There have been quite a few mirrorless cameras introduced over the past 10 months. However, one of the hottest models of the past year in the world of cinema wasn’t a mirrorless camera or a traditional digital cinema camera at all. It was, in fact, a small, rectangular, 2-pound slab of carbon fiber polycarbonate composite known as the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (or BMPCC6K), which was announced in August 2019 for $2,495. However, more recently, the company has lowered the price, and it’s now available for just $1,995.
But what’s a little tricky for some is that the BMPCC6K looks like a mirrorless hybrid. Yes, it’s true, it lacks the mirror found on DSLRs. But it’s really a unique digital cinema camera that’s in a category all its own.
Here’s why there’s some confusion: When the new model was introduced, it appeared to replace its predecessor, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (BMPCC4K), which was a 4K-capable model that utilized a Micro Four Thirds sensor with an MFT lens mount. However, both models are still in the product line and are available via Blackmagic Design global resellers.
Also, while the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K may take some of its DNA from the original BMPCC4K (a tiny, pocketable digital video camera that can shoot in 4K, Ultra HD and HD and is popular among low-budget filmmakers), it differs significantly from the original in that the BMPCC6K uses an S35 sensor (instead of a smaller MFT sensor) and comes with a Canon EF mount (instead of an MFT mount). And obviously, as the name of the camera implies, the new BMPCC6K is capable of shooting at a higher resolution (6,144 x 3,456) than its older 4K sibling.
But other than the size of the sensor, the lens mount and increased resolution, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K shares many of the same qualities as the Pocket 4K. For example, both models have 13 stops of dynamic range, a 5-inch, 1080-resolution LCD capacitive touchscreen and an HDMI output. Each also uses Canon LP-E6 batteries, includes wireless Bluetooth control and has versatile media options—CFast 2.0 cards, SD/UHS II cards or capture to an external SSD via the camera’s USB-C output. And each has the same inputs: A single Mini XLR audio input, a 3.5mm Stereo/Mic/Line input and a 3.5mm Timecode input (shared with 3.5mm Mic/Line input).
Here are some other features you’ll find on the new BMPCC6K: Dual Native ISO of 400 and 3,200 and one-touch autofocus available using compatible lenses. And it has a variety of RAW capture capabilities—besides Blackmagic RAW, the camera can record in Apple ProRes, from ProRes Proxy up to HQ, but only up to DCI 4K resolution. You can only achieve 5.7K and 6K captures with Blackmagic RAW.
Additionally, the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K comes with a free copy of DaVinci Resolve Studio, Blackmagic Design’s excellent edit suite of post-production tools that retails standalone for $299, which is a very alluring extra to the whole package.
Unpacking And Setting Up
After unpacking the BMPCC6K, I first mounted a Canon EF S 17-55mm f/2.8 USM IS lens and inserted a charged Canon LP-E6 battery. Right away, I noticed a difference with this camera’s predecessor: When you mount larger Canon EF or EF S lenses, the BMPCC6K is far less pocketable than its predecessor. But it’s still small in comparison to our main cameras, the Canon C200 and the Canon C300 Mark II.
Also, it’s important to mention that this combo feels larger and heavier than our mirrorless hybrid Fujifilm X-T3 with its XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 OIS lens. The Fuji also utilizes an S35 sensor, but that was when it really struck me that the BMPCC6K isn’t a mirrorless hybrid, while the X-T3 is. For instance, while the BMPCC6K can shoot stills, they’re more internal screen grabs or caps rather than the genuine RAW or JPEG still photos, which the X-T3 is capable of shooting. Also, the BMPCC6K only includes an LCD screen. It lacks an EVF, while the X-T3 has both.
To my eyes, the BMPCC6K’s polycarbonate housing, card door and battery door appeared to be potentially a bit fragile, but I didn’t experience any mishaps while using it.
To test the shooting options on the BMPCC6K, I planned on capturing some b-roll at a lake on a project we had already shot interviews for. I decided to mostly shoot Prores HQ footage since the rest of the project was already edited in FCP X and had been converted from RAW into Prores HQ. But after playing with the menus and reading the specs, I realized I couldn’t shoot any 6K footage in Prores HQ. So, I decided to shoot a few sequences in Blackmagic RAW to have some 6K footage to work with.
For many potential users of this camera, 6K is a desirable feature.
Based upon my experience in shooting 5K and 6K footage with the RED Epic, I find 6K footage to be great looking, but it also produces very large files that can bring an average editing computer to its knees. For storage, 6K files will eat up space quickly. But here’s what’s interesting: The BMPCC6K, when set at its highest 6K resolution (6,144 x 3456) and depending on the frame rate (23.98 to 50 fps max), shoots from 49MB/s to 483 MB/s, which isn’t nearly as large as many other types of RAW. That’s because Blackmagic RAW is a 12-bit compressed RAW format. By comparison, our Canon C200, which shoots only up to DCI 4K resolution, captures at a fixed 1Gb/s. And the Canon RAW file format is still a compressed RAW format. So, overall, Blackmagic’s RAW appears to be pretty efficient when shooting in 6K.
It was a hot and sunny day, and the sun was shining brightly down upon the lake. Luckily, I brought all our ND filters to the shoot. (We only have one camera that requires external ND filters, the Fujifilm X-T3.) The BMPCC6K, just like mirrorless hybrid cameras, has no internal ND filters. So, in bright conditions, you need external ND filters to expose the camera in its sweet spot as far as shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
I opted to set the BMPCC6K menu for its lower native ISO of 400. Then, since I was alternating between our Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 IS II and the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II lenses, I set each around f/5.6 to f/7.1, their optimal ƒ/stops exposure-wise. I then used B&W MRC ND6 filter for the lenses.
Here are a few notable aspects I focused on in my hands-on test:
The LCD Touchscreen: The Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K lacks an EVF. It does have a 5-inch LCD touchscreen, which works well indoors, but it doesn’t swivel or tilt up or down. On a tripod, that’s inconvenient, and in full daylight, it’s not really usable. So, I brought along a 5-inch high brightness monitor with a sunshade. Additionally, the BMPCC6K lacks a waveform monitor. And while the histogram it has is good for photos, it’s not something that’s useful for video. (With a histogram, you have no way of measuring the actual IRE levels of your image and particularly your subject’s skin tones.) I didn’t mind running an external monitor. However, attaching one definitely makes it less of a “pocket” cinema camera.
Testing Noise And Image Quality: I was curious to see how the Blackmagic RAW footage would look straight out of the camera, if I’d notice any compression artifacts, and how it would hold up to color correction and grading. Once I got back to our office to download the footage from the shoot, I quickly reviewed it: The sharpness and color looked good. I then set up the BMPCC6K to shoot a noise test, using the camera’s various ISO settings to compare the amount and quality of the noise.
For the test, I used the camera’s base ISO and went all the way up to its maximum ISO setting in a controlled situation: I shot test charts, lighting them with a single Aputure LS-1S Light Storm 5600k LED panel. I also used Tiffen and B&W fixed ND filters to keep shutter speed and exposure roughly the same and employed a waveform monitor on my external camera monitor to try to match the levels shot to shot.
XLR Audio Connections: On the other hand, having an XLR audio connection on this camera is a big deal. For a small, inexpensive camera, I really liked that the BMPCC6K has a single mini XLR connection that supports Phantom-powered microphones. All you need is a mini XLR to full-size XLR breakout cable, and you utilize almost any professional shotgun, cardioid or lavaliere to record quality sound. The BMPCC6K’s built-in mics were adequate for scratch tracks for syncing externally recorded audio in editing, but I wouldn’t use them for much more. You also have a 3.5mm audio input.
Memory Cards: During shooting, I shot mostly to CFast 2.0 cards, but I did try recording to SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card, and it worked fine for FHD and UHD recording up to Prores 422. For Prores HQ or Blackmagic RAW, the CFast 2.0 cards worked. (You can also record to a bus-powered external SSD for external recording.)
Using LUTs And Bluetooth: I liked that you could load and apply 3D LUTs internally, and even though the BMPCC6K isn’t a mirrorless hybrid still camera, you can press the dedicated stills button to record a 21.2-megapixel image as an uncompressed DNG frame, although you face the same dilemma as every mirrorless hybrid shooter—a 180-degree shutter when shooting motion almost guarantees that any moving subject in a still will contain motion blur, making the usability of the stills questionable.
The built-in Bluetooth camera control from Blackmagic Camera Control App can come in handy for when you need to change settings or stop or start recording, but it’s no substitute for a video monitor.
The Highs, Lows And Bottom Line
After spending some time capturing video with the BMPCC6K, here’s some of what I liked and disliked about the camera:
- It’s an extraordinary value at $2,495.
- Lightweight and relatively small.
- A great menu system that’s simple and easy to navigate.
- An impressive integrated 5-inch touchscreen (good for interior use).
- Blackmagic RAW with multiple compression ratios and ProRes Proxy, LT, 422, HQ.
- Ability to record to an outboard SSD.
- Beautiful natural image with great color science.
- Files were easy to edit and respond well to color correction and grading.
- Blackmagic Pocket Camera Battery Grip gives you better battery life (for extra cost).
- Includes Mini XLR and TC input jacks.
- Comes with a free copy of Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Studio.
- No waveform monitor.
- 7K and 6K are for Blackmagic RAW only.
- No EVF.
- Fixed (non-swiveling) 5-inch LCD touchscreen is limited when using outdoors.
- Camera’s wide body and offset ¼” 20-thread location makes using the BMPCC6K on smaller gimbals challenging.
- Mediocre in low light, with a maximum ISO of ISO 1600.
- No internal ND filters.
- Auto Focus takes a long time to lock and focus, and lacks continuous AF, which is only good for shooting static or slow-moving subjects.
- Infrared pollution could be an issue. One might use an ND6 or ND3 without seeing IR pollution, but anything over a 1.2ND is going to need IR filtration, although you would generally only need this much ND in ultra-bright conditions, like daylight snow.
The Bottom Line
Overall, I was impressed with the BMPCC6K in that it offers 6K RAW and image/sound quality of this level for under $2,500. However, it’s not a perfect camera. The polycarbonate body might not be adequate for those who are tough on gear. Its form factor makes gimbal use and even handheld operation a challenge. Also, its daily usability factor with no waveform monitor, severely limited battery life without the accessory battery grip, fixed touchscreen and only the most basic AF functionality in the real world, in my mind, make the BMPCC6K ideal only as a tripod-mounted or handheld digital cinema camera.
When you have a crew and can manually focus, either yourself or with an AC, shooting scripted content with repeated takes, these limitations are easy to deal with. For narrative, commercials, music videos and this sort of content, it’s an amazingly capable camera with solid results for little money. For run-and-gun or event shooting and documentary filmmaking, you can get by, but it’s not ideal. You’ll probably be adding a cage, external monitor, cabling, battery grip or external battery, side and top handles. That means you’ll end up with a medium-size camera package with significantly more expense than $2,495.
But with accessories and rigging, the BMPCC6K makes impressive images; it just depends on your shooting style and the type of subjects you cover most often to decide if this is the best camera for your needs. If I was starting from scratch and didn’t own a camera and wanted to build a budget-conscious yet serious quality small digital cinema camera rig, I’d definitely consider the BMPCC6K. That’s because for $4K to $5k, you can build an extremely capable rig that competes with cameras that cost a lot more. It’s why I’d say that all in all, the BMPCC6K is quite an achievement.