From Russia with Love – My first impressions of the POOLiCAGE and Bases from POOLi™

On February 24 I finally ordered the POOLiCAGE (half cage version) for my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, together with the S-BASE-2 and D-BASE-2, as well as a pair of 30 cm long 15 mm rods (silver metallic) from Andrey Kramar of POOLi™. It all went for $170 including shipping, which is a virtual steal. Initially, I did consider the full cage version of the POOLiCAGE but finally decided for the original half cage, as I found the original model to be a better, simpler and more aestetically pleasing design. After my experiences with The XmasTree Hunt, I preferred a solution that gave me the freedom to hold the BMPCC by the grip of the camera body, not some oversized wooden cage grip, and at the same time to provide me with enough 1/4″ threads to mount future accessories as well as protection of the camera connectors. Originally, I also opted for the original handle provided by POOLi™; first I considered the version with the wooden grip, as it seemed to be a more advanced and comfortable design, but changed my mind and found the simpler all metal version to be more practical as it provided with more mounting points. However, I finally decided to puchase a top handle from SmallRig instead as I found the POOLi handle to be somewhat to simplistic in its design. I preferred the silver metallic 15 mm rods from both aestetical considerations, as well as practical, thinking that anodised finish would easily become scratched from use, clamping various accessories to the rails. Upon ordering and payment, Andrey assured med that he would commence the manufacture of each item and that everything would be finished in 10 to 14 days; it took him 11 days to make them all.

The newly made POOLiCAGE, S-BASE-2, D-BASE-2, and 15 mm Rods from POOLi™ prior to delivery

What I really like with Andrey Kramar’s manufacturing policy is that he makes each item specifically for you upon order and payment; it may take a while longer to have it delivered but it feels comforting to know that whatever I get from POOLi™ is freshly made by Andrey himself, on a case by case basis, and not mass produced by some anonymous underpayed Asian factory worker, with next to non existent dedication to quality and perfectionism. Andrey, on the other hand, is a skilled craftsman, using high quality and modern automatised computer based CNC machining techniques. The raw matter is taken from good old Russian D16T aluminum alloy, supposed to be of high quality and envied by the West, which is coated in a anodising black lacquer after CNCing. Andrey’s design follows an old Russian manufacture tradition which prefers simple and rugged design before complexity. As I already exclusively use vintage Russian glass from LOMO and lens adapters from RafCamera with my BMPCC, it feels good to attach even more Russian gear to my camera; I confess to be a Russophile. But honestly, I cannot deny that the extreme affordability is a huge factor in choosing Russian products, knowing that I will get good quality in the process. Ten days later, and in great expectation, the parcel finally arrived at my local postal office. Bringing it home, I almost immediately started the unpacking, feeling as a kid on the eve of Christmas. Everything was delivered without a scratch, and thankfully with no added toll from Swedish customs.

Unpacking the POOLiCAGE, S-BASE-2, D-BASE-2, and 15 mm Rods

I was a bit dissapointed that my stuff wasn’t packed in that nice looking premade foam modules that I have seen on VKontakte. Although the parcel was specified to 1 kilograms it felt lightweight and quite small, placed in a paper bag when I picked it up from the post office [1]; I had expected a large cardboard box. Instead it was all wrapped in plastic protective bubble wrap that was covered in a loose cardboard protection or frame that felt quite fragile, secured by simple translucent household tape [2-3]. To be honest, it felt a bit exposed upon first glance. But the entire package was well covered in the plastic bubble wrap, in multiple layers. Removing the large wrapping exposed each item wrapped in its individual plastic bubble wrap, secured in houshold tape [4]. Removing the final covers and freeing each item from its bond, the two bases, cage and rods were recovered and revealed, each in one piece and with no visible damage or scratching at all [5]. So, although it all looked a bit recklessly packaged, in reality it all was securely wrapped in, at least good enough to be able to be transported from the Heartland to Gothenburg, Sweden. Although two different sized allen keys were provided to fit all allen screws on the cage and bases, each item was already assembled and ready for use. I immediately fitted the cage to the camera, screwing the two provided 1/4″-20 allen screws to their corresponding threads on the BMPCC [6]. The fit is more or less tight and snug, although there is some play on the top that is perhaps not more than one milimetre. Screwing the allen screw all the way and tight makes the cage sit rock solid on the camera, but it seems that the top 1/4″-20 thread is raised somewhat from the camera body, aligning it to the underside of the top part of the cage, which makes me a bit worried that it might loosen up or come off in the future (as I have read somewhere that this might actually happen).

POOLiCAGE snugly fitted to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, with cable clamps visible

The cable clamp screws are nicely provided with lage plastic knobs at the front of the cage that are salient for easy screwing and unscrewing; the back of the cage sports smaller scews that are aligned to the cable connections with one of the provided allen keys. I have initially tested the fit of the side section of the cage against the 0.7 mm 12V DC power connector, provided with the BMPCC, and it fits with enough room, which is a good indicator as the plug is quite thick. I have also clamped the connector to one of our mics, with good result. It seems as the tread that fits the clamp for the Micro-HDMI is somewhat skewed, but only marginally so and not to much to create a problem for me. The clamp screw attached to the Micro-HDMI thread also seemed to have a somewhat crooked knob, so I changed places with another screw which was more straight. So it seems that Andrey taps each thread by hand, and sometimes not 100% straight and aligned to the other threads. Also, using my Manfratto 3/8″ to 1/4″ adapter, I did a quick fitness test of each of the ten 1/4″-20 threads of the cage, and there was quite some play which varied sometimes between threads, however not to large of a play; I rather see it as a positive thing as it will become easy to apply the screws from various accessories and base plates when faced with stressed production situations on location. The actual cage is a very simple construction, with three large parts joined by four allen screws attached to the side section; it was all very securily fitted, and didn’t require rescrewing. The cage itself feels lightweight but the aluminum alloy construction feels very strong and rock solid, although its finish is somewhat blemished with small dimples or miniscule pits, and some traces from CNC machining. The anodising looks god, though, and evens out much of the irregularities on the surfaces. (What is said concerning the finish of the POOLiCAGE also applies to the two bases; the 15 mm rods lacks anodising laquer and are delivered raw and grinded, the way I want it.) A good feature is that the top and bottom parts of the cage procrudes at the front, perfectly aligning with the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, which I imagine provides with protection of the MFT mount. All in all, I feel very satisfied with the half cage, and really like its design, which in my opinion surpasses that of SmallCage and WoodenCamera; although the latter two present more mounting threads and better finish, they don’t seem to be as solid and heavily armored as the POOLiCAGE.

The POOLi™ S-BASE-2 and D-BASE-2 with attached Rails

I purchased two versions of the POOLi-made tripod base, the smaller D-BASE-2 (35 cm high) and the full size S-BASE-2 (80 cm high). Both share the same basic design, with a top plate that has a pair of non-skid pads on each side of a groove featuring a sliding 1/4″ screw [F], for mounting on one of the bottom 1/4″ threads of the POOLiCAGE, and a bottom plate with three 1/4″ threads and one 3/8″ thread for mounting on a tripod head’s sliding quick release plate. It’s what separates these two plates that differ between the S-BASE-2 and D-BASE-2; the latter has a simple arrangement with fixed pairs of rod clamps that secure each 15 mm rod with knobs [B]. The former has its pair of rod clamps sliding up and down along grooves [D-E], for height adjustment, each secured to the base with a knob [C]. The good thing about the S-BASE-2 is that each pair of rod clamps is indivudually adjustable, allowing more flexibility with different sets of rods (such as a forward pair for the lens and a rear pair for a shoulder rig arrangement). I wanted both bases as I plan to use the D-BASE-2 together with my Krasnorogsk-3 pistol grip (and telescopic shoulder brace), which features a 3/8″ screw. The S-BASE-2 was supposed to be mainly reserved for use together with my Fancier FC-270A tripod and FC-02H fluid head (and in a secondary role with a shoulder rig arrangement), as I wanted to make shure that there was enough room for the battery / flash card compartment lid of the BMPCC to open fully, to be able to replace batteries and SDXC cards while having the camera mounted to the tripod head and in locked position, which it manages without any remarks [C]. A positive surprise is that also the D-BASE-2 leaves ample room for the lid to open while mounted to the Fancier, enough for the battery and card to be extracted from the camera [A]. This means that I can use both (which is good as very high bases may pose problems for the counterweight feature of the fluid head) and that the S-BASE-2 may have its rods adjusted to its highest position without hindering battery and card replacement. Although the K-3 pistol grip has the perfect size and alignment of its screw to the 3/8″ thread of the bottom plate of the D-BASE-2, unfortunately its screw is slightly overzied. Combined with the fact that the 3/8″ female thread is a bit narrow, something I concluded when testing it against other screws that barely fitted, it is impossible to mount the K-3 pistol grip screw into the thread of the D-BASE-2. I have to either retap the female thread of the D-BASE-2 or die the male thread of the K-3 grip, or both. As an alternative, I might purchase another 3/8 screw. Again, this is a indication that the actual threads of POOLi products may differ slightly within the same standard.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and POOLiCAGE, with OKS 3-10-1 lens attached and tucked away in my Instument Case

Combining the POOLiCAGE with any of the bases, screwing into the forward 1/4″ thread of the underside of the cage (necessary to align it to the rods system), creates a peculiar and unwanted result as the thick rubber non-skid pads makes the cage tend slightly downwards; moving the cage somewhat further back on the base mitigates this problem, almost levelling the axis, but may pose some problems with short lenses such as the OKS-3-10-1 if using a follow focus. This phenomenon makes the use of a lens support even more critical when using larger and longer lenses, such as the Meteor 5-1, helping to level out the horisontal axis. To reiterate, in comparison with its competitors, I bought the half-cage version of the POOLiCAGE for the following reasons: 1. Half-cage design, so to properly expose the grip of the camera body, all of the buttons and lid for the battery and flashcard reader compartmet. 2. Robust and thick frame made of high quality aluminium alloy, that may withstand heavy handling. 3. Simplicity and ruggedness of design, consisting of thre major parts that are screwed together. 4. Complete covering from the side, top and bottom of the centre and left-hand side of the camera body, including the MFT lens mount. 5. Applied to the camera body using its top and bottom 1/4″-20 mounting threads. 6. Its ten 1/4″ mounting threads (although it’s a bit sparse in this compartment) that are evently divided between the top and bottom. 7. Protective cable clamps for all five connections, with a two opposite screw solution that is easy and quick to use. 8. Last but not least, affordable. Although it shares several of these features with its various competitors, non of the other brands and models have all of them joined together in the same product, making the POOLiCAGE a superior design in my opinion, if finish and exact precision is not to be a major consideration. It features its own handle that probably works well, but I have still made the decision to choose the SmallRig top handle and cold-shoe mount base solution, using interchangeble grips that either offer a aluminum alloy threaded handle grip (#1638) or a rubber non-slip grip (#1622). I have researched these products and made some enquires and come to the conclusion that the SmallRig handle base fits the POOLiCAGE, as it has elongated slots that can adjust the space 30-40mm between two 1/4” screws (measured from the centre of the threads), and according to Andrey Kramar the POOLiCAGE has a space of 32mm between is threads. The SmallRig combo will compensate for a lack of enough 1/4″ and 3/8″ mounting threads and ergonomics. For more information on the POOLiCAGE and other POOLi™ products, see my previous article Made in Russia.

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3 thoughts on “From Russia with Love – My first impressions of the POOLiCAGE and Bases from POOLi™

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