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Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K: Little and Loaded for Live Production

With the Micro Studio Camera 4K, there is no need to settle on one of the action cameras and compromise on image quality.

The Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K is a tiny Ultra HD studio camera that’s designed for live production. Small enough to fit almost anywhere and capable of HD and Ultra HD video formats, it can be operated remotely. Micro Studio Camera 4K includes a built-in color corrector, talkback, tally indicator, PTZ control output, adaptable MFT lens mount and B4 lens control output.

Features

The camera measures 2.57 inches high, 3.25 inches wide and 2.74 inches deep—in other words, the camera body is not much bigger than its lens mount. The 11 ounce magnesium alloy body includes an active Micro Four Thirds (MFT) lens mount and Super 16 size Ultra HD image sensor (13.06mm x 7.34mm).

The camera may be powered by battery or external power source. There is a standard LP-E6 Canon-compatible battery receptacle on the back of the camera. When powered by LP-E6 battery, the average run time is a little over an hour. The camera also includes a 12V to 20V DC power input, so you can power the camera using any standard power supply, such as the included AC power adapter.

Broadcast connections on the Micro Studio Camera include a full-size HDMI connector for local video monitoring, a mini BNC connector for camera SDI output (6G-SDI 10-bit 4:2:2), and a mini BNC connector for the camera program input, which accepts camera control protocol as well as talkback and tally from the switcher. When you connect the program feed from a Blackmagic ATEM switcher to the camera’s SDI input, you can remotely control camera settings, color balance, black level and gamma, as well as lens focus, iris and zoom on supported lenses.

The camera does not have a built-in display. Use the HDMI port to connect to an HDMI display or Blackmagic Video Assist to see the camera’s menus and change settings. You could also record 1080 HD footage on the Blackmagic Video Assist with this setup. (The camera’s HDMI output is always 1080p.) To record UHD footage, you’d connect an external recorder via the camera’s 6G-SDI out, but keep in mind that the connection is mini BNC (DIN 1.0/2.3) to accommodate the small size of the camera.

Broadcast connections on the Micro Studio Camera 4K include a mini BNC connector for main camera SDI output, a mini BNC connector for camera program input, a 3.5mm mic input for external microphones and a 3.5mm headphone socket that can be used for talkback.

The camera has a native MFT lens mount, though users may add third-party lens mount adapters to support traditional B4 broadcast lenses or film-style PL cinema lenses. By adding the Blackmagic B4 lens control interface, you can remotely control broadcast lenses from a connected switcher.

The camera includes built-in stereo microphones, though users may opt to plug in an external mic instead. The camera automatically switches to the external mic when one is connected and can work with both line or mic levels. Two-channel audio is embedded into the SDI video output.

The expansion port, located on the camera’s right side, provides multiple control connections, such as PTZ and B4 lens control outputs for remote control of camera heads and broadcast lenses. You can even build customized camera control solutions using the S.Bus input. The S.Bus protocol uses one connection to control up to 18 channels, and each of these channels can be mapped to a camera function.

The expansion port also includes DC camera power in, LANC and reference input. It is through the LANC connection that users may add external lens controllers for active MFT lenses, which provides wired remote control over iris, focus and servo zooms on supported lenses. The reference input is compatible with tri-sync and blackburst for locking the camera to a sync generator.

The camera ships with a generic breakout cable that supports these connections. As the expansion port is based on a common DB-HD15 connector, users may opt to build a customized breakout cable to suit their needs.

Connections also include a full-size HDMI connector for local video monitoring. The expansion port supports multiple control connections.

There are four 1/4-inch mounting points—one on top and three on the bottom of the camera—which can be used to mount the camera on a tripod or motorized head, add a local monitor to serve as a viewfinder, or attach an external recorder.

In Use

I tested the Micro Studio Camera 4K with a Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 zoom lens courtesy of Abel Cine. Unfortunately, this particular lens is not supported for remote zoom via LANC or SDI camera control, but it nonetheless 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 breakout cable and remote control via SDI.

Since the camera has no viewing screen, camera configuration is achieved by plugging in an HDMI monitor and setting via camera menu. Of course, it is also possible to monitor live via such a screen, or even to record to an integrated monitor/recorder such as Blackmagic’s Video Assist (HD only). In my testing, I set menu options either with a 31-inch 4K LG monitor or a SmallHD 502 monitor, which mounts nicely atop the camera. The menu structure is similar to all Blackmagic cameras: simple, basic and to the point.

The Micro Studio Camera 4K outputs 10-bit 4:2:2 video via 6G-SDI and can be remotely controlled from an ATEM switcher using SDI control protocol. It is designed as a live broadcast camera that outputs either directly to a recording device or switcher. There are no log or cinema profiles; it is strictly a Rec. 709 device. It supports HD 1080p up to 60 fps and Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) up to 30 fps. Shutter speed, preset white balance and gain up to +18 dB can be set via the menu or via remote SDI configuration.

Micro Studio Camera 4K with optional Blackmagic Video Assist

Remote SDI configuration and CCU functions require one of Blackmagic’s ATEM switchers. Note that the camera’s SDI output can be sent to any switcher, but camera control requires an ATEM switcher. Blackmagic Design loaned me an ATEM Production Studio 4K for this review.

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 a 31-inch 4K LG monitor via the ATEM’s multiview output, which provides a 1080 downres signal and the typical preview, program and source windows. Output from the ATEM’s aux 1 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,” which took a call to tech support to figure out, 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 to 5, 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-downresed SDI ports. This issue is mentioned in the documentation, but I confess to missing it completely.

Also note that when using an ATEM switcher, camera frame rate and size are not detected automatically. The ATEM switcher input must be configured manually to match the actual camera output. The ATEM camera control software also cannot switch camera resolution or frame rate.

Micro Studio Camera 4K with optional Blackmagic Video Assist

An outstanding studio camera feature is the built-in talkback capability. When the camera is connected to a switcher, talkback audio is embedded into channels 15 and 16 of the SDI signal for two-way communication. The camera includes a 3.5mm iPhone style headphone socket with mic for talkback.

The camera’s small size and capacity for remote operation via the S.Bus connector on the breakout cable make it particularly appealing for aerial shoots with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). 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 breakout cable for S.Bus, or for any other available feature. Uncompressed video transmitters can take HDMI or SDI out from the Micro Studio Camera 4K and wirelessly transmit the signal to digital recorders like the Blackmagic HyperDeck Studio.

The Micro Studio’s internal microphone is about what you would expect from an inexpensive built-in mic. The 3.5mm mini stereo plug allows the connection of an external mic. Blackmagic had to sacrifice some features to keep the camera’s diminutive size, and in the Micro Studio Camera 4K it is audio connectors and full-sized SDI connections.

The MFT sensor and Blackmagic color science deliver 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 would an 8-bit signal.

The camera instantly switches to an external microphone when one is connected and can work with both line or mic levels.

The Micro Studio Camera 4K shares a weakness present across Blackmagic’s entire camera line: low-light capability is limited. Light sensitivity isn’t as significant a metric when you’re shooting in the studio, of course, but it’s a significant issue elsewhere. In most of these scenarios there will be sufficient light for the Micro Studio Camera, a camera that Blackmagic does not rate. Unscientifically, I would say it certainly does not exceed ISO 320. I don’t think anyone would want to crank up the gain any higher than +6 dB—by the maximum +18 dB, I was seeing completely unacceptable noise patterns.

Summary

The Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K is a worthy option for live or recorded production. The Super 16-sized sensor with MFT mount, adaptable to virtually any other lens mount, delivers a clean picture, provided it is fed sufficient light. 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 camera is small enough that it can deliver shots from nearly any angle without obstructing the view. Its relatively low price ($1,295 body only) and capacity for remote operation mean that productions can deploy several on the same projects that before would have been shot with just one or two full-sized studio cameras. Sporting events, reality TV, concerts and live performances, as well as worship and education events, can all benefit from multiple camera placements. With the Micro Studio Camera 4K, there is no need to settle on one of the action cameras and compromise on image quality.

The strengths of the Micro Studio Camera 4K more than outweigh its relatively minor weaknesses (small connectors and poor low-light sensitivity) to produce a camera worthy of consideration in virtually any level of production.  

Product:Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K

Score:

Pros: A remarkably inexpensive device for unattended single- or multiple-camera setups. MFT mount allows many lens choices. Remotely controllable. Easily interfaces with switchers (both Blackmagic ATEM and third party) and external recording devices. Built-in talkback.

Cons: Poor low-light performance. Of necessity, small connectors.

Bottom Line: A highly affordable, high-performing small camera, versatile for so many shooting scenarios.

MSRP: $1,295 (body only)

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