Friday, April 11, 2014

Blackmagic adds studio cameras to its live production suite, makes its switchers 4K

Blackmagic Design has long been known as a post-production hardware vendor, starting with its DeckLink cards in 2002. In 2010, the company moved into live video production when it acquired switcher manufacturer Echolab's assets out of bankruptcy. Together with its Videohub routers and video & audio monitoring hardware, Blackmagic built a fairly complete line of live production products. Then, in 2012, Blackmagic introduced its first camera, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMCC). Many people wondered if the Cinema Camera could be used for live production since it has an HD-SDI output, but Blackmagic cautioned against using it that way. The BMCC's color output is so flat that it can't really be used without color correction, and Blackmagic's subsequent camera models launched prior to this year aren't much better suited for live use.

However, at NAB earlier this week, Blackmagic introduced a line of cameras designed specifically for live production, the Studio Camera HD and Studio Camera 4K (which outputs video in Ultra HD and HD.) The Studio Cameras are designed around 10" LCDs that do double duty as viewfinders and menu displays. The company claims that the viewfinders are the largest offered by any manufacturer. Unlike the Cinema Camera and Production Camera, the Studio Camera's display isn't touch-sensitive; a row of buttons below the display is used for user inputs. The company claims that by eliminating the touch-sensitive layer, the Studio Camera's display is brighter.

On the back of the display, there's a wedge that contains all of the camera's connectors, the lens mount (active Micro Four Thirds), imager and most of the camera's electronics. The result is a very strange looking camera, but one with significantly better features than previous Blackmagic models. For example, the company's previous cameras have become known for their poor battery life, but Blackmagic says that the battery in the Studio Camera will last for four hours, and a standard four-pin power connector allows users to connect external batteries for more runtime, or AC power for continuous operation. The single minijack or dual 1/4" jacks used for audio input in the previous cameras have been replaced with dual XLR connectors with phantom power.

The Studio Cameras also have several new features:
  • A LANC interface for connecting a remote iris, focus and zoom control (if your lens is compatible)
  • Dual jacks for connecting an aviation headset for intercom use; Blackmagic claims that aviation headsets are much less expensive than video production headsets with comparable features
  • A bidirectional optical fiber connector that's compatible with the ATEM Studio Converter and provides the same functionality as the $595 ATEM Camera Converter. This enables the Studio Camera to send and receive HD or 4K video, stereo audio, talkback/intercom and tally lights over cable runs as long as 28 miles
  • A software-based Remote Camera Control that works with any ATEM Production Studio. All of the settings on the camera can be monitored and controlled with this software. In addition, a full copy of DaVinci Resolve's primary color corrector is included for live color balancing
You may be thinking, "These Studio Cameras are better than Blackmagic's first-generation models in almost every way, and they're the same price, so why would anyone buy the earlier models?" One big reason is that the Studio Cameras have no storage. No SSD, no CFast, no SDXC, nothing. You can, of course, add an external recorder such as Blackmagic's HyperDeck Shuttle, and you've got other options using the Studio Cameras' SDI connections. However, an external recorder adds to the size, weight and cost of the cameras.

The Studio Camera HD is shipping now and is priced at $1,995 (U.S.), while the Studio Camera 4K is expected to ship in June and is priced at $2,995. Given Blackmagic's track record with cameras, don't bet your life on that June ship date, and expect some problems with the cameras that are shipped for the first several months.

Blackmagic has also made a number of changes to its ATEM line of switchers (all of which are shipping):
  • The original HD-only models of the ATEM 1 M/E and 2 M/E have been discontinued; the sole HD-only switcher that remains in the product line is the $995 ATEM Television Studio, which is primarily intended as a "personal" switcher for webcasts and small productions
  • The new ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio and 2 M/E Production Studio support 4K and HD on all inputs and outputs (except the monitor outputs, which are HD only)
  • Last year's ATEM Production Studio 4K, which has similar functionality to the ATEM Television Studio except it supports 4K, remains in the product line at $1,695
  • The ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K is priced at $2,495, and the ATEM 2 M/E Production Studio 4K is priced at $3,995, $1,000 less than last year's model
With the Studio Cameras and its 4K switcher line, Blackmagic now has just about everything needed to build a live production facility.
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