Where to Start – Accessory Guide to the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

Production Ready

I am a new user of Blackmagic Design’s 4K Production Camera and I thought it might be helpful to post my transition from HDSLR filmmaking to a BMPC4K production workflow. One of the first things to notice about the BMPC4K is you are purchasing a camera body. This means you will need a few accessories to make it production ready. You have this 35mm sensor with a global shutter that is capable of capturing Ultra 4K resolution via ProRes/RAW files at 12 stops of dynamic range. But you don’t want to just throw a lens on the EF mount and start shooting unless you are prepared for disappointment. There are too many variables that need to be covered before you should shoot your next project.

Out of the Box

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the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K and its packaging.

 

Out of the box you will receive the camera body, a charger for the internal battery, a sun shield, a camera strap and a spiffy new copy of DaVinci Resolve – considered Hollywood’s most powerful color corrector — with the dongle. With the purchase of the BMPC4K you get a license to the application. A few things to keep in mind: 1. The disc that comes with the camera is a copy of Resolve 10. This will not install on your Mac if you are running Yosemite or later OS’s. You will need to download a copy of Resolve 11 from Black Magic Design’s website. Resolve 11 will work seamlessly with the license you have on your dongle. 2. DO NOT lose your dongle. If you don’t have the dongle plugged into your computer when you run Resolve you will not be able to use it. Keep it locked in your safe or leave it plugged into your desktop.

Drives and Docks

The BMPC4K does not come with a drive. To record a shot you will need to purchase a SSD. Since I shoot 4K I am limited in my choice of drives as they need to be fast. I know the brand SanDisk Extreme PRO from the days of when I used to work in a camera store, so I chose the 240GB SanDisk Extreme PRO. 4K is a different animal from HD and it turns out that 240GB only holds about 20 minutes of footage! When you purchase your drives don’t go any lower than 480GB, and it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a 960GB drive too. Unless you are versed in 35mm motion picture and miss the nostalgic feel of switching out a reel every eight minutes. You think Birdman was spectacular? Check out Hitchcock’s Rope, and prepare to have your mind BLOWN.

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Sandisk Extreme PRO SSD, HighPoint Dual-Bay Thunderbolt Storage Dock and a thunderbolt cable.

 

You will also want to purchase a storage dock to transfer footage and work from. I like fast things so I chose the HighPoint Dual-Bay Thunderbolt Storage Dock.

Power

So we got our camera body and a drive, let’s go make a movie! What about power? Sure the BMPC4K has an internal battery, but how long will that last you? An hour at best. I like to look at the internal battery as a buffer between switching out external batteries or for getting that last pickup shot after you’ve packed the rest of your gear. Most folks are recommending a V-Mount battery system. At $300-$400 bucks a pop you are looking at spending a pretty penny on batteries. But never fear, with a little patience and digging you can find some pretty good deals. Use that extra cashflow for a new lens…or rent. 

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Switronix PB70 Pro-X batteries and charger.

 

I found two Switronix PB70 Pro-X batteries on Craigslist for $150 each. That’s two batteries for the price of one and it adds up to roughly 8-10 hours of production time. They came with the charger too. One thing to note is that if you buy a Switronix new, it will not come with the charger so you will need to add that on as an accessory.

Cage

OK! FINALLY! I got my camera, my drive, and my batteries. Can we shoot now??? Sure thing, but where are you going to put your battery? And THIS is probably the most important part of the blog. The design of the camera is very beautiful, but not that useful. It’s OK Blackmagic Design we understand that it pays to be disruptive and because of you we have a powerful little camera that needs a little love to start rolling. Black magic Design offers a $200 set of aluminum handle bars, but I can’t really imagine taking a BMPC4K into the field without a full cage for multiple reasons:

  1. I don’t want to scratch and dent up this beautiful camera body. The mount plate will scratch up the bottom of the body if applied directly to the camera.
  2. I need some handles to be able to go handheld and increase accessibility.
  3. I need more real estate to add accessories.

I’m familiar with companies like RedRock Micro and Wooden Camera from the DSLR days (you’ll recognize their brand from most shoulder mounts). And now you’ll see them on many cages as well. While perusing the web I found plenty of camera cages with handles and base mounts and they were all pretty expensive. I ended up purchasing a Lanparte cage with the handle and base mount on craigslist for a fraction of the price.

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The BMPC4K with the Lanparte cage, handle and base mount.

 

I appreciate the Lanparte model because of its price, quality, universal friendliness, look and the shoe on top of the handle. I plan to add a LED light or a BOOM to that shoe.

Lanparte also makes a battery backpack plate for its rigs. You will want to purchase one of these to mount your Switronix batteries. You can find it over at Amazon.

Glass

Since I’ve been collecting glass for a while all of my Canon lenses are interchangeable with the EF Mount. This is a winner for me because NO ONE wants to replace their lenses, especially when each lens is essentially the same price as the camera itself. Since the sensor is cropped you can even getaway with testing out older FD glass. This is something I couldn’t do with the 5D MK2 full frame sensor because of the vignette the FD lenses would produce. I intend to try it out now that I am shooting with a crop.

Sunshine

Use your sunscreen! No this isn’t your mother talking, this is a concerned shooter who is letting you know that in bright conditions it will be hard to see the glossy screen. Quickest remedy: snap on the sun shield. I have a Small HD DP7 monitor that I use for monitoring, but I plan on purchasing an EVF (Electronic View Finder) in the near future.

Speaking of lenses and sun… If you haven’t started collecting Neutral Density filters, now is a good time to start. The BMPC4K sensor is sensitive and the sun is harsh, so it is important to use ND filters to dim the amount of light that feeds into the sensor. If you do not use the ND filters you may start noticing a purplish hue in your highlights when color correcting. Regardless, using ND filters is a good rule of thumb for any shooter. I just came back from shooting in Antarctica and the filters kept me shooting open so I could achieve shallow depth for a majority of my shots.

Low Light

If I am in the field and I don’t have many lights I will use a DSLR B-Cam for low light. You don’t want to go past ISO 400ASA on the BMPC4K so invest in a light kit and learn to gaff.

Audio

There is a 1/4 inch input on the BMPC4K body. You can insert a microphone receiver at full volume then monitor its levels from the camera. I am contemplating the A-Box adapter for XLR compatibility.

Wrap It Up

I hope this blog doesn’t scare you off! It is meant to motivate you to get out there and put a rig together. Keep your eye open for good deals and you can put a quality rig together for a relatively low price. Your camera is a tool you use to make moving images. We are in an era where Oscar winning films can be shot on iPhones. The technology moves fast and replaces itself annually; its on you to jump in and get your hands dirty. The Blackmagic Design Production Camera 4K produces a quality image and will help increase your production value, but most importantly, just go get a camera and start making movies. Invest in your story above everything else.

– Henry Darrow McComas
After completing his latest short film, Wrong Side Up, in Colorado, Henry moved to beautiful Santa Monica to continue his career in digital production and new media. You can stay up to date with Henry and his work at www.HenryMcComas.com.

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