In Part Three we looked at viewfinders, external monitors, audio and power supplies and batteries. In this part we’ll look at tripods, rigs, accessories and data management.
Mounting and Cages
This draws on the principles and ideas outlined in the following articles:
- How to design and lay out a Camera Rig
- Chapters 16 to 29 in the Comprehensive Guide which covers all types of rigs and accessories
First, let’s put together a cheap part-by-part tripod and shoulder-mount rig system. Then, I’ll give you my suggestion for the ultimate rigging kit.
Does the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K need a cage?
As we saw in Part Three, you might be inclined to mount a few devices on the camera body itself, for which it has three 1/4″-UNC threads. What could go wrong? Three things:
- You might not be able to correctly mount all devices to your satisfaction.
- You might want to change the spacing of the devices on the fly and will need more mounting points.
- The threads become loose and causes your gear to twist about.
Initially, none of these conditions hold true. When you are purchasing a new kit, you are likely to buy articulating arms and devices that match the ergonomic requirements of the camera. However, if you already have gear and want to adapt that to the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, then you might start running into problems.
Therefore, as a rule of thumb, I say: Avoid cages if you are building a rig from scratch. It is an unnecessary purchase that just adds more undeserved weight to the rig. The camera body is more than capable of protecting itself, thank you. Only use cages if the mounting points aren’t good enough for your specific purposes.
Even if you want to add more mounting points, you could start by looking at cheese plates rather can cages. This gives you the same options, but with a much lower weight and size. The Cool Cheese Plate V6 is an excellent top cheese plate for the Blackmagic 4K Camera that does not break the bank.
If you do need a full cage, get one custom made for the camera, because you will need constant access to the SSD drive slot, and other ports as well. The ePhotoInc Camera Cage (which also comes with a top handle, base plate, rails and follow focus system) is perfect:
Take note, though, that you will need to drill a hole at the bottom of the cage for air circulation (see below). And, I’d throw away the rods and base plate.
In case you’re not buying a cage with top handle, a cheap but reliable top handle that you can mount firmly on two points (so it won’t rotate) is the SmallRig Top Handle V6:
It includes a rosette knob that allows you to rotate the handle without removing the entire thing.
Underneath the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, you have a fan vent and an air vent to dissipate heat. A base plate must not block these vents. Therefore, it is important to purchase a base plate that accounts for this, like the Ikan Base Plate for the BMPC4K, with 15mm rods:
You can see the rectangular hole and cut-out at the top for the vents. You can also see there is a plate at the bottom if you want to attach a dovetail bridge plate (to keep the entire rig level on a flat surface like a table, etc.). Here’s a video showing you how this plate works:
Dovetail plate and Bridge plate
This is not a mandatory accessory.
Dovetails are also standardized to fit large cinema quality tripods. The two features that any dovetail plate should have are: safety knobs so the rig won’t slide out, and a quick release bridge plate adapter.
The bridge plate slides over the dovetail (you have this feature so you can balance the rig any way you want – the more play you need, the larger the length of the dovetail) and locks into position, usually via a rosette knob. Check out the Wooden Camera 15mm Studio Bridgeplate. As you can see, dovetails and bridge plates are not cheap, so only buy them if you really need them.
If your rig is small and compact, you can live without them. If all you want is to keep your rig flat on a surface, buy a wooden plank and drill holes in them.
You don’t need anything bigger than standard 15mm rods. It’s the length that you should be more concerned about. Rod lengths are calculated based on the:
- Length of the lenses
- Length of the shoulder rig
- Balance of the rig
Leaving aside Canon’s large telephoto lenses, the longest lens from our selected list of lenses is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM, which is about 8″ long. Add that to the depth of the camera and the space for a matte box clamp, you’ll need about 15″ of rod length.
However, if you’re sticking to prime lenses, you won’t need more than 12″. Generally, it is better to keep rods as short as possible. To add to the ikan 9″ rods, it would be a good idea to purchase a pair of 16″ 15mm rods, or, as explained below, a pair of 24″ 15mm rods. If you can afford them, get carbon fiber rods.
Quick release plate
This is also not mandatory. A quick release plate allows you to quickly remove your camera off the rig without needing to unscrew the bottom plate. It’s very rare for someone to have to regularly remove the camera body from its base plate, so I recommend having the quick release plate underneath the base plate to connect with the tripod.
This means, use a quick release plate system that comes with your tripod head.
I won’t go into detail here as I’ve comprehensively covered this topic in Laying Out the Rig and Shoulder Rigs in the Comprehensive Guide. Most shoulder rigs you can buy are crap, to put it politely. Truth be told, you would be better off assembling your shoulder rig part by part, rather than buying a full solution.
I’ll make an exception with the Arri Blackmagic Cinema Camera Rig (shown on the top of this article). It’s not cheap, but it will outlast your camera.
What if you wanted to build a shoulder rig from scratch but didn’t have a lot of money? Buy the parts I’ve listed, and follow the links to know how to calculate the right loading points. As a simple, lazy and fast explanation, here’s a diagram that explains the problems involved:
- The front side includes the BMC388, top handle, follow focus system and base plate, but is not shown.
- The lens is a Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
- Counter weights used are 3 Lb 15mm rig weights, and there are three of them. The further back they are (including the battery), the more balanced the rig.
- The ‘battery’ includes a cheese plate, the mount and the Dionic 90. Keep in mind, the length of the cable is 2 ft, and this limits how far you can go from the camera.
- The total weight of the kit will be about 15 kg or 30 lbs. That’s not low, but it’s far lower than what a big camera would be.
To build the above system, start with the Opteka CXS-300 Dual-Grip System:
Throw away the base plate (I mean, store it away for future use). You’ll need the rods, handle bars and shoulder pad. If you want to extend the rods, you’ll need a couple of Railblocks and a plate:
You can connect the railblocks to the battery cheese plate. You might even be able to use the redundant base plate that came with the shoulder rig, but I doubt it’s sturdy enough to hold two rods. If you want, you might be able to squeeze the entire thing on to a 22″ or 24″ 15mm rod pair.
All you have to do now is connect the ikan base plate listed above and you have a rig. It is still not perfectly balanced, but it’ll be easier to work with. Don’t take these calculations seriously, as the intention is to show you can (and should) build your own rig if possible, using sound and simple engineering principles.
How much does this rig cost? Here’s a breakdown (prices might be inaccurate, contact seller or manufacturer to know accurate prices in your area):
- Opteka Rig – $160
- 24″ Rods (Pair) – $50
- Railblocks and Pair – $40 – only if you need to extend the rig
- Top handle – $60
- Base Plate with rods – $90
- Cheese plate – $55 – only if you’re using the Anton Bauer solution
- Counterweights – $135 – or you could use a 2L Steel Lunch Box and fill it with sand (or lunch!), and tape it to the rods, for $20. Same weight!
Total? $590, with a free follow focus system.
Tripods and Heads
Tripods and heads are critical pieces of gear, and you must never compromise on a tripod or head. If you are forced to compromise, always compromise on the tripod, but never the head.
I won’t go into detail on tripods as I’ve already covered a lot of ground in the Chapter on Tripods in the Comprehensive Guide. Some features you should note when choosing a fluid head are:
- Consider the weight bearing capability of the head.
- It should have illuminated levels.
- It should have a smooth (as butter, and then some) video handle for pan and tilt.
- It should have a bowl size greater than 75mm.
- It must accommodate a quick release plate.
The cheapest video head that I’d recommend is the Manfrotto 504HD Video Head.
For excellent ruggedness and reliability, I recommend the Sachtler 0742 FSB-8T Tripod Head with DA 75L Tripod:
For Monopods, try the Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod with Head.
For a high hat or low base tripod, check out the Bogen Imaging Manfrotto 529B Hi Hat.
There are two additional ports on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K:
- LANC 2.5mm
- USB 2.0 mini-B
The USB port is hidden from view, and it’s for firmware updates and camera configuration.
The LANC port can be used to control these functions:
- Start and stop recording
- Iris (aperture) control
For a strong LANC controller, look at the Manfrotto MVR901EPLA Pan Bar Remote for LANC:
Here’s a video showing you how it works:
For other accessories, read the links provided earlier.
The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K records to 2.5″ SSD drives. The drives should be formatted for Mac OS Extended (HFS+) or exFAT. HFS+ drives can be read by Windows PCs, but if you want to format or write on them, you’ll need software like the Mediafour MacDrive (not included).
The camera records to the following formats:
|UltraHD 12-bit||1080p 10-bit|
|RAW||150 MB/s^||36 MB/s^^|
|Prores||110 MB/s||27.5 MB/s|
^At the time of this writing, we don’t know this yet. However, at the compression level of the Blackmagic Pocket Camera (2:1), the data rate will be above the 150 MB/s limit of the original BMCC. For now, we can safely assume that the data rate will be somewhere in the region of 150 MB/s (2.5:1 compression level, visually lossless but lossy).^^The camera records 1080p RAW as well, though at the time of this writing we don’t know whether it will follow the compression level of 4K or not. If it is uncompressed 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW, then the data rate is about 90 MB/s. Ouch! Also, we don’t know if it’s 12-bit or 10-bit.
Judging by the quality of the 4K footage in Prores, it looks like the more viable option. There’s not much difference between 110 MB/s and 150 MB/s, so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any real difference between Prores and lossy CinemaDNG. In fact, I’d bet that, except for color critical VFX work, Prores will be good enough for 99% of productions.
I also suspect metadata will be written as *.pp3 sidecar files (as it is on the current BMCC).
Blackmagic Design recommends the following SSD drives:
SSDs which are qualified for RAW CinemaDNG video capture will also work well for compressed video capture. There are some SSDs which we have tested and found to drop frames when capturing RAW CinemaDNG video. However, they still work well when capturing compressed video.
The following SSDs are recommended for RAW CinemaDNG capture or compressed video capture:
- Transcend 256GB SSD720 (TS256GSSD720)
- Intel 335 Series 240GB SSD (SSDSC2CT240A4K5)
- Intel 520 Series 240GB SSD (SSDSC2CW240A310)
- Intel 520 Series 480GB SSD (SSDSC2CW480A310)
- Intel 530 Series 180GB SSD (SSDSC2BW180A401)
- Intel 530 Series 240GB SSD (SSDSC2BW240A401)
- Kingston 240 GB HyperX 3K (SH103S3/240G)
- Kingston 480 GB HyperX 3K (SH103S3/480G)
- Kingston 240 GB SSDNow KC300 (SKC300S37A/240G)
- Kingston 480 GB SSDNow KC300 (SKC300S37A/480G)
- Sandisk Extreme 240GB (SDSSDX-240G-G25)
- Sandisk Extreme 480GB (SDSSDX-480G-G25)
- PNY 240GB Prevail SSD (firmware 5.0.2) (SSD9SC240GCDA-PVL)
- OWC 120GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G (Firmware Rev 5.0.7) (OWCSSDMX6G120T)
- OWC 240GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G (Firmware Rev 5.0.6) (OWCSSDMX6G240T)
- OWC 480GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G (Firmware Rev 5.0.6) (OWCSSDMX6G480)
- Digistor 128GB SSD Professional Video Extreme (DIG-PVD128E, pre-formatted ExFat)
- Digistor 240GB SSD Professional Video Series (DIG-PVD240S, pre-formatted ExFat)
- Digistor 480GB SSD Professional Video Series (DIG-PVD480S, pre-formatted ExFat)
- Angelbird 240GB AV Pro (Firmware 2.54)
- ADATA XPG SX900 256GB (ASX900S3-256GM-C)
In addition to the above, these SSDs work ONLY for compressed video capture:
- Crucial 256GB M4 (firmware 000F) (CT256M4SSD2)
- OCZ Agility 3 240GB (AGT3-25SAT3-240G)
- Sandisk Extreme 120GB (SDSSDX-120G-G25)
They also write this about other SSDs:
Some models of SSD can’t save video data at the speed the manufacturer claims. This is due to the disk using hidden data compression to attain higher write speeds. This data compression can only save data at the manufacturer’s claimed speed when storing data such as blank data or simple files. Video data includes video noise and pixels which are more random so compression will not help, therefore revealing the true speed of the disk.
Some SSDs can have up to 50% lower write speed than the manufacturer’s claimed speed. So even though the disk specifications claim an SSD has speeds fast enough to handle video, in reality the disk isn’t fast enough when used to store video data for real time capture. However, this mostly affects HD capture and often these disks can still be used for playback.
Use Blackmagic Disk Speed Test to accurately measure whether your SSD will be able to handle uncompressed video capture and playback. Blackmagic Disk Speed Test uses data to simulate the storage of video so you get results similar to what you’ll see when capturing video to a disk. During Blackmagic testing, we have found newer, larger models of SSD and larger capacity SSDs are generally faster.
Why doesn’t the Blackmagic 4K camera have uncompressed 4K CinemaDNG? The data rate for it would be about 356 MB/s, while the minimum write speeds of most SSDs, even the newest models, are about 350 MB/s. Furthermore, dealing with high data rates of 350 MB/s are tough. For a 90-minute movie production with a shooting ratio of 10:1, the footage (just one copy) will require about 19 TB! Lastly, playing back one track at 356 MB/s will require four drives in RAID 0, at least, with a hardware RAID controller.
Here’s a chart showing how much you might be able to get on each drive capacity:
|Capacity||Minutes of footage|
|GB||4K CinemaDNG, compressed||Prores 880 Mbps||Prores 220 Mbps|
How many drives should you get? Follow the principles I’ve outlined in Chapter on Data Management in the Comprehensive Guide to Rigging Any Camera. I feel the 240 GB size is perfect, and it’s better to swap drives after that to be safe. I recommend the SanDisk Extreme II 240 GB SSD.
From the support FAQ:
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera records “time of day’ timecode based on the time and date settings in the camera. This can be accessed via the touchscreen menu. The SDI output of the camera also carries RP-188 timecode.
This timecode can only be used as a reference if you manually check the date and time before every shoot. Even then, you can’t completely rely on it. Read this forum thread on how to use timecode to sync audio. If this information is frustrating, use a slate!
To access the metadata screen, tap on the touchscreen once:
You can input the following information (most of it is only readable by DaVinci Resolve):
- Project name
- Reel number
- Scene number
- Shot number
- Take number
- Angle (Shot type)
- Comments (Very hard to type!)
If you’re shooting a feature, should you waste time typing on the camera itself? My advice? No. Let an assistant write down the shots, like they did before the age of tablets. It’s more reliable and useful.
In Part Five we’ll look at how much all this is going to cost.