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It’s been a while since I got my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. I have used it in various ways, various set-ups and configurations. Although it’s the smallest and the cheapest camera on the market shooting in RAW format, it can easily grow to the much bigger form factor and lose its pocket size.

The real pocket camera

At the time when I got the camera, all the lenses I had, were Canon EF mount so I had no way to attach them directly. I ordered some cheap adapter, but it was not ideal:

  • the crop factor made all my lenses much longer and left me with no real wide angle lens
  • the camera with the adapter and a big Canon EF mount lens was no longer “pocket”

So I decided to purchase one native m4/3 lens. I didn’t want to invest in some expensive fast zoom lens because ultimately I had the plan to use my Canon glass. Rather, I wanted to have something compact for the minimal setup with the camera.

The lens I eventually got was Lumix 20mm f/1.7 – really small pancake lens with f/1.7 aperture.

I still use this setup in some cases when I want to be discrete and keep the camera in my pocket. The setup is really lightweight, the focal length is pretty universal (around 60mm on FF format equivalent) and the aperture makes it usable in nonperfect light conditions.

The biggest downside of the described configuration though is the battery life.

Power

The BMPCC uses Nikon’s EN-EL20 battery model – cheap and small but also lasting for a very short period of time. Ideally, it will work for 40-45 minutes of continuous shooting, but in many situations the camera dies after around 30 minutes or even earlier (especially with cheaper non-original replacements).

The good thing is that the camera is equipped with 12V DC input port, which means that we can plug in an external source of power. I was looking at various solutions and keeping in mind the form factor and the overall size of the package I decided to go for Anker Astro Pro2 20000mAh. It’s cheap, relatively small and can provide the juice for the camera almost forever.

To connect the camera to the battery, we need the adapter cable or jack adapter.

Now, we can shoot all day without worrying about the power and without keeping tens of small battery replacements in our pockets. But we have another problem now – where to put Anker? Sure, we can keep it in a pocket and run around with the cable hanging around, but it’s not ideal. This is why I started looking for some sort of a rig.

Cage

From the increasing number of BMPCC accessories, I picked Tilta BMPCC Cage. It’s really well built and offers quite many additional features like:

  • port protector,
  • micro HDMI to HDMI adapter,
  • rods,
  • hot-shoe mount.

It also provides easy access to the battery compartment and has a nice detachable top handle.

Now, the camera is secure, the increase in ergonomics is noticeable, but we are going away from the pocket form factor. And it’s only going to get worse.

To fully utilize the battery solution from the previous section I bought the Cheese Plate which allowed me to mount Anker directly to the rods in the back. This makes the whole configuration solid and allows shooting for hours.

Speedbooster

With all the improvements from the previous sections, the usability of the camera was getting better and better, but I still had all my canon lenses that were pretty useless with the camera. Sure, I could attach my Samyang 35mm T/1.5 with the adapter, but ending up with 105mm equivalent wasn’t always what I was going for.

It was time to get another toy.

Metabones Canon EF to BMPCC Speed Booster converted the camera to almost Super 35mm sensor almost low-light monster. Almost. But the difference was huge. Now, I could utilize my existing lenses much better and the camera got 1 2/3 extra stops of light. This is a real deal especially in the camera that is technically limited to ISO 800 (native). Another benefit of using the speed-booster was that the stabilization in my EF lenses worked like a charm.

Metabones adapter paired with Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 is a wonderful combo. Crisp, sharp image and aperture of f/1.0 give lots of flexibility and make the camera perform well even in really bad lighting conditions.

Follow Focus

Now, when we have a really nice setup we can improve the usability and ergonomics and make the whole thing even bigger. Another addition, in my case, was the follow focus.

I chose Fotga DP500IIS – solid and not too expensive. Works pretty well with all my EF lenses. It’s especially useful when the camera is on the shoulder and the focus has to be pulled by the operator.

In the picture above you can also see a lens support – might be useful when follow focus is used to avoid any lens movement.

Monitor

Soon after going outside I realized that the built-in screen was not made with a bright sunlight in mind. It’s almost impossible to use it without additional loupe or external monitor.

From a few monitors that I tested out I picked out SmallHD DP4. Unfortunately, it cannot be powered through Anker, but the canon’s LP-E6 batteries last pretty long so having both of them connected will power the monitor throughout one shooting day easily. The built-in focus peaking and false color mode work a treat and the monitor coupled with a loupe acts as a really crisp and convenient EVF.

The monitor is mounted to the cage using Magic Arm.

Microphone

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has a built-in microphone, but its quality is really bad. Anything external connected to the mic port will give better results than the on-board solution. Here, as an example, I plugged Rode VideoMic Pro which works pretty well as an on-camera mic.

Anything better has no point as the in-camera pre-amps will ruin the signal anyway so for a serious audio recording we have to use external recorders and use in-camera recording only as a reference to sync it in post.

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  • wnichols75

    great article – I have the Tilta cage – love it. Great advice on the Anker and the follow focus – much appreciated

    • I’m glad it was useful for you! I really like Fotga – very solid and precise for the price. And with Anker I don’t need to worry about the power anymore. I keep the camera on all the time even when I’m not shooting.

    • Dara Yem

      i always wonder why most people buy other stuff that cost nearly double the price of a Tilta set up….

      • Agree, in my opinion Tilta cage is one of the most solid solutions out there!

  • I literally have nearly the exact same setup, just configured in a slightly different way. I added a Tascam DR-70D using another rail system mount and now I get clean, adjustable audio in as many as four channels. Here’s a picture without the monitor… the biggest difference is that I mounted my Anker battery sideways and under the DR-70D. Anyway, thanks for sharing and happy shooting!

    • Nice! I usually record audio separately and then sync it in post, but your setup is much more convenient. I guess the DR-70D helps balance the whole setup too. Sometimes I have to move the Anker back when I attach heavier lens. What’s the follow focus in the picture?

      • That’s the inexpensive V4 bundle from D-Focus Systems. It has a quick release tensioner that makes building the rig on site fairly fast. To be honest, this whole system works really well at events or in situations where I’m all by myself, but it’s very heavy. I wish Tilta made some kind of accessory shoe that could be used for attaching only the camera-cage to a QR plate. It takes way too long to simplify into something smaller.

        • Yeah, my only complaint about Tilta is the quick release system – I wish it was a standard quick release system compatible with manfrotto and other plates.

    • AlienSurfGirlProblems

      Hey Wayne, where’s the Anker battery in this setup? Can you upload another picture?

    • What tripod do you have your rig mounted to if you dont mind me asking?

  • AlienSurfGirlProblems

    Great Article! How did you mount the Anker Astro onto the cheeseplate. Did you use velcro?

    • Thanks! Yes, I used 2 strips of velcro and it holds it really well. I can even rest the whole camera against my chest for handheld work and it won’t move.

  • Carlos E. Martinez

    Tom,

    My BMPCC also uses the Tilta cage, but I’m planning to add a cable clamp for all sockets, not just the HDMI. When I bought the camera, the Tilta was the best cage, and there were no other options for holding all the cables.

    I believe 1/8″ sockets are too fragile, to take plug/unplug for a long time. What I believe is short adapters should be plugged in and secured, and leave them there, rarely or never unplugging them. Uncomfortable as it may sound, that would guarantee a perfect interface with audio, power and hdmi. That’s my opinion and what I do.

    Now about the audio quality. Sorry to disagree with that one. I was a professional sound recordist for a long time, and also rented film & TV for many years. If you feed a line level signal into the pocket you will get high quality audio every time. That is, you will need an external mixer, preamp or recorder, because the Pocket mic preamp sucks, But not at line levels. You should also find a way to align the external source to it, so you don’t clip the audio or record at too low levels. Peaks should be at -8dBS and never exceed that.

    In my case I use a Powerizer 12v 4.5A NiMH battery on the Pocket for a complete shooting day. External monitoring done with a high quality Lilliput 663 O/P monitor, which I can power with Sony L batteries or external supply. I’m planning on using the Anker with it, as it supposedly outputs 12v and 16v. I don’t see why you can’t power your SmallHD monitor from the Anker.

    Haven’t tried a focus wheel yet, but probably will. I do have an old Proaim matte box that fits perfectly on the Tilta rods. Using a pola screen on the MB and playing with the ISOs, and the benefit of the 12 stops range, you can practically shoot anywhere.

    The Speedbooster is essential, for the extra speed and the stop setting on the Sigma 17-50 zoom. On my tests I could get excellent quality images, which I shot and viewed on desktop monitor, practically anywhere and any time. From bright daylight to night lit streets.

    • Hey Carlos, thanks for your long comment!
      I really like your ideas about the ports protectors, I’m always afraid that they will get broken at some point. Do you have any specific solution for all the ports? Picture maybe?

      You are right about the audio. I should be more precise in the article – what I meant is that any microphone plugged straight to the camera will not sound right. Putting a mixer or preamp in between will make a difference. I didn’t really test any preamps or mixers with BMPCC but it’s good to know that there is a way to record decent audio in-camera.

      I see that Powerizer battery has a better shape – it’s one of the Anker’s downsides, sticks out of the rig. How do you mount the battery to the rig?

      Follow focus really makes pulling easier and reduces the camera shake. Especially in the hand-held situation. Rotating the focus ring on the lens will destabilize the camera much more than using FF – more convenient position for your hand and lesser impact on the stability of the whole rig/setup.

      I personally shot with Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 and 85 f/1.4, both excellent lenses. Never tried 17-50 but the zoom range is a bit more universal than 18-35. The optics they release impress me more and more. The Art series is excellent glass.

      Thanks again for your comment Carlos and have a great weekend!

      • Carlos E. Martinez

        I’m sorry if my comment was too long. I wanted to cover all the areas I had tried and got good results.

        My way of looking at things might be a bit different or unusual, probably because I come from film times (yes, I’m that old), when we shot in 16mm black & white for our shorts. Even using cranked Bolex cameras!

        And I always looked for ways to improve things and improve the viewable results.

        I didn’t quite get into the Canon 5D wave, particularly with the III. The II was a much better deal. Then I thought of the Pana GH2, when it became the 3, not as hackeable as the 2.

        The Blackmagic released the BMCCs (2.5 and 4) and then the Pocket. Being super-16 in sensor size got me back to my 16mm years. So I went for it.

        As all DSLR cameras it had severe shortcomings in audio interface, video monitoring, power time and recording limitations. I commented on the first three, and how I dealt with them. The fourth one, external recording, is another I would like to discuss now.

        Are any of you using external video recorders and which are them?

        • Nice! Always wanted to shoot something on Bolex but never had a chance.
          I think that Blackmagic really changed the game releasing the camera in the price range of the DSLR but offering something very different not available at this price tag before.
          Regarding external recorders I had the chance to use Atomos Ninja and it makes sense to use it with the cameras that output clean HDMI signal to get something better than the internal compressed video format (like various DSLRs) but in case of BMPCC I don’t think there’s any benefit. The only one I can think of is just the backup recorded simultaneously or maybe a longer recording time when bigger hard-drive is used.

          • Carlos E. Martinez

            Of course you understand I meant the Bolex 16mm film cameras, right? Not the HD new video camera.

            In fact both BMPCC and BMCC cameras affected the whole camera business, offering high quality products for affordable prices. There were a lot of tests showing comparisons with Alexa and Red cameras, showing how close you could get to them. Also lenses started to become affordable, and comparisons with Zeiss expensive lenses, paying half or third the price for very high quality glass, made many people consider them as a good path to thread.

            Yes, you do have limitation with the Pocket’s HDMI output, which is still compressed, but longer recording times in SSD made better sense to me. You can even shoot in DNxHD, which is interesting for me, being an Avid man.

            I wonder what you can get on the new Micro cameras, as the cameras seem compatible with the Pocket. It would be shooting RAW externally, but that doesn’t seem an optrion.

            This month I should be shooting a doc all with the Pocket. Not sure yet about the length, as I want it to be a size I could offer to some Art video channel, like Film & Arts or similar. Film festivals are also very strict on what size they allow to get in.

  • grahamcoia

    This is great. There is so much information out there when it comes to putting together a rig that it begins to make your head spin and you end up going round and round in circles and become swamped with information overload, not actually getting anywhere. To read this concise, non-commercially biased article is like a breath of fresh air. Thanks so much!

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