This is the new Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K Pro, and in this article we are going to see how it stands up in terms of image quality, workflow, remote control, connections, sound, lens choice whether this camera is for you or not. I’m Thibaud from Middle Things, and in this video we are going to find out
Design & Ergonomics
The design of the camera echoes that of the previous generation Blackmagic Studio Cameras, and I find it very cool. It’s unconventional, it’s compact and modern. The 7inch screen is big enough, and removes the hassle of adding an external monitor. And this is how it looks next to other Blackmagic cameras like the Pocket 4K Or the Ursa Broadcast.
Blackmagic opted for a sort of light plastic material, so don’t expect a rugged armored metal design, but for the price, I think it’s perfectly ok and once attached to a tripod it’s rock solid. Also, as the name of the product suggests, this is not the kind of camera with which you are going to do shoot run and gun and throw it in a car every 30 minutes.
It ships with a 12v power supply, a sunhood, 20 camera number stickers for the tally light, and a quick release tripod mount. The quick release mount is well built, and is easy to slide in. It’s worth noting that there is no end lock like many other quick-release mounts. But I did try a few free fall slide tests and it turns out that the gravity of the camera prevents it from sliding completely, so you still have a small security. The quick release is optional. If you don’t want to use it you have 2 1/4 “ screw holes and 1 bigger ⅜” screw hole on the bottom/.
Just like many other Blackmagic cameras, you can control the camera remotely using an ATEM. However on this Studio camera, there are three ways you can control it, through HDMI, by connecting the camera directly to an ATEM Mini, through SDI if you connect the camera SDI IN port to an ATEM Program SDI Out, or through Ethernet if you use the Blackmagic Studio Converter. I’ll come back to this converter later in the video.
Controlling this camera with an ATEM live production switcher gives you access to four major features :
- First you can send Tally information to each camera. The tally is this big light on top that will turn Red when that camera is on air and green when the camera will be on air on the next shot. This way each camera operator knows when to be very cautious about the framing, when to get ready because the director will take the shot soon, and when to “relax”. The Tally is shown on three different locations, the LCD screen, the upper rectangle above the screen, and also in front of the camera. This can be useful for the guest or host currently speaking, since it gives realtime information on which camera to look at in case you want to talk directly to the viewers watching. The Studio Camera has a nice and big tally light, which you can dim , and even turn off if you don’t want to use it. It ships with 20 different number plates that you can easily replace. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Tally will light in orange when the camera is recording to a hard drive, but not on air or in preview.
- The next feature you will get if you connect your camera to the ATEM is remote camera control. Using Blackmagic’s ATEM Software Control, you can adjust basic camera settings like gain, ISO, Iris, White Balance, Focus, and more advanced settings such as Primary Color Correction. This is invaluable for matching different camera sensors on set and increasing your production quality. You can either the ATEM software with your mouse, Blackmagic’s ATEM Camera Control Panel or even any USB gaming joystick if you use our own Middle Control software that we have created. You can assign your camera settings to different axis and buttons, and control your camera this way. If you add the Middle Things APC-R converter, you can also control the Pan / Tilt and Zoom of the camera using a DJI gimbal too. You will then have a precise control of all your framing remotely too. We did manage to balance the RS2 with this camera, by removing the right handle, but for sure, this is not the ideal camera for this kind of job 🙂 So we’ll just stick to the Pocket 4K cameras for this specific type of PTZ situation. In any case, if you’re interested, check out the link in the description!
- Third, this camera can be used as a TV. Or at least, as a monitor. If you connect this camera to your ATEM’s Program output using the SDI IN connection. The camera operator will be able to watch the show live, and see what the other camera operators are filming. It is also an invaluable tool to have when the director is pushing super source compositions, cropping the frame to make picture in picture layouts, or adding overlays. Because then the camera operator can see the live feed and adapt the framing very quickly. If you have an ATEM that has routable auxiliary outputs you can also send any feed you want. For instance, you could send up to date info about the show. Or the multiview. So this is why I find this feature awesome.
- Now, I’d like to talk about an important aspect of this review, which is talkback. It’s the fourth feature you will get when you connect the camera to the ATEM. When I saw the announcement video I was very happy to see two things, the first one is the 5Pin talkback connector that allows you to use professional headsets. Another great feature is this ethernet type “Talkback” connector at the back of the Studio Camera Converter. This allows you to grab the audio intercom signals that are coming out of the ATEM, and send your own audio signal as well. Blackmagic started implementing this on the ATEM constellation, and I can tell you it’s a very useful feature. Because it opens up the ability to connect to mix the ATEM Talkback system to an external system.
Let me explain. We like to use the popular wireless Eartec Ultralite Communication Set on our team. But how can we send audio of the show to the director in addition to the team communication ? And how do merge the Eartec wireless communications with the headsets that are directly connected to Studio Pro 4K cameras ? Well we made a DIY adapter that connects the ATEM talkback system to the external Eartec system, using that very ethernet type talkback connection.
This way, the director connects his headset to the ATEM. Here, we are using active the noise cancellation Bose SoundComm B40 which works fantastic. And he or she, can have program audio as well as team communication in the same headset. And can both communicate to team members on a wireless Eartec network and others that are connected to a Blackmagic camera, which is itself connected to an ATEM too! So yeah, I think it’s a very nice move here and we will likely see this connection coming on upcoming ATEM models in the future.
In the Blackmagic Setup page, the camera operator that has a headset plugged into the camera can adjust the volume of the program audio, the volume of the communications, and the sidetone audio which is the amount of audio of your own microphone that you hear in your own headset.
Connections & I/O
The Pro model of the camera has plenty of connections. Two types of 12v power inputs, Ethernet, SDI in / out and 4K HDMI. On the other side, USB-C connections, Full size XLR AUdio inputs, 5pin talkback and traditional jack microphone and headset connections as well.
If you are wondering, we can have both SDI and HDMI ports connected as the same time.
Just like other Blackmagic cameras, you can specify what overlays and indicators you want to send on each output, whether it is the LCD, the HDMI output, and the SDI output. And this can be remotely controlled from the control room if you use our Middle Control desktop app ! Which means that you can bring up the Status remotely when the camera is in preview, on the HDMI out to check the settings remotely, the recording time left, etc… Also,you can specify if the HDMI output will be 4K or 1080p, and same thing for the SDI output.
I really like the choice of the locking barrel 12v connector, I think it’s much more practical than the uncommon WEIPU connector on the Pocket 4K. The USB-C connections can be used for multiple tasks, including recording, connecting the Zoom and Focus demand remotes, updating the firmware. And they are also lockable, very good choice from Blackmagic.
Now, recording. You cannot record internally into this camera, but you can plug in a hard drive drive using a USB-C cable. And as long as you have formatted the drive in EXFAT or HFS it will record directly on the drive. I was a bit disappointed that you can only record in Blackmagic Raw UltraHD. You can only adjust the compression level. There is no prores recording or a lower resolution recording. Which means that the files will be big and you will need a lot of storage for multi-camera shoots. Also, the Blackmagic Raw files will not retain the ATEM remote color shading information such as contrast / saturation etc..
So this is a drawback , but it’s not new since the lack of prores recording is already present on the Blackmagic Pocket Cameras when they are controlled by ATEM Software .
However, of course you can only way record smaller files by having multiple hyperdecks recording 1080p prores, or using the ATEM Mini Pro ISO and Extreme ISO that can record each camera stream separately in an h264 format.
Also, I didn’t find a way to playback recorded files directly on the camera. Other cameras usually have a play button. I don’t think it’s a big issue, but it would be cool for camera operators to watch their recordings during breaks on the big screen when they want to.
A big & bright screen !
The built in LCD is absolutely gorgeous, it’s a 7inch , 1080p LCD with 2000 nit brightness. The design is almost the same as the URSA Studio Viewfinder which is very good quality. I like the brightness contrast , and focus peaking knobs on the side, as well as the quick function buttons F1, F2, F3 on the side that you can custom map to any action using the camera menus. There is also the Program PGM button that will briefly show up the program feed.
After a bit of testing outdoors, I can confidently say the screen is bright enough, and the included sunshade is very easy to attach.
The menus are easy to use, and a pleasure to scroll through. If you have used other blackmagic cameras before, you will already be familiar with the Blackmagic OS. The cool thing is that young camera operators that are used to the Blackmagic OS on pocket 4K and 6k cameras will be quickly familiar with the workflow.
One drawback I found was that the screen is non tiltable. It’s not an issue for studio use, for which the camera was primarily intended to be used, as the name studio suggests. But for event type gigs we often have situations where the camera will be a bit high, and we tilt the camera screen or video assist down. Also, it tends to get quite very hot in some places when the brightness is dialed in all the way to 100%.
I won’t be very long on the image quality, not because it’s not important, at Middle Things we are totally obsessed with high image quality. But because I feel Blackmagic has implemented exactly the same sensor and image processing that the one in the Blackmagic Pocket 4K. I did a few tests in different environments with both the Studio Camera 4K Pro, and the Blackmagic Pocket 4K, and when they share the same settings, and the very same lens, the footage is nearly identical. I had a look at the Braw files in Resolve, and they indeed seem to have the exact same noise levels, the dual ISO feature , etc… Except that the ISO indicator is replaced by a gain indicator. And 1250 ISO on the pocket 4K will be equal to 10db on the Studio Camera 4K.
I have used the Blackmagic Pocket 4K very extensively on live production shoots these past few years and on the field the images are incredible and the low light sensitivity is very good. It’s very good news to see that sensor integrated in a live production camera.
So if you want to get a feel of the image you can get from the Studio camera, I’d recommend you check Youtube videos that showcase Pocket 4K footage.
Blackmagic has opted for a micro four thirds sensor, which I think is not a bad choice. EF and RF mounts are not really suited for live production because of the big sensors these have. The variable lenses don’t cover a wide range and the focus is harder to pull. With the MFT mount, you can both use MFT lenses and EF lenses with a speedbooster, so I think it opens up plenty of opportunities.
The B4 lens mount would have been ideal, but these broadcast lenses are quite big and good lenses are quite expensive, so I’d rather see that type of sensor and mount in a V2 version of the URSA Broadcast.
I’d strongly recommend going over the Olympus 12-100mm F4 lens. It’s my favorite MFT lens for live production because it has great optical quality , image stabilization and it’s already very sharp at F4. Also it has an incredible range ! If you’re looking for a good telephoto lens, I’d go for the Panasonic Lumix Leica 50-200.
Although the camera is not designed for this type of lens, I did try to put a B4 lens on this camera using a Photodiox adapter. As you can see I got an incredible range with the HA23 Fujinon Lens. However, due to the smaller image circle of the lens, I got a horrible vignetting effect, that could maybe be solved if Blackmagic added a crop mode on the camera. Besides, the electronics of the lens are incompatible with the Micro Four Thirds electronic system so I wasn’t able to drive the focus, iris and zoom of the lens electronically.. So I would love to see a proper B4 to MFT adapter combined to a crop mode from Blackmagic, if this is even technically possible.
Pro vs Plus
In this review I have only tested the pro version of the Studio Camera 4K. But the Plus camera is essentially a strip down version of the pro camera. In terms of I/O, you only get one 12V power input, and HDMI output and 2 USB-C connections, as well as a 3.5mm jack mic & phone connection in the Plus version. Also the screen of the plus model is a little inferior with a 600nits brightness instead of 2000nit on the pro model.
I’d say the Plus model targets the ATEM Mini users, whereas the Pro models is more geared towards users that have higher end ATEM models.
I didn’t have the opportunity to test the studio converter and the Zoom and Focus remotes at that stage since they will only be available in october. But we are familiar with the Fujinon remotes that look very similar, and I can tell you these are invaluable, so I was happily surprised to see Blackmagic making those at a much lower price. Also, just as the F1, F2, F3 shortcuts buttons next to the LCD, you can assign quick toggles on these remotes, to show the program view or start recording for instance, without leaving your hands from the tripod.
The studio Converter looks very promising, because it allows you to pass the video signal, the return video from the ATEM, the camera control, the talkback and the power in one single ethernet CAT10 cable ! So this will unquestionably help with setup and pack-up times. Also, we will be able to access talback information, as I mentioned earlier.
Pros and Cons
All in all I think this is an excellent camera, which is perfectly suited for live production. I really see it as a Pocket 4K, but packed will all the additional features that are invaluable for live production, including the big 7inch bright screen, broadcast connections , 4K hdmi output, big tally light, talkback, program view, remote control, zoom and focus demand, 10G ethernet link that has everything in one cable … etc.. So I think Blackmagic has done a great job on that one.
If you have the old studio cameras, or you plan to invest in new cameras and you don’t have any Blackmagic cameras yet, the upgrade is definitely worth the cost. If you already have Blackmagic 4K or 6K cameras you won’t get any additional improvements in image quality, and they are already remotely controllable with the ATEM. But it’s worth considering each and every additional feature and improvements in the workflow to see whether it’s worth the upgrade, since it will depend on your use case.
The few drawbacks I would like to point out are the non-tiltable screen and the fact that you cannot record anything other than Braw Ultra HD on the USB-C hard drive. Also I didn’t see any option to playback the files that have been recorded. I also miss the old times when we could trigger autofocus with a short press on the LCD screen . At some point, Blackmagic turned that into a long press, and there is no option to set it back to short press. So I hope there will eventually be an option to trigger Autofocus to short press.
One limitation is that there are only 4 micro four thirds lenses on the market that have zoom servos built in. And these lenses are not very good quality, both in terms of optics and in terms of zoom control. However, there are many more micro four thirds lenses that have a good built in focus motor, no internal zoom, and excellent optical quality. So to address the issue, I think it would be great if Blackmagic released a Zoom motor. But looking at the 15mm rail system offered in the quick release mount, maybe that is something that could be on the way.
Also, it would be nice if we could use B4 lenses on this camera, so it would be awesome to see a proper lens adapter, that would have both a good optical conversion and an electronic conversion, from the B4 lens system to the MFT system. I don’t know whether this is technically possible though.
Lastly, lots of us are waiting for a successor to the Blackmagic Micro Studio 4K that has recently been discontinued, and looking at the design of the camera, it could mean something is on the way as well! But of course we have no clue on Blackmagic’s developments, so let’s wait and see!
That’s all I have to say, I’d like to finish by saying that we purchased the camera, it has not been sent to us for free. We make live products too that help you enhance your live production workflow and improve your production value so feel free to check us our website www.middlethings.co . Thanks a lot for watching, goodbye and see you soon!