BMPCC4K – Initial Audio

I wasn’t going to post a part five to this series after Part 4, but as I’ve remedied a few issues such as the poor audio levels of the BMPCC4K as well as some tripod woes, I thought I’d do a more in-depth coverage of how I’ve addressed the things. My problem with the audio arose because I use a Rode VideoMicro microphone that requires power to operate and the BMPCC4K doesn’t provide power through the 3.5mm audio input socket which is odd, as even my Olympus E-M1 MkII provides such power (with an option to turn on/off) and the VideoMicro works very well. The other issue is low audio levels when a microphone is plugged into the camera, so a powered microphone wouldn’t fix that problem. The second issue was my fluid head, which was beginning to show signs of fatigue and imminent failure.

Rode VideoMicro Microphone - (source: Rode)

Rode VideoMicro Microphone – (source: Rode)

As I noted in Part 4, I started to look for ways to power the VideoMicro, and especially to boost the audio levels of the BMPCC4K. This proved to be somewhat more difficult than I anticipated, as initially I couldn’t find anything that fit the requirements that I was after. Firstly, the power source for the VideoMicro needed to be compact, as the LS-14 already provided a solution, but in a larger device than I desired. Secondly, I wanted something that allowed me to boost the signal going into the camera so that it improved on the low audio level of the BMPCC4K and the LS-14 didn’t provide that boost. As an aside, I have no idea why the audio levels are so low when using a microphone with the BMPCC4K, as it just doesn’t seem right for a cine camera. I’m not the only one annoyed with this, as people using the mini-XLR port for microphone input are voicing similar concerns. So it’s not just the lack of a powered microphone that’s causing the low audio levels.

Rode Stereo VideoMic X - (source: Rode)

Rode Stereo VideoMic X – (source: Rode)

So what was initially looking like becoming a fruitless exercise, I finally started to get some positive results. I decided to first start looking for an audio booster, given that the LS-14 provided microphone power and, as I detailed in Part 4, I stumbled onto portable audio amplifiers intended for the likes of portable music players, computers and mobile phones. These devices are intended to be used with headphones, to boost what is often a very low-level signal delivered by such devices. But I thought that if these amplifiers could boost the signal for headphones, why couldn’t they also boost the signal for the camera? So taking a punt, I ordered one and it does indeed boost the signal level improving the audio levels significantly. There are many other similar devices that do much the same thing, including ones that act as a DAC as well. But if considering one, make sure that it has a 3.5mm input and output as many don’t, relying on a USB input. I just wish there were similar devices that didn’t have a battery and required just a power input, thus making them much smaller.

Cayin C5 Portable Headphone Amplifier - (source: Selby Acoustics)

Cayin C5 Portable Headphone Amplifier – (source: Selby Acoustics)

But I still had the issue of providing power to the VideoMicro. Again, it was a long search and when I thought I found exactly what I was after, I discovered that it was no longer available. There were plenty of devices that supposedly did the trick, but all of them came with a very long cable, which was something that I wanted to avoid. Cable management is bad enough as it is, so I didn’t need another device with a 1m+ cable to locate on my rig. I then came across the Audio Technica AT9903 lapel microphone, which also has a power module that is a separate item as part of the kit. The short cable and size was exactly what I needed and it appeared to be the best option, by far, that I’d come across anywhere. While the documentation says that it has a stereo input and output, the output is mono, but that’s not an issue, as the VideoMicro is mono anyway. And at the moment I haven’t had a need for stereo recording, but I always have the LS-14 if that becomes a need.

Audio Technica AT9903 Mono mini electret condenser lapel microphone (source: Audio Technica)

Audio Technica AT9903 Mono mini electret condenser lapel microphone (source: Audio Technica)

The AT9903 arrived sooner than I expected and allowed me to test it out before venturing on our pre-Christmas camping trip. Sadly, the power module of the AT9903 didn’t work. I tested it out in numerous ways directly into the BMPCC4K, through the Cayin C5, as well with other cameras and the results were the same. I also tested it out with the supplied Lav mic and the results were no different. I also checked the battery and that wasn’t the issue, so all that I could surmise was that I’d received a faulty power module. On the other hand, the power module may not have been able to do what the Audio Technica site alluded, so I went back to the supplier to voice my concerns and they suggested to return the device. Now I was back to a frustrating square one with this issue. It was even more frustrating when I discovered that Rode provided an adapter that appeared to do just what I wanted, but it wasn’t designed for this camera, as it used a full sized XLR plug. Adapters might be available, but they would just make things awkward at best.

Rode VXLR+ 3.5mm female TRS socket to male XLR adaptor - (source: Rode)

Rode VXLR+ 3.5mm female TRS socket to male XLR adaptor – (source: Rode)

I then came across another similar device, the Aputure A.lav, which had a power adapter for the microphone that required power to operate. After watching several videos, it appeared that this power adapter might be what I was looking for and hopefully would be a match for the Rode VideoMicro. There was no telling whether the Rode microphone would be compatible with the power module, but I was keeping my fingers crossed as there appeared to be nothing else about that matched what I was after. Unfortunately as it’s the Christmas holiday season, ordering this unit at this time of year meant that it didn’t arrive in time for this post, so I’ll just have to make an update when it does arrive. I really do hope that it’s the answer, as it would make life so much easier. But anyway, with the existing components I now have the ability to use the VideoMicro, though I’m unfortunately still stuck with using the LS-14 on my rig. As I said in Part 4, the main reason why I wanted to do away with the LS-14 is the interminable delay when powering it up for use and if I left the batteries in, they’d be depleted in a few days.

Aputure A.lav - (source: Aputure)

Aputure A.lav – (source: Aputure)

I also had to revise my tripod setup as the E-Image GH03 fluid head was starting to show the stress of having to hold a 7kg camera rig, given that it was only designed for a max load of 4kg. I noticed that the section where the pan head meets the bottom of the fluid head had started to wobble noticeably and that was a clear indication that it was headed for failure if I kept using it. The last thing I wanted was for the head to separate while carrying the rig and tripod over my shoulder. So I went in search of a new fluid head and would have bought an E-Image GH06, but these aren’t available in Australia as a head only (I had no reason to get rid of a perfectly good tripod), so I ended up getting a Benro S8 fluid head (rated at 7kg). I also found a second-hand, but brand, new Manfrotto 438 Levelling Base to replace the lower capacity one that I had. The tripod is now a lot larger and heavier (5+kg), but far better suited to the load that it has to carry.

Benro S8 Fluid Head and Manfrotto 438 Levelling Base

Benro S8 Fluid Head and Manfrotto 438 Levelling Base

The Benro fluid head and Manfrotto levelling base have pretty much transformed the tripod, in a good way, as the camera rig is so much more stable and smoother to use. The adjustable tension feature on the panning base is night and day compared to that of the old fluid head and had I known this from the outset, I would have bought this sort of setup from the get go. You can see in some of my videos how the panning isn’t smooth and this is due to the GH03 having a rather poor panning mechanism. So even if your rig weighs a few kilogram, a fluid head like this is well worth getting over a smaller one. Anyway, these are the major updates and I’ll try and put together a video to better illustrate some of the features and benefits of what I’ve done with my rig and tripod, plus a few other things if the mailman delivers. Now up to Part 6.

With 2019 just around the corner, I hope everyone has a safe and great New Year.