Blackmagic Design’s New Bear of a Camera: URSA

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 in Gear, Tech | 5 Comments
Ursa

Blackmagic Design’s URSA UHD Digital Cinema Camera (Blackmagic Design photo)

(Update: B&H report having the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K in stock, so it appears that the camera has finally shipped, although B&H is the only retailer that has any, among those I checked with.)

Australia’s Blackmagic Design, not content to rest on their laurels, despite still not shipping the Ultra HD camera they announced at last year’s NAB, have announced another UHD camera for the cinema market: the aptly-named Ursa.  Sporting the same sensor as their as-yet unshipped Production Camera 4K, Ursa includes a number of standout features, like a 10-inch fold-out full HD “viewfinder” on the operator’s side of the camera, two 5-inch touchscreens, and (at long last) audio level meters.  The body weighs in at 16.5 pounds before attaching a lens, so this camera is definitely targeted to the mid-range professional market.  You definitely won’t be doing any run-and-gun with this camera.

Internal recording is to dual CFast 2.0 cards, in ProRes or compressed Cinema DNG raw (lossless).  The largest capacity CFast 2.0 cards currently available are 120GB (for $1,200 US), which translates to 20 minutes of UHD in ProRes, 6 minutes of UHD in raw format per card.  A lot of the people who were fans of Blackmagic’s cameras are probably going to make a great deal of noise about this, though it’s probably not a big deal for the target market segment (where there will be a DIT on-set and the production will have plenty of cards for the day’s shooting).  Unfortunately, the 12G HD-SDI output is only 4:2:2, so external recorders won’t be getting the full 12-bit signal, nor will the output be raw.  That’s not great news for productions that want to record to less costly, higher capacity SSD media.  Prices of CFast 2.0 cards will drop as more companies adopt the format; currently only ARRI’s Amira and now Blackmagic’s Ursa use CFast 2.0.  For now, though, the cost of the media is very high and will push the cost of ownership of this camera well above AJA’s Cion (you’ll probably need 5 or 6 120 GB CFast 2.0 cards in order to avoid interruptions in your shooting day due to frequent dumping of cards, and your DIT is going to be VERY busy).

The best features of this camera, in my opinion, are the industry-standard power connector and ability to mount standard battery plates on the rear of the unit.  Users of this camera will no longer be burdened with that awful non-removable internal battery from the Cinema Camera and Production Camera.  The electronics are liquid-cooled and the processor and internal data bandwidth are said to be considerably faster than necessary for Ultra HD capture, in order to allow room for growth as resolutions and framerate capabilities of the sensors increase. One of the coolest features of this camera is the user-replaceable sensor/lens mount assembly.  I can’t stress enough just how much I like the idea of being able to purchase an upgraded sensor module a year or two down the road when the tech has improved even more, and then install it in my camera myself instead of buying a whole new camera.  That is just plain awesome, especially if the price for the new module is reasonable.  That by itself is almost enough to entice me to buy this camera… but only almost.

It’s great that it looks like Blackmagic have been listening to the feedback from professionals about the terrible ergonomics of their previous cameras, and that they’ve finally created a camera that looks like a camera (albeit one that belongs in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s armory), but is it too little, too late?  The really unfortunate thing here is that they still haven’t shipped the previous camera they announced (the Production Camera 4K), nor have they fixed the many problems people are having with the cameras they have shipped, yet they announced two entirely new cameras at NAB this year (Ursa and a television studio camera), which is sure to anger the people who pre-0rdered the Production Camera a year ago and still have not received it.  Whether this is the case or not, the perception is that Blackmagic have been ignoring their existing user base and putting their engineering resources toward new product development instead of fixing the products they already have, and perception is really all that matters.  Ursa looks really great on paper, but few people have confidence that Blackmagic can ship a usable camera, if they ship it at all.  Blackmagic are saying that Ursa will ship in July of this year, but they said the Production Camera 4K would ship in July last year, and it still hasn’t shipped a year later, so I’m not confident they’ll ship Ursa on time.  Their original Cinema Camera still lacks features like formatting media in the camera, and still has a number of other issues that people have been asking for solutions to for nearly two years now.  They still haven’t solved the poor sensitivity and high noise of the Ultra HD sensor (as evidenced in the sample clips they made available for download).  Unless Ursa exhibits none of the issues the previous cameras have, I just can’t feel good about purchasing one.  I might not be comfortable even if Ursa has no issues, just because I don’t have a lot of confidence in Blackmagic’s ability to ship a quality professional camera.  It would take a lot of time with this camera in real production conditions, and I mean A LOT of time, during which the camera would have to perform flawlessly, before I would regain confidence in Blackmagic as a company.  For now, I’m going to have to pass on this camera.  My opinion may change after they actually ship (if they ever do), but as I said, it’ll take a lot of time with one to regain confidence in the company.

Pricing for Ursa is set at $5,995 for the EF-mount version, $6,495 for the PL-mount version.

 

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