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the best camera for the job is the one you already own… Even if it’s 6 years old, only shoots 1080p and has since been replaced by newer iterations.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