Real World RAW Shooting with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Last week I released my first fully-RAW video project upon the world. A lot of people have asked me what the RAW workflow is like and, in particular, how an all-day shoot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera worked out. 

TL;DR

The end result of a ten hour day was 228GB of RAW footage, three batteries dead, and a ton of scrambling to backup and re-format cards. If I didn't have my shots meticulously planned and my interview questions extremely pointed, that number could've been much higher. I recommend keeping your RAW shots limited to master wides/exteriors and sticking with ProRes for any interview footage. Your SD cards, hard drive, and blood pressure will all thank you. If you absolutely have to shoot RAW, have at least two 64GB cards and plan your day down to the minute.

Project Overview

The majority of the day was spent at different locations shooting interview footage where three to five questions were asked depending on the speaker. On average I recorded about ten to fifteen minutes of footage per speaker with a total of seven speakers.

Golden hour in the morning and the evening were used to record b-roll shots from specific parts of the city I had mapped out. These shots generally were about 5-8 seconds in length with the exception of ones with a long pan or when I knew a title would be inserted over top. Overall, I had a pretty good grasp of how the day would play out.

Actual Shooting

I brought my MacBook Pro along in the early morning while I was getting some master wides and before we dove into interviews I backed up the card to a USB 3 drive, then formatted the card.

Important Note: If you intend to do RAW shooting of any significant length, bring along a computer (preferably one with a built-in SD card slot) and a large external drive as a backup. Since the Pocket Cinema Camera, as of this writing, does not have the ability to format cards or delete clips, you'll find yourself offloading footage more often than seems reasonable.

Bring Lots of Gigabytes

The day of the shoot I had two 32GB Sandisk Extreme Pro cards and if I could do it again, I would have bought two more 64GB cards—which I now own after having shot this project. Though Blackmagic recommends only the 64GB cards as RAW compatible, I didn't experience a single dropped frame with the 32s.

I did, however, experience a cold sweat at the fact that a single 32GB card fills up with just around ten minutes of footage. If a card wasn't in the camera, it was either backing up to the computer or being formatted. It was a constant stream of back and forth, but I did forsee it and planned the shoot around a few key breaks that would allow me to do this dance.

I Feel the Power

In addition to the battery that comes with the camera, I purchased four additional Nikon EN-EL20s. These little guys give you a solid hour of shooting, but luckily most of the interview locations had a place to plug in, so I hooked in to an outlet whenever possible. I only ended up using three batteries over the course of a ten hour day.

If you're going to be capturing footage outside for a period of time, you will definitely need at least three batteries, if not an entirely separate solution. I lost an entire battery on B-roll alone, especially because I did a few handheld shots with lens OIS active.

What's the Damage?

At the end of the day, I had 228GB of RAW footage occupying an otherwise empty 2TB drive. I'm not even sure how much larger that would be if the interview questions weren't incredibly pointed or if I meandered around the city looking for shots as opposed to planning them all out. 64GB cards aren't just a recommendation, they're pretty much a necessity to get anything of substance while shooting RAW; at roughly $2/GB it's not cheap, either.

Do I Recommend It?

For the type of project I was shooting: no I don't recommend shooting the whole thing RAW. Though the interview footage turned out beautifully and I was able to fix one really poor choice of white balance in post, it just makes more sense to save the RAW video for master wides, exteriors, and other short shots that can really stun the viewer and then shoot ProRes for the interview portions.

If anything, this has reinforced my want of a proper, active m4/3 mount Blackmagic Cinema Camera with the larger, faster SSD storage, which at this point is much more cost effective than the Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards.

A lot of people have yelled about how many compromises have to be made when shooting with this camera, but honestly I didn't really notice any of them. Carrying five batteries is a minor inconvenience, but you could make them last all day if you turned your camera off after each shot. Offloading footage onto a MacBook Pro that I would be bringing to the shoot anyway actually saves me some time importing later.

If you plan your shoot well and are properly equipped for the job, shooting with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is actually pretty damn fun.