Category Archives: Mods

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.

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.

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…

An Inexpensive Cine Zoom for the AF100?

A few months before getting my AF100, I started testing various C-Mount lenses on my GF1, because I knew that [economical] modern cine-style zoom lens options on a Micro 4/3 video camera were going to be somewhat rare. An old TV-C lens can be had really cheap, and I thought that there might be one or two 1″ lenses that wouldn’t vignette too much on the 4/3″ sensor.

Canon TV-16 25-100mm f/1.8 Zoom Lens
Canon TV-16 25-100mm f/1.8 Zoom Lens

I started with a 16-160 f/1.6 Tokina CCTV zoom, which is a tank of a lens. I was really praying that it would work, because I would love to have a 10X f/1.6 lens to play with. I also picked up a Fujinon TV zoom and a Canon TV-16 zoom. As I suspected, the Tokina and Fujinon lenses vignetted very badly, but the Canon actually wasn’t too bad. It vignettes, but I can see how that in some shooting situations, it could be usable. In the mid zoom range, the black edge comes inside of the frame in the corners, but it isn’t as pronounced in the wide and tele positions. It’s there, but it doesn’t punch you in the face; it’s more of a gentle slap. Either way, it still stings a bit. I will post some real-world clips from it soon.

I think that if I could enlarge the image circle 1.4X, the problem would be corrected. I could handle losing the stop of light, but that would mean it would become a 70-280mm (FF 35 equiv). I don’t really want a zoom that long on the wide end. I may have to relegate the Canon to being a special occasion lens.

I’ve seen mods to mount a B4 2/3″ servo lens onto the AF100. That seems a sound option, especially if you get one of the lenses that has the built-in teleconverter because it solves your image circle problem right off the bat. 2/3″ lenses are wider, which allows more general use after magnification.

Another solution is Abel CineTech’s HDX2 adapter, which is an optical B4 to PL adapter that enlarges the lens image circle from 11mm to 22mm (soaking up two stops of light in the process), and also corrects the 3xCCD optics to project for a single sensor. But, at MSRP US$5500.00, it’s hardly the economical option for low-budget users. On the other hand, if it allows a $15,000.00 servo lens to become usable on larger format cameras, I can easily see how it can earn its keep in a production environment.

So, my search continues. If anyone knows of a C-Mount lens that will actually cover a 4/3″ sensor, please let me know!