The Blackmagic Pocket Camera Guide (Part Two): Lenses, Filters, Matteboxes and Follow Focus Systems
By Sareesh Sudhakaran
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In Part One we looked at ergonomics and specifications of the Blackmagic Pocket Camera (aka Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera or BMDPCC). In this part we’ll look at lens options, filters, matteboxes and follow focus systems for the camera.
About the Sensor and Super 16mm
I won’t be going into details about how I choose lenses, because I’ve already covered a lot of ground here:
What Lens to Get?
How I select lenses for long-form projects
Sensors, Image Circle, Crop Factor, Angle of View and the 35mm Equivalent
Lens Mount, Focal Flange Distance, and Lens Adapters
The Blackmagic Pocket Camera has a Super 16mm-sized sensor. What does that mean? Here’s the actual size of Super 16mm film:
The Blackmagic Pocket Camera sensor is slightly smaller at 12.48mm x 7.02mm, but it’s nothing to bicker about. The good news is that the sensor is a true 1920 x 1080 (or 2 MP) sensor. This will reduce artifacts caused by line-skipping and incorrect interpolation (downsampling).
The sensor demands a lens that can deliver a resolution of 154 lines per mm, or 77 line pairs per mm. This is very similar to the original BMCC 2.5K camera. In plain speak, you need a really good lens.
The sensor has a horizontal crop factor of 2.88. Here’s a table comparing focal lengths to full-frame 35mm equivalents:
|Focal Length (mm)
||35mm FF equivalent (mm)
The Blackmagic Pocket Camera comes in an active MFT mount (Micro Four Thirds, also sometimes written as m43). The advantages of the MFT mount are:
The lenses don’t have to cover a large sensor, so they tend to be smaller and hence lighter than full frame or APS-C lenses.
They are primarily designed for highly demanding still-camera sensors, so they should be able to resolve 77 lp/mm.
They are cheaper.
They have a smaller flange focal distance, because of which various lenses can be adapted to its mount via an adapter.
Here’s information on each mount, in increasing order of the focal flange distance:
||Focal Flange Distance in mm
|Sony PMW-F3 mount
|Micro Four Thirds mount
|Leica M mount
|Four Thirds mount
|Canon Manual FD mount
|Canon EOS EF mount
|Canon EOS EF-S mount
|Arri PL mount
As you can see, adapting most lenses on an MFT/m43 mount is easy. But let’s clear up some confusion regarding C-mount (Super 16mm, CCTV) and E-mount (Sony NEX, etc.) lenses.
The problem with C-mount Super 16mm lenses on the Blackmagic Pocket Camera
As you can see from the table above, the flange focal distance of the C-mount is lower than Micro Four Thirds. It doesn’t matter if the Blackmagic Pocket Camera is Super 16mm size, if the lenses made for that format (which are in the C-mount), cannot be adapted without major compromises.
I do not recommend old Super 16mm C-mount lenses for the following reasons:
They are old, and not all of them were good quality even when new.
Those that were of good quality, might not be good today.
The new C-mount lenses, made for CCTV cameras or for 1″ sensors, are expensive ($1,000+). Even if you were willing to pay the price, there aren’t any good wide angle options that cover the 1″ sensor.
Very few wide angle options, and they might have serious distortion and aberration problems. Most of them will vignette.
Because they are made for a smaller flange focal distance, focusing will not ‘work as advertised’. The worst problem is that you most likely will lose infinity focus. Please read this excellent article for more information.
The really good ones are still expensive today, because they are hard to find. What’s the point of recommending a lens that’s hard to find?
Some of the C-mount lenses will need to be physically modified to fit on a C-mount to MFT adapter.
These lenses will not work with IRIS and Focus control.
These lenses will not offer Image Stabilization, which you’ll need if you’re going to hand-hold the camera.
These lenses are heavy (especially the zooms), and are usually made of metal. Imagine the stress they’ll put on your Pocket Camera mount.
Finally, the most important thing – even if you manage to form a collection of these lenses, they most likely will not match when cut together. What happens if you drop or break one of them, or if they are stolen?
Seriously, unless you have quick access to a Super 16mm lens that fits perfectly, and can afford it, and love the optical quality and ‘look’ of that lens, go for it. Otherwise, stay away and don’t waste your time.
The same applies to lenses made for 2/3″ CCD sensors, E-mount lenses, Nikon CX lenses, etc.; which have an even smaller flange distance than Super 16mm. Lenses made specifically for such sensors, like ENG lenses, will not cover the entire image circle necessary for the Blackmagic Pocket Camera. The ones that cover the 1″ area, are super expensive.
All this aggravation for your $995 Blackmagic pocket camera? Why bother?
Lenses for the Blackmagic Pocket Camera
Here are my lens suggestions for the Blackmagic Pocket Camera (the numbers in brackets signify the 35mm full-frame equivalent):
Because some of the lenses are not direct MFT mounts, you’ll need adapters. Here are two options:
EF to Micro Four Thirds: Fotodiox
C-mount to Micro Four Thirds: Fotodiox
Leica M-mount to Micro Four Thirds: Fotodiox
What would I get?
If you are confused by the lens options available, here is a list of lenses I would get to form the ultimate kit for the Blackmagic Pocket Camera:
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 (This would cover the wide angle from 20mm to 40mm)
Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 (This would cover the mid range perfectly, from 35mm to 100mm)
Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 Lumix G (100mm to 288mm)
SLR Magic HyperPrime Cine 12mm T/1.6 (35mm) (Alternative: Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12mm f/2.0)
Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95 (50mm) (Alternative: Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital 17mm f/1.8)
Any 35mm f/1.4 for micro four thirds I can find, or a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN (86mm), if I wanted a 100mm prime. The new Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95 (122mm) will also work.
Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 (35mm to 100mm)
Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95 (If you prefer 50mm), or the
SLR Magic HyperPrime Cine 12mm T/1.6 (If you prefer 35mm)
What’s the common factor? None of these need adapters, and all of them are the lightest in their class. Of all these options, if I had to pick one/two lenses, these would be it:
MFT lens or Manual lens – The Blackmagic Pocket Camera has an active MFT mount, and you might find it convenient to use autofocus and IRIS control. These options will only be available with the Panasonic or Olympus lenses in my list. Also, they will be far lighter than their semi-metallic manual lenses. Don’t forget that electronic lenses might also offer image stabilization. That’s three very important features, if you need them.
SLR Magic vs Voigtlander – The biggest problem with the Voigtlander lenses is that their focus rings aren’t compatible with most follow focus systems. At f/0.95, you might find focusing an impossible task. On the other hand, SLR Magic are based in Hong Kong, and if you have defective product, shipping it back and forth might be more than you bargained for (depends on whether there are any direct dealers in your area). Get the ‘Cine’ version of the SLR Magic lens, and pay extra for the ‘Lens gear’ (about $100 difference) if you are planning to use it with a follow focus kit.
What about the Metabones Speed Booster? – At the time of this writing, there are three options available for the Micro Four Thirds mount:
Nikon F – $429
Leica R – $399
Contax Yashica (T-mount)- $399
Now, there is no doubt that the Metabones Speed Booster delivers on its promises, but is it financially and practically viable, in spite of it?
E.g., if you want to use cheap Nikon F lenses to go wider (0.71x) and faster (about 1 stop), then what are the options? You can find a used 18mm f/3.5 manual lens for $500, or a 20mm f/3.5 for $200. This would translate to a 13mm lens (40mm FF equivalent) at f/2.8 or slightly better. Total cost? At least $629 or more. The Olympus 12mm f/2 costs $799.
Or, let’s say you strike a bargain on a 24mm f/2.8 lens for $100. This will become a FF equivalent of 50mm at f/2. Price? $529. An Olympus 17mm f/1.8 (same 50mm FF equivalent) is only $499. You do the math.
Here’s a video by John Brawley
using the 12mm T/1.6 and the 17.5mm f/0.95:
Filters & Matteboxes
I’ve covered filters in great detail in the Chapter on Filters and Matteboxes in the Comprehensive Guide so I won’t be going into them in detail. However, one kind of filter that will definitely come handy is the ND or variable ND filter. You must find an ND filter that fits the filter thread of your lens. For filters, I recommend Singh-Ray.
Even though Blackmagic Design can post a photo like this doesn’t mean it’s worth the effort:
Matteboxes will make your rig seriously front-heavy (not to mention ridiculous-looking, with the lenses I’ve recommended), and might not be a very wise decision. Follow the suggestions I’ve listed in the link above, if you must have a mattebox. Don’t forget to match them against the front diameter of your lens.
Follow Focus Systems
The Blackmagic Pocket Camera will most likely have autofocus, but that won’t work with manual lenses. This means you’ll appreciate a follow focus system for those expensive f/0.95 primes. On the other hand, rigging a follow focus system is going to be tricky if the lens is small.
For cheap but reliable, try this:
Opteka FF180 Reversible Follow Focus
If you want something smaller but sturdier, try the Edelkrone Focusone Pro.
In Part Three we’ll look at monitors, viewfinders, audio and power supplies.
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July 17, 2013