pCAM – An Outstanding Use of $29.99 for Videographers & Photographers

by Hugh Brownstone3 Comments

Yes, I’m still an Apple fanboy (fanman?). Among many other things, their iTunes store continues to surprise and delight me with rich app functionality at accessible price points –apps which do what they’re supposed to do, as simply as possible, without the dreaded “functionality bloat.”

So what are we to make of pCAM, at $29.99 a very expensive – by iTunes app standards – photo and video utility?

Buy it. Now.

Let me add: I am in no way affiliated with the developer of pCAM (I don’t even know who he/she/they are other than the name of their company) – and I paid the $29.99 out of my own pocket and use it every time I go on a shoot, still OR video.

Buy it because it will make you a more thoughtful photographer and/or videographer. Buy it because it will help you plan your shoots better. Buy it because it will make you a more informed consumer when you contemplate full frame vs. crop frame sensors.

Buy it because your images will come out better.

Or maybe not, if you’re already that good or have another way of getting there (which is way cool).

What is pCAM?

So what is the darned thing? It’s a fantastic utility for still and moving image makers. I’ll tell you more about it in a moment, but here’s an excerpt from their description on the iTunes store to give you an idea:

• 24 bundled Cinematography and Still Photography apps useful for Photographers, Directors of Photography, Camera Operators, Camera Assistants, VFX Supervisors, Script Supervisors, Gaffers, Grips, Motion Picture Editors, Production Designers, Art Directors, Film and Photography Students.

• Includes: Depth of Field – Hyperfocal – Image Circle – Splits/Aperture Finder – Field of View (Picture Sizes) – Field of View Preview (with images to size shots) – Angle of View – Relative Sizes (compares sensors) – Focal Length (lens) Matching – Triangulate – Exposure – Running Time to Length – Shooting to Screen Time – HMI Flicker-free – Color Correction (choosing color correction filters) – Diopter – Macro – Time Lapse – Underwater Distance – Scene Illumination (beam intensity) – Light Coverage (width/distance) – Mired Shift (with suggested color correction gels) – Light (Eye-light or Catch-light) – Light Effects (Animated light effects; fire, strobe, neon, siren, etc.) – Conversion calculator – Siemens Star (Focus chart) – Insert Slate – Reference (Technical charts, lists and tables: Cine Film stocks, Cine Lens Manufacturers, Miniature Shooting, Safe Panning Speeds, Zone System).

What does this mean in practice?
Once you’ve downloaded the app and open it, you’re presented with a very straightforward set of functions useful for people like us (I also appreciate that I can read it without using my glasses!). Here’s the first of three screens-full of functionality:

pcam image 1

The very first bit of functionality I tried – and the one that I go to every time I shoot – is the first item on the list: Depth of Field.

You may remember an earlier post I wrote about downsizing from the Canon 5D Mk II to the baby Rebel SL1. I made that switch for a number of reasons, but one of the things that comforted me and allowed me to make the mental switch first was the idea that I would NOT be giving up the shallow DOF that so many of us went to DSLRs for in the first place.

How is that possible with a crop sensor camera?

Well, my eyes told me it was possible, and pCAM provided me with the calculations that validated my eyes.

In the screenshot below of the pCAM DOF calculator, I’ve put in the parameters for the Canon 5D Mk III with an 80mm f/1.8 lens at 3’ in 16:9 HD mode.

At that distance, you’ve got a nice Peter Hurley-sized and cropped headshot. How do I know? OK, actually I’ll show you that functionality – Field of View and Preview — first.

pcam image 2

There you go: eyes above centerline, hairline cut off, use of negative space, jaw line exposed (their avatar forgot to lean his forehead forward first).

I really like Hurley’s work.

Now let’s look at pCAM’s DOF screen, and we see the fantastically shallow depth of field is calculated to be just one half of one inch!

pcam image 3

At that range, you won’t make it from tip of the nose (unless it’s very tiny) to the eye without losing sharpness.

Could be great – depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

But what would happen if I used that little SL1 with a 50/1.4 instead (I have and love both – I love the center sharpness of Canon’s 50/1.4 even wide open, as I do the creamy roll off away from center)?

Well, I already happen to know the answer, but what does pCAM have to say when we plug in those numbers (since the 50 is the focal length equivalent on the SL1 of the 80mm on the 5D Mk III)?

Here’s the answer:

pcam image 4

Now the DOF is calculated as seven tenths of one inch. Put differently: less than a ¼” difference in depth of field.

You still won’t make it to the eye.

Of course, this is really not the point of this functionality: it’s making sure that you’ve got the right space, the right lens, etc. before the shoot begins.

That’s the kind of pre-production I like.

Just in case there are some of you who are still looking at that ¼” difference and saying to yourselves “well, Canon’s got the 85/1.2L – and that’s a fantastic lens and it’s 5mm longer with a bigger aperture” – I agree with you. So when you plug in the 85/1.2, well, it does make a difference: DOF drops to three tenths of an inch (see below).

pcam image 5

You won’t make it from the tip of the nose to the back of a nostril. But in either case, is that going to make or break your shot?


Of course, there are other considerations like the quality of the bokeh you seek;low light sensitivity and dynamic range of a camera’s sensor; or sharpness and contrast of the lenses themselves — but these are conversations for another time.

pCAM’s functionality is simply too rich for me to cover in this one piece, but you get the idea: it helps you plan by helping you think – both for shoots and for longer term considerations of gear – at what I consider to be a bargain price.

I think I’m going to plug the Panasonic GH4 into their Focal Length Match tool. Just wondering…

Get pCAM on iTunes.

(cover photo credit: snap from iTunes)

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.

And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
Hugh Brownstone


  1. I have been using pCAM since it first came out for the Palm III. It is one of the most useful apps I own. I am also a camera op for large events and the Field of View is great to figure out the shot you are able to get from any distance.

  2. I’ve been a pCAM user since my Palm Treo 600. It is the best app you can get for cinematography. That said I had to give up on the iPhone about 7 months ago. I jumped ship to Android and sent many emails to ask about an Android version. Until David Eubank realizes there is a big market that he is missing out on, us Android users will just have to use Pocket AC. Pocket AC is nearly identical as pCAM except the GUI isn’t as good. Check it out if you have an Android device.


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