If you’ve had a go at shooting video for any length of time with any camera that has a DSLR or mirrorless-like form factor, you soon realise that you need some form of cage. You need to attach handles, lights, microphones, external batteries and all kinds of doohickies. Sure, you have a cold shoe on many cameras, but you can only attach one thing to that.
When it comes to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, there isn’t even a cold shoe. There’s just a 1/4-20″ screw thread, and it can’t handle a lot of weight attached to it. The solution to this problem is to add a cage.
I’ve been using SmallRig and Nitze cages with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K for the last month or so, so here are some of the things I liked and didn’t like about both. It’s important to stress at the beginning that I don’t think either of these is inherently “better” than the other. They both have different design choices which will offer advantages over the other.
Both of the cages I’ve been using have been “full” cages. That is they wrap completely around the camera on the top, bottom and both sides. Both companies also offer half-cages (SmallRig / Nitze), although the full cage offers the most connection points. To me, this is the whole reason to get a cage, so I have the full ones. This is where the first difference between the SmallRig and Nitze cages comes into play.
The SmallRig cage is made from a single piece of aluminium. Generally speaking, this is a much stronger method of construction. There’s no chance of any screws becoming loose and your cage falling apart because there are no screws to come loose. The Nitze cage is made from six separate pieces, which are then screwed together. Now, I’ve not personally had any issues with screws working loose, but it’s something to bear in mind. If you’re really concerned, you might want to consider removing the screws, applying a little Threadlocker and putting everything back together.
Attaching the cage
So, first thing’s first. Attaching the cage to the camera. Both cages offer mounting screws that go into the 1/4-20″ socket on the bottom of the camera, utilising the pair of locking pins, and a second screw that goes into the 1/4-20″ socket on the top of the camera.
SmallRig sticks to the familiar hex head screws for this. This bugs me slightly, as it’s yet another hex key I need to take out with me in case I want to remove the camera from the cage at any point during a shoot. I’ve lost more hex keys over the years than I can count. Fortunately, the SmallRig cage has a magnetic slot underneath into which the hex key fits, keeping it safe while you’re out using it. So this will reduce the chances of losing the hex key, assuming you actually put it back where it’s supposed to go.
You can see the connection point into the camera in the photo above. The screw goes into the 1/4-20″ socket underneath the camera, and the plate has a pair of pins that fit into the sockets on either side of the 1/4-20″ socket on the camera to hold it straight. The Nitze cage also uses a similar locking pin plate configuration. The SmallRig cage has slightly longer locating pins than the Nitze and the threaded section is also longer, which definitely seemed to help offer a firmer hold on the camera in the cage. The Nitze did have some slight movement due to the shorter pins.
Where I did like the Nitze over the SmallRig in this instance, though, is that their screws have a slot for tightening and loosening them. Slots are great, pretty standard, and the way most tripod plates also work. The slots are quite deep and wide enough that you can just whip a coin out of your pocket and use it to tighten or loosen them. If you lose a coin, there are millions more out there you can get hold of easily.
If you find yourself with a regular need to remove your camera from the cage, then the slotted screws of the Nitze cage are generally going to be more useful. But if your camera will live in the cage permanently, the stronger hold the SmallRig cage has on the camera will offer more of an advantage.
Port, Battery and Memory Card Access
Even in a cage, you still need to be able to access some fundamental features of your camera. If your battery dies, you need to be able to swap it out. If you’re using internal memory cards, those too need to be easily accessible. And then there’s the array of sockets on the side that you will almost certainly need access to for SSD storage, a field monitor, microphone receiver, headphones, etc.
Although it’s difficult to really show in a single photograph, the openings for both cages allow easy access to the complete array of sockets on the side of the Pocket 4K. One word of advice, though, you’ll probably want to open up the flaps before you attempt to screw the camera into the cage because they’re a bear to try and open afterwards. The battery compartment, too, is easily accessible on both cameras.
The SmallRig cage’s battery opening is a little smaller than the Nitze’s, although both of them allow full range of motion to remove and replace your battery easily without getting in the way. Both cages also allow easy access to your memory card slots, as well as all dials and buttons around the camera.
I’m splitting the connection points up into two sections here. Those underneath the cage, and then the rest. Mostly this is because the ones underneath the cage are only really useful for mounting them to a tripod plate or rail system, and once they’re attached, no matter how many others are there, you can’t actually access them and use them. So, a quick side-by-side count. For the purposes of this review, the “left” and “right” sides of the cage are from the operator’s perspective, standing behind the camera. So, the “left” side of the Pocket 4K is where you can plug all your cables in and the “right” side is the camera’s grip.
|1/4-20" connection points||15 (top) / 17 (left) / 5 (right) / 0 (front)||13 (top) / 13 (left) / 6 (right) / 4 (front)|
|3/8-16" connection points||2 (top) / 2 (left) / 1 (right)||2 (top) / 1 (left) / 1 (right)|
|Built-in NATO rails||2||0|
Both cages also have a pair of M4 threaded holes on the front of the bottom plate for attaching a support bracket for a lens mount adapter. Officially, the lens mount adapter is compatible with most Metabones adapters and the Viltrox EF-M2 0.71x. It’s also worth noting that the SmallRig cage has another pair of M4 holes on top for attaching the Samsung T5 SSD bracket, but more on that later.
The SmallRig cage has a total of 37 1/4-20″ sockets and 5 3/8-16″ sockets, not including those underneath the cage. The Nitze cage has 34 1/4-20″ sockets and 4 3/8-16″ sockets. Although the Nitze doesn’t quite have as many as the SmallRig cage, they’re fairly similarly placed, so you probably won’t find yourself running short. Three of the 3/8-16″ holes on the SmallRig cage (one on each side and the one on top) also support Arri locking pins.
These ensure that whatever you attach to them, assuming they have Arri locking pins, won’t rotate and unscrew themselves. The Nitze cage only has two. One on top and one on the right.
You’ll also notice in the chart above that the SmallRig cage has a pair of built-in NATO rails. One sits on top for a handle (although this does block the 3/8-16″ socket with the Arri locking pins if you use it) and one on the left-hand side – which blocks both 3/8-16″ sockets if you’re using it. You can, of course, attach a NATO rail to the Nitze cage if you wish, but this is an extra purchase.
The NATO rail is handy because it allows for many quick release options. A top handle, a monitor mount and various other attachments let you quickly and easily switch up your rig depending on what you need it to do for the current task, or to remove items entirely if you need to lighten the load in order to, for example, mount it to a gimbal.
Cold Shoe Mounts
Another important factor for cages is the cold shoe mounts. Both cages offer just a single cold shoe for attaching things like a light, microphone or wireless receiver, etc. You can see them just creeping into the photo above, but here’s a closer look.
How many cold shoes you’ll actually need will depend on what accessories you need to attach to your own rig. For me, I require two. But the SmallRig cage has a bit of a problem here. And that’s the Samsung T5 SSD mounting bracket.
Samsung T5 SSD Mounting Brackets
The Samsung T5 SSD seems to have become the SSD of choice for the Pocket 4K. They’re inexpensive and readily available all over the world, so it makes sense. Both companies offer a Samsung T5 SSD mount for their cages, but they both have very different designs. I don’t have the Nitze bracket, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, but I did buy the SmallRig one. The SmallRig Pocket 4K cage has two dedicated M4 holes into which the mounting bracket screws.
The SmallRig T5 holder is extremely well designed. It holds the T5 very firmly, locking it down with one levered screw, and then a second levered screw locks down a clamp on the USB cable to ensure it doesn’t accidentally fall out while you’re wandering around with your camera. That’s a pretty important point if you want to minimise the risk of losing your footage.
The one fatal flaw with the design of this holder, though, is that when the T5 SSD is placed in the holder, it completely covers up the cold shoe, making it a somewhat redundant feature. You can use an SSD, but then where do you mount your microphone? microphone receiver? or a light?
It wouldn’t be so bad if there were other places to mount the T5 holder, but as it uses M4 screws and not 1/4-20″, you can’t. The SmallRig cage only has one pair of M4 sockets to which it will mount. Nitze also makes a Samsung T5 SSD bracket, but theirs does use 1/4-20″ screws to attach it to the cage, so you can orient it vertically and thus the cold shoe remains unhindered. As I said, I didn’t buy one of these, but here’s what it looks like.
The main reason I decided against purchasing the Nitze SSD holder, was the lack of a cable locking mechanism. Although Type-C USB cables hold fairly well into a Type-C socket – certainly better than previous USB variants – it can still work loose or fall out if you catch it just right.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about the SSD holder, but I think this is kind of a big deal. Neither company has it perfect here, I feel. Combined into one, though, I think elements of the two can make for a pretty great holder. For me, the ideal would have the cable locking mechanism like the SmallRig, and the 1/4-20″ mounting screws of the Nitze.
Extra Cold Shoes
Even though the SmallRig SSD holder blocks the cold shoe, SmallRig does offer cold shoes that you can screw into the 1/4-20″ holes in other parts of the cage. And thanks to three mounting holes on the right-hand side of the top of the cage, you can get that top mount cold shoe back. The Nitze cage does not contain any 1/4-20″ sockets in this part of the cage, so you’re unable to add another one on top if you want to.
As I mentioned earlier, I require two cold shoes on my cage. One is for an on-camera fill light to stop the shadows on my subject fading to complete blackness, and the other is for a wireless microphone receiver. So, I have one extra cold shoe on top to replace the one covered by the T5 holder for the light, and one on the side for the receiver.
This is where it gets interesting for me. You remember what I said above about the hex sockets vs slots on screws? Well, interestingly, SmallRig actually went with the slots on this one, whereas Nitze went for hex screws. So, the roles have been reversed, and I feel the same way. The SmallRig cable lock is very useful. I can clamp it down or unscrew it using a penny, and the very act of screwing the locking system into the cage increases the hold it has on the cables. A very smart design, and if I need to swap a cable out, I can do so with ease.
The Nitze cable clamp, on the other hand, uses hex screws and requires a hex key, which is more likely to become lost in the middle of a shoot, particularly out on location. Again, I didn’t buy the Nitze locking system, so cannot say how well it works, but for things you might need to screw and unscrew regularly, the SmallRig wins out.
Pros and Cons
Both cages offer quite a number of mounting points, and there aren’t really any major cons to either cage in my experience so far, except that I’m not a huge fan of either Samsung T5 SSD mount for different reasons. So, I’m going to list the advantages each cage has over the other, and you can deduce the rest for yourself.
Pro for both
- Compatible with both the Pocket 4K and Pocket 6K cameras
Pros for the SmallRig
- Solid one-piece construction
- Longer locating pins on the mounting plate ensure the camera doesn’t wiggle in the cage
- 2 Built-in NATO rails
- Screws for the HDMI/USB cable locking mount
- Samsung T5 SSD holder has a cable locking mechanism
Pros for the Nitze
- Slotted screws to connect to the camera top and bottom
- Samsung T5 SSD holder doesn’t block the cold shoe
- Arri locking 3/8-16″ sockets offer two different orientations
Both cages worked quite well for me during the course of testing over a month or so. The Nitze cage is available just very slightly cheaper than the SmallRig, assuming there are no deals or discounts going on, although once you add-in a NATO rail for the Nitze and an extra cold shoe for the SmallRig, as well as the things you’d buy for both of them – a top handle, SSD bracket, perhaps a monitor mounting arm, etc. the total cost works out to be about the same.
There’s no clear winner for me, for all circumstances, although I think the SmallRig just edges it thanks to the single-piece construction, the cable locking mechanisms for both the cage itself and the Samsung T5 SSD holder (even if you do have to bolt on an extra cold shoe), and the fact that the slightly longer locating pins on the body mount hold it just that little bit more firmly in the cage.
I don’t think you could go wrong with either, though, really, and there’s nothing to stop you mixing and matching components from both systems – which is the rig I run with now based around the SmallRig cage. I do, however, think that the Nitze is probably better suited to less demanding environments like studios or when you need to regularly take the camera in and out of a cage, while the SmallRig should be able to withstand a lot more daily run & gun abuse.