Blackmagic Makes Monitoring Affordable

Tyson Birmann and his UltraScope-based mobile evaluation suite
It's no secret that the world of film and television production has been making a steady shift toward high-definition and digital acquisition formats. Celluloid and emulsions have been giving way to gigabytes and binary. This changed content production environment has also created a new position, that of the digital image technician, or DIT for short.

In addition to being an on-set DIT, I'm also a digital imaging consultant. In this capacity, it's my job to keep up with this ever-changing realm of digital image acquisition and pass my findings on to my clients. I assist them in evaluating their production needs and operating budgets, and help them sort through the technologies to find the combination of cameras, recording media and workflow that best suits their production's unique needs. Once it's time to shoot, in my capacity as a DIT, I also help them get the most out of this gear.


As part of my day-to-day on-set duties, I use tools that were once only found in post-production suites. Waveform monitors, vectorscopes, and image grading look-up tables have become as common on-set nowadays as a light meter. When it came time for me to create my personal digital imaging evaluation rig, I became my own consultant and searched for the most up-to-date and cost-effective gear.

It wasn't long before I ran into sticker shock and was beginning to think that such a monitoring setup was out of my price range. Then I discovered Blackmagic Design's UltraScope, a simple and elegant PC-based card and software package that addressed nearly all of my requirements with a single display. When the UltraScope package was added to Blackmagic Design's HDLink for using low-cost computer monitors as display devices, I was able to put together a mobile suite that could do everything I needed at a fraction of the cost of traditional gear. HDLink allowed me to build and save look-up tables for use on-set and then to send them to post for staff there to see the looks that we were using on set.

I created a custom housing for the system, with four 24-inch 1080p monitors. This provided me with two displays for my workstation, along with two others to allow the director to view cameras side-by-side.

The people at Blackmagic Design have been very receptive to my comments and seem to be constantly improving their products with firmware and software upgrades. This last update to the UltraScope (version 1.2) has added a zoom function that allows me to help the focus puller to be sure that his work is correct. All around, Blackmagic Design has been a welcome addition to this new world of on-set image grading that content producers are working in, and their products have helped me build a professional, affordable and robust system in a surprisingly compact and impressive looking package.

Tyson Birmann is a digital imaging consultant, digital data manager and digital cinematographer. He has worked on a wide variety of film and television projects, including a number of made-for-television movies. He may be contacted

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