Thoughts on the Blackmagic Studio Camera from Richard Crowley

Categories: Miscellaneous 4 Comments

3-cam-shoot

What makes a broadcast camera is the ability to control multiple cameras by someone doing the “camera shading” job. This is management of all the camera adjustments in real time (even while on-the-air) to keep the camera pictures matched well enough to live switching without noticeable differences in the images.

This is typically done with a Camera Control Unit (CCU). A proper CCU with a “paint box” is what separates the major-leagues from the wannabees. BMD have acknowledged this requirement with a “soft control” CCU panel for their new range of switchers. Alas the “CCU” panel looks nothing like the traditional broadcast camera CCU, and lacks virtually ALL the traditional controls all broadcast engineers have been using for their lifetime. In fact, the “soft CCU” rather looks like a mini DaVinci color tweaking window (with a full-size DaVinci window available at the click of a button).software

IMHO, this shows an unfamiliarity with how multi-camera broadcast video production is done. Colorists working after-the-fact in post production can spend well beyond Real Time tweaking every shot to a fare-thee-well. But in the “heat of battle” of a multi-camera production, that kind of fine control is simultaneously too much, and too little. Too much detail control that a live program doesn’t have the luxury of time for, and too little of the familiar CCU controls that all video engineers have come to expect.

broadcast-studios-web

While this may be interesting to a new generation who don’t know any better, it seems rather to have dropped the ball for high-end broadcast production applications. A glaring example: there appears to be no white-balance control at all. While you could argue that you don’t need traditional “white-balance” controls with this camera, it appears that you will spend that much more time balancing all the cameras without any fixed reference point. It just makes me think that the design was created without any input from people experienced with standard, multi-camera broadcast hardware or procedures.

teleprompters

Now the “world’s largest viewfinder” screen is very nice, but its fixed position and angle supports only one style of shooting, where the operator’s head is directly behind and a bit elevated from the lens axis. While this may be suitable for sit-down (but not stand-up) chat/newsreader shows in a studio, or sports games from a distance, I have encountered a great many (perhaps the majority in my genre) situations where that position for the viewfinder is just not suitable. In live-event coverage where the camera head is higher than the operator’s head, that viewfinder becomes nearly useless (or neck-strain-inducing, if you try it). Not to mention a giant distraction to the live audience behind the camera). Don’t get me wrong, it is a killer viewfinder. I just wish I could put it where I could use it.

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4 comments on this post

  1. Matt Davis says:

    +1 – well, plus lots quite frankly. I had the FS100 for a while, and by having the viewfinder on top, it became a real issue in recording interviews and voxpops with people the same height or taller than myself. A TV studio camera will need to look down at things on a desk at some point. It will do the inevitable ‘standing presenter’ shot. Spending hours looking up at a monitor is bad enough for the neck and back – looking at it at a difficult angle seems even more painful.

    Not wishing to rain on Black Magic’s parade, but the Studio Camera is very, erm, ‘self selecting’. It’s unique in many respects, but very odd in others.

    Also, the MFT mount and sensor size requires that your B4 ENG lens has its doubler engaged all the time (to achieve coverage). This is effectively magnifying the lens image by a factor of 2, cutting back on its original ability to resolve a sharp, detailed image free of chromatic aberration. I’ve not been happy with the image I’ve seen using subpar lenses (old SD B4 lenses), and a passable HD ENG lens will cost at least 2-3 times the cost of the camera.

    FWIW, that Funinon Cabrio 14-35 seen in the images above costs $46,000.

  2. Further discussion with the people in the BMD booth reveal…
    1) The camera control tab shown is a prototype they made for the NAB show.
    2) They are collecting user comments about how to design the final product.
    3) They may offer two “skins”. One a more colorist-oriented version as shown, and an alternate that is more suitable to traditional multi-cam live-switch production flow.
    4) The new firmware (with the camera control functionality will run on all the current models of the ATEM switcher range. (They have apparently discontinued all the current models, TVS, M/E-1, and M/E-2, replaced by a new, updated range with front panel buttons and even a tiny picture monitor.)
    5) The camera control functionality will be supported in the SDK (Software Developer’s Kit). That will support a 3rd party designing a hardware control panel more like traditional CCU panels and paint box
    6) There actually IS a white-balance button, but it is unlabled and simply cycles through the camera presets. And there is no indication on the control panel which preset is in effect. They indicated that would probably be improved to be more functional and user-friendly in the release version.

    I was encouraged that some of the staff in the booth seemed willing to discuss technical details and take user input back to the management.

  3. Tom Bassford says:

    Richard, the main issue which you’ve missed is the fact that the CCU software will only support MFT stills camera lenses. Even the $50,000 lens shown in the images cannot be controlled from the CCU interface. Never mind a lack of white balance or unfamilure colour controls, the lack of support for iris control of non native MFT lenses is what makes this camera a dead duck.

    Cheers
    Tom

  4. Tom, Yes I agree that the lens situation appears to be a killer show-stopper. I make no claims of being a lens expert. I just know that the BMD engineer claimed that they provided BOTH LanC AND internal-pin interface for lens communication. At this early stage, who knows what will evolve either with the BMD Studio Camera hardware and software, or with the lenses and adapters that will be available for the Studio Camera. Certainly without appropriate lenses in the ballpark price range, the camera control issue seems secondary.

    On the camera being demonstrated in the BMD booth at NAB (the one people claim to cost $47000!), the “soft CCU” panel WAS controlling the lens iris. But it had a noticeable step-function and the engineer told me that those lenses only operate in 1/10th stop increments, rather than a continuous servo as we would expect from a proper video lens.

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