Ode to Vintage Lenses and a Gifted Microphone…

I continue to be stunned, amazed and overflowing with gratitude towards Black Magic Designs, the company that makes the diminutive Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera or BMPCC for short. The above two photos were frames I pulled from video I shot of two interviewees for my current production on the theme of Friendship.  If you double click on them and wait a second you’ll see full size ,  1920×1080 stills of remarkable quality. Remember, these are frames from a video clip, not standalone photographs. The quality from the original footage looks even better than what’s onscreen here.

 

ann for blog

 

dave finck for blog

 

Film making, even no-budget film making like I practice, is still an expensive proposition. I have around 5k in camera and computer equipment at this point, but I’ve spent more than that on stuff that I purchased, didn’t like, and re-sold. It’s an evolutionary process finding gear that fits both your needs and aesthetics. I’ve come to conclusion while going cheap can work for some gear, (I’m thinking of inexpensive or DIY lighting cobbled together at Home Depot), one shouldn’t skimp on production quality when it comes to items like audio.

Early on, I used a $30.00 lavaliere mike for my first couple of productions and I regret it. I should have known better having come from a professional background in field production. The mikes worked, but they had a thin sound, were unbalanced, (meaning that they were more susceptible to interference), and were flimsy. Nowadays I rely on a mike gifted to me from a friend Matthew Olshan, a published novelist living in Baltimore. It’s a Rode Video Shotgun Mike. It must have set him back about $200.00. The sound is full, rich, noiseless and delivers VERY high quality audio. This is now my “go-to” mike used in interviews filmed on the BMPCC. My interviews look and sound wonderful. I think they look better because they sound better and they sound better because they look better. I keep this baby in it’s original box and carefully protect it from the vicissitudes of life…I also think of my buddy when I use it.

When I film an interview, (by myself), I set the Rode mike on a boom-stand a couple of feet from my interview subject. I have the mike above and pointing down towards the person’s mouth, just out of the camera’s frame. The mike is placed so that it’s 12 – 15 inches at the most from my subject.  It feeds a Digital Audio Recorder, (I use a Zoom H1), which ran about $100.00. I set audio levels on the Zoom with my subject talking normally, and monitor with headphones for a few moments. Then I hit “record”. I don’t turn off the recorder until the end of the interview. This setup works wonderfully for me. I no longer have to worry about clothing rubbing on lavalieres. I get excellent audio each and every time. Later on in post production I use software to synchronize the Zoom’s audio with the audio recorded by the camera. Works beautifully.

One area where I have been able to economize has been in lenses for my BMPCC. I buy what are called “vintage” lenses. These are lenses made for 35mm single lens reflex cameras from the 1970’s. I have a 50mm Canon FD and a 70-200mm Vivitar Series 1 zoom purchased on Ebay. I have a hundred dollars total tied up in these two amazing lenses. A couple of 10.00 adapters and they mount up nicely to the BMPCC.

It would be easy to spend between $500.00 and a $1000,00 per modern lens but they are not affordable to me. And frankly, I like the old school feel these lenses have – I have a connection to them from my early days as a photographer. The lenses have to be focused manually, and the lens opening, (f-stops), are also manually adjusted. But since I don’t trust auto-focus, and I like setting the exposure myself, I have no need for automation in these two areas.

 

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My vivitar zoom. Weighs about the same as a brick. Gives me excellent, (and extreme telephoto results), on my BMPCC. I used a pipe adapter, (2nd picture), from Home Depot, to create a lens holder that screws to my tripod head, (the lens is so heavy it would damage the camera’s mount if I attached it directly to the camera!)

 

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My Canon FD 50mm 1.8. Fast, cheap, and definitely in control….When placed on my BMPCC, it gives me about a 140mm equivalent focal length that a  35mm SLR camera would have. If I have plenty of room in an interview setting and can back up 12 feet or so, I use this lens. It produces a gorgeous picture.

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 Finally, the little 25mm lens above, which new cost 24.00 plus a couple of bucks to ship, is the lens I used to film the two interview subjects at the beginning of this article. It’s a lens originally used in security cameras! Can you beat that?

 

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