Black Magic Pocket Cinema 6K and Nauticam

Jan 21, 2020

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Finally I got the chance to try Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (BMPCC6k) in an underwater housing. I’ve been a long time Nauticam user, so getting another one seemed the logical step. Not only the precision and sturdiness never disappointed me, but also I already had most of the domes, extensions and focusing rings.

The initial disappointment

The moment I laid my hands on Nauticam NA-BMPCC6K housing, I felt really disappointed. There is no access to touch screen! No buttons (like on Nauticam housings for the Atomos monitors / recorders), or Black Magic previous models. Also, no gel screen (like on Divevolk cellphone housings, for instance).

Nauticam wasn’t clear on their website whether there is touchscreen control for the Pocket 6K housing (some photos were showing what seemed to be buttons, others didn’t). I believe they replaced some images after my complain.  Also, at the time of purchase, they didn’t provide any written information on that. I had owned two Nauticam housings already (NA-D7100 / NA-D810), and used a few more. It seemed logical that this one (like the others) would provide access to most, if not all, camera’s controls and functions.

This is absolutely NOT the case with NA-BMPCC6k. Once you close the housing you can no nothing with the menus (despite the existence of a “menu” button). You cannot format cards or hard-disk. Neither you can change codec (meaning, from Raw to ProRes), compression, access the presets… So make sure you set it all beforehand and program the 3 assignable buttons to what you may need to change (within their limitations). I programmed mine to change frame rates and ISO.

Consider the overall investment

I didn’t return the housing and sell the camera,  just because I would lose money on the return / selling. Besides, I already had invested a a fair amount in lenses, focus / zoom rings, batteries (you’ll need at least 4 18650 3.7 V batteries, plus the charger), and  SSD external disks. Nauticam has a cradle for Samsung T5. However, Sandisk Extreme can be fitted with no cradle and a special Tilta 90º cable)…

All you need to shoot underwater macro (except the lights): BMPCC6k, Canon 100mm macro lens, with Nauticam focus ring (something mandatory for any serious work); Sandisk Extreme SSD 1 TB, Tilta 90º USB3 Cable (the plug that goes in the camera is shaved, so the screw is removed); and battery pack.
Nauticam battery pack (batteries not included) half way through its place inside the housing. Notice the locks on both sides.

Besides, there was no other system that I was really interested in, right now, for the kind of shooting I’m doing.

I wasn’t overly excited to try it under those limitations. I’m still trying to get used to it, so here are my first impressions:

Lens and gear choices, for Macro:

It’s rainy season in Bali. The visibility isn’t great, there are many thermoclines, so I decided to go for macro. BMPCC 6K works with Canon EF lenses. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro was the way to go. I would prefer to have the options to go for 40 or 60mm. As I could only buy one macro lens, (to with the external wet lenses I already use for stills) this is the one that makes more sense. It works perfectly with my usual wet lenses – AOI UCL-09 and UCL-900. Inon UCL 165 (which I don’t particularly fancy with Nikon D810 / 105 Micro) works very well in here. The crop factor reduces chromatic aberration. Nauticam SMC-2 is a bit too extreme. The shallow depth of field makes it hard to get pleasant images, but still possible, if absolutely needed.

The lights

For light sources I picked two DivePro Vision Pro + (look at the review in here) These are excellent video torches but have a wide beam. Often, I coupled them with the optical element of Saga optical Snoots to narrow it.

15.000 lumen may seem too much for macro, but believe me: they’re not! Even shooting at 1250 base ISO, the apertures you need to get some decent Depth of Field may require all the light you can get, specially if you intend to do slow motions, shooting at 50 or even 120. I found myself shooting in the range of F/14 with the lens alone and up to F/19, with AOI UCL-09 lens attached.

The torches light temperature (4000K, announced) is too warm for macro shooting. Theoretically, it would be easy to correct with white balance, on post. However, despite shooting raw, that correction was far from easy, if not impossible. That could be the result of BMPCC6K sensor, as it’s prone to IR “pollution” (Find my impressions on the camera itself in here). Other chance could be a wrong indication of CRI, from Divepro manufacturer. I honestly don’t know. To minor the problem,  I ended often using blue filters on the torches.

Lens and gear, for Wide-Angle:

I’m often using Canon 8-15 Fisheye Zoom. It does show the dome’s shades at from 8 to 10 (ish), but there is still plenty of zoom range after that. The fisheye effect isn’t too pronounced. Therefore, the models aren’t overly distorted if the camera is kept horizontal. (Meaning, not tilted up or down).  This lens cannot take filters (only a rear gel) and I wish I could find a suitable red one. I tried to buy a Lee red gel but it was too red for white balancing.

Canon 16-35 F/2.8, produces beautiful images, special for models faces and details. Maybe a bit to the soft side, but that’s pleasant, not an issue. My sample hunted too much in auto-focus. I cannot tell whether it happens with all of them.

It is, however, way easier to use than Nikon 16-35 F/4, which I already owned. This one seems more analytical. Using an adaptor has its issues. I lock it around F/6 (as there is no precise indication of value), before getting the camera in the housing. Focus and zoom are manual, but it suits the purpose. At 35 it can be used with a flat macro port, for small fish shooting, for instance. If so, it’s better to stop it down a bit further.

I wish I could try Canon 11-24, as it seems, in theory, the perfect match for this camera. Its diameter, however, requires a special dome and extensions, and I didn’t want to add a third dome to my collection. I probably will, at some point, as I’ll also need to use proper cinema lenses for some assignments.

Overall verdict

I’ll go deeper into the shooting experience once I do a few more dives with Black Magic Pocket Cinema 6K and Nauticam while trying different setups and combinations. For now, here are some things I liked and didn’t like:

The good things:

  • The housing ergonomics is up to Nauticam standards.
  • The housing is not overly negative, and it’s manageable even under strong currents.
  • The focus knob is smooth and precise enough.
  • The monitor is sharp and bright enough to allow manual focus (with focus peaking enabled).
  • Autofocus did work surprisingly well, even on challenging circumstances. (Though I only used it for testing and for locking focus. Forget if you want some kind of tracking.)
  • The battery pack lasted two dives, and would last a bit more.

The challenging ones:

  • No access to touchscreen can potentially ruin your diving day, if you forget some settings (specially if you have been using it for land shooting).
  • Battery  charge is displayed on volts. You must learn that internal battery work around 8V, and the external pack, around 14. That’s the only way to know, underwater, if the pack is actually working. Forget it and you risk having the usual 20 min (ish) to shoot, provided by the internal one.
  • Manual focus override is not smooth on Canon 100 mm macro. Sometimes it doesn’t engage, and smooth, small adjustments are not effective. I believe this is a lens issue and not a camera or housing problem. Nonetheless, it may force you to commit to auto or manual focus for the whole dive, meaning: if you want to pull focus or do precise adjustments, it may be better to leave the lens on manual. If you want to take advantage of auto-focus (which you probably  won’t) better forget those ones.
  • The whole idea of having two professional looking rotating knobs for focus and zoom would be nice… IF they were de-multiplied, meaning, the rotation on the knobs produced less rotation on the lenses rings. NA-BMPCC6K housing and ports aren’t tailored for cinema lenses, as there is no way to action their dented rings. That would make sense, considering it is a cinema camera. For photo lenses, the action needed to be smoother to effectively do something like focus pulling. Nauticam goofed again, here.
  • Plugging the charging and the USB 3 cables (assuming you’re not using CFast internal card option) is not the easiest task, specially if you have big hands. I recommend installing the battery pack first, then sliding the camera half way through. This way, you can connect the power cable first, then the USB3 cable. After, you slidE the camera the rest of the way. Last, you push the cables inside, making sure they are neither under stress not touching anything important.
The camera inside the housing: notice the USB3 and power cables on the left.

I’ll update this post with new information and illustrative images as I get them. Stay tuned!


Below, some  videos:

A wide angle one. Shot with Nikon 16-35, f/4, with a cheap Chinese adaptor. Aperture is somehow around f/6.3, but there is no exact way to know, as the lever is mechanic and has no markings. I improvised Focus and zoom rings with the ones I already owned. Double sided tape and a few o’rings do the trick.. I used Keldan red filter on the lens, inside Nauticam 9′ optical glass dome. Light is coming  from my 2 X Divepro Vision Pro + with blue filters.  Despite their announced 15.000 lumen, it is clearly not enough, as both lens and filter reduce illumination.

I’m shooting Braw, 5.1, 6k, no white balance on camera, 1250 ISO and 24 FPS (some takes could have been at 50).

Only the underwater scenes were shot with BMPCC6k. Out of water I just used an iPhone. Along with Black Magic Pocket Cinema 6k,  I’m using Canon  EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, with the proper Nauticam focus ring, and an improvised tripod. Light source is the same, but no blue filters. I used AOI UCL-09, UCL-900 and made a few tries with Nauticam SMC-2  I found focusing way easier than with a DSLR, as the screen is bigger, and the different crop factors (as the sensor is smaller) produce higher magnification. Nauticam SMC-2, even for such small critters (less than 2 mm in length) is sometimes too strong.

I ended up ordering some custom made buttons. That allows me to switch from Braw 6k 50 fps to  120 fps @ 2.8k. I tried it a few times, getting apparently more magnification, as the camera uses only a smaller area of the sensor. Obviously, it is harder to focus so images tend to be a bit soft. Careful choice of framing and angles is mandatory and I’m just beginning to understand it. On this Ladybug video, I pushed magnification limits, and the images are still quite decent.

Both were processed and graded with DaVinci Resolve 15

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