharper, crisper 4K or 2K image, which is most likely on final deliverables these days. Also, a high pixel count doesn’t necessarily mean a better image; in this case, it’s the bitrate and codec options that make this camera punch above its weight.
On the top right of the camera is the record start/stop button, with the still photo button next to it. Behind, there are buttons for controlling the ISO, shutter speed and white balance, and you can also control those settings through a single scroll-wheel with your index finger.
Audio-wise, the camera has a built-in mic and a mini XLR. This is fine for scratch sound, but if the sound is really important to a project, you should hire a sound recordist for external sound. I think we have to remember that these cinema cameras are aimed at filmmakers, and are trying to emulate film digitally. This means we can’t expect all the ENG functionality of a camera like a Sony FS7/5 or a Canon C300 MKII, which are much more versatile straight out of the box.
Most digital cine cameras these days can be used on a variety of applications and genres – commercial, doc, indie, web and so on – and this holds true for the 6K as well. It is primarily for professional filmmakers. With high bitrates and LOG image modes, footage can be graded in post to deliver any kind of look and feel to suit a project. On a film set, the BMPCC 6K is probably best used in B-RAW mode as a small factor b-cam alongside bigger cine cameras like the G2/ARRI ALEXA and RED, for instance.
For the single shooter owner-operator working on quick turnaround gigs, this camera has all the flavours of ProRes at 4K, and delivers stunning images thanks to Blackmagic’s colour science. On that note, the image is very high-end and sits alongside the RED very comfortably.
On to media now. The Pocket 6K has one SD and one CFast slot, and has a very useful USB-C port as well. A fast 1TB SSD hooked up to the camera is probably more than sufficient for a full day’s work, thanks to the large SSD capacities now available on the market. You could use the CFast media too, but the expense of high-capacity CFast cards is a bitter pill to swallow. Some card manufacturers, such as Komputerbay, sell them at more reasonable prices, but this is a risk until they are verified by Blackmagic.
Recording to SSD, however, means you have to get a cage or a holder for the camera to mount the SSD. The SSD drive supplied with this demo unit was the Angelbird, which seems to be receiving good feedback from the BMD community.
On the battery side, there’s not much to say. The performance of the Pocket equipped with the Canon LP-E6 batteries is well-known in the community, and below par by 2020 standards. It’s probably the only big flaw I see in the camera. You can carry a bag of E6 batteries around, but the frequent changes can be frustrating on a full-day shoot.
For a documentary with a demanding schedule, be prepared to wake up in the middle of the night to charge a ton of batteries. If you’re shooting in an exterior location without reliable charging points, low battery life will be a perpetual challenge. So, remember to turn off the camera when not in use.
On a positive note, most people have these batteries lying around from their DSLR years, so I’m sure you’ll find one down the back of your couch or in the side pocket of a long-forgotten camera bag. You’ll definitely find them in your local shops if you ever run out, so the practicality of the E6 battery system is probably a good consideration for travel jobs, at the price of frequent changes.
Also worthy of mention is the ability to use a DC input on the Pocket, but that kind of v-mount powering solution defeats the purpose of a smaller, lighter camera, which is what this is meant to be. As with most cameras today, you need the right tool for every job, and this is an awesome piece of kit if used on the appropriate job.
When you see the phenomenal image this camera delivers, you’ll be prepared to put up with some of the above issues. The sensor has a dual native ISO of 400 and 3200, and both look really good. While testing out the camera in some dark, low-lit spaces, things started getting pretty noisy above ISO 5000, but it was still usable. With noise reduction plug-ins like Neat Video, I’m sure you’ll get clean images up to at least 10,000 ISO.
The largest reason to get this camera, without a doubt, is the image quality. As usual with Blackmagic, it does not disappoint. There is now a level playing field in the digital cinema landscape, with 6K RAW finally available at this price point.
When it comes to colour, shooting 6K video with 12-bit colour produces unbelievably flexible footage. The Film mode offers a huge dynamic range and produces the flat log image that most have become accustomed to in recent years, straight out of the camera. There is huge data stored in those files, enabling you to push and pull the colours in any direction; with this, you can achieve all kinds of dramatically different looks.
Let’s face it, the BMPCC 6K is a niche product. It’s for the high-end professional shooter, or a b- or c-cam for high-end filmmakers. There really isn’t a limit to where this camera can be used; its size and form factor mean you can shoot more freely, and it’s very versatile for a travel job.
In terms of image quality, though, it far outperforms most mirrorless cameras, and even a few expensive cinema cameras. The RAW 6K video gives you flexibility in post, but you also need a computer system that can handle these huge high-bandwidth files.
Keep in mind that this is primarily a manual camera in terms of autofocus and exposure. If you’re used to a Canon R, Sony A7 III or Panasonic GH5, you’re probably going to have to prep yourself for a learning curve, but it’s not too steep. The post-production process is pretty simple if you’re used to shooting in LOG or RAW. You get all the flexibility of DaVinci Resolve, and dropping a base LUT and quick grade has never been easier with this powerful software that comes bundled with the camera.
I’ve always thrown caution to the wind when it comes to image over specs and practicality, but I’ve learned lessons in the past with the BMCC – but by today’s standards, the new BMPCC 6K is a walk in the park, with very little to complain about.
Acen Razvi is based in Dubai and is a seasoned cinematographer, editor and director.