Do you really want a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera 6k?

Aug 24, 2019

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I just got my Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera 6k, and already having mixed feelings about it.

From what I found so far, it’s a weird mix of features who is good for not so many scenarios. Let’s think about the name:

-Is it a pocket camera?

No. It doesn’t fit on a pocket. 

GoPro is a pocket camera: 

  • Its battery lasts for a few hours on normal usage
  • Has IBIS (in body image stabilisation) 
  • Doesn’t need focusing 
  • Can be used as-is. 

On the contrary:

  • Black Magic Pocket 6K battery overheats and crashes after, let’s say, 10 or 15 min of continuous shooting (BRaw, 6k Q0, 24 Fps). For a shooting day, will either need bag full of them, or a third party solution. 
  • It’ lacks an auto sleep function. If you forget it on, it will still  drain one battery in half an hour. If you turn it off, you’ll have to wait over 5 seconds (often way more) for the hard disk to be ready. (Assuming you’re using an external SSD.)
  • It has no IBIS so often it requires a gimbal or a tripod, for shooting (otherwise everything will be quite shaky, specially at 6k).
  • Autofocus (assuming you’re using native Canon Lenses) is a very basic hit-and-miss experience.
  • With a Super 35 sensor it requires APS-C or Full Frame lenses (I’m using Nikon FF ones with a cheap Chinese adaptor), which makes it rather bulky. 
  • Weighting around 3 kg  total (camera, batteries, lenses, tripod / gimbal), at the least, it certainly cannot be considered a pocket camera. 

-Is it a cinema camera?

1 – It is neither complete, nor truly modular, meaning:

  Unless you buy a proper 3rd party cage, and rig it up, there is no battery plate. You’ll be stuck with improvising or buying their own battery pack (assuming the 4k version will work on the 6k). This one sits under the camera like a normal DSRL extension grip. However, it takes Sony L-series batteries. That doesn’t make much sense, considering you will own, at least, some Canon LP-E6 . Of course, you’ll need an extra charger, as well. If you go for an external backplate and battery solution, it may be hard to balance. Batteries are usually placed behind the camera which, in this case, will block the screen / touchscreen.

2 – There is no SDI / Power out, so you cannot plug even Black Magic’s own viewfinder.

You can have an HDMI to SDI adapter, though, adding another accessory to the “pocket” camera.

3 – Screen is not bright enough.

It’s not contrasty enough, doesn’t flip and has no shade, making you wish for a proper external monitor, while wondering why that one is there, in the first place. If buying a 3rd party monitor, have it powered by its own battery and NOT by the same one you power the camera  – HDMI ports ofter fry, if you use the same power source.

4 – There are no interchangeable mounts.

…So you’re stuck with the old-fashioned EF-S Mount. No PL lenses, no Nikon, not even the Canon new RF, which would be simple to adapt to EF-S.  

To make it work as a  cinema camera you’ll need quite a few accessories; some you’ll need for every cinema camera, some you will specifically need for this one to become a sort of cinema camera, some you simply cannot get.

My question is: if you’re willing to pay that sort of money to make Black Magic Pocket 6K a cinema camera, why don’t you just buy one? Yes, this one is cheap, but there are reasons why it’s cheap:

5 – You can only shoot 6K in BRaw.

…Meaning,  that you need to learn how to deal with DaVinci Resolve (the only program you can use for decoding those files).

6 -All Braw modes lower than 6k are sensor crops.

That is understandable but rather inconvenient, for the reason below:

7 – 6k is limited to 50 fps

If you intend to use a 30 fps timeline, it’s awkward to shoot at 50 and not 60 fps for slow motion. Remember to select 50 fps “off speed frame rate” from a 30 fps base frame rate and not just 50 fps, so DaVinci resolve recognises it and plays it as slow motion. Otherwise it will first convert it to 30 fps for playing. (I’m not sure if it later interpolates frames for slow motion…)

8 – ProRes is limited to 4K 60 fps

All ProRes modes (from HK to Proxy)  are downsamples from the same sensor area, which is good. You can get 4K DCI (4096×2160)  Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) and HD (1920X1080). The proportions will change, but the field of view remains the same.  On all these previous modes, you can go until 60 fps. Not having 6K or faster frame rates can seriously limit a ProRes workflow.

9 – Above 50 fps (in Braw) or 60 fps (in ProRes) you need to switch to Braw 2.8K 17:9 (2868X1512). That’s an awkward number, requiring an awkward gymnic. There is no way to preset a button to the transition from your base project fps into that, so you need to go through menu selection on the touchscreen. This one is a crop from the 6k, so you may need to reframe, move or change lens to get the same field of view. Not practical at all!

7 – It is hard and expensive to find media to support BMPCC6k bitrates.

A 1 TB SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD drops frames while attempting to record at 6k 3.1 Constant Quality  @50 fps (the most demanding option in BMPCC 6k). So what kind of media is it needed to take full advantage of the camera? If we’re talking about CFast memory cards, they’re kind of limited in memory size… 1 TB is 51 minutes in 6K Braw 3.1 compression! Again, would you invest on those memory cards for such a camera? (There is a way to have a CFast to SATA SSD adaptor but I haven’t tried it yet).

8 – Dual ISO

It is certainly a plus: except if the dual native values are 400 and 3200! (Higher ISO kicks in at 1250). Improper exposure, in this camera, leads to a fair amount of noise so DON’t accidentally switch from 1250 to 1000 or you may ruin your day! Some people use 1000 ISO for better highlight retention but I didn’t yet experiment any possible benefits. Anyway,  the two native ISO values are two near, and the noise progression is just too fast for a Super 35 “cinema” sensor! (Which, in many circumstances doesn’t work as Super 35, as you may have already noticed.) Black Magic Pocket 6K maybe isn’t the best tool  for low light!

9 – It’s not built for professional abuse.

Its body is all plastic and feels plastic. I don’t know how will it behave in normal usage but I’m not overly confident on its sturdiness. There are just 2 mounting screws (on the top and on the back). 

– Buttons are placed in weird positions. Assuming you’re looking at the monitor (i.e., behind it) and you have the camera on a tripod or gimbal, does it make sense to have two distinct record buttons in the front? Assignable buttons are in the top, they’re only 3 and have very limited options. Besides, they “feel” the same, so you cannot distinguish them without looking. There must be a reason why all the buttons are on the right and none on the left. I’m still wondering why… A Cinema Camera is not a DSLR.

– The screen doesn’t show the histogram when you’re selecting ISO. (Which is the main reason why you need the histogram, anyway)!

10 – Despite its small size, it’s hard to balance on a Gimbal.

I’m using Black Magic Pocket 6K on DJI Ronin-S gimbal. While it’s certainly “usable” the protrudent (and useless) right hand grip makes it unbalanced and hard to calibrate, requiring counterweights.  As it’s bulky but light, there is no way to balance it with heavier lenses as gimbals have not enough physical space to bring the camera back.

11 – Other issues.

The sensor is prone to Infra-Red pollution. If shooting on broad day light, or under specific light sources), it renders browns as oranges, and greens, as yellows. That makes it particularly hard to get pleasing skin tones and plants. An IR-cut filter on your lens will do the job, assuming the lens can take filters. Some diameters can be quite costly and hard to get.

The  rubber covers are in the way of the power, mini-XLR and HDMI ports. USB-3 port is easy to break from the motherboard, and repairing it is quite expensive.

My DSLR (Nikon D850) shoots 4k @ 30 Fps with nearly full sensor read-out, decent autofocus, vibration reduction in lens, normal memory cards, batteries last for hours. It’s balanced, sturdy and perfectly matches a normal gimbal.

It’s not a video camera… Neither it pretends to be, as it mostly takes wonderful pictures. But, for video, it gets the job done.  Some may say: 

It requires an external monitor – so does this one, if you take it serious.  

An external recorder is also needed to benefit from its full potential – this one requires external disks, as well.

It doesn’t record 10 bit, nor 6k. But it neither it crops the sensor on higher frame rates. For some, it is better to have a good quality 8 bit signal than a noisy 10 bit one. 

Both cost roughly the same, right now.

I’m not recommending Nikon D850 as a video camera, at all. Just using something I know as a term of comparison.  

So, if this is neither a pocket, nor a true cinema camera, what is it, after all? An indie’s film-maker lure? An entry lever video camera?

The good part

Some may wonder why, among so many known issues, it still sells like crazy.

Despite personally disliking the camera, I’m still using it successfully in paid jobs. I attribute its success to two reasons:

One is the lure of specs and marketing.

The other is, if properly recorded and graded, its images can be fantastic and colours great (for the price it costs). BRaw files are huge, but contain a lot of information that allows dramatic adjustments in white balance and creativity.

DaVinci Resolve  is still a very capable grading tool and it’s free with the camera. It would be the third reason for Black Magic Pocket 6K success. I’m having some issues with the 17 beta version, as I’m updating this post. Hope, there will be a final Windows stable version. One that can take fully advantage of RAM memory. Right not, I’m mostly only using it on Mac computers.

It’s a challenge, and many are taking it. Are you skills good enough to overcome all issues and still produce beautiful images? You have to judge by yourself, knowing that, if you choose this path, there will be a lot of frustration on the way. There may be also some potential awesome results.

Watch the video below to see how it performs in various low light circumstances:

Here there is further reading on how it performs underwater.

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