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Building a YouTube studio: First look at Blackmagic ATEM Mini and Pocket Cinema 6K camera

We look at a wildly powerful but inexpensive video switcher, and an astounding 6K video camera that can be used solo in your lockdown home video studio.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Update: Blackmagic has reduced the price on the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K by $500.

As we begin to settle in for what may be a long run working from home, many of us are finding we need to replicate some of the professional resources we had in the office. If you've been watching the late-night talk show hosts, you'll see Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, and more -- all recording their shows from rooms in their homes.

Even if you don't have a late-night comedy audience, you may find you need to up your game with some broadcast-level gear to present a professional image. While everyone is making allowances for the "new normal," it's more important than ever to be professional, especially when working from a home environment.

I've been producing videos from home for years now. When my books came out, I did a lot of national news shows over Skype from different rooms in my house. When I first started, my video looked terrible. I had a folding divider as a backdrop and I used a cheap webcam for my connection. Worse, my upstream broadband connection was decidedly mediocre.

Since then, I've made it a point to rework my studio every few years. When I moved into this house 18 months ago, I set up basic functionality. I fully intended to optimize my filming environment once I got completely moved in and unpacked. Little did I (or anyone know) that fully moved in would mean coronavirus lockdown, but such is life.

A few months back, Blackmagic Design approached me about looking at a couple of its products. I was familiar with the brand because its gear is in high demand in professional video studios. It had a couple of new products it wanted me to test out and, as it happens, I was just starting to look into my next studio upgrade. So, I said yes.

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn an affiliate commission from some of the products featured on this page. ZDNet and the author were not compensated for this independent review.

As the attached video shows, I received and began working with two Blackmagic devices:

The ATEM Mini is a powerful video switcher that can bring in four HDMI sources and switch among them, outputting video that appears to programs like Zoom and Skype as a webcam. The big key for me is that the ATEM Mini, a $295 device, contains the exact same broadcast quality green screen chromakey software found in their much higher-end devices. 

This is a camera used by pro videographers to shoot professional video. You'll find Netflix shows filmed using this camera, for example. While all I'm doing is filming in my fablab and workshop, my interest was very much the 6K resolution of the camera. I was also very intrigued because the camera uses the same EF lenses as my Canon DSLR, which meant that I wouldn't need to buy new glass to use the new camera.

I also brought in a 1TB OWC Envoy Pro EX USB-C flash drive. The plan was to connect this directly to the Pocket 6K camera to capture 6K video. Unfortunately, although the drive meets the specs for 6K capture, in practice it wasn't fast enough -- which is probably why it wasn't on Blackmagic's list of approved drives. Even so, it's fast enough to capture 4K video, so it'll still be a win with the new camera when shooting 4K.

I haven't had a chance yet to put the ATEM Mini through its paces, because that involves a complete rebuild of my talking head studio environment. So, stay tuned for more hands-on with that.

I did, however, run some tests filming with the Pocket 6K in 6K resolution. The idea with this is that I can set the camera in place and then, in post-production, move around the scene captured by the camera, including getting in tight on a portion of the image. You can see a very cool example of that in the attached video.

Speaking of the attached video, definitely give it a view. You'll see how the 6K resolution can be used as a virtual viewfinder, along with a closer look at each of the products mentioned. And stay tuned. These products will feature large in my future studio work, so I'll be reporting back on how all of that works, so you can follow along and implement it yourself.

Are you making video at home? What's your setup like? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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