Way back in 2017 I wrote my first part of Making Movies and what I saw lying ahead for me in this new endeavour. Looking back at that story and subsequent ones, I realised that I hadn’t fully explained why I wanted to produce video as an adjunct or, at times, replacement for stills photography and what prompted me to buy what was a cinema camera. Part of my reasoning was that I was finding my stills photography becoming a bit stale and motivation to go out with my camera was waning. I used to carry a camera with me at all times, but found that I was increasingly leaving it at home when going out. The other reason for a cinema camera was that I wanted my documentary work to show something more than what still images could display and my existing cameras weren’t ideal for video. Even though static images can be very powerful and engaging, I’d come to realise that there are some significant advantages when trying to convey a story with video. Moving pictures really do add another dimension to a story.
Since becoming increasingly interested in video in a more dedicated way, I’ve been watching many movies, short films, reviews and the like over the last year learning about techniques and styles, as well as all the other aspects such as audio that makes for good movies. during that time, there are several trends that have come to light (pun intended) about modern movies and even TV shows, and and one such trend is that many are now extremely dark and foreboding when it comes to the overall lighting. This was really brought home when I watched some videos comparing the modern Star Trek movie series and the new TV show named The Orville. The latter has taken a lot of ideas from the original Star Trek series and brought back the general storylines that the early series represented in its day, but has added a modern twist. I won’t go into these aspects here, try and watch some episodes if you haven’t, But what also grabbed me was how very different the actual production values and storyline are when compared to modern movies or TV series, notably Star Trek.
First off, I’ve written a few time now about my trials and tribulations with audio to accompany my videos and pointed out some things that have worked and other things that have not. As I’ve mentioned previously, you can have a somewhat crappy movie with great audio and it’ll be watchable, but a great movie with crappy audio is completely unwatchable. If you’ve ever come across a YouTube video where the sound quality is just awful, you’ll know what I mean. We’ve watched many an old movie that’s been copied and put up on YouTube where the image quality isn’t the greatest, but the movie has been watchable because the audio has been reasonably decent; you can understand what’s being spoken and the music is fine. Quite the opposite to some others that get switched off in seconds. Audio has such an impact on movies and video in general that it’s one area where you have to get it right as there’s little room for error.
In an earlier story about the ongoing development of my cinema rig, I posted a video where I used green screen technique to introduce a background to what would have otherwise been a bland setting (with Winter afoot, nothing outside is looking that great). This ‘green screen’ technique is as old as the hills, but previously has been less than accessible to most people with a video camera. The green screen material has certainly been readily available, but the video processing software has not been quite so easy to come by and, where available, has often been expensive. But with new software options and especially software such as Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, it’s pretty much available to anyone who wants to experience this frequently used Hollywood technique. And frequently used is an understatement, as just about every film made nowadays involves some or a lot of green screen technique.
The more video I do (or practice), the more audio comes into play and problems need to be resolved. I’ve already spoken about the issue with low audio volume when using external microphones (mics) with the BMPCC4K and the way I went about trying to get better audio. But the issues didn’t end there, I was now becoming frustrated when using Lav mics and recording to an external recorder, whether the Olympus or the El-Cheapo. The major problem was forgetting to turn on either the external audio recorder, start the audio recording or synchronise the audio with the clicker, or forgetting to do all three. So as I read more articles and watched more videos about wireless mics, especially Lavalier (Lav) mics, it became clear that I would be better of with a wireless mic where the receiver could connect directly to the camera audio input. This meant no synchronising in the video editor, saving time and the need for separate (and expensive) audio synchronising tools.
Again, the more things change the more they seem to stay the same, sort of. As I get to use and practice with the BMPCC4K and the rig, there are small and not so small issues that arise and which need to be addressed. One thing that I’ve been waiting impatiently for is for someone to produce a small and affordable Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). But, sadly, no one has yet taken up the challenge and so the only option was to get a larger and brighter field monitor. And, as I started to use more lenses with the camera, I found that changing the position of the follow focus and matte box introduced its own problems, so more things to remedy. Additionally, I really wanted to have a slider with me when I went on our bush trips, but the 120cm one I had was simply too cumbersome to take along, so that issue also needed to be addressed. While some of these appeared to be minor issues, some ended up being quite annoying in the long run.
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.