Today at NAB 2013, Blackmagic Design shocked the production world the second year in a row with the announcement of their new Pocket Cinema Camera. It packs much of the same punch as last year’s groundbreaking Blackmagic Cinema Camera, in a more compact form factor—at one third of the price.
The most compelling thing about today’s announcement is that it’s aimed at users like myself. The closest competitor to the new BMPCC is the Panasonic GH series of cameras, namely hacked GH2’s and the GH3. I’m considering picking up a Lumix GH3 as my next camera body, and I didn’t anticipate that Blackmagic throwing a stick in my decision-making spokes. So in this post, I’m going to break down the pros and cons of choosing between a Panasonic GH camera and a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema.
The first point to consider is that the BMPCC isn’t a hybrid photo and video camera. If you’re into firing off some stills as you shoot video (which is something I often do), then the BMPCC is not the way to go. It’s strictly for video, or as Blackmagic is fond of saying: Super 16 digital film.
Ergonomics are something else to consider. None of these cameras have a good ergonomic video camera design. The GH cameras are shaped like traditional still cameras, and the BMPCC is shaped like a point-and-shoot. The GH cameras are shaped the way they are because they’re actually hybrid cameras. The BMPCC is shaped the way it is, presumably, to be more pocket friendly.
The trouble with making a big sacrifice in order to be more pocketable is that it was done in vain. Even with the slimmest of pancake lenses, interchangeable lens cameras don’t fit in your pocket. Sure, you can remove the lens and slide it into your jeans, but then the purpose of a pocket camera is lost, because you’ll need to wear a fanny pack to tote around your glass.
So with this in mind, I would be more compelled by a $1000 cinema camera with a more ergonomic design. That said, I do find the BMPCC appealing. It’s nice looking. The 1/4 20 thread at the base and top of the body is a welcome, video-rig friendly touch. People who got hands-on time with the BMPCC today are reporting that it has a solid feel, and that it’s heavier than it looks. This is also good. The weight will help you shoot steadier shots, however, a more traditional video camera shape would’ve helped far more.
The next major thing to consider is size. I personally like small cameras. Don’t get me wrong, I like big cameras too, but there’s something really attractive about a tiny body that can capture big cinematic images. So this is a plus for the BMPCC. It’s notably more compact than the GH3. I was kind of bummed that Panasonic discontinued the GH2. I figured since they made the GH3 larger, that it might make sense to keep the GH2 around as a smaller option.
If you’re weighing the pros and cons between a BMPCC and the compact GH2, an important thing to consider is the headphone output. The GH2 doesn’t have a headphone output, but the new BMPCC does. It’s a small detail, but an important one nonetheless.
GH3 Dimensions = 5.2 x 3.7 x 3.2″
BMPCC Dimensions = 5 x 2.6 x 1.5″
Visual monitoring is another major factor to consider. Both the GH2 and the GH3 have pretty great monitoring options. The articulating LCD display is key for low and high angle shooting, and the electronic viewfinder is indispensably important to me. I personally use the EVF a great deal more than I use the LCD. It would be really difficult to give up.
The BMPCC has a fixed 3.5″ LCD. No electronic viewfinder. You can connect an external LCD monitor to its mini-HDMI output, or perhaps get some kind of eyepiece loupe going, but again, adding this stuff makes it less and less of a pocket camera.
Another major differentiator is file types. The BMPCC shoots Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) and something called “lossless CinemaDNG RAW.” Being able to shoot straight to Apple ProRes 422 is really nice. I consider this a big perk of the BMPCC. Shooting RAW is another story. It sounds like you would have to spend a couple of hundred bucks on ultra-fast SDXC cards to shot in this RAW format. I realize that this is a main attraction for a lot of people. I would be interested in trying it out, but for me personally, it’s not a huge draw.
Sensor size is another big difference. The BMPCC has a “Super 16” sensor, which was designed to be a digital version of a 16mm film camera. The GH cameras have a Micro Four Thirds sensor, which is larger. The GH cameras win in this category.
At the end of the day, and being a few minutes before midnight, it really is the end of the day for me, I think the BMPCC is a really cool new camera. I really welcome the idea of a pocket cam dedicated to cinema video. I’m cheering for you, Blackmagic. You’re doing great work. I also really like that this camera has a Micro Four Thirds Mount. That means the format that I’m invested in will be getting some more love in the days to come. More people will be buying MF3 lenses and adapters. Everyone wins.
Have I been swayed away from the GH3? No. Not yet. I want to see what this camera can do in the hands of talented users. I want to check out the test footage, and pick one up, and see how I get on with it. However, it’s the same story once again. No matter which way you go, you’re likely going to have an awesome camera. These are good times we’re living in, people.