How to buy a DB-HD15 Connector

Perhaps you are as excited as we are about the options opened up by the DB-HD15 (aka expansion port), on the new Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera.

One of the things Blackmagic have said, is that they will supply a breakout cable with the camera, but it’s not clear at this point whether this is a breakout cable, or a variety of single cables for single function controls, as photos on their site suggest. (We believe now it’s a breakout cable i.e. rather messy).

UPDATE: We now offer our J-Box product which is a professional breakout box for Blackmagic micro cameras!

We expect most people wanting to do any kind of creative stuff, will want to solder their own connections, either to reduce weight, or to use multiple expansion port functions simultaneously, and indeed Blackmagic have talked about how easy it is to solder connections on the DB-HD15 connector, on their site. It’s harder and more fiddly than they suggest, particularly if you are soldering multiple connections, but is within the realms of any hobbyist to do.

So this means buying a DB-HD15 connector, and getting busy with a soldering iron.

The challenge in buying a DB-HD15 connector, is not a lack of options, actually there’s a plethora of them, but for some reason, including an unfortunate naming issue, which we’ll talk more about, these connectors are devilishly tricky to track down in Google searches, without ending up buying the wrong thing by mistake.

We found the task so painful in fact, it took us a day of research… we decided to write up a guide for others. Hopefully you can save yourself the best part of a day, by reading on…

Naming Issues for the DB-HD15

Part of the problem is the naming of the connector…

The correct type of connector you want is a ‘Male DE-15 high density connector’, and few people beside Blackmagic seem to call it DB-HD15.

DE-15 is the correct name according to Wikipedia, so that’s what we’ll call it here.

The high density part means it has 3 rows of connectors where normally there would be 2. Basically there are two types of D-Sub connector, which is the family of connectors this one belongs to – regular and high density. High density is newer, and means more pins squeezed into the same space, but the same physical outer dimensions.

Indeed the DE-15 (aka HD15, aka DB-HD15) connector is the modern descendant of the venerable DB9 (aka DE-09) connector, used originally on computer joysticks in the 1980’s. So the DE-15 connector shares the same shell and overall dimensions and the same screw positions as the DB9. What it doesn’t share is the the number of pins – 15 as opposed to 9.

Further deconstruction of the DE-15 name is as follows for those really interested….

‘D’ means it’s a D-Sub miniature connector – nothing more, this letter is common to all D-Sub connectors i.e. the family of connectors.

‘E’ means it has a shell size of E, the smallest size you can get in a D-Sub connector – which is confusingly called size 1 or 1E on some websites. Remember this is the same size as a DB9.

’15’ means the number of connections, which are arranged as 3 rows of 5. On the DB9 there are 4 pins on one row, 5 the other.

It turns out there’s no need to designate it as a ‘high density’ or ‘HD’ connector, because in a shell size of E (aka 1, or 1E), you can only have 9 pins or 15 pins, and we’ve already designated it as 15.

So the least you need to know is that you want to search for a male (has pins!) DE-15 (sometimes called HD15…) connector, which by definition should be a high density connector. But hang on…!

You may discover on your impending (or concurrent?) Google searches that this is the same connector as a VGA connector. Voila you think! I’ll simply get a VGA cable – job done!

Not so fast…

Now this might work in very specific circumstances, but the main issue is that just about every VGA cable we researched online (for hours and hours) does not offer the full range of wire connectors inside the cable, as used by the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera which has a proprietary layout, so there aren’t enough ‘wires in the wire’ and the wires that are there are in most cases connected to pins you don’t need. Some VGA cables are deliberately missing 1 of the 15 pins as well, typically but not always pin 9 (the LANC pin), which further compounds the issue.

We won’t bore you with the list of (incomplete) VGA options, frankly it will depress us to write it… suffice to say that if you want to access only a couple of pins on the Blackmagic expansion connector, and you have a VGA cable lying about, and you don’t want LANC, you might get lucky. Research the pinouts very carefully (reproduced below).

But if like us you want access to more than a couple of pins (features) remotely, you’ll probably be wasting your time with VGA cables.

This is probably why Blackmagic say you can solder your own connections. You really don’t have much of a choice.

Pinout for the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera DB-HD15 connector aka Expansion Port

Searching for the DE-15

With D-Sub connectors, you typically buy the connector and the housing separately. The housing is known as a ‘backshell’. Be careful that you don’t end up with a connector and no backshell, and also check that any backshell is not too big for your application.

Here in the States at least,  you will find mostly bare connectors that are designed for soldering, i.e no back shell included

There are so many options for connectors and backshells it is bewildering, and the poor UI of electronics websites in the US like Digi-Key and Mouser doesn’t help.

So if all you want is a DE-15 (aka HD15, aka DE15, aka DB-HD15) connector, with a backshell, something you can solder wires into, and you don’t care how big or ugly it is, and you don’t want to know anything more about the myriad of other options available… here are the links you need:

Just remember you can use any D-Sub Size E (or 1, or 1E) backshell. It doesn’t have to be designated as high density. You cannot use any connector however, as it must be the high density 3 rows of 5 pin type.

If you would rather avoid all this trouble, we have recently announced our J-Box product, which is a professional breakout box for 4 Blackmagic Micro Cameras.

This has been a public service broadcast from the HQ of 360 Designs – where we make the world’s craziest VR camera.