Category Archives: Camera Accessories

First Impressions of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC)

Canon 18X HD ENG lens on Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
Canon 18X HD glass on the BMPCC makes a very nice picture, even though the doubler is engaged. I’ve since removed the lens control module, which may have been a huge mistake.

Thanks to a super fast eBay seller, my BMPCC got here in a flash, and I was able to start tinkering with it today. The first thing I did was make an utterly ridiculous contraption out of it by mounting the BMPCC to my Canon 18X HD ENG lens, then Instagramming photos of it to all my camera nerd friends. Then I took it out into the yard and starting shooting clips of my trees and other junk (by the time UPS got here, the light was already fading, so there wasn’t time for anything else). The other accessories I have on order are still in transit, so I wasn’t able to build the real kit, so I simply sandwiched my ciecio7 B4/M43 adapter between the lens and camera, and stuck it on a tripod.

Actually, I tried two ENG lenses on the BMPCC today. One was a Fujinon SD 10X Super-wide, which looked like complete garbage on the Blackmagic’s sensor. Completely discouraging. The HD Canon lens however, looked absolutely gorgeous. It was sharp! Not only is the lens of a very high quality, but the sensor in the BMPCC is the sharpest of any video camera I’ve ever owned or used. I’ve read that it resolves 1000 TV lines, and after seeing my test footage, I certainly believe it. The picture is wonderfully-detailed, and the dynamic range is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. I haven’t seen much evidence of moire or chromatic aberration, but I also haven’t shot any brick buildings yet. I’ll test that tomorrow. The rolling shutter is evident, however, but it didn’t look like it was any worse than what you would see with a 5D Mark III or D800. The sharpness and dynamic range of the BMPCC more than makes up for the rolling shutter. I can shoot around it.

A. Brick, shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Light grade applied.
A. Brick, shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Light grade applied. Note the sharpness and detail of the Canon HD 18X ENG lens, a lens that was designed for 3-CCD 2/3″ cameras!

So, about that dynamic range… I shot a clip of a white brick in my yard, which had the evening sun shining directly on it. Most of the rest of the scene was in dark shade. The BMPCC held detail in the highlights of the brick and also in the darkest of shadow areas, with room to spare. I was really impressed by this. Any non-RAW DSLR would have blown the brick right out.

So, let’s briefly go over what we all know already: The build quality is very good; The screen is very dim in sunlight — get an EVF; the battery is dead before you know it; unless all your pockets are filled with juiced batts, turn the camera off as soon as you stop your roll, if you have the time; you can’t format the SD card in-camera (I’m still trying to figure out why this is the case, and it simply defies all logic – format all your cards for the day as ExFAT before you leave the studio).

I never planned on trying to keep my BMPCC rig small just because the camera itself is. I wanted the Blackmagic Pocket Camera for two reasons: 1). The 13 stops of dynamic range, and 2). The Super-16 sized sensor. I have a lot of legacy glass that can take advantage of that sensor, and as I’ve shown already, it has breathed new life into a VERY expensive B4 HD lens that had been sitting around on a shelf until today (since discovering that my big Panny HD cam has a big fat dead pixel right in the center of the picture).

Since my rig is not required to maintain its dainty curb weight, I’ve already negated a couple of the BMPCC’s shortcomings with some additional gear. Instead of rolling to SD cards, I will be rolling to my Atomos Samurai via the Atomos Connect HDMI/SDI converter. I’ve ordered a pair of Ikan tilta wooden grips with LANC S/S button, which should trigger the Samurai directly. The lack of audio meters in the camera should be taken care of by simply using the new and improved – thanks to the recently-released AtomOS 4.2 – audio meters in the Samurai, which are much more accurate now, and can also be set to display horozontally. BTW, you can now manually dial in audio delay in the Samurai, whereas before it could only be done with Ninja2. The weak battery life will be dealt with via a 1.5-meter D-Tap 12V cable, running from a Beillen 95WH battery either mounted to the rails or held in my pocket. The dim screen will be remedied via my Cineroid Metal EVF, which will make use of the second HD-SDI output of the Atomos Connect converter. All this will be mounted to the View Factor Contineo BMPC cage basic kit.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the BMPCC is missing a lot of options and that the menu is very, very basic in what you can do with the camera. This is absolutely true. However, it’s one of the things I like about the camera. I’m drawn to the fact that I only have to worry about a couple of settings before I can concentrate on shooting. I actually felt a sense of relief when I realized I didn’t have to worry about the mental checklist of technicalities that normally must be dealt with before shooting. The BMPCC is EASY to use; which leaves more time and energy for concentrating on composition.

I’ve also heard complaints about the relatively few increments for ºK options when choosing color temp. True, you can’t do a custom white balance in the BMPCC like you can with a DSLR, but considering how good the white balance of the BMPCC looks, that has yet to bother me. Even under the flourescent lights in my kitchen, the picture looked very good. The tonality of the picture is really nice. Also, considering that the BMPCC is very much a camera that is designed to shoot for the grade, this isn’t as big of a deal to me as it seems to be with others; each clip is going to be timed to hell and back anyway; the occasional off-color cast won’t bother me, especially when the camera gains the ability to shoot in RAW.

I think that’s about it for now. I will post some footage in the next day or two, after I’ve had a chance to shoot some more material.

NAB 2013 Show Highlight Reel No. 2

I decided that since there was so much cool stuff to see at NAB, the best way to get the most coverage is to make highlight reels of my favorite items. So that’s what I’m doing. Here is the second highlight reel, featuring products like the Freefly MoVI camera stabilizer, the Atomos Connect HD-SDI to HDMI converter, the Redrock Micro One Man Crew motorized parabolic slider, the Schneider TS-PC 50mm f/2.8 lens, the MTF Effect Canon EF lens controller, and a shark. Check it out!

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Shooting Soccer with the Panasonic AF100 and a Fujinon 10×4.8 ENG lens

I’ve been dialing in my ENG-ized AF100 for some time now. Recently, I added a Varavon lens support to relieve some tension from the not-so-robust Micro 4/3 mount. The Varavon works really well, and I especially like that it has a rubber strap that holds the lens down onto the post suport. This not only provides negative-G stability, but also prevents the lens from torquing the mount when I’m using the ENG hand grip.

Darren Abate shooting with a Panasonic AF100 and Fujinon ENG lens at a San Antonio Scorpions soccer game
I’ve found my new Superhero pose. Thanks to Tony Morano for the pic of me shooting the Scorpions game on July 4th.

On July 4th, I was hired by the San Antonio Scorpions professional soccer team to shoot some b-roll before and during their game against FC Edmonton. I thought this would be the perfect chance to try out the new rig. I wanted to make it as light as possible, so I elected to remove the Anton Bauer plate and battery, which powers the lens’ servo zoom, and just roll using manual zoom instead. The total package consisted of AF100 body, Fujinon 10×4.8 Super-wide ENG lens, rails, Atomos Samurai, and a Cineroid Metal HD-SDI EVF.

The client wanted 720/30p for web and broadcast use. I set the Samurai to record ProRes422 LT and it looked great. A lot of people overlook LT but it’s superb when you want to save space and you’re not going to be doing heavy color moves in post. Even though it’s “LT” it’s still a heck of a lot better than AVCHD. I recently switched to Intel X25 SSDs in the Samurai, and I couldn’t be happier with them. Fast and tough. That’s all I can ask for. I was using a Corsair SSD, and after three RMAs from failed drives, the switch to Intel was needed.

Here is a two-minute reel of raw clips from Wednesday night. These are ungraded, straight from the camera:

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

My AF100 ENG Kit is Shaping Up

I’ve been modifying my Panasonic AF100 to work with ENG lenses, and it’s finally taking shape. The only thing I have left to install is a Y-cable that will power the lens as well as connect to the camera’s LANC port in order to activate REC start/stop from the lens. Abel Cine makes such a cable, but it’s 260.00, which is considerably more than I was hoping to pay. However, I don’t think anyone else is making it, so it looks like I’m going to have to fork over the cash to them.

Panasonic AF100 ENG Kit with Fujinon 10x4.8 Super-wide lens, Cineroid Metal EVF, and Atomos Samurai recorder
Panasonic AF100 ENG Kit with Fujinon 10x4.8 Super-wide lens, Cineroid Metal EVF, and Atomos Samurai recorder. Anton Bauer battery powers the ENG lens' servo zoom.

The latest addition to the kit is a Cineroid Metal HD-SDI electronic viewfinder, mounted on a NOGA articulated arm. The Cineroid arrived a couple of days ago from B&H and it really makes all the difference regarding usability of this rig in the field. Prior to getting the Cineroid, I pretty much had to mount the camera on a tripod to shoot anything. Moving the entire rig back on my shoulder and using the EVF makes all the difference, obviously. When I mounted the Cineroid, I moved the Atomos Samurai recorder from the front-left rail to the right-rear since I no longer needed to use it as a monitor when shooting. In its new position, it can serve as a secondary monitor for the director, and also provides some needed counter weight to the right side of the rig, since the EVF made everything shift left a bit. The Samurai is very reliable, and the battery life averages ten hours on a full charge, so I’m not too worried about not being able to see it while shooting hand-held footage. I know that if the camera is rolling, the Samurai is rolling. It tucks in nicely next to the Anton Bauer battery. You may recognize the AJA accessory plate and rail mount that the battery is bolted to; it used to hold my AJA Ki Pro Mini, which I ditched in favor of the Samurai. BTW, if anyone wants one, I’m selling a Ki Pro Mini…

Panasonic AF100 ENG Kit with Fujinon 10x4.8 Super-wide lens, Cineroid Metal EVF, and Atomos Samurai recorder. Anton Bauer battery powers the ENG lens' servo zoom.
Panasonic AF100 ENG Kit with Fujinon 10x4.8 Super-wide lens, Cineroid Metal EVF, and Atomos Samurai recorder. Anton Bauer battery powers the ENG lens' servo zoom.

To mount the ENG style Fujinon lens, I ordered an adapter from eBay user ciecio7. I highly recommend his adapters, as they seem to be very well built. In fact, this B4-M4/3 adapter is the highest quality I’ve yet seen from any of the adapters I’ve ordered for my AF100; I wish I’d found him earlier. Ciecio7 offers two flavors of this adapter; one with and one without the tripod collar. I ordered the one WITH the tripod collar, as I knew I was going to have to fashion some sort of lens support, since the camera’s lens mount is only rated at four pounds. Otherwise, it’s a sure bet I’d rip the mount right out the first time I used it in the field. I initially feared that it was going to be costly to get a really good lens support that would secure the lens in all directions so I could use the ENG grip, but as it turned out, the threaded 3/8″ hole in the mount adapter’s tripod collar (it also has a 1/4-20 hole) aligned perfectly with a threaded 3/8″ hole in the Redrock Micro M2 baseplate, so all I had to do was get a threaded stud from Home Depot and hacksaw it to 2.75″. That was $1.75 well-spent.

AF100 ENG lens support stud mounted under Fujinon 10x4.8 SD lens
Home Depot Special: AF100 support stud mounted under Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens

I really, really love having a proper ENG lens to use on the AF100. It really takes this camera from being quirky and odd to being a serious camera for pro video work. When Panasonic released the AF100, I was elated at the thought of what was basically a large-format HPX170 (although without my beloved P2 media), but then I was immediately puzzled when they kept demo-ing the camera with those horrible, slow, M4/3 stills lenses. What?! No servo lens? Unbelievable. So, for a long time, I used my Canon EF 16-35/2.8 L zoom with the Redrock Micro Live Lens adapter as my go-to run and gun lens, and it worked great. Not much reach, but it had the wide-to-medium area covered fairly well, and it was just fast enough to use in low light. It sucked not having a servo zoom though. With this ENG setup, now I have the best of both worlds. Granted, with all of the kit, it makes the AF100 about the same size as my HPX2000, but it’s still lighter.

So, what about image quality? ENG lenses are designed to be used on three-chip cameras, which means the glass projects onto a prism that separates the image into red, green and blue paths. There are two methods of adapting your ENG lens to a Micro 4/3 camera: the “cheap” way, which is to use a lens with a built-in 2X extender that will double the size of the image circle to cover M4/3, or the “proper” way, which is to use Abel Cine’s HDX2 adapter, which not only doubles the size of the image circle but also optically corrects for the three-chip projection so you don’t get color fringing in your highlights. Considering that, it seems to be a no-brainer on which method you would choose, until you consider cost. I got my B4-M43 adapter from ciecio7 for 240.00. That’s the entire cost of the “cheap” method. The “proper’ method is going to belt you for $5500.00 for the relay lens plus the cost of a PL adapter, because – btw – the HDX2 relay lens only comes in PL mount. SO, including the cost of PL/rails support for your AF100, we’re looking at a total cost of $7000.00 to be “proper” if you go with the HotRod-esque option. Ciecio7 also makes a PL-M43 adapter if you already have rails that would work, like I did.

I figured from the start that I was just going to put up with a little color fringing in my highlights. But then, I had a pleasant surprise. The Fujinon 10×4.8* is a really high quality piece of glass, and also considering that it’s so wide, fringing is very minimal. In fact, I don’t notice it at all unless my highlights are totally blown out, and even then, not all the time. In short, the picture looks pretty damned good. I’m sure the “proper” method is better, but I’m not positive that it’s $7000-better. Note that if you use the cheap method, your ENG lens MUST have a built-in 2X extender. With the HDX2, your lens does not need an extender, as the HDX2 doubles the size of the lens’ image circle.

Screen Grab: Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens on Panasonic AF100 recorded ProRes422 to Atomos Samurai
Post-grade Screen Grab: Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens on Panasonic AF100 recorded ProRes422 to Atomos Samurai.Click through to see a 100% crop.
Screen Grab: Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens on Panasonic AF100 recorded ProRes422 (HQ) to Atomos Samurai
Post-grade Screen Grab: Fujinon 10x4.8 SD ENG lens on Panasonic AF100 recorded ProRes422 (HQ) to Atomos Samurai.Click through to see a 100% crop.

* A note about the Fujinon 10×4.8 ENG SD lens: Some variants of it have a 1.7X extender and NOT a 2X extender. These will NOT WORK. You must have a 2X extender to expand the image circle to 22mm in order to cover the Micro 4/3 sensor.

New Announcements from Atomos at NAB Show 2012

I had the chance to interview Atomos CEO Jeromy Young at NAB, and he told us some very cool news about some upcoming products and updates, including the new Ninja 2 and the AtomOS 3.0 update, which will be released on April 30, free for Ninja 2 and Samurai users. Original Ninja customers will not be able to apply the upgrade (I’m betting due to hardware limitations), but Jeromy says that an economical upgrade path will be provided for original Ninja customers. Check out the video below!

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Dialing in the AF100

After using the Panasonic AF100 on a few productions now, I’m finally getting mine dialed in to where it is comfortable to use in a cinematic environment.

20120117-202117.jpg

With the addition of the AJA rod mounting plate on my Ki Pro Mini, the rig finally feels stable enough to use in daily work. Before, the recorder was affixed to a Noga arm and simply rested on the rods. Now, it is securely fixed to them, and the Anton Bauer Hytron 140 battery is now secured to the second accessory plate on the Ki Pro Mini, and not zip-tied to the rods like before (hey, you gotta do what you gotta do on set sometimes…).

I’ll get a chance to try the rig out again this weekend when we continue filming for “Arose The Coward.”

More production stills to follow…

New AF100 Production: Arose The Coward with Machina Cinema

Last weekend saw the start of my latest project with Machina Cinema, a short entitled “Arose The Coward,” which is being filmed on my Panasonic AF100. I’ve recently made some upgrades to my system, and I’ve been looking forward to putting them into service. I switched out the Kipon Canon EF to M43 mount for the new Redrock Micro LiveLens mount adapter that allows electronic interface with the Canon lens aperture. It’s pretty cool, although it doesn’t work with all the EF lenses. Not sure why. It works great with the lens I need it for most, though, which is the 16-35/2.8 L. It also works with my 70-200/2.8L IS, and my 300/2.8 L IS. However, it does not work with my 24/1.4L, which is a serious bummer, as that’s my go-to low-light lens.

For the start of production, I outfitted the AF100 with a Ki Pro Mini ProRes422 recorder, which I’ve tacked a Hytron 140 battery onto for field work. A fully charged 140 will power the Ki Pro Mini for at least 5-6 hours… pretty handy on set.

Below are some photos from the first day on set. Friend Kevin Sloan recently acquired a Steadicam Provid and was looking forward to trying it out on set. As luck woud have it, the entire first day called for Steadicam.

Panasonic AF100 and Steadicam on set
Kevin and Scott set up the AF100 on the Steadicam
Balancing the AF100 on the Steadicam
Balancing the AF100 on the Steadicam

 

Panasonic AF100 on Steadicam
Panasonic AF100 equipped with AJA Ki Pro Mini, Canon 16-35/2.8L, Redrock Micro EF-M43 adapter, remote follow focus, and Redrock Micro matte box.

 

Panasonic AF100 on the set of "Arose The Coward"
Panasonic AF100 on the set of "Arose The Coward" starring Anthony Guajardo and Viviana Chavez from the hit TV program "The Walking Dead".

 

Yours truly setting up a shot on set.
Yours truly setting up a shot on set.

 

Setting up a shot with the AF100
Setting up a shot with the AF100

 

Setting up a shot with the AF100
Setting up a shot with the AF100

 

ikan Follow Focus on Panasonic AF100

I finally got around to replacing my old, cheap follow focus with something a little better. It isn’t a Zacuto or anything like that, but it will do in the mean time, until I’m willing to drop $2k on a better one. After a very strategic, analytical, consumer-aware ten minutes spent on eBay looking at options, I balanced price with notoriety and chose the ikan follow focus. For about 400.00, it came with a couple of zip gears, two lens protectors, a speed crank, and an 18″ whip. Wasn’t sure how the quality was going to be, but I knew ikan makes pretty good stuff, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

It arrived today, and I must say that I’m fairly impressed. There is a tiny amount of play in the action, but I don’t think it’s any more than the Redrock Micro FF. Build quality is very nice; it’s very sturdy and feels reliable. It definitely beats the cheap-o FF I was using before. Happy purchase.

iKan Follow Focus on AF100
iKan Follow Focus on AF100

Marshall Monitor Workaround: Thwarted.

Marshall 7 inch hd monitor
My beloved Marshall monitor, now obsolete?

A few years ago, I bought a used Marshall 7″ HD monitor for use with my various video cameras, mostly a Canon XL-H1, and then a Panasonic HVX200. I love it. It is awesome. However, the problem is that it only has component-in for HD display; no HDMI or HD-SDI, so now, I can’t use it natively on my AF100. As an experiment, I ordered a little HDMI to Component converter box off of eBay, just to see if it would work to salvage some more usable life out of this nice and very expensive monitor of mine.

The converter arrived today, and right away I hooked it up to the AF100 and Marshall monitor to see if it would work. I got a picture for a split second, and then it went to blue-screen. No matter what, I can’t get a constant picture with it. I’m assuming that’s because the converter only outputs 1080p, and the monitor probably wants 1080i or 720p. But I’m not sure why it would show a picture for a brief time though. I’m not a video engineer…

Does anyone have a workaround for this issue? I would love to NOT have to sell my Marshall just to get another one with HDMI. Any ideas, or am I just SOL?