The Anvil – Hands-On The Blackmagic URSA

For the past few years, Blackmagic Design has been the most forward-thinking company in the industry, creating innovative cameras, software, i/o devices and more. After purchasing DaVinci Resolve five years ago, in 2012, they released the Blackmagic Cinema Camera—a box-like camera that featured a 2.5K sensor and could capture CinemaDNG RAW files, as well as 13 stops of latitude. In 2013, they released not one, but two cameras—the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K and the Pocket Cinema Camera. All three cameras have revolutionary features for their low price points and are clearly aimed at the indie film marketplace. The only reasonable criticism of their cameras is the lack of professional features, specifically when working with a professional film crew.

URSA KEY SPECS
• Super 35 sensor (21.12×11.88mm)
• Captures 3840×2160, 4000×2160 (RAW) resolution
• 30 fps in RAW, 80 fps in RAW 3:1, 80 fps in ProRes HD or ProRes UHD
• 12 stops of latitude
• Three screens, including one 10.1-inch, 1920×1200 screen and two 5-inch LCD touch screens
• Captures lossless CinemaDNG RAW and all ProRes codecs to CFast 2.0 cards
• DaVinci Resolve software is included, as well as Blackmagic Media Express and Disk Speed Test

At NAB 2014, Blackmagic addressed this issue by announcing URSA, a digital film camera that’s designed for professional on-set workflow with several built-in accessories and features you wouldn’t find in a camera below $20,000. (The URSA’s list price is $5,995.) Some of the URSA’s most notable features include a 10-inch, fold-out LCD monitor, a Super 35 global-shutter 4K image sensor, and internal dual RAW and Apple ProRes recorders.

Blackmagic sent me an EF-mount URSA review unit, along with an IDX V-Mount Battery system. I tested the camera with a combination of Canon EF zooms and Rokinon Cine prime lenses, shooting exclusively in RAW. After shooting for a couple of days, it’s easy to say the URSA is a significant step up from their previous camera systems. And, although there are some definite shortcomings when compared with a camera like the ARRI ALEXA, the URSA is a serious digital camera system that delivers terrific images, especially when used in conjunction with its RAW workflow and Resolve.

If you’re looking for a lightweight run-and-gun camera, stop reading now because the URSA isn’t the camera for you. Weighing over 16 pounds (body only), the URSA is a monster, weighing significantly more than the ALEXA (13.7-pound body) and the new AJA CION (6.4-pound body). The URSA’s size and weight are, in large part, due to its liquid cooling system, which helps keep the fan quiet and the chassis cool. Unlike the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K and the RED SCARLET, the URSA captured RAW UHD files for long periods of time without a whisper. There’s no shoulder pad for handheld operation, although Blackmagic sells a shoulder-mount kit ($345). With additional accessories such as a professional zoom and camera support gear, you’re going to need some extra time in the weight room just to prepare. Also, unless you have a third-party EVF, it’s impossible to view your footage with the LCD since your nose will practically rub against the 10-inch LCD.

URSA MAJOR

Blackmagic cameras have never been known for their low-light performance, and the URSA is no different, with ISO 400 being its sweet spot. Shooting at ISO 800 at night or indoors, I did obtain considerable noise, so practicals or sodium-vapor street lamps won’t cut it. For that reason, the URSA is best suited for environments where you can control your lighting.

ABOVE: The main reason you want to shoot with an URSA is to capture 4K CinemaDNG files. For an outdoor shot, I was able to take down highlights and dramatically lift shadow detail in my darks to deliver a well-balanced image.

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