In Part 1 I discussed the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (BMPCC 4K) and lenses that I intended to use with the camera and in this part I’ll cover some of the accessories that I’ve cobbled together to enhance the usability of the BMPCC 4K. I’ve spoken previously in Part 7 and Part 8 about some of the accessories that I’ve gathered to allow different techniques, but in this part I’ll talk about smaller accessories that complement the camera and indeed are essential to get the best out of the camera. I’m not in a position to buy top shelf accessories, so I’m always looking out for a good balance between price and performance, so I do a lot of research before I decide to buy anything. I also keep an eye out for specials, such as eBay has on a regular basis, to get the best deals possible. Now while many photographers have a number of accessories that can be adapted to video, especially tripods and/or monopods, there are a number of items that are not necessary or as necessary for photography, but are essential for video. As I progressed in my ‘Making Movies’ journey, I kept coming across the need for another accessory and then another one after that.
I knew from the outset that even my 256 GB SD card wasn’t going to be enough unless I just wanted to record the most basic 4K video, which was something that I didn’t want to do as I really wanted to explore proper grading and getting the maximum out of the camera. Some early releases of video and what you could get by using the more data intensive formats such as ProRes, CinemaDNG Raw and now Blackmagic RAW, made me realise that the SD card wasn’t going to cut it and I needed more than 256GB. There was no way that I was going to buy CFast cards, where a 256GB card could cost upwards of $800 and allowed you to record maybe half an hour of high quality video. Thankfully Blackmagic had designed the camera so that it could record directly onto SSD drives connected via the USB-C port, which meant I could get a Samsung T5 1TB SSD for less than half the price of a 256GB CFast card and still record the highest formats. The T5 isn’t the only portable, high-capacity, USB-C SSD available, but it was certainly fairly well regarded and well priced (especially with that eBay discount once again). And when I tested it using the AJA Video System Test, the T5 came up pretty much as advertised.
While the SSD can be connected to the camera, the issue was how to mount the SSD when in use. A bit of searching on YouTube etc revealed numerous ways in which some have achieved results for other cameras, but I have to admit that many were pretty clunky options. Then there were the 3D printed versions that anyone could make (not), so I kept up the search and came across an option that was both inexpensive, light and very durable. As it turns out, looking for phone holders was the way to go and I found one made from alloy that was designed for motorcycle/bicycle handles, was light and provided a very reliable mount for the SSD. It had just the right proportions and design so that cabling wasn’t an issue and it was easy to modify to fit a hot shoe. Again, Smallrig came to the rescue with the necessary bits and pieces to allow me to adapt the holder to suit a camera mount or cold shoe and all at a very reasonable price. Just compare this to what’s on offer here and check out the price at the bottom of the page, AU$21 (including the Smallrig foot) vs AU$130.
Now one thing that I learned from watching many videos was that when using a video camera, you set the frame rate and then the shutter speed (or shutter angle) to roughly 2x the frame rate. That is, if you’re shooting at 25 fps, then you set the shutter speed to 1/50 sec. To maintain a consistent exposure, you vary the ISO, the iris (aperture) or add neutral density (ND) filters. ND filters allow you to maintain a constant aperture ie wide open for shallower depth of field and is usually the preferred method in bright daylight. Many videographers use single filters of differing density that are placed in front of the lens in a special holder as the need arises and is often the only way you can do it with large cinema lenses. However, with DSLR lenses you have that option as well as screw-in filters and variable ND filters. Variable ND filters are basically two polarising filters on top of each other and when turned, darken to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. However, variable ND filters have traditionally not been of great quality, cause vignetting and other effects and, more importantly, often causing colour casts that can wreck an image. That has changed significantly and there are now a number of variable ND filters available that produce extremely good results. So after reading this story, I decided to get a NiSi variable ND filter which, once again, was available with an eBay discount. It’s too early to say how well it will work in all conditions, but early tests show that it should be OK.
But there is one aspect of this variable ND filter that I wasn’t aware of until I received it. The inner filter thread is 77mm, but the outer filter thread is 82mm and the housing itself is just under 90mm in diameter. This is probably good when it comes to wide angle lenses, as it can alleviate vignetting, but I couldn’t screw the filter onto the lens first and then attach the filter like with normal filters, as the lens hood wouldn’t go over the filter. So I had to attach the hood first and then fumble with the filter to screw it in and get my fingers in the hood to turn the ND filter (the lever had to be removed). So my option was to get a matte box, but I couldn’t find a lightweight matte box that attached directly to the lens (other than one very expensive unit). So I had to do with what I had and added an 82-86mm filter ring on top with some rubber around the outer ring to aid in rotating the filter. Not a great option, but it worked until I could find a better solution.
So that’s the very basics needed to get the most out of the BMPCC 4K, but things haven’t ended there and in Part 3 I’ll talk about further things that I’ve added to my kit to make things more comprehensive and functional. So far these accessories have mainly been for gimbal use and now I had to consider things such as focusing aids, field monitors, audio gear, microphones, all day power etc, stuff that would be difficult to apply to a gimbal. I’m most certainly not going to exclusively use the BMPCC 4K on a gimbal and what suits a gimbal won’t suit a tripod or monopod, so other things were necessary and that started a whole new adventure.
And maybe next week I might be able to say ‘Hey! Look at my new BMPCC4K’. Or maybe not. But what’s annoying is that I’ve now watched a couple of reviews of the camera by some who have received theirs and they are complaining abut the most petty things, as well as issues that are quite ridiculous. It’s as if some have bought the camera without reading the specifications. What I don’t understand is that so many are comparing the BMPCC4K to the likes of the Panasonic and Sony mirrorless cameras. They complain about lack of EVF, lack of a flip out screen, lack of sensor stabilisation, poor battery life, it’s too big, it doesn’t feel like a $3000 camera and so on, but then they can’t find anything to complain about the image quality. Having been an Olympus E-M1 owner for many years, I took all of those things into account before ordering the BMPCC4K and was happy to do so without complaint.