Time for a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera?

icon1 flick harrison | icon4 Jun 27, 2013| icon3

So camera upgrades come more and more often these days.  I had a crap-sounding, rugged and reliable Sony EVO-9100 Hi8 camcorder from CBC which I used and abused from 1992 until 1998, then a Canon XL-1 from 1998 to 2007 (Man, that one shot a lot of video!), then I moved to an HDV Canon XH-A1 til 2011 and lately, an HMC-150 which is very cool but has some serious drawbacks.*

Right now I am starting to look for a new camera package for what I do:  mostly shooting live events, some interviewing, documentary, corporate gigs etc. and, well, drama.  The HMC-150 isn't the best dramatic rig, since it has a typical video small sensor and wide depth of field.

POSSIBLE BLACK MAGIC CINEMA CAMERA ENG PACKAGE

But wow, is it ever hard to beat a dedicated ENG-style camcorder for features and function.  What I need is:

* Good sync audio with XLR inputs - GOOD audio!  NOT scratch track, NOT "you should hire a sound guy," but THE audio for my recording.

My first professional camcorder - the Sony EVO 9100 Hi8.

My first professional camcorder - the Sony EVO 9100 Hi8.

* A powerful zoom lens.  My HMC-150 has the 35mm equivalent of 28 to 368mm zoom at f 1.8.  Beat that, DSLR's!!

* Preferably unlimited, but at least one hour of recording time free of AC power.  Twice a week I shoot stuff that is an hour long, live.  Sometimes two.  Can't do any tape switching, battery changing, or whatever because I roll continuously - and I'm the only shooter.  Plugging in to power can introduce ground hum and requires more work for the venue - running me a cable and making sure it's not going to trip the public.

The trouble is, despite these solid needs, I want a camera with a nicer "look" than these prosumer handicams.  They serve my function well, but the problem is they don't get that fancy depth-of-field thing that DSLR's are doing.

So along comes the Black Magic Pocket Cinema camera and I begin to wonder if it's time to take the leap from Camcorder Land into Cinema.  I'm not convinced yet.

At VIVO, I checked out the Black Magic Cinema Camera, which is a sweet sweet piece of kit.  It lacks most of what I'm looking for, however.  The audio controls are inadequate, it's not designed for hand-held, it's too expensive for my needs, and it chews up HD space with its RAW files.  However, the design and concept are starting to entice me, and so when I hear about the Black Magic Pocket Cinema cam, I start to crack.

Why?  Because at only $1000, I might be able to tack on the gear I need to make it work for me without going way over a reasonable budget.  The XL-1 was $6400 (in 2013 dollars), and the XH-A1 was $4,300, and the HMC-150 equates to $3,000.  So I guess it should just keep getting cheaper to buy a camera that does what I need!

So after some reading, and learning about Micro Four Thirds lens mounts, I started to consider this as a future camera setup.  For $2500 it's a lot of power.

But: Bah!  It seems like the cons might outweigh the pros for me.  With the Canon XA20 out there, doing everything I need, it's hard to justify.

It includes:

Blackmagic Design - Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Pros:

Schwanky lenses on a dedicated video cam.

ProRes or RAW video.  ProRes is 32-bit, which isn't ideal (I think the next Premiere will do it at 64-bit) but it's nice quality and easy to work with.  RAW might be too much for all but the most expensive SDXC cards... and at 100MBps bitrate, it looks like the BMD pocket cinema camera might outpace all the cards on the market??  That means expensive new cards, unless they downgrade the spec before the actual release.

Small size means amazing video without drawing too much attention.

Cons:

It's only 1080 - not 2.5k or 4k or something.  I was really interested in shooting hi-res, especially for stabilizing in post.

Audio is not going to suffice, needs a second device.  This can be done cheaply with the H4n, which I included in my kit, but it's more work.

Aaaand the battery is only one hour.  Maybe enough for most purposes, but not ALL!

Olympus - M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6 Zoom

Main problem with this: much slower that the HMC-150 lens, which goes down to f/1.8. Curses!!  Also, at 28-300mm in 35mm equivalent, it's not QUITE as powerful as my HMC-150's zoom.  Zoom range will never be as big as a handicam with smaller chip?  Is that the problem?

I'm new to these lenses, and the micro four thirds system, so I'm not sure what functionality (autofocus, exposure etc) works with the BMD Pocket Cinema Camera.

Zoom - H4n Handy Mobile 4-Track Recorder

I think I could roll audio on this, with it mounted on top of the camera, and then run it into the camera.  That way I might get perfectly good sound on the video file, either from the stereo mic or from XLR inputs, while having the zoom recorder as a backup.  Sure will bulk the thing up though.

Barska - ACCU-Grip Camera Handle Pistol Grip

I confess, I already ordered one of these from Amazon.  I think they are awesome.  I remember the old Sony had one on the front for shoulder-mounting, but I used to take it off and put it in the middle of the rig for that super-8 style.  Worked ok, a bit heavy at the time... but nowadays it would work perfectly with the lighter cams.

* What's wrong with the HMC-150?  Well, My Canon rigs proved that great-sounding auto audio levels are not only possible on a prosumer camcorder, they are a godsend.  I shoot mostly live events like dance and theatre.  If I have to take my hand off the zoom / focus / exposure to chase the audio (always too late), then I will often miss the action.

The prosumer camera world's answer to this is usually, "record separate audio!" to which i say, "why don't you pay for it?  And do the extra work?  And check the sound device while I'm shooting to make sure I set it properly and remembered to hit record?"

The other problem is that I am sick of dealing with AVCHD's stupid sync bug in Adobe Premiere.  Every time I think I've gotten this problem licked, it pops up again.  ClipWrap seems to be a good solution but it adds a step to the process, and every step introduces the chance of error (and more work, dammit!).

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