The iPad and Blackmagic’s Micro Color Panel make strange bedfellows

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With the current rebellion against Adobe’s subscription model, folks are taking a hard look at Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve Studio. And many like what they see. It’s arguably more powerful than Adobe’s Premiere Pro, offering better color correction tools along with built-in effects and audio apps. Best of all, it’s free (though you can pay $300 to upgrade to the Studio version).

To make it more practical for those editing on the go, Blackmagic introduced an iPad version in late 2022 with the Cut (editing) and Color pages, but no effects or audio apps. The idea was to offer creators a way to edit or color-correct on the road, with everything syncing up via Blackmagic Cloud. It was also a good option for those who prefer to work on mobile devices.

Earlier this year, Blackmagic introduced the $509 Micro Color Panel that gave users tactile control for color correction, just like the highly paid colorists in Hollywood. Better still, it can be used with Resolve on iPad, so you can click, dial and roll in a precise manner, rather than pawing inaccurately on a touch display.

DaVinci Resolve for iPad and the Micro Color Panel are cool separatelyDaVinci Resolve for iPad and the Micro Color Panel are cool separately

Steve Dent for Engadget

I love control surfaces, so I was eager to test the Micro Color Panel with my iPad Air M2 to see how they work together. At the same time, I wanted to try out Blackmagic’s Cloud to share projects on multiple devices.

You get two installs with DaVinci Resolve Studio, so I used my desktop key to install it on my iPad Air M2. Blackmagic recommends an iPad with an M1 or later processor, and though it will work with earlier iPads, you may be restricted to HD and features will be limited.

Blackmagic provided me with a free trial of its Cloud service so I could transfer projects from my desktop over to the iPad. That normally costs $5 per month per library, which gives you 500GB of storage and unlimited projects that can be shared with up to 10 collaborators.

You can easily share timelines, effects, metadata and media. To transfer files, you can either connect a USB-C drive or share full or proxy media (smaller versions of your video clips) on Blackmagic Cloud. That requires a fast connection — both to upload and download — but once that’s done, they live locally on your iPad. Any new media files are automatically synced to the Cloud.

DaVinci Resolve for iPad and the Micro Color Panel are cool separatelyDaVinci Resolve for iPad and the Micro Color Panel are cool separately

Steve Dent for Engadget

The downside of DaVinci Resolve on an iPad is the clumsy touch-based interface, especially for color correction – but that’s where the Micro Color Panel comes in. Blackmagic has a rich history of building such controllers for professional use, but the new model is its smallest and cheapest to date.

Though diminutive compared to the $859 version, the new Micro Panel still oozes quality. Its black finish can draw some dust but otherwise looks professional. The buttons light up to help you find them in a dark studio, but the labels on the dials don’t, so they can be hard to read.

The panel comes with its own battery that gives you about 15 hours on a charge. Though you can use USB-C to connect to PCs or Macs, iPads only support Bluetooth, with USB-C reserved for charging.

After pairing the Micro Control Panel to your iPad, you need to enable it in DaVinci Resolve’s preferences. Then, you can slide your iPad into the slot on the back and you’re ready to work.

DaVinci Resolve for iPad and the Micro Color Panel are cool separatelyDaVinci Resolve for iPad and the Micro Color Panel are cool separately

Steve Dent for Engadget

To be clear, the Micro Control Panel is not designed for editing — it’s strictly for color correction. To that end, it mirrors the interface of DaVinci Resolve’s Color Page. The main controls are for “Lift” (black levels), “Gamma” (contrast) and “Gain” (overall brightness).

Those wheels and dials offer nice levels of resistance and accuracy, compared to the Loupedeck+ and other types of control surfaces I’ve tried. They’re used for things like shadows, highlights and saturation, while the buttons let you view the image full screen, move from clip to clip, add keyframes and more.

The tactile experience is a strong selling point of the Micro Control Panel, but there’s a catch-22 using it with the iPad. At home, I’d be likely to use it with my PC or Mac for more speed and versatility. When I’m on the road with my iPad, though, I’m not sure I’d take the Micro Control Panel with me, because it’s too bulky.

DaVinci Resolve for iPad and the Micro Color Panel are cool separatelyDaVinci Resolve for iPad and the Micro Color Panel are cool separately

Steve Dent for Engadget

So despite Blackmagic marketing this as an iPad accessory, I’d say it’s currently better for desktop DaVinci Resolve Studio users who want more tactile control. It’s great for people who only edit on iPad, but I’d imagine that in a Venn diagram of those folks and the ones willing to spend $508 on a color correction panel, there is only a tiny overlap.

In sum, Blackmagic’s Micro Color Panel is portable, attractive, well-designed, nice to use and reasonably priced. If you spend a lot of time on color correction, you’ll find it to be a timesaver once the controls become second nature. It’ll also make your editing suite look more professional.

Though not yet a great match for the iPad, that could change. Apple recently launched the iPad Pro M4, including a 13-inch model that offers similar performance to many MacBooks. At the same time, Blackmagic Design has promised to bring the iPad version of DaVinci Resolve more on par with the desktop versions. If that happens, many Resolve users may opt to use the iPad version exclusively — which would make the Micro Color Panel more desirable.

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