The Anvil – Hands-On The Blackmagic URSA

By itself, the URSA is designed to sit on a heavy-duty tripod head or pedestal, but what’s nice for low-budget shooters is that you won’t have to build up the camera like you would with a compact camera system. The camera contains two XLR inputs for professional sound recording, as well as industry-standard connections such as 12G-SDI video connections and separate HD-SDI output and 12V power. For capture, instead of using larger SSD drives like the BMCC and the Production Camera 4K, the URSA has dual CFast card slots. CFast 2.0 is definitely the dominant solution for internal capture of 4K files (the AMIRA uses CFast 2.0), but the cards are expensive (a 128 GB card will set you back around $800). For power, the URSA uses a standard 4-pin 12V to 20V XLR connector for plugging into power supplies, and you can also mount third-party V-Mount and Anton/Bauer gold-mount backplates and batteries into the rear of the camera. What’s great is that you won’t need a camera cage or long rods to mount a battery system, but you’ll need a Torx wrench to mount to the camera back. (I didn’t, so make a note of that.)

What’s also great is that the URSA is a true modular camera system, and you can upgrade your camera with different sensors and lens mounts. (At the moment, there are only EF and PL mounts.) An URSA Broadcast camera is coming soon that contains a B4 lens mount and a UHD sensor optimized for broadcast video, plus an ND filter wheel. An interesting version of the camera is the upcoming URSA HDMI, which is basically the URSA camera body without a sensor or lens mount, but features an HDMI 4K input with a mounting plate to connect any HDMI camera for URSA-quality capture, monitoring, audio and time code—although your small and nimble EOS 5D Mark III now carries a 16-pound monitor/recorder behind it.

There has been a lot of criticism from the pro community that operators won’t have a use for the 10-inch, flip-out screen, as for critical focus, they typically monitor off of a sharp viewfinder that can be adjusted to any angle. Because of its huge size, I was also a skeptic, but after using the URSA, I’ll admit that I really liked the large screen, unless I was shooting in direct sunlight. The monitor reminded me of a compact camcorder’s flip-out LCD, although with more than three times the real estate. Blackmagic’s Peaking and Zebras functions are top-notch, so I didn’t have too much of a problem with monitoring outdoors, but hopefully a large third-party monitor hood will be released.

The upcoming URSA HDMI is an URSA body with no sensor or lens mount, but contains an HDMI 4K input with a mounting plate to connect any HDMI camera for URSA-quality capture and monitoring.

To work with the latest EVFs, the camera has a separate HD-SDI video output and 12V power outlet. What’s really nice about the URSA are two additional five-inch screens that are designed for a camera assistant to view footage, check scopes for exposure, focus and audio or make menu changes on the touch screen. Blackmagic designed the camera so that each side of it is a separate workstation (DP/operator, camera assistant and sound professional).

RAW POST

Obviously, the main reason you want to shoot with an URSA is to capture 4K CinemaDNG files. Besides the Production Camera 4K, there’s no camera in the URSA’s price range that can capture 12-bit RAW 4K files. For my workflow, I captured UHD CinemaDNG files (4000×2160 resolution) and ran them through DaVinci Resolve where I added a Rec. 709 LUT to the flat-looking RAW .BMD Film files. I then transcoded them to ProRes LT files at their original resolution to be added to a Premiere Pro timeline.

URSA’s most notable feature is its 10-inch, fold-out LCD monitor that offers 1920×1200 resolution.

If you’re familiar with shooting video, it’s so important to protect your highlights because, once they’re blown, they’re gone—even with RAW. Working with an outdoor shot in post, I was able to take down my highlights (bright sky) and dramatically lift the shadow detail in my darks to deliver a well-balanced image. I was really amazed to see how much detail was left in my shadows. Also, the complex color gradations of skies in 12-bit really dwarf the 8-bit color space of DSLRs. Another big advantage in shooting with RAW is that you don’t have to be exact on your color temperature at the time of capture. RAW workflow rules!

TARGET SHOOTER?

Back in 2006, when the RED ONE was announced at NAB, over 1,000 people put down deposits on the $17,500 camera, which was incredibly cheap compared to high-end digital cameras from Panavision, Sony and ARRI. With decreasing budgets, RED ONE owners gained new leverage in the competitive production job world. In 2015, I believe URSA will create a new category situated between low-budget compact cameras and medium-tier 4K professional systems like the Canon EOS C500 and Sony F5. It also should be mentioned that clients or talent—who may not be up to speed on the latest digital cinema gear—might have a little more confidence in your abilities with a more serious-looking camera (talent aside, of course).

Learn more about the URSA at www.blackmagicdesign.com.

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