Akio Shimamura’s Micro Rig Shows Us How to Go Handheld for Days
Probably the most common feedback we receive from Blackmagic Pocket and Micro camera users is, to paraphrase, “with a Juicebox battery, my camera is finally usable.” The abysmally low 15-20 minute battery life of these otherwise wonderful little cams has them relegated to the dust covered shelves and bottom-most desk drawers of many initially optimistic videographers. We understand their disappointment. The ultra lightweight design of the Blackmagic Pocket and Micro cameras, combined with these cams’ potential for exceptional image quality, left us with high hopes for a true handheld camera capable of cinema quality footage. The remarkably short battery life of these cameras, however, leaves them tethered to their wall chargers and, for many practical, handheld purposes, unusable.
Enter the Magic Power 2.0, Juicebox’s lightweight battery solution that will power these Pocket and Micro cameras for nearly eight hours on a single charge. Or, for an even longer trek, the Juicebox 95 watt hour v-mount battery (JBVB-95) will power one of these ultra small BMD cameras for 12.5 hours, potentially allowing operators a couple of days off leash of a charger or a wall to plug it into. These uncommonly thin v-mount batteries were designed to be a lightweight substitute for a traditional v-mount setup. Paired with one of Blackmagic’s Pocket or Micro cams, the Juicebox 95 watt hour v-mount battery (JBVB-95) gives users an incredibly long run time while keeping their rigs relatively lightweight.
Akio Shimamura has put together perhaps our favorite Micro Cinema Camera rig to date. Utilizing the JBVB-95 to power both the Micro Cinema Camera and the Blackmagic Video Assist, Akiro has managed to keep his rig minimal, balanced and functional. The battery is connected to the camera and monitor via its d-tap port so, in favor of a bulkier v-mount plate with an unnecessary v-mount power connection, Akio chose the SmallRig V-Lock Assembly 1846, a very minimal plate that still utilizes the v-mount battery’s quick mount/release function. The short rail rods and quick release plate at the bottom of Akio’s rig allow for a quick transition from tripod to jib to shoulder mount. The use of Blackmagic Design’s handgrip for Ursa Mini is especially clever. The handgrip not only allows for control of recording, auto iris and auto focus on the Micro Camera but, combined with the overall lightweight setup of this rig, allows Akio to go handheld, even for a long duration, when the need arises.
Thanks to Akio Shimamura (twitter.com/shimamuraakio) for the photos and the inspiration!
The Incredible Versatility of the Magic Power 2.0
The small internal batteries on Blackmagic’s compact cameras have such short run time that it’s clear to any experienced camera operator; these cameras were not meant to be used via internal power alone. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s maximum record time, relying on a fully charged internal battery, is around 30 minutes. In many applications, this is not enough time to setup a shot, let alone capture any usable footage. Yet, this 30 minute battery life is the longest of the entire line of BMD compact cameras, which includes the Cinema Camera, Production Camera, Pocket Cinema Camera, Micro Cinema Camera and Micro Studio Camera.
So, what gives? This impractical battery setup begs two questions for Blackmagic users: Why not design these cameras with more substantial internal batteries? Otherwise, why include an internal battery at all?
The second question, asking why these small internal batteries are present on Blackmagic cameras, is the easiest to answer. The small internal batteries (or mountable batteries, as is the case with the Micro cameras) are intended to be a backup power source and, as such, are effective and even indispensable. It is a power source that doesn’t rely on external cables, which can short and disconnect, potentially ruining a shoot. As long as an external power source is connected to one of Blackmagic’s compact cameras, be it an external battery or an AC outlet, the internal battery is charging. In case of a loss of external power, the camera will continue recording for that extra, seemingly inconsequential 20 minutes or so. Best of all, when using external battery power, the constant, reliable internal battery allows for “hot swapping,” replacing external batteries without ever powering down the camera.
But, why not have a larger internal battery, one that is usable in the field? Blackmagic’s decision to include such small batteries and such short battery life with their compact camera offerings is a bit more complex. What it boils down to, however, is versatility.
Of course, smaller internal batteries mean more compact and lightweight cameras. This may seem pointless when considering the necessity of a bulky external battery or constant connection to a wall charger when using a Blackmagic camera. Sure, the lightweight quality of a camera is negated with a heavy external battery mounted to its side. Keep in mind, though; a universally mountable external battery, such as Juicebox’s Magic Power 2.0, is an extraordinarily versatile piece of equipment in terms of both usage options and placement options on – or off – your camera rig.
With a very small quick release mount that will attach to any ¼-20 threaded insert (the industry standard for small to midsize cameras), the Magic Power 2.0 is capable of being mounted to virtually any camera cage, rail system or mounting accessory. With a wide range of clamps, adapters and secondary mounts available with ¼-20 compatibility, there are vast possibilities for placement of the Magic Power 2.0 on your camera rig or even off your camera rig, clamped directly to a tripod, jib or even your person. Allow us to highlight what we find to be some of the most useful mounting options for the Magic Power 2.0, our external battery for Blackmagic Production, Cinema, Pocket and Micro Cameras.
The first thing to keep in mind when deciding how to best mount the Magic Power 2.0 is that you aren’t restricted to just one option. The quick release mount included with the Magic Power 2.0 can be purchased separately and very inexpensively under multiple brands and from multiple retailers (for instance, from Amazon: http://a.co/52Td1bV). With multiple quick release mounts, the Magic Power 2.0 can be swapped from rig to rig and accessory to accessory with just two clicks. We highly recommend this option for operators who utilize multiple camera rigs or have adapted a single camera rig for multiple applications (i.e. shoulder to tripod to jib).
The Counterweight – This isn’t a new idea, using an external battery as a counterweight for a shoulder rig or tripod setup. With the Magic Power 2.0, however, the options for battery placement and ease of attachment/detachment of the battery make this option especially viable.
Take, for instance, SmallRig’s Universal Shoulder Pad (model 2057). The top of this pad is one large cheese plate, covered with compatible threaded inserts. The Magic Power 2.0’s quick release mount can be attached with just one screw and takes up very little space on the pad. The Magic Power 2.0 can be placed at just about any point on the shoulder pad, allowing the user to locate it for optimal balance.
Rather than adding to the overall weight of your shoulder rig, using the Magic Power 2.0 as a counter weight can actually alleviate muscle fatigue and add stability to your shots.
The Universal Clamp – This is, perhaps, our favorite option for mounting the Magic Power 2.0 battery. Of course, the practicality of this mounting method really depends on the application.
The extraordinary quality of this little-clamp-that-could is just how many applications it has. These universal mounting clamps, available from multiple manufacturers and on almost all photo/video retail sites, can secure your Magic Power 2.0 to a tripod, a monopod, rail rods, a jib, a slider, a Steadicam and even a gimbal. The ability to easily and securely mount your external battery directly to a camera stabilizer (i.e. tripod or slider) can free up a significant amount of space and weight from your camera rig. They can be moved quickly and easily from position to position, as well.
With a universal clamp and a sufficiently long power cable, the Magic Power 2.0 becomes a viable “on-rig” or “off-rig” device.
Splitting the Power Output – The Magic Power 2.0 is capable of powering both a camera and field monitor simultaneously. The list of compatible field monitors is long (we have that list here) and includes the Blackmagic Video Assist and Video Assist 4k. Rather than weighing down your rig with separate batteries, our DC Splitter Cable will connect both your Blackmagic camera and monitor to a single Magic Power 2.0 (for the Pocket camera, an additional DC barrel adapter is required). The Magic Power 2.0 is still capable of long run times in this configuration, especially with Micro or Pocket Cameras which, when paired with a Video Assist, can still maintain three-to-four hours of recording time with a fully charged Magic Power 2.0.
It’s Time to Think Small
Blackmagic Design’s New Offering Expands Creative Rigging Possibilities
Camera enthusiasts have been teased about Blackmagic Design’s newest camera since early last year, and now the wait is over as the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera (BMMCC) ships out to anxious users this month. Reviews and test footage have demonstrated the Micro as a contender among Blackmagic’s already stellar lineup of professional-grade equipment—and yet, the BMMCC’s position in the roster seems to be under dispute. Some believe that it doesn’t belong on a standard rig, that it should stay relegated to shots where human hands can’t reach, suspended from an aerial drone or fixed atop a vehicle. You may find that it deserves its own everyday setup, however; it brings a few unique features to standard rigs that can’t be overlooked.
Space on a rig is limited, and finding extra available room is serious business. The Micro’s narrow profile gives you an extra 1.75 inches on the side compared to the pocket—with this additional real estate, there is plenty of area for a 7-inch monitor to sit beside it, with room for adjustment. A 15.7-inch bar for the front handles leaves room for a 5-inch or 7-inch monitor placement right beside the camera, or with a set of top rails, the monitor can go above for a slim profile.
Blackmagic Design continues to give cinematographers enhanced mobility with their increasingly small offerings. Those cinematographers have since reconsidered the bulky setups of filmmaking past; there is an enduring trend toward ditching the extraneous hardware in favor of more minimal setups that keep only a few necessities, namely power and viewing. With regard to standard rigs, the Micro represents another step in this direction, allowing for the most compact yet customizable outfit to date.
The Cinema Camera and the Pocket by Blackmagic weigh 3.3 pounds and 12.5 ounces, respectively. The Micro weighs in at 10.65 ounces, making it about 15 percent lighter than the Pocket. This means more potential for adding external hardware without making your rig too heavy, or for those often using a shoulder rig or filming by hand, less exertion and more comfortable filming sessions. Those who think the difference is negligible might change their tune after several hours of filming, where every ounce of gear starts to take its toll. The lighter specs of the Micro also allow for more placement options along a shoulder rig, since counterbalancing is made that much easier. One can sneak an onboard monitor right behind the camera without having to worry about too much forward weight, or position the Micro right above the shoulder for an “attached” feel.
Positioning the camera and lens directly over the shoulder makes counterbalancing easier; a Magic Power battery on the back will suffice in many cases. An electronic viewfinder attached to the side of the rig, combined with 11.8-inch-wide handles in front makes for one of the lightest, most compact shoulder rigs imaginable. So light and compact, in fact, that some of our fellow cinematographers using this method are opting to ditch the cage and top handle altogether for a truly minimal ensemble. Placing the handles lower with an offset rail block bar clamp and hanging the Magic Power lower on the back will drop the center of gravity for stable shots without the unnecessary weight.
The Micro is inexpensive yet powerful; it gets people started making professional-quality film without the huge up-front investment. That’s really what we are all about—placing the creative power of filmmaking into more and more creative hands—so it stands to reason why we’re such fans of the Micro.
Its bare-bones design requires a bit of extra hardware (such as an external monitor, which the BMMCC lacks,) though we have noticed that many users throw on their own extra hardware anyhow. The standard Cinema Camera and the Pocket, for example, each come with a screen that is often neglected in favor of larger monitor options or a viewfinder. If external options are your thing, this gives you the extra money for a truly customizable rig. And with the money saved from buying a BMMCC, you can grab other much needed gear, like a few extra Magic Power batteries for those long shoots.
Making Our Case
All of these qualities encapsulated in the Micro are huge plusses no matter how you look at it, and we make the case that they add up to one thing: customization. With these features, the Micro’s usefulness on a standard rig seems like a no brainer. Don’t let the design fool you; the Micro achieves professional footage that competes with its larger siblings, and while many external components are compatible across cameras, it is possible to get a dedicated rig for the BMMCC without shelling out too much. This camera can be bogged down with all the hardware in your arsenal and permanently rested on a tripod, or stripped down to the essentials for run-and-gun film work.
Outfitting the BMMCC is as straightforward as it was for previous cameras. A popular piece of equipment, the cage is often the pricy part of a basic rig. The cage hits the right balance between ergonomics, lightweight design, and attachment options makes the rest of the construction simple. We’ve found some choices that fit the bill starting at around $290 or one-size-fits-all solutions at $149. Many of these cages provide a ton of attachment options, offering versatility for years to come and the ability to fine-tune the placement of your hardware. Throw on a couple of 15-inch rails and a base plate, and you’re on your way. Major manufacturers offer a rail kit with its own mounting plate; the extra plate comes in handy for mounting batteries under the rails and out of the way. Attach a Magic Power directly to the cage, or use a bar clamp (you can get one from around 8 bucks) and hang it from the side or back as a counterweight. As mentioned above, the BMMCC needs external monitoring, but this doesn’t need to be a large setback; with 7-inch monitors starting at around $100, the camera is still an effective choice. Shoulder pads are especially inexpensive, and can be acquired for around $15. Handles vary in cost, but we found durable pairs starting at $50.
How does this compare against a rig with a larger camera? We put together a shoulder rig with the above hardware and necessary wiring, and calculated a weight of around 8.17 pounds after adding the Micro; this translates to more comfortable shooting, or more of that essential external hardware added to your kit, if you wish. When your basic rig is properly built, transitioning between different setups should be relatively hassle free. There are a number of mounting plate designs that make switching from shoulder to stand a breeze, even without having to move accessories back and forth. With the help of Blackmagic Design and Juicebox, professional-grade film gear has never been so accessible, not to mention so versatile.