The Blackmagic Design Studio Camera 4K provides a groundbreaking option for constructing a 4K multicamera studio setup. What makes it newsworthy is the long list of features it possesses in relation to its low cost. Some of these features include an Ultra HD sensor (resolution of 3840 x 2160) and a 10-inch HD viewfinder (1920 x 1200).
Numerous 4K Studio Cameras can be connected to a switcher via SDI, or via optical fiber cable when greater distance is required. A 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.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K is its enormous viewfinder: a 10-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1200. Blackmagic marketing bills the pair as “the world’s smallest live broadcast camera with the world’s largest viewfinder.” The logic behind attaching such a large monitor to the camera is this: in a 4K world, the camera operator needs a robust image to do an accurate job.
It is also worth noting the camera’s easy portability. At less than 8 pounds, a production 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 3840 x 2160 (UHD), the camera can capture in frame rates of 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 fps. It also offers 1080i, 1080p and 720p resolutions.
Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K
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 list of compatible 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 be integrated into a multicamera setup—with multiple cameras connected through the Blackmagic Design ATEM Production Switcher—one can record a camera signal separately by connecting the SDI out to an external recorder, such as Blackmagic’s HyperDeck Studio Pro.
The basic ATEM production switcher offers remote control of each camera’s focus, iris, gain and zoom, with compatible lenses. The ATEM camera control delivers advanced color correction by incorporating the primary color corrector from Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.
In addition to the on-camera controls, the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K may be operated remotely from an ATEM live production switcher via the SDI connections. All essential image and audio functions can be controlled remotely.
The camera’s 10-inch viewfinder
Because SDI cables have a fairly short range in 4K, Blackmagic offers an inexpensive optical fiber to SDI converter, allowing you to connect cameras to the switcher via optical fiber and effectively extending the range up to 28 miles.
The Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K offers all of the essential professional features, such as zebra for setting exposure, adjustable color temperature, and XLR audio inputs. The camera also sports a full DaVinci Resolve primary color corrector that’s useful when color-balancing multiple cameras, for example. The camera’s broadcast features include talkback, tally indicators, phantom powered mic connections, and SDI or optional optical fiber connections for connection to a switcher with one cable.
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. There is no visible audio level meter on the camera, however, so levels have to be monitored at the switcher.
Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K with ENG lens
The Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K is fairly inexpensive, and one should evaluate the camera with a cost-benefit analysis in mind. It has some limitations, but it is unreasonable to expect it to mirror the features of a $50,000 camera.
Many of the limitations I encountered are linked to the capabilities of different lenses on this camera. Choosing the lenses in your kit is one of the most vital decisions you’ll 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 12-50mm zoom lens. This lens is equivalent to a 24-100mm 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 preset 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.
Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K deployed at
I found the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K’s light sensitivity unexceptional, and using a slow lens can exacerbate the situation. While the camera’s light sensitivity is certainly adequate, you will need good lighting in the studio. In ordinary room light, with sun coming in through the windows, I had to boost the gain to 12 dB. 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 18 dB.
The camera’s image quality is quite good as long as the light level is sufficient. (Again, remember the price.) The lack of light sensitivity and the resulting need to employ gain can manifest noise in the darker areas of the image. I found the noise level at 18 dB to be quite noticeable in dark areas, acceptable at 12 dB, and fine at 6 dB and 0 dB.
The large monitor is sharp and has good color fidelity, but it doesn’t swivel up or down, so if you ever need to raise or lower the camera significantly for dramatic shots, you won’t be able to tilt the monitor for better viewing. The monitor does have a wide viewing angle, however.
The audio features are first class, and the headset connection is a vital component that is built into the camera, eliminating the need to buy an additional wireless headset system for each camera operator.
This camera should be evaluated from a cost-benefit perspective. Without lens, the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K is less than $2,500. Now consider what it offers. You can capture resolutions from 1080p to 4K in all frame rates. The camera provides a large HD viewing monitor, XLR audio, SDI out with full multicamera switching control, bidirectional headset linkage, and even an optical link option for long distance cabling.
While there are some limitations compared to more expensive studio cameras, that’s not unexpected. The bottom line is that, with the Studio Camera 4K and ATEM switcher, Blackmagic Design offers the means 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.
Product:Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K
Pros: Impressive list of professional features, versatility, portability, great price.
Cons: Limitations for control of lens and image settings. Light sensitivity.
Bottom Line: Groundbreaking price point for the features offered and overall quality.