The Blackmagic Design Studio Camera 4K provides a groundbreaking option for creating a 4K multicamera studio setup. What makes it newsworthy is the list of features it possesses in relation to the low cost of the camera. It contains a full Ultra HD sensor with a resolution of 3840x2160 and a 10-inch viewfinder with a resolution of 1920x1200. Numerous 4K studio cameras can be connected to a switcher via SDI, or optical fiber cable when greater distance is required. The Blackmagic ATEM switcher provides CCU control, color correction and other features. Altogether, one can build a fully broadcast-capable studio for a fraction of the cost of traditional studio configurations.
Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K has a 10-inch LCD viewfinder with HD resolution
The first thing one notices about the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K is that it has the world’s largest viewfinder for a studio camera: a 10-inch LCD screen with an HD resolution of 1920x1200. The logic being that in a 4K world, the camera operator needs a robust image to do an accurate job. It is also worth noting that this camera is very portable. At less than eight pounds, one can take three of these on location, along with an ATEM switcher and a laptop, and cover any event. The camera also contains an internal battery that can run for up to four hours.
The Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K includes a long list of professional features that one would expect only in more expensive studio cameras. In addition to having a native resolution of 3840x2160, the camera can capture in frame rates of 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, and 30 fps. It also offers 1080i and 1080p resolutions at frame rates of 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, and 60 fps. The output is 10-bit 4:2:2 video over SDI— for shorter cable distances—or optical fiber for distances that can cover a football field. The bidirectional optical fiber carries HD or Ultra HD video with embedded audio, talkback, tally and camera remote control.
The Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K has a native Micro Four-Thirds lens mount, which accepts a wide range of lenses. The range of lenses can be extended by employing adapters for B4 mounts and more. The built-in talkback connection accommodates general aviation headsets, allowing bidirectional communication over SDI or optical fiber, so no additional cables or wireless transmitters are required. Two XLR microphone inputs enable direct audio capture that is fed to the switcher. The camera also has its own built-in microphones.
While the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K is designed to connect to a multicamera setup, one can record a camera signal separately by connecting the SDI out to an external recorder, such as the Blackmagic HyperDeck Studio Pro.
But connecting multiple cameras through the Blackmagic Design ATEM Production Switcher is the way to create a fully capable, multicamera studio or mobile outfit. The basic ATEM production switcher offers remote control of each camera’s focus, iris, gain, and zoom, with compatible lenses. The ATEM camera control employs advanced color correction by incorporating the primary color corrector from DaVinci Resolve.
The on-camera controls on the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K allow for full control of essential image functions and audio, allowing the option of controlling the camera from the switcher or the camera itself.
Because SDI cables have a fairly short range in 4K, Blackmagic offers an inexpensive optical fiber to SDI converter, which allows you to connect cameras to the switcher via optical fiber, effectively extending the range up to 28 miles.
The Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K is fully equipped with all of the essential professional features, such as Zebra for exposure setting, adjustable color temperature, and XLR audio inputs. And for picture quality, you can incorporate DaVinci color control.
The menu that guides the camera operator is graphically simple and easy to use. The camera sub menu offers easy control of video format, gain, white balance, and shutter speed. The essential audio controls are also easy to access. You can select either the built-in microphones or the XLR inputs and set the audio levels. However, there is no visible audio level meter on the camera, so levels have to be monitored at the switcher.
The Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K is quite inexpensive, and one should evaluate the camera with some cost-benefit analysis in mind. It has some limitations, but it would be unreasonable to expect it to mirror the features of a $50,000 camera.
Many of the limitations I encountered are linked to the lens choice, so that is a primary and vital decision to make when considering a studio configuration based on the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K. There are many possibilities, but not all lenses will respond to the on-camera or switcher control functions, such as iris, focus and zoom.
I tested a camera outfitted with an Olympus Pen Micro Four-Thirds mount 12 to 50mm zoom lens. This lens is equivalent to a 24 to 100mm lens on a 35mm camera.
With the Olympus Pen lens, there are no readable f-stops, and you have to rely on an automatic button on the back of the camera to set the aperture. You can use a manual control option, but that changes the aperture in pre-set increments, and you still don’t know the f-stop. Focus also employs an automatic control, or you can turn the focus ring on the lens. But the lens has no distance markers, so you can’t perform anything with great precision, such as pulling focus on action. A more expensive ENG lens would provide different options.
I found the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K to have relatively low light sensitivity, and using a slow lens can exacerbate this. While the light sensitivity of the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K is more than adequate, you definitely will need good lighting capability for the studio. In ordinary room light with sun coming in through the windows, I had to boost the gain up to 12dB. The Olympus Pen lens I was using was not very fast, and it gets noticeably slower when you zoom in. To maintain proper exposure when zoomed in, I had to boost the gain all the way to 18dB.
The camera’s image quality is quite good as long as the light level is sufficient; again, factor in the price. The lack of light sensitivity and need to employ gain can result in some noticeable noise in the darker areas of the image. The noise level at 18dB is quite noticeable in dark areas, acceptable at 12dB, and fi ne at 6dB and zero dB.
The large monitor is sharp and has good color fidelity. However, it does not swivel up or down. So if you ever need to raise or lower the camera significantly for dramatic shots, you can’t tilt the monitor for better viewing. The monitor does however, have a very wide viewing angle.
The audio features are first class, and the headset connection is a vital component that is built into the camera, removing the need to buy an additional wireless headset system for each camera operator.
One needs to evaluate the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K camera from a cost-benefit perspective. The camera without the lens is under $2,500. Now consider what it offers. You can capture resolutions from 1080p to 4K in all frame rates. It provides a large HD viewing monitor, XLR audio, SDI-out offering full multicamera switching control, bidirectional headset linkage, and even an optical link option for long distance cabling.
While there are some limitations in comparison to more expensive studio cameras, this should be expected. The bottom line is that the Blackmagic Studio 4K cameras and switcher make it possible to create a high-quality, professional 4K studio system within a budget that almost any organization can afford. It is a victory for democracy.
For anyone who works within an organization that needs to produce quality studio programming on a limited budget, this is a system well worth investigating.
Geoff Poister, Ph.D., is a member of the Film and Television faculty at Boston University and a regular contributor to TV Technology. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
➤ FAST FACTS
4K multicamera studio setup on a limited budget
UHD sensor, 10-inch viewfinder, color correction, Micro Four-Third Lens Mount, XLR microphones, connection to BlackMagic ATEM switcher