Blackmagic Design's line of ATEM switchers are very popular––and for good reason. There is a lot of bang-for-the-buck built-in to these bad boys. (I love a good alliteration!) Even the least expensive ATEM is amazing! It's the sub $1K ATEM Television Studio HD, which can handle all the way up to 1080 60p, and is fully operable from the front faceplate. A lot of people are buying this switcher. Therefore, a lot of people are trying to connect their cameras to it. In this blog post, I offer some helpful tips for choosing the right camera for your ATEM switcher––or connecting the cameras you already own.
The first thing you should know is that the ATEM's inputs don't do any scaling or frame rate conversion. What this means is that the video signal your camera is sending via HDMI or SDI must exactly match the video standard setting of the ATEM. If they don't match, you won't get a signal.
Using what you've got:If you are using an inexpensive HDMI camera, it can be tricky finding out what signal it's sending out. Some are limited to outputting 1080i 59.94, with no way to change it. Interlaced video might be fine for your production scenario, but if you want to live stream, you want progressive video. You don't want nasty interlacing artifacts showing up when somebody watches your stream on a progressive display, e.g. a computer monitor or mobile device.
A customer called the other day, and was using a couple of Canon Vixia's. We discovered that we could get them to send out 1080 60p if they were set to 35mb mode. We set the ATEM to 1080 60p and had a match! However, he was sending the output of the ATEM into his Macbook Pro for streaming, via an UltraStudio Mini Recorder, which does not support 1080 60p. And frankly, he likely doesn't need to stream 60 frames per second anyway. We determined that the easiest answer was to convert the program output of the ATEM to 1080 30p for sending into the Macbook Pro. Enter the Decimator. (That could totally be a movie title.) I recommend a Decimator MD-HX, or two, to everyone who is connecting a bunch of disparate pieces of video gear. These puppies are worth their weight in gold.
Purchasing new cameras:
One important thing to consider is the Blackmagic ecosystem. Do you want to be able to remotely control the camera's iris, focus and color? Do you want to communicate with camera ops from the control room, without buying a dedicated com system? If you answered "yes" to either of those questions, then you want to seriously consider pairing Blackmagic studio cameras with your ATEM.
Blackmagic Design offers four cameras with remote control and talkback capability. Three are Studio Camera models; the Studio Camera HD, Studio Camera 4K and Micro Studio Camera 4K. The fourth is the Ursa Mini.
The Studio Camera HD and Studio Camera 4K, both have the capability of sending control signals, audio, video, talkback, program and tally over dual SDI cables or over fiber. If you want to minimize cables, or go over 300' from the switcher, then fiber is the way to go. The Micro Studio Camera 4K and the Ursa Mini don't do fiber, just SDI.
One of the long-standing complaints about the Blackmagic Studio Cameras is the lack of power lens options. If your production doesn't require much zooming or refocusing, then you can get away with using a photo lens, of which there many that can be natively fitted or adapted to the Micro 4/3's lens mounts. If you want a real broadcast parfocal lens, with power zoom and focus, then you've got some serious rigging to do.
The Ursa Mini Pro, however, has built in power for broadcast B4 lenses. Between that and the optional, interchangeable B4 lens mount, the possibilities open up considerably! Keep in mind, you can easily spend several times the cost of the Ursa Mini body for a nice lens.
A price conscious and popular camera is the JVC GY-HM200. It's the most affordable camcorder with SDI output. I highly recommend SDI over HDMI in live production. SDI cable has a wiggle-proof BNC connection and a 300 foot range. HDMI, on the other hand, is limited to 50 feet, and prone to connection problems.
The JVC HM200 also features a LANC port, which gives you an easy and inexpensive way to get tripod controlled zoom!
Hybrids. Are these cameras that get really good gas mileage? No. I'm referring to integrating a non-Blackmagic camera into the Blackmagic ecosystem by using an ATEM Camera Converter. It's basically a box that takes the HDMI or SDI output of your camera and converts it to fiber and lets it 'talk' to the Blackmagic gear back in the control room. You don't get camera control, but you do get goodies like talkback, tally and the very long distances that fiber affords.
You can connect all kinds of different cameras, at all kinds of price-points, to an ATEM switcher. The biggest thing to remember is worth repeating; the output of your camera has to match the video standard of the ATEM.
Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about setting up your multi-camera live production system! You can purchase a switcher on our professional production switching equipment page.