Black Magic Cinema Camera Production Workflow

BMCC and Jay ShafferIn part three of my series on the Black Magic Cinema Camera I am going to talk about my production workflow using the camera. The BMCC does require that you jump through some workflow hoops in order to take advantage of its powerful imaging capabilities.

One of the most critical things you are going to run into immediately when shooting with the BMCC is the ability to monitor what you are shooting. Even with the supplied sunshade it is almost impossible to properly monitor on the built-in touch screen in daylight. If you don’t have an external monitor, make sure that you have a black drape or coat that you can drape over yourself and the camera to shut out light. You will look like the old-fashioned box camera photographer but it is the only way to cut out the glare on the screen. Also with it being fixed to the back of the camera, means that you have to go through some awkward contortions to view the monitor if you are doing low or high angle shots. If you have a portable SDI monitor then you are set. However if you have an HDMI monitor (like I do) you have to get a SDI to HDMI adapter. You could spend $280 to get the Black Magic convertor, or you could get a cheap convertor like the $45 ViewHD 3G-SDI to HDMI Video Converter that seems to work pretty well; I also have a 5V USB battery to power the convertor.

Batteries are another consideration when working with the BMCC. Do NOT depend on the internal battery of the BMCC. If you are shooting on location you will need to have external batteries to power the camera. Bescor is one company that makes external battery packs specifically for the BMCC. So when you are shooting on location you may need to bring batteries for the camera, the HDMI convertor, and your SDI or HDMI monitor.

If you are shooting for any length of time, you will want to have at least one extra SSD drive, and some way to transfer data from the SSDs to a computer. I am using two 240GB 6G SSDs from Other Word Computing. I also have a portable Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex FireWire 800 dock adapter that I use to transfer files to a MacBook Pro on location.

OWC SSD and the Seagate Goflex FW800 dock

OWC SSD and the Seagate Goflex FW800 dock

Seagate also makes a portable Thunderbolt adapter that requires a Thunderbolt cable.

It is also important to note that you can’t reformat the SSDs within the BMCC. This is another reason that you should have a laptop if you are shooting on location with the camera and if you are on a PC make sure that you can format drives in either ExFat or have software to format in MacOS HFS extended. Also be aware that if you are shooting RAW you will fill-up a 240GB drive in just over 20 minutes verses 2 hours and 20minutes if you are shooting ProRes.

Although SSDs are pretty sturdy, especially when compared with hard drives, I store the SSD that is not in the camera in a waterproof Pelican padded hard case.

Pelican case

Pelican 1010 case for storing the SSD

Some people have expressed concern with the SSD in the camera failing if the camera is vibrated, like if the camera is vehicle-mounted. I might tape the drive door closed so that the drive doesn’t become dislodged, but other than that, I don’t think it would be any more fragile than any other camera.

Probably the best way to shoot with the BMCC is to shoot in Prores with the film S-log profile and then monitor your shots with the Rec709 broadcast profile. You can always switch playback between both profiles, if you want to look at both. I am finding that I tend to shoot underexposed with the camera because the monitor looks overexposed. The iris control (for lenses that support it) sets the exposure so that no pixels are clipped. There are also zebra bars that you can set at 90 or 100%. For shots where it is feasible, I am using my light meter to set exposure also. The primary lens that I am using is the Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 DXII and I am almost always shooting with a Hoya Vari-ND filter to get to F2.8, so that I can get narrow DOF. The Tokina lens doesn’t achieve infinity focus on the camera’s EF mount, so for longer shots, I’m using the Canon 50mm and 100mm lenses which seem to be okay at F4 or better.

The BMCC has a focus button that toggles a peaking display to check your focus and you can also tap the touch screen for a one-to-one pixel display to aid in focusing. If you turn-on overlays for the external SDI monitor you can also see the peaking display there, which is great, especially if you have a focus puller.

If you are shooting in a controlled studio situation, you can tether the camera to a laptop via thunderbolt and take advantage of the Ultra Scope software that ships with the camera. I haven’t tried hooking up the SDI output to an external recorder yet, although I did bring up the camera over Thunderbolt in QuickTime 7 player for worlds most expensive webcam.

There are quite a few production idiosyncrasies that you will run into when shooting with the Black Magic Cinema Camera, and I hope that I’ve covered some of the more important ones in this article. In the next article in this series, I will talk about post-production workflow.

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