Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4k impressions
I took the benefit of the 50% price reduction on the Video Assist range of monitor/recorders and purchased the 7″ 4k version as I was in the market for a second monitor to use with my Sony A7Sii and a6500 cameras. I wanted a monitor for use on my Ronin M gimbal and 2 camera interview setups, plus what attracted my to the Video Assist 4k is the ProRes recording capabilities and being able to record takes longer than 30 minutes.
Build quality and assessories:
The Video Assist is well built and quite heavy compared to my workhorse SmallHD 502. Weight is the reason it won’t be taking its place on a permanent basis. I like to travel light! The screen is sharp and clear, however like the 502, it isn’t great in bright exteriors due to glare. Unlike the SmallHD, Blackmagic haven’t released a sun shade or loupe like the SmallHD 502 optional SideFinder or SunShade options. I see SmallRIG China have a smallish looking sunshade which I may look in to. In the past I have resorted to making my own out of black card and velcro. We’ll see how that plays out…
The Video Assist 4K uses SD cards, however to record 4K ProRes HQ you will need high end cards as recommended by Blackmagic. I have had no dropped frames recording 4K ProRes Normal and LT with the same 64GB SandDisk cards I had for my BM Pocket Camera. The same card dropped frames when ProRes HQ 4K was selected. I haven’t tested any 1080p flavours but I think the same card would be fine. I will invest in the cards BM recommend in the future.
These are the 2 cards I have tested and used successfully on 4k shoots.
You can connect the Video Assist via SDI or HDMI. Both connections feature in and out ports. It records 1080p up to 50/60p and 4K up to 30p in a load of edit friendly ProRes and DNxHD flavours. For ProRes these range from Proxy, Lite, Normal and finally HQ.
Focus and Exposure:
There are all the necessary on screen tools for focus and exposure. The screen is sharp enough to obtain critical focus and it features peaking at different levels. For exposure there is a histogram and false colour. I love that Blackmagic have made the design and layout clear and simple, being very ergonomic upon first use, unlike Atomos devices that took me a fair bit of getting used to. It’s very Apple like in their design philosophy. With the excellent touch screen capabilities, it didn’t take long to set the Video Assist up and get it working with my cameras.
The Video Assist has 2 mini XLR inputs for recording audio which Blackmagic maintain is much cleaner than DSLRs recording capabilities. You’ll need adaptors or special cables to use them. They have also supplied clear on screen audio levels for monitoring recording. To adjust levels for each XLR input, simply touch the audio meters to bring up a slider for each channel. I don’t have mini XLR cables so can’t test it. I will buy cables and update this soon. I could personally find this feature ideal for recording at events and taking an audio feed from the main PA system.
Update: I recorded some interview tests today using the A7Sii and Video Assist and noticed lip sync as off on the VA recordings due to HDMI lag. After Googling the issue I found a setting in the A7Sii menu called “Audio Out Timing” (menu tab 1 page 9). I changed it from ‘Live’ to ‘Lip Sync’ and the audio sync was then perfect.
In terms of power, both monitors use the same Canon 5D compatible LP-E6N batteries which is great as I have a load of those. They are small and light, however the Video Assist is more power hungry than the 502. Almost 4 batteries were used on a recent 2 hour interview shoot – and I was only using it as a monitor. Comparatively the Video Assist would at a guess use 4 batteries for every 2 the 502 uses. Thankfully Blackmagic supply a power adaptor, so where possible I will be using this – as a bonus batteries are charged when the adaptor is connected.
Update: I was recording on the Video Assist earlier today and attached only one fully charged battery and to my surprise it only lasted about 5 minutes before VA switched off! I then attached a second battery and the battery meters showed 2 fully charged batteries! I was able to continue shooting for nearly 30 minutes and one battery level dropped to 50% in that time. Unlike the SmallHD it seems you have to run 2 batteries on the Video Assist to power it when recording.
Update 2: I used the Video Assist to record this morning and only managed around 1 hour with 2 batteries attached. This recorder will need a larger power source to be practical in daily use.
To sum up, when you compare features, the Video Assist has less than its direct competitors, however I feel it has been priced accordingly. (Its even better with 50% off!) It uses relatively cheap SD cards – the 4k version can use 2 for continuous recording. Its a top monitor and 10bit 422 recorder for DSLR cameras like the A7Sii (I know its only 8bit) and GH4. If you want to record RAW or high frame rates from a Sony FS7 or similar camera you’ll have to spend at least 2x the money on other recording devices and add media on top of that.