Hands-on Review: the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K
In this hands-on review, we’ll evaluate the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K for how it holds up next to its predecessor, the Pocket 4K.
04/24/20 Update: Just several months after the release of the Pocket 6k, Blackmagic has officially lowered the price of the 6k model by $500 to $1995. It’s not often we see a well-celebrated camera lower in price within the first year of release, for whatever reason behind the price drop, the Pocket 6k will long continue to be the most affordable 6k RAW camera with an EF mount on the market.
When I received the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K to review, I went into using the camera completely blind. At the time, an immediate family member was seriously ill, and my time was halved between visiting my relative in hospital and taking care of their duties. Blackmagic had sent me their review unit a week before my world turned upside down, and between that time, I didn’t really know much about the camera. I was an URSA Mini owner/operator, so I was familiar with the functionality of Blackmagic’s UI. Therefore, I didn’t expect to be bewildered in operating the BMPCC 4K, but I was unaware of the initial overview of the Pocket 4K: the battery life, the codecs, and truthfully, I didn’t even know the camera was MFT until I tried to attach my EF Sigma Art Lens. Then, realized why I was also supplied with an MFT LUMIX lens. My initial overview of the Pocket 4K was mixed (even though I now own and love one), but I think I may have weighed down my negatives too much, due to the reasons above.
Now, unlike the situations surrounding the 4K’s release, I was ready for battle with the 6K. I had a variety of accessories, a planned idea for the test shoot, and I knew the ergonomics of Blackmagic’s Pocket Camera like the back of my hand. While that wouldn’t sway me from my criticism, I felt like I’d be in a great position to fully evaluate the camera.
My Test Shoot
First, let’s talk about the 6K announcement.
When the press announcement regarding Blackmagic’s Fall Post-production and Camera update circulated, little assumed that a new camera was on the horizon. In fact, given that NAB was just a few months prior, and IBC was a month away, it didn’t seem like anything significant was going to drop. Then, mid live demonstration, Blackmagic CEO Grant Petty started talking about the feedback they’d received about the camera, and how the EF mounting option had been something discussed frequently. In doing so, a small smile started to form — in the way a poker player is about to deal a hand in which he knows he’s won — and then he brought out the Pocket 6K.
Ironically, during the first part of the announcement, I told the editor here at PremiumBeat I would turn in my write-up on the report the next morning, as nothing was “breaking news” worthy. Then, the 6K was put on display, and it was all hands on deck. While listening to the specs and information being announced, I couldn’t help but feel slightly miffed. I had to wait a number of months for the 4K to arrive, then adapt to the MFT system when I primarily had EF lenses. And now, here was an EF system available to purchase minutes after the announcement — shipping straight away. Users who had been waiting for a Pocket 4K could order and hold a Pocket 6K before their Pocket 4K order was fulfilled.
I have to wonder if this was always in the pipework, or if it was introduced to combat the ever-growing lens adaption market, cutting out the middleman. Either way, it’d have been great to have seen both cameras announced at the same time, giving users a multiple choice in systems.
The Design and UI
After I finished my Pocket 6K test short and began putting my thoughts into text, I actually started to question how I was to review the camera. It’s basically the 4K with a higher resolution. How do you review a camera that has ninety percent of the same design as the precursor, which I’ve already discussed? It has precisely the same design as the Pocket 4K, but with the larger EF mount, the camera has an increase in-depth at 0.6 inches. While it makes the camera slightly more prominent, it’s still a far reach from its Pocket name, as is the 4K. However, as later discussed, I think we should look at the Pocket Cinema Camera as a reference to the camera being smaller than a standard Cinema Camera, and not something that literally fits in your pocket, like the first-generation Pocket Cinema Camera.
With the need for a more significant flange distance, Blackmagic has used the space to install a larger fan grill. When I boot up my 4K, the only sound I hear is the slight electronic hum of the camera turned on. When I boot up the 6K, the noise of the new and larger fan is audible. Although, when filming in any form of the environment, other than a silent dark closest, it’s not going to be a problem like the sound of an overheated RED ONE. Although, it should be noted, as I frequently visit many of the online groups that discuss all things Pocket 4K (and now 6K), I can’t recall overheating ever being an issue with the Pocket 4K.
The body, still polycarbonate/carbon fiber composite, gives a toy-like plastic feel, and there’s been no additional change to the features. Many Pocket 4K users have taken to ripping out the protective rubber doors that seal the I/O ports, as they become too troublesome when shooting, and I would have hoped to have seen these as possible removable caps, but the rubber seals remain. Concerning the ports, the 6K touts the same I/O ports as the 4K. That is, HDMI (type A), mic in (3.5mm), headphones, USB-C, 12V, and a mini XLR. However, as noted in the “What to Consider When Upgrading to the Pocket 6K” post, the USB-C connection is a Gen 1 port, which taps out at 625 MB/s, meaning it wouldn’t be possible to record at 6K Q0 at 50fps on the current hardware.
I do really like the design and fit of the new Pocket series. The initial model from 2014 felt like you were holding a phone and wasn’t as practical with a larger lens attached. Whereas, this mirrors the feel of holding a DSLR. Although, like the 4K, the 6K model also doesn’t have in-body image stabilization, therefore (and paradoxically), I’d never suggest holding it like a DSLR, unless you have perfected the skill of remaining completely still.
The screen also remains the same untouched size of five-inches. And again, like the Pocket 4K’s review, I ran into the same trouble — fingerprints! Unlike other cameras at this size, you can usually use a rotation dial, or set of buttons, to navigate through the menus. But with the 6K, most internal adjustments can only be changed by using the touchscreen. If you’re filming in a wet or muddy environment, it’s not ideal. However, since owning the Pocket 4K, I’ve found great use for the Bro Tech’s Matte LCD Protective screen. It not only reduces fingerprints to a minimum, it also slightly reduces glare. Although, I can’t really knock the lack of non-touch screen operations, as I also have to give credit to the sheer size of the screen, when compared to other cameras of this small form factor. There just isn’t anything on the market that has such a large, clear screen like the Pocket 4K, and now Pocket 6K.
While we still don’t have an articulating screen, I don’t think we’re going to see one at this price point with what is inside of the Pocket 6K. I feel like with many missing features, it could be added to a project triangle of: 6K, RAW, and then you can add your own missing feature. ND Filter? Articulating screen? You have to lose 6K or RAW.
As the design is so similar — more or less any accessory and tool designed for the Pocket 4K — like screen hoods, cages, and cable clamps will fit the 6K. Quite the welcome change from other small factor cameras, where usually a new model means new rigging accessories, too (looking at you GH5). There were some reported issues with the Tilta cage not correctly fitting the BMPCC 6K because of the new larger lens mount. However, users noted that if you remove the Tilta logo plate, it’ll fit the BMPCC 6K with no friction. Although, since the initial release, Titla has released a free logo attachment compatible with the 6K. Do remember, later this year we’ll receive the battery adapter, which will hold two L-series batteries, making all current cages obsolete.
Like the external, the internal UI is almost exactly the same, save for the new resolution settings and anamorphic mode (which the 4K will also be receiving.) 120fps at 1920×1080 was initially a feature to report, but (as noted from attendees of IBC), the Pocket 4K will also be receiving 120fps at 2.6K.
If we were going to see an update on the UI, I would’ve liked to have seen a new and improved battery life indicator. Of course, as with the Pocket 4K (at least on release) it’s not great — 40-45 minutes, depending on how long you are recording, and even less if you’re recording at a high data rate with a high FPS. But the indicator is highly unpredictable. While the icon may turn red to indicate low power and let you know that nineteen percent is left, it doesn’t give a correct representation of the power. Many users, including myself, have reported the camera shutting off way before it even drops below ten percent. It somewhat feels like it isn’t time to change batteries when it drops to danger level, but at twenty percent to avoid the camera randomly shutting off.
There are three predominant areas about the Pocket 6K that differ from the Pocket 4K: the 6K resolution, the Super 35mm sensor, and the EF mount.
Before we delve into the resolution aspect, let’s quickly cover the image quality. I say quickly because I think “it’s beautiful” is enough.
With thirteen stops of dynamic range, Blackmagic RAW and dual native ISO, the images you obtain from this small camera are seriously impressive. I’d argue they’re also unbeatable, at this price point.
I understand and appreciate the lust for 6K. More resolution is great. And the higher the resolution, the greater the image looks when downsampled. The 4K downsampled to 1080p looks greater than native 1080p, and the 6K downsampled to 4K will produce a better picture quality than native 4K (read about why here). However, let’s not act like 4K has, for some reason, become abruptly ugly in the face of 6K — 4K footage [from the Pocket 4K] still looks beautiful.
Outside of TV and film delivery, is there a formal need for 6K? I think one of my favorite summaries for the 6K comes from Luke Neumann of Neumann Films. In his video, “BMPCC 6K Honest Impressions (Maybe TOO Honest),” he says “Who’s doing cinema? Any of you doing cinema? I’m not doing cinema. I’m doing short films on the internet—that people watch on their phones.”
It’s hard to disagree with his sentiment. My 6K test video, ironically, has so far been viewed on mobile and tablet more than it has on a desktop or laptop at 4K playback. As with mobile streaming, with ninety-nine percent of devices, you only see a 1080p stream, or for most, 720p. The post ability to crop footage and reposition the central focal point is always a welcome tool for capturing footage on the fly, where you might not have the luxury to get the exact shot you wanted in-camera. But, isn’t that what 4K was also used for? I don’t know if it’s because I currently have no use for 6K delivery, but I find the idea of needing a 6K camera for YouTube uploads to be part of the gear hysteria that has swept YouTube and social media, over the last few years. The EF mount and Super 35mm sensor are far greater draws to the camera than the resolution.
Earlier this year, I published a set of tips on whether the Pocket 4K could be used as a supplementary still images camera. While my recommendation was so-so, the 6K flips that on its head with a 21.2 megapixel sensor. While it still has the same drawbacks — as the camera is very much a cinema camera, only with a stills reference button — you’d be able to obtain larger, clearer stills from the 6K than the 4K.
The Data Rate
I feel as though the Pocket cameras are caught in a limbo of user bases. A few months back, I produced a video offering insight into how much you’d likely have to spend to get the camera production-ready. While the video was received warmly, there were more than several viewers that voiced comments like: “This is really obvious.” Or: “All cinema cameras need these accessories.”
Conversely, on my Pocket 4K test video, which is slowly crawling to half a million views, I’ve been inundated with comments like: “Does this have autofocus?” Or: “Can I use this for YouTube vlogging?” For some, it’s evident that this is a Pocket Cinema Camera without the bells and whistles found on larger systems. To others, it looks and is priced like a DSLR/mirrorless camera. If you’re using the BMPCC 6K, having used a RED (or similar), the workflow is likely similar. If jumping up from the GH5, working with such a large RAW resolution can be a painstaking leap.
The 6K data rate is humongous, even at 8:1. My PC can perfectly handle 4K 5:1 BRAW at 60fps, but I only reach 16-17fps at 6K BRAW 24fps. And, if I even think about adding any form of color correction or an OFX plug-in, the video file isn’t going to move forward. Therefore, I’m going to need to create playback and editable-friendly proxy files — a norm for any form of editing that involves data-heavy files. However, this is where I want to again bring to the forefront the notion of a crossroad user base. If you’ve been out filming local wildlife, a YouTube vlog, or just messing around, it’s not only going to take extra time offloading the footage from card to PC, it’s going to double your time to create proxy files to edit. I honestly cannot see the benefit of recording in 6K for these sorts of projects. Unless you’re delivering for film or TV, then I can’t promote it.
You also have to acknowledge the need for extra offline storage (and, obviously, recording media). A 256gb Cfast 2.0 card maxed at thirty-three minutes and thirty-three seconds at 6K BRAW 8:1, with a mixture of 24fps and 50fps footage. Not only are you going to need an abundance of recording media, but also the hard drives to store your day’s shooting. External drives can often be a cost offset first time filmmakers typically forget about.
The EF Mount
You could somewhat argue that the EF mount has become a universal lens mount. From RED, to ARRI, to Blackmagic, you can often choose between a PL mount or an EF mount for the system. Likewise, if you were to purchase a new camera, say the Sony A7 III, you can buy a mount adapter to attach an EF lens, instead of replacing your lenses with Sony E lenses. However, as the flange distance with other mounts is a lot shorter, it’s not always possible to reverse the situation.
Therefore, theoretically, if the 4K or 6K was to be your first Cinema Camera purchase, I’d recommend buying the 6K, so if you were to later upgrade to the URSA Mini G2, the EF glass retains its usability. Whereas, you’d have to start your lens foundation from scratch with MFT. And, as the adage goes, you want to invest in the glass over a camera.
You also cannot look past the sheer quantity of native EF lenses on the market. As for my perspective, if you’re deciding on whether to purchase a 4K or 6K, it’s going to come down to the mount, more so than the resolution.
Super 35mm Sensor
As noted in our piece about what to consider if upgrading from the 4K, one of the primary selling points to this camera is the Super 35mm sensor. However, over the last few years, as the world of digital stills and videography have merged into one, things have become confusing, and those new to the world of digital filmmaking assume that a full-frame sensor is what you need. However, this isn’t the case. This is what’s been said:
The issue with crop factor is that for cinema, Super 35mm is a standard. Whereas for stills, which bleed into digital video, full-frame is the standard, and anything smaller yields a crop factor. Meaning, a 50mm on one camera may capture images at a focal length equivalent to 67mm on a full-frame sensor. As the photo and video world has seemingly blended into one another and borrowed terms, sometimes principles fall into a gray area of confusion. As with the Pocket 6K, you have a 1.558 crop factor. But again, that’s in comparison to a full-frame stills sensor, when in regard to Super 35mm film, there isn’t a crop factor.
I know “filmic look” is a term that gets thrown around too easily, but this sensor will give you a better visual representation of the film look regarding your focal length over the Pocket 4K.
The camera feels plasticky. There is no articulating screen. The battery life is dreadful. There are no features you’d find in higher priced Cinema Cameras like a built-in ND filter. High frame rates above 4K are sparse. If this was a $6,000 Cinema Camera (which is still cheap considering) that boasted 6K and RAW, I think having those absent features would sink the camera. But it’s not $6,000, it’s $2,495, and I feel like you can’t put too much pressure on the camera for the things it doesn’t have, because of the outstanding quality the camera produces. Low-to-no budget filmmakers are always working around issues that wouldn’t be prevalent in big-budget productions because, quite simply, there’d be a tool available for that issue at hand. The Pocket 6K is like that. You have to work around its downfalls and missing features, and in doing so, you’re going to obtain some beautiful footage.
If you’re making online content and need things to be a little more cinematic than they currently are, your best bet is to pick up the 4K and a well-performing MFT lens. If your goal is to create films to take to the festival circuit but you don’t have the budget for a big cinema rig, the 6K is a perfect alternative.
- Effective Sensor Size: 23.10mm x 12.99mm (Super 35)
- ISO: Dual Native ISO at 400 and 3200
- Dyanmic Range: 13 stops
- Frame Rates: 23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p, 50p, 59.94p, 60p, High-Speed up to 120p (HD Window), High-Speed up to 60p (UHD Window)
- Shooting Resolutions: 6144 x 3456 (6K) up to 50 fps; 6144 x 2560 (6K 2.4:1) up to 60 fps; 5744 x 3024 (5.7K 17:9) up to 60 fps; 4096 x 2160 (4K DCI) up to 60 fps; 3840 x 2160 (Ultra HD) up to 60 fps; 3728 x 3104 (3.7K 6:5 anamorphic) up to 60 fps; 2868 x 1512 (2.8K 17:9) up to 120 fps; 1920 x 1080 (HD) up to 120 fps
- Codecs: Blackmagic RAW or ProRes 422
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