Two New Beachtek Accessories for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
I recently had the opportunity to test the Beachtek DXA-POCKET audio adapter and the Beachtek BRM-1 Baseplate, and I found a lot to like. The DXA-POCKET gives you manual level control with visual level indicators over two mono or one stereo 1/8" inputs. Although I was surprised that it doesn't support XLR inputs, in the end I was more than pleased by how well the unit functioned, overall. For what the DXA-POCKET is designed to do—allow you to connect more than one mic input to your camera, and give you manual audio level control when working with the BMPCC—I was very happy with the unit, especially when you consider that the BMPCC doesn't have manual audio level potentiometers (pots) that you can easily adjust during a shot. The DXA-Pocket certainly addresses that audio need, and provides a few well-thought-out surprises as well.
The DXA-POCKET follows the form factor of the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera extremely well, being only a little thicker, and a little bit shorter than the camera, and it comes with a selection of mounting widgets that allow you to set it up in a variety of ways, which I will discuss later. First, let’s discuss the how to set up the DXA-POCKET.
I'm sure that I am like many of you out there—I open the box, pull out the components, and guess at what they are for, leaving the instructions for later. After all, I've been working with camera and audio gear for decades, so what could be so hard to figure out? Please note: The device comes with a one-page quick start guide. READ IT.
The DXA-POCKET isn't overly complex, but reading the quick start guide will prevent you from having to go back and sort things out later. This, in turn, will help you avoid frustration when setting up the unit with your camera, when you will want to take time to fiddle with the camera's settings and adjust the DXA-POCKET's audio pots until you get the audio response you like.
The quick start guide is worth reading, and there are at least three very important recommendations that you will want to follow—recommendations that had I read first, would have made things easier. So, read the whole one-page guide first. Trust me.
The three things that first tripped me up could have been avoided by doing the following:
- Set the VU calibration switch to position “A,” if it is not set that way out of the box. You will find this switch to the left of the LCD VU meters. It is recessed, making it a pain to switch, but it is highly unlikely that it will get accidentally changed, so this is well thought out by Beachtek.
- Set your camera to Mic level input: this is very important. I did find that I could switch the camera's input to line, and cranking the DXA's pots all the way up would allow me to hear audio through my mics, but it is far from the best sound quality.
- Set the input level control on your BMPCC to 50%. This should allow your camera's levels to match the DXA-Pocket's level meters, which is generally how you want to set it up. Of course, it is important to check the levels and make sure that the levels on the DXA match your camera's levels, but this is a good starting point.
There is a short coiled audio cable that you attach to the output of the DXA and to the mic input of the Pocket camera. The mic input is the connector just above the HDMI connector, and below the headphone jack.
You will notice that the top of the DXA-POCKET is rubberized, and provides a solid grip when you mount your camera on top. There is a thumbwheel that allows you to turn the 1/4"-20 screw, securely attaching the camera to the unit. This is pretty much the standard configuration, as it places the DXA's audio pots below your camera's view screen. On the front of the DXA is a rubber bump that sort of matches the shape of the camera, and makes for a nice secure grip when handholding the DXA/camera combination.
You may notice that the DXA-POCKEt also has two 1/4"-20 accessory mounting points on the top, which will be covered by the camera if you mount the camera directly on top of the DXA-POCKET, so you may want to consider mounting the DXA above the camera. The included accessory mounting adapters provide a well thought out solution, which involves the brass mounting foot with locking thumb ring for a cold shoe. You can attach the mounting foot to the bottom of the DXA-POCKET, you’ll notice the mounting foot fits into an indent on the bottom of the DXA-POCKET, which prevents the adapter from rotating. Then, just attach the unit to your camera by using one of the included cold-shoe adapters for a sturdy and secure mounting platform. Now that the DXA-POCKET is mounted above your camera you can hold them both with your right hand if you wish. I found that the adapters really created a solid connection between the DXA-POCKET and the camera, so much so that I quickly became confident just holding the set up by the Pocket camera alone. I could even comfortably use the index finger of my right hand to start and stop the camera when set up this way, leaving my left hand free to work the lens or make adjusts to the audio pots. Setting up the DXA on top of the camera this way is definitely worth experimenting with. Whether you set up with the camera on top, or the DXA-POCKET on top, with the cold shoe attachment (there are two included), you can attach a variety of shoe-mounted accessories, such as a light, an articulating arm, on-camera monitor, or even one of those wireless receiver mounting plates that you've hidden away and forgotten about. You may remember, earlier, I mentioned a rubber bump on the front of the DXA, which matched the contour of the BMPCC. If you don't remember, that's okay—just jump up a couple of paragraphs, we will wait for you to find it.
Earlier, I mentioned that it makes for a nice secure grip when handholding the DXA-POCKET. Well, here is the thing about that rubber bump: You can remove it by sliding it up or down to reveal a track that doubles as a cold shoe. This lets you attach even more cold-shoe-mounted accessories, or a second wireless receiver with cold-shoe mounting plate. You can now securely mount both your receivers, and have manual audio level control in your camera.
Something that I like to do when shooting interviews and docs without an audio mixer on the crew is to wire up the subject with a wireless lav setup, and record from the same mic to both channels with the Channel Two recording level set lower than Channel One, in case the subject suddenly peaks on the hotter channel. Although I can accomplish this with the BMPCC using menu functions, I can't easily make audio level adjustments on the fly, or use two mics without resorting to external recorders or adapters.
I also worked with the Beachtek BRM-1 baseplate in conjunction with the DXA-POCKET. It is a solid piece of metal, and attaches to the top or bottom of the DXA unit, providing you with a short set of removable 15mm LWS support rods. Although I didn't spend much time with the baseplate, I can see it being useful for adding 15mm rod support accessories to your setup. However, at first I couldn't figure out how to pull the front caps off the rods, but discovered later that they screw right off, so your rod-mounted accessories don't necessarily have to be the snap-on kind.
The DXA is solid, well made, powers from a single 9-volt battery and features an LED power on/battery condition indicator. Green indicates power on and good battery. However, when the LED glows red instead of green, this is in indication that it is time to change the battery. The 9-volt battery fits into a tray that slides into the DXA; this is all spring loaded. I found that after inserting the tray, gently pressing in and against the direction of the release arrow secured the tray; otherwise, the tray felt loose to me.
All in all, the DXA-POCKET really solves some audio issues I’ve experienced when working with the BMPCC, and with its accessory-mounting capabilities, I can easily see attaching the DXA-POCKET to a cage instead of directly to the camera as an option. So the DXA-POCKET not only significantly expands the audio capabilities of the BMPCC, but also increases the range of accessories I can attach to the camera, making the DXA-POCKET one very useful audio adapter. Note that while the DXA-POCKET is primarily designed for the BMPCC (hence the name), it can also be used on any other camcorder or DSLR camera, expanding its useful possibilities.