Following on from Part 2, which focused more on accessories for gimbal use, I want to turn to another accessory or system tool. Now I believe that there are three main support systems for video cameras, a tripod/monopod, a gimbal (whether motorise or static) and a camera rig. All three serve a purpose that is often unique and one support system can’t be replicated, or not as well, by the other two. So I realised that I needed a camera rig to make the BMPCC 4K fully functional and useful when not using a gimbal or tripod/monopod and, while the gimbal is a great tool, it’s not a panacea or even desirable for every situation. To be quite honest, I didn’t want every scene to start reflecting the fact that I was using a gimbal. It’s like that old adage, ‘When all that you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail’. That’s the fear that I had that if I just tried to do all, or most, of my ‘movie making’ using a gimbal, I’d lose perspective on other techniques that are just as pertinent and equally important.
A tripod (especially) or monopod is what you choose when using a long focal length lens where you want absolute stability. You would also use a tripod when you’re in a situation where you’ll be located in one place for some time and hand holding or shoulder mounting is going to tire you out very quickly or it might simply not suit the filming style. A gimbal is at its best when you’re moving about and following a subject that may also be moving about. A gimbal is also useful when you’re wanting to change perspective from low to high outlooks, especially when you attach a gimbal to a boom such as a monopod. At the other end, a camera rig provides an option that’s somewhat between a tripod and gimbal; it allows you to move about a location for different perspectives, but not really follow a subject that’s moving about. A camera rig also allows you to attach far more accessories, larger and heavier lenses and operate for much longer (with battery packs) than you can reasonably do with a gimbal.
Many of these situations are mentioned in YouTube videos that I watched, but it wasn’t until I started to take video in a serious way that it became evident as to how important even some of the small things were for video production. So I was almost daily on YouTube looking at videos on techniques and systems, then for reviews on accessories and subsequently eBay looking for the best deals. I’ve covered some of these things in my earlier stories, but it wasn’t until I stated thinking about the BMPCC 4K that I had on pre-order did I really begin to consider what I needed to make it the most functional and versatile as possible. I started to think first off about the traditional camera tools, tripods and monopods and how they would fit in with my movie making. My old tripod was fairly well kitted out for video, with the addition of the fluid head and levelling base, though it was probably at its maximum weight limit.
The more I thought about things, the more I knew that I couldn’t avoid a camera rig, so I started on another quest to find out what would be the best and especially economical choice. There are any number of camera rigs available as complete units, but most users will build theirs up from components to suit need and price, and that’s what I did (something that was quite enjoyable from a DIY perspective). So I ended up getting components from various different manufacturers, SmallRig, Camvate and Fotga as eBay bargains arose. All of these manufacturers make what I consider quality gear and costs way less than the well know ‘professional’ brands. To be honest, I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the prices some manufacturers demand, and while I appreciate that quality costs, does it really need to cost so much and is the quality that much better? For example, you could pay well over $4000 for a matte box versus $120 (less with eBay discount), or $800 or more for a follow focus control versus $220 (less with eBay discount). So, after much bargain hunting and bargaining, I assembled what I thought was a pretty good camera rig.
The next thing that I began thinking about was a field monitor. I knew from using the E-M1 MkII that using an EVF that was part of the camera was pointless (the typical EVF found on DSLR style cameras) and the LCD screen was often difficult to view if the camera was attached to the gimbal, or even when there was strong sunlight affecting the screen. I realised that a field monitor was going to be a very handy, if not essential, addition to the kit. So once again I started researching every possibly review on YouTube etc to see what users recommended. Clearly, highly regarded field monitors from Blackmagic, Atomos (another Australian company), SmallHD and similar were completely out of the question given their prices, so I sought out reviews on the cheaper brands. One brand that kept getting very good reviews was the Feelworld F570 monitor, and this review pretty much sealed my choice (BTW, it’s a Chinese company and the hood works perfectly). So when I discovered one on eBay and a discount available once again, I didn’t hesitate. And I haven’t been disappointed, this is a great monitor that works not only with the BMPCC 4K, but my E-M1, TG-5, PC and tablet. Also, I had a full set of batteries to suit courtesy of my LED light panels.
As an addition, all reviewers of the Feelworld F570 field monitor have made comment about the fact that when a battery was inserted, a red power light stayed on constantly and couldn’t be turned off. All mentioned that it probably didn’t draw much power and left it at that. I decided to test it out and inserted a fully charged battery, checked the monitor that it registered 100%, and then left it for a week. After that I took a fully charged battery and repeated the test with the monitor connected to a PC as a second monitor to see how long the battery would last while powered on full time. The results of the first and second tests are:
First test on standby
After 12 hours- 80% (even with a full charge it drops to 80% almost immediately)
After 6 days – 80%
After 6.5 days – 60%
After 7 days – 20%
Second test connected to PC
30 min and red warning started showing. So if you plan to do long sessions with this monitor, have plenty of batteries with you or an external battery pack.
The final thing that I decided to buy was a V-lock battery assembly. I was well aware that the BMPCC4K standard batteries lasted around around 45-60min of use and, for most of my work, three Canon batteries would not have been enough for even modest use. Again, after some searching, I decided on a Rolux brand again from good old eBay. This 120Wh unit along with the three Canon batteries should easily get me through a full day and when in the bush, allow me to recharge things overnight. And with this battery and plate, I can not only power the camera but the field monitor and sound recorder as well.
Now I spoke briefly about the quality of these less expensive products and I’d like to elaborate on this a little. As far as the SmallRig and Camvate gear goes, both provide 100% quality gear. I honestly can’t really imagine how gear that costs 5-10x the price can be 5-10x the quality. When I’ve looked at similar components visually, given web limitations, I just can’t see any real differences, especially when it comes to machined and anodised alloy components. The Fotga gear is also very good, but I would not rate it as highly as the other two, depending on the item. The follow-focus wheel is excellent and as all reviews have noted, there’s no free play whatsoever in the mechanism. The matte box is fairly good and while it is mostly plastic, it functions reasonably well, though I think the swing out locking mechanism could be better. The base rail is also reasonably good, but the Fotga 15mm rails aren’t designed (or maybe manufactured) all that well. My main gripe is that the ends with the internal thread are all wrong. I couldn’t insert blanking plugs or extension rods into the ends, because the threads do not conform to industry standards (I’ve replaced these with SmallRig versions). And on a minor point, I really hate the bright blue locking screws that Fotga uses throughout, which black permanent marker more or less fixed. More in Part 4.
Update 1. After kind of stuffing up the Barry Sheene Tribute Ride because the camera, for some reason, defaulted to the SD card and forced me to use a low resolution format, I now know what I should have done. Had I been smarter, I should have reverted to say 1080p and all would have been good. But the audio on the LS-14 also stopped for some reason, so I lost the better audio as well. These are the sorts of things that are going to happen with new equipment, so a few lessons learned. I think I have it all sorted out now and I’m not likely to make those same mistakes again, just new ones.
Update 2. I can also report that all my Olympus 4/3 lenses work fine with the BMPCC4K, except for the 90-250mm f2.8. There is no manual focus available at all, with the lens just set at infinity. I’ve notified Blackmagic about this and maybe they can find a solution. There are still glitches with the camera that others are experiencing, including with m4/3 lenses, so perhaps some firmware upgrades may fix these issues.
Update 3. Success! I’ve managed to get all the lenses to work and clearly there’s an issue with the camera. To get the 50mm f2 macro lens to work, I attached it and then had to turn the camera on and off, and the second time the focus ring worked fine as did the aperture. With the 90-250mm f2.8, I had to repeat things four times and then everything worked. Neither lens would work with either of my tele-extenders attached. So small mercies at least for the moment and I’ll just have to hope the lenses work when I want to use them for actual work.
Update 4. And here’s a short video I did as a grading test under very contrasty conditions to test how well DNG RAW files can be adjusted, especially in shadows and highlights. I’m very happy with how the files can be adjusted and can’t wait for BRAW to become available for the BMPCC4K: