Where do you go when you need a small broadcast camera that can fit almost anywhere, can be operated remotely, is low cost but also provides higher image quality than an action camera? The answer is simple: the Blackmagic Design Micro Studio Camera 4K.
Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4k with Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 zoom lens.FEATURES
Measuring about 2.5x3.25x2.7-inches and weighing only 11 ounces (311 grams) bare, the Micro Studio Camera 4K nonetheless sports a magnesium alloy body hosting a Super16 size sensor with Micro43 (MFT) mount. It can be powered by Canon LP-E6 batteries for an average run time of a little over an hour, as well as by an AC adapter (included) or external 12V power. With 3.25- inch holes on the bottom of the camera and 1.25-inch holes on the top, mounting options are limitless. It features a full complement of I/O ports, albeit at times miniaturized for the small camera. On the left side of the camera there are 2 DIN 1.0/2.3 SDI in/out connectors as well as mini jacks for phones and external microphone. The right side contains a full-size HDMI out as well as an expansion plug for included pigtail. The pigtail in turn includes connections for PTZ control, B4 lens power and control, LANC, Ref IN, S.Bus, and 12V power in.
The feature set is so inclusive and the images so useable it’s hard to imagine Blackmagic can sell this camera for $1,295.
I tested with a Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 zoom lens courtesy of Abel Cine. Unfortunately, this lens is not supported for remote zoom via LANC or SDI camera control, but still represents a useful focal length range for remote cameras. Any MFT to B4 adapter will permit the use of broadcast style lenses with power via the expansion pigtail and remote control via SDI. Likewise, an MFT to any other mount adapter would work.
With no viewing screen, camera configuration is achieved by plugging in an SDI or HDMI monitor and setting via the camera menu. It would always be possible to monitor live via such a screen or even to record to an integrated monitor/recorder. The menu structure is similar to all Blackmagic cameras: simple, basic and to the point.
This is designed as a live broadcast camera to go either directly to a recording device or more likely to a switcher. There are no log or cinema profiles; it is strictly a REC709 device with 1920x1080 up to 60p and 3840x2160 to 30p formats in every possible frame rate to available maximums. Shutter speed, pre-set white balance and gain up to +18dB can also be set via the menu or remote SDI configuration.
Remote SDI configuration and CCU functions require one of the Blackmagic ATEM switchers. Note that the SDI or HDMI output from the camera can be output to any switcher, but camera control does require an ATEM switcher. In my testing, Blackmagic Design provided me a loaner ATEM Production Studio 4K.
In my typical configuration, SDI from camera went to one of the four SDI inputs on the ATEM along with input from other cameras. HDMI output from the switcher went to an LG 31-inch 4K monitor via the ATEM’s multi-view output, which provides a 1080 down-res signal and the typical preview, program and source windows. Output from the ATEM’s AUX1 SDI port went back to the camera for control purposes.
The camera will accept any non-downresed SDI input from the ATEM switcher, which means that the multiview outputs will not suffice; these outputs are only for viewing source/program. The big “gotcha” is that in the settings menu of the camera I needed to set a camera number corresponding to the input number on the switcher. In this case, I was going into input 5. Once the camera number was set, the camera front tally light turned red and full camera control was available. The ATEM can control as many cameras as there are available non-down-resed SDI ports. It was mentioned in the documentation, but I confess to missing it completely.
Also note that when using the ATEM switcher, camera frame rate and size are not detected automatically; the ATEM switcher input must be configured manually to the actual camera output. Nor can the ATEM camera control software switch resolution or frame rate of the camera.
The camera is particularly useful with drones, owing to the S.Bus connector on the pigtail. But what if you don’t want to fly a drone with five unused connectors dangling? Camera documentation includes complete pin-out reference so that one could build a custom cable for S.Bus, or for any other available feature for that matter.
S.Bus protocol can also control the camera, thus mounting the camera to a drone capable of the weight of camera, lens and battery plus remote transmitter can deliver a broadcast-level signal to control.
The Micro Studio’s internal microphone is about what you would expect from any inexpensive built-in mic. It might work for remote or reality or just as easily as a scratch audio track. The 3.5mm mini stereo plug does allow an external mic.
The MFT sensor and BMD color science delivers an adequate 10-bit 4:2:2 signal for broadcast. The 10-bit signal allows for a little more color grading via camera painting than an 8-bit signal.
The Micro Studio though, is plagued by a concern across the entire Blackmagic camera line: Low light capability is limited. Now using this as a studio camera or in an array of cameras around a stage for live performance should make this less of an issue. Cranking up gain by +6dB might be as far as anyone would want to push it. Definitely by the maximum +18dB, I was seeing completely unacceptable noise patterns.
The Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K is a highly worthy option for live or recorded production. The Super16 sensor with MFT mount, adaptable to virtually any other lens mount, delivers a clean picture provided it’s fed sufficient light. In the case of the Studio camera, it interfaces seamlessly with any production switcher and when used with the Blackmagic ATEM Switcher line can be controlled via the CCU functions of the Blackmagic Switcher software.
The versatility and low cost of the Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K facilitates the greater production value that can come from multiple camera positions. And there is no need to settle on one of the action cameras and compromise on image.
With the downsides of small connectors and poor low light sensitivity, the strengths of the Micro Studio Camera 4K more than outweigh these relatively minor points to produce a camera worthy of consideration in virtually any level of production.
Ned Soltz is an industry veteran who shoots, edits, produces and writes about products and industry trends. He may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
Live/recroded production camera
Compact; remotely operable; Super16 image sensor; MFT mount; powered by Canon LP-E6 batteries, AC adapter or external 12 V power
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