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Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera night time testing at 1600ASA – and image quality issues

By site editor Dan Chung:

Sanlitun, Beijing – shot on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and graded with Filmconvert from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

Last night I headed out to do some testing of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with fellow Newsshooter Jonas Schoenstein. After shooting a daytime test yesterday I wanted to see what the camera could achieve in low light. There was no better place in my mind than the lively Sanlitun area of Beijing. It would be interesting to see if camera’s smallish Super16 sensor would work well enough on the dimly lit Beijing streets.

Jonas handholds the BMPCC with Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95
Jonas handholds the BMPCC with Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95

In order to give the camera a fighting chance I opted to shoot with the wonderful Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 Micro Four Thirds lens – mainly handheld using a Movcam mini cage with top handle. There are a few tripod shots but it is mostly handheld because I believe that is the way many users will want to use this camera. Don’t expect similar results with a regular lens – at f2.8 this shoot would have been impossible! The Voigtlander also has the benefit of a declicked manual aperture ring making iris adjustment easy.

ISO was mainly set at 1600ASA
ISO was mainly set at 1600ASA

ISO was mostly at the camera’s maximum 1600ASA, with the occasional shot at 800ASA. The lens was mostly set between f0.95 and f1.4. Frame rate was 25P with a 180 degree shutter angle. White balance was set at 4500K as I found it to give a reasonable result in the wildly varied lighting.

The camera was set in ‘film’ profile and the footage was give a very basic grade using the BMCC profile in Filmconvert grading software. A small amount of grain effect was added in Filmcovert too. I’ve also uploaded an ungraded version of the video below is the best quality I can. Feel free to download and experiment with it.

Sanlitun, Beijing – shot on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera: Ungraded version from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

Overall I found the results to be quite pleasing but marred by the presence of a ‘black dot’ issue from point light sources. These can be clearly seen in several frames of the video. I had encountered this before on the larger BMCC but was disappointed to see it on this camera too. Whilst this can be removed fairly easily in cinema post-production (harder if the object is moving), it makes life difficult for real world shooters on tight deadlines – who might have been hoping to use this camera for its stealth factor.

The black dot issue manifests itself on a bulb filament
The black dot issue manifests itself on a bulb filament
The black spot seen in the sun
The black spot seen in the sun

Also present are ‘white orbs’ which other early testers have reported. When the image has a bright specular highlight it is turned into a rather unpleasing white blob. This was less visible at night but still in several frames if you look for it. It was far more evident in the daytime shots from yesterday.

The 'White orb' effect seen on passing cars in late afternoon
The ‘White orb’ effect seen on passing cars in late afternoon

I have asked Blackmagic Design about both of these issues and they are aware of my concerns. They say they are investigating the ‘white orbs’ and I await their response.

Overall the handling of the camera was a little quirky. Numerous times I found myself accidentally bringing up the logging info menu when trying to activate the focus magnification function. The latter requires a double click of the OK button, the former is a single click.

The rear of the BMPCC and the pesky OK button
The rear of the BMPCC and the pesky OK button

The rear screen is quite large but I don’t find is as clear or high resolution as some of the competition. I tried it with the loupe from my Sony FS100 but it was still hard to focus things easily without using magnification or peaking.

I found the camera a little too small in my hand to be able to get a decent grip. Some online have questioned the need for a cage or grip gear for the BMPCC – for my hands it would help a lot. The little Movcam top handle I was using last night actually saved a number of shots which I would have otherwise struggled to keep steady. A small shoulder rig would have helped to stabilise things immensely but we wouldn’t have been able to get the stealthy shots we did.

The memory card used was a Sandisk Extreme 80MB/s UHS-1 SDXC, there were no issues with it. It seems you don’t need to opt for the Pro version of the card that others are suggesting.

Sound is from the camera’s internal microphone – we did this to maintain a low profile and not attract too much attention to ourselves. Results would have been much better with an external shotgun but what we got wasn’t actually too bad apart from the camera handling noise.

I believe it is still too early to come to any solid conclusions about this little camera. The form factor has a unique appeal but it comes with some drawbacks. I need to test it some more and see how it fares on different subjects before giving any recommendations on its suitability for real world shooting. Stay tuned.

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