April 08, 2014

Blackmagic Ursa upgradable camera

Blackmagic Design has announced a new high-end digital film camera with a user-upgradable sensor and lens mount, larger-than-normal 10-inch fold-out monitor, and a multi-screen design that should make it simpler to use. Its feature set and upgradability cover many of the most common requests on user’s wish lists.

The Super 35-sized Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) image sensor has a global shutter (so no more CMOS sensor rolling shutter effects) and will be replaceable, along with the lens mount, which can be EF or PL, or even, with a broadcast video sensor, a B4 mount.

The Blackmagic Ursa EF model will retail for $5,995 (about £3,800/€4,500 + VAT), the Ursa PL (pictured above) for $6,495 (about £4,100/€5,000 + VAT), with both expected to ship in July.

The replaceable part is a modular camera turret attached by four bolts, and includes the sensor, lens mount and lens control connections, so that it can be easily upgraded in the future when new types of sensors are developed, for a lot less cost than having to buy a new camera.

The Ursa Broadcast B4 model (pictured above) should be available late 2014, and will have a broadcast video Ultra HD four-thirds-size (13mm x 7.3mm - 3840 x 2160) sensor and B4 lens mount used in broadcast (as also seen on the amazing new Blackmagic StudioCamera 4K). For live broadcasts, especially sport, having the smaller sensor is a good thing, as it is very difficult to keep fast moving objects or players in focus with the shallow depth of field of the S35-size sensor, although the 4/3-inch sensor is about twice the size of the normal 2/3-inch sensors (of which three are usually used in a broadcast camera).

There will also be an Ursa HDMI model (pictured above with DSLR) with no sensor where the lens mount is replaced by a “cheese plate” of mounting points (pictured below) and a HDMI input, allowing any third party camera (such as a DSLR) to get the benefit of the Ursa camera body features and recorders.

The Blackmagic Ursa should be suitable for a wide range of production, from high-end feature film work, commercials, episodic television production, to documentaries, news, music videos and more. For film-style production, with a large crew, users can fit it with cinema lenses, rails, follow focus and matte boxes.

It will also have built in scopes for exposure, focus and audio levels, plus dual CFast 2.0 card recorders (allowing recording at up to 350MBps to continue on the second card when the first is full), with support for ProRes HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes LT, ProRes Proxy recording at resolutions up to Ultra HD, and CinemaDNG RAW. The SATA 3 based CFast recorders are faster than currently available cards, making them another part of the camera that has been future proofed.

Ursa is larger than the previous Blackmagic cameras, essentially a shoulder-mount broadcast camera, which means it has space enough for better cooling (using a liquid cooling system), which will allow higher frame rates (when sensors emerge to offer them - the initial sensor will only go up to 60p), while keeping the chassis cool and the fan quiet. The machined aluminium design should be robust.

For use by large crews, each area of the camera has been divided into separate DoP, camera assistant and audio engineer workstations. The DoP segment has the tiltable 10-inch monitor, which should make critical focus a lot easier, plus a separate 5-inch screen for settings, camera status and scopes. The camera assist station has yet another screen showing the same information (but independently), while the audio section has audio meters, controls and audio connections.

It should have 12 stops of dynamic range, which is less than an Arri Alexa, Red, or the new Panasonic 4K camera, but is good by broadcast standards.

It will record 12-bit lossless compressed Cinema DNG RAW and Apple ProRes, to allow for easy post production workflow while keeping storage requirements manageable. It supports Ultra HD and 1080 HD resolution capture in 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30 up to 60 frames per second.

“Our goal when developing the Ursa was to build a camera that had all the cooling capacity for higher frame rates, and a large on-set monitor as well as built in scopes so you had everything you need built into the camera itself,” said Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design.

“The problem with spending so much money building in such incredible accessories is that they become outdated as sensor technology moves on. So, we designed the ability to upgrade the sensor so customers can simply bolt on a new sensor and turret assembly in the future. We think this is a revolution and this upgradable design means we have been able to put a lot more effort into the design of the camera body itself and the quality of the screens, recorders, cooling system and processing power than would normally be offered.”

The camera has a wide range of standard connections, including: dual XLR mic/line audio inputs with 48v phantom power (plus a built in microphone); 12G-SDI 10-bit 4:2:2 output, 3G-SDI output down converted for external monitoring with camera status graphic overlay; separate XLR 4-pin power output for viewfinder power; 12G-SDI input; headphone jack; timecode I/O; LANC remote control; and standard 4-pin 12v - 30v DC power connection (plus mounting points for V-Mount and Anton/Bauer Gold Mount back plates and batteries onto the rear of the camera).

The Ursa comes with a full copy of DaVinci Resolve software colour grading and editing software, which has been much improved in the new version 11, particularly for editing, providing an all-in-one production and post-production package - perhaps it should be called Ursa Major, as it has a full constellation of features....

By David Fox

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