Anamorphic Cinematography Series
Filmmakers have been shooting with anamorphic lenses on Blackmagic cameras since the original Black Magic Cinema Camera and the Blackmagic Ursa. With their smaller relative sensor sizes, flexible mounting options, and high resolutions, a proper anamorphic kit paired with the Blackmagic line of cameras can produce a whole lot of that elusive cinema quality in talented hands.
But is the camera good enough to compete with the former king of anamorphic shooting, the Panasonic GH5?
Perhaps- but over the years- the gap between Panasonic’s higher end DSLR-bodied offerings and Black Magic’s cinema cameras has gotten closer and closer. And the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6k is one of the best packages for shooting with anamorphic lenses available today. And even better- it’s available now. Considering we waited over a year for our Pocket 4k, this is a welcome achievement.
Blackmagic 6:5 Anamorphic Mode
With the release of the Blackmagic 6K camera comes the same 6:5 anamorphic mode present in previous cameras like the Ursa Mini. Anamorphic lenses were originally used to entice viewers with a wider image while still using Super35 film stock. Super35 was roughly 4:3 in aspect ratio (1.33) and 6:5 (1.2) is even more square.
Generally, shooting square source footage with anamorphic lenses is better, as it gives you more flexibility to choose a more moderate final scope, while still retaining the deep anamorphic character of 2x anamorphic lenses.
Near-simultaneously with the release of the 6K, the 4k has now long-awaited 6:5 anamorphic mode through a firmware update.
The following resolutions are available for the 6K and the 4K for shooting anamorphic, along with their resulting size for editing. For more information on un-squeezing anamorphic footage, see our article here.
The Panasonic GH5 was such a revolutionary camera because of the ability for anamorphic de-squeeze in camera. Previously, this was possible through external HDMI or SDI monitors- though not all monitors had the feature. Previewing a de-squeezed image inside the camera is transformative for the run-and-gun experience, essentially allowing creative filmmakers to achieve the anamorphic look in a backpack form.
Not only does the Black Magic Pocket Cinema camera 6K and 4K have in-camera desqueeze, but it does it automatically upon switching to one of the anamorphic modes, saving you wasted time on menu hunting. On this note, the Blackmagic menu system is lightyears ahead of the convoluted pages and pages of options on the GH5.
While not a feature specific to anamorphic lenses, this is one of the very first cameras under $10k to have strong anamorphic support while also being capable of raw video. Black Magic’s propotary but compatable BRAW is efficient and keeps high-resolution anamorphic video to a manageable compression size for post production and editing. The GH5 can achieve high quality video through massive bitrates, 10 bit video, and color compression curves, but there is something worry-free about shooting video in raw. The Kinefinity had excellent anamorphic support at a higher price point as well.
Shooting anamorphic lenses is not difficult with the right kit, but it does add some complexity to the setup, so being able to not worry about white balance or ISO is a welcome help to shooting with anamorphic lenses.
Generally, smaller sensors are better for anamorphic shooting. Anamorphic lenses double your field of view, so the larger crop factor helps balance out the increased field of view for anamorphic scope. Because of vingetting, a smaller sensor gives you more options for shooting with a number of different prime lenses that you already may have in your collection.
The Super35 sensor size in the Black Magic Camera 6k (the Black Magic Pocket 4k has a m43 2x crop sensor) does, however, gives you the classic Hollywood Super35 anamorphic look. And with the 6:5 anamorphic mode in the Black Magic firmware, this allows you to use 50mm prime lenses (25mm anamorphic) with zero vingetting on our Isco Micro V3 single focus kit. With a small crop, 35mm (17.5mm anamorphic) is even possible.
The GH5 not only has a strong offering for anamorphic shooters, but the IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) is an incredible technology. And for shooting anamorphic, they even included an anamorphic mode so that the stabilization does not skew the anamorphic image.
None of the Black Magic cameras include this feature yet. Of course, good stabilization was a long-time consideration of filmmakers for many years, so this is not necessarily
But the GH5 does make things a lot easier and smaller, and when paired with a Zhiyun crane, can make truly fluid shots, or even previously un-achievable movements. Shooting anamorphic handheld, one handed, biking through city streets, was definitely not a realistic option 10 years ago.
When shooting with anamorphic lenses, the prime lens you choose is a highly important consideration. Old M42 lenses generally pair very well with anamorphic lenses, as their simpler construction, more compact design, and lesser coatings really bring out the anamorphic quality.
The good news is with an EF mount, you are still able to use m42 with an inexpensive screw adapter. And although speedboosters and focal reducers generally do not pair well with anamorphic lenses,
We have purchased 2 Black Magic cameras for commercial work and are impressed with the overall package and presentation. The large screen, while not articulating, is comfortable for anamorphic usage and checking sharpness and alignment. The screen is flat, but not OLED, like the GH5.
The overall package will be larger than a GH5. Anamorphic lenses, when paired with a nice compact prime lens, will be about as large in size as a farily large zoom lens.
Build quality is strong, and while lens support might be recommended, it is not necessary.
Battery life has improved with updated firmwares somewhat, but for any professional work you will need a pile of LP-E6 batteries, a battery grip, or best yet, a 12V cable connected to a D-TAP battery. The batteries will drain fast, and juggling them can be frustrating. Most likely, this is the tradeoff with the larger screen.
Prime lenses are a huge concern when shooting anamorphic. The GH5 and BMPCC 4K, being M43, have more flexibility in either using speedboosters, or more lens mount options. With it’s shorter flange distance, the EF mount on the BMPCC 6K
Overall, we recommend anyone looking to shoot anamorphic strongly consider the Black Magic Pocket Cinema 6K and 4K. The BMPCC is a better option if a larger setup is more acceptable. Without IBIS, you will require a shoulder rig, plus battery grip, or D-TAP battery. A non-articulating monitor might mean that an external monitor is helpful for best view, and if you’re building a D-TAP powered kit, you might as well.
Which anamorphic lens is best for the Black Magic Pocket cinema Camera?
If size is not a consideration, then the pure resolving power of the Schneider XL with V3 optics cannot be best
If you’re looking to discreetly run and gun in the streets of NYC, then perhaps the GH5 remains the better choice.
If you have found this article interesting and are further interested adding anamorphic to your toolbox as a cinematographer, please visit our anamorphic lens store for demos and examples. We have spent several years collecting, modifying, and testing anamorphic lenses to weed through the junk, make needed modifications, and assemble ready-to-shoot packages.
If you are interested in learning more on working with anamorphic lenses and DSLR, please check out our anamorphic tutorial blog for more anamorphic tips and tutorials!