Blackmagic Design has long been a force in the video industry, first with add-on cards for computers to digitize video for editing, and more recently with its own line of digital cinema cameras. Its Pocket Cinema Camera 6K ($1,995, body only) grabs attention with its resolution, and delivers superb Raw video quality. But it has its share of faults and foibles, which means you’ll spend more than its base price to put together a kit. That may be less of a problem for pros with established equipment libraries, but is certainly a concern for indie auteurs and documentarians.
Editors’ Note: This review was updated on 4/28/2020 to reflect a price reduction, from $2,495 to $1,995. It was originally published on 12/5/2019.
The Pocket Cinema Camera 6K takes more of its design cues from modern mirrorless cameras and fewer from traditional camcorders. It’s a long, narrow camera—matching its 16:9 capture format—with an SLR-style handgrip and black plastic exterior. It measures 4.0 by 7.0 by 3.8 inches (HWD) and weighs just a smidge under 2 pounds without a lens attached. Because of this, it can go places larger cinema cameras might not manage, which opens up creative possibilities for camera placement.
As such, it’s a very portable starting point for your rig. It doesn’t offer dust and splash protection, however, so you’ll want to take care to keep it dry when working in the field. Most competing mirrorless cameras, including the pricier, full-frame Panasonic S1H ($3,999), offer robust weather protection.
The Pocket 6K is certainly comfortable to hold, especially if you have a smaller prime lens attached. Its grip conforms comfortably to my hand, and controls are easily accessible. I preferred using it on a tripod—the autofocus system is crude, and manual focus is a bit tricky to manage when also holding the camera steady. But if you add a follow focus system, powered gimbal, or similar accessory, you may find the experience to be better. Without stabilization, expect shaky handheld footage.
The camera uses a largely touch-screen user interface, but offers physical buttons to get direct access to various functions. There are dual Record buttons, one atop the handgrip and a second on the face, between the grip and lens mount. There’s also a shutter release to capture still images and dedicated buttons for ISO, Shutter (S), and White Balance (WB). Finally you get the On/Off switch, and three programmable function buttons along the top.
There are some more buttons on the rear, all located in a column that runs along the right of the camera’s big touch screen. At the top there’s an Aperture button, which sets your f-stop to net the proper exposure at the given ISO and shutter speed, along with a button to engage autofocus. They’re joined by HFR, which quickly toggles between standard and slow-motion capture, along with a frame magnifier, used as a manual focus aid, as well as menu and play buttons.
That’s it for physical controls. They work in conjunction with the touch-based user interface. Menus feature large print and are easily navigable, with most settings just where you’d expect them to be. The exception is the function to format the memory card—it’s accessible by tapping on the card icon on the main recording screen, rather than in the main menu where you’ll find it on most cameras.
The LCD itself takes up most of the rear. It’s a big, 5-inch screen, but its resolution is just 1080p, it doesn’t offer any sort of articulation, and it’s very difficult to view in direct sunlight, even at full brightness. This makes it difficult to set focus and exposure in anything but ideal conditions.
If you’re working in the cinema world, you may not mind. Chances are, you’re used to working with external monitors, and you can certainly connect a Atomos Ninja V or similar device to the Pocket 6K for a better experience. But cinematographers coming from the SLR and mirrorless world will be surprised that a camera with so much imaging power has such a poor display.
SLR Lens Mount
It’s not just the LCD that feels dated. Blackmagic has taken what I see as a step back with its choice of a lens mount. The older, but still in production, Pocket Cinema Camera 4K ($1,295), uses a mirrorless Micro Four Thirds mount with a short distance between the sensor and lens. The advantage is that you can use pretty much any lens and maintain focus to infinity, assuming you can find or fashion the proper adapter.
With the 6K camera Blackmagic has moved to a larger image sensor—a Super 35 chip, similar to the APS-C format used by many cameras with stills-first designs, and physically larger than the sensor in the Pocket 4K.
The lens mount is Canon EF-S, with support for both the company’s APS-C EF-S and full-frame EF lens series. Canon, like most of the photo industry, is concentrating on development of its mirrorless system going forward, however. You won’t have access to its latest lenses, like the optically stunning RF 50mm F1.2 L, when using the Pocket 6K. The flip side, of course, is that you can use any of the countless EF lenses that Canon has sold over the years.
Still, we would have liked to see a shorter mount. The L-mount, developed by Leica and now supported by Panasonic and Sigma as well, seems like the obvious choice. It’s supported by Panasonic, so there will be no shortage of video-first lens options, and Sigma already markets an adapter for Canon EF lenses.
Extensibility and Power
The Pocket 6K offers all of the expected connections. It has an HDMI port to connect to an external monitor, as well as Mini XLR and 3.5mm microphone inputs, a 3.5mm headphone connection for audio monitoring, USB-C to record to an SSD, and a 12V DC input to deliver power using the included AC adapter.
You’ll want to use the AC adapter for longer shots and time lapses. Blackmagic opted to use an existing battery design, the LP-E6N, which has powered pro Canon SLRs for years. Unfortunately, it doesn’t deliver a lot of recording time. Blackmagic promises 45 minutes, but I netted a bit less, closer to 35. An external charger isn’t included; instead you’re expected to charge the LP-E6N in-camera via the AC adapter.
There is an add-on battery grip available for $245. It attaches to the bottom and holds two Sony L batteries, delivering up to two hours of continuous recording time. The inconsistency between battery types is a potential concern. However, the grip does replace the LP-E6N rather than supplement it, so you’ll only need to juggle multiple types if you plan on using the camera with the grip for some shots, and without it for others.
You can use an external SSD to store footage via the USB-C port, or record internally to a memory card. The Pocket 6K has two card slots—one for CFast 2.0 cards and a second for the more common SD form factor. You’ll want to use high-speed cards. I tested it with a 128GB Lexar CFast 2.0 card, rated for 540MBps, and a 64GB Sony Tough SDXC card, rated for 299MBps, and both worked without issue.
Putting a good SD slot in a camera is a no-brainer, but CFast 2.0 is an odd pick. I would think a slot supporting XQD and CFExpress cards would make more sense, as it is more widely used.
Standard tripod threads are on both the top and bottom, giving you quite a bit of freedom to mount the camera, and to mount accessories to it. There’s no accessory shoe, like you find on stills-first cameras, however.
6K Raw Capture
If you’ve got the Pocket 6K on your shopping list, it’s all but certainly because of its namesake feature—6K video capture. It supports 16:9 or 2.4:1 capture at standard frame rates up to 50fps in the Blackmagic Raw format. If you drop to 5.7K, you can push the frame rate to 60fps. Time-lapse capture is also supported, as are 24MP still images in the Adobe DNG format.
Data rates vary, but at the highest quality the footage requires 483MBps, which nets just a few minutes of footage on a 64GB card. You’ll definitely need to invest in a big SSD if you want to roll for extended periods of time at the highest quality setting (which is what we used for all of our videos).
You can also record compressed footage using Apple’s ProRes 422 format. Various levels of quality and compression are available, but they all top out at 4K60. If you drop the resolution to 1080p, you can record at 120fps. But for 6K, Blackmagic Raw is your only option.
The camera records footage with a flat profile applied, but you can load and preview color correction LUTs on the screen, so cinematographers can get a better idea of what your finished shot will be once color correction has been applied in editing.
A histogram is available to help you properly set exposure; there’s no waveform option, which is something you get with the Panasonic S1H. There are zebras available to call out blown highlights, and you’ll certainly want to enable them, especially if you’re relying on the Pocket 6K’s screen to judge your exposure.
Likewise, it can be difficult to judge focus on the screen, especially if you’re working at a wide aperture. Magnification and focus peaking are available, but even with them, I struggled to verify focus when working in midday sunlight. The autofocus system is entirely rudimentary—it checks for contrast in a large central part of the frame. You don’t have access to subject, face, or eye detection, found in stills-first cameras.
Blackmagic provides its own editing software, DaVinci Resolve, with the camera. But you have some freedom in choosing your editing suite thanks to the Blackmagic Raw Player, which allows you to play its video on Linux, macOS, and Windows systems. I worked with the footage in Adobe Premiere Pro 2020 on a macOS platform.
The Raw video is very malleable. You’ve got a wide latitude to adjust temperature and exposure, as well as to rein in highlights and pull out details in shadows to capture video with strong dynamic range. Shutter readout isn’t global, but I was able to pan with a 400mm lens attached and net footage without a serious amount of visible skew, but expect to see it when panning quickly.
Stunning Video, but…
There’s no questioning the quality of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K’s video output. It captures footage with a ton of resolution—there’s 24MP in every frame—and there’s plenty of freedom to grade footage, so you can give your projects their own signature look if desired.
There are some drawbacks with the hardware, though. Be prepared to invest in a bevy of batteries for extended outings, as well as high-capacity memory cards or external SSDs if you want to shoot more than a few minutes of footage at a time. Likewise, you’ll need to add an external monitor to get a good view of your frame.
By the time you’ve added all of these accessories, you may find that you’re in for a good deal more than the $1,995 base price. For that price I’d prefer a better-built camera, with a battery that can properly power it and a display that’s up to modern standards than one that all but requires you to add the grip and attach an external display to monitor recording. We’re happy to see Blackmagic strive to put such advanced video capabilities in a relatively affordable camera, but it’s cutting corners in the wrong places to meet this asking price.
So what else is out there? The Panasonic S1H, a bit more expensive to start at $4,000, but with a bigger image sensor and true pro-grade fit and finish, shoots at 6K, but not in Raw format, and at a maximum 24fps capture rate. We’ve not yet reviewed it, so we’re not going to try and compare it with the Blackmagic 6K, but Panasonic cameras are typically very well regarded for video. Netflix has approved the S1H for use, for example, an honor it has only bestowed on Blackmagic’s higher-end Ursa series.