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BMPCC: Pocket cam? GH3? GH4? [Updated]

May 3, 2013

bmpcc back-front

Note: As you’ve probably heard, the  GH4 “4K” camera has been announced. It looks to be an improvement on previous GH cameras in every way. I’ll eventually replace my GH3 with a GH4, perhaps in late 2014 or early 2015 when Panasonic inevitably lowers the GH4 price just before or after the holidays. Also, NAB 2014 may bring some surprises, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, I’m really enjoying my BMPC-4K!

UPDATE 8/15/13: BMD’s Kristian Lam posted on the company forum that the BMPCC currently only supports MFT lens image stabilization on MFT lenses which have a physical IS on/off switch. If a MFT lens has IS but does not have a physical IS on/off switch, when mounted on the BMPCC the lens IS will not operate.

UPDATE 9/5/13: BMD’s Kristian Lam posted on the company forum that users can send their BMPCC pocket cams to BMD for free warranty service to fix the “blooming” sensor issue that affect some cameras. Also known as the “white orb” issue (specular highlights can appear as hard-edged white discs).

UPDATE 9/13/13: BMD has posted camera firmware update version 1.4.2 on their support pages. Firmware 1.4.2 fixes the “black sun” issue on BMPCC pocket cams (but not on the BMCC-EF or BMCC-MFT cameras). In some footage extremely bright objects (such as the sun or a very bright light) would be recorded with black pixels inside the bright object’s white shape. The firmware fix enables the bright objects to be recoded as solid white.

What I think about the BMPCC pocket cam, and some alternatives:

If I was only considering owning one video camera, and if I’d primarily use fully-manual native Micro Four Thirds or S16 film camera lenses, and if I didn’t have the budget for a much more expensive camera such as the recently-announced $3,995 Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, then I’d definitely consider getting the recently-announced $995 Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for myself. There’s a lot to like about the BMPCC (see below)!

However, for me, the $1,295 Panasonic GH3 seems like it might be a better fit as a 2nd/spare/”B” 1080p video camera to use with the BMPC-4K I have on pre-order and other cameras I frequently use, such as the Sony FS100.

Not because the BMPCC pocket cam won’t be a beautiful thing — it probably will be when it ships “July 2013” — but mostly because my “electronic” Micro Four Thirds lenses (and old fully-manual Nikkor F 135-format lenses) I already use with my old GH2 are a better match for the wider field of view of the true MFT-size sensor in the GH3 vs. the BMPCC’s much smaller S16-size sensor (see ProLost’s sensor size diagram and Abel’s FOV Comparator).


Other reasons why the GH3 makes more sense for me as a 2nd/spare/”B” camera than the BMPCC pocket camera:

  • The GH3 features 1080p at up to 60 fps, which I’d use for slow motion in a 24p or 30p editing timeline. The BMPCC’s maximum frame rate is 30p.
  • The GH3 does in-camera lens distortion correction, which the BMPCC reportedly does not. As a result, Panasonic Lumix-brand lenses will have less barrel distortion and less chromatic aberrations on the GH3.
  • The GH3 has a full implementation of an active (electronic) Micro Four Thirds lens mount, so it can be used with an extremely large variety of lenses, manual & digital/electronic, new and old. The GH3’s active MFT lens mount supports MFT lens image stabilization (and MFT lens IS “modes”), auto-exposure and auto-focus with lenses that have these features. Most of the time I don’t use auto-exposure, auto-focus, or lens IS when shooting video, but there are times when these features are very useful.
  • The GH3 has a built-in electronic viewfinder and an articulating LCD. The BMPCC only has a fixed LCD. EVFs are worth their weight in gold, especially when shooting in bright sunshine. And a swivel-LCD is extremely useful & convenient for high and low angle shots.
  • GH3 1080p footage looks really quite good. Perhaps in some ways not as good as BMPCC 1080p footage (see below), and definitely not as good as footage from some more-expensive video cameras such as the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K, but GH3 video & audio has proven itself to be quite good enough for personal and certain professional video use. Because the BMPCC’s sensor is 1080p — a fraction of the res of the GH3’s sensor — GH3 video may be somewhat sharper-looking than BMPCC footage. However, resolution isn’t everything. Color accuracy, noise, and digital artifacts are also very important. We need to see more sample footage from the BMPCC (and here) to know for sure how these two cameras compare. To see hundreds of samples of GH3 footage, do a search on
  • The GH3 is also a very good digital stills camera (imagine that!), and its weather-sealed body is a good feature for the rainy climate where I live.

Of course, the BMPCC pocket camera has some tremendously important features, too, such as:

  • The BMPCC has an active (electronic) Micro Four Thirds lens mount, so it can use most of the same lenses as a GH3, although the BMPCC’s S16-size FOV is quite a bit narrower. The BMPCC’s active MFT lens mount supports MFT lens auto-focus, but currently only supports MFT lens image stabilization if the lens has a physical IS on/off switch, and the BMPCC currently does not support lens IS “modes”.
  • The BMPCC will have noticeably better dynamic range (13-stops!) compared to the GH3, which probably has about 50%-75% as much DR.
  • The BMPCC’s 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes HQ and 12-bit lossless compressed 12-bit RAW CinemaDNG recording codecs make possible super-clean and super-flexible video. The GH3 AVCHD codec is only 8-bit 4:2:0 and is recorded at a fraction of the data rates of the BMPCC’s codecs. There’s info about sample BMPCC footage here and here. UPDATE: Frank Glencairn has posted a very nice-looking short film, TheOne, shot using a BMPCC pocket cam. Read his blog post about shooting the film.
  • Because of the codecs it uses, BMPCC colors will be more accurate, and BMPCC video will have fewer artifacts such as macro-blocking and gradient-banding. BMPCC footage will also be easier to cleanly color-correct and chromakey in post.

Note: The BMPCC’s high-quality codecs will require using relatively fast, expensive, large-capacity SD cards, whereas the GH3’s less-capable codecs work fine using slower, lower-capacity, less-expensive SD cards. There’s no free lunch.

Both the GH3 and BMPCC feature headphone jacks, inputs for external microphones and external power, and “clean” HDMI live video outputs for monitoring or external recording. It’s likely the BMPCC’s HDMI live output will be 10-bit 4:2:2 (vs. the GH3’s 8-bit 4:2:? HDMI live output), but the BMPCC isn’t shipping yet, so we don’t know how the HDMI video quality actually compares. Both cameras can use removable, rechargeable, non-proprietary batteries. The GH3 features on-screen audio VU level meters during recording; it’s unknown if the BMPCC will include VU meters, but current BMD camera firmware unfortunately does not!

I hope to use a GH3 as a 2nd/spare or “B” camera for use with the new Blackmagic Production Camera 4K (which I have on pre-order), mostly because of the GH3’s slo-mo capability and inherent higher resolution (compared to the BMPCC pocket). Shot carefully, GH3 1080p footage will probably intercut just fine with BMPC-4K (or other camera) footage in a 1080p or lower resolution edit.

As always, there isn’t 1 perfect camera that’s ideal for every production, shooting style, budget, or schedule.


UPDATE 9/15/13:

I ordered a Panasonic GH3 today. Paid $997 USD for it. I should receive it in a few days.

UPDATE 12/20/13:

I recently used my GH3 to shoot a series of basic “talking head” style interviews against a black background. Here’s a description of how I lit it.

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

For my words only: ©2013 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved.

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