Blackmagic Goes Minimalist

Designed as an affordable multiple-setup camera that also offers large-sensor, cinematic capture with live production capabilities, the Micro Studio Camera 4K (MSC4K) from Blackmagic Design is an extremely versatile tool given its size, housing myriad options for reality television, sporting events, live performances, comedy stand-up, educational situations, plus stage or club productions.

For something so small, the camera is incredibly complex. At only 11 ounces, it’s a safe choice for overhead mounting and useful in live productions where crowds are often involved. Its Micro Four Thirds interchangeable-lens mount means there’s a litany of focal lengths to choose from, while a hackable system of cabling and pins via an expansion port tethers easily to peripherals such as drones, motorized heads or rigs.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TECH

The Micro Studio Camera 4K is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s only capable of UHD resolutions, with 3840×2160 at 30/29.97/25/24 rather than full 4K. While it uses the same sensor as the Studio Camera 4K, it doesn’t offer anything above 30p at UHD. (The Studio Camera 4K is also capable of 50/59.94/60p.) Full HD, 1080i and 720p is available at up to 60 fps, however, so in most ways, you’re gaining the advantages of the much larger, more expensive system at half the price point that’s housed in a very efficient package.

At 2.57 inches in height, 3.25 inches in width and 2.74 inches in depth, the MSC4K measures up well against similar-sized action cams. Some of them are smaller, with several also offering 4K, but few possess the professional level of video quality capable on the MSC4K. For example, GoPros utilize H.264 or MPEG compressions in order to record to internal memory cards. To be fair, the MSC4K does lack onboard capture, but at a price point of $1,295, it’s clearly aimed at professional videographers.

The expansion port located on the right side of the body features a breakout cable with several connections: BNC input for genlock of multiple cameras and stereoscopic operations, 12V DC power input, DB-9 connection for communication with B4 lenses (third-party adapters are available), 2.5mm LANC jack for wired remote-control capabilities and PTZ controls for remote-control usage of motorized heads through the RS-485 PVT protocol. (RS-485 is a more advanced two-way communication iteration of the more common RS-422.)

Of interest to drone and remote users is the advanced 18-channel Futaba S.Bus connector. It extends from the expansion port right out of the box, no hacking necessary. Through only a single connection, it offers 18 channels of control, including servo functions when coupled with a compatible receiver. This allows you to adjust lens focus, iris and servo zooms, as well as white balance, shutter angle and gimbal controls if using a drone. Wireless adapters will also transmit up to 1080p60 video through the HDMI or SDI outputs, ideal for use with drones or in ENG situations at up to 300 feet away.

The octopus-like expansion cables can be a bit unwieldy, but you can reduce clutter by pairing down the wiring. The port is also based on a DB-HD15 VGA connector that Blackmagic says can be soldered easily, making it a hackable solution for outputting to other devices. Blackmagic expects and even welcomes experimentation with the MSC4K, and it’s already being used in the VR world for POV work due to its small size.

The camera’s system is accessible through five buttons on its magnesium-alloy body: Set, Up, Down, Menu and Power. Local iris control can be performed through the Up and Down buttons, and camera settings can be accessed and changed through the Menu and Set buttons. You can only see what you’re doing if using an external monitor, as there’s no LCD screen or viewfinder. Both LANC and S.Bus will require a local monitor unless using a switcher. Similarly, if wanting to use the MSC4K without a switcher or wireless system, be aware that an additional purchase of a monitor and SDI-capable external recorder will be required. 

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An HDMI output is provided for external monitors that’s always outputting in 1080p coupled with two channels of audio—even if choosing to capture at a higher or lower resolution (though the frame rate will match).

With a monitor, the Menu button will let you change a number of parameters like shutter speed, available in 15 stops between 1/50th and 1/2000th of a second, as well as aperture and white balance provided in 18 presets between 2500K and 8000K. Gain, audio control, monitor settings, sharpening, dynamic range, video format and auto-exposure formats round out the remaining options.

The HDMI output won’t work as a solution for outputting uncompressed video to an external recorder. Instead, there’s a 6G-SDI in/out on the other side of the MSC4K that will transmit 10-bit 4:2:2 video to routers, monitors, external recorders or switcher systems. (The SDI input is provided for control over the camera through ATEM-compatible systems.) Blackmagic developed its own version of 6G-SDI and the ports are simply an SDI-in and an SDI-out, so one 6G-SDI cable will suffice if using the in-house switchers available from Blackmagic.

Video can be output directly to the Hyperdeck Studio Pro ($1,895), which requires the additional purchase of 2.5-inch SSDs for capture. The more advanced ATEM2 M/E Production Studio 4K ($3,795) switcher system is also an option. Blackmagic’s ATEM 2 software will allow users to change camera settings, color balance, black levels, gamma, lens focus, iris, zoom and more. As CCU controllers, both models are a low-cost solution compared to other available systems. Up to 20 SDI inputs will allow the same number of cameras to be used at once on the ATEM2 M/E Production Studio 4K. 

For later editing, individual camera video signals can be isolated and recorded independently in ProRes, DNxHD or uncompressed 10-bit 4:2:2. With Lift, Gamma and Gain, there’s also a built-in DaVinci Resolve primary color correction that can only be accessed from ATEM switcher software via the SDI, or through optional optical fiber, which requires an upgrade.

Tethered distance capabilities depend on the output distance of the attached switcher or recorder, but if choosing optical fiber, that length can be extended to miles. For the camera to be recognized by ATEM switcher, it needs to be assigned a camera number through the studio settings in the menu. This is also where you’ll find a way to set the reference source for genlock. With so many options, the MSC4K menu system has a separate section for remote settings, as well.

Touted as the world’s smallest HD and Ultra HD live studio camera, Blackmagic’s Micro Studio Camera 4K houses stout features in a diminutive body. Among the MSC4K’s features are full Ultra HD via 6G-SDI, built-in color corrector, talkback, tally, PZT control, built-in mic and backup battery, plus an adaptable MFT lens mount and B4 lens control connectors—all in a package small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

The MSC4K also offers the interchangeable Micro Four Thirds standard, making it compatible with a litany of Olympus, Panasonic, Rokinon and Zeiss optics in both still and cinema lenses. The format is an ideal coupling for the camera, as the lenses are compact and lighter than comparative lens models on larger-sensor cameras. Do keep in mind that wide-angle lenses are few and far between on the MFT standard, as there’s a 3x 35mm equivalence with this format at sensor dimensions of 13.056 x 7.344 mm. On the other hand, telephotos gain twice the amount of reach.

Lens-mount adapters allow you to convert to PL cinema lenses or other photographic lenses such as Canon EF. B4 adapters are available for using broadcast 2/3-inch-sensor lenses. The camera also sports B4 communication through the expansion port to power B4 zooms that can be used remotely through a compatible switcher.

For audio, the body features a 3.5mm input for stereo microphone or line-level capture, which can be set through the audio settings. A 3.5mm headphone jack is also provided for monitoring and talkback. The 3.5mm line output is compatible with iPhone or Android earbud-style headsets for talkback abilities, making it a two-way ATEM communication system if working with a control room, a director or a producer. Talkback is embedded through the 6G-SDI output so no setup or extra cables are necessary; it simply requires a play/pause button to turn on or off. Rechargeable Canon LP-E6N batteries that snap to the back of the camera offer about an hour of life. A battery charger is available separately, which is unfortunate, but the camera will recharge when plugged in, though not as quickly as a dedicated charger.

To save on size, and to offer more powering options, the included 12V AC adapter is also routed through the expansion pack. It can be used alongside the other peripheral devices and, in addition, there’s support of DC voltages from 12V to 20V, enabling run time from third-party battery packs. Choosing to use the popular Canon LP-E6N-sized battery is also a smart move used by many EVFs, monitors and Canon DSLRs.

For 4-pin XLR power sources, an alternative breakout cable features a standard 4-pin XLR DC power socket. The AC adapter also includes three different types of voltage panels for usage overseas. The ergonomics include a ¼-thread mount on the top, most useful for mics or a monitor, and three tightly packed ¼” threads on the bottom that can be used to attach to pedestals, cranes, broadcast platforms or rigs. A USB Mini-B port is provided for software updates and system configuration, as well.

Learn more about Blackmagic products at blackmagicdesign.com.

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