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BMPC-4K: Shooting tips from early users

February 21, 2014

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Based on reports from Blackmagic Production Camera 4K users in the field, here are some shooting tips:

1. First thing to do when you get a BMPC-4K is to make sure it’s running the most current firmware, available on BMD’s support website. Some cams have shipped with an older version firmware, so even a “new” cam may require installing the current FW. See also my recent blog posts (such as here and here) and previous announcements by BMD. New firmware includes the latest ReadMe text and User Manual documentation; be sure to read it for important information. Recent firmware updates have added and improved in-camera media formatting (see #17 below), 4K RAW recording, additional ProRes recording modes (see #16 below), momentary Auto-Focus, histogram display, record time remaining display, audio meters, additional shutter angle settings (see #18 below), additional white balance settings, etc. Periodically check the BMD support site for possible future camera firmware updates, too.

2. Use the cam’s ISO 200 and ISO 400 settings for lower video noise compared to ISO 800. The cam’s native ISO is 400 (best balance of dynamic range and noise). Adjust lighting levels and lens aperture accordingly. Firmware v1.9 improves BMPC-4K sensor calibration, resulting in less noise compared to previous firmwares. Subject to your testing, vertical banding, noise and fixed pattern noise (FPN) may sometimes appear in underexposed areas or when exposure is boosted in post. BMD cameras do not feature internal noise reduction. If necessary, you can apply NR to footage in post using Davinci Resolve, Neat Video, or other popular software. As always, conduct your own careful tests with the BMPC-4K (or any camera) before start of production to determine your preferred settings.

3. Here’s a BMPC-4K and RED EPIC comparison test video shot outdoors by a small professional crew. Because the far more capable and expense EPIC is a “known” camera and its footage was shot at the same time, this video can serve as a useful guide to how the BMPC-4K compares to another professional filming “format”. Likewise, here’s a comparison between a BMPC-4K and an ARRI Alexa, and James Miller compares a BMPC-4K and Canon 1DC side-by-side. The BMPC-4K holds its own against the far more expensive Alexa and 1DC.

4. Many videos on Vimeo amply demonstrate the BMPC-4K’s wonderful and uncommon CMOS global shutter feature, and thus the cam’s complete lack of rolling shutter artifacts such as skew, jello, partial frame exposure (“flash band”), and so forth. As a result, movement looks better and more natural on the BMPC-4K compared to most other CMOS cameras, the vast majority of which have a rolling shutter.

5. There’s a lag of about 3-4 frames on the built-in LCD & SDI video output (less on the built-in screen than the SDI). There’s also a lag in the headphone audio. But its recorded audio and video appear to be in sync relative to each other.

6. As expected, because the BMPC-4K has a relatively high-resolution sensor, it’s less prone to aliasing & moire compared to Blackmagic Design’s otherwise excellent and less-expensive BMCC & BMPCC cameras. Aliasing/moire can still occur with the BMPC-4K, but is relatively rare.

7. BMPC-4K “Film” mode is less “flat” (less log like) than “Film” mode on the BMCC & BMPCC, and it’s easy and fast to get a nice grade in post (see #15 below). The camera’s “Video” mode (similar to Rec. 709) appears to be improved compared to previous BMD camera firmwares. Most people agree that BMPC-4K Film mode yields best results. BMPC-4K 1080p recordings are more detailed than BMCC & BMPCC 1080p recordings, and BMPC-4K “4K” (10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes HQ and 12-bit RAW) recordings contain the greatest amount of natural detail overall.

8. As expected the BMPC-4K ProRes HQ recordings have somewhat less dynamic range & sensitivity compared to BMCC and BMPCC cams. Approx. a stop less or so, subject to your testing. The other two BMD cams have a native ISO of approx. 800. BMPC-4K’s losslessly-compressed 12-bit RAW CinemaDNG feature is included in recent firmware updates. Subject to your testing, you may find the camera’s DR improved slightly in RAW recordings compared to ProRes.

9. As with the BMCC & BMPCC, the LCD on the BMPC-4K is highly reflective and very difficult to read in bright environments. This can be somewhat alleviated by applying inexpensive, matte-finish 3M anti-glare protective film for touch screens and a LCD hood or loupe, or preferably use a professional external HD-SDI EVF or high-brightness monitor.

10. Recent firmware updates improve BMPC-4K audio recording quality (from external mic and line sources) well-enough that it’s now arguably “professional quality”, as was long-promised on their website. Firmware v1.9 finally adds audio meters. Note: BMPC-4K audio can be adequate for certain pro shoots, but for best results, record sound externally on a pro audio recorder, or at least use an external preamp/mixer connected to the BMPC-4K. If desired, external timecode can be input to a BMD camera audio track and Davinci Resolve can use it for sync (refer to Davinci Resolve docs for info).

11. For information about cost-effective IR cut (infrared cut) and combination IRND optical filters appropriate for use with the BMPC-4K, refer to this detailed thread on BMCuser, especially the first few posts. “Infrared pollution” affects most modern video cams to a varying degree, and can cause video to look muddy brownish red/magenta. Selection of an IR cut filter tends to be sensor-specific, so the results and recommendations described in this thread are invaluable.

12. As shown at the 1:10 point in the BMPC-4K and RED Epic video discussed in #3 above, the BMPC-4K will sometimes record an extreme highlight (such as from direct sunlight) as black or red pixels instead of white. Initially the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera had a “black sun” problem (different sensor), too. BMD fixed the issue on the pocket cam via a free firmware update, so perhaps they’ll be able do the same with the BMPC-4K. TBD. In some cases one can “fix it in post” using software such as the included Davinci Resolve. (Apparently the ARRI Alexa camera rev.7 has a similar issue.) Kristian Lam, the BMPC-4K product manager discusses this here, but a firmware fix for this issue is not promised.

13. Battery status indicator & the camera’s cooling system: The battery level indicator on the BMPC-4K LCD monitor may fluctuate quite a lot during operation, more so than with other BMD cameras. This is normal. The BMPC-4K’s larger sensor and increased internal data handling generates more heat, causing the camera’s cooling system to vary its power consumption, and consumes more power overall. All BMD cameras use active Peltier-type cooling systems. The cooling system transfers heat from the sensor & electronics to the cameras’ heavy metal chassis, which acts as a heat sink. BMPC-4K & BMCC cameras also use a relatively quiet, constant-speed fan. For proper operation, insure that the air vents on the base of BMPC-4K & BMCC are not blocked. The BMPC-4K & BMCC base is designed with a raised ridge so that mounting the cam on a hard, flat surface won’t block airflow. When powered-on, avoid placing these cams on a soft surface such as upholstery, carpet, fabric, etc. which could block air flow. As expected, during operation in warm environments the camera’s body may get quite warm — almost hot to touch. This is normal. The camera will run somewhat cooler if, when operating the cam from an external power source, its internal battery is fully charged before use so the internal battery isn’t charging while shooting. You may find that mounting the camera in a metal camera rig or cage helps keep the camera cooler because the extra metal essentially adds another heat sink, and the rig/cage may be cooler/more comfortable to hand hold. Some users put a gaffer tape “tab” on the SSD media because it normally gets very warm, too, and the tab gives you something cool to grab when pulling the SSD out of the cam. For info about Peltier cooling, refer to this Wikipedia article.

14. BMPC-4K internal SSD recordings are progressive only, not interlaced. Concerning its live SDI video output, there’s an error in the user manual on page 11: The BMPC-4K does not feature interlaced “1920 x 1080i50 output“, and, “1920 x 1080i59.94 output“. The BMPC-4K’s SDI output is progressive only, not interlaced. Refer to Gary Adams’ post on Blackmagic Designs’ forum.

15. “CaptainHook” has created impressive custom Lookup Tables (LUTs) for the BMPC-4K (and other BMD cameras), for use in the Davinci Resolve software included with the camera. See his detailed post on BMD’s forum for more information.

17. To use the new firmware’s in-camera formatting feature to format a SSD disk as HFS+, the camera’s “Reel” metadata field must contain at least one character (can’t be blank). The exFAT format option doesn’t appear to have the same requirement (“Reel” can be blank.) UPDATE 10/14: Firmware update 1.9.7 fixes this issue, and subsequent updates have further improved the reliability of in-camera SSD formatting.

18. Firmware 1.9.5 adds additional shutter angles. Here’s a table showing all the shutter angles, together with their shutter speed equivalents (PDF).

19. New blog post: Resolve 11: DIY Windows PC build for 4K video

20. SSD drives tested and recommended by Blackmagic Design for use as blank media in BMPC-4K cameras.

BMPC-4K videos appear every day on TV broadcasts, websites, Vimeo, YouTube, and elsewhere. There are examples of quite a variety of shooting scenarios. Click here to see some of the best of the early BMPC-4K video examples. To find more, do separate searches on Vimeo.com for “blackmagic 4k”, and “bmpc4k”, and “bmpc-4k”.

Several BMPC-4K footage samples are linked here.

Here’s my take on the BMPC-4K.

Note: I received my BMPC-4K in late Feb. 2014 from Pro Video and Tape.

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

My words only: ©2014 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved. http://www.peterdv.com

Photo of rigged BMPC-4K by John Brawley.

Note: I don’t receive income or remuneration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.

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