The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro is a major revision sneaking in under the radar in a familiar body style that opens up whole other options in shooting for independent creators.
And we wanted to do a shoot exploring the possibilities. This article is an overview of the technical side of the shoot—keep an eye out for the video release later!
The newest Blackmagic Pocket, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro, looks similar enough to the original 6K and even the 4K that it's possible to miss that it's in fact a pretty major upgrade to the original "RAW in your pocket" camera. While still boasting all the features that made the camera a hit in the first place like a small form factor, direct to SSD shooting, and internal RAW recording, the improvements are major as well.
In a slightly larger body, they have also managed to sneak in three huge improvements—internal ND filters, dual native ISO, and an external viewfinder.
The biggest feature we wanted to put to the test was the new higher ISO setting for the camera, since 3200 ISO is incredibly useful for one of the most common challenges we've run across—the long night walk and talk. It shows up in so many scripts, the long emotional walk and talk on a city or country street at night, but it has its whole world of challenges.
There is generally a mix of lighting sources from a variety of street and location lights, which is where the RAW really shines. The base level of the light is low, so even if you have all the firepower you need for lighting your subject, you still need to keep lighting low intensity to match your background, be it forest or cityscape. And you want to stabilize the camera.
With more money, this means a Steadicam, but on a small project, you want a gimbal, ideally something small like the DJI RS2. Since there is literally not another camera that allows for this combination, low light sensitivity from a high ISO, internal RAW, stabilized, all at an affordable price point, this was the perfect test for the camera.
Of course, camera tests aren't usually the most fun just watching people walk and talk, so instead, we found a few folks on Instagram who do amazing wheelies and brought them out to be the subject, since that was just more fun.
Mounting the camera
While normally for a walk and talk we would hand carry the stabilizer (in this case, an RS2, which is small and affordable and works great with the 6K Pro), since we thought it would be more fun to shoot bikers, we ended up mounting the RS2 to a bicycle using the Tilta Hydra.
Our setup was inspired by an amazing video by Bestboy Adam that we highly recommend checking out for more thoughts on bicycle mounts.
Generally, the biggest challenge with the night walk and talk is matching your lighting to the base background.
Whether you are on a suburban street at night or walking through the city, all sorts of sources exist in the world that are at a certain base light level that you can't do much about.
My favorite technique even on low-budget shoots is to find a way to hide a scissor lift or condor in the background of the scene with a hard light pointing towards the camera to give some backlight for separation, then bring in a gentle frontal fill with a light ball on an arm carried along with the camera.
Since we were on a bicycle, we did things a little differently, mounting a front light in a soft bag to the bike with the camera, and a hard backlight to a follow bike, to be sure we got the right ratio of fill and backlight.
Of course, one of the lenses we most wanted to explore was the new T1 from Zhongyi, since the combination of a super-fast aperture with a dual native ISO RAW machine was too much to pass up.
For a budget of $3,500, you have a camera that could shoot in lighting situations unimaginable before. But we also wanted to shoot on another lens, the Irix 11mm, which only opens to a T4.
We wanted this not just for creating field of view (useful for action and tight locations), but also because sometimes you can't get lenses that open to a T1. Maybe you are shooting a show on anamorphic, or shooting on older zooms, or otherwise want the deeper depth of field that comes from a smaller aperture. For all those reasons we wanted to be sure we didn't only test a T1, since that seemed like an unfair comparison.
We also wanted to test the Irix 11mm, since it would give us an amazing field of view, and it seemed like a good challenge for the night scenes since it only opens up to a T4.
This is very common on ultra-wide lenses, and frankly being able to work at a T4 is a fair goal for even night exterior scenes to give the first AC a fighting chance of getting it in focus. The vast majority of the footage ends up being on the 11mm Irix for that reason.
Our location, the Brooklyn Navy yard, is one of my favorites in all of the New York City area.
Even though it was all one space officially owned by the city, I count at least three different street light colors, mixed with a variety of lighting colors in the different buildings.
This is where the benefits of RAW capture really stood out to me, where the non-standard colors of the backlights were captured without going out of gamut and were able to be graded more effectively.
The video has noise correction on it; this is very typical for practically every night scene you see in a film for the last 40 years.
Even before software noise correction came into its own, there were hardware noise correction boxes around to make sure that we could take the edge off of noisy footage.
The noise correction settings we ended up using were very light, and you can see a quick comparison here that shows the footage with and without noise.
I'm never really expecting a noise-free nighttime image. Noise is going to be part of shooting at higher ISOs in lower-light situations. I'm looking for manageable noise that can be cleaned up without a ton of effort in post that still reveals a lot of useful picture information in the captured image.
This seems like one of the places where the tight integration of the Blackmagic Pocket 6K Pro as a capture device with Resolve as a software device really comes into play. The light noise of the 3200 ISO images ties nicely to the software noise correction in Resolve to create very clean final images.
So there you have it, one of the more frequent yet challenging situations a low-budget DP faces is now much more feasible than before. A shot that five years ago would've required a much bigger lighting package, a physically larger camera, and a full-sized stabilizer can now be done, and effectively, with gear and a crew size that is within an indie budget. Exciting times.
We will debut the video from this shoot soon! Don't miss it.