The recent price drop of the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) took me from an observer to a late adopter. But actually shooting with the BMPCC and then editing its footage was not so easy as I imagined.
I am just a hobbyist, who is re-discovering his creative roots in both painting and photography.
Recently, Blackmagic Design took a bold and smart move to drop the price of its Pocket Cinema from US$995 to US$495 (around S$600 in our corner), just for a brief period in August 2014. It took me about 2 days to decide, and bought it. I ended up paying nothing by offsetting my credit card points.
Having the new toy in my hands was one thing, but actually shooting and then trying to edit its footage was another.
The legendary dynamic range (DR) of the Blackmagic cameras did not come across easily when you first look at its dull and gray footage from the camera’s LCD. You need to work for it on the computer to suss out every bit of the gorgeous latitude of the DR.
When I tested the camera with the 14mm Lumix lens at the neighborhood design museum, the footage was acceptable, but difficult to work with. I took to reading the manual the very night to figure out the camera settings.
Next, I went around trying to shoot various footage, and then trying to edit it for the best colors possible. I don’t have a Mac capable of running Blackmagic’s Resolve, no matter how good the software was said to be. So it was down to these options:
- QuickTime 7
- Final Cut Pro X
- CinemaFX Pro
- Film Convert
Of these, Apple Final Cut Pro X obviously is the best. But as a hobbyist filmmaker, I don’t have the luxury of time to edit my footage on a dedicated NLE most of the time. I did manage to test out the DR of my new Pocket Cinema on Final Cut Pro X briefly, and using the color grading tools like Hawaiki AutoGrade and DVShade EasyLooks. But I felt it was overkill for my needs.
I managed to find ColorizeVX and CinemaFX Pro on the App Store, both of which offered various degrees of color correction, with ColorizeVX offering the more comprehensive of the two. But these apps corrected single footage only, and are not NLEs that allow me to edit footage, merge them in a continuous reel, add in audio and music, and so on.
Eventually, I found an article discussing various NLEs for the Mac and came across Telestream™ ScreenFlow. It was not an obvious choice because ScreenFlow is a screen recording app as well. But I downloaded the trial app and managed to color correct and edit various BMPCC footage in a timeline, and exported the edited footage (watermarked). It was exactly the simple NLE I needed, with color grading/correction, a simple timeline editor, and worked with the ProRes footage from BMPCC right away.
I have tested the BMPCC with the Lumix 14mm F2.5, the Olympus 17mm F1.8, the Olympus 12mm F2, the Lumix 12-35mm F2.8 OIS zoom, and a Samyang 7.5mm F3.5.
Of the lenses, I found the Lumix 12-35mm best for all-round shooting even though the lens is huge on the tiny smartphone-sized BMPCC, because the OIS makes the BMPCC capable of acquiring handheld footage. The BMPCC does not have built-in OIS (optical image stabilization) and will utilize lens OIS only if the lens has a manual OIS switch, which means that apparently you cannot use software-based OIS lenses. I found the Olympus 12mm F2 the best portable lens, because the smooth focus wheel makes it great for focus pulling with a single finger on the BMPCC, aided by the focus peaking (in green) feature.
The BMPCC does not have a great LCD, but the Zacuto Z-Finder and a P&C grip makes the BMPCC work and feel like a nostalgic Super8 cam – which is great for old school users like me.
The BMPCC is one of the few filmmaking tools that offer both audio input (3.5mm) as well as audio output (3.5mm headphone monitoring), so you can get better audio with attached microphones, although I wished Blackmagic had a proper hot or cold shoe adapter designed as a built-in feature, rather than expect us to hunt around for a screwed-in one. The battery isn’t great either, with a rather quick drain on the EL20 battery. There are external battery options available, but it defeats the beauty of such an elegantly small camera. I usually pack around 2 to 4 batteries with me, but wished Blackmagic used a better battery algorithm and perhaps a larger capacity battery (albeit forcing the design to be less svelte).
In conclusion, if you are just a hobbyist like me, the easiest way to work with BMPCC ProRes footage is with ScreenFlow, imho, and a stabilized lens (so far, I could only find the Lumix 12-35mm) if you are like old and shaky me. The BMPCC offers great latitude in its footage, and so if you are patient enough to tweak it in dedicated NLEs such as Final Cut Pro X, you will be rewarded with films that can transcend even the best of the DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for videography these days.
PS – Update on August 24, 2014 – Blackmagic Design offered the latest firmware v1.9.3, which now provides the much needed Audio Level Monitoring, Time Remaining, and Histogram, and a sleeker menu display. The latest firmware also offers expanded ISO and White Balance settings.