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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.

Controls On Demand

The next important piece of this package are the Demand controls (Figure 6, below). If you search B&H for Canon lens demands or Fujinon lens demands, you'll find them that way too. (I’m accustomed to calling them “lens controls.”) On the Studio Camera 4K Pro, you have a zoom rocker, a record trigger, and a speed control for the zoom. These are very well built. The engineering that went into making these things is fantastic. The clamps for the tripod handle easily screw on, or they swing around and then you can easily attach it.

Figure 6. Blackmagic Zoom Demand

Underneath the handle, on the sides, there's a button which provides the camera’s ability to punch in for close focus. And then on the very bottom of the grip, there’s a button to toggle the return video feed on and off as well. A second button underneath is Push To Talk (PTT) for coms. At least that's what it is on a broadcast camera, I didn’t have the rest of the setup to test coms with this BMD Studio Camera.

If your shot is being cropped and put in a picture-in-picture, your camera feed is being windowed into a little box. You can push the “return” button and it’ll bring up the return feed on your screen. Typically, this “return” is the Program feed, so you can see where your video fits into the cropped window and adjust accordingly. The button on the control is so that you don’t have to take your hands off the controls to reach up to push the button next to the screen. Your hand is already on the zoom control and your index finger is naturally falling on this button so you can easily push it.

The controller has two USB-C connections on the top tip. Both of them have screw holes that mate with a little screw on the cable end. Each device has the same two connectors and data will pass through in either direction. I cabled the amera to the zoom and then I went from the zoom to the focus controller. You could go in the opposite direction, or from the camera directly to both controllers.

The focus demand/controller looks different if you are used to more traditional lens focus controls (Figure 7, below). Usually they are a short rotating pole that will physically rotate gears on a “focus block” that rotates the front elements on a Fuji or Canon lens. Again, that’s a physical, mechanical solution. What Blackmagic has here is an electronic solution. You’ll see this more often on big studio box lenses where you’re electronically talking to motors that are inside of the lens housing. Rotating the controller electronically communicates with motors that rotate the focus in the lens.

Figure 7. Blackmagic Focus Demand

Blackmagic’s focus controller will work with electronic micro four-thirds lenses. It does not work with the Canon lens I have on the camera now, which is connected through the Metabones adapter. I don’t know which adapters would enable this to work with Canon lenses, if any. I do have a Micro Four-Thirds Olympus lens to show off some of these capabilities. This is one of the few lenses in the world that will actually take full advantage of the controls that Blackmagic has created. My tiny Olympus pancake lens here is one of just four lenses made that will let you remotely focus, and this lens actually has a motorized zoom in it as well.

So now when I use the zoom rocker control connected through the camera, the lens is moves on its own, which is exactly what you would see if you had an ENG lens with a 17x zoom. However, the still photography lens I’m using is not constant aperture; it’s not parfocal. Leveraging the capabilities of still lenses is appealing, but at the same time, my still lens only has one zoom speed that starts and stops abruptly, and it’s only a 3x zoom.

If I were doing a talk show, and the cameras are not that far away, this would be fine. I could quickly reframe a shot when my camera is not live. But you’re not going use this still lens for sports because it really doesn’t have a long enough zoom. Also, the difference between slow speed and fast speed is actually exactly the same because there is only one speed. ENG lenses, by contrast, have five or more different speeds that you could ramp through so that you could smoothly start zooming and then smoothly come to a stop.

You can use any micro four-thirds lens on the Studio Camera 4K Pro, and there are dozens and dozens of them from numerous manufacturers. But you’re only going to find two lenses from Panasonic and two lenses from Olympus that are motorized.

Camera Concerns

The Studio Camera 4K Pro is easy to set up. It’s easy to administer. It’s easy to work with. The tally is beautiful. Having the 7" screen built in and the screen protector is fantastic. There’s easy access to the controls that you regularly need. It’s nice and bright with easy adjustment for brightness and contrast.

Then you’ve got these very well built and designed controls that enable you to control the lens. The focus will work with dozens of micro four-thirds lenses. But the zoom control—this fantastic piece of hardware
works with just four lenses.

I’d love to be able to put a Fujinon ENG lens on here or put a Canon on here and plug the lens cable into the camera to power it and give it iris control. Then have a secondary cable—a different cable for each brand—because Canon and Fujinon have different connections. You’d have a secondary cable to go from the camera to the zoom control. Then you could use Blackmagic’s lens control. The speed dial adjustment, which I mentioned before, would actually have something to do. It’s great to have a speed control dial here, but unless you are using a lens that actually has more than one speed, it doesn’t do anything. There is so much potential capability here, limited by the fact that there are only four micro four-thirds lenses that can take advantage of the zoom control.

Blackmagic has the URSA Broadcast. It’s a B4 mount, on-shoulder camcorder. The first one did not have USB-C to work with these controls. According to Blackmagic, with this new one, “You can even plug in optional focus and zoom demands to allow full lens control.” But without a connection to go from the camera to the zoom control on the B4 lens, that’s simply not true. As far as I can see, there is no such connection on any Blackmagic camera.

I would love to see Blackmagic put the features from the URSA Broadcast and the Studio Camera together. I want them to make a B4 mount on the Studio Camera that also has the connections and the capability to fully realize zoom and focus control with Blackmagic’s Demands. If all the pieces finally came together, that would be fantastic.

The Control Room

The other half of production is usually what happens in the control room, and Blackmagic Design has been just killing it here. You can get a compact ATEM Mini Pro switcher, and through it, you can leverage Blackmagic’s software to do full image control remotely to the camera. This works over HDMI to the Studio Camera 4K. You’re not limited to just the SDI cameras and the SDI switchers.

In my setup, I have a monitor connected to the multiview out of the ATEM Mini Pro. On my laptop, I have the ATEM software control panel and I have it set on the camera control pane (Figure 8, below). From here, I can adjust the camera settings for each of four connected cameras. You can have somebody dedicated to doing just this. Normally, in a control room, each camera control unit (CCU) is going to cost thousands of dollars. Here, you can use a $500 laptop. It doesn’t need a lot of graphics power because you’re just moving sliders and controls. It’s not a heavy processing task.

Figure 8. Using the Studio Camera 4K Pro in a studio configuration with the ATEM Mini Pro and ATEM software control panel. Click the image to see it at full size.

Alternatively, you can get several laptops, and have one person doing camera control, and a second person doing audio mixing. The ATEM has built-in Fairlight audio control. So you're able to do a lot of audio processing as well, clean up the audio, run an EQ on each channel, compressor, gate, etc. You can raise and lower a channel’s audio level on the ATEM Mini Pro itself. But to be able to really get into it, you’d use a laptop and the software control panel. Lastly, you can also have someone managing media in the ATEM with a fourth seat.

Now, some of this functionality is accessible directly on the ATEM’s buttons, which I like. Trying to switch a show on a computer screen is really hard for me. Instead, I prefer to leave my fingers on the buttons, watch the show, and punch between the cameras without even having to look. That is fantastic. Technically, with the ATEM Mini series, you getting the control surface first, and then you can add software if you want--as opposed to having software and then adding a control surface. With the ATEM mixers, it’s all happening in the control surface—in the hardware.

The software, however, lets you do a lot of things. For instance, you can initiate your records, which would actually tell the ATEM to record or pass it through to the camera—that is, tell the cameras to record. You can also program your macros. So if you have a complex setup where you want to have four cameras with four greenscreens and four different backgrounds, you can actually put that into a macro. It happens so fast it’s literally just punching the buttons.

Overall, when you combine a Blackmagic Studio Camera with an ATEM, it’s a really nice package in terms of putting together a studio and having so much capability and so much functionality. It’s not just the camera. The camera is good. The camera screen is great, and being able to record 4K RAW is great. But the real magic of the Blackmagic Studio Cameras is the ecosystem--the ability to take that camera, and bring it into their mixers where you can then remotely control the camera through the mixer, and more.

All Ecosystems Go

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 Blackmagic camera like the Studio Camera 4K Pro with the ATEM line of mixers makes a great ecosystem. The Blackmagic cameras work beautifully with the ATEM mixers, augmented with computers that are reaching through the mixer and talking to the cameras, talking to the mixers, recorders, seeing everything.

The new Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K Pro. It’s a great piece of hardware. There’s lots of capability built into it. But also, as part of the Blackmagic ecosystem, it really fits in nicely. I hope, as I’ve said, that Blackmagic comes out with one more Studio Camera with a B4 lens mount and the additional connectivity and cables and everything needed to really make use of the hundreds and hundreds of B4 studio lenses that are out there. Bring them intp studio production and let all those long-zoom, parfocal, constant aperture, servo zoom lenses make Blackmagic’s Studio Camera even more usable than it is today.

 

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