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First Look: Blackmagic Studio Camera

Company offers two models of innovative, if fragile, studio camera

As NAB wrapped last month, I had a chance to step out of meetings and walk the show floor a bit. In doing so, I found myself face to face with two widely divergent cameras presented by Blackmagic Design.

We’ve already reported on the AJA CION, a sturdy 4K (DCI and Ultra HD) camera set to ship in August, which has a solid body and a hefty feel. On the other end of the 4K camera spectrum, though, is the light and almost comically shaped Blackmagic Studio Camera (BMSC, for short).

When viewed from behind, the BMSC almost looks like an iPad on a tripod, as the 10-inch viewfinder dominates the camera. The attached hood, which folds down to protect the viewfinder, adds to the feeling more akin to an iPad-based teleprompter than a camera.

Come around the other side of the BMSC, however, and you’ll see a lens mount as well as several connectors: two Canon three-pin connectors for professional audio inputs, including microphone inputs, as well as a headphone jack and both fiber and SDI connectors for camera output and monitoring.

Lens Mount

What about lenses? The camera uses an APS-C sensor, with CMOS technology akin to the CION. Yet it makes an odd default choice for camera lens mount: micro four-thirds. Those who have used semi-professional still cameras are familiar with micro four-thirds as a format that sits between regular point-and-shoot cameras and the professional single-lens reflex (SLR) still cameras that have also caught on for some digital cinema shooting.

Blackmagic pitches this use of a default micro four-thirds mount as a way for users to start with lower-cost lenses and move up to the more expensive electronic news gathering (ENG) mounting system knowns as B4. I understand the sentiment, but a camera titled as a “studio” camera should be able to use studio lenses right out of the box.

Control

The BMSC has a number of features that are beneficial to a studio setting. The first is a tally light, which is key to studio use with multi-cam setups. The second is a digital talkback capability, eliminating the need for a separate communications pack, as the camera operator can jack directly into the BMSC for connectivity. According to Blackmagic, the BMSC operator can use “general aviation headsets for better quality talkback with better noise cancellation at a much lower cost." Cost comparisons are, we assume, based on a ClearCom or other specialized talkback systems.

Finally, the camera has both SDI and fiber optic connectors. The latter is designed to pass both the two-way audio as well as camera remote control alongside the video output. In addition, it feeds the embedded audio—from the XLR inputs we assume, as we have not yet had a chance to test one of these cameras—which means that Blackmagic has figured out a way for the budget-minded crowd to aggregate all the bidirectional signal flows into a single cable. This is a significant benefit, as these solutions have only been available at price points much higher than the whole BMSC camera.

Robustness

Like some of the previous “pocket” models of Blackmagic’s 2.5K and 4K cameras, we are concerned about the robustness of the viewfinder. In the case of the BMSC, we recognize the fact that the fiber connectors can control the camera in the event of the viewfinder screen receiving a direct hit by a piece of stray gear being moved around the studio, but it still presents the “iPad-on-a-tripod” dilemma that many of us have faced when a large glass-based plate meets another immovable object. We look forward to testing the sturdiness of this oversized viewfinder soon.

Price

As with other Blackmagic cameras, the BMSC sets a new race-to-the-bottom price bar. The 1080P “Real HD” model sells for $1995, sans lens, while the 4K “Ultra HD” model will sell for $2995 when released in June.

So you’ve heard our initial opinion. But what about the opinion of someone who is making a buying decision?

"The camera is one of my top choices to upgrade our webcast equipment," said a show floor attendee, who identified himself as working for a major aerospace company. "We plan to buy one and see if we can make it work. I'm sure we can."

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