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Perfect for POVs: Remotely Controlling the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera

An ideal camera for POV, UAVs and anywhere else you need a small, high-quality camera.

My focus on Blackmagic cameras continues. Having reviewed the Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K in March, I now have the opportunity to turn my attention to its sibling, the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera, a miniaturized camera that’s designed to be operated remotely.

The camera includes a built-in SD card recorder for capturing up to 1920 x 1080 in CinemaDNG raw or ProRes, and an active Micro Four Thirds lens mount. It shoots 1080p video in frame rates from 23.98 to 60 fps. The camera’s Super 16 sensor (12.48 x 7.02mm) is said to deliver 13 stops of dynamic range.

Like the Micro Studio Camera 4K, the Micro Cinema Camera has a built-in expansion port with PWM and S.Bus connections that provides access to many of the camera’s functions via common remote control solutions. This high-quality 1080 HD camera is therefore well suited for use on an unmanned aerial vehicle, as a crash cam, or hidden on a set for reality TV. It may also be mounted to a helmet, bike, skateboard or similar for extreme sports POV shots.

The Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera is designed to be operated remotely, capturing action anywhere.

With dimensions of 3.25 x 2.74 inches (without lens or LP-E6 battery), the camera body weighs 11 ounces. It is powered either externally by 12V AC adapter or by one Canon LP-E6 battery, which will deliver around 90 minutes of use when fully charged. This may decrease somewhat if using active MFT mount in auto iris mode.

The Micro Cinema Camera has the same basic features and menu structure as all Blackmagic cameras, meaning that users have more than adequate control options in to-the-point, well organized menus.

This camera records lossless compressed CinemaDNG raw, plus Apple ProRes codecs including ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes 422 LT and ProRes 422 Proxy, to SDXC/SDHC cards. It is also capable of recording raw 3:1. The Micro Cinema Camera has a single SD card slot. My test media was a SanDisk Extreme Pro 256 GB CompactFlash card. Blackmagic cameras can format cards internally in either exFAT or Apple HFS+ formats. I simply left the SanDisk in its exFAT default format.

The camera’s expansion port includes a composite video output that can be connected to a wireless video transmitter for remote monitoring, allowing you to see exactly what the camera is recording, whether the camera is in the air or hidden on set. For higher-quality monitoring, the Micro Cinema Camera also has an HDMI output for wireless HD video transmitters. Both the composite and HDMI outputs can display overlays for camera status, lens settings, file formats, histogram, audio meters, battery life and more. A clean HDMI output can also be sent to an external video recorder. The HDMI output supports 10-bit 4:2:2 1080p HD video with two channels of embedded audio.

I tested the camera with SmallHD’s 502 monitor and used the display to set menu options, which are controlled by the menu and transport keys on the side of the camera. I did not test remote operation of the camera.

My test lens was a Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 courtesy of Abel Cine. The lens itself is capable of autofocus, but it is important to note that no Blackmagic cameras offer that feature.

To assist in setting focus with my SmallHD monitor, I set the Micro Cinema Camera to peaking, which came via HDMI to the SmallHD 502. Auto iris is available with choices of auto shutter + auto iris or auto iris alone. I traditionally leave the shutter at 180 degrees (except for specialized scenes), so I used the “auto iris only” setting for the auto iris test.

Manual iris adjustment can be made through the camera menu system or using the fast forward and rewind buttons on the camera, just as on any Blackmagic camera. The camera has film (log) and video (Rec. 709) shooting and viewing modes in HD. When recording in CinemaDNG raw formats, only the film dynamic range setting is available, though both viewing modes can still be used. Common across the Blackmagic line is a BMD LUT similar or identical to a supplied LUT in DaVinci Resolve that converts viewing output to Rec. 709 space.

It is in the camera’s expansion port that the true versatility of the Micro Cinema Camera becomes apparent. Located on the camera’s right side, the expansion port 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, reference input and composite video output. 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.

With composite video out on the expansion port, users can use low-cost wireless transmitters to get a real-time camera feed. The feed may be used for camera setup, remote focus and iris adjustments because it has overlays for camera settings. When shooting, overlays will indicate battery level, recording format and frame rate.

Micro Cinema Camera with Blackmagic Video Assist

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.

For the $995 price tag, Blackmagic does not include DaVinci Resolve Studio, but the free version of DaVinci Resolve handles virtually every function one might need, with the exception of noise reduction. And that brings us to the issue of camera speed and noise.

Blackmagic cameras are not low-light champions. While the camera can be set to ISO 1600, and mine came out of the box at ISO 800, I would rate the camera in the ISO 320-400 range. Manufacturers tend to be a bit ambitious in rating native sensor speed, and I tend to be more parsimonious. Suffice it to say, there will be some noise at ISO 1600. DaVinci Resolve Studio or various third-party denoisers will help, and with raw or 10-bit 4:2:2 video, there is more than enough room for grading before the image falls apart.

Various mounting accessories

The Micro Cinema Camera is a delight to use. With one 1/4-20 mounting point on the top and three points on the bottom of the camera, configuration options are limited only by the extent of your grip kit. I like attaching those twisty Joby GorillaPod legs and wrapping it around a pole. In a future test, maybe I’ll mount it to my helmet as I drive an ATV through the Alaska bush, but for now, in my more subdued shooting applications, I can see this as a great POV camera or even as a stationary B- or C-camera in either interview or scripted productions.

The color science in all Blackmagic cameras produces excellent skin tones that don’t require a lot of work to achieve. Shooting compressed 3:1 raw and bringing the image into DaVinci Resolve was a snap. Even simply using a CinemaDNG default setting in the raw develop window brought a properly exposed image. Often that may be enough, although those working with raw will no doubt be fine-tuning the primary grade and then finishing the scene in the secondaries.

Whether your shot takes place inside or outside of a vehicle, the top and bottom mount points let you secure the Micro Cinema Camera to any rig.

One of the great strengths of this camera lies in its simplicity. The Super 16 sensor is eminently suitable for indie film work. (After all, Super 16 film filled that niche when I was young and half our readers weren’t born yet.) The Micro Cinema Camera is basically a small, lightweight box with a sensor and electronics that allow a broad range of customizations determined by users’ needs and budgets.

The lack of autofocus is a limitation in using this as a gimbal camera, but that can be overcome by shooting wide and stopped down with predetermined focal ranges preset. Or you could use a wireless video transmitter for remote monitoring.

The Micro Cinema Camera’s simplicity belies its depth of features and image quality. Consider it strongly for your camera collection.   

Quick Take

Product:Blackmagic Design Micro Cinema Camera

Score:

Pros: Compact. Versatile mounting options. Super 16 sensor and MFT mount accommodate a wide range of lenses. Easy but powerful controls. Expandable. Superb color science, skin tones in particular.

Cons: No autofocus. Poor response in low light. No image stabilization. Requires external monitor. HDMI only. No SDI.

Bottom Line: An ideal camera for POV, UAVs and anywhere else you need a small, high-quality camera. Stronger low-light performance would make it perfect, but it is such a bargain at $995 that potential users should just appreciate all that it offers.

MSRP: $995

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