Eastern Promises – Retrofitting the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is a wonderful and compact digital film camera with a really high bang for the buck factor, the bang being a Super 16 Sensor in Full HD and CinemaDNG RAW codec with 13 stops of dynamic range and 12 bit RGB 4:4:4 colour space. But it has to be remembered that its recommended price of $995 is only attached to the camera body or chassis itself; the BMPCC is basically a sCMOS sensor encased in a protecting magnesium alloy body with a Micro Four Thirds lens mount. There is no lens attached to it on delivery straight out of the box. Aquiring the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera as a true low budget option was only made possible for me with the recycling of my old Russian glass. And I knew this from the start, something that I will have to live with for some while (not that I have to grieve about it). It is a fact that good glass costs more than the actual camera and in this respect turning eastward can be quite promising if one is concerned with the cost/effectiveness ratio, which is always a issue or necessity for me because of my shoestring budget philosophy. Many filmmakers and cinematographers have discovered the possibility of using Russian lenses, which seems to be a quite popular and viable option for many in the West. However, Russian glass is a bit notorious, as it may become a hit an miss matter; some lenses are really good and almost on par with the best Western equivalents (but for the fraction of the cost) while others have a bad build quality and exhibit image artifacts, such as bad sharpness (especially at the edges) and other defects (and sometimes cool artifacts). Build quality may also differ within the same type and model. But if you do find good examples, these Russian lenses are often extremely cost-effective and a good alternative for the independent guerilla filmmaker.

Old Russian glass: Meteor 5-1 with M42-MFT and OKS3-10-1 with Bayonet-MFT Adapters, hood and filters
My old Russian Zenit glass: Meteor 5-1 with attached M42-MFT and OKS 3-10-1 with Bayonet-MFT adapters, hood and filters

Prior to the purchase of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera I already owned a pair of Russian lenses belonging to my two Zenit 16 mm film cameras, the Krasnogorsk-3 and the Kinor 16SX-2M, since a decade or so. They were just sitting there shelved and unused, the Meteor 5-1 f/1.9 17-69 mm from the K-3 with a M42x1 mount and the Lomo 16 OKS 3-10-1 f/2.1 10 mm with the original Russian bayonet mount for Kinor 16. As the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has a Micro Four Thirds mount, the first issue to be solved for me was to aquire adapters for both lenses to be able to fit them onto the BMPCC chassis. I bought two of these for each of my lenses from the renowned Russian company RafCamera which specialises in manufacturing adapters for Russian lenses that fit for the various Western mount systems. To fit my Meteor 5-1 I purchased a M42-MFT adapter from RafCamera for $35, who’s elongated shape is optimised for this particular lens which penetrates deep into the camera behind the mount. RafCamera offers two different adapters that fit Kinor 16 Lomo lenses and for the OKS 3-10-1 I ordered a more complex version of the Kinor 16-SX-2 to MFT adapter with a bayonet lock for $85 in the hope that it fould fit the wide range of Kinor 16 lenses. Unfortunately, I immediately encountered problems with attaching my 16 OKS 3-10-1 lens to the RafCamera Kinor-16-SX-2 to MTF adapter as the bayonet lock didn’t want to screw onto the OKS lens bayonet tabs.

Kinor 16SX-2M/OKS-3-10-1 and Krasnogorsk-3/Meteor 5-1 with m42x1-to-mft-adapters
Kinor 16SX-2M / OKS 3-10-1 and Krasnogorsk-3 / Meteor 5-1 with M42x1 and Kinor 16 to MTF adapters

Checking the fit of the lens I noticed that a rear portion of it was getting in the way of letting the lens go all the way into the adapter so that the lock would fit. However, I noticed that there is a screw attached to the bayonet lock nut which normally makes the nut move inside a groove within a certain interval (opening up and closing). Loosening the screw, using an allen key, I managed to make the bayonet nut lock on to the tabs on the OKS 3-10-1 and pushing the nut to far to the edge of the thread in the process so that the screw no longer could move inside the groove. However, I couldn’t screw the nut to tight to the lens as that oddly enough made the focus ring fix into position with no possibility to change the focus setting. So I had to loose the tightness of the lock so that the focus nut would free itself, but that on the other hand made the entire lens way to loose so that it would play inside the adapter. In this loose position I had to fasten the screw somewhat although I knew that it would press against the thread of the adapter onto which the lock nut was screwed, with the risk of damaging the thread. Indeed, not a optimal solution. I also suspected that the back of the lens didn’t go deep enough into the adapter, comparing it to the Meteor 5-1 with attached M42-MFT adapter, with a possible focus problem as a result. Alas, when my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera finally arrived and I fastened the Kinor 16 adapter onto the MFT mount my suspicion was confirmed – there is no way of focusing the lens because of the improper flange focal distance; it’s impossible to see anything through it.

 OKS3-10-1 with Kinor-16 to MFT Adepter attached to my BMPCC and the visable result on the screen.
OKS 3-10-1 with Kinor 16 to MFT adapter attached to my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the visable result on the screen

I will probably have to purchase the simpler version of the Kinor-16SX-2 to MTF adapter which doesn’t use a bayonet lock but instead uses three screws to fasten the lens to the adapter. But I have no way of knowing if it will fit better as I have heard that some Kinor 16 lenses of the OKS and OPF family attach better to it than others. Besides, I don’t know if there is any point of investing such amount of money ($49) on a 10 mm lens thatkinor-16sx-2-to-mtf probably will vignette to much on a Super 16 sensor anyway, because it’s adapted to a regular 16 mm gate. I have yet to decide on this matter; not the hightest priority right now. Thankfully, the M42-MTF adapter fits perfectly on the Meteor 5-1 lens thread and the lens and adapter package attaches well to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Micro Four Thirds mount as it is supposed to, making it possible for me to shoot film right on the spot. However, one may detect a slight loose between the Micro Four Thirds mount and the M42-MFT adapter but the play is almost unnoticeable; I haven’t met any issues with this adapter play in normal field conditions shooting with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Meteor 5-1 lens and reviewing the footage on the screen. The flange focal distance seems to be optimal as I cannot detect any noticable difference when pulling focus between the Meteor 5-1 lens attached to my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and my Krasnogorsk-3. At least, it’s good enough.

Meteor 5-1 with and without attached M42x1 to MFT Adapter
Meteor 5-1 with and without attached M42x1 to MFT adapter

On both adapters the rear part is detachable by loosing a set of three screws, making it possible to turn the body of the lens if you need to place the red lens index mark at a different position. This is especially a good feature on the Meteor 5-1 as its zoom function is pulled with the help of a lever on the left side of the lens. Now, in its original position this zoom lever is placed pointing slightly downwards from the lens body. Placing the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with the Meteor 5-1 lens on a table, with the M42-MTF adapter left at its original setting, makes the lens lever hinder a level placement of the camera. Screwing the long extension rod onto the zoom lever would force me to lay the camera on its side, which is a risky business. Also, the Meteor 5-1 lens feels quite heavy compared to the BMPCC chassis, making the combo quite front-heavy and off balance. The lens being quite large and heavy, it requires the acquisition of a extra support for the lens attached to the 15 mm rod system on my future rig. But with the zoom lever placed in its original downward position, this leaves very little room for the support to fit onto the lens. Leveling the lever out towards the left side would provide more space on the bottom of the lens for a future lens support. Also, I find that it feels more natural to grip the zoom level in my hand when it extends perpendicularly from the camera body rather than diagonally. Thus, I loosened the three screws using a allen key (provided by RafCamera) and adjusted the lens slightly clockwise while mounted to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera to get the preferred perpendicular position.

Adjusting the Meteor 5-1 for BMPCC
Adjusting the Meteor 5-1 for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with the help of a allen key

With this Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera / Zenit Meteor 5-1 lens combo I have shot some test footage, almost 40 minutes of digital film in total on two different occations. What I really enjoy with this lens is the look of the recorded footage which gives a added sense of classical celluloid film look, including distinct lens flares (a feature I really like). I have shot both in night and day, and I really appreciate its light sensitivity; it is a quite fast lens with f/1.9. It handles the natural light coming from the street lights very well when setting the iris fully opened, aperture f/1.9, and the ISO of the camera set to its native 800 ASA. The CinemaDNG RAW handles the Meteor lens very well in this low light environment. I also like the lever controlling the zoom setting, especially when applying the long rod onto the lever which provides better zoom control. But even without the rod the plastic lever itself is wide enough and has a ribbed pattern on it for the thumb and grip, enabling easy setting of the zoom. However, working without the extension rod pulling the zoom lever while filming creates some stutter to the zooming. Even working with the extension rod necessitates a lot of practice to get a smooth pulling as the lever isn’t particularly damped. Turning the focus ring, which is situated on the front of the lens, is quite smooth though as the ring is well damped. However, turning the focus from 2 meters (which is the minimum focus distance) to ∞ is quite ankward as the focus ring is quite large and takes a half turn, making it necessary to change the grip of the hand twice when focus pulling in a continuous movement; this creates jerkiness to the image and necessitates a future investment in a full camera rig with baseplate, 15 mm rods and follow focus arrangement.

Meteor 5-1 with a M42x1 mount attached to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera using a M42-MTF adapter
Meteor 5-1 with a M42x1 mount attached to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera using a M42x1-MTF adapter

Both of my Russian lenses come with a full set of filters. My 16 OKS 3-10-1 came with a basic set of 62 mm filters for LOMO OKS prime lenses stored and protected in a wooden casing: Neutral Density N-2x and N-4x, plus colour temperatur fiters K4500 (yellow), K6000 (orange) and K8000 (red). My Meteor 5-1 lens was delivered with a range of 77 mm filters: One Ultra Violet (haze) UV-1x, one Neutral Density N-4x, one Light Yellow Y-1,4x, and two Dark Yellow Y-2x filters (with the same 77 mm diameter but somewhat different sizes). Shooting in daylight and full or moderate sunshine necessitates the use of the ND filter. The colour filters are quite redundant as the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has a nice range of 18 colour temperature settings ranging in small increments between 2500K and 8000K. The Meteor 5-1 also sports a quite large lens hood which is good for outdoors shooting, especially during daylight. My Zenit Krasnogorsk-3 also comes with a simple hand held rig arrangement which uses a pistol grip onto which one may attach a shoulder brace mount with the help of a simple screw arrangement. The shoulder brace has a telescopic extension (using a screw for loosening and fastening), making the camera look almost like a Russian Kalashnikov AK-47 with a folding stock. This pistol grip and shoulder brace rig makes a great albeit crude addition to my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera; however, as the screw mount on my BMPCC uses a 1/4″ standard and the K-3 uses a 3/8″ screw mount I had to purchase a screw adapter from Manfrotto with a 1/4″ male and 3/8″ female configuration.

K-3 Handheld & Shoulder Support Rig for BMPCC
Krasnogorsk-3 handheld & shoulder support rig for my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, using a Manfrotto screw adapter

I used this Krasnogorsk-3 rig with my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, with the help of my Manfrotto adapter, to shoot my first test footage. Although the pistol grip and telescopic shoulder brace mount provides some additional stabilisation to the camera, the screw adapter easily loosens which makes the camera wiggle somewhat to and fro; I often had to take a pause and fasten the tightness between the adapter and the screw on the pistol grip or handle, which only helped for a while. This makes it necessary to hold the camera lens tight with the hand for additional stabilisation. Although this partly DIY stabilisation rig does it job partially well, providing a better solution compared to holding the camera and lens in the hands, it unfortunately still results in quite shaky footage. This is especially true when zooming in, of course, which can be seen in my initial test footage with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. It gives lots of freedom in panning and tilting when doing freehand with the grip and shoulder support. But it is not enough. However, it will have to do for now and with some practice I imagine that I may learn to stabilise this handheld rig even better. Everything considered, I still produced some nice footage with this configuration. I will post the final result here in the near future and while you are waiting I now present some footage taken by other cinematographers with some Russian glass together with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, starting off with the Meteor 5-1.

I really love the look of the footage shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera / Meteor 5-1 combo. The graded result reminds me much of the soft, warm and saturated look captured from 16 mm film with a Krasnogorsk-3, or in other words a lot like Super 16 film. One strong point with the Meteor 5-1 (or any such lens) is that it is adapted for a standard 16 mm gate size of 10.26mm x 7.49mm, which is comparable to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera sCMOS sensor size of 12.48mm x 7.02mm. This reduces the 35mm lens crop factor from the usual 2.88x nex to nil. The crop factor is actually to good as some vignetting is visable on standard 16 mm lenses with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which is optimised for lenses adapted to the wider Super 16 format (which originally had the gate size of 12.52 x 7.41); this may be seen on some of the footage taken above. On a Meteor 5-1 this is in particular seen as dark corners (or even a crescent) at the left side of the image when the lens is set at 17 mm focal length which disappears from the image at around 25-30 mm (depending on the focus setting, etc.). This may be remedied in post production by a cropping of the standard 1.78:1 (16:9) image to at least the cinema aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which reduces most of the dark corners, alternatively by zooming the picture or a combination of both; the aspect ratio of 2.39:1 would crop out the vignetting entirely. Something that I also have noticed is that it is somewhat difficult to set optimal focus on a extreme close-up of a face with the Meteor 5-1. But it will have to due as a entry-level lens considering that I already own one. Here follows some more footage taken with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and various Russian glass, amongst which is the Meteor 5-1 (of which the first one is actually taken using the K-3 pistol grip and shoulder brace mount).

The last clip actually features the Lomo 16 OPF 1-2M-01 f/2.4 12-120mm zoom lens which I am contemplating as a viable future aquisition for my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, as well as the more advanced Lomo 16 OPF 12-1 f/2.5 10-100 mm. Actually, I’m quite hopeful that my RafCamera Kinor-16-SX-2 to MTF adapter with16-opf-zoom-lenses bayonet lock will fit at least one of these two Lomo zoom lenses well enough, which I suspect comparing detailed pictures of their rear parts. The nice thing with both of these lenses (see inserted picture to the right) is that there exists a wide angle adapter which attaches to both that lends a 7.5-75 mm range to the 16 OPF 12-1 and a 9-90 mm range to the 16 OPF 1-2M-01. I also like the fact that both of these zoom lenses have a crank attached to them which makes a more smooth and controllable zooming in camera possible, more so than the Meteor 5-1. Like the Meteor 5-1 these will probably vignette somewhat on the lowest focal points, however having used the Meteor I am confirmed that this only is a minor issue which more or less disappears quite early along the focal length range of each lens, which is easily masked through cropping and zooming in post production. Also, I suspect that vignetting is less of an issue with the OPF 1-2M compared to the OPF 12-1 as the focal length of the former starts at 12 mm. Someone put up a comparison test simulating the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera sensor with a red outline together with Russian Lomo lenses, such as the 16 OKS 3-10-1 (which vignettes big time) and the 16 OPF 1-2M (which seems to pass the test barely):

However, I have seen some other footage which seems to confirm that there in fact is some vignetting to be found with the 16 OPF 1-2 within the lowest focal ranges, comparable with the Meteor 5-1. (That same source also states that the bayonet lock Kinor-16-SX-2 to MFT mount adapter from RafCamera doesn’t fit well with this particular lens, having met the same problems as I experience with the OKS 3-10-1.) Other reports confirm similar vignetting results with the 16 OPF 12-1. Vignetting, of course, isn’t a fixed matter as it is affected by the combined result of focus distance (1.5 m – ∞), aperture, and zoom focal length setting, as well as the amount of available light present in the take. Thus, as a cinematographer I either have the choice of treating these Russian Lomo lenses as having a ~30-100 mm or ~30-120 mm focal length (instead of 10-100 or 12-120 mm), or I may chose to correct any vignetting in my post production workflow. All these things considered, the strong points with the Kinor 16 zoom lenses is their supposed high build quality; compared to the Zenit Meteor 5-1, the wide range of lenses for the Kinor 16 are manufactured for professional use and Lomo has a pretty good reputation. The Ukrainian camera technician Olex Kalynychenko, which I acknowledge as one of the foremost specialists on Russian made cameras and lenses, has the following to say concerning the Zenit manufactured Lomo 16 OPF 1-2, 16 OPF 12-1 and Meteor 5-1 lenses, and I quote him:

The original user manual (result of test) of 16 OPF-12-1 10-100 mm zoom lens with 0.75x front wide angle attachment wrote: – the photographic resolution of picture (mm -1): At centre (y=0 mm) lens 10-100 mm, zoom position 10 mm = 74 lines per mm, 50 mm = 64 lines per mm, 100 mm = 50 lines per mm.

At centre (y=0 mm) lens 10-100 mm with 0.75 front wide angle attachmnet (7.5-75 mm) zoom position 7.5 mm (marking 10 mm) = 72 lines per mm, 75 mm (marking 100 mm) = 50 lines per mm.

At corner (y=5.5 mm) lens 10-100 mm, zoom position 10 mm = 43 lines per mm, 50 mm = 36 lines per mm, 100 mm = 29 lines per mm.

At corner (y=5.5 mm) lens 10-100 mm with 0.75 front wide angle attachmnet (7.5-75 mm) zoom position 7.5 mm (marking 10 mm) = 32 lines per mm, 75 mm (marking 100 mm) = 28 lines per mm.

The technical information (result of test) of 16 OPF-1-2M 12-120 mm zoom lens wrote: – the photographic resolution of picture (mm -1): At centre (y=0 mm ) lens 12-120 mm, zoom position 12 mm = 58 lines per mm, 50 mm = 50 lines per mm, 120 mm = 43 lines per mm.

At corner (y=5.5 mm) lens 12-120 mm, zoom position 12 mm = 28 lines per mm, 50 mm = 28 lines per mm, 120 mm = 22 lines per mm.

The technical information (result of test) of Meteor-5 17-69 mm zoom lens wrote: – the photographic resolution of picture (mm -1): At centre (y=0 mm) lens 17-69 mm zoom position 17 mm = 68 lines per mm, 69 mm = 58 lines per mm.

At corner (y=5.5 mm) lens 17-69 mm, zoom position 17 mm = 25 lines per mm, 69 mm = 38 lines per mm.

The Lomo 16 OPF 12-1 (10-100 mm) is the superiour lens when it comes to sharpness quality. The Lomo 16 OPF 1-2 (12-120 mm) and Meteor 5-1 (17-69 mm) are more or less comparable. The Meteor 5-1 is the fastest of the three lenses with its f/1.9. The two Kinor 16 lenses 16 OPF 12-1 and 16 OPF 1-2 are approximately equally fast (or slow) with their f/2.5 and 2.4 respectively, which is quite ordinary for most zoom lenses; the fastness of the Meteor is quite remarkable considering it’s a zoom lens. All three lenses have their strong points and week points that complement each other: The strong point of the OPF 1-2 is its long focal range (maximum 120 mm), of the OPF 12-1 its high sharpness (74-50 lines/mm at centre and 43-29 lines/mm at corners at 10-100 mm focal range), and of the Meteor 5-1 its speed (f/1.9). I believe that they will all add great quality to the splendid image created by the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and that for a price range that spans between 2.500-3.500 SEK ($280-390) for the Lomo OPF lenses. And that’s really cheap considering the quality of the image that is possible to squeeze out from these 1980’s Russian lenses!

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Eastern Promises – Retrofitting the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s