There have been a flood of new camera announcements made recently – notably Blackmagic’s incredible 12K URSA Mini Pro, the Canon R5/R6 and most recently the Sony A7S III. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on those cameras soon, but today I want to focus on the BMPCC 6K – a camera I’ve been meaning to review for a long time but have only recently had a chance to shoot with.
Over the years BMD have managed to continually innovate in the low-budget professional market, creating unique tools that offer solutions for filmmakers seeking high quality visuals on a budget. This BMPCC 6K certainly falls in line with this tradition.
No camera is perfect for every type of filmmaker or project, but as I outline in more detail below, the BMPCC 6K will knock it out of the park for a specific type of user. This a versatile and affordable tool that will particularly benefit jack of all trades types, who alternate between narrative, commercial and documentary projects.
My goal with this review is to give some clarity to those of you interested in making a purchase. I’ll highlight what I believe to be the biggest considerations when purchasing this camera, so hopefully it helps you make a decision one way or another.
It’s worth noting that I only was able to shoot a limited amount of footage with the camera, as it was on loan to me and I had it in the midst of our shutdown here in Los Angeles. Typically I review cameras more extensively after using them on real world productions, so this review isn’t meant to be exhaustive, just an account of my first impressions after a few days.
Countless other reviews have already been written covering the technical specs of this camera in great detail. This review however, is meant to focus primarily on the experiential aspects of the Pocket 6K. We’ll just briefly review the specs first to bring everyone up to speed –
FEATURES & SPECS
Even on paper, this camera is impressive…
- Super 35mm sensor
- EF Mount
- 6k resolution at 6144 x 3456
- Dual native ISO up to 25,600
- 13 stops of dynamic range
- Blackmagic RAW or ProRes recording
- Record to CFast 2.0, SDXC, or external USB drive
- Up to 50fps in 6K, 120fps in HD
I have to imagine for most people, the Super 35mm sensor and 6k recording capabilities are the biggest selling features of this camera. Unlike the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (which is Micro Four Thirds), the 6K model offers a bigger, more traditional S35 sensor – along with the added resolution of course.
Truthfully, neither of these two features are deciding factors for me, but I’m certainly in the minority on this one. While I love S35 sized sensors, for some projects I am just as happy (or even prefer) to shoot on MFT or Super 16. It always depends on the needs of the project, but there can be some advantages to shooting with a smaller sensor – both aesthetically and practically – despite the stigma that surrounds cropped sensors.
The same goes for 6K. While it’s incredible that BMD has been able to deliver stunning 6K images with this camera, for the work that I do personally, 6K (even 4K for that matter) really isn’t all that critical. That’s why I shot my latest feature film in 2K on my Arri Alexa Classic 4:3.
All that said, I am thrilled that this camera offers S35 @ 6K resolution, as some people truly do need those capabilities. If you are shooting VFX elements or want to pull stills from your video, having a ton of resolution can be really powerful. Not to mention, the larger sensor allows you to capture a more traditional 35mm field of view, which can be a big advantage too. And for those filmmakers (like myself) who don’t need to shoot in 6K all the time, the camera of course can easily step down to 4K or HD for a more manageable workflow.
To me, the biggest draw to this camera is the dual native ISO at 400 & 3200. While I rarely shoot above ISO 800 on most projects, there are those rare occasions where I might need to push it to 3200 or above. Knowing that I could do that on this camera without sacrificing dynamic range or color information is a huge plus. And I can only imagine for those shooting documentaries or other run-and-gun productions, the dual native ISO capabilities will prove even more essential. Although I didn’t get to shoot as much low-light footage as I had hoped with this camera, any time I did push the ISO to 3200 I was extremely impressed by the results.
Add to that the ability to shoot in both RAW and ProRes, frame rates up to 50fps in 6K/120fps in HD, and that classic Blackmagic image quality – this little camera packs a ton of punch. There really is no other camera on the market (at least in this price range) that competes on some of these specs. Yes, there are plenty of mirrorless/DSLR cameras that offer different benefits, but none that compete in this territory.
DESIGN & BUILD
From the get-go, one of the things I really liked about this camera was that it kind of looks like a DSLR. While I don’t love shooting on DSLR’s all of the time, their one big advantage is they can help you remain inconspicuous. Even small cinema cameras like those offered by RED tend to draw attention, but the Pocket 6K can nicely camouflage into your surroundings and environment when shooting in the field.
Although on most full scale productions I would likely opt to shoot on one of Blackmagic’s larger cameras (namely the URSA Mini Pro), the Pocket 6K could easily find a home on those bigger commercial productions too. There’s really not much this camera wouldn’t be able to do on just about any set – but a more traditionally designed camera like the URSA Mini Pro might just speed you up a little. Differences in ergonomics and access to more shortcut buttons can go a long way when you’re in a pinch.
Even still though, the Pocket 6K body does have some great shortcut buttons of its own, which will prove incredibly useful on set. For instance the dedicated buttons for ISO and white balance on the top of the camera are super convenient. The same could be said for access to playback controls or high frame rate settings.
The camera feels pretty large in your hands when operating, which I don’t mind. Camera bodies that are too small are more prone to micro-jitter, but this seems to be slightly less of an issue with the 6K – especially when shooting at wider focal lengths. The camera is also lighter than it looks, with independent buttons to record video or still images on your right, and access to a full sized HDMI, headphone jack and other ports on the left.
The body is made of carbon fiber polycarbonante composite, which still feels solid and strong. I’ve always loved BMD’s use of metal on their cameras (dating back to my original 2.5K cinema camera), so it would have been awesome to see that incorporated here – if only for aesthetic purposes. At this price point though, it’s not a dealbreaker for me. Not to mention, the carbon fiber body works in favor of the camera’s lower-key DSLR aesthetic and lighter weight.
And of course, you can easily add a cage to this camera, which would not only to make it feel more durable on set, but also allow you to easily attach peripherals like an EVF. The Pocket 6K is actually quite modular (if you want it to be), and can effectively be rigged up for bigger client productions or scaled way down for little guerrilla shoots.
This camera already packs a ton of amazing functionality in a relatively small footprint, but if I were to get greedy the one addition I’d love to see is a built in ND filter. While I’m sure that’s no easy feat to engineer (especially at this price point), it’s a crucial feature that would singularly convert me to a Pocket 6K user. After using built in ND’s on the URSA Mini Pro, as well as other cameras (Alexa Mini, Canon C-series, etc.), I’ve become a bit spoiled. The ability to have that type of ease of use with the 6K would make it an even more perfect fit for low-budget productions… Perhaps we’ll see this on the next iteration?
If you’ve ever shot with any BMD camera before, using the Pocket 6K will make you feel right at home.
Like all of Blackmagic’s other cameras, the 6K one shares the same beautifully designed menu, which is simple to use and highly functional. I wish other camera manufacturers would step up their game in this department – the BMD menu system is one of the only ones I’ve used that feels like it belongs in this decade!
Most of the settings you need to adjust are right at your fingertips on the main home screen. Audio levels, zebras, peaking, frame guides, can all be found intuitively within just a few clicks. And of course the main camera menu is just as accessible and intuitive to navigate, whether you’re using it to change camera settings or dial in your slate information.
Like every other Blackmagic camera, the 6K allows you to effortlessly toggle between shooting RAW or ProRes, which is something I’ll do often when shooting in extreme lighting conditions. As fantastic as Blackmagic RAW is, for the vast majority of my productions I never need anything more than ProRes 422 HQ, and that’s usually how I set the camera to record. But on those rare occasions when I’m shooting in an extreme situation that calls for maximum dynamic range capabilities and the utmost flexibility in post, it’s great to be able to quickly switch back and forth between the two modes.
Blackmagic RAW is also a treat to edit with in DaVinci Resolve, especially when compared with many of the other RAW formats out there. On my machine (an aging mac Pro trashcan) it cuts smooth as butter, and feels almost like I’m working natively with ProRes files.
The camera also gives you the ability to load custom LUTs into the camera which you can use for monitoring purposes, which is something that I really love. I’ve used this feature on the URSA Mini Pro in so many scenarios, but most often when working with clients on set. It’s a great means to help them visualize the final color palette in realtime without baking a look into the recorded image (unless you want to).
The other thing I love about this camera are all the recording format options. Personally, I’m a big fan of working with CFast cards as they are very reliable, but they are also quite expensive… To save some money you could easily use the SDXC option or record externally to an SSD drive. All three of these options just make the camera more versatile, and don’t force you into a single recording format.
Since I was shooting at home, I didn’t run the camera off battery but instead just plugged it into the wall. I know other people have had complaints about battery life using the internal Canon LP-E6 batteries, but you can of course power the 6K Pocket using external power as well. If I owned the camera, I would probably always use another power source (such as a V-Mount battery) and only use the internal Canon batteries as a backup, or perhaps temporarily when shooting with a more stripped down camera. Another great option of course is Blackmagic’s Pocket Camera Battery Grip which solves this issue as well.
As for the camera’s built in LCD screen – It produces sharp, organic looking images and renders colors very accurately. I only ever used it inside while shooting, so screen brightness was never an issue for me. But based on feedback I’ve heard from other 6K users, if you’re shooting under harsh sunlight you’ll likely need to either bring an external monitor or attach some type of hood to the camera.
Arguably the most important variable when you’re selecting a camera is image quality, and again in this respect the 6K does not disappoint.
I took shots in virtually every mode on the camera – RAW, ProRes, 6K, HD, etc. – and didn’t find a single combination of settings that yielded poor visual results. Having seen that type of performance, I would confidently shoot using any of the settings this camera offers – including regular HD.
Obviously there are some noticeable differences between shooting 6K and HD, and the latter contains far more visual information in the file. But as I said above 6K is not always necessary, and it’s great to be able to trust the other settings (like HD) when you need them. Not all cameras perform this well across the board – I remember on an early firmware for my Sigma FP the camera would exhibit issues in HD that didn’t occur in 4K. So it was definitely a great sign that the 6K Pocket delivered consistently strong images no matter what the setting. Choosing 6K vs 4K vs HD then just comes down to your personal creative preference, and your desired workflow in post.
Unsurprisingly the color science on the 6K is wonderful too. This is another area where Blackmagic has always excelled.
As someone who loves to color grade, I am drawn to cameras that give me a ton of flexibility in post, and that make it simpler to achieve strong color palettes.
The most important variable in achieving that goal is a neutral starting point. You want to work with raw footage that is well balanced with no obvious color shifts, providing a perfect baseline to build a creative look from. Unfortunately many cameras get in the way of this by rendering colors in unpleasing ways or not being able to produce natural skin tones. Thankfully, the 6K delivers exactly the type of organic, unprocessed look that gives you a strong launching off point in the color suite.
One thing I always liked about the original 16mm Pocket Camera was the filmic quality the images had straight off the camera. To my eye at least, that sensor/camera combo had a tiny bit of a baked in look to it, one that I happened to really love.
The pocket 6K feels a lot more neutral to me in that sense, and doesn’t have that same baked in filmic quality, but that doesn’t make it any better or worse – just different.
Because the 6K footage is so neutral, your shots are incredibly malleable in post – it’s easy to adjust contrast ratios or experiment with highlight rolloff in DaVinci Resolve to give it a more analog look, if that’s what you’re going for. Or of course you could go the opposite direction and keep the images really crisp and sharp… The raw image truly is just a starting point.
In every mode (but especially 6K) the images are brilliantly detailed and clear without ever feeling overly sharp. Paired with really sharp lenses, I would imagine you might want to add a Black Pro Mist filter (or similar) to take off the edge, but that’s good practice no matter what digital camera you’re working with, and it also comes down to taste.
Without shooting any controlled dynamic range tests, I can’t speak to the exact technical performance of the camera in that regard. That said, to my eye the dynamic range seemed as strong as any other BMD camera I’ve shot with, which is saying a lot. I am very much a natural light shooter (at least on my own projects), and having a camera that can capture wide dynamic range is crucial. I definitely wouldn’t worry about that anytime while shooting with the 6K.
If I owned this camera, I would probably shoot 90% of my footage in 4K at ProRes HQ. While all the modes perform really well, 4K/ProRes feels like a sweet spot for my needs that gives me the quality and detail I’m looking for while still making my life easy in post. If I ever need RAW or 6K, I can switch over briefly for a specific shot, but for the vast majority of my work, 4K in ProRes is more than enough. That’s just me though, depending on what you shoot and how you like to edit/process your footage, a different configuration could be much better for your unique needs.
WHO IT’S FOR
The great thing about this camera is that it could be used on practically any type of project as it is built and designed with versatility at the forefront.
Low-budget narrative filmmakers love the 6K Pocket Camera because it delivers a true cinema camera experience at a very reasonable cost ($1995 to be exact). No DSLR or mirrorless that I’ve ever worked with achieves this type of true cinema feel – despite those cameras having strengths of their own. The 6K Pocket really is more aligned with RED/Arri than any DSLR in my opinion… So filmmakers looking for that type of camera at a lower price are an obvious target market.
But I could equally see this camera being embraced by documentary filmmakers or corporate video production companies. The small footprint, strong image quality, and ease of use makes it optimal for small crews looking to working quickly without sacrificing image quality.
It’s also a natural fit for fashion videos, wedding videos or any other project requiring still photos, since you can shoot stills simultaneously with your 6K video.
But perhaps the best use for the Pocket 6K isn’t one particular type of project, but all of them.
Many filmmakers today are embracing the title of “jack of all trades”, and are actively diversifying their working efforts. They may be shooting a personal film project on Monday, a corporate/commercial spot on Thursday, and an event over the weekend. That’s a very normal scenario for many working filmmakers, and for those types the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K is a hard camera to beat.
In many respects, the 6K is a jack of all trades itself. It does everything. It’s flexible. Adaptable. Delivers beautiful images, reliably, and can handle practically anything you throw at it.
Much of the same could likely be said about the 4K Pocket Cinema Camera, which is another fantastic option for the low-budget crowd. Those who don’t need the full feature set of the 6K or the S35/EF Mount system might opt to save a few bucks and go with the 4K model, but priced at just $1995 the 6K is hard to pass up.
In the future if I get a chance to shoot with the camera more extensively (or purchase one of my own), I’ll aim to shoot and release some test footage. For now though, let me know what you think about the camera in the comments below!
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!