BMPC aka Blackmagic Pocket Cinema, a Super 16mm contender -pt1

blackmagic pocket cinema camera

 

Could I miss to review the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. I could not, as this sub $1000 technical achievement is something you have to talk about. There are tons of reviews on the net, but the point of view of each own of us brings some valuable discussion over the table. The BMPCC hasn’t yet been superseded by Blackmagic Design, so a mature evaluation can still be written up.

I did not jump straight into the BMCC mainly because I wanted to see how this camera performed first. After 6 months from its official release, it was rather apparent that the BMC was a serious contender, a baby Alexa some like to say. Still I was not (and I am not still) convinced about the sensor size, although with the Speedboosters & co. you can get very close to a Super35mm sensor size.
When it comes to non-standard sensor size (by standard I refer to S16 or S35 for the matter) I know you can just do the math and work out the DOF, but …. By the time I was kind of ready to hit the jump, the BMPCC got announced. Price was sick low, plus a true-ish S16mm sensor (actually 12.48mm x 7.02mm compared to Super 16 mm 12.52mmmx7.41mm)  –which is established in the world of cinematography.

I got the second batch of the BMPCC after the white orb issue got ironed out, and almost into the firmware that enabled the RAW in camera recording. Blackmagic is actually to be taken with a pinch of salt, as all the 1st camera release seem to be pretty much far from trouble free.

I have been using the BMPCC for a while now, in different scenarios and alongside different cameras. I believe we are all agreed that digital film cameras have to be considered as different film stocks. Also depending on the job, its budget, its requirements you might opt on one or the other… at the end of the day it’s not always an artistic choice, not all the work we do is features.

 

bmpcc back and front

 

I would like to get right down to the biggest disappointment of the BMPCC. In my view, I believe it to be moire. It showed many times and ruined the shots. On a feature films set you might have all the aids of a bigger crew and proper arrangements to work around the camera of choice limits, but in corporate videos/doco type of work this is not likely to be the scenario.
I guess that a big part of the issues leading to moire is due to the OLPF. I understand that the BMPCC has none, so here we are. Truth to be told, the BMPCC would not be the 1st camera without it, as some of the latest video enabled Nikons do not carry it as well –namely the D7100 and D5300 – but those do not have as much moire. What is it? Not entirely sure at this point, it must be the way the software down samples the pixels, but I am not much interested in getting into the tech details.
What I am sure of is that no post production workaround in the world can totally save your shot, unless you go the CGI way and rebuild the tainted part of the footage. Hollywood style, not my types of productions and not those for many like myself.
The interesting part is that there is some kind of workaround. It’s the one and only I could come across after many hours of research on the net a while back, but right now it comes on top of the Google results so the link must have been hit thoroughly. Here it is for your consideration, I have yet to try it myself, but it seems pretty effective

 

The Optical Low Pass Filter is a physical piece of glass that is meant to avoid the moire problem, that shows up in the form of rainbows and it’s typically triggered by fine patterns. I had cases of moire showing up on the glasses of some headshots during interviews, how bad that is. Same I had with the Nikon D600 that flew off the window due to a flawed video mode, joyful festival of moire and aliasing. For instance this is the D800 OPLF design, which we can all consider to be not successful as moire was visible on the D800 video too

 

OLPF desgin

 

At the end of the day, if very experienced camera makers like Arri or Canon are putting the OLPF in their products there must be a reason being. I know as a matter of fact that a lot of resources have to be poured into the design of the OLPF glass itself, because it is always a tradeoff between sharpness and moire. RED seemed to have run into some kind of issue themselves, and a post-Dragon release seemed to have addressed the problem –or at least give RED users a choice. The Canon 5DmkIII went all the opposite way, giving us a moire/aliasing free camera but with soft video. Perhaps what Graham Petty, as CEO of Blackmagic thought, was to a) save some money (R&D, parts) b)boost sharpness (the BMPCC is not as sharp as the Alexa or the C100 by default)
Whatever his and his team thinking was, the end results is that you have to be careful what you’re shooting at. I did not only had the issue with lenses as sharps as the Panasonic 12-35. I also had it with some Nikkors AI, although not they are rater sharp already at f4, I cannot say that due to a design 30 years old that they are as sharp as modern lenses when shooting below that f-stop.

Now on to the second fact regarding the BMPCC. This is not a downside, but it’s more due to the fact that it’s something you have to deal with, there are no ways around. It’s to do with the film mode in the BMPCC, as opposed to the video mode. You have to grade it pretty hard if you are willing to squeeze out the true potential of this camera. Your mileages might vary, really it’s down to your experience or whether you have a consolidated a grading workflow or not.
What my eyes can see is that that the film mode in indeed very flat, and you’ll benefit from a monitor with a log curve built I to focus. The recently released Atomos Shogun features this opportunity, as well as the Small HD line. Some other high end field monitors certainly offer the opportunity at a click, but they might be out of the price range of the majority of BMPCC users out there.

Also I find that the recorded footage has a strong magenta tint in Prores, and it takes some serious massage to kill it. I am aware of the existence of some off the shelf color correction software (like Film Convert) or pre-baked LUTs (like VisionColor Osiris, Koji Color or others) but I found the FilmConvert buggy and the second option more of a finishing aid than a magic bullet solution.
Increasing the saturation to 150/200 % with the Fast Color corrector in Premiere seemed a good starting point, but then you are on your own, and it will take quite time to come to a visually nice result.

When shooting RAW the matter is slightly different. Because you import the DNG into Lightroom (at least I would), the amount of controls over the image is enormous and it might be quicker to find your way out. Quicker in a way, meaning if you have a pretty good idea of what you want to achieve. Truth to be told there will be so many options available that if you do not exactly know what your goal is, you might end up tweaking sliders forever. Apart from this, the RAW workflow is very time consuming (and HDD space consuming too) that I am not sure if I’ll ever go down that path again unless the Client has the budget for it.

 

BMPC BMCC BMC URSA

 

There also would be a 3rd fact about the BMPCC, more specifically the IR pollution. I put this in 3rd place because in all fairness it’s not BMPCC related at all, more later. Every time a sensor is engineered, makers account for a certain amount of IR filtration. The Canon C100 as well the entire Canon Cinema line seems to handle it damn well, some other cameras have issues with it past a certain point.
I experienced the issue myself, and you have to know how to tackle it before going into a shoot with the camera of choice. Unfortunately there seem to be no way of getting rid of IR pollution even in post, unless you want to find yourself tearing your hair looking up for some CGI wizardry. IR pollution manifest itself in shift of tones (namely hue and saturation) when using certain degree of ND filtration, and when that hits the skin tone then you’re done for good. It’s a shift mostly affecting the red channel, so that the blacks turn brownish and the whole color palette gets weird.
I use a variety of filter brands, but I am not particularly loyal to one as they all seems to have strength and weaknesses in their offerings. If we were to look at at a popular choice, Tiffen filters, looking up at their documentation it seems that a T1 filter (rays absorption) jointly used with a Hot Mirror (rays reflection) filter would save the shot. There are some IRND filters out there, but much like myself you might have already had the VND purchased so you’re looking to bolt something on.
Some other folks swear by the HOYA UV IR, Hoya is one of the major optical producers out there. I read somewhere that the work for 3rd parties like Canon.
However, I found this clip from Abelcine of particular interest and I posted you here as it might save you hours of crazy browsing

This has been brought up million times all over the internet. There are some other downsides to the BMPCC, but to me they are not that big deal at this price point. It is part of the compromise you sign up for when purchasing the camera. Yeah, battery sucks badly and the LCD screen is bollocks. Every time I go shoot I have a V-Mount battery and an external monitor with me, so I am not too fussed about the lack of these facilities in the camera. For solid work you have to rig it anyway, I am cool to add extras I have to have on every job.

The black orb issue has been fixed a while back, so well done Blackmagic for this one… now is the URSA your cat to skin. Well done for standardizing the firmware updates all across the product line, anf for continuing offering improved firmware. For last well done for shaking up the market so bad, and for empowering filmmakers with great tools. The part I do not like of this Company is the “you-test-it-first” attitude, all cameras up to now seem to be pretty flawed at launch, and get usable after 6 months. So at least in their initial life on the shelves, they can’t be considered any more than B or even C roll cameras; thus even after over 1.5 years from its initial release, no one was able to give the community 4:2:2 10-bits raw for peanuts.

I have a pt 2 of this article coming up next, which goes into the technical performances of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Further down the lines , I plan to talk about the lens options out there, with some hands on pictures from my personal Cooke Kinetal collection.

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