I’ve had Blackmagic’s Mini Panel for DaVinci Resolve for about a month now, and after putting it to the test on a number of projects I’m finally ready to share some of my first impressions.
Not long ago Blackmagic announced not one, but two brand new panels to give editors and colorists affordable alternatives to the nearly $30,000 flagship Resolve control surface – one of which of course is the Mini Panel which I have, and the other is the smaller Micro Panel.
All three panels serve a different purpose and will naturally attract different types of filmmakers. The full fledged advanced panel will surely continue to have a home in large post production facilities and high end color grading suites, whereas the mini and micro panels will appeal to smaller shops, freelancers, and independent filmmakers.
For me personally, the mini panel is the perfect happy medium.
As an independent filmmaker who also owns a small production/post business, I am constantly looking for tools that will improve my quality of work, while also increasing efficiency. A massive part of my work involves color grading (both on my own personal projects and on client projects), and as such I’ve been in the market for a color panel for some time now.
With that in mind, I never invested in Blackmagic’s advanced panel as it was simply too expensive to justify, and it was overkill for the vast majority of the projects that run through my business. There was always the option of purchasing a 3rd party panel to use with Resolve (such as the Avid Artist Color), but the majority of the lower cost options out there didn’t fully serve my needs, and I felt better off using a high quality pen and tablet.
At least that was the case until the mini panel arrived…
The mini panel delivers so much of what the advanced panel does, but in a much smaller and more efficient package, making it ideal for many filmmakers – myself included. It’s somewhat mind boggling that for 1/10th of the price of the advanced panel you can get the mini, which will give you a very similar working experience (minus some notable bells and whistles of course).
To that same point, the micro panel offers tremendous value too, and is very similar to the mini panel, although it doesn’t include the dual 5″ displays and has less physical buttons/controls on the panel itself. Priced at less than $3000 for the mini and under $1000 for the micro, they are both a steal in my opinion.
Given the functionality and cost of both panels, I would imagine that the mini panel will be adopted by many small to mid sized post houses and production companies that do in-house color. The micro panel will likely be used more heavily by freelancers or editors that occasionally do their own color work, and who may not need the added functionality of the mini panel.
At some point in the future, I will likely test out the micro panel as well, but for now let’s jump right in and take a look at the mini –
THE MINI PANEL
I’ve put the mini panel to use on over half a dozen projects over the past month (including on my latest round of Cinematic LUTs), and in many respects I’m still just scratching the surface with regards to it’s capabilities. This panel is so feature rich and every time I use it I learn something new. I can only assume this will continue as the weeks and months go on.
So for the purpose of this brief review, I’m not going to break down each and every technical function of the panel (as you can find that anywhere else online, including the manual!), but instead will focus on the experiential/workflow benefits that this panel brings to the table.
Build Quality & Design
There’s something to be said about a product that is not only incredibly functional, but also built to stand the test of time. The mini panel absolutely falls into this category.
The first thing that I noticed when unboxing the panel was how solid it felt, and how great it looked from a purely aesthetic standpoint… Especially in comparison to the other budget friendly panels that I’ve tried in the past, most of which feel very plasticy and cheap.
The mini panel on the other hand is built like a tank. I would bring it to set with me and wouldn’t bat an eye as it truly feels like it is built to sustain some serious wear and tear. For me personally, this is a huge selling feature as I want to have the confidence that any product I work with can and will serve my needs not just not, but for years to come.
Design-wise, the panel is very sleek and impressive to look at. I’ve had a few clients already comment on the panel purely based on it’s design, which certainly counts for something!
The panel was slightly larger than I imagined it would be based on photos I saw online, which made doing some desk cleanup/rearranging a necessity. Also, because the top of the panel curves upwards, it has the propensity to cover the very bottom of some computer monitors that aren’t raised up on a stand or mounted to a wall.
I haven’t yet adjusted my setup to compensate for this, but I am still able to work quite comfortably as my monitors sit barely above the top of the panel.
More so than any other feature of the panel, the trackballs have by far had the biggest impact on the way that I color. They are extremely smooth, fluid, and intuitive to work with, and offer a degree of color control that you will never be able to achieve with a mouse, or pen and tablet.
This could be said about trackballs in general, but it’s especially true of those on the mini panel (and presumably the micro panel too), as they work so seamlessly with Resolve that even an inexperienced colorist will feel at home operating them in no time.
The trackballs have allowed me to achieve objectively better results in less time and with less effort. This is for a couple of reasons –
First off, the degree of color control they deliver allow colorists to get far more specific and accurate results in the grading suite, without having to unnecessarily push the colors too far. This is especially beneficial when it comes to grading DSLR footage, since the further you push your colors (especially on a highly compressed DSLR file), the more the image will start to fall apart.
In other words, if you are simply using a mouse to push around your color wheels, you are probably pushing the colors way further than you need to.
For instance, imagine you are grading some DSLR footage and you want to cool down your shadows and warm up your highlights. You might start by pushing the shadows to the blue side of the spectrum, and then pushing the highlights to the orange side. You’ll keep pushing and pulling the colors, back and forth, over and over in opposite directions until you eventually get the look you’re after…
This is a perfectly standard push/pull technique, but when you’re performing it with a mouse you are likely pushing those colors far past the point that you actually need to. With trackballs, to get the same visual result you don’t need to push the nearly colors as far (since you have far greater control), which in turn will mitigate any risk of degrading your image.
Not to mention, having the ability to use two hands to adjust shadows, mids and highlights in different directions simultaneously opens up a lot of creative possibilities. This point of course could apply in a general sense to any control panel, but is especially true of the mini panel thanks to it’s ultra high resolution trackballs.
Shortcuts & Buttons
The mini panel gives you so much control over DaVinci Resolve that you rarely need to move back to your keyboard and mouse while working. The array of shortcut buttons, knobs, trackballs/wheels, and dual 5″ displays can dramatically increase speed and accuracy once you familiarize yourself with it.
The 5″ monitors serve as a menu system that adapts to whichever color mode or tools you are working with. Whether you’re working on a primary color correction, power window, color key, or anything else in Resolve, the display will update to give you immediate access to critical functions you need to perform your work.
Many buttons on the panel provide helpful shortcuts – such as copy/paste grades, moving to the next clip or frame, etc. Again, this speeds up workflow substantially as the less you need to move between the panel and your keyboard, the faster your session will run. This is also true of the knobs on the panel that allow for Y lift/gamma/gain adjustments, contrast/saturation tweaks, and other essential functions that are literally now at your fingertips.
I’m finding that the panel is pushing me to really maximize the potential of Resolve’s toolset, largely because I have easier access to every setting at all times.
One example is the pivot knob, which allows you to shift the center point of the contrast in your image between the highlights, mids, and shadows – or anywhere in between. I also love to use the midtone detail knob, which is helpful for softening skin tones, or increasing detail on landscape shots.
These functions are also readily available on the software only version of Resolve, but the panel makes it so much faster and easier to use them across the board.
So overall, I couldn’t be happier with this panel and as I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve really only begun to scratch the surface. In the future, I’ll be sure to post some more articles on the mini panel once I’ve really had a chance to put it through the ringer.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!