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Creative Control: Evolving Workflows with Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Control Panels

This will make you a better and faster colorist. 4/26/2017 3:15 PM Eastern

At the beginning of March, Blackmagic Design introduced two new color correction control panels as companion tools to the company’s DaVinci Resolve editing and grading solution. According to CEO Grant Petty, more people are using Resolve to edit than to color correct these days. By introducing these new panels, he hopes to get more of these users involved in the color correction side of Resolve.

Blackmagic Design now offers three DaVinci Resolve panels: Advanced ($29,995), Mini ($2,995) and Micro ($995). Obviously, the Advanced panel is for serious, dedicated color correction facilities with the traffic to support that investment. It’s a large, three-module console with four trackball/ring controls in the center section.

The Mini and Micro panels are designed to be more portable than the Advanced one. The Mini is essentially a three-trackball subset of the center section of the larger panel. The Micro is the trackball section of the Mini, without the Mini’s tilted backplane. If you are an editor who uses Resolve for color correction, but color correction is less than 50 percent of your workload, then the Micro is probably the right panel for you. If you color correct more than half of the time, then the Mini is the better bet.

Taking the Mini for a Spin

Blackmagic Design loaned me a Resolve Mini panel for about two weeks for this review. The Mini panel is a well-constructed metal console with precision trackballs, rings, knobs and buttons. (The panel also uses some high-impact plastic in its construction.) With packaging, it weighs 24 pounds, thus it’s best for facility use.

Communications can be over Ethernet or USB/USB-C. Power options include standard AC wall power, 12 volt 4-pin, or Ethernet PoE. Like other Blackmagic Design products, you have to supply your own power cord, but the Mini does include a USB-to-USB-C adapter cord. To run the panel, you need to install Resolve Studio (paid) or Resolve (free), version 12.5.5 or later. And yes, these panels work only with Resolve. Connection is drop-dead easy. Just power it up and plug in the USB cable to any available USB port on your computer. Then select the panel in Resolve’s preferences.

Everything at Your Fingertips

The main section of the panel includes three trackballs for hue control and rings for luminance control. These correspond to shadow, mids and highlight ranges of the image. Across the top of this flat section are 12 knobs for additional color controls. Push the knobs in to reset their adjusted values. On the right are buttons to move through nodes, clips and stills, along with play/stop buttons. The slanted backplane of the Mini panel features two 5-inch, high-resolution LCD menu/control displays, 15 buttons on either side, eight soft keys across the top, and eight knobs under the displays. The buttons on the left select the portion of the interface that you need to deal with, like primary correction, tracking, sizing, blurs, etc. The buttons on the right are to add nodes, copy and paste, move through stills and keyframes, and toggle the computer display to a full-screen viewer.

Resolve’s primary color correction window is pretty deep, requiring paging through different sections of the control window, such as primary bars, primary wheels, log, raw and more. Much of this is exposed to the panel. For example, you can use the knobs to adjust the primary bars while also moving the trackballs, which would normally adjust the primary wheels.

Across the bottom of Resolve’s primary window are additional controls for contrast, saturation and more, which spread across two pages of that interface window. These controls are all active on the Mini by using the 12 knobs located above the trackballs. In some cases, you’ll need to change the part of the interface that appears on the two LCDs. This is enabled by the two arrow keys in the upper left corner of the panel. However, switching pages on the panel is required less often than when you only use the mouse with the interface.

The offset function (the fourth primary wheel and fourth trackball on the Advanced panel) can be accessed by selecting the offset key located above the middle trackball. In that mode, the left ring controls temperature, middle ring controls tint and right ring controls level. The right trackball controls color balance.

Resolve uses an elaborate curves system, which you would think would be difficult to implement with knobs and buttons. Blackmagic has done a wonderful job. The normal curve levels can be adjusted by six of the knobs under the LCD displays. These work at preset intervals of 0, 20, 40, 60, 80 and 100 percent along the curve path from dark to light. If you use hue curves, you start with one of six preset colors selected from the panel. Then an “input hue” knob lets you change the selected color left or right within its hue range based on the last color knob selected.

In Practice

I spent about a week with the panel, working on and off with some test projects. I hardly need to say that I enjoyed the process, but there are a few things I wish were different. The Mini panel is really designed for full-time color grading. If you have a desk layout for editing, then there probably isn’t enough extra space to situate the Mini is an optimal location. For instance, if you wanted to place the panel between your keyboard and display, then the Micro would be a better option. There is no power switch, so the panel is always on. Fortunately it’s fan-less and quiet, even when on. There are no illumination controls for the displays or the backlit keys. That’s fine in a normally lit room, but it might be too bright for some, especially if you keep the light level very low in the suite.

I’d like to see more versatile transport control. Resolve supports faster-than-real-time playback and scrubbing, but the control panel only gives you 1x play in the forward or reverse directions. Resolve functions, like adding LUTs, can’t be handled from the panel. The controls to select HSL qualifiers for secondary color correction include eyedroppers, but you still need to use the mouse to graphically pick the right area of the screen. It would be nice if you could do this with the trackball. These are minor points and by no means deal-breakers.

A dedicated color correction panel will not only make you a faster colorist, it will also make you a better one. More controls are front and center, which means you are likely to discover and use processes that you would otherwise miss if you simply relied on the mouse or a pen and tablet. Grading is not only faster, it’s more intuitive. The more I’ve been using the Resolve Mini, the more I like it. It’s the Porsche of small grading control panels: solid, stylish and powerful.  

 

Product: Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel

Score:

Pros: This is a solid design, and it’s is easy to install. It exposes the most common functions of the Resolve interface. It makes running the application fast and intuitive.

Cons: Mouse operation is still required. No editing controls.

Bottom Line: This will make you a better and faster colorist.

MSRP: Mini is $2,995. (Advanced $29,995, Micro $995)

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