Why Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4Ks Worked on This Microbudget Movie

'Jason Rising'Credit: Karl Whinnery
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K was a perfect fit for this scary low-budget feature.

This post was written by Karl Whinnery.

Karl here from the Jason Rising team. We just released our love letter to the Friday the 13th franchise—our fan film, Jason Rising. I filled a few roles on the movie, including executive producer, cinematographer, editor, VFX supervisor, and colorist.

For our below video, I wanted to talk about why we used the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and how that was a huge advantage when filming. We’re a fan film and planned on crowdfunding, so we wanted to keep costs down. 

Camera Testing

We had a year or so of pre-production. During that time, we developed the script, tested costumes, found our cast, and did camera tests. We started our tests with my Sony and Nikon cameras, and we weren’t horribly pleased with them. We then tested with my original Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and everyone loved the footage. 

Blackmagic had announced the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, but they weren’t ready when we shot our first trailer, so we used the original Pocket Cameras. We loved them, but their flaws are known. By the time we shot our second trailer, the Pocket 4Ks had been shipped, and we had some. The difference between the cameras was night and day.

The usability on the new Pocket 4Ks was amazing. We were sold. The Pocket 4K camera’s footage is beautiful. We were able to record to Solid State Hard drives via USB-C cables and film with the BRAW codec for ultimate flexibility in post. Time code syncing came later and is so helpful. Dual ISO allowed us to get beautiful footage at night with LED lights.

All of Jason Rising was shot with Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4Ks (except for drone shots). We always had at least two on set, and on big days we had three to five. Why so many? Let’s explore.

Cost

Keeping costs low on microbudget movies is very important. Blackmagic had our back there. The cameras only cost $1,300 and included DaVinci Resolve. I was able to buy two Pocket 4Ks for less than what other leading DSLRs or cinema cameras cost.

Owning the primary cameras helped keep our rental costs down and saved time on picking up and returning gear. That said we often rented a third, or fourth, or even fifth camera on big filming dates. 

'Jason Rising'Credit: Karl Whinnery

The COVID Factor

We started filming pre-pandemic, and we often had multiple people in the camera crew—two people operating cameras and two ACs, another a PA. Once COVID hit, we shrank our crew to the most minimal we could get away with. The Pocket 4K's small form factor allowed us to keep minimal crew compared to the big-name cameras. 

Once COVID hit we went from 12-hour days with 20 people on set (actors and crew) to four- to six-hour days with, like, three to five people—director, camera op, and sound/actor. Our director would slate and run fog.

Renting any gear for days that small would have quickly become cost-prohibitive. 

Thankfully as working with COVID became normalized and the proper safety processes were figured out, we were able to get back up to more normal film days with more crew and cast on set.

Media

Using SSDs allowed us to rapidly transfer footage and process it and analyze it. Often things were great, but on a four-day-in-a-row shoot, we were using some strong red lights, and I had concerns about the lights blowing out. 

We got back home at 5 a.m., and I was able to quickly offload the footage and scrub through and find problems before we started filming again. We reshot one scene and adapted how we were handling the red light.

Using other cameras and media would have made that impossible unless we had an on-site DIT, which we didn’t. 

'Jason Rising'Credit: Karl Whinnery

The Advantage of Multiple Cameras

Why did we sometimes have four or five cameras on set? 

Having multiple cameras on set allowed us to quickly switch between camera setups. We typically had two handheld with Flycam Flowline backpacks, one camera on a DJI Ronin S or S2, a camera on a tripod or dolly, and a camera on a jib. 

Normally switching between setups could take between 10 to 20 minutes. When you’re filming late at night at 2 a.m. no one wants to wait for 20 minutes as you balance a gimbal or rig up the jib. 

Having multiple cameras on set allowed us to quickly film shots without losing momentum—we could switch between handheld stuff and then quickly start using the tripod to capture shots of the headless Pamela Voorhees. Because there was next to no time delay in switching, everyone remembered their actions and didn’t get pulled out of the scene. 

If inspiration struck, and it often did, we could grab the Ronin and then run with it, figuratively and literally. 

And sometimes we used it to switch between complicated Anamorphic lens setups. We loved our lens flares with on-screen flashlights. 

'Jason Rising'Credit: Karl Whinnery

Lens Mount

Another plus for the Pocket 4Ks is the highly adaptable Micro Four Thirds mount. I own lots of Nikon lenses and with speed boosters or just normal adapters we could easily use all my lenses. We also used Canon EF lenses in a few shots. And of course, lots of Micro Four Thirds lenses.

Having that flexibility was huge.

Menu System

The Pocket 4K's menu system is so good, I’m going to mention it as an advantage.

We often found ourselves switching between 24 fps and 22 fps for certain parts of fight scenes. Being able to easily set frame rates on multiple cameras and toggle back and forth—incredible! User presets for false color, frame guides, etc. allow you to quickly get to filming instead of playing with settings.

The built-in false-color—oh, what a feature. We relied on this heavily. We often were in muddy, swampy, sandy, blackberry bushes, etc. locations not suitable for the traditional monitors for review. Being able to turn on false color and quickly communicate with the team, “That tree is pink, now it's green, and—GRAY! We’re good!” That was huge.

Dual ISO is incredible. We shot most of the movie at night and at ISO 3200. I didn’t use denoiser on a single shot.

Being able to shoot at ISO 3200 and knowing the footage would look good allowed us to use smaller and more portable lights like the Godox VL150 and various Dracast lights. All LED lights that sipped on battery power instead of the more traditional M18s or 1Ks and generators. Our sound guy appreciated that as well.

Conclusion

You simply can’t find a better camera for the price. The image quality is incredible, the ability to record RAW, to use Solid State Drives for media, and a great ecosystem for rigging. 

We couldn’t have made our movie look so good without the Blackmagic camera.     

Learn more about Jason Rising here.

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3 Comments

We just shot a commercial for Microsoft on a 4K and 6K pro. The client seems pretty darn pleased with the footage. The colors are very Alexa-like.

So while it's true that these Pocket cams are in fact relatively affordable, they also just put out a nice, Alexa-like image for the fraction of the cost. I'd definitely just make that another factor on the list. Last time I checked a good image was high on the priority list. I know this statement breaks a few indoctrinated brains, but it's okay.

Is it the "perfect camera"? Well, no, I don't think I've ever met one of those to date. Besides, what film production doesn't deal with workarounds and unforseeable technical issues? It's synonymous to filmmaking, period. There's the glory of pre-production and than the reality of production.

Don't let price fool you in terms of these BMD "Pocket" cameras. They produce an excellent/filmic image on a internal buttery smooth RAW codec that you can pipe to an USB-C SSD, way more affordable than a CFast card with much less capacity. Reccomend the G-Tech SSDs. No dropped frames, ever.

12bit RAW/16 bit linear for under $4,000? Daul ISO gains? The BEST UI that ever graced a camera? Small and agile? If you can't work with that it's time to hang up the towel, your brain is confiscated.

I'm constantly shocked at the rate they're disregarded at the top-level. This makes no practical sense to me. But we all know how embedded legacy works in this field.

I highly recommend Canon FD. Very nice sensor/glass pairing. Great edge roll off, even on 6K.

September 1, 2021 at 1:17AM

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I've owned my Pocket 4k for a little over 2 years and it continues to amaze me. The Gen 5 color science has been a game changer and once I got the Tilta screen mod, this camera became damn near perfect for my shooting style.

Now if only it had IBIS...

September 1, 2021 at 11:18AM

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James Couche
Independent Filmmaker
208

really amaze with this stuff, i also believe in this concept back in 2017 i used to work on this with my boss at kansas city...the film shot and making unqiue sets is my job

September 2, 2021 at 2:21AM

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emmyfreed24
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