Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K: Underwater Impressions
Taking the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K Underwater with the Nauticam BMPCCII Housing
I recently had the chance to take out Blackmagic’s new Pocket Cinema Camera 4K with the Nauticam BMPCCII housing and to be frank, I’m sold on it. I will proceed to tell you all the things I loved/didn’t love about this camera and housing, but if I have lost your attention already, let me sum it up for you here: the Pocket 4K is too good to be true and for only $1,300 there is currently nothing on the market that competes with it – in short, it’s a steal.
4K RAW at 60fps for $1,295!!
I’ll start with the obvious selling points that I loved before I even got my hands on it. Firstly, it’s less than $1,300 and shoots 4K RAW at 60fps. You won’t find a compact cinema camera that has this ability, let alone one that is this inexpensive. Shooting RAW video allows for much more flexibility in the editing studio. Parameters such as white balance are not burned into the data, so you have tons of freedom during post to make your footage look as good as possible.
Ease of Use
The camera is also extremely easy to use. When using the camera top-side, you pretty much control everything from the touch screen. The interface is straightforward and since it focuses almost solely on video rather than stills, you won’t find the multitude of cluttered menu pages found in modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Obviously when using the camera underwater, you do not have access to the large touch screen, which you would normally use to access the settings. Nauticam did an amazing job on this housing to ensure that you still have control over all the major functions while the camera is inside the housing. Although you cannot access the full menu while underwater, you have full control over ISO, shutter angle/speed, aperture, and can switch between low frame rate and high frame rate easily. This does require you to make sure you have set certain settings – such as which media to write to – before closing the housing but I found this to not be a big issue.
No External Monitor Needed
The value of the 5” LCD screen cannot be overstated either. When testing the BMPCCII we also brought out the Panasonic GH5s with the Nauticam housing and the SmallHD 5” external monitor for comparison. This was a true testament to the compact nature of the Pocket 4K, as the GH5s with the SmallHD monitor was almost 2x as large as the BMPCCII and its 5” LCD screen. Although there is of course the option to add an external monitor to the BMPCCII, I found it unnecessary as the built-in 5” screen made viewing my subject extremely easy. The screen is very bright at 100% power, which I also felt to be unnecessary and preferred to keep screen brightness at 50% to save battery.
With that being said, an external monitor does provide latitude and flexibility with regard to your viewing angles underwater so an external monitor like the SmallHD 502/502B or Atomos Ninja V (Nauticam housing coming soon) would by no means be out of the question – not to mention it would extend the battery life of the camera as well. The SmallHD 502 and SmallHD 502B monitors with the Nauticam 502 or Nauticam 502B housings are fantastic options that will allow you to easily frame your subjects with the increased viewing-angle flexibility. Additionally, in preparation for the release of the Atomos Ninja V monitor housing, Nauticam included a handy M28 bulkhead with the BMPCCII housing. The Atomos Ninja V is a full-on, proffesional grade monitor/recorder that records and plays back DCI 4K, UHD 4K, and HD video from purpose-built mini-SSDs – a no-brainer for the professional videographer.
Bonus Features Built Into the Housing (NA-BMPCCII)
Some other things I was really impressed about regarding the Nauticam BMPCCII housing was the external battery pack and SSD slot. Nauticam was very prudent about including these features, as the battery life on the Pocket 4K is not ideal and Blackmagic RAW files are massive. These two caveats had the capacity to render this camera virtually useless underwater; however, Nauticam solved these problems seamlessly. Nauticam claims that the total run time with 4 fully charged 3400 mAh batteries can exceed 3 hours. I found this to be a liberal estimate, as the battery pack lasted me about 2-2.5 hours, however, battery life is of course a function of usage and we were pushing the camera to the limits. Another aspect I found troubling was that, when using the external batteries, there was no way of knowing how much battery was left. When the battery pack is plugged into the charging port, the battery simply reads “AC”. Nonetheless, I was really impressed with the battery life underwater and the external battery pack is a huge bonus in my opinion... still, bring extra 3400 mAh batteries.
The slot for the compact T5 SSD drive is also a huge bonus. Since Blackmagic RAW files are very large, it is imperative to have a lot of storage and there’s no better way of doing this than using an SSD. Again however, I would recommend bringing an additional SSD drive if you are shooting primarily in RAW, as even the 500GB of storage can fill up quickly.
When shooting the Pocket 4K underwater I played around with the autofocus capabilities and concluded that for what it offers, it does well. I say this because the Pocket 4K only offers single point autofocus. The single-point autofocus works extremely well and I was impressed with how fast it locked onto the subject but seeing as it is a video camera, I would have loved to have used continuous autofocus when shooting fish as they move closer and farther away from the lens. With that being said, most videographers prefer to use manual focus anyway and this is what I would suggest as well.
Underwater Footage & Review
Should You Get One?
In conclusion, I am really impressed with both the Blackmagic Pocket 4K camera and the Nauticam BMPCCII housing. I expected the Pocket 4K camera to be ‘buggy’ or difficult to use, as it offers so much for so little money, but to be honest I did not find this to be the case. I found it to be trusty and straightforward and shoot high quality, impressive looking footage. I was also curious how Nauticam was going to make a housing for this camera, as most functions are controlled by the touch screen interface, but Nauticam executed it flawlessly and even added unexpected features that make the system even more compelling. If you are a professional videographer working on a small budget project, this is the system for you. If you are a recreational videographer that wants to get professional looking video, this system is not necessarily out of your price range!
For underwater video, the Panasonic GH5s, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, and RED Digital cameras cover a wide spectrum of professional-grade video quality at various price points. All three cameras have the capacity to shoot 4K at 60fps. The Blackmagic Pocket 4K and RED Digital cameras can shoot RAW at 4K 60fps – a particularly compelling feature not available on the GH5s. With that being said, the GH5s is definitely more versitile and holds its own as a stills camera as well. Obviously RED Digital cameras offer FAR more than either the Pocket 4K or the GH5s, including the ability to shoot 5-8K, RAW & ProRes simultaneously, larger sensor size, the list goes on... They are all great options for professional-quality video with their own unique advantages.
The Blackmagic Pocket 4K camera and Nauticam BMPCCII is without a doubt the best bang-for-your-buck underwater video system available...and it performs!
Stay Tuned for More Content
Stay tuned for a Bluewater Photo review video comparing the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, the RED Gemini, and the Panasonic GH5s. We take the three cameras to various favorite locations around Los Angeles and then out to the Channel Islands to explore the kelp forests.
Want to try the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, the GH5s, or the RED Gemini Underwater?
We at Bluewater Photo have the Blackmagic Pocket 4K, Panasonic GH5s, and the RED Digital DSMC2 Nauticam housings and cameras available for rental or purchase. If you are interested please email us at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at +1-310-633-5052. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, the Nauticam BMPCCII housing, or any of our other high-end underwater video systems.