I thought I’d do a further chapter to this story following Part 3, now that I’ve managed to put the BMPCC4K to use in somewhat arduous conditions such as we experienced on our last Cruise. The Cruise subjected the BMPCC4K and the rig to heaps of dust, heat as well as significant and constant vibration and jolting over five days while on our journey. I was somewhat worried about how the whole system would stand up, but I needn’t have been concerned as everything held up very well. The camera performed perfectly and the only issues I had was me trying to make sure that I’d thought of everything before pressing the record button. That was the biggest issue apart from trying to get into a cinematographer’s mindset and not stay in a photographer’s mindset.
It was for this reason that, while I bought my E-M1 MkII as a backup camera, I used the BMPCC4K 100% of the time for video, getting used to the settings, the situation I was recording, as well as keeping aware of things of interest. While I’m fairly comfortable writing stories and using photographs to support those stories film making is on a different level altogether, as there are so many things to keep in mind. But it was using the gear that caused some issues, as it always is when you get something new and in this case something that’s fairly complex or, to be more precise, requiring multiple devices to be set. Even a lens change was not a simple exercise and all too often I forgot to either turn on the audio recorder or press the record button (more on this later).
That said, I started to get the hang of it and over the days got better at making sure everything was in order. Now because this is a fairly large setup, I needed a place to store the rig while travelling, also making sure I had easy access to the rig when needed. To that end, it sat in the passenger seat held in place by the seat belt. This actually worked quite well as even on the steepest and roughest of tracks it stayed in place. But I always had to remember to disconnect the SSD cable, or risk damaging the USB-C connector. I forgot a few times but fortunately noticed before I drove too far (I always tended to check the rig just after driving off). I’ve subsequently changed the location of the SSD so that I no longer have to worry about the USB-C cable. I also had to fold the field monitor and audio recorder flat after putting on the seat belt so that neither would press against the seat back.
The rig held up well to all of this, but the only annoyance was the matte box. It would always rattle and clank and, no matter how tightly I tried to lock the screws, the top shade would always come loose. I guess this is where the more expensive matter boxes come into their own, having more robust connections (one hopes). But now that I’m aware of this, I’ve made some simple modifications to the matte box to stop it from rattling and causing the other parts to come loose. The first thing I did was remove the locking screws used to hold the top shade and replaced them with cap screws, which can be properly tightened with an Allen key. Then to secure the matte box from rattling about and loosening, I used some Velcro strip looped around the cage and the side flag support. This seems to have done the trick.
I’ve also changed the location of the external microphone, as I discovered that I could put the Rode VideoMicro into the hollow in the front of the handle, held in place by two 1/4″ screws. It’s a perfect fit and almost seems to have been designed for this purpose. The mic is now located further out to the front and doesn’t sag (the cable threads through the handle so is fully protected). I’ve also added a waist support using my shoulder pad for when I use the rig off the tripod. I found that the back of the rig would dig into my waist and upset balance and, after testing, the shoulder pad works well (no one makes anything that provides a similar support). I can now hold the rig quite steady when off the tripod and it harks back to my medium format film camera days of waist-level photography.
The main annoyance that I had with the rig was that I couldn’t easily remove the cage from the base because of the dummy battery and now that I have the Blackmagic power cable set, I’ve done away with using the dummy battery. It also makes it very easy to separate the cage from the main rig and run just on the internal battery and one on the field monitor. Last week I covered the Berryden Sheepdog Trials and nearly depleted my 120Wh V-Lock battery shooting 600GB of video and having the camera and field monitor on almost all the time in the five hours I was at the event. I’m very glad to know how much time the battery gives me and the internal Canon battery should give me another 40+/- minutes. But to be doubly sure, I bought a simple V-Lock battery caddy that takes my Sony NP-F batteries, giving me a further backup of maybe two hours.
And speaking of batteries, my Canon battery charger was waiting for me when I returned home from the Cruise and so I decided to test it out and charged my two Canon batteries and the Blackmagic supplied battery. Naturally the Canon batteries charged fine, but with the Blackmagic battery the charger started blinking rapidly and didn’t change. So it would appear that the only way to charge this supplied battery is in-camera. But noting some YouTube sites, forums and camera review sites, anecdotal evidence suggests that the third party battery supplied by Blackmagic is lucky to work at all (more of a battery ‘packed it in’ than a battery pack). It also appears that Blackmagic is no longer supplying a battery with the camera (it’s not listed in supplier sites) probably due to the bad press that it’s received.
Now when it came to the LS-14 audio recorder, even though it’s a very good recorder, it just doesn’t provide any additional audio level for the microphone input. One of the issues with the BMPCC4K is that the audio recording level is very low (or non-existent with the Rode VideoMicro on its own), even at maximum setting, and it needed to be boosted. There are many dedicated alternatives available, but all were too large and/or quite expensive, or both, or then more of what I already had. So I started thinking about amplifiers and it occurred to me that there are plenty of portable pre-amps/DACs around that are used to boost the signal, for example, for headphones attached to mobile phones. That’s when I came across all manner of such pre-amps and thought I’d try one out. The one that I bought is the Cayin C5 that from various reviews came across as a very good unit and so it is, as it boosts the audio level beautifully, but still doesn’t eliminate the need for the LS-14 that provides power to the Rode VideoMicro (more on that in an update).
Now to some thoughts on accessories. There’s one thing that I’d really like to have for this camera and that’s a Bluetooth remote control, something that you can hold in the hand or attach to the tripod/rig handle, or similar. This would mean that you could keep watching the field monitor, control the focus with the follow focus wheel and then start/stop recording without having to take your eyes off the field monitor. The remote could even incorporate an AF and aperture control for supported lenses. At the recent Berryden Sheepdog Trials, I found that such a device would have been invaluable. When even my Olympus LS-14 has a remote control (optical in this case), you’d think it wouldn’t be rocket science to produce such a thing for the BMPCC4K using the camera’s built-in Bluetooth.
On another topic, I’m completely gobsmacked that no one seems able to produce a battery grip for the BMPCC4K like you can get for DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Every manufacturer is releasing small bricks that offer no ergonomic or functional design, such as discussed here. It would be so easy and practical to mimic the types of accessory battery grips that just about every camera manufacturer offers for their DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. These are also available as aftermarket accessories at very reasonable prices. Such a grip doesn’t even require any camera controls and only needs to supply power, as broadly illustrated in these images.
Finally, I’d especially like an attachable EVF, something that has been available for many brands of mirrorless cameras for years. I have an Olympus VF-2 EVF that attaches to some of my older mirrorless cameras, through what is almost a mini-HDMI connector, and such a thing would be ideal for the BMPCC4K. Designed properly, it could attach to a cage on an arm or directly to the camera via a cold shoe attachment and to the HDMI port on the camera or, as in my case, the field monitor via the HDMI out port. It’s another accessory that would be snapped up by the thousands of BMPCC4K users (based on anecdotal evidence of order numbers). You can get EVFs of sorts for the camera, but they are all very bulky and obscenely expensive.
And as a final word, I just don’t understand why the cinema world has defaulted to the Manfrotto 501 plate and clamp design. I really think the Manfrotto design is woeful and no where near as effective as the Arca Swiss clamp and plate system. The Arca Swiss system works smoothly and positively compared to the Manfrotto system and, thankfully, I’ve collected a number of Arca Swiss plates and clamps over the years and now use them where I need to regularly detach and attach the gear. Not only that, Arca Swiss plates and clamps are significantly cheaper and generally much better constructed, always machined and anodised where the Manfrotto plates and clamps are usually cast and often given rough surface coatings.
So that’s it for now and I’ll be making a video to show what I’ve done and why I’ve set things up as I have, as well as being able to report on how well these changes have worked out when I come back from some more bush activities. Hopefully with some improved video of that trip. And on to Part 5.
Update 1. Well it seems that Blackmagic has come to the party with one of the items that I spoke about and we now have a battery grip available: