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Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and 6K: Good for Travel?

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At NAB 2018, Blackmagic Design announced the new Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. I was immediately skeptical and not without reason.

When Blackmagic first released the original Pocket Cinema Camera, the URSA, or even the original Cinema Camera, it all seemed too good to be true for the price. And it was. The Pocket Cinema Camera lacked a decent battery life, the Cinema Camera had all sorts of problems with a clunky user interface, and the URSA was a behemoth of a camera with noisy shadows and bad battery life. Even the original Ursa Mini seemed like it was half-baked.

But then the URSA Mini Pro came out and changed my view on Blackmagic cameras – sort of. I thought, “they’ve finally released something that addresses everyone’s needs and concerns”. And if I found myself in a place where I’d want to own a cinema camera, I totally would buy one!

But I digress. Let’s get back to the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (that’s a mouthful).

The big question on my mind, being a travel filmmaker, is “is this new camera a good travel filmmaker’s tool”? That all depends on what you’re doing and what you mean by travel filmmaker. For me, it means filming beautiful landscapes, footage on the street and occasionally interviews whether I’m recording myself or someone else. Sometimes slow motion. This camera totally works for all of these things but there are some cons.

Whenever you’re considering a new camera it’s important to ask yourself a few questions.

1. Am I able to record throughout the day with only a few batteries?

I would guess doing an all-day shoot wandering around a city, I’d need maybe 3 or more batteries. They’ve said each battery will last approx. 60 minutes. I’m really only grabbing short shots here and there for the most part, so maybe 3 batteries would do it. Maybe have a 4th for safety.

2. Can I use cheap recording media?

All depends on what frame rate and resolution you’re shooting at, how hot the camera gets when recording high res to an SD card, etc. Theoretically, yes, you can use “cheap” recording media. For instance, Sandisk’s 128GB Extreme Pro UHS-1 SDXC has a max write speed of 90mb/s. So theoretically, you could record 4K in ProRes 422 using a $65 SD card. With the faster UHS-II card, you may even be able to record ProRes 422HQ.

3. What about CinemaDNG 4K? 

SD cards just aren’t quite there yet. You’ll need a CFast 2.0 card for that that’s going to run you over $300 for that same 128GB.

4. What about autofocus?

I haven’t seen anything on autofocus so I assume it has none. Now as a camera operator working with DSLRs, I’ve almost always been a manual focus kind of guy. But recently I’ve started working with the 5D MKIV and I have to say, having the touch AF and continuous AF is a big plus. I still check focus when I can, but if something is happening RIGHT NOW and I have to get the shot, I’d rather be able to instantly focus and not have to mess with manual.

That said, not having autofocus isn’t a huge deal, especially when you consider what you’re getting for the price.

5. Isn’t the touchscreen fixed on the back? No vari-angle?

Unfortunately, yes. This is curious, however, because Blackmagic intentionally put a record button on the front of the camera so that vloggers could hand hold the camera and point it at themselves. So how do they know it’s in focus? Beats me. You’d have to mark your focus ring or have an external monitor to check focus since there no autofocus/face tracking.

6. Do I really need something that records such high-quality footage?

Having the ability to make major adjustments to brightness and color without much if any degradation is incredible. This is the kind of stuff the big guys [filmmakers] use all the time. But do I need it for travel video? Probably not.

As long as the dynamic range of your camera is on the higher end of the spectrum and you get as close as you can to perfect on your white balance and exposure when you shoot, you’ll be golden.

Something else you have to remember is that shooting in 4K and at higher bit rates creates larger files. Larger files mean more storage and storage costs money. Things you’ll need to weigh when determining your needs and if you can afford to shoot in a raw format.

7. What else could I shoot 4K with for the price?

If 4K is what you’re after I would recommend the Panasonic GH4 or the Lumix G7. And if you want 10-bit footage out of your camera, well then you can get a field recorder like an Atomos Ninja to record 10-bit with your GH4.

If you want to step it up a bit, for another $700 you could get a Panasonic GH5. This camera records 4K at 24/30fps, 4:2:2 10-bit internally. Some things it has over the Pocket include an articulating LCD, autofocus, and a stabilized sensor.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to say if the Pocket will be worth it. Can you make a great looking video with it? Sure. Can you make a great looking video with other cameras at a similar price point? Yep. Some of which may have particular features that you may find more useful when traveling like better battery life or an adjustable LCD.

So would this be a good travel camera? Sort of. The problem is set up may not be as fast as a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Although I will mention it has programmable buttons which may do the trick. But still, without an articulating LCD, no autofocus, and a relatively short battery life, you may want to look at other cameras depending on your needs.

For certain travels where I’m shooting in more of a documentary style, I can see this being my go-to, where I want higher quality output or when I’m being paid to produce content. Once the camera is released (or if I’m lucky enough to test a beta), we’ll see if Blackmagic delivered something truly worthwhile.