by Larry Jordan
One of the hottest cameras on the planet right now is the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (PCC 4K) from Blackmagic Design.
When the team at doddleNEWS asked me to review the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, I hedged. The last time I did any serious shooting, video was still standard definition. Since then, I’ve made a point to hire cinematographers, because the quality of their work is higher than mine.
So, I didn’t want to review the camera. But, when the doddleNEWS team persisted, I realized that I could provide substantial information looking at the camera from an editing perspective, because there are surprises in store if you don’t pay attention.
In this review, I want to:
- Look at the different codecs and formats the PCC 4K shoots
- Explain which codec works best for your NLE
- Help you choose the right codec for your project
- Provide recommendations for editing
NOTE: Both the camera and NLEs are continually updated. Expect these comments and recommendations to evolve over time.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the dual ISO settings that the camera provides.
What the ISO setting does is, within the 13 stops the camera shoots that span from pure black and pure white, determine where mid-point gray will be set within this range.
- The ISO setting determines where the camera “sees” 50% gray.
- Low ISO settings allow more detail in the shadows.
- High ISO settings allow more detail in the highlights.
- For shooting in low-light where you want to preserve shadow detail, set the ISO between 100 – 400.
- For shooting in bright-light, where you want to preserve highlight detail, set the ISO between 3200 and 6400.
- When you aren’t sure what you want to do set the ISO at 400.
While you can record 1080 HD media to an SDSX card, you can NOT record UHD or 4K media to it. It is too slow.
For 4K media, you either need to use a CFast card (very expensive) or an externally attached SSD connected via USB-C. The SSD needs to be approved by Blackmagic and here’s a link listing supported cards and SSDs.
I’m using a Samsung T5 SSD for my tests. This supported all image sizes and frame rates with no problem. By the way, recording 4K RAW at 60 fps requires write speeds of 456 MB/second! Whew!!
NOTE: Here’s my review of the Samsung T5 card.
CODECS AND FORMATS
The Pocket Cinema Camera 4K shoots two different codecs:
(NOTE: Currently, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K does not support Blackmagic RAW).
Each of these two codecs has different compression settings:
- Uncompressed (Lossless)
- 3:1 compression
- 4:1 compression
- 422 HQ
NOTE: To my way of thinking, you don’t buy a camera like this to shoot ProRes Light or Proxy images. So, while it is nice the camera supports these, I’m not going to factor them into this article.
Each codec supports three different frame sizes:
- 4K DCI – 4096 x 2160 pixels
- UHD – 3840 x 2160 pixels
- HD – 1920 x 1080 pixels
NOTE: I will use the UHD frame size for the rest of this article.
Each of these formats also support eight! different frame rates, measured in frames per second (fps):
Finally, when shooting ProRes, you can pick between three different dynamic ranges. I’ll define and illustrate these later in this article. (CinemaDNG only uses the Film setting):
- Extended Video
Which of these options should you use for your next project? Well, it depends on what you want to do. Let’s take a look.
PICK THE RIGHT FRAME SIZE
Frame size has become an emotional decision. From my perspective, when viewed on screens smaller than 100 inches, you can’t see the difference between 4K and 1080p, unless you are sitting within two feet of the screen. Are an actor’s emotions any more real if you are looking at them in 4K?
On the other hand, it feels very righteous to say: “I shot this in 4K.” Clearly, bragging rights are involved. Also, higher resolutions allow you to charge more for your project.
Again, this is a personal decision. If you are shooting for the web, 1080p is fine. Otherwise, shoot the frame size required by your distributor.
NOTE: I should point out that larger frame sizes take massively more storage space.
PICK THE RIGHT FRAME RATE
Faster frame rates will:
- Create larger file sizes
- Display less motion blur in the image
- Work better for keying and other effects where seeing the edge is important
- Seem more “present” or “real”
NOTE: As with frame size, religious wars are fought over frame rates and motion blur. The short answer is pick what works for your project. I am a fan of higher frame rates.
Here’s the key rule: Shoot and edit the frame rate you need to deliver. Changing frame rates always degrades the image, especially for scenes with smooth motion.
- If you are going to the web, any frame rate will do. The web supports everything.
- If you are going to broadcast, cable, or digital cinema, shoot, edit, and deliver the frame rate required by your distributor.
Above all, avoid changing frame rates as much as possible. When in doubt, I recommend shooting 30 fps for web videos. This is a good balance between image clarity and smaller media file sizes and it’s supported by all NLEs.
NOTE: There is value in shooting faster frame rates to create smoother slow motion. However, in these situations, shoot a faster frame that can be divided evenly by your deliverable frame rate. For example, shoot 100 fps for a 25 fps project. Or shoot 120 fps for a 30 fps project.
Here’s an article that discusses changing frame rates in more detail.
CODEC VS. FILE SIZE
CinemaDNG is an image sequence, a collection of individual frames, collected into a folder. When you choose the different compression options, you are determining how much each frame is compressed.
NOTE: CinemaDNG only records in Film mode and is considered a RAW image format.
Here, for example, are three folders, each using a different compression setting. Each contains exactly300 frames. (Just for comparison sake, I also included a folder containing 300 frames of the largest frame size and fastest frame rate: 4K/60.) Clearly, compressing an image saves a lot of disk space!
For comparison, here are the file sizes, using the same frame size and frame rate, but shot using ProRes 422 HQ and 422. Each clip is exactly 9:29. I shot both Video and Film modes so we can compare file sizes.
As you see here, while the compression setting for the codec makes a difference, the dynamic range setting does not.
Here are the file storage requirements for UHD/30:
|Codec||MB/sec||Store One Hour|
|CinemaDNG RAW||216||777 GB|
|CinemaDNG 3:1||120||432 GB|
|CinemaDNG 4:1||96||345 GB|
|ProRes 422 HQ||111||400 GB|
|ProRes 422||74||266 GB|
Just to stress, these files are REALLY large!
PICK THE RIGHT DYNAMIC RANGE
As mentioned earlier, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has three dynamic range settings when shooting ProRes:
- Film. The ‘film’ setting shoots video using a log curve that allows you to maintain the greatest dynamic range, and maximizes the information in your video signal to help you get the most out of color grading software, such as DaVinci Resolve.
- Extended Video. The ‘extended video’ setting offers a good balance between ‘video’ and ‘film’ dynamic range settings. This setting offers a wider dynamic range than ‘video,’ while applying a mild contrast change with a smooth roll off in the highlights. ‘Extended video’ is suitable for use with standard broadcast monitors and is a helpful setting if you have limited time for post production and want to record your clips with a pleasing ‘look’ applied.
- Video. The ‘video’ setting is similar to the REC 709 color standard for high definition video. This lets you work faster by recording directly to the compressed video formats in a color space suitable for direct delivery or minimal post processing.
As you will see, there are significant differences in how each of these settings look.
EDITING IN APPLE FINAL CUT PRO X
If you plan to edit Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K footage using Final Cut Pro X, you’ll need to shoot ProRes, because Final Cut Pro X does not support CinemaDNG. (It imports it as a series of still images, not clips).
NOTE: If you import a CinemaDNG RAW frame, FCPX converts it to Rec. 709 color space.
Here are my recommendations for the PCC 4K camera and Final Cut Pro X:
- If you plan to shoot in Film mode, record ProRes 422 HQ
- If you plan to shoot in Extended Video or Video mode, record ProRes 422
This is a split screen between ProRes 422 HQ (on the left) and ProRes 422 for footage shot in Film mode. Note the difference in mid-tone values in the middle of the candle: ProRes 422 is slightly darker. This is not noticeable when recording in Video mode. Plus, using ProRes 422 saves almost 34% in storage space.
NOTE: This image was shot ISO 400, f/6, 180° shutter, using ProRes in Film mode. The white balance was set to 3200° K. The only light was coming from the candle.
CONVERTING MEDIA USING APPLE COMPRESSOR
I really don’t recommend using Compressor to convert CinemaDNG, though you can do it. First, it takes forever and, second, it remaps the color space.
Apple Compressor will convert CinemaDNG into ProRes, however, you need to change the Color Space setting in the Video Inspector to Same as Source. To preserve the maximum color fidelity, be sure to convert it to ProRes 4444.
Additionally, Compressor doesn’t support 30 fps image sequences. Instead, it converts a 30 fps sequence into 29.97 fps. This may have implications for sound sync if you are shooting double-system sound.
NOTE: This conversion process is NOT quick. Converting a ten second CinemaDNG clip to a matching size ProRes 4444 took 3 minutes, 13 seconds. This means converting one minute of CinemaDNG to ProRes 4444 will take 20 minutes! This is the slowest of the three software I used in writing this article.
Faster CPUs with more cores will speed this. Compressor does not significantly use the GPU in this process.
EDITING MEDIA USING ADOBE PREMIERE PRO CC 2019
Premiere, like Final Cut, doesn’t support CinemaDNG directly. Like FCP X, it imports CinemaDNG as a series of still images, rather than a clip. And, while FCP X imports them quite quickly, Premier took about a minute and twenty seconds to import ten seconds worth of images.
Based on this, Premiere is not a good choice to edit native CinemaDNG files.
NOTE: Premiere does provide the option to import Image Sequences, but this option does not recognize CinemaDNG files.
Adobe Media Encoder can import a CinemaDNG file, but you first need to Enable Import as Image Sequence in the fly-out menu from the Media Browser panel.
Encoding a 10 second RAW clip into ProRes 4444 took 48 seconds, or, roughly, 4.8 minutes to convert a minute of footage. Four times faster than Compressor.
The good news is that the converted file that AME created is virtually indistinguishable from the source file, as you see displayed here in Premiere. Source image on the left, converted ProRes 4444 image on the right. The split goes through the middle of the flame.
EDITING MEDIA USING DAVINCI RESOLVE
Opening a ten-second CinemaDNG file in DaVince Resolve took about 2 seconds and it was opened as a clip, rather than an image sequence.
Even better Resolve recognized the correct frame rate and changed the timeline to suit.
Finally, it provided the most accurate color for the source clip. while still retaining lots of shadow detail.
NOTE: The following images were shot at ISO 400, f/6, 180° shutter, with white balance set to 3200° K. No color adjustments or LUTs were applied, except for the last image. The only light is from the candle.
Using Final Cut Pro X, this image compares the three dynamic ranges recorded using ProRes 422 HQ: Film (left), Extended Video (center), Video (right).
Film has the greatest amount of shadow detail, while Video has extended highlights. All three are displayed in Rec. 709 color space. To my eye, Video is over-saturated.
The same image, but including the Vectorscope
Using Final Cut Pro X, this compares ProRes Film (right), Extended Video (center) and CinemaDNG (RAW), note that all are converted to Rec. 709 color space. The CinemaDNG image is a single imported frame.
The same image as immediately above, but displaying the Vectorscope.
To my eye, Film provides the greatest latitude for color grading in Rec. 709 space, while Extended Video provides the most accurate color with the least amount of color grading needed.
OOPS! FORGOT TO SWITCH TO HDR
Final Cut Pro defaults to creating projects in Rec. 709 space. To change that, we FIRST need to change the Library to Wide Gamut HDR. Then, change the color space of the project. In this example, I’m using HDR 2020 HLG.
Now, when comparing ProRes Film (left), Extended Video (center), and Video, we can push the highlights a LOT further with Film than the other two. In this image, I raised highlight values as far as I could for each image without causing the highlights to blow out. As you can see, Film gives us the greatest latitude for moving into an HDR color space.
NOTE: The only way to see HDR media correctly is on an HDR monitor. The Mac display, though extended to Display P3, is not a true HDR monitor.
Here’s the same image – ProRes Film (left), Extended Video (center), and Video – displayed in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2019.
So, what have we learned?
- If you are editing in either Premiere or Final Cut, shoot ProRes.
- If you are editing in Resolve, you can shoot either ProRes or CinemaDNG.
- If you need great-looking footage fast, without a lot of color grading, shoot ProRes Extended Video. This looks more color accurate than Video.
- If you need to edit in Premiere or Final Cut, and have the time, you have the greatest color latitude shooting Film.
- If you need the greatest color latitude, including stepping up into HDR, shoot CinemaDNG 3:1 (to save storage space), then edit and color grade in Resolve.
Breaking down the experience based on our “stars” rating here, it largely depends on what I’m editing on. Clearly, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K was designed to take advantage of DaVinci Resolve, and that is where it shines. But it can work with Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro, though that will determine which codec you use going in.
3 stars for FCP X, 3 stars for Premiere and 5 stars for DaVinci Resolve.
(Using DaVinci Resolve)
(Using Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere)
As always, I’m interested in your comments, below.