For Shooters, a Tactile Extension of How We Really Work
The look and feel of our images are critical to communicating the intended genre to our viewers. Deliberate overexposure, say, by blowing out windows and highlights, can contribute to a sci-fi ethereal look, while deliberate underexposure, by lowering the black level and deepening the shadows, can add serious drama to an otherwise flat, lackluster scene. The communication of genre is a filmmaker and shooter’s primary responsibility, and so proper grading, color-correction, and LUT management on set are critical to achieving our storytelling goals.
Due to the increased power and capabilities of today’s cameras, virtually every production requires some degree of grading and color-correction. Luckily, we have a range of powerful and inexpensive (or free) color correctors at our disposal that can make easy work of minor variations in color and grey scale from scene to scene. (Of course, large discrepancies in color or density during image capture, especially within a scene, should be avoided, as seriously cranking up one or more color channels in post may lead to objectionable noise and unacceptable pictures.)
As the world’s most widely used color-corrector and grading tool, Davinci Resolve has recently found a place on sets and in day-to-day production. Today, whether we’re shooting a Hollywood feature, national commercial, or high-end documentary, chances are Resolve will be playing a vital role in determining the look of our show, for live grading and color-correction, coordinating rear projection and other on-set visual effects, and previewing and tweaking of camera and viewing LUTs.
Resolve’s vast capabilities and inherent complexity have a learning curve that is not particularly steep or onerous. The plethora of on-screen controls, however, can be inefficient or inconvenient to users, particularly shooters who naturally relate better to cameras and lenses that we can touch and feel than we do to a GUI screen, with awkward overlapping buttons the size of pinpricks.
This is why the Blackmagic Resolve Micro Panel is so appealing. Sure, we still need a good understanding of Resolve to achieve the desired look. But the tactile experience of a compact, easy-to-transport hardware surface featuring three large trackballs is much more intuitive than fumbling on a harried set with a mouse and panoply of inscrutable icons. Various imaging parameters such as Y-lift, Y-gamma and saturation, are adjusted with a roll of the hand or twist of a dial, with the effect reflected instantly on a monitor or laptop screen.
The BMD Micro Panel lacks the graphic colorful displays of the larger and more costly Mini and Advanced models. Despite its name, the Micro Panel is rather sizable and robust, measuring 17 inches (43 cm) across and weighing 7.7 lbs (3.5 kgs). The considerable heft is reassuring in a professional piece of gear; the weighted trackballs, in particular, are very smooth and precise. Shooters like that. Working the trackballs feels like working with a precision lens.
The 12 primary color-correction knobs at the top of the panel are convenient but, unlike the trackballs, exhibit a less positive feel. The rotary knobs could benefit from additional dampening, which could avoid inadvertent changes to settings on a dark set. Likewise, a backlit LED control surface, as used in the Resolve Mini and Advanced panels, would be a good addition here. No doubt omitted as an economy move, such a backlight feature should be implemented in a future version of the Micro Panel.
The control panel itself is simple to set up and calibrate, utilizing a single USB 3.0 Type-C interface cable for data and power. This obviates the need for yet another wall wart or dedicated power supply contributing to the clutter around the set or hotel desktop.
The Micro Panel is platform-agnostic, supporting Mac, Windows, and Linux. In general, Blackmagic does an excellent job eschewing proprietary solutions throughout its product line. In this case, the Micro Panel is exclusive to Resolve; it does not support Scratch or other manufacturers’ software or hardware.
In the past, we shooters faced a dilemma when establishing the look of a show and tweaking and manipulating the desired LUT on set. The previous Resolve controller models, intended for colorists working primarily in post-production suites, are too large and unwieldy for practical use by shooters on location. The Micro Panel, on the other hand, allows us to take effective control of our imaging destiny, harnessing the power of Resolve when and where we need it, in an economical, practical, and most efficient way.