Posted By:
Craig Newman
February 24, 2015
Filed Under:
Film & Video Equipment Reviews
1 comments

Blackmagic URSA – Hands On Review

Recently Entendre Productions, along with Euphoria Films, shot our first production on the Blackmagic URSA. If you are a follower of our blog you would know that we are huge fans of Blackmagic and they way that they are producing quality cameras that are making high quality production more affordable. The URSA is no exception

"Classic hero shot of URSA"

“Classic hero shot of URSA”

Firstly, let me introduce the URSA with the EF mount, or Ursula and we nick-named her. Ursula is a 4K digital cinema camera with the following specs:

  • Effective Resolution: 4K (4000 x 2160)
  • Shooting Resolutions: 3840 x 2160, 1920 x 1080, 4000 x 2160 RAW
  • Sensor: Super 35 (21.12mm x 11.88mm)
  • Dynamic Range: 12 Stops
  • Frame Rates: 30 fps in RAW
    80 fps in RAW 3:1
    80 fps in ProRes HD or ProRes UHD
    Project frame rates of 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94 and 60 fps supported.

We hired this camera from The Front to shoot the Freakshow music video. We wanted a camera that could shoot 4K slow-motion in RAW, that wouldn’t kill the budget, which like most independent band music videos, was extremely limited.

#FreakShow Music Video Underway!

A photo posted by Craig Newman (@entendrepro) on

First Impressions

When first unpacking this beast, I admired the sexy design. The URSA has been designed with 3 zones;

- one for the camera operator with an extremely nice 10″ inch fold-out screen and an additional 5″ screen for the histogram and other vital information;

- one for the camera assistant / focus puller with another 5″ screen;

- and a third for the audio engineer with nice physical volume knobs and easily read led audio meters.

The next thing I noticed was the weight. At just under 7.5 kilograms (16.32 pounds) without battery, baseplate, evf or lenses… this thing is a beast. It’s even heavier than the Red One, for those who remember it, and at 2.3 kilograms, the Red epic is under a third of the weight of the Blackmagic URSA. This makes hand-held operation, sliding, dollying and basically anything you might want a grip for, considerably more difficult.

Shooting #FreakShow music video with #URSA and I feel like a kid in candy factory. @analshark

A photo posted by Craig Newman (@entendrepro) on

Hands-on Observations

In using the camera, I was very impressed by some things, but highly irritated by others. Like a lot of Blackmagic products, it was very sexy looking, but with some simple, yet irritating design flaws.

First shoot with the #Blackmagic #URSA I’ll right a blog about it later.

A photo posted by Craig Newman (@entendrepro) on

Things I liked

Firstly, let me cover some of the things I liked. I was a huge fan of the 10″ monitor with 1080p resolution that made it super easy to frame and focus. On the left hand side of the monitor, there are some handy buttons for recording, adjusting the aperture with the live EF mount, playback and expanded zoom, amongst others. This camera also have a nice peaking function.

Blackmagic-URSA-Entendre-Productions-1

Whilst we are discussing monitors, the 5″ monitor on the other side of the camera (the right hand side) was really handy. You could cycle through the displays including a video assist. It was really sexy to be able to see the shot without having to bother the camera operator (when it was his turn to drive) by hovering over his shoulder, or needing to set up a separate video assist. It also had some really useful tools such as an animated histogram, a scrolling audio waveform monitor and a spectrum scope.

Finally, the dual recording is a blessing. The formatting options for the cfast cards are either Mac OS Extended or exFAT and as long as they are both formatted the same, you can record continuously. On the left side monitor there is a nice graphical display of how much space is left on each card, and how many clips you have recorded.

Blackmagic-URSA-CFAST

At this point, I feel like I must say something about the recording size.

I have heard many people bitch about how large the files are, and how a solid state drive, like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, would be much better than cfast cards.

True, the drives are far cheaper than the cfast cards, and true, you can often get them in larger sizes. I agree, but at the same time disagree. This beast is big enough, and the dual cfast cards allow for continuous recording, so as long as you have a data wrangler on set, and 3 or more cards, you should never have a problem. If you are using the URSA to shot a doco, then yes, the cfast cards will be a problem, but the obvious question is; why are you using this huge camera to shoot a doco?!

Things I didn’t like

Next, let’s talk about what bugged me, and the others on set who played with the URSA.

Blackmagic-URSA-Entendre-Productions-2

Firstly… Super 35 Sensor.

Why? I don’t understand why Blackmagic would use a s35, when so many people would go nuts for this camera if it were full frame. With the s35 sensors crop factor of 1.39 our nice 14mm glass ended up looking like a 20mm, our 35mm looked like a 50mm, etc. Forget about the 85mm or 135mm! It’s not that big a deal, but it is still disappointing.

The next annoyance was with filming at 80 frames per second. In the menu, you have to set the frame rate twice; once as a “project rate” and secondly as the “sensor rate.” Shooting RAW, you can only shoot 80 fps in RAW 3:1. So, using the camera for the first time, I set the format to RAW 3:1, then I go to set the frame rate… and it will only go up to 60 fps. Now, I have to go and set the “sensor rate” and bring that up to 80 fps, at single frame increments.

Why there can’t just be one frame rate setting, I don’t understand. If you understand, please feel free to leave me a comment and educate me, but in my hands-on experience, it was just annoying.

As an extra insult, I couldn’t playback 80 fps or 60 fps footage in camera.

Finally, there were lots of little bugs, like the lack of a record button near the top handle, the operation buttons being is strange places, the fact that the top handle was open-ended at the front… small design flaws which make this really sexy looking camera, rather irritating to use.

Summary

It turns out Ursula was a bit like that exiguous yet voluptuous girl in the skimpy dress at the club; sexy, cheap but disappointing and ultimately annoying.

Blackmagic-URSA

That statement might be a little harsh when you factor in the price; at around $6k US, it’s a damn sight cheaper than other cameras with similar capabilities. If you are in a situation where you want to invest in getting a camera like this for your studio, and you can’t afford an Alexa or Red, it is a good buy.

Blackmagic Design URSA 4K Digital Cinema Camera CINECAMURSA4K_EF

Like everything Blackmagic does however, the most exciting factor is not the camera itself, but how it will push other camera manufactures to lower prices and/or to keep innovating to keep their market share.

We’re in post-production now for the music video and I’m sure there will be a part two to this blog reviewing the picture quality and post-production workflow for the Blackmagic URSA.

Please comment

Any questions? Do you have an experiences with the Blackmagic URSA?

1 Comment

Craig NewmanFebruary 27th, 2015

One of my friends pointed out that Super35 is the industry standard, and that only DSLR users as used to full frame. This is true, and I do love my Super 35 Fs7. However, my thoughts are that if Blackmagic had produced URSA with full frame, maybe we could start shifting the industry standard.

What are your thoughts?

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