When Atomos came out with the Ninja Star, I thought the external ProRes HD Recorder was a godsend for indy DSLR filmmakers. My only beef was that it didn’t have an monitor attachment. Naturally, for under $400, why would it? Then Blackmagic got an idea: They put a 1080p HD monitor on a recorder, and they did it for under $500.
“Now it’s easy to add professional monitoring and recording to your camera with the Blackmagic Video Assist! Blackmagic Video Assist can be added to any camera to ensure perfect focus and framing. The built in recorder uses high speed SD cards to record professional ProRes and DNxHD files with incredible quality and 10 bit color depth! Blackmagic Video Assist works with any camera where you need better monitoring and more professional high quality file recording.” – Blackmagicdesign.com
Taking a look at the BMD Video Assist, it’s pretty compact thanks to its 5 inch 1920×1080 HD touch screen. But that modest amount a real estate has a lot going on with it including 2 HDMI ports, 2 6G-SDI ports, dual LP-E6 battery mounts, headphone jack and 6 1/4-20 mounting points. In spite of all that, the Video Assist is still a hair under 1-inch thick.
Other Tech Specs Include:
- 1920 x 1080 Touchscreen LCD
- Records 1080p up to 60 fps
- ProRes 10-Bit, 4:2:2 Encoding
- HDMI and 6G-SDI Video Inputs
- Loop-Through Video Outputs
- Stores to Single SDHC/SDXC Memory Card
- On-Screen Histogram and Audio Levels
- Focus Peaking & Zebra
- Dual Canon LP-E6 Type Battery Slots
- AC Adapter Included
With built-in touch screen control, the Video Assist uses tap and swipe gestures to change camera and recording settings, and navigate through the Blackmagic Camera menus, which appear in a semi transparent overlay. Recording wise, the Video Assist offers direct 10 bit 4:2:2 ProRes or DNxHD recording, which can be automatically triggered when the camera starts recording. It’s HDMI and 6G SDI inputs allow for recording from any camera on the market.
The LCD screen is very bright, showing the action in 1920×1080 HD, and with a wide 135º viewing angle, shooters can share the results of filming with clients and cast without the need to scrunch in to see it. The screen also will autorotate, much like a smart phone, and since there are three mounting points above and three below, users can adjust the screen position any way they need to and the Video Assist will follow your lead.
The CFast system may be better for higher end indy projects, but for a runner and gunner, or a wedding videographer, using SD cards is a much better option. That way you don’t have to invest in a specialized reader and can use those SD cards for other purposes. But you also have to have to cards that are fast enough to handle the stream, so keep it at class 10 or better. You’ll also need to format the cards in ExFAT.
A recent firmware update also brings along focus peaking indication for iris control, central zoom to aid focus, zebras, TimeCode over HDMI, and improved battery life.
Battery-wise, the Video Assist takes a pair of Canon LP-E6 type batteries, which makes them hot swappable, a nice feature. Other than that, users can also connect a 12v barrel connected AC adapter to run the Video Assistant from a steady power source on set. Additionally, what’s cool here is that there’s an overlay screen which will show a graphic depiction of how much power you have, which you’re going to want to pay close attention to because it blows through the batteries fairly quickly with a one-hour battery life. You’re going to want to have a lot of batteries if you’re on location.
Another option, however is to get a mock battery that connect via DTap, and use a larger battery source that will extend your life when AC simply isn’t available.
All told, the Blackmagic Video Assist external monitor/recorder is a solid entry level offer, and for $495, it’s a no-brainer to grab one. Especially if you’re shooting on a more budgetary platform like Canon’s T6 Digital Rebel or the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Being able to offload your primary recording has tremendous advantages, chief of which is a backup archival copy. That alone makes it worth the price.
I give it an 8.5 out of 10. For more information, visit Blackmagicdesign.com.