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Review: Blackmagic Design Studio Camera 4K Pro

If you're looking to get into multi-camera live-switched production and you don't already have cameras and you're looking to step into things, combining a feature-rich Blackmagic camera like the Studio Camera 4K Pro with the ATEM line of mixers makes a great ecosystem.

In this review I’m going to take a look at the Blackmagic Design Studio Camera 4K Pro (Figure 1, below). Blackmagic loaned me this camera, as well as their new USB-C zoom and focus controllers, so I to try it out for myself and see how well it integrates within the BMD live production ecosystem.

Figure 1. The Blackmagic Design Studio Camera 4K Pro

This camera is the third iteration, after the original 10" screen model, and then the Micro Studio Camera models. Now we have the Studio Camera 4K Pro, and they are really packing a lot of capability in here, especially now that we have the zoom controller and the focus controller. BMD calls these “demands.” They’re controls you attach at the end of your tripod handles that offer direct zoom and focus control of the lens, as well as start and stop recording, enable viewing of return video, and more.

On the front of this camera, I’ve got a Canon lens with a Metabones optical and electronic converter to the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) mount. I have long said, if you’re going to make a studio camera, it would be nice to be able to use studio ENG lenses with a B4 lens mount. Interestingly, Blackmagic was the very first camera maker to develop a large-sensor, on-shoulder camera with a native B4 mount—their URSA Broadcast. But the B4 mount has not been added to their Studio cameras as of yet.

A couple years ago, Blackmagic showed a B4 lens with an intermediary translation box connected to a Micro Studio Camera, but the translation box never appeared so that, too, was unrealized. Give the camera a lens port so that it can power and remotely control the iris and other features of the lens. Then convert zoom and focus controls out to the lens. We’ll get to that a little bit more in a moment.

Why do I keep talking about B4 lenses? Using an ENG camera lens that has a B4 mount means you can use thousands upon thousands of lenses that are out there. So many of them are currently sitting unused on ENG cameras that aren't being used any more. These ENG lenses have long zooms of 12x, 15x, 17x, 21x. They are parfocal, meaning they hold their focus through the entire zoom range. They are constant aperture, meaning it’s a 2.8 lens through the entire 17x zoom range. And they have a multi-speed, electronic, servo zoom control for smoothly zooming in or out while the shot is on the air. These are ALL features you need in a “Studio” lens.

The Camera

Let’s do a quick walk around this camera. There are two new Studio Cameras—the 4K Plus, and the 4K Pro. The Pro model I’m reviewing here has SDI in and out, out as well as XLR audio that the Plus does not (Figures 2 and 3, below). However, HDMI is common to both models so that's what I'll be using today. The HDMI supports video, tally, camera control, and even record trigger—so that I could use the USB-C connectors on the side of the camera for recording 4K BMD raw from this camera.

Figures 2 and 3. Right- and left-side I/O on the Studio Camera 4K Pro

Next, it has 12G SDI out so you can connect it to any mixer that uses SDI. There is also an SDI input to the camera for program return. On the SDI with the program return is where Blackmagic injects tally, talkback, and remote camera control. The third connection on the camera is ethernet. Now, this ethernet connection doesn’t just get you camera video, and program return, and tally, and talkback, but it can actually power the camera as well. That single cable solution can make camera deployment a lot easier.

To be clear, this Ethernet connection is not NDI. Blackmagic hasn’t suddenly changed their tune and begun supporting NDI. It’s not networkable. Rather, it's a direct 1:1 connection to the Blackmagic Studio Converter (Figure 4, below). But you can use ordinary ethernet cable to handle the camera feed, the return program, feed time code, genlock, tally, coms, camera control, and power for the camera too. You can do all this way cheaper than fiber or Triax or other broadcast-level solutions. It’s all on that one wire and it’s super convenient. Down at the bottom of the camera, you’ve got a 12-volt screw-lock jack and you also have a four-pin 12-volt connection as well.

Figure 4. The Studio Camera 4K Pro with the Blackmagic Studio Converter

On the opposite side of the camera, you’ve got two USB-C ports with screw locks. These work with the cables that come with the focus and zoom controls so they're not gonna pop out. The ports are compatible with normal non-locking USB-C cables for media as well.

You have XLRs for left and right—channel 1 and channel 2. Then you have a five-pin headset connection, as well as down at the very bottom of the camera on this side, you’ve got two little 3.5mm jacks for stereo microphone and TRRS headsets.

So if you want to use a consumer headset/mic you can use the TRRS mini jacks. If you have a big telex type headset, then you would plug that in to the five-pin. If you’re just going to use a little lav microphone, you can plug that in the 3.5mm mic jack, as opposed to having to convert it to XLR.

Speaking of audio, something I really appreciate with this model is the fact that it doesn’t just have small microphone holes, and they’re not on top or behind or wherever. The Studio Camera 4K Pro has two big microphone capsules, right in front, and they’re spaced apart with the lens mount in between. Sound coming from the right-hand side of the camera, it easily gets to the right microphone while the lens mount actually blocks that audio from the left microphone, and vice versa. So you really get true stereo separation in this camera.

I should also note that, despite its being called a Studio Camera, you don’t have to use this as a studio camera. You can take it in the field, connect some USB storage, and use it as a 4KI camcorder, recording in Blackmagic RAW. It’s a field camera that just happens to have a beautiful 7" screen and sun-shade.

Let’s take a look at this screen now. The Blackmagic Studio Camera comes with a plastic screen protector, which is also your hood. You just lift the top piece out and the two sides pop out on their own. Underneath it, the operator can see the tally light. On top of the camera you can also see the tally light that whoever is in front of the camera will see. This big red LED at the top of the camera comes with numbers you can pop in to differentiate between camera 1, 2, 3, etc.

To the left of the screen you have three function keys, as well as a button to see the program feed. I'm not feeding any program back. There are also buttons for function 1, function 2, function 3. Function 1 is currently set to pop in 2x for focus. On the right-hand side of the screen, you have big brightness, contrast and peaking dials. Peaking highlights when something is in sharp focus. This is very common for people who are used to using studio cameras to be able to dial up how visible focus is so that when you hit focus, you can really see it pop.

I’m can easily take this hood off. It just pops off with a little button on the bottom and I'll fold it up. This screen cover is fantastic in terms of packing because you're protecting the screen completely. The handles are protecting the knobs. It’s all ready for packing, which is a really great feature for camera ops that have to travel a lot.

Screen Settings

Across the top of the screen in Figure 5 (below), you can see my frames per second. I can adjust that shutter speed. After that is my iris, which I cannot adjust because I’m using a Canon lens with a Metabones converter. The aperture adjustment is on the Metabones converter itself, but the setting is reflected on the screen. Next is timecode. Then camera gain and white balance, and then the right-most icon takes you into the setup menu.

Figure 5. Screen settings. Click the image to see it at full size.

The setup menu is where you can adjust your recording settings, your monitor settings, your audio settings. There are multiple pages of setup. There are also image presets. So you can actually record RAW, but you can also load your LUTs.

Across the bottom of the screen, on the left, you have a histogram which shows the exposure of your image, which is always live, except when you go to adjust a setting which affects the exposure of your image. Note that you can’t see the histogram in Figure 5. That’s because when you call up any of the settings that affect the exposure of your image, it hides the histogram, which is the only accurate measure of the exposure of your image. I would love to see a firmware update that changes this, so when you call any of those setting up, the histogram would move up on the screen so you could still see it and properly assess the exposure while making changes to the settings.

Next along the bottom is your record button. It says I have no drives. You can have two drives connected on the two USB-C connections. Then you have your audio indicator. If you touch on the audio indicator, you can easily get to the screen where you adjust your input levels and your headphone level.

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