Review: pCam Pro for iOS

Shooters face a bewildering number of choices when it comes to gear. Some of us might prefer a Sony to an Arri or a Panasonic to a Canon, or vice versa. We can argue ad infinitum about which lens offers superior bokeh, or a smoother, blacker, more artsy barrel coating for improved MTF. But there is one thing, one modest inexpensive app for your iPhone or iPad, that is incontrovertible.

Whether on a set in a far-off place or checking out gear at a local rental house, pCam Pro is indispensable for shooters of every stripe. That is because we DPs and videographers have an ongoing need to figure things out, whether it’s a time-lapse frame rate, determining depth of field and hyperlocal distances, or the lens focal length equivalents for different camera formats. In virtually every case where such determinations are required, pCam Pro is the most practical and convenient go-to resource available. For a ridiculously small investment ($29.95), it answers the questions that must be answered every day to support our camera and lighting craft, like verifying a properly illuminated chroma key, or choosing the appropriate camera speed to avoid flicker in HMI (or other discharge lighting) conditions.

Graphic: pCam's 24 functions

In many ways, pCam Pro is a film school in itself, offering 24 core functions that calculate and compare focal length, field of view, depth of field, hyperfocal distance, and more for virtually every camera spec, imager size, and format. The updated pCam Pro 2.0 adds support for automatic updating for new cameras, real-time dynamic calculations, diagonal focal length matching, and a boatload of other things.

The original pCam app, introduced in 2009, was certainly versatile. A labor of love from assistant cameraman David Eubank, pCam began life as an obscure Palm Pilot app in 1998. A decade later, the classic pCam app emerged, built on Apple’s iOS 2.0. Since then, with the advent of server-based databases, dynamic calculations, and the umpteen built-in math routines necessary to support 10 different screen sizes, the old pCam app could no longer keep pace.

Screenshot: Time-lapse calculator

pCam Pro offers a simple, easy-to-understand interface with superior graphics. If you need to communicate effectively to others, or need to calculate, say, the duration and screen time of a time-lapse sequence, pCam Pro is the tool of choice. Use it, and use it often, to educate yourself and those around you.

In January, after more than two years in development, Eubank introduced the all-new pCam Pro. Built from the ground up on the robust iOS 12 platform, the updated pCam contains a slew of new features. In addition to the classic functions like shutter/frame rate and filter exposure compensation, the latest iteration features automatic updates to accommodate new camera formats, blue- and green-screen color-adjustable VFX markers, diagonal focal-length matching, black and white insert slates, four Siemens test charts for setting back focus, and a boatload of other things.

In my own corporate and documentary work, I use pCam Pro to match the panoply of camera formats and lens focal lengths commonly found on jobs today — such as, in my case, when utilizing a Panasonic EVA1 and GH5 and a Canon 5D Mk IV DSLR in the same setup. Employing such a range of cameras and formats presents a challenge if we must also match field of view and lens focal length. pCam Pro accommodates every camera and screen size in existence — even custom ones, with a preview image to verify the calculation and the desired look.

The compelling graphics offer another not-so-obvious advantage. pCam Pro’s calculations are elegantly displayed, and that’s cool. But there is something else. Many times, DPs, videographers, and lighting designers are required to communicate their technical requirements to others, and in many cases words alone can only go far. Suspicious producers who question everything we say are much more likely to accept as credible a compelling graphic or screenshot from pCam Pro.

pCam screenshots

From left: 1) Field of View with Preview matches shots based on distance and focal length. Eight preview illustrations are included with the app, along with the most useful safe-area masks: 90%, 92%, and 95%. The portrait-mode option is thoughtful, given many iPhone shooters’ naturally vertical orientation. 2) Depth of Field calculates near, far, total, and hyperfocal distances for virtually any format camera format known, or yet to be known, by man. The updated pCam version also features automatic server updates to accommodate new cameras, and the ability to make incremental changes to focal length and focal distance. 3) It is increasingly common these days on jobs to utilize cameras with different formats and frame sizes. Focal Length Match provides the lens-matching information, taking into consideration the various vertical, horizontal, and diagonal dimensions. FLM is also useful for DPs and cinematographers following a techie scout, as the equivalent focal length cine lens may be determined based on a still photo camera-lens combination.

As a curmudgeon and skinflint (I never offer to pay for gas on my trips to Family Dollar with my one friend) it isn’t often that I can recommend a tool so unequivocally. Whether you’re a student or teacher, whether you work in a rental house or are a seasoned ASC cinematographer, pCam Pro is as essential to our professional lives as mother’s milk is to a newborn.

So yes, I never leave home without my iPhone and my pCam Pro app. Now, if I only can remember to charge the phone and get someone else to pay my utility bill ….

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