IFH 098: How to Build a Pimp’d Out BlackMagic Cinema Camera Rig on the CHEAP!

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How to Build a Pimp’d Out BlackMagic Cinema Camera Rig

When I began my filmmaking journey with my first feature film, This is Meg, I had no idea what camera I’d be shooting with. I had access to both RED Cinema and Arri Alexa Cameras for free if I wanted them but I choose against using them on this film for the following reasons:

  1. The infrastructure need to make those camera work was complicated and expensive (even if you are getting the camera bodies for free)
  2. I wouldn’t have the freedom to shoot whenever I had the cast available. (we shot over 6 weeks)
  3. The “footprint” of those cameras do not lend themselves to run and gun guerrilla filmmaking.
  4. The Post Production workflow would be costly and high end RAID drives are expensive.
  5. Production Insurance would be needed and that’s expensive.

So I looked around and choose the remarkable BlackMagic Cinema Camera.

“But Alex you are nutz! You could’ve shot on a RED or ALEXA and you choose a BlackMagic Cinema Camera?”

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Yes I did. For a few reasons:

  1. I could own the BlackMagic Cinema Camera, play with it, test and experiment.
  2. No production insurance.
  3. Small footprint for those “guerrilla filmmaking” moment out in the streets.
  4. Amazing post production workflow (I edited and finished This is Meg on the DaVinci Resolve, more on that in the podcast)
  5. I could affordably pimp out the rig and customize it for my shooting needs.
  6. This is Meg is a small character driven indie film, shooting with RED or ALEXA would’ve been overkill.

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Shooting with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera

Now I’ve been a colorist for over 10 years and the image quality of RED or ALEXA are superior to the BlackMagic Cinema Camera but you need to choose the right tool for the project.

The BlackMagic Cinema Camera gave me the freedom that the others couldn’t and the BlackMagic Cinema Camera is BY FAR the best bang for your buck. Speaking as a colorist and the director of photography of the film, the image quality is stellar. You just need to understand the camera’s strengths and weakness.

Here are some tips when shooting with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera 2.5k.

  1. The BlackMagic Cinema Camera need a ton of light.
  2. Make sure you shoot at 400 ISO unless you are shooting nights. Try to always shot 400 ISO.
  3. Record with a minimum 240gig Card (about 46 min of RAW).
  4. SHOOT RAW, not ProRes 422 HQ!

I also decided to shoot with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera because of the amazing RAW Cinema DNG file it produces. I shot with the BlackMagic Cinema Camera 2.5K not the 4k version. The 4k would’ve been nice but the cost in media and hard drives out weighted the extra pixel. I also knew I’d be mastering in 1080p and blowing up to 2k for the DCP deliverable.

You can shoot ProRes 422 HQ but I’d suggest shooting RAW because if you don’t light the scene perfectly having that RAW Cinema DNG file can really get you out of a pickle…trust me!

I go into great detail on how I put this rig together in this weeks podcast. I share tips, tricks and real world stories of what worked and what didn’t. I also talk about the post production workflow I went through editing in DaVinci Resolve.

Here’s the trailer to This is Meg, so you can see the BlackMagic Cinema Camera in action:

Right click here to download the MP3 (Transcription of the episode below)


Check out the rig in action on the set:

So below is a list of gear that took me months to research. This rig served me very well on This is Meg. Would I shoot my next film on the BlackMagic Cinema Camera, ABSOLUTELY! Overall it held up extremely well!

BMCC 2.5 with EF Mount

  • 13 Stop Dynamic Range: captures a super wide dynamic range of 13 stops into 12-bit DNG files.
  • Detail Preservation: preserves detail in both shadows and highlights, and even handles indoor shots while keeping the details of any images captured through windows.
  • Premium Quality: machined aluminum chassis, interchangeable optics and 2.5K sensor.
  • EF and ZE Compatible Lens Mount: use lenses from Canon, Zeiss and many more.
  • Versatile Lens Options: choose the lens you need based on the creative style of your shot. full electronic control of your lens.

Please Note: If you have a bigger budget and can afford bigger record media and more hard drives I’d get the BlackMagic Cinema Camera 4k version. The extra pixels for resizing is nice but be careful with the global shutter issue! You’ll lose some range so if you are shooting in low light situations stick with the 2.5k, you’ll thank me later.


Recording Media

Kingston Digital 480GB SSDNow Solid State Drive  – $145.99 (46min Record Time 2.5 RAW)
Kingston Digital 240GB SSDNow Solid State Drive  – $81.43 (90min Record Time 2.5 RAW)

  • Faster – improves speed of loading applications and system boot up
  • Reliable – with no moving parts, solid-state drives are less likely to fail than standard hard drives
  • Economical – design optimized to make migrating to an SSD more affordable
  • Multiple capacities – to fit your workload, Interface : SATA Rev. 3.0 (6Gb/s) – with backwards compatibility to SATA Rev. 2.0
  • Form Factor – 2.5-inch drive available in 7.0mm with plastic adapter to fit in 9.5mm system
  • Guaranteed – three-year warranty, free technical support
  • Silent – runs silent and cool

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The Camera Cage

This BlackMagic Cinema Camera cage by CAMTREE is SOLID! The Remote record button on the wooden handles was a life saver. Amazing rigging options. Seriously you can build the rig custom to your needs and wants. For the price you can’t go wrong!

CAMTREE HUNT Pro Cage for the BlackMagic Cinema Camera – $237.00

  • Extremely well-built for BlackMagic Cinema Camera/4K camera users
  • Heavy Duty Aluminum – Complete CNC Construction
  • Comfortable wooden handles for smooth operation
  • Easy configuration for EVF, monitor and other accessories
  • Easy handheld and tripod mounting ability

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Preview Monitor

I would definitely purchase a second monitor. The LCD Preview that the BlackMagic Cinema Camera is acceptable but difficult to use for outdoor shooting. Again as with all elements of this rig, this isn’t the biggest and baddest but it gets the job done on a budget.

Feelworld FW759 7 inch Ultra HD 1280×800 IPS Screen Camera Field Monitor – $149.00

  • Wide view angle IPS panel, Ultra HD1280x800 resolution, get the vivid and clear visual experience.
  • Enhanced 400cd/m2 backlight, 1:1 pixel mapping and 800:1 contrast ratio provides users with the most accurate picture.
  • Slim design 17mm Portable Light compatible for Steadycam, Camcorder Kit, Handheld Stabilizer, Video Camera Crane.
  • Professional Peaking Focus Assist Application for full HD Video Camera in taking photos and Making Movies.
  • Camera 5D II Mode. Check Field(Red, Green, Blue, Mono). Image Flip(U/D, L/R). ScreenMarker (80%,85%,90%,93%,96%,2.35:1). Centre Marker. 4:3 & 16:9 image adjustable. Pixel-to-Pixel. Image Freeze.

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To connect the preview monitor to the BlackMagic Cinema Camera you’ll need a SDI/BNC to HDMI Convertor and the one below was the best bang for the buck I could find.

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Portta PETSH SDI HD-SDI to HDMI Adapter Converter 1080p for Driving HDMI Monitors – $29.99

  • No need to install drivers, portable, flexible, plug and play. Low power, No power adaptor.
  • Auto detect resolution of HD-SDI, SD-SDI and 3G-SDI Full HDMI supported with embedded 48KHZ digital audio
  • HDMI 1.3 output resolution: 720P@50HZ, 720P@60HZ, 1080i@50HZ, 1080i@60HZ, 1080P@24HZ, 1080P@25HZ, 1080P@30HZ, 1080P@50HZ, 1080P@60HZ

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AUKEY 10400mAh Portable Charger with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2 – $19.99 (Power Source for the Adapter)
Pergear Portable Protective Travel Carrying Case Feelworld  Monitor – $19.99

  • Hard EVA outer shell, Water Repellent; Built-in Mesh zippered pocket, Holding Belt and Zippered Closure provide all-around protection.
  • Designed for a range of devices and accessories, batteries, chargers, cables, adapters, monitors, LED video lights and other more devices.
  • With the cutout sponge blocks and 3 sponge pieces will greatly increase its protection capability and maximize its value in use.
  • The mini sponge blocks have been specially designed for you to make your own shape according to your equipment.
  • Compact and easy to store in backpacks or carry-on luggage.

This is not a luxury. Getting a case is mandatory . It’s $20, come on = )

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DSTE® 2x NP-F970 Battery – $43.69 (Longer Lasting Batteries – Recommended*)

  • Battery Type: Li-ion DC 8.4V(max) DC 7.2V(mean)
  • Battery Capacity : 58.5Wh/7900mAh
  • Info Function for Life Indication
  • A 12V Car Lighter Adapter Convenient for Journey
  • Travel Charger Input: AC 100-240V 50/60Hz Output: 8.4V 0.6A

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Follow Focus

This little follow focus was great! It snapped on and off quickly and did the job.

Fotga Upgraded DP500III Quick Release Dampen Follow Focus for BlackMagic Cinema Camera – $199

  • Based on the classic Mark IIS, the newly designed DP500 Mark III Follow Focus is more precise and smooth in the transmission structure and output interface.
  • When ensuring its high rigidity and reliability, the weight of DP500 Mark III Follow Focus has been reduced by nearly 16%, leading to a lighter system and more portable. The damping adjustment Knob below can adjust the tension of the gearbox to reach 2 dampen levels.
  • With A/B hard stops, it’s easy to make begin/end setups for fast repeatable shooting between two points. It also makes focusing lenses (such as Canon EF lenses) that have no hard stops much easier. The white mark ring is made of magnet material, very convenient to be detached or attached on the metal follow focus. You can also buy additional mark ring.
  • Come with one 12X12mm speed crank handle, one gear belt and three 0.8 gears (38T, 43T, 65T) to fit different lenses. All of the gears can be installed in both sides of the follow focus, suitable for both left-hand and right-hand photographer
  • With a standard 15x15mm quick release mount, the follow focus can be installed on and detached from the 15x15mm rail rod plate or 19mm adapter mount quickly. The horizontal distance of follow focus is also adjustable.

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Matte Box

Matte Boxes can run into the thousands of dollars. Of course CAMTREE has a solid solution for the indie filmmaker. Most of the large elements on my rig are from them. They make quality and solid camera gear on the cheap. Seriously when you see and feel this matte box in person you’ll understand. The swing away option saved me a ton of time.

ALEX CAMERA_1.1.1

CAMTREE-MB-23 CF Swing Away wide angle Carbon Fiber Matte Box – $245

  • Durable lightweight aluminum and ABS construction. Our Quality Assurance Guarantee. Lightweight, rugged construction. Accommodates most DSLR/M wide angle lenses.
  • Easy to use, full swing away feature. Built in filter holder for advanced image capture. Fully adjustable flags. 180 degree rotation of 1 stage filter and 1 is Static.
  • CNC Precision made metallic construction with carbon fiber hood. Designed to fit 15mm rods. Strong and secure. Easily unfastened – dual throw latches.
  • Swing away feature for quick lens changes. Adjustable to accommodate various lens sizes. Designed and engineered for today’s wide angle lens.
  • Pick n Pluck with convoluted lid foam. Black matte finishing. Lifetime quality assurance.

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The Back Saver

By far the most important part of my rig, the CAMTREE Shoulder Rig. Since This is Meg was shot completely hand held I would’ve died without this little handy item. Trust me the best money you ever spent…and your back will thank you too.

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CAMTREE Shoulder Rig Support Rod – $126.88

  • High strength aluminum construction
  • ¼” mounting screw
  • Load capacity – 5kg
  • Max Length of Support Rod – 2.3 ft
  • 15mm rod adapter included

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BlackMagic Cinema Camera Rods

I decide on using 18 inch rods to give me the distance and space to rig what I needed. These did the job nicely.

SmallRig® Black Aluminum Alloy 15mm Rods 18 Inches Long – $24.00

  • Completely modular
  • Anodic oxidation surface treatment
  • Hollow, non-threaded
  • All aluminum construction
  • Industry standard 15mm rods

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BlackMagic Cinema Camera Handles

I know the cage I purchased already had nice wooden handles but I wanted a lower grip for the shots I was getting.

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CAMTREE Hunt Quick Mount 15mm Rosette handle Set – $110.00

  • Fully adjustable, rubber skid proof, universal handle grip with dual lock fits 15mm rail rod systems
  • Fit all camera BlackMagic Cinema Camera video rod rail system
  • 2 spindle allows you to adjusts it to any angle you want
  • Steel rosettes bring excellent stability to the handgrip
  • Special lock system which always use to lock the heavy mold

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The Battery

So we all know the internal battery on the BlackMagic Cinema Camera doesn’t last long. Industry standard production batteries are expensive, not to mention the mounts to even use them. What’s a broke indie filmmaker to do? Enter the JuiceBox Battery. They laughed at me on set but when they saw it ran the BlackMagic Cinema Camera for 3-4 hours and only cost $109 the jokes turned into “where did you get those”.

Juicebox Battery for Blackmagic Micro, Pocket, Cinema and Production Cameras – $109.00

  • Compatible with BlackMagic Cinema Camera Micro Studio/Production Cameras, Cinema/Production Cameras 2.5k/4k and Pocket Cinema Cameras
  • Super high capacity (58wh); 4+ hours with BlackMagic Cinema Camera, 7+ hours with BMPCC and Micro Studio Cam
  • Fully mountable, external battery that is adaptable to your BlackMagic Cinema Camera rig
  • Built with overcharge and discharge protection; completely safe for your BlackMagic Cinema Camera
  • Includes 12v smart charger

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Guerrilla Battery Mount

So how can I mount this remarkable battery on my rig? Well the Juicebox comes with a two ended screw that will allow you to mount it right on the cage. I found that a bit cumbersome so I came you this trick. Using the Quick Release Clamp Adapter I screwed it into the shoulder pad in the back. This acted as a counter weight and it was out of the way. Worked perfectly.

Five Season 1 Pcs Camera 323 Quick Release Clamp Adapter with 200PL-14 Compat Plate Black – $7.40

  • 1/4″ Metal Screw Attachment (to attach to your BlackMagic Cinema Camera)
  • Durable Rubber Pad to stop expensive slips
  • Full Manfrotto 200-PL14 compatibility
  • Screw less designed D-Ring to attach/detach quickly from your BlackMagic Cinema Camera
  • This camera quick release plate will quickly screw onto your tripod to properly and securely position your camera for the best shooting angle

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Shoulder Rig/Pad

I didn’t use this in the way it was meant to. I stole the shoulder pad and attached it to the BlackMagic Cinema Camera rods at the end. Then I attached the “Guerrilla Battery Mount” to it and then mounted the JuiceBox to that. Easy, Pessie!

Camtree Hunt Flexible Shoulder Mount (Black) – $125.28

  • Lightweight Aluminum Construction. Completely Adjustable.
  • Soft and durable shoulder pad. Durable steel Rosette gear.
  • Extremely steady and appropriate shoulder platform.
  • Provide excellent precision and reliability.
  • Ideal for both professional and independent filmmakers.

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BONUS: Metabones T Speed Booster Ultra 0.71x Adapter for Canon Full-Frame EF Mount Len $689.00

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So I put this on the list because I wish I could’ve had it on my BlackMagic Cinema Camera rig. The Metabones T Speed Booster Ultra 0.71x Adapter is an amazing piece of technology.

Like the revolutionary original Metabones Speed Booster announced in January 2013, the Speed Booster ULTRA m43 has a magnification of 0.71x, and so it effectively reduces the crop factor of of the BlackMagic Cinema Camera Micro Four Thirds mount from 2.0x to 1.4x.  However, the new ULTRA design makes very effective use of exotic materials at the furthest limit of glassmaking technology, and as a result is almost perfectly corrected for use with all full frame SLR lenses regardless of aperture.

It’ll also add 1 full stop to all your lenses. Yup, you heard right. Perfect for those lose light or night shoots. I plan to use this on my next film for sure!

 

 

I hope this podcast and article will inspire you to go out and make you feature film, short film, television show, web series, documentary, or YouTube Show. There’s no excuse. Go out and make your film!!!

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Transcription – Indie Film Hustle Podcast Episode #98.
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