By Rainer von Rottenburg
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[Editor’s note – Rainer isn’t a native English speaker so I’ve taken the liberty of changing a few words here and there. If there is any deficiency in the quality of language or its presentation, the responsibility is solely mine.]
I want to bring a new approach with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera MFT as a VJ (Video Journalist). I will not speak much about the technical side of the BMCC MFT (because there’s a lot of good articles about that on Wolfcrow) but more about the practical side in the field.
First of all some words about me to bring things into context. I am working as a VJ in Berlin. There are a lot of meanings for the word VJ. In my context I mean a one-man-film-production, or video journalist. I am self-employed and work for companies like Audi, CeBIT, Agencies like KMS Blackspace or Young & Rubicam; or German bands like Subway-to-Sally or InExtremo. I am also a self-educated person, so to all the people tired of sitting around in boring universities or schools, yes there is a chance avoiding that, but you have to be extremely disciplined.
Here’s a showreel of my one-man-company REMAKE.TV giving an overview of my VJ work in my pre-DSLR days:
Camera-wise I grew up with VHS and S-VHS making very chaotic art movies in the 80s and early 90s. Then I switched to DV, where affordable cameras were beginning to get a reasonable picture quality. I filmed with the PD 150, Z1 and the Sony EX1.
Working with heavy compression of DV, DVCAM, HDV and XDCAM in post was always very frustrating, because there are extreme limits to what you can do with the footage. When the Canon 5D Mark II hype began I was very excited about the picture quality. However, I became frustrated with the handling after I made my first shoot with it. And no more affordable zoom lenses :-(. I knew I had to take on the DSLR adventure, but the Canon stuff was far too expensive for my small purse. When the first articles about the Panasonic GH3 appeared, I knew that was my way to go – affordable, very film friendly handling and a beautiful picture quality at 72 Mbps.
But then the Blackmagic Cinema Camera appeared on the market, and I knew this could be the camera I was dreaming for a long time. The only problem was, it didn’t really fit into my way of shooting. I do mostly hand camera under a lot of time pressure. Things are always live and happening, no one waits for me. So I had to find a way to mobilize the BMCC and make it VJ-able for a small price.
Marcon Glowacki from Eightline pointed me to Swedish Chameleon (SC). They had just brought out a cage and a rig for the BMCC that was not so expensive. It’s very comfortable and stable on the shoulder an gives you different rigging options. Whether you are on the floor for extreme perspectives, want a flexible guerrilla style or need the flexibility of a good old camcorder, everything goes. The SC Cage has so many screw holes and lightning-shoe adaptation possibilities. No matter how many lamps, microphones or other accessories you want to adapt, you will always find a way.
This is my custom rig (the first image is the “camcorder“ version and the second is the “guerrilla” version):
The Zacuto EVF is a very good supplement to the BMCC LCD monitor, which has two extreme disadvantages. The first one is light. If you have strong sun or studio light, the BMCC monitor is useless. So unless you want to walk around like a 1920’s photographer you will need an EVF. I prefer the Zacuto because of the sharp picture quality, the three function buttons you can program with your preferred features, and the ability to use it either as a monitor or a closed viewfinder when there’s a lot of daylight. You can change between the two states with a simple click system, very handy. Or, you can just remove the Z Finder with one grip. The other disadvantage of the BMCC LCD is the fixed angle. You have to go deep into the mud to get a good perspective from below. SC has developed their own magicarm, which I use to adapt the Zacuto EVF with Z-Finder to the cage, because you can quickly and comfortably change the angle.
Here’s the Swedish Chameleon Magic Arm and the Zacuto ZVF+ Z Finder:
There’s another big feature the EVF brought to the camera, and that is audio capabilities. Since the BMCC has absolutely no way of measuring the sound you record, I can use the great audio meters in the Zacuto. I do not need to carry around an external audio recorder that I have to watch and handle parallel to the other equipment; which can be quite a nuisance. The only drawback of the BMCC is the handling of audio levels via touchscreen. That’s not sexy, they should have really made two knobs on the outside of body housing.
There was just one hurdle to overcome – connecting the HDMI Input to the BNC output of the BMCC. There are a lot of expensive solutions out there, but I found a MINI 3G HD SDI to HDMI converter for 50 Euros on Amazon. Just a simple small box, which uses 5-12V so you can run it on V-mount batteries. Here’s what it looks like:
This brings me to the power options for my rig. SC had no solution to offer, so I had to think of something myself. I ended up using the Bebop Coco V-mount Adapter because it has so many outputs. I have two D-Tap and four Hirose outputs. I can power the camera, the converter, an LED lamp, a wireless microphone and more. Powering the BMCC with a V-mount battery is necessary, since the internal rechargeable battery gets empty in no time. With my Bebop V-mount V140 I can shoot for two days on one battery, including a light and the converter! And I shoot a lot a day. The power center on my back is also a very good counterweight to the camera and it takes a lot of load off my arms and stabilizes the picture:
One last thing I want to point out on my rig is the Swedish Chameleon follow focus. It uses rippled belts to connect to the focus ring. So if I rent a lens for just a shoot, I can easily use it. This is very easy to use compared to other solutions, where you have to adapt stuff to your lens. This becomes a problem when the focus ring lacks in width. If the focus ring on the lens has ripples that are too small, the belt gets no grip. SC offers lens rubbers to wrap around the focus ring. A nice feature about the focus pulling ring is you can rotate it around a short arm. So if you want it next to your finger on the “camcorder” or rather on top with a tripod you can adjust it for all angles. SC has made a special rod to adapt it to the BMCC Cage. The rod can be adapted on any height of the cage as you please.
Here you see the SC follow focus and the different orientations:
If I want to go from rig to tripod, I just loosen only two screws and I have the cage, a Manfrotto compatible baseplate and the follow focus, like this:
So, all in all I have an extremely flexible rig. I can shoot for many hours without thinking about power. And I have the beautiful images from the BMCC that raises the production level of my work to new heights. In Part Two I will write about shooting with SLR Magic lenses, the Metabones MFT to Nikon adapter and old Nikon lenses; and also how to handle the Big Data you get with the BMCC. Part Three will focus on my postproduction workflow and how to get the most out of the BMCC footage in FCP-X WITHOUT Resolve. Stick around!