Discover the Blackmagic URSA – By filmmaker Michael Head
It is NAB (National Association of Broadcasters Convention) time again, which might otherwise be known as “Black Friday in April” for camera geeks and tech junkies.
Manufacturers announce new and upcoming products which generally meet with resounding “oohs” and “ahhs” and no small amount of drool. And generally these salivating users try to get their hands on the latest and greatest, while they plan for their next major purchases.
In the last two NABs, Blackmagic Design has made some major waves in camera development.
In 2012, the hardware developer and color correction company introduced the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, a 2.5K raw capable camera that basically amounted to a small sensor in a box, but with great dynamic range and incredibly affordable price, originally $2,995 and later $1,995.
Then last year, they made double the impact with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera ($995) and the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera (originally $3,995, now $2,995).
This is the year of 4K. And Blackmagic is set to shake up the market yet again with the Blackmagic URSA.
The Blackmagic URSA challenges how big camera makers should be looking at their products. It is no Cinema Camera upgrade like the 4K seems to be – It is a whole new animal.
The form factor reminds me of a shoulder-mount ENG camera. And according to an email sent by Blackmagic’s Grant Petty, “The camera is designed to operate as the center of a video production unit, large or small.”
Large is also an apt description, because the primary monitor is not only built-in, but it is a whopping 10.1 inch 1920×1200 flip out touch screen display. Think about being able to monitor and fully control your camera from your iPad but with better resolution – That was my first thought when the size of the screen was announced.
But that’s not all. On the opposite since of the camera are two smaller displays designed for an 1st AC to monitor the image with professional readouts such as histograms and waveform monitors and audio meters for a dedicated audio engineer. It’s a very well thought out and designed package for a video production crew.
The Blackmagic URSA shoots in Ultra HD 4K resolution with options for up to 12G-SDI output for 10-bit, 4:2:2 output.
Internally it records Ultra HD (3840×2160) up to 60(!) fps Prores and Losselss Compressed raw to two Cfast 2.0 card slots for continuous recording if one card fills up. The Blackmagic URSA accepts 12V 4-pin SLR power in/out and can easily accept battery plates for your current stock of Gold and V-mount batteries.
I have avoided talking about the sensor so far on purpose. Currently, the Blackmagic URSA is advertised as a global sensor with up to 12 stops of dynamic range. The lens mounts available at release are an EF mount, a PL mount for a price bump, a B4 mount with a slightly smaller sensor, and no sensor. (I’ll come back to that in a second.)
Here is where Blackmagic is either crazy or a total game changer: When new, better sensors are released, you don’t have to buy a new camera – only the new sensor. The sensor, including the lens mount, is completely user-replaceable, apparently with only a few screws holding it on.
To me, this innovation is absolutely brilliant! While some users may not be able to shell out for a new camera body every year, they may be able to upgrade their sensor as technology changes.
There is even an option to purchase the Blackmagic URSA without a sensor and only HDMI input.
This allows you to utilize your 4K capable camera (that you already own) as the sensor and use the URSA as a large external recorder. Then you can always decide to buy a different sensor! This might be especially useful if you want to mount a camera in an odd place, and just use a long HDMI to still record in the same format.
But enough talking, let’s get down to brass tacks:
Blackmagic URSA – The Good
- Ultra HD 12-stop global shutter sensor.
- Active EF, PL, and B4 lens mounts
- HDMI input mount for recording from your current camera
- USER REPLACEABLE SENSOR and LENS MOUNT
- Records both 1080P and Ultra HD up to 60P
- Multiple monitoring screens for multiple monitoring stations
- Prores and Lossless Compressed raw recording
- 12G-SDI Output
- Includes Davinci Resolve (no surprise there)
- Prices: EF Mount $5,995, PL Mount $6,495, B4 and HDMI input prices are yet to be announced.
- Announced shipping in July
Blackmagic URSA – The Not So Good
- 16.5 Pounds. That’s a lot of aluminum.
- Internal recording to CFast cards (they are expensive – for the moment)
- Apparently no internal battery.
Blackmagic URSA – The BIG Question:
- Can Blackmagic deliver the Blackmagic URSA on time and under budget?
On a final note, Dan May from Blackmagic Design reveled a few other key points for the URSA.
It has a water cooled system, which is why it is able to record at 60 FPS. He also confirmed that the initial senor mounts (EF and PL) use the same sensor as the current Blackmagic 4K camera.
That’s good because the production pipeline for that sensor is set, but in a review by Philip Bloom it was reported that the sensor needs a lot of light to be effective. You should be lighting well anyway, but it’s time to be sure you brush up on your light meter skills and don’t just ETTR (expose to the right).
Blackmagic has made waves with their cameras in the past, and so far the Blackmagic URSA is an absolute ground-breaker in terms of price, technology, and upgradeability. At this price point, Canon, Nikon, and RED have to at least sit up and pay attention – Blackmagic is doing some awesome stuff.
Michael Head is a filmmaker and full-time geek living the the Dallas-Fort Worth Metromess. Follow him at @michaeldhead. Check in every Tuesday for Micheal’s “tech-Tuesday” articles. Check out his website at michaeldhead.wordpress.com.