I fondly remember the day when the Blackmagic URSA was announced – it was day one of NAB 2014. Sadly I couldn’t be in Vegas so I was glued to Twitter that day, trying to keep abreast of what new products were being announced. Then I saw it – the first press image of the URSA camera! My mind was racing; what does this mean? What can it do? What does URSA mean? Is that Russian?! I quickly read up on the specs and was instantly impressed. Then I checked the price. And then doubled checked… I was in amazement. A 4K camera, with a super 35mm sensor, with interchangeable lens mounts – including a broadcast B4 mount… and it’s under £4,300. Unbelievable.
I’m normally quite considered when it comes to investing in new kit for Trickbox TV. I spend a long time researching and making sure that not only is it a financially wise investment, but that on a technical level, it will do what we and our clients need it to do. When I saw the URSA, I must admit I was a little reckless in my decision to buy one immediately. I just thought – we have to have one. I don’t want to get too deep and philosophical – this is only a camera we’re talking about here – but it felt like it was more than just a camera. This was the industry changing right before us. This was the birth of a new generation of 4K cameras, a further blurring of the lines between broadcast and cinema and it marked a new way of doing things. And at that price… how could I say no?!
So we promptly ordered one with our good friends at CVP. And then we waited. And waited. And then we waited some more. Then one Friday in October – almost 6 months after we placed the order – I was out of the office all day at meetings. I’d noticed a couple of missed calls from our Account Manager, Michael Groom at CVP and a voicemail. I was racing across town between meetings and I couldn’t retrieve the voicemail for some reason – but I wasn’t above ground long enough to call him. I wondered what he wanted. A few days before I’d requested prices on some other new kit so I assumed it’d be that. Or was it something else? An outstanding invoice perhaps?! No – it couldn’t have been that – we always pay on time! Must be the prices I’d asked for. And then an email popped up on my phone. There was no message in the body – just a subject line: “Your URSA is on its way…”
So what’s it like?
The first thing you notice about the URSA is its weight. It’s very heavy. Its good heavy though. It’s solid and robust. From the pictures splashed across the Internet, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a bit plasticky-looking. But it really isn’t. It’s machined metal from start to finish. And it feels quite grown up. It shouts ‘authority’ at you. When you compare it the other Blackmagic Design cameras, it’s very different. It’s definitely the Grandad of the range.
The large 10” flip out LCD is impressive and actually quite useful. The additional screen on the other side of the camera and the large audio meters are really practical when you’ve got more than just a camera op working with the camera. As you’d expect, the camera’s packed with all the connectivity you’d want, plus some more that you perhaps didn’t know you wanted. There are two SDI outputs, timecode in and out, genlock in and out and XLR inputs. You wouldn’t immediately think of the URSA as being a traditional multi-camera camera, but it’s certainly capable. I’d expect to see a lot of multi-camera music production with the URSA.
There’s a useful SDI input for return video, which will be great when used in a live or multi-camera environment, so you can send a ‘PGM” signal back to the camera.
The menus on the camera are like most Blackmagic menus – there’s not a lot there. But the usual Blackmagic firmware updates are already being rolled out quite regularly.
So what about the pictures?
Well, they’re stunning. They really are. We first used the camera in anger on a promotional video for a charity. The content and audience both warranted a high end look and feel, so the URSA was a perfect choice of camera for the job. Here’s some screen grabs from the footage (we’ll post the video when it’s made public):
So what should you consider when buying this camera?
The camera records to CFast cards which are currently very expensive. If you’re planning in recording in 4K, you’ll need CFast 2.0 cards. If you’re only planning on recording in HD (and up to 30fps), you’ll get away with CFast 1.0 cards – which are thankfully a bit cheaper. If your budget only stretches to the camera body itself and you forget about the recording media, you might have just bought yourself a very expensive door stop. Unless you’re planning on using an external recorder. It you do end up in the door step situation, take solace in the fact that the door won’t budge an inch!
Another thing to note is that it comes without a battery plate on the back, so remember to order one of those. Blackmagic do now sell these as an accessory.
You’ve got a choice to make when it comes to which version you buy. There are EF, PL, B4 and HDMI versions. The HDMI version is an odd one – but potentially a nice idea. It means you can take any HDMI camera, and benefit from all the URSA features (recording, timecode, audio etc.) When we ordered our URSA, the B4 mount version wasn’t available for order so we went for an EF mount version. Blackmagic say the lens mounts – and the actual sensors themselves – are interchangeable. Which is great. Definitely gives you more flexibility. We’re likely to use the URSA in both a glossy talking heads, corporate video situation, where EF lenses would be perfect, as well as in a broadcast environment, where B4 mount lenses would be the natural choice.
Quick word of warning, note that there’s no phantom power on the XLR inputs (yet).
So what’s our overall opinion of the URSA?
The URSA offers all the features of an ENG style camera with the picture quality you’d expect from a true cinema camera. The pictures are truly stunning and it’s a really useable camera. You find with a lot of the low cost cameras out there – including even the more budget cameras that Blackmagic Design offer – that you’re constantly having to find workarounds to solve design flaws and make the camera more useable. The URSA delivers in almost every area. And based on the results of the few projects we’ve already used it on, we’ve been very impressed. And for that price…