When Blackmagic Design announced the original video assist back in NAB 2015 we all, video junkies out there in the wild, got really excited. This was not only a fair competitor to the Atomos family of video monitors and recorders, but a solid designed product that entered the market at an affordable price.
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I’ve been following Blackmagic Design (BD) for several years. I almost purchased their first incursion into the camera market, the cinema camera 2.5k. I particularly assumed that the Video Assist (VA) was just the beginning for Blackmagic Design in the realm of monitor/recorders category.
It made sense, in the last couple of years since the launch of their first camera, the BD cinema camera 2.5k, there had been a clear path of growth (a somewhat steady crescendo) on their products lineup. It’s clear now that their development road map confronted and defied directly with popular assumption: BD was just another video system manufacturer and not capable of producing a good camera, just like any of the big three. Despite this, BD keep on it, and they they have proven, on each new iteration, more and more improvements in R&D technology with the release of each new product.
That much had been true. They have amassed a lot of research and technology with the video system manufacturing and by turning it into miniature, you could hypothetically obtain cameras and portable recorders (of course is not as simple as that). It was logical, it was just a matter of time.
That’s why I assumed that the Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K was just the logical step after the original VA… I assumed right. On the last NAB show of 2016, BD announced their new 4k VA at the modest price of $895. 4k shooters rejoice….and the best part was, contrary to classical Blackmagic Design gospel, that this was not a mirage (or another 12 months ahead of retail availability fiasco), this was a real product that was actually available for retail at the end of the show.
The Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K it’s well constructed. It might fall slightly into the heavier side sometimes (depends how light or heavy your set-up is), but let’s not forget this is a 7″ display. One of the big reasons why I wanted to get this unit instead of others had to do with its audio capabilities. It has mini XLR that can be converted to either 3.5 mm or full blown XLR connectors. It has also phantom power on those same connectors, ideal for condenser microphones. The VA has a fan, quite loud for a unit of this size, that can complicate your shoot if you’re planning to have the recorder close to a microphone. I did not had any issues due to this. On a regular interview set-up, I’d have the microphone close to the subject to reduce the signal to noise ratio, and away from camera.
SD options cards are a big problem with this unit: If you’re planning to record to ProRes in 4k you’re going to need very fast SD cards (a only Class 10 SDXC UHS-II party. Believe me, I’ve tried with other ‘fast’ SD cards and to my dismay, I only got dropped frames misery). Although these cards are not price prohibitive, and you have two slots available to record with them, their current availability is still somewhat limited. A 64gb card would cost around $70 – this is the current Amazon price at the writing of this blog post – this card will only allow you to record about 27 minutes in 4K ProRes LT, so two cards will allow you to record about an hour of 4k footage. It’s clear that this unit it is a little ahead of its time, since there are no commercially available SD cards bigger than 64gb at the launch of the product.
Another major advantage of all external recorders is the freedom of recording. No more 30 minute recording limit imposed by silly EU regulations to video camcorders.
Evil monitor black screens signal drop: I did not notice this at first, but it was a steady glitch while recording for more than a minute. It has been documented also on Blackmagic forums: Once you connect the BD VA to a Sony camera HDMI port and start to record – I’ve tried with the Sony A6300 and I’ve seen examples on the A7R II too – the screen would sometimes flicker to complete black. More to my surprise – and to my panic face while recording an interview – the actual footage would not suffer from dropped frames, only the screen will disappear momentarily before coming back (signal and menu).
I believe BD is aware of this problem and working diligently to provide a firmware update that will fix this problem (or at least I like to think so)
All in all, I believe the Video Assist 4k is a great addition to your gear. I’m happy that I’ve purchased it, and I try to use on every shoot I do.
I’ve acquired a SKB hard box to take it around, I’d love to see solutions to carry it around to location that are affordable for independent producers and amateurs alike.