Product Review: Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel

Tech Trends puts Blackmagic’s most compact plug-and-play control panel through its paces.

Since writing my recent article about Democratising the Tools of Media Production where I reviewed the fantastic Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 14, I have borrowed the smallest — and arguably the cutest — from their range of control panels to test.

Designed specifically for colour correction and working exclusively with DaVinci Resolve, this Micro Panel is a plug-and-play beginner/intermediate colourists dream.

It is important to set out from the start that DaVinci Resolve’s software interface is essentially not designed to be operated with a mouse or track pad; The onscreen controls are very small and the delicate fine adjustments involved in colour grading are almost impossible to make using a mouse. The software is designed to work with an attached control surface that features damped knobs and large trackballs to facilitate those fine tuned colour adjustments.

In typical Blackmagic, style they have redesigned professional level equipment that would have cost tens of thousands of pounds not so long ago, and dropped it in the laps of filmmakers around the world for a fraction of the price. This ties into their mission of democratising the industry and offering creative media tools at very affordable prices for everyone.

Retailing at about $995/£850 the Micro Panel is the smallest and cheapest of three new control panel offerings, with each step up including a few more Resolve functions, options and controls built into the panel. The essential colour controls are all present on the Micro Panel but you will have to jump back to the mouse to adjust curves, qualifiers and use keyframes plus many other features of Resolve.

This limited toolset is offset by the size and convenience of the Micro Panel. Weighing just 3.5Kg and measuring 17 inches (43 cm) across, it will fit on most desks and tuck away neatly when not in use. The Micro is also the only one of the three new panels to connect via USB-C which carries both power and data, helping keep the desk uncluttered and leaving you with a free power socket.

Don’t let the small size and low price fool you though, this is a beautifully built panel, made of cast aluminium with a lovely matt texture and the knobs and trackballs have the same buttery smooth feel as the more expensive options, enabling precise micro adjustments as you grade.

The principal controls on the panel are the three large Ring-Trackballs with the ball controlling hue and the ring contrast. Above each ball are three reset buttons, RGB, ALL and LEVEL. RGB resets the hue Trackball, Level resets the ring contrast and All resets, well, all of them. On the right hand side are 18 buttons for basic grading functions including saving, comparing and storing grades, moving between nodes and shots, and at the bottom the three simple Play, Reverse and Stop transport buttons.

Above the central Ring-Trackball are Log, Offset and Viewer. Log switches the trackballs into Log mode, Offset turns the right Ring-Trackball controller into an Offset control, the left Ring-Trackball into Color Temp and the Middle Ring-Trackball into Tint.

The Viewer button simply pops you in and out of Fullscreen mode. Knobs run along the top of the panel with controls for Y Lift, Y Gamma, Y Gain, Contrast, Pivot, Mid-Tone Detail, Color Boost, Shadows, Highlights, Saturation, Hue and Luma Mix, running left to right. These knobs control the sliders under the Color Wheel panel in Resolve where they are split over two pages.

The only real drawback people have raise online is the lack of assignable buttons on the Micro, but bearing in mind it is designed to plug and play with any DaVinci Resolve system from version 12.5 up and only works with Resolve, I personally don’t see this as a problem. What you get with the Micro Panel is a solid, well-designed tool that cannot fail, after a little practice, to improve your grading and speed up your workflow. The extra micro control it will give you over your grades alone is worth the price but having all the basic functions at your fingertips also makes grading fast and fun.

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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