April 08, 2014

Tiny Blackmagic Studio Camera

Blackmagic Design must terrify the big broadcast camera manufacturers. Although its first cameras had their limitations, they were very good value. However, its third-generation cameras launched this week at NAB, look like proper broadcast and digital cinema cameras - but at budget prices.

The new Blackmagic Studio Camera, in particular, goes to the heart of the broadcast business for Sony, Grass Valley, Panasonic, Ikegami, JVC and Hitachi, and overtakes them all. At just $1,995/£1,250/€1,500 for the HD model (which is available now), and only $2,995/£1,800/€2,200 for an Ultra HD (4K) version (shipping in June), they are incredible value for anyone putting together a TV studio.

They are also the world’s smallest live broadcast cameras - with the world’s largest viewfinders. Indeed, the design is essentially made up of that 10-inch viewfinder, with a micro four-thirds camera sensor and add-on B4 (or other) lens mount fixed to the front (as pictured top). The small size will be particularly useful for outside broadcast productions, and should mean a smaller truck will be able to carry more cameras.

They are designed especially for live production, so have such features as talkback, tally lights, and optical fibre connections built in. The Blackmagic Studio Camera also has a tough, lightweight magnesium alloy body, a four-hour battery, phantom powered microphone connections and SDI connections.

Having the 10-inch 1920x1200 screen will be particularly useful for the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K, making it easier to focus accurately and frame the shots. The LCD has a wide viewing angle, and is claimed to be bright enough for use even in direct sunlight. The camera also includes a large fold up sun shield.

Although called the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K, it isn’t cinema 4K, which is 4096x2160 (about 17:9), but Ultra HD (or Quad HD), the broadcast standard, which is 3840x2160 and 16:9. The 4K camera will do up to 30 frames per second in Ultra HD, while the HD camera will do up to 60fps - the 4K can also be switched to HD output.

Both models come with a Micro Four Thirds lens mount that can be used with photo lenses (as pictured above) for lower-cost setups or fixed camera use. It can also be fitted with an MFT to B4 lens mount adapter, for use with a high-end broadcast ENG lenses - there are also lots of other MFT adapters available for other lens mounts. This flexibility means users who can barely pay for the camera can still use it with low budget lenses and then move to larger but more expensive ENG lenses as they can afford it.

The optical fibre connection is bi-directional and carries HD or Ultra HD video with embedded audio, talkback, tally and even camera remote control over considerable distances (up to about 28 milles/44km). To allow independent operation with only a single optical fibre cable, the Blackmagic Studio Camera includes a 4hr battery, so that it has enough power for use on long live productions as well as setup time before the event starts. It is also useful if power connectors need to be swapped during a production, as the camera will still work.

The built in two-way talkback allows the crew to communicate using robust, commonly available general aviation headsets for good quality talkback with noise cancelling at a low cost.

The cameras support the tally SDI standard used on the Blackmagic’s ATEM range of live production switchers and the tally lights illuminate automatically with a light on the front for talent, and a light above the viewfinder for the operator, to show which cameras are on air.

The row of control buttons integrated into the housing below the viewfinder allows instant access to focus, iris and return video. Dedicated buttons let you switch between film and video modes, display safe area/caption markers, and turn on menu controls to change camera settings. On screen menus are overlaid on the viewfinder and slide on and off to the side as needed. The programme SDI input can also be used to view playback from a local Blackmagic HyperDeck recorder (which can be attached to the camera) when using the camera for recording.

The cameras can also be remotely controlled from an ATEM live production switcher via the SDI connections (the 4K camera uses the new 12G-SDI standard, as does the Blackmagic Ursa camera). The Blackmagic Studio camera also includes a full DaVinci Resolve primary colour corrector so users can colour balance the cameras or get creative. All settings in the camera can be controlled remotely, including colour and full lens control.

Both models also include: dual XLR balanced mic/line audio in with switchable phantom power; LANC remote control; and standard 4-pin XLR broadcast standard DC 12v - 24v power connection.

“I have dreamed of a camera perfectly designed for live production for a long time”, said Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design. “When we looked at how we would design a camera for live production what really surprised us was how small we could make it, but then the viewfinder would also become small. We did not want a small viewfinder, we wanted a very large viewfinder and so we ended up with this amazing camera that’s incredibly tiny, but then the viewfinder is incredibly large. It’s really a dream to operate a camera with such a large viewfinder and it’s amazing the detail in focus and framing that’s available to the operator.”

By David Fox

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