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Why I Am Revisiting Blackmagic’s Original (1080p) Pocket Cinema Camera

Sometimes the best camera for the job is the one you already own… Even if it’s 6 years old, only shoots 1080p and has since been replaced by newer iterations.

I have long been a huge fan of the Super 16 look, and there were only really ever two cameras that could scratch that itch: The Digital Bolex and Blackmagic’s original Pocket Cinema Camera.

Unlike virtually every other cinema camera out there, the Digital Bolex and Pocket Camera never chased the large sensor trend. Instead, their aim was to deliver gorgeous cinematic images with a smaller (but also more adaptable) Super 16mm sized sensor.

For filmmakers like myself who love 16mm film, this was a dream.

I’ve shot multiple projects on both the Digital Bolex and Pocket Camera and have always been blown away by the results. Both cameras (in large part due to their fantastic sensors) deliver really organic/filmic images, with a depth of field and FOV consistent with true 16mm motion picture film.

Unfortunately, both cameras are no longer in production.

Digital Bolex of course shut down years ago and Blackmagic has since released updated Pocket Cameras – in 4K and 6K flavors – which make huge technical improvements, but no longer feature a true 16mm sensor.

So as of right now in 2020, there are no new cinema cameras being manufactured that have native 16mm sensors. And that is really a shame!

As a workaround, you can shoot in a Super 16mm (equivalent) crop mode on an Arri or RED camera, but that just solves the aesthetic issue. The other consideration is practicality. 

Back in the film days, the reason 16mm was so enticing was because of the freedom it created. The cameras were smaller, lighter and more mobile. They could be used in a wider variety of shooting scenarios, and were more conducive to indie filmmakers – including those shooting guerrilla style.

This is why 16mm was so pivotal in the French New Wave movement, and in the birth of independent filmmaking more broadly.

The original Blackmagic Pocket Camera really called back that indie spirit. It wasn’t just about the image quality, but also the creative freedom that a small form factor brought to the table. 

So while Arri & RED may help cover your bases aesthetically by offering a 16mm crop, they won’t help you reduce your footprint (or your budget) in the same way.

Currently, I have a feature film in development that I aim to shoot on Super 16mm motion picture film. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but haven’t really been able to pull the trigger until now.

The film will require some run and gun insert shots that will be filmed guerrilla style on location. For many of these shots, it won’t be practical (or even possible) to shoot with my Arri SRII, so I’ll likely need to supplement the production with some digital footage. 

Ultimately this need is what has driven me back to the original Blackmagic Pocket Camera. It’s the most obvious solution for my needs, despite the camera’s age and technical limitations.

Blackmagic’s newer 4K/6K pocket cameras were certainly viable contenders as well, but there’s something about the organic look of the original Blackmagic Pocket Camera that I keep coming back to. 

It’s not a better or worse question, it’s simply a matter of which tool is best for the job. Having shot a fair amount of film at this point, I’m more confident in achieving a realistic 16mm look with the original Pocket Camera than it’s updated counterparts.

Not to mention, the reduced sensor size allows the camera’s body to remain significantly smaller – likely due to the decreased risk of overheating – which is key consideration too.

It should go without saying that obviously the updated 4K/6K pocket cameras offer a far improved user experience, more functionality and higher resolution. For many projects they would be an optimal choice for obvious reasons.

But the lesson here is that newer isn’t always better. Sometimes the best camera for any given situation is the one we already have. Just because it’s “outdated” doesn’t mean it’s no longer a viable tool.

I can’t help but wonder how many other filmmakers are longing for a current, affordable, native Super 16mm digital film camera. Maybe I’m alone on this one… But I certainly hope not.

It really feels like there is a demand out there, and if any camera manufacturers are reading this – I would urge you to consider the possibility.

There are no shortage of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras that boast Super 35 or Full Frame sensors. Those are great tools and serve an important need for many filmmakers… But they don’t fill the void left by Digital Bolex and the original Blackmagic Pocket Camera.

If a current digital 16mm camera existed, I’d be first in line to buy one. But until that happens, I’ll happily continue to utilize the tool I already own and know can deliver the results I need. My good old BMPCC!

Are you a fan of the Super 16mm look? What would your ideal digital 16mm camera look like? Leave a comment below.

And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

About Author

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!

52 Comments

  • Piotr Naumowicz
    January 8, 2020 at 7:37 am

    I know what you feel. I’ve owned original BMCC and Micro Camera. Micro was one of my favourite cameras ever. The picture was nice and organic. You could use it super16 and/or add speedbooster for almost super35 look. The noise was there but it was organic and kinda nice. It was small and it had 1080 60p. I wish BM could just release the micro cinema camera with stabilization and build in flip out touch screen and Sony L batteries. I sold it some time ago, but this is the one I miss 🙂

    I’ve own and owned a few cameras and video shooting dslr bodies and some mirrorless too and if I can say something about specs is that they often make you want stuff you will not like. This was a case with my sony a7s it was nice on paper but in real life, it was not good photo nor video camera – not good enough. Similar thing with the xt3 – It ticks a lot of boxes and it is really close but every time I take my 5dmkIV instead xt3 I’m more happy with the results (for both photo and video). I think I will sell xt3. I also tried/owned/tested a few of cinema cameras. (BMCC, BMMCC, Pocket 4k, Poket 6k, Ursa Mini 4.6k, C200 and more.) I own c200 and pocket 6k now for the reason different than pure specs. I don’t want to make this comment all about the other cameras. What I want to say is: Specs are not as important as you may think. What’s matters is the image and how it feels in the end.

    And both the original pocket and micro camera haves something special. That secret sauce.
    Sometimes, simply: more is less. 🙂

    Reply
    • Piotr Naumowicz
      January 8, 2020 at 7:39 am

      or even less is more 🙂

      Reply
      • Pawel
        January 15, 2020 at 6:57 pm

        ładnie napisane 🙂

        Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        March 3, 2020 at 1:15 am

        For sure!

        Reply
    • Florian
      January 17, 2020 at 10:56 am

      Are you aware of the fact that the Blackmagic Pocket 4K now has a S16 crop mode with 2.7K resolution, since the last firmware update?

      Reply
      • Michael
        February 8, 2020 at 6:45 pm

        Which update is that?

        Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        March 3, 2020 at 1:39 am

        That’s a great feature – but I still find the image from the original pocket to render colors/contrast differently. Neither is better or worse, but they offer a different look.

        Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:14 am

      Such great points here, Piotr. Appreciate you sharing this! And I totally agree about the micro cinema camera, for me it’s virtually interchangeable with the original Pocket HD. The version you described would be a dream!

      Reply
  • Pawel
    January 8, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Yeah, I was thinking about upgrading to bmpcc 4k, but after testing I found that something is missing in this image. So instead of a new pocket I bought the Micro 🙂 I have absolutely no complexes associated with it. I just love this image 🙂 Cheers

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:15 am

      Awesome! I love the micro, along with the original pocket it delivers some of the best images from Blackmagic in my opinion.

      Reply
      • Roger Rilling
        August 18, 2020 at 12:03 pm

        Good message especially when I find myself on the verge of purchasing a 8k large format camera 🎥! You did forget to mention possibly the greatest yet strangest super 16 digital cinema camera the Ikonoskop A-Cam which I once had but sold for more supported options.

        Reply
  • Michelangelo Torres
    January 8, 2020 at 11:07 am

    This is a pretty funny coincidence. In the last few months, I started to think about a gear change/upgrade and my choice will probably be BMPCCK 6K plus a couple of Leica R lenses but I’m also thinking about investing on lenses only and renting the camera when I need it (you know, “Marry with lenses, engage with cameras”…).
    But as every filmmaker knows, sometimes it happens to get a gig with short notice so you don’t have the time to rent the gear.
    Sometimes it also happens to work on a low budget project or even on a personal project with no budget and for that reason, I’m seriously considering to buy a used original Pocket Cinema Camera: it’s cheap, it’s still a great camera, you can record internally on ProRes or Raw and it has a great color science… perfect (for my needs, of course).

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:16 am

      Awesome, Michelangelo. I know I’m replying late – but did you end up making a decision?

      Reply
      • Michelangelo Torres
        March 31, 2020 at 3:30 pm

        I was about to do it but, you know, something unpredictable it’s happened to our planet, so it’s all frozen for now but it’s on my personal ‘back-to-life list’ for sure when this crazy period will end

        Reply
        • Noam Kroll
          August 5, 2020 at 3:29 pm

          For sure! It’s a crazy time, no doubt.

          Reply
  • Luca D
    January 8, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    I own the BMMCC and have been considering selling it… but something always holds me back.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:17 am

      It’s the one camera I can’t bring myself to sell!

      Reply
  • Tobias Manuel Fries
    January 9, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    This was my first BMD camera I owned after using a HV20 HDV-Camera and a 550D before. Even though I own the Pocket 4K (a great and very versatile Camera, that can deliver beautiful images) I still use the original Pocket from time to time.

    I´m using a Viltrox Focal Reducer and EF-Lenses most of the time, it creates really nice colors and very organic motion, even though it is “only” 1080p (that you can transform in resolve via superscale and achieve some nice results). Unfortunately it doesn´t have the 3:1 Raw that the Micro Cinema Camera has and it is missing that 60p capability. But I will keep on using this camera, no doubt about that. After grading the CDNG´s I usually add some Grain in Resove and that´s it. If you need this 16mm- or vintage-film-Look, you´ll probably be much happier than if you´re using newer kinds of cameras.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:22 am

      Great to hear, Tobias. And thanks for sharing your experience here – amazing how this little camera just keeps ticking!

      Reply
  • Steven
    January 9, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    I’ve been watching your blog as I’m curious how you might be working with the Sigma FP for best results.

    And what a coincidence- maybe it’s the fact that the Sigma FP is pitting itself against the form factor of the old pocket -I’ve also just been revisiting the Original Pocket Cinema Camera. I did some unscientific test between the Original Pocket, Pocket 4k, and the Sigma FP.

    Here’s where I’m at with the cameras at the moment (personal observations):
    Original Pocket: best for lighting scenarios that are most similar to celluloid film, best of three for backlit and close ups…. EXCELLENT at dynamic range in the crossover between shadows and lights that is most common when shooting close on faces.

    Pocket 4K: Best for quick shooting/run and gun. Best for low light when paired with the Voigtländer MFT-mount lenses, city/building details, better for faces that can benefit from contrast don’t recommend on faces that are prone to dark circles under eyes as it will aggravate reddish/blue tints/contrast in those kinds of skin tones. Hasn’t done well in backlit scenarios for me and close ups. It has less dynamic range color detail on skin tone than the Original Pocket. In general the Pocket 4k gives off a muddier color ‘wash’ for close ups/medium shots with faces. So if I had both cameras on set, I’d use the Original for close ups /most mediums and switch to the 4K on wider shots when sharpness wins over color detail in faces/environment (if that plays well together, unsure if that’s realistic without further testing).

    Sigma FP: Because of it’s form factor, full frame view and dynamic range, I like it best for documentary/street photography (*turn off previews for fast shooting). Finally I have a digital camera I can walk around with that feels like shooting on 35mm or 120 film photo film cameras. I currently find shooting video mode on it overly complicated for a manual user. Hoping for firmware updates that make things better. It has a beautiful look for shooting tabletop content: color detail + sharpness + food = thumbs up. I don’t have the glass for the Sigma FP to be my lowlight camera of choice compared to my Pocket 4K.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:29 am

      So funny to hear we are both on the same path! And thanks so much for sharing all this detail here, great observations and perspective all around.

      Reply
  • jose
    January 10, 2020 at 4:41 am

    Hello ! do you have any thoughts on the Black Magic micro cinema camera? Thats the one I use now 🙂 I think it is still available.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:30 am

      Yes! I would apply everything I said here to the micro cinema camera too. Especially in terms of image quality, as they are virtually identical. I only with the micro had a little LCD screen, but that’s easily solved.

      Reply
  • Zander
    January 10, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    Hey there – totally agree with your views regarding the original BMPCC, beautiful little camera, often overlooked. We shot a feature film on it which released in US Theaters back in November and is now available on demand worldwide called COSMOS. Thought you might be interested in checking out the trailer or making of to see the little camera in action 🙂

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:31 am

      So great to hear! Yes, please share the trailer, would love to see it.

      Reply
    • Paul Kepner
      August 1, 2020 at 1:31 am

      I saw the movie and loved it! You guys did an amazing job and really showed what the little BMPCC is capable of.

      Reply
  • Marina
    January 13, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Hello there – what about the storage issues with the huge difficulty to found an sd cards that works on bmpcc 1080p?
    What is your solution for it? Thank you

    Reply
    • Marc B.
      January 15, 2020 at 6:30 pm

      The original BMPCC firmware is finicky about which SD cards it will accept, and it’s not just based on the rated speed. The Sandisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/s V30 “3” “10” cards below 256GB used to work fine, but compatibility is now dependent on the serial number. For up to date info, the Blackmagic message boards have steered me right, and I now buy largest sizes to also use w/my GH5. Card issues could cause shooters to prematurely mothball it.

      Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        March 3, 2020 at 1:38 am

        Definitely a concern – I’ve been using the same old cards with no issue, but certainly a concern for those purchasing new media.

        Reply
      • Alex butler
        May 17, 2020 at 3:13 pm

        Id like to mention that there are excellent high capacity cheap sd cards available that work perfectly with raw recording on the pocket camera. Available on amazon and others, Kingston canvas react cards have been a lifesaver since I went back to the bmpcc after many years recently.

        Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:34 am

      I have been using Sandisk Extreme Pro I believe with no issue. Which cards are you using?

      Reply
      • Matias
        April 26, 2020 at 9:26 pm

        Kingston canvas react work flawless. I use 64 and 128 gb on pro res and raw.
        Alwasys format card on camera before shoot.

        Reply
  • Klas
    January 15, 2020 at 9:35 am

    “I have long been a huge fan of the Super 16 look, and there were only really ever two cameras that could scratch that itch: The Digital Bolex and Blackmagic’s original Pocket Cinema Camera.”

    Have you seen the Ikonoskop A-cam DII ? That is what you are looking for. With a global shutter too.

    https://vimeo.com/search?q=ikonoskop+dii

    http://www.rawcinemashop.com/ikonoskop

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:34 am

      Haven’t shot with it, but you are tempting me to…

      Reply
  • Fatty Soprano
    January 15, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    amazing Post ! and could not Agree more !

    This is a short film i’ve directed /shot / edited / colored recently . It was entirely filmed on the BMPCC for these same reasons . The 16 mm look

    link : https://vimeo.com/329013277

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:37 am

      WOW. That short looks ridiculous. Congrats.

      Reply
  • radioproektor
    January 18, 2020 at 12:33 am

    Why don’t go with BMMCC? Same sensor but more powerful hardware and better form factor for rigging. Both Micro and pocket needs OLPF/IR filter to shoot RAW and use all possible camera potential. There are also some custom-made accessories for this camera here https://lavky.com/radioproektor/ And large collection of BMMCC rigs to discover https://bmmccrigs.tumblr.com/

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 1:39 am

      I should have mentioned the micro cinema camera in this post. I own one and feel the same about it as I do the pocket – love the image from this thing!

      Reply
  • Luis
    May 3, 2020 at 1:12 am

    I would really love to shoot a short film on the bmpcc since I own one. But mine gets hot and wouldn’t like to have overheating issues. Any input on this subject anyone?

    Reply
    • Jack Price
      June 26, 2020 at 10:24 pm

      I have shot so many short films with this camera that I have lost count. Begin

      Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        August 5, 2020 at 3:55 pm

        That’s a good thing!

        Reply
      • Luis
        September 17, 2020 at 4:51 pm

        Thank you !

        Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 5, 2020 at 3:45 pm

      Never had mine overheat, but they do tend to get quite hot while shooting!

      Reply
      • Luis
        September 17, 2020 at 4:50 pm

        Thank you !

        Reply
  • Rich
    June 24, 2020 at 1:48 am

    hi there – working on my own indy – due to low/non existant budget i had to do the homework – bolex was a dream… I just wish I bought it for my own when had chance:( – nevertheless – my use and reasons:

    – bmpcc 4k – night shots (that can’t be shot during the day and graded to night), slowmo (for the reasons I can’t comprehend)

    – bmpcc (original) – for all the rest – why?

    I was so impressed by the images it produced I smomehow now own 3 of them:) And I don’t mean the beautifly milky, film like pictures (will get back to this with sensor) but the ability to grade. Forget the prores (kills the camera, kills the PC, looks and grades rubbish) – CinemaDNG on the other hand is withsanding heavy grading wonderfly (12bit). Don’t get me wrong – comparing to, for instance, Arri Classic (1080p) that I can’t forget playing with – it’s not really close… but same leauge… especially after pro grading (no dslr that comes remotely close I came across – no matter the price)

    The sensor – it’s old fairchild where blackmagic and their CEO (admire the guy and his approach) wanted the sensor to get EVERYTHING it’s pointed at. There were probably 2 ways – get the bigger size, or enlarge the light sensitive spots on it – and make sure it catches all those photons the way we see them (no sharpening and witchery). Call me crazy but years go I did the math for the sensor – ca. 14,5 DYNAMIC RANGE!! understood why the pictures look so good

    There is no alternative on the market – unless you have $$$, or balls to rent:)

    It’s a great camera in 2020. You don’t need 4k (cinema theaters get max. 2k, most 1080p) – if someone asks for it – upscale it – no one will notice after tiny tweaks (it records everything – there is plenty of detail to play with – it’s not dslr/phone etc. with its sharpening like crazy mode always on).

    I would made a bet 10 years ago that we will now have HDR (10bit) as standard in cinema and homes- now I’m not sure we will get there in 10 years time – netflix/prime/hbo/yt stream at very low data rates…. and the results are unfortunately there on the screen – all the cinema knowledge down the drain…. it’s difficult time for purists

    The drawbacks:
    – power consumption ( no wonder with those data rates)
    – working SD cards – I managed to get 3 (different types) for my cams (no wonder with those data rates)
    – cinema grade matte box with 4.56 filters look rediculusly big with it (although on plus side no one thinks of me as an amateur any more)
    – the proper screen for proper shots essential (small HDMI socket that needs special, special care)
    – 1 of my 3 talks to AF and stabilization of panasonic lens – doesn’t matter for cinematographers
    – the microphone is barely enough for sync in post
    – heavy IR polution, UV leaks when not filtered properly

    As I remember the alternatives for the buck that will utlize the magical sensor are BMD 2.5k, micro cinema, 4,6k. I think.

    its nearly 4am…my insomnia is back – sorry for its being soo long… glad found someone on my side of darkness
    regards
    Rich

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 5, 2020 at 3:54 pm

      Thank you for this, Rich! Appreciate your insight and I’m sure others will learn from this too.

      Reply
  • cyrus
    June 26, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    Hi Noam. Your post reminded me of a nagging question I have that I have never really found an answer for. The first camera I ever had was a very obsolete camera called an NX100 (with an anti alising filter built in) by samsung with a APS C sensor /15mpx with interchangable lens mount. – I shot my first feature on it using a super tak 28mm on a few hundred bucks (edited to 30mins to make it watchable! lol) but I was captivated by it’s look. It had a character that was filmic but also it’s own too – however it was really hard in post dealing with any poor exposure- but when it was good i loved the look. The bit rate is very low and Ive been discouraged to go anywhere near it on the next film which I get, (I’m working with 16mm and 8mm at the mo- your posts are invaluable on this btw!)- but if I really got the exposure under control could you (in your opinion) ever get funding and take a camera like this to a serious release in this day and age without playing the experimental card. Thanks! c .g ;-)..

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 5, 2020 at 3:56 pm

      You could absolutely release a film shot on virtually any camera in this day and age. That said, you are probably more likely to release a film shot on a more traditional cinema camera (at least statistically). But a great movie is a great movie, and if the story/acting/editing/cinematography are all top notch, no one will care what it was shot on.

      Reply
  • […] 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 […]

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