The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Guide (Part Three): Viewfinders, External Monitoring, Audio and Power Supplies

In Part Two we looked at lenses, matte boxes and follow focus systems for the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. In this part we’ll look at viewfinders, external monitors, audio and power supplies.

How do you monitor via the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K? You have two options:

  • 6G-SDI
  • Thunderbolt
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What you get with 6G-SDI

6G-SDI

is theoretically capable of 10-bit 3840 x 2160 4:2:2 at 30p or 12-bit 3840 x 2160 60p in RAW mode. On the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, what you get is:

  • 10-bit 4:2:2 3840 x 2160 at 30p – at 0.58 GB/s uncompressed
  • 2-ch audio at 24-bit 48 KHz – at 0.0003 GB/s uncompressed
  • 10-bit 1080p30* – at 0.14 GB/s uncompressed

*The camera can record in 1080p if required. It is unclear at this time whether this is a line-skipped solution (like DSLRs) or an interpolated one (like the Canon C300). However, one can assume the feed will be available via SDI.

The thing about 6G-SDI is, it isn’t an official standard yet, and if you want to monitor Ultra HD via this port, you’ll be confined (at least at the beginning) to using monitoring solutions provided by Blackmagic Design.

What you get with Thunderbolt

Blackmagic includes their Ultrascope software, and it works via Thunderbolt (Version 1, not 2). In their words:

Advanced Thunderbolt technology provides an incredibly fast 10 Gb/s computer connection so you can capture the camera’s output. You can also use the Thunderbolt video output with the included Blackmagic UltraScope software and get technically accurate waveform monitoring, even when using a laptop on set.

It is unclear at the time of this writing whether it will include 4K or not. Uncompressed 10-bit UltraHD is about 4.64 Gbps, well below the 10 Gbps limit of Thunderbolt. Therefore, it definitely seems likely that Thunderbolt will stream 4K. Take note, though, that you cannot use a tool like the Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Monitor for 4K streaming, because it is ‘only’ 3G-SDI, and will only support 1080p. However, Blackmagic Design may update this line to include 6G-SDI in the future.
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Viewfinders

This follows what I’ve written in the Chapter on Viewfinders in the Comprehensive Guide.

The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K has no optical viewfinder. You are left with just one option: An Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) via SDI.

The problem is, there aren’t any electronic viewfinders that can display Ultra HD. Even if there are, they most likely won’t support the 6G-SDI ‘standard’ from Blackmagic Design. This means the SDI feed must be switchable between 1080p and Ultra HD, even if you’re recording 4K internally. Otherwise it is a recipe for disaster!

For 10-bit 4:2:2 1080p monitoring, I recommend the Cineroid Pro EVF4RVW.

 

The Cineroid has the following advantages:

  • SDI loop-through, so you can connect it via an external monitor
  • Focus peaking!
  • 1:1 Mode
  • Frame Guides and an Anamorphic mode
  • Waveform and Vectorscope display
  • 3.5″ LCD and a detachable loupe, so it can be used as a monitor
  • Can be powered via DC (6-17V) or Canon LP-E6 batteries
  • Headphone jack
  • 350 ppi resolution

Here’s a video that shows how the viewfinder works with the original BMCC (usage should be the same):

It’s not cheap, but you get so many benefits with it that there’s no point looking further. Another popular EVF is the Alphatron EVF-035W-3G EVF. Some prefer it to the Cineroid.

Accessories

You’ll need a mounting solution and articulating arm for the viewfinder (it takes 1/4″ screws just like the camera does). My favorite mounting solution for the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is the Wooden Camera UVF Mount v2 with the UVF 2 Extension Arm:

Wooden Camera UVF Mount v2

Here’s a video showing you how to configure this arm with the Blackmagic 4K Camera:

There are cheaper options available, like the Edelkrone Monitor Holder, but it’s more restrictive (compact, if you want to put a positive spin on it). If you really can’t afford any expensive mounting solution, you’ll find solutions from $10 on up here.

To connect the viewfinder to the camera, get a 1 or 1.5 feet SDI-to-SDI cable.

External Monitoring

The feed from the 6G-SDI port is a clean signal. If you like, you can overlay frame guides, aperture information, frame rates, etc.

I have written extensively about monitor sizes and how to choose the right size in the Chapter on External Monitors in the Comprehensive Guide. I won’t cover mounting solutions for the monitor because they vary in size based on the size of the monitor.

Considerations

What do you hope to achieve with an external monitor? As far as I’m concerned, I believe an external monitor should make up for the shortcomings in the 5″ LCD touchscreen display at the back of the camera. Here are some thoughts:

  • 4K monitoring – for those who need critical 1:1 4K monitoring.
  • 10-bit 4:2:2 Rec. 709 with broadcast standard zebras, waveform and vectorscope – for those who are shooting in video mode (or film mode but want to finish in video mode)**
  • Bright in daylight with good dynamic range.
  • 1:1 pixels and focus peaking.
  • Audio levels indicator.
  • HD-SDI or 3G-SDI connectivity so you don’t have to buy any HDMI adapters.
  • Frame guides – for those who need to shoot in aspect ratios of 1.66, 1.85:1, 2.39:1, etc.
  • Simple and compatible power solution.

**The Zebras on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K are rated based on the sensor, and not to Rec. 709. And seriously, dragging a laptop to monitor via Thunderbolt on location is a major pain.
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How big a monitor will you need?

If you need to monitor 4K, then anything smaller than 14″ will be pointless, as the resolution will be ‘lost’ on you. On the other end, anything greater than 32″ will be too large and will not give acceptable resolution at on-set viewing distances. Probably, the sweet spot is about 17-24″, which should give you an acceptable ppi of 180-260. This is important if you want to assess focus accuracy upon playback.

Here’s the problem: most 4K televisions and monitors come at sizes above 30″. Of course, there are monitors like the newly launched Dell Ultra HD line, but a few days in the sun and a couple of knocks will make these nice tea trays. Also, you are left with having to convert SDI to HDMI. If the Thunderbolt output matches Displayport standards, one could use a mini-Displayport cable to monitor as well. Bottom line, I’d stay away from studio monitors for production use.

This means, we are left with one choice: the Blackmagic Design SmartScope Duo 4K:

BMD SmartScope Duo 4K

The SmartScope is 8-bit only, but includes scopes, comes in twos, and takes 6G-SDI. The Sony PVM-X300 30″ 4K Trimaster would be the ultimate monitor, but it takes 4K via four 3G-SDI links, and not a single 6G-SDI link as available on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K.

Therefore, it might have dawned on you that a true 4K solution is really not to be had yet. I’m sure we’ll have a few solutions once the camera is out and readily available, but it’s going to be a long wait. At this time, I only recommend 1080p monitoring, which is not that bad, mind you. You still get some form of color accuracy and focus precision with a 1080p monitor. Professionals shooting on the Red cameras have faced this problem (and have some good solutions) for ages.

A 1080p monitor should ideally be between 7″ and 22″. If you’re using the Cineroid along with the LCD on the camera, I see no reason for a 7″ monitor. Here are some suggestions:

Small Sizes

  • Cheap and excellent value: SmallHD AC7-SDI with Sun Hood.
  • Cheap broadcast monitor: Marshall Electronics V-LCD70MD-3G 7″ with 3G-SDI module.
  • Top of the line for Frame Guides and Cinema: SmallHD DP7-PRO-HB-SX (You don’t need a sun hood!) – Negatives? No audio levels.
  • For critical color monitoring for broadcast: Sony LMD-941W 9″ LCD Monitor – Negatives? No frame guides. But then again, most broadcast work is restricted to 16:9 anyway.

Larger Sizes

  • Ikegami HLM-1704WR 17″ LCD Monitor
  • Sony LMD-2110W 21.5″ 10-bit LCD Monitor
  • Top of the line: Sony Trimaster OLED series – super expensive!

Here’s where the Thunderbolt solution looks like an idea. As you have noticed, there are very few monitors that have everything, so you really have to study your production requirements. If I had to choose one monitor that would be sufficiently good for most purposes except broadcast, I would go with the SmallHD DP7-PRO-HB-SX.

I wouldn’t record audio on the Blackmagic 4K camera anyway, cinema or broadcast. Maybe web videos, but even that will make me nervous.

How to protect the 5″ touchscreen and get frame guides without a monitor

This one is simple, and handy. Get the 3M Natural View Anti-Glare Screen Protector for the iPad and cut it to fit the screen of the Blackmagic 4K Camera.

Before you stick it on, trace a frame guide on the film (with whatever aspect ratio you want) with a permanent marker. Now, stick the film carefully on the touchscreen. Voila! Cheap frame guides. Want to change it? Just remove the film and put in another one.

The advantages of the anti-glare film are numerous:

  • Makes the touchscreen scratch resistant.
  • It does not interfere with the capacitative touch operation.
  • It does not block important menu data like a duct tape would.
  • It is fingerprint resistant.
  • And, most important: It reduces screen glare and reflections – which the touchscreen desperately needs.

Audio

If the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is anything like its little sister the BMCC, you will need a full external audio solution. A mixed signal can be routed to the camera so editing is easier, but if you’re recording in CinemaDNG, it might be an unncessary step.

Read the Chapter on Audio from the Comprehensive Guide to know what options you have. If you feel compelled to record in camera, use a preamp like the juicedLink BMC388:

Take note, you will need two Sony PC-234S 3.5mm to 1/4″ Adaptors (because the juicedLink only outputs 3.5mm) and. Two 3.5mm cables are included.

Also, even though the BMC388 has audio levels, you must calibrate it with the camera using the Ultrascope software. You only have to do this once in a while, and it will give you the confidence to rely on the meters on the BMC388. Finally, you also get to record two streams of the same audio, but at different levels, as a backup. Watch the following video which goes into some detail on how to deal with audio in the Blackmagic Camera:

Power

The Blackmagic 4K Camera needs 11-30V DC to run, and draws about 20 Watts. It has three options:

  • The internal lithium ion polymer rechargeable battery.
  • AC supply (adapter comes with the camera body).
  • Third-party battery solution.

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The internal battery

The internal battery is non-removable (under daily use; it is replaceable otherwise) and will give you about 90 minutes on full charge. It takes 2 hours to charge, and must be charged while in camera. I would only use this as a backup power option, good to have.

Third-party options

The size of the DC port on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is 2.5mm (inner diameter) x 5.5mm (outer diameter).

Probably the most straightforward way to power the Blackmagic 4K Camera system is via the Switronix PB70-BMCC:

Switronix Solution for the BMCC

This battery solution delivers 70 Wh and gives you about 3.5 hours of shooting time. It requires Switronix PB70C charger, which takes about 4-5 hours to charge.

It comes with a quick-release plate that enables you to attach it easily to the base of the camera. It also has two P-tap (D-tap) connectors to power two 12V devices. The negatives to this system are the short cable length (12″) and the lack of a battery plate for shoulder-mount rigs.

As a more ’rounded’ solution, I prefer an Anton Bauer setup:

  • Anton Bauer Gold Mount Plate QRC-BMD – comes with two P-tap outputs; cable to camera is 2 ft.
  • Anton Bauer Dionic 90 (gives about 4.25 hours) x 3 – Will cover an extended day’s worth of shooting. Based on the system I’ve outlined in the Chapter on Batteries in the Comprehensive Guide, I’d say on a long professional shoot you might need at least 4-5 of these batteries.
  • Anton Bauer Tandem Twin Charger – Will take about 6 hours to charge the Dionic 90 batteries. (For faster charging, opt for the T2 charger instead, but it’s more expensive).
  • Two D-tap/P-tap adapters – one for each device. This will vary based on the device you are connecting. Don’t forget to estimate the right cable lengths for your rig.

Let’s say you are powering an EVF, a monitor and the camera. How long will it run? Here are some numbers:

  • The Dionic 90 is rated at 14.4V and 90 Wh.
  • The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K has a power requirement of about 20 Watts. The Cineroid draws about 3.5 Watts and the SmallHD AC7 draws about 8 Watts. The total power required is about 31.5 Watts.
  • This means, you get a theoretical maximum of about 2.9 hours, or about 173 minutes.

Professional-grade power solutions are not cheap, but they will last you a lifetime. I’m sure cheaper solutions will be available once the camera is out.

Wiring

So, how is all this connected together? Here’s a diagram:

BMPC4K Wiring DIagram

In Part Four we’ll look at rigs, tripods, accessories and data management.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

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