Tripods are one of those things that can cause endless debate amongst photographers, and to a lesser degree videographers, when discussing what constitutes the best tripod (much like when it comes to camera bags). There is no such thing as the ‘best’ tripod, as it all depends on where, how, why and with what you’re going to use the tripod. There are number of reasons why these debates arise and the first one is affordability, the second is need and the third is knowledge. Affordability has always had a major impact on equipment purchasing, especially 40 or even 30 years ago, when a professional tripod would have cost a small fortune and even amateur brands were quite expensive. Need can be a driver where at first a photographer may not require a specific type of tripod, but they eventually outgrow the tripod or their needs change. Knowledge or experience becomes a factor after owning a succession of tripods (not necessarily poor quality ones) and the user comes to understand the where, how, why and what of tripods.
There’s long been an saying that goes along the lines of ‘you get what you pay for’, or another similar saying being ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. Such sayings (like most sayings) generally come from practical experience and of course many others abound. But the gist of such sayings has generally held true over the years; however, is that always the case? I think much depends on the products concerned, who makes them and where they are made, especially in today’s world where it’s possible to manufacture and buy from just about anywhere. Product quality has also changed dramatically with new technology, materials and manufacturing processes, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. So the quality of a product often belies the past conventions of where they are made. Recently I had an interesting discussion, though not for the first time, about this subject and it made me look a bit deeper into how much this applies in today’s world where it’s not always fair to assume that ‘you get what you pay for’.
No surprises that there’s now a Part 10 to this ongoing story as I keep modifying and improving things with my camera rig. That’s most likely never going to end, but I’m close to having things sorted out as best I can. Anyone that’s been reading this blog and the stories about the BMPCC4K, will know that I’ve not been overly happy with the audio of the BMPCC4K. This especially relates to the 3.5mm audio input where, without several additional bits of gear, the audio recording levels of the camera have been virtually non-existent. So to fix this I’ve been using an Olympus LS-14 audio recorder, coupled with a Cayin C5 preamplifier, to boost the signal strength to something respectable. It works, but requires a bunch of cabling, battery management as well as remembering to turn on multiple devices. But all of that has come to an end, as I’ve found a much better solution in the most unexpected of places.
There seems to be a never ending progression of change when it comes to my camera rig, but given the flexibility with the way that the rig is assembled, it’s not too difficult to move things around. It’s a bit like moving into a new home and working out how the furniture best fits for daily use, and what looked OK at the beginning, a few days or weeks later proves to be a poor choice and changes follow. That’s pretty much what’s been happening with my camera rig, especially as I get more hours of use under the belt. Video is so far removed from stills photography, where the camera setup really doesn’t change at all over its life unless you consider swapping lenses a change. So once again I’ll go over a few additions/changes that I’ve made to the camera rig which may or may not be subject to further change.
One thing that I’ve come across on numerous forums regarding the BMPCC4K are questions about ways to effectively power the camera and get more recording time than what’s available from the standard battery. There are two regular ways to provide power to the camera, apart from using the internal battery option, and the first is by using a dummy battery connected to an external power source and the second is by using the camera’s external power connector to an external power source. It’s the external power source that seems to cause the most issues and raises the most questions regarding what external power source to use, given that many want to power accessories and not just the camera. The power requirements can be quite high if using a field monitor, external SSD, audio recorder and microphone all of which will tax a battery’s capacity.
Finally I’m having some success. As I pointed out in Part 6, as a last desperate measure I’d ordered an inexpensive powered Saramonic SR-M3 directional microphone (shotgun mic) to see if that would alleviate my need for the Olympus LS-14 audio recorder. It arrived and I have to say that I was apprehensive given that there was so little information available with regards to this microphone when it came to use with the BMPCC4K. Actually, I couldn’t find anything informative. Every review was about it’s use with a DSLR or mirrorless camera for vlogging purposes, something that wasn’t going to be its intended use. I wanted to use it as a field microphone for general use on my rig, which may not have been ideal, but that’s what I needed. As an aside, for once a product was available locally at considerably cheaper price than anything available overseas. I never cease to wonder at these price variations. There are plenty of general reviews of the Saramonic, so I’m not going to do a general review but will go straight into testing
No sooner had I thought that Part 5 was the finale, I made a few more adjustments and modifications that I thought would be beneficial to describe and record. It’s possible that this could go on for some time as things change and as I get used to using the camera rig and finding better ways to do things. I guess that’s the benefit of a camera rig that can be modified to suit one’s needs, but it’s also a double edged sward as you get tempted to modify things perhaps too much at times. Though I must admit, the changes that I’ve made have been for the better, especially as far as handling goes, and that’s the important thing over anything else. Mind you, I haven’t made that many changes to the overall structure of the rig, so it’s not like I’m moving the furniture around hoping for a better arrangement to arise. Continue reading
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.
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.
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.