I got the opportunity to try the new studio camera from Blackmagic recently. While it was not an extensive test I did draw some conclusions.
I do some part-time work at a local youth club as a video instructor/mentor. They want to start a proper video group who can do live multi-cam productions of concerts and events at the club. Per now they don’t have much equipment and need to invest in some new equipment. Since we already have a Blackmagic ATEM Production Studio 4K switcher and a HyperDeck we’re happy with, the Blackmagic Studio Camera looked tempting, and would fit in well in an all Blackmagic setup.
The reason Blackmagic is tempting is of course because of the price. It’s a youth club with limited funds. Blackmagic’s cameras would give us a full studio setup with talkback, tally, and everything else you’d get from a conventional studio camera. Not to mention they’re fairly cheap compared to everything else.
My first impression when picking up the camera was simply “wow!”. It’s slick and good-looking. It’s very nicely organized; big screen with all the buttons, all the connectors in one place. No hidden connectors on the back or illogical placement of buttons that’s hard to reach. The screen is simply amazing. It’s big! The menus are very easy to use and to navigate. It’s probably one of the best menus I’ve seen on any camera!
However, while the camera looks slick and is very attractive there are some drawbacks. First of all I found it hard to focus, with only color monitor (at least I didn’t find a way to turn it black and white) and hardly any focus peaking. It didn’t help that I was using a slow Panasonic 14-140mm 4.0-5.6 lens.
That’s the second part that’s disappointing about the studio camera; The fact that it uses MFT-mount. While this is great because you can use a lot of MFT-lenses, and can use a bunch of adapters to mount just about anything. It’s not so good because most of the MFT-lenses are still photography lenses with no back-focus, slow lenses with F-drop and not made to zoom or focus while filming. This isn’t much of a problem in a talk-show, newsroom or other settings where you can make everything fixed and you hardly zoom or refocus, but for a concert or live setting it’s a big problem. In order to get proper lenses you would have to invest in proper video ENG lenses that’s twice the price of the camera. Meaning the whole “this is cheap and good”-argument goes down the drain. At least for the use I was testing the camera for. Another problem is the ergonomics of the camera. It’s impossible to shoot hand-held without some sort of rig.
We had almost decided to go for the Blackmagic Studio Camera, but after testing it we decided this was not ideal for our use. We actually ended up getting a couple of CanonXA25’s (because we already had one of these cameras). Not as cool as the Blackmagic, but in the end a lot more flexible. They have proper back-focus and good zoom and focus features. In addition you can use it hand-held, which is great for concerts. While the studio camera can only be used in a studio setting, as they don’t have a recorder, the XA25 is a conventional video camera and it can be used for other work as well. Of course the XA25 also has its drawbacks for multi-camera work. Most noticeably it can’t be controlled remotely by a camera controller, meaning the camera operator will have to adjust gain, iris and white balance him/her self. This makes things a bit more tricky, but at the same time just good learning for the youths.
So, Blackmagic Studio Camera; I’m both impressed and disappointed. It’s cool that they’ve designed a new style of studio camera just because they can, and challenge some of the well established norms. While some of the features are genius and work well, some are not. It’s cheap and good for a controlled settings or if you have proper lenses and need a camera upgrade. For a youth club the Blackmagic Studio Camera looks appealing at first, being cheap, easy to learn, easy to use and incorporates right into an all Blackmagic workflow. However, it’s not all that great. The lenses are the biggest issue. You’ll need to invest a lot more to get usable optics for this camera. You’ll need to invest further more before you can shoot hand-held. That being said, I’m curious about what a mark II of this camera could offer. If Blackmagic manages to keep the good parts, fix the problems and maybe release a set of affordable lenses. Then this could be a winner!