Blackmagic Mini Panel review: Truly portable colour grading

Mini Control Panel
Simon Blackledge, Space Digital
Post Production
May 10th 2017 at 4:38PM : By

Space Digital’s Simon Blackledge was one of the first in Europe to try Blackmagic Design’s portable colour grading control surface. He gives TV Tech Global his verdict

I've been a user of Blackmagic's Advanced Panel for a few years now, so my interest was piqued when I saw the announcement that the company had released two much smaller control surfaces, the Mini Panel and the lighter Micro Panel, at a fraction of the price. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one to take a closer look, particularly the Mini Panel, which has more features aimed towards professionals.

As soon as I saw the box, the first thing I noticed was just how good the Mini actually looks – the build quality is something I’d expect from a control surface that’s twice the price. You can tell that an enormous amount of thought and design has gone into creating it.

Made from machined aluminium, the Mini Panel looks like it would work for a really long time and withstand quite a lot of battering along the way. It’s also a really nice weight at around 10kgs, which means I can easily fit it onto my desktop, but unlike some other smaller panels I’ve tried using in the past, I don’t need to hold the Mini down with books to ensure it doesn’t slide around on the desk while my wrists are leaning on it.

The rubber keys feel really solid, and though I normally would be put off by panels with smaller balls and rings, the three weighted track balls on the Mini Panel feel completely smooth and very much like the norm after a few grading sessions. On a more practical note, each of the rings also sit on four magnets rather than in thin slots, which makes it much easier to remove them for cleaning.

The most exciting thing for me, though, is the idea of a Blackmagic panel that’s truly portable

Truly portable

The most exciting thing for me, though, is the idea of a Blackmagic panel that’s truly portable. I can imagine sticking the Mini Panel (or indeed, the Micro Panel) back into its box whenever needed, and simply bringing it with me to a client to be able to grade faster and more efficiently on site. Or even putting it into a portable rack for DIT and on set workflows, or more easily going between the panel and an editing keyboard.

For colourists, particularly when coming from experience with the Advanced Panel, it’s pretty easy to feel at home quite quickly using the Mini. The track balls in the center of the panel, which provide RGB balance adjustments for lift gamma and gain changes, and the twelve primary control dials, which increase the contrast or saturation, modify shadows and highlights, give a colour boost to the overall film, and more. There are also some pretty useful buttons on the panel for easy access to tools like curves, qualifiers, the tracker, blur, and sizing.

 

Blackmagic Mini Control Panel screen

 

Button upgrades

At the top of the panel are two LCD colour screens that clearly display menu options. However, unlike those on the Advanced Panel, the brightness of these cannot be adjusted, which I am hoping could be changed with a future software update. None of the buttons are currently user customisable either, which is another feature I would really like to see added.

Especially when you consider the impressive quality for price, though, I absolutely loved the Mini Panel. Like with the Advanced Panel, you can push down on any of the dials to reset the look you’ve created back to default, a feature I use a lot to be able to experiment with different looks.

The ability to push down the central Offset button for switching Gain to Offset, and have Lift turn to Temp and Gamma to Tint at the same time was also a really nice function that I would never have thought of adding, as well as the fact that you can power the panel over any standard Ethernet connection.

Overall, at £2,405 the Mini Panel is probably the best value-for-money product in post production that I’ve seen for a long time. If you haven’t got a panel, this will really speed up your grading workflow, and for the price, it really is a no brainer.

Or if you can’t afford it, I recommend the Micro at £805. You can always then move from the Micro to the Mini, and the Mini to the Advanced!

 

Pros

  • Excellent build quality, looks and feels expensive 
  • Buttons and controls give fast, efficient feedback
  • Easy to fit on to a desktop, and bring with you on set/for DIT
  • Rings sitting on magnets makes it easier to clean
  • The price! I expected it to be double!
  • Being able to power the panel over Ethernet

Cons

  • Would love to have Home and User Buttons be customizable in future releases 
  • LCD brightness levels cannot be controlled as in the Advanced Panel