The new 4K BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera, out in September 2018, looks really useful for creative filmmakers who want high quality images at an affordable price. At $1295 (around £1200) it’s around half the price of the Panasonic GH5S, its only direct competitor.
It can record 4K at up to 60fps in high-quality RAW and ProRes video formats. (These formats capture more information than consumer video formats so they’re easier to correct and ‘grade’.) It uses the same MFT sensor and lens mount as Panasonic and Olympus. The new camera should be better in low light than the older Cinema Cameras, with a maximum ISO of 25600 and a Dual ISO option. Dynamic range is a claimed 13 stops.
You can use SD, UHS II and CFast 2.0 cards. Usefully (as 4K RAW files are huge) you can also output direct to an external USB-C SSD drive.There’s a mini-XLR input for pro microphones, a full sized HDMI output, and a big fixed 5 inch touchscreen. You can power it from standard Canon LP-E6 format batteries, portable battery packs or a mains adapter. It doesn’t have in-body image stabilisation.
The camera also comes bundled with the Studio version of BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve editing and colour correction software, which normally retails at $300/£229.
Both cameras can shoot dual native ISO for better low light performance, though the GH5s has a higher maximum iso (51200 rather than 25600). But the relatively small MFT sensor means neither camera will be great in low light compared to APS-C, Super 35 or ‘full frame’ cameras.
The BlackMagic has more connectivity, a bigger screen, and is much more affordable than the Panasonic. The mini-XLR input is useful: you need a $400/£300 audio module to connect pro mics to the Panasonic.
The Panasonic has a swivelling 3.2 inch screen and an eye-level electronic viewfinder, while the BlackMagic’s larger 5 inch screen is fixed.
If it lives up to expectations, the 4K Pocket looks to be great value for filmmakers looking for very high image quality in controlled conditions. But I think the Panasonic will be more usable and durable in the field.
Check price/pre-order BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K Adorama (USA)
+ The Steadicam Volt is faster and more responsive than electronic stabilisers
+ It uses affordable, easily available batteries
– It’s slow to set up and takes time to learn – It can’t do vertical video or object tracking, and there’s no tripod socket
The Steadicam Volt is a unique stabiliser which combines physical and electronic stabilisation. It works with smartphones and action cameras.
It’s based on the same principle as the original Steadicam, which revolutionised filmmaking in the 1970s. So it uses a counterweight to balance the camera, and a physical gimbal to allow free movement. This allows for very fluid motion, but it requires more skill than all-electronic devices.
Traditional Steadicams are big and heavy. The Volt is relatively small and light, but it’s kept steady by a built-in motorised gyroscope. This provides ‘simulated inertia’, a trademarked feature that makes the device feel more stable without adding weight.
It takes some time to set up the Volt, though you’ll get faster with practice.
You start by folding out the balance arm, releasing the handle, and clipping a wire brace in place. Then you fold out the phone clamp and insert your device.
Now you have to adjust the balance for your specific phone or action camera (the package includes a GoPro mount). There are four steps, though you shouldn’t need to repeat the first three unless you add accessories to your device.
First you add magnetic weights to the counterbalance at the bottom of the gimbal arm to get the approximate balance. Next you use a dial to fine-tune the balance, then adjust ‘pitch’ by moving the phone forwards or backwards on its platform. Finally you need to move the phone sideways in the rubber clamp until it’s level.
Once you’ve done this the Volt will stay level, but the balance feels very delicate. But as soon as you turn it on, ‘simulated inertia’ kicks in and it immediately feels much steadier and more stable.
You can now start to ‘fly’ the device. Simple moves can be done single-handed, but using both hands gives you more control. A hand on the handle supports the device; the finger and thumb of the other hand steady it and and control pan and tilt.
It has two modes. Sport mode, for beginners, is easier to use. Movie mode allows for more subtle movements and control. You can also use the Volt upside down for low level shots.
Using the Volt
If you’re not used to manual stabilisers, it’ll take some time to get the best out of the Volt. It’s more ‘organic’ than all-electronic stabilisers, so you’ll need a light touch to get really smooth movements. If you’re heavy-handed, you’ll be working against the motor and transmitting your body movements to the device.
The Volt works best with in-camera stabilisation turned off. Apple’s Camera app doesn’t allow this, so you’ll need an app that does: either Filmic Pro, or Tiffen’s own free ImageMaker. ImageMaker is very good for a free app, with the option of manual exposure and focus, and future updates will integrate with the Volt’s stabilisation. But whichever app you use, you’ll have to use the on-screen record button for filming as there are no controls on the handle.
The Volt really comes into its own with fast-moving shots: you can quickly pan across a scene to follow action, where an electronic stabiliser would lag. But it’s not as good at static shots. My Osmo Mobile makes a pretty good tripod substitute, but I couldn’t get as steady with the Volt.
The Volt also lacks a tripod socket, so you can’t put it down while you’re shooting or mount it on a boom pole.
One advantage is that unlike most motorised stabilisers, it doesn’t block the ports on the base/right of the phone. So you can connect external power packs or Lightning microphones.
It uses interchangeable, affordable (non-proprietary) lithium ion batteries with a claimed 8 hour life.
This side-by-side video compares the Volt (bottom) with the DJI Osmo Mobile (top). Both videos were shot using Filmic Pro with stabilisation turned off. The Volt was in the beginners’ Sport mode. I also did a trial in Movie mode, which was worse.
As you can see, the Osmo footage looks more stable, both in the moving and static shots. The Volt footage might get better with practice, but if you want instant results the DJI will suit you better.
Where the Volt does have the edge is in fast-moving situations. You can pan to precisely match movement, while an electronic stabiliser will lag.
Should you buy the Volt?
The Volt could be useful if you need its responsiveness, and you’re willing to take time to learn it properly. But if you want easy setup and instant results, I’d get an all-electronic stabiliser instead. That’ll also give you features that the Volt lacks, such as object tracking, a tripod socket, and the option of vertical video.
What about value? The Volt’s early Kickstarter pricing looked good compared with competitors like the original Osmo Mobile. But since then, more affordable competitors like the Osmo Mobile 2 and Zhiyun Smooth-Q make it look overpriced.
However, if you’re in the US, some online retailers are currently selling the Volt for around $80. That makes it a much better deal.
Panasonic’s new GH5s is an update to their flagship GH5, specifically aimed at professional video shooters. It adds more video options to the GH5’s already impressive specs, with improved low light performance. It’s the best mirrorless camera you can buy for filmmaking, unless you need to shoot in extreme low light.
Panasonic have designed the GH5s around a new sensor. The 10.2 MP sensor has around half as many effective pixels as the GH5. This makes a lot of sense for video shooters, particularly with small MFT sensors: as each pixel is bigger, it can capture more light.
This sensor is multi-aspect. Other cameras have a ‘native’ aspect ratio which they crop for different frame shapes: the GH5s has a bigger sensor which can accommodate different frame shapes without cropping. Apart from maximising image quality and low-light performance, this means you get the full benefit of wide angle lenses whichever aspect ratio you’re using.
It’s also dual-gain. You can switch between two different modes depending on how much light you have. Normal mode is based on getting the best dynamic range (the amount of contrast the camera can handle); in low-light mode the priority changes to reducing image noise.
The new sensor lacks the GH5’s impressive in-body image stabilisation. That’s because most pro users will mount the camera on a tripod, cranes or stabilisers, and in-body stabilisation makes the original GH5 prone to jitters when used in situations with a lot of vibration.
Other new pro features include timecode in and out, and the ability to shoot full ‘digital cinema’ 4K in slow motion and at PAL and NTSC television frame rates. It also includes V-log. This option – a paid add-on for the GH5 – makes contrasty scenes easier to film and to correct at the editing stage. It can also shoot HD video at up to 240fps. Autofocus is improved over the GH5.
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