Hardware - Part 2 - My 2+ Camera Setup

More and more often, I’m on shoots with 2 cameras shooting simultaneously. I’ve added 2 pieces of equipment to handle additional cameras.

Standard Blurb: It is not necessary or recommended for you to use or purchase all or any of the items I use. This is just a guide and you should choose what works best for you and your workflow. :-)

Multi-camera Video Capture

As with my single camera setup, the Blackmagic Mini Recorder ($145) is still the main piece of equipment.

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Next is the Freak Show Battery Powered HD Switcher ($239 which is a $20 price drop from my purchase in Oct. 2013)

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Note: I am not that well versed on the lingo for different video formats, so I may use and incorrect term. Hopefully, I’ll be close enough for you to get the gist of what I’m trying to explain

It’s a pretty simple set up as you can see by the image below. Attach your A and B camera cables on one end and use another HD SDI cable on the other end to connect to the Blackmagic Mini Recorder.

Flip the switch to turn it on and you’re good to go. When the device is on, the little toggle switch will light up. When toggled up to what I have labeled as “A-Cam” the light will be green. When toggled down to “B-Cam”, the light will turn red (very holiday looking).

The battery on this switcher seems to last forever but don’t forget to turn it off at the end of the day (as I have a number of times). You can also use it while it is plugged into power.

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If I’m on a shoot with 3 or more cameras, then I have to depend on VTR using a quad split image. With a single quad image, I use the normal single camera set up without the HD switcher. If there are more than 4 cameras, I add the HD switcher back in the mix. One quad image can be fed into each of the switcher’s inputs, so up to 8 cameras can be seen.

If there is no quad, I pick the 2 most important cameras (usually the 2 widest) and ask for playback on the other(s). If the shoot is moving too fast for playback, I note all the camera info and let the editors know that no feed was available for me for that or those shots (more likely on car shoots or multi-unit splinter shoots with only one Script Supervisor).

There have been more than a few times where each camera is using a different format (1080p vs 1080PsF or 23.976 vs 59.94). Or VTR might tell me they are sending a live 23.976 signal but any playback will be at 59.94. It takes time to switch the Blackmagic Desktop software and Debut software between the various formats. Too much time and stress, so I added another piece of hardware to solve the problem.

The Blackmagic UpDownCross Mini Converter ($470.25)

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The Blackmagic UpDownCross Converter allows me to set the Blackmagic Desktop and Debut software for one format setting and not have to change it again. The feeds going into the Converter will be auto-detected and converted to that preferred setting. In my case, I have chosen 1080PsF @ 59.94 as my preferred setting.

Note: The Converter must always be plugged into power. You may also have to unplug and re-plug it if it stops working (for me, it sometimes happens when I disconnect and reconnect the Thunderbolt cable to my laptop).

I chose the Blackmagic Converter over Decimator (MD DUCC or DMON 4S) or Aja because Blackmagic was less expensive and I could stay in the same manufacturing family as the Mini Recorder.

I use the Converter in 2 different ways:

  • Single Camera – I take the feed from VTR or the back of a monitor into the Converter and out to the Mini Recorder. This takes care of the live at 23.976 and playback at 59.94 issue.
  • 2 Camera – The feeds go into the Freak Show Switcher then into the Converter and out to the Mini Recorder. If the 2 cameras are using 2 different formats they will each convert to my preferred setting.
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There are dip switches on the side of the Converter which are used to create the preferred setting. For my setup switches 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 are on (flipped up). So far this has worked well for me. I haven’t (yet) run into a need to change it. (Thanks VTR Rob for setting this up for me :-))

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(3 Images from the User Guide PDF)

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Since the Converter has 5 SDI out ports, it can send a signal to another computer or monitor. In my case, I own 2 Mini Recorders (I believe in having a backup), so just for fun,  I sent one signal to my Windows machine using Debut and another to my Mac using iGrabber. It worked! I don’t know how practical this is unless you’re training someone but it might come in handy sometime.

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A Miscellaneous Bit

As you can imagine, all these pieces can create an cable management nightmare. In the past, I would attach everything via Velcro to the underside of my laptop table. Attaching under the table kept the parts out of my way and protected them from damage but I still had a mess of cables.

Recently, I fashioned a wooden board covered in Velcro that I can attach everything to with shorter cables (though I am still looking for even shorter cables of about 6 inches in length… may have to ask one of my VTR buddies to make them for me).

The board has hard Velcro on one side and soft on the other, with a hole at the top which allows me to hang it from below my table with a bungee cord or Velcro strap (I look forward to using this in the Video Village People Mover next time I’m in one).

So far, I’m really liking this board. If I’m on a shoot with a walk-away at night, I can just grab my laptop and the board and I’m out (I DO NOT leave any expensive to replace items on any set overnight).

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That’s it for now. Next time, I’ll cover other miscellaneous pieces and parts.