The Photographer's Guide to Buying Your First Dedicated Video Camera

If you're a photographer interested in exploring video, there is a plethora of options available for you right now. Since the launch of the Canon 5D Mark II around a decade ago, video functionality has been a growing part of every DSLR and mirrorless camera to date. But there's always a trade-off when it comes to hybrid cameras. Here's why you should consider buying a dedicated video camera if you want to diversify your work and make video a dedicated service along with your photography.

For the last year, I've read hundreds of reviews and watched countless YouTube videos on the best hybrid system. What camera system will allow me to capture both high-resolution photos and high resolution, high bit depth video? The answer? Not that many. Many of us were waiting in anticipation for Sony to deliver the a7S III with a 10-bit video codec and 4K 60p. We're still waiting with bated breath, and with the global pandemic slowing business and production lines down, who knows if the camera will ever be released? With Sony not coming to the party, companies like Panasonic, Fuji, and Canon have since surpassed Sony with incredible features in their mirrorless cameras.

However, by the beginning of 2020, I've concluded that a hybrid system is perhaps not the best suited for my budget and the work I needed to do. I needed a dedicated video camera.

So, what options are there for dedicated video cameras that won't break the bank? I'm not about to invest in RED, Arri, or Canon's C-line, as those are cameras worthy of investing further down the line, perhaps. 

The one option that came to mind while doing some editing work in Da Vinci Resolve was Blackmagic's Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. The camera's been out for about two years now, but it's by no means outdated. With Blackmagic still releasing updates for the 4K and 6K, it's just getting better and better. The technical specs looked very enticing, especially for its entry price of $1,295. 

Highlighted Technical Specs

  • Image Sensor: 18.96 x 10 mm (4/3") CMOS
  • ISO: Dual Native ISO 100 to 25,600 (Native ISO at 400 and 3,200)
  • Dynamic Range: 13 Stops
  • Lens Mount: Active Micro Four Thirds
  • Built-In Microphone: Stereo
  • Ports: HDMI, 3.5mm input/output, Mini XLR, USB-C, 12v AC Power
  • Body: Carbon fiber reinforced-composite
  • Recording Media: CFast 2.0 card slot, SDXC UHS-II Card Slot, external recording via USB-C to SSD
  • Recording Formats: raw (12-bit), ProRes 422 HQ (10Bit), ProRes 422, ProRes 422 LT, ProRes 422 Proxy
  • Max Resolution: raw 4,096 x 2,160 at 23.98/24/25/29.97/30/50/59.94/60 fps (21 to 203 MB/s), ProRes 4,096 x 2,160 at 23.98/24/25/29.97/30/50/59.94/60 fps (117.88 MB/s)

The camera itself is quite light, thanks to the carbon fiber reinforced composite body. However, some might find it too light, especially if you're used to heavier bodies like a Canon or Nikon DSLR. The button layout of the camera is simple and easy to use, with the standard buttons being in the same places as traditional DSLRs. As a bonus, you get three custom buttons to map to your liking in the menu system. 

And speaking of the menu system, it's probably one of the best layouts I've ever seen. The options in the menu system are clear and easy to find thanks to the simple layout and big LCD screen on the back. You can also save your own presets and load custom LUTs via an SD Card.

Getting Started

To get started with this camera system, I had to invest in additional add-ons to get it to a production-ready stage. Once I purchased the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (referred to as the BMPCC4K or Pocket 4K from now on), I quickly realized the Canon LP-E6 battery supplied with the camera lasts around 30-40 minutes at most. You do get an AC adaptor in the box, but it's not always practical or possible to shoot tethered, especially if you're out in the field. To solve the battery issue, I had to invest in an external power source. Options like a V-Lock battery mount and battery to power the camera for a few hours or a day at most seemed the way to go. However, V-lock batteries can get quite pricey, but there are alternatives. Luckily, I found such a solution with the IndiPro Tools Universal Power Grip, which powers the camera for up to 6 hours and powers the camera using a D-Tap power cable. The Power Grip has additional 12V, 8V, and USB charging slots for you to power monitors and other accessories (I found it quite handy to power my phone while on location). This solution also made the camera appear smaller and would allow for guerilla-style filming. 

Accessorize Your Camera

Of course, when it comes to mounting the power grip, you'll need a cage. One of the best solutions I found was the Tilta Basic Cage (for the BMPCC 4K/6K), which comes with several mounting points and hot shoe mounts. I installed the power grip in the central hot shoe mount and mounted the supplied Tilta handle in the additional hot shoe so that I could fit my external microphone on top of the handle.

Storing Your Footage

When it comes to storage solutions, you have three choices. You can use SD, CF Express cards, or an external SSD. The first two mentioned are internal card slots. However, SD cards probably won't be fast enough to record raw, and CFExpress cards are quite pricey. I decided to purchase the Samsung T5 1TB SSD, as the Tilta cage comes standard with an SSD mount and a built-in USB-C cable. 

Monitoring Your Footage

One last thing I needed to purchase was an external monitor. While the monitor on the back of the BMPCC4K is fantastic, I did find it a bit dark on a bright, sunny day. Luckily, you can save some money by not having to buy a monitor/recorder, as you can record raw internally via the SSD, so a cheap monitor for reference purposes is your best option. Unfortunately, by the time I wanted to purchase mine, my country of residence went into full lockdown due to the current pandemic. I did have the chance to compare a few and found the options below to be best suited for this setup. 

Atomos Shinobi 5.2" 4K HDMI Monitor

FeelWorld 7" 4K Ultra-Bright Monitor

SmallHD FOCUS 7 Daylight-Viewable 7"

Stabilizing Your Footage

One thing to note is that the camera doesn't come with built-in stabilization like most mirrorless cameras, so you need to invest in a sturdy video tripod or a gimbal system like the Ronin-S. However, I found the footage is quite useable when using it handheld with the IndiPro Power Grip I mentioned earlier. Stabilization in Da Vinci Resolve Studio (supplied with the camera) works well if you need to iron out the kinks later.

Adapting Your Lenses

If, like me, you already have a set of lenses from your still camera, it's quite easy to adapt them for the BMPCC4K by installing a Metabones speed booster. Metabones even released a specialized adaptor specifically made for the BMPCC4K, allowing you to get a near full-frame perspective from adapted lenses. Unfortunately, at the time of getting my adaptor, the reseller was out of stock, and I had to get the standard M43 adaptor (not a speed booster), which I'll exchange at a later date for the specialized BMPCC4K model.

Post-Production

Now that I had the camera all set up, I needed to review the raw footage I had shot. Blackmagic supplied a license key for the studio version of Da Vinci Resolve with the camera, which I installed immediately, as I worked on the free version before buying the camera. If you'd like to know more about Resolve, read one of my previous articles where I compare it to Adobe's Premiere Pro. 

If you'd like to view the raw files natively in Windows or Mac, Blackmagic has a neat raw video viewer that comes with your camera's software. I was surprised at how smooth the playback was on my desktop workstation, and even playing it back on a small, less powerful Macbook Air worked perfectly, with no buffering. 

Pros

  • 4K60p raw
  • Anamorphic support
  • Excellent quality in low light thanks to dual native ISO
  • Excellent color science
  • Easily accessible side ports
  • Well organized menu system
  • Good ventilation
  • Wide range of lenses available once adapted
  • Da Vinci Resolve Studio License included for free
  • Built-in Bluetooth

Cons

  • No weather-sealing
  • Slow autofocus and no continuous autofocus
  • No built-in IBIS
  • Supplied LP-E6 battery life is around 30-45 minutes
  • No built-in Wi-Fi
  • The monitor can be a bit dark in bright, sunlit conditions

Comparing It to Mirrorless

While conducting my research on what video system I wanted to invest in, I had a chance to work extensively on the Sony a7 III, Sony a7S II, and a7R III systems. I loved the mobility, IBIS, and all-roundedness that the Alpha series gave me, especially when it came to the a7 III and a7R III. However, I wanted to move away from the 8-bit depth sensor, as I felt I could never grade the footage the way I graded my stills due to the lack of latitude and became increasingly frustrated by it. For what I needed, the BMPCC4K gave me everything that Sony lacked in the video department. As for stills, I kept my Canon 5D Mark II, as it's still my main workhorse, albeit over a decade old. If I needed a higher spec camera for a job, renting for now, is an option.

At the time of my research, the Alpha series was, for me, the best suited all-around system. For the point of this exercise, I'll list my comparison below.

Sony a7 III Setup

Sony a7 III Body: $1,998

Metabones Canon EF/EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter: $399

Tilta Sony a7/a9 Series Kit: $149

IndiPRO Tools Universal Power Grip For Sony: $329.99

Sony 256GB SF-M/T2 UHS-II SDXC Memory Card x4 (1TB Total): $436

Atomos Shinobi 5.2" 4K HDMI Monitor: $299

SmallRig Swivel and Tilt Monitor Mount with Cold Shoe Mount: $42.44

Total: $3,653

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Setup

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K: $1,295

Metabones T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x Adapter for Canon EF Lens to BMPCC 4K Camera: $649

Tilta Camera Cage for BMPCC4K/6K (Basic Kit, Tilta Gray): $224

IndiPRO Tools Universal Power Grip For BMPCC 4K/6K: $329.99

Samsung 1TB T5 Portable Solid-State Drive: $184.99

SmallRig Swivel and Tilt Monitor Mount with Cold Shoe Mount: $42.44

Total: $3,024

Conclusion

While this option won't suit everyone's needs, I felt it ticked all the boxes for me. I didn't have the budget to invest in a camera like the Panasonic S1H or a Canon 1D X Mark III, so I had to find the next best option for the work I do. The camera I use for stills works perfectly for what I need it to do, but I lacked a system in the video department. Buying a hybrid that gives me the quality I required would blow the budget out of the water, so I had to find a solution that worked for me. Of course, the comparison above only shows the essential accessories I needed for a video kit. Accessories like matte boxes, filters, and shoulder rigs would still be considered at a later stage, as I only needed a run-and-gun type of set up to get started. It's incredible to think that for around $600 less than the Sony a7 III, I get a raw 4K60p dedicated video camera that shoots 10-bit ProRes and 12-bit raw, which is something most middle-ground hybrid shooters lack. With Blackmagic still releasing updates for the BMPCC4K regularly, this camera matures like a fine wine with every passing year.

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4 Comments

Rayann Elzein's picture

For someone like me who's getting more and more into video, this is a really great article! Well written and quite complete so thank you for this. Didn't you forget the monitor for the Blackmagic solution? I read you did not receive it from the supplier, but you wrote that you would have used it if you did, no? I have been quite tempted by this Blackmagic setup for a while now, on the other hand, my 1DX Mark II is quite capable from a video point of view. However, I find it quite a handicap to have to constantly switch between stills and videos, even when using custom functions.

Fred van Leeuwen's picture

Thanks so much for checking it out! I wanted to get it, but unfortunately, we're currently under a strict lockdown over here in South Africa, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The 1Dx MK II is an excellent camera for both video and stills. The Mark III is even better. Have you considered trading your camera in for the Mark III for a reasonable price, as you'll get higher specs than the BMPCC4K for (hopefully) less money spent? The BMPCC 4K is excellent if you haven't already spent a fortune on a great hybrid DSLR or mirrorless, and you're looking at getting into video without breaking the bank.

Rayann Elzein's picture

I have yet to investigate the Mark III... There are annoying things on the Mark II. For example, it's set to write files on the CF and CFast cards simultaneously. But filming in 4K can write only on the CFast, and in the options, you can't make a distinction between filming and stills for that option. I know the Mark III has fast cards slots, so maybe that's not an issue, but it's those little things that make it hard to use the same body for filming and stills (I'm a stills photographer first, so I can't afford to be hindered by video options getting in the way).

Alex Lancashire's picture

This is my Canon M6 mk 2 with attachments.I can do 4K video on this. Pic one has my monitor attached and the other two have a power bank to extend the recording time. https://youtu.be/QQSxbNDtc80

Sample video using this set up with a 2x extender also. It was just a quick test and no epic. Last pic has the 24-105 Canon lens with two LED lights, £7 each , work well giving daylight output. You got to improvise when you are on a pension.