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Oliver Daniel

Feedback using the BMPCC on a professional shoot

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I've just finished up a shoot using the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera on a professional shoot, so I thought I would share my experience with the camera in this environment. (I will post the video when its finished up)

 

The Shoot

 

My business was hired to shoot a music video for a concept on Green Screen. It was a parody of infomercials, so the task was to film various models and comedic hosts demonstrating several very silly products. I was the DoP/camera operator, and we also had a director, 2 assistants, 2 photographers and  a make up artist.

 

The Gear

The Blackmagic was mounted on rails in a Wooden Camera Cage, with just a Follow Focus. I had 4 x Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards, 3 batteries, mic, charger and AC adapter. The camera was connected through HDMI to an external monitor. The green screen was lit with 2 Kino Flo 4-Banks, and the models with Kino Flo Diva 401s and Dedolights. 

 

I would not recommend the Wooden Cage. Its just ok. The screw holes all over it make no sense. The battery charger was the worst piece of kit I've ever used in the history of video production. Cant remember the brand (begins with a H), but lots of companies are selling it with the camera as a bundle. You can put AA batteries in it and its so fiddly. It sucks. 

 

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Feedback

Whilst I was impressed with the BMPCC, I did have various issues with the camera - mostly with the lack of in-camera formatting and batteries. I will display these through Pros and Cons. 

 

Pros

+ The build is solid and of high quality

 

+ The back screen is nice and clear, a very decent size!

 

+ Very simple to use meaning you can focus on creating

 

+ Image quality is fantastic. Compared it with the GH3 in flat profile and the difference was staggering

 

+ Skin tones are beautiful, very organic

 

+ Not much dynamic range to see, but the roll-off was very smooth on the models

 

+ The size makes it easy to handle and not a pain to shift around. Nice and quick.

 

+ Zebras are very useful. Wish I had these on my GH3!

 

Cons

- This camera eats memory cards for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Used all of the 4 x 32gb cards. So the cost of running this camera at a professional level could be quite costly.

 

- Battery life is dreadful. The shoot was 8 hours long and we went through 9 full charges. 

 

- No ability to format cards in camera. Completely unacceptable. We ran out of space, backed up the cards and tried to format one to exFat on a Mac. Camera wasn't having it. 10 mins left til close. So had to use GH3 for last 2 shots. Director wasn't happy. 

 

- No indication of recording time left. No idea if 1 second left on 60 mins! Again, this is unacceptable. 

 

- Auto focus is absolutely terrible. I don't use it much, but its useful when you are against time in a studio. Just doesn't work. Why bother Blackmagic? Your features HAVE to work. 

 

- Focus Peaking is temperamental. It works, then sort of does, then doesn't at all. Maybe something wrong with this unit? 

 

- Manual focusing with the Panny zooms seemed to be a lot more fiddly on this camera than on the GH3. It seems to be much more intricate and I have no idea why that is. The director agreed. 

 

- No articulated screen. Its 2013. I don't want to sit on the floor or bend over in front of models to see the screen. 

 

- Moire. Can't handle fine lines. 

 

Conclusion

Having only use the camera once for a studio shoot, its hard for me to give a full opinion on this camera - but from my experience there are some definite quirks that I feel are a major issue for its use in a professional (and general usage) environment for its target 'DSLR video user' market. 

 

Ok, it shoots in 10 bit ProRes and has a beautiful image. It will shoot RAW soon. Its cheap. But...

 

For professional use, the fact you cant see how much recording time you have left or even format a card is a completely ludicrous omission and causes issues. Issues that take more time, more work, more stress, more stuff you shouldn't have to deal with in a camera. Blackmagic need to sort this out, it cant be difficult. 

 

The fact the the camera is labelled 'Pocket' is mind boggling. Batteries constantly need charging, and its always a worry. If you were to really carry this round in your 'Pocket', expect to need a bagful of batteries. Or you are screwed. 

 

The focusing area of the camera also seems unfinished. Auto focus doesn't work, and peaking just can't be arsed half the time. Didn't they test the camera, or is it a good-egg, bad egg thing with the production line? 

 

My opinion so far is that this camera isn't completely ready for use in a professional environment, and is better suited as a hobbyist item for (very) short films. If you can afford lots of storage, 60 billion batteries and a ton of memory cards, and dont mind a few workarounds then you should enjoy it - its a cool gadget with a beautiful image that a video DSLR really needs. 

 

Its very quirky and needs more work, which is expected of a 1st generation model. Lets hope for more improvements and a Blackmagic employee facepalm about essential little features that are unacceptably missing. 

 

I like it. Its just a pain in the arse. Like my fiance. You might just have to put up with its issues just because its so beautiful ;)

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EOSHD Pro Color for Sony cameras EOSHD Pro LOG for Sony CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

Almost all this annoyances can be fixed with firmware update, maybe you don't use it but audio level is important too and is missed from the BMPCC.

We need to someone, maybe Blackmagic itself can bring some sort of battery grip like the DSLR cameras have for extend the battery life with a bigger battery and replaceable.

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4 x 32Gb is like having two decent cards.  It's a 220Mbit codec.  

 

For a paying, professional shoot you need six to eight batteries at the ready and multiple chargers.  Same as if it were an Alexa.

 

When it's used as a "pocket" cam, catching the grandkids performance at a recital or little Timmy at bat, a baptism, a blow-out-the-candles moment, it's going to be just fine.  When it's used for professional, continuous shooting, it's like any other professional camera with a lot of the same caveats and need for the professional to be prepared. 

 

edit: also, there are other professional cameras that cannot format or delete clips in camera as a safety feature.

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Can it use external larger batteries? Using loads of those tiny batteries in a professional shoot doesn't seem too practical.

Even for outdoor guerrilla style, I think I'd rather have a larger battery pack in my backpack than a bunch of tiny batteries.

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I had to use what I was given from my local rental house regarding the kit I had for the Pocket. They gave me the kit in an effort to ask for feedback on how to improve it for professional shoots.

If I had my own way, and the rental house could do it, I would of asked for 10 batteries, external power, and more memory cards. For my GH3, I can get through an entire 8 hour shoot on one battery and a couple of 32Gb cards, so it was interesting to compare to what I'm used to.

I knew that there are workarounds for the cameras shortcomings, but as this is a 'Pocket' camera, I did feel it was necessary to try it out as was it is intended to be - 'Pocket'.

You just need more cash to beast up this camera for a painless experience. Definitely more extras than you need for a DSLR.

I will be using the camera again, and Ill definitely be using an external power source and using more cards.

I like the camera, its a decent start to the model, just a befuddling one. ;)

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You just need more cash to beast up this camera for a painless experience. Definitely more extras than you need for a DSLR.
 

 

I loved your write-up, Olly.  What I'm about to say applies to all the reviews I read about these cameras.  

 

It would be nice, I think, if we all agreed (again, please, this isn't pointed at you Olly) that high-dynamic range video is ALWAYS going to require very large batteries for professional shoots.  It's just the physics of the thing.  The camera uses small batteries because it is meant to give you a few minutes of near state-of-the-art video quality in a camera you can put in your back-pack.  That said, of course, very helpful to know how one's workaround went, when shooting professionally.  It sounds like your rental house put you in harm's way here.

 

Memory cards.  Again, nature of the beast.  Professional cards are very expensive.  Will that ever change?

 

I quoted your line about DSLRs because, except for the 5D III, no camera can do what that camera does.  And the BMPCC is less than one third the price!

 

I've been doing Magic Lantern RAW on a 50D and an EOS-M.  Just yesterday I was shooting a band for fun and "Bob's your Uncle, the song isn't even finished" the card filled out and I had to go home.  The battery was half drained.

 

Again, what I'd love to see everyone agree on, is that the memory and battery requirements of these cameras will always be high.  At least in the foreseeable future.  

 

1.  You need, say,  $7 per minute in memory+battery costs.  Of course, you can reuse, re-charge your batteries, but if you're expecting to shoot, say 60 minutes straight, that would be $420.  Perhaps someone else can come up with a better metric.  

 

2. Autofocus will never be a real option for serious work.

 

3. The GH3, and ALL H.264 consumer cameras can never be a substitute for high-dynamic range footage AS high-dynamic range footage. I'm not saying you can't shoot Casablanca on a GH3.  However, to compare a GH3 against that camera is like comparing a a full-frame against a point-and-shoot.  You're talking about say, a 40 megabyte stream vs a 10 megabyte stream (if not less).  In still photography, would you accept a camera with a sensor one quarter the size of your full-frame?  Not trying to start a war here.  This is fact.  As BurnetRhoades said, a 220Mbit codec. OF COURSE your director was miffed ;)

 

Again, I loved your review.  But let's all move beyond what are becoming very well-known facts about ALL camera setups of this type. Blackmagic, Magic Lantern RAW, Digital Bolex, and the other expensive stuff Andrew gets to play with these days 

 

You can't take an extra SD card out of your wife's P&S and go out to play.  And you certainly wouldn't take her camera ;)

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Thanks for your write-up maxotics, I agree with what you say there.

My experience of the Pocket Camera comes from the view of a person (in this case, myself) who is used to working with cameras such as the GH3, FS700, 5D3 (not raw)... All camera with H264 codecs and all the usual features. It's an eye opener for anybody going for a transition to Blackmagic or is intending adding the camera to their arsenal. It's a completely different kettle of fish. As its aimed at the DSLR user, its by no means a 'replacement' for your current camera. Sounds obvious I know.

I think the Pocket is a great camera. You just have to be prepared for it. For professional use, it has great potential - just as long as you know how to workaround its quirks.

It reminds me of when DSLRs started a revolution. You had this stills camera that captured nice video but had many drawbacks from using it professionally. Didn't last long, we put up with it, figured it out and were thankful and inspired by the technology.

The Pocket is the same. Spoil it rotten , solve its flaws and cuddle it before bed time.

I've always been curious about these Blackmagic cameras. It's a good start for them.

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I've been into photography since my early teens.  Had my own darkroom, mixed my own chemicals, etc.  I don't remember when my first life-changing experience was in photography, but I remember my 2nd.  A few years ago, after a lot of research, I bought a used Sigma DP1.  It was the first time, in digital photography, that I was able to take photographs that had that film look (I won't go into that here, we all know).  Obviously, I didn't have a full-frame before that camera.

 

My 3rd  life-changing event was a month ago when I took this short clip of my wife with a Magic Lantern hacked 50D

 

https://vimeo.com/72159787

 

Now I was getting video that looked like film (yes, I shot Super-8 and a little 16mm back in the day).  

 

If I could buy a BMPCC today I would.  Will it bring me to tears?  Yes, just like the Sigma DP1.  I went through many cycles of wanting to sell the DP1, but finally decided I'd rather have 1 great photo out of 10 then 8 good photos out of 10.

 

it's the same with video.  I'd rather shoot 2 minutes of RAW video that I know I will love forever, then 20 minutes on another camera.

 

This isn't to say I won't shoot H.264.  I had a blast shooting this on my EOS-M with my $30 c-mount Fujian yesterday

 

https://vimeo.com/75122636

 

All this is a long-winded way of saying, you are right.  This is like the DSLR revolution--for video!

 

Once your project is finished, I'll be curious to see if you can really go back to H.264 ;)

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If I had my own way, and the rental house could do it, I would of asked for 10 batteries, external power, and more memory cards. For my GH3, I can get through an entire 8 hour shoot on one battery and a couple of 32Gb cards, so it was interesting to compare to what I'm used to.

I knew that there are workarounds for the cameras shortcomings, but as this is a 'Pocket' camera, I did feel it was necessary to try it out as was it is intended to be - 'Pocket'.

 

I don't believe for a second you could do an eight hour shoot on one battery with the GH3.  That's ridiculous.  

 

You could get by with a couple of 32Gb cards because the GH3 isn't shooting to a professional level codec.  You couldn't get by with two of those small cards on a shoot like that with a GH2 (and certainly not one battery) using a high quality patch from Driftwood, or the like, which would be far more quality than the GH3 and still about half that of the BMPCC.  And if all that quality wasn't necessary, because the client can't tell the difference or wasn't paying for the difference then I'd have shot on a camera I was more comfortable with.

 

There's also nothing stopping you from adding additional batteries to a package, as an additional line item, or renting/buying more batteries from another source if the main rental house are idiots.

 

You weren't using it as a "pocket" camera.  Outside the lack of footage/space count most of these complaints are user expectation and assumption related, not tempered by research prior to use or other professional gear.  Maybe I'm the asshole for saying it, but it's the truth.  

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You couldn't get by with two of those small cards on a shoot like that with a GH2 (and certainly not one battery) using a high quality patch from Driftwood, or the like, which would be far more quality than the GH3 and still about half that of the BMPCC. 

 

 

That's a pretty bold statement "half of the BMPCC".  How do you do that?  The patches for the Panasonic cameras seem to have to do more with removing artifacts, sharpness and inter-frame compression than color depth.  That's been my limited experience.  So I'm very doubtful of that claim, but I'd LOVE it if it were true!  

 

Can you tell me what patch you use to get half the dynamic range of a BMPCC?  I have not seen any GH2 footage that even comes close to the Blackmagic cameras or ML RAW (judged by dynamic range and color nuance, not sharpness).  Can you point me to some links?  I've asked this question, over and over, and no one seems to have an answer except use a flat profile or set sharpness and contrast all the way down.  

 

I've tried.  I haven't got it to work in any significant way.

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I don't believe for a second you could do an eight hour shoot on one battery with the GH3.  That's ridiculous.  

 

You could get by with a couple of 32Gb cards because the GH3 isn't shooting to a professional level codec.  You couldn't get by with two of those small cards on a shoot like that with a GH2 (and certainly not one battery) using a high quality patch from Driftwood, or the like, which would be far more quality than the GH3 and still about half that of the BMPCC.  And if all that quality wasn't necessary, because the client can't tell the difference or wasn't paying for the difference then I'd have shot on a camera I was more comfortable with.

 

Well shockingly, I have done several shoots with the GH3 where one battery has lasted the entire shoot for 8 hours. Granted I turn he camera off between takes when I can. I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true!  ;) Its actually 'ridiculous' that it is capable of doing this. The battery life is a beast on the GH3!!

 

I fully understand the level of codec on the GH3. Although it isn't as good as the Blackmagic in terms of quality, its still very robust. Upto 72Mbps (I shoot 50Mbps) and actually grades well. Also it records 60fps. It suits my line of work due to memory capacity, features and speed. I shoot and edit on average around 8 music videos per month (all footage is stored for a year) at a professional level, so as quality is of the essence, so is speed and affordable storage.

 

For projects that need it, I would always choose the most suitable camera possible for the given budget. This one happened to be a chance to use the 10 bit codec of the Pocket camera. It was a lovely little camera, yet I have every right to voice my opinion about anything I found lacking in the camera.... as this was for my own practical experience compared to what I've been used to before. A lot of the drawbacks are definitely worth anybody to take notice of.

 

For very personal projects which I could finesse over my own amount of time, I would definitely use the Pocket, most likely with its bigger brother, in raw. These projects mean the most and can take advantage of this powerful technology. I would never use a GH3 or similar with a more suitable camera available, yet if the Gh3 was the best I could get hands on, I would never hesitate. 

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Well shockingly, I have done several shoots with the GH3 where one battery has lasted the entire shoot for 8 hours. Granted I turn he camera off between takes when I can. I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true!  ;) Its actually 'ridiculous' that it is capable of doing this. The battery life is a beast on the GH3!!

 

I've gotten 3 hours of continuous shooting on one battery for my GH3.  Other than that, yes it can go for 4-5 hours if you pause between takes.  I bought 2 extra batteries and rarely change batteries during a shoot.  This is a stark contrast to the GH2 where batteries maybe last 1 hour 30min if you're lucky.  Compare that with the BMPCC at 20-30min per battery and I'd be having a fucking fit!  Definitely need an external battery for that.  I'm glad you let us in on your experiences Olly.  I'll be looking forward to version 2 of the camera in 2015.......

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edit: also, there are other professional cameras that cannot format or delete clips in camera as a safety feature.

 

Though those tend to be used on WAY bigger budget shoots. I can't imagine anyone of them swapping an Alexa for the BMPCC. Is the BMPCC trying to be a small Alexa? Why copy the inability to format? Is that supposed to be a plus?

 

They also shoot with bigger media.

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Last pro shoot on 600D I used three batteries and a single 32GB card, that's with increased bitrate.

 

That's a lot more convenient! Far less fooling around and more shooting time.

 

I'm sure the image has some advantages, but it sounds like a beta camera to me. I'm glad i removed all my preorders.

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Though those tend to be used on WAY bigger budget shoots. I can't imagine anyone of them swapping an Alexa for the BMPCC. Is the BMPCC trying to be a small Alexa? Why copy the inability to format? Is that supposed to be a plus?

 

They also shoot with bigger media.

 

Quite, it can't be "fine to shoot the grandkids" and copy a useless feature from high end. These are just excuses. It isn't finished, it's not a complete product.  You can't delete clips or format because the firmware isn't finished. It lacks some basic functions, and from what I've seen, the image is 'alright', not spectacular. Yes it's good for the money, but a camera is not just its image when you're under pressure.

 

Another couple of years yet I reckon til they're solid kit.

 

It's a tool, if it doesn't work right, then it doesn't work right. No one here owes it any abstract, philosophical leeway. Pure abstract 'image quality' is not everything, and it doesn't even kick arse at that. There's moire, it ain't so sharp, the highlights clip super hard, and some sensors are calibrated wrongly.

 

May sound harsh, but combined with all the glitches and shipping issues, there are a lot of negatives.

 

"it can be fixed in a firmware update"... yes so could many dream features. C100 could become a C500 and so on... but we've yet to even see decent functionality updates for the first bmd camera, let alone the 'pocket'. People wait for years with a tool they dislike, praying for updates only to be disappointed. It's just no way to live, guys  :blink:

 

Buying a tool because it might work properly later seems mad to me.

 

If you're dropping a lot of cash, you shouldn't have to 'work around' your gear. It should work for you. 

 

This is, in it's current state, far less convenient to shoot on than an RX100, a pure consumer camera!

 

Also, all this extra 'quality' and 'grading room' is only any use for those who are able to take advantage of it, quite frankly. 90% of films I've seen made with these cameras haven't benefited in any meaningful way from high bitrate. They could have been shot on camcorders. The extra creative leeway simply hasn't been used by the shooters. It's the great power/great responsibility thing.

 

When it comes to judgement, if this were 4K or very compressed RAW or S35 prores, actually had a real standout feature (though of course the usefulness of each in context is debatable) that was fully functional... it'd deserve the easy ride it's getting in some parts...

 

but it's a box of compromises, and a bunch of the early bodies even need to be sent back for adjustment.

 

Imagine the amount of media you'd get through in raw? It won't even be slightly useful til cards are much bigger and faster cheaper, by which time it'll be obsolete. Moore's law is a bitch, she hits both ways...

 

I give them their due: it is an attempt at innovation. That in itself is good and we need more of it. But most of what is happening in the hands of a few pros and a lot of eager hobbyists, should have happened in a lab. I don't want to pay that much to be a beta tester.

 

In most of the shoots I've done recently, all of the pocket's 'niggles' would have resulted in me getting far fewer shots which would have impacted the creativity of the piece negatively. That's my number one concern TBH.  And that's the thing the client (in the pro world) or audience care about most, not a few more lines of resolution or a bit more grading room.

 

Though extended dynamic range or resolution is nice to have, it means nothing if you can't even capture the content in a given environment due to a high number of workarounds.

 

The OP's example of the director's dis-satisfaction is illustrative. As a director I wouldn't mind the whole thing being shot well on GH3 (granted, this is greenscreen, but for most shoots), but to have to pick up a few shots on a remarkably different camera at short notice because A-cam didn't work, would be annoying and a bit of a negative mark... you expect people to know their gear. how many people want to expose themselves to the possibility of looking foolish when their livelihood depends on it?

 

It's too glitchy for pros and it's needless 'quality' and excessive extra equipment for amateurs... I just don't think it's ready for either market.

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Thanks for your feedback.

I'm an amateur, but there is a lot of info I needed.

 

It looks like this camera will be a good replacement for my GF3: light (I use small tripod, slider), simple (just record movie), best quality I can get.

 

My biggest concern is Focus Peaking: You say it doesn't work from time to time (so I have to guess the focus point) or is it misleading (incorrect) ?

 

The other issues are not a problem for me: I record max 20min/day and cut to 30min movie in post-production for my one week holiday trip.

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Also, all this extra 'quality' and 'grading room' is only any use for those who are able to take advantage of it, quite frankly. 90% of films I've seen made with these cameras haven't benefited in any meaningful way from high bitrate. They could have been shot on camcorders. The extra creative leeway simply hasn't been used by the shooters. It's the great power/great responsibility thing.

 

In most of the shoots I've done recently, all of the pocket's 'niggles' would have resulted in me getting far fewer shots which would have impacted the creativity of the piece negatively. That's my number one concern TBH.  And that's the thing the client (in the pro world) or audience care about most, not a few more lines of resolution or a bit more grading room.

 

Though extended dynamic range or resolution is nice to have, it means nothing if you can't even capture the content in a given environment due to a high number of workarounds.

 

 

HI, I watched your reel.  Very nice!  You're a professional and, as a tinkerer,  I'm not going to tell you your business :)  

 

However, if you don't mind, I think you're letting certain COMPLETELY justified frustrations get in the way of your adopting this technology.

 

In my experience (and again, i qualify that as a hobbyist), grading is not the primary benefit of RAW.  After all, as you point out, nothing happens if you can't get the rightly lit, prepared shot in the first place.

 

Also, bit-rate is a price you pay for RAW, it is not a reason to do it.  Again, you're right about everything, but... (baby with bathwater?)

 

RAW gives you is the look of natural lighting and skin tones.   Have you worked with a RED, Alexa, BM, Magic Lantern RAW, etc?  If you have, and if all the negatives you talked about were not there (for the sake of argument) which image would you prefer?  I believe, looking at your reel, that you, especially, would prefer RAW shooting.  You shoot natural light, often single source, with much shadow detail.  You're not gimmicky.

 

Please don't take offense, but I believe you would have lowered the contrast in many of your videos, if you could have.  The video cameras you use make images artificially bright because that's what the CODECs are tuned for to write at certain bit-rates.

 

I'm not here to question you.  I'm here to say, give them a try.  Don't let a bunch of knuckleheads cloud your judgement.  Everything you say is true, but if may not matter once you fairly balance the pros and cons.  I leave you with a poem that I read when younger, about others who had creative blind spots:

 

A Pact

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman - 
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root - 
Let there be commerce between us. 

Ezra Pound

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