NAB Day 1 - Blackmagic URSA


Happened to walk right in the door by Blackmagic after reading Grant Petty’s email announcement of this year’s slew of schtuff. The green tints on the monitors in the first image is due to focus enhancement being on.

The URSA is a large, 15-lb. upgradeable body that comes in several lens mount flavors, sports a Super 35
global shutter 4k imager, a 10” side screen on the left side, and a 5” screen on the right side for setting, status and scopes. It will record Cinema DNG RAW and ProRes 4k to two CFast card slots, currently a spendy proposition, with cards like SanDisk’s 120GB CFast 2.0, which currently go for about $1,200 each. And 120GB doesn’t get you a whole lot of time at RAW or ProRes 4k rates.

It ships 4k 60p capable, but will be upgradeable to 120fps. The imager will be upgradeable as well. The first two units, the URSA EF and URSA PL (referring to their lens mount types) are slated to show “around July” for $5,995 and $6,495 respectively.


Some initial thoughts on The Black Magic Cinema Camera:


This thing is going to sell like hotcakes. If you already own primes, it's sort of a no-brainer (assuming it delivers). For me, I think I still want a camera with an integrated/controllable zoom. Interchangeable lenses, yes; but I want to have the body and lens talk to each other. A lot of these cameras coming out lately (including the Sony F3, until the recent zoom for it came out) are in this we-do-the-imager and you-do-the-lenses...and the-camera-may-not-talk-to-the-lens deal. Which can be fine if you really are mostly shooting "cine style". For corporate, I gotta have a zoom that works with it. Be interested to see if Sony says anything about a zoom for the FS700.

This is the way stuff has been going in the big-sensor, DSLR-killer market -- toward separate cameras and lenses, intended for "film-style" shooting.  Which usually means you're going to hang a bunch of expensive crap on it to make it do what a full-on pro camcorder does.  That was one of the things that was popular about the Sony EX3, that you could use better lenses.  I was glad the lens they put on the EX1 was as good as it is.  It's really a decent all-rounder, especially if you can work around its limitations.

That footage from the BMCC makes me wonder if it will have the ability to set picture profiles as on Sonys. That footage had a pretty soft, ungraded look - although he was apparently trying to see mostly the dynamic range of the thing. DaVinci Resolve will work with either legacy FCP or X - you export XML from FCP and correct in Resolve, then come back.  They just made that possible in FCPX - it was one of the things it couldn't do before.  You have to have (I believe) a Blackmagic thunderbolt-capable box to make FCPX and Resolve work together.

That's a VERY attractive aspect of the Blackmagic Camera - that it comes with Resolve AND the Scopes.  You'll probably need a Blackmagic thunderbolt box as well.  It's a very Jobs-like deal - they are making an awesome piece of elegant hardware that will drive sales of their other products.  (I'm 3/4 the way through the Steve Jobs bio - it's an amazing story).  An integrated bunch of hardware and software all by the same company (well - except for the NLE).

Sony vs. Blackmagic

I mis-wrote when I said the BMCC is future-4k -- it's the Sony FS-700 that will have that capability.  The BM is a 2.5k sensor.

Phillip Bloom reviews the Sony:

Well really kinda apples and oranges here, they're both nice but different.  One thing that seems to get lost in the Blackmagic deal is that despite being a (future) 4k-capable imager, the chip is WAY smaller than the Sony.  BOTH need lenses and other expensive add-ons.  On the plus side of the BM vs. Sony is the built-in SSD recorder, includes Resolve AND Ultrascopes (each worth about a grand) though you pretty much need a Thunderbolt-capable computer to go with it.  I would say the Sony is a more "traditional" camera (in a good way) from the functionality point of view.  Plus it does awesome slo-mo.  I would guess that it will generally make better images than the BM, due to the imager - but in order to be apple-to-apples there, the Sony requires an outboard recorder like the Atomos Samurai, etc.

What I mean by that is that the BM has an onboard hard drive recorder that can potentially record in any format - and on the high end natively records 12 bit RAW files.  The Sony's internal recorder is NXCAM AVCHD compressed files.  As with my EX1, which records XDCAM EX at 35mbps - you have to go out the SDI spigot to get a 4:2:2 uncompressed signal, and to record that properly you need an external recorder.  The Samurai records ProRes in three flavors, I typically use the middle ProRes422 at 150mbps.

So if you wanted to truly compare the outputs of the BM and 700 apples-to-apples, you would need to record the Sony to a high res external recorder.  (Or set the BM to record compressed) So - another point for the BM.  $3k INCLUDING internal RAW recording capability AND full Resolve AND Ultra Scopes.  That would be a deal at $5 or $6K.  The Sony is $8k without lens (or external recorder, or Resolve or scopes).

This is not to say that the Sony's internal AVCHD files would not be fine for most stuff.  A drive in my Samurai locked up on a recent shoot, and so all I had was the XDCAM on the cards in the camera as backup.  Bummed me out, but the clients can't tell.  And I sure was glad I had the backup rather than having to re-shoot a half day.

So it's a lot to sort out.  I'm having this issue with a lot of items these days - not just what do they do, but what don't they do - and what's the best for my particular needs?

Blackmagic Cinema Camera & Resolve

You can download some footage from the Camera, and grade it with free Resolve


  • Blackmagic and John Brawley Release RAW Cinema Camera Files for Download

I looked at the stuff and downloaded one of the clips into (my free copy of) Resolve*. The file has a lot of latitude, which is good.  It sort of affirmed my initial feeling about the camera, though.  It is definitely a high-value unit considering all you get with it - BUT:

• it has a small sensor compared to most stuff these days - it has a cheaper look than some.  Though, that needs to be taken with a grain of salt given the results of the Shootout.  Depends what you do with it.
• the lens used in these shots costs $4k (plus matte box, plus, etc.)
• to really take advantage of much of the unit's capabilities, you would need MANY thousands of dollars worth of hardware and software - unless you already own it.  One of the big things with DSLR-video popularity is that still photographers with thousands invested in lenses, but who would never spend thousands on a video camera, could now be 'HD videographers' by upgrading their still camera body, which they would do anyway.

* If you want to find out for free how complex and how much of a potential pain in the ass REAL color grading is, download Resolve and set it up.  If you get that far, grade some stuff in it (if you import from FCP, etc. - make sure you have no effects on your clips and all the clips are in one video track).

It is a massively powerful program, exciting and awesome, no doubt about it.  But for most practical purposes, it's too much work (takes too much time, as did Color).  Also really works best with a bunch of high-end computer and controller hardware.


Mac Pro 2

Remember "the old days" when companies used to just put a product on the market?

I'm getting tired of this teaser stuff.  To be fair, Apple has never played this game until now - but what with the Reds and Blackmagics of the world creating future buzz about products that may or may not ship in a year or so - what is a mega corp to do? The kool-aid is wearing off for a lot of folks, but I'm willing to believe until proven otherwise.

I'm breathlessly awaiting the announcement that Tim Cook made last year promising a new Mac Pro (or at least something "really great" to replace it).  Should be at the WWDC next month.  Some thought sooner.

Meanwhile my 2011 MacBook Pro is working just fine as a desktop.  Not ideal, and not really heavy iron, but not bad.  Mostly is just lacking I/O that you would get with a tower and cards.  I wouldn't buy one now though - wait and see if Apple does something amazing and Steve-like, or if those days are truly over.

It's sort of like with FCPX - it's pretty darn cool, but it's still kinda buggy on occasion, and the initial fast pace of upgrades seems to have slowed.  I assume they're tweaking for the MacPro and Mavericks introductions.

It looks pretty much like what people were saying - that it would be incrementally faster than the current Mac Pro.  Which, though it's sort of surprising considering the modernity of the device, is not as big of a deal for me (and others stuck using laptops and iMacs) as the dual graphics cards will be.

Arri Amira - We Don' Need No Stinking 4K!

Yeah - no way I could afford it either - but it's pretty!


The major thing is THEY BUILT A CAMERA THAT YOU CAN PICK UP AND SHOOT WITH like normal cams of yore!  Did you see the adjustable shoulder rest and eyepiece?!  Don't need an effing cage with crap bolted all over it!  AND FULL QUALITY 200fps!  Yowza indeed.

They have some over-the-top grading on the showreel stuff, but I generally like the look of Alexa-stuff over RED.  Haven't ever really cared for the look of a lot RED footage - it seems to have a “hardness” that doesn’t appeal to me.  Still like the look of Sony stuff though - guess I'm a traditionalist.  They get slammed a lot for being excessively red-tinted by people who like the green-leaning look of Ikegami (if they're old like some of us) or the "moody" green grades you see in movies these days.

Still hope to one day either be able to afford (have jobs for) an F3, or maybe an FS-700.  I keep thinking (thought the new EX-3 upgrade, the PMW-300 was going to be it - but it ain't) they're going to combine an EX-style camera with an F3-type sensor and such.

Good article on trying to make sense of sensor size and crop factor:

It's skewed toward still cameras a bit, but overlaps video a fair amount.  Haven't read the whole thing (makes my head hurt), but so far he's left out the whole 3-chip vs. 1-chip deal, which a lot of talk about sensor size tends to do.  Read up on "de-Bayering" - what 1 chip large sensor cameras have to do to make 3 colors.  You have to get up into the F5 kind of money, I believe, before you get into a camera that doesn't have to do a bunch of computational magic to simulate 3 colors (unlike traditional 3-chip cameras).  But most people don't care or know about that.  Big sensors do have a number of benefits that outweigh the negatives - particularly for people that don't ever have to deal with the technical issues!

The other big thing about most of these cameras is that you are typically looking at an investment of 1-2 times the cost of the camera body to fit it out with lens(es) and ancillary gear needed to make it function like a normal, full-on camcorder.  Hence you have all these still photographers that led the charge into DSLR video, since they already had a significant investment in camera lenses.

Even with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (around $1k), you kinda want a good all-around lens with Image Stabilization, etc.  which is going to run you more than $1k -- then you need a boatload of spare batteries (they only last ½ hour) and high-end memory cards, blah blah.  And it's only "Super 16" size (smaller than full 16).  

Speaking of the BMPCC - this is a kinda nice piece shot on it, from Philip Bloom - though largely due to the light and the subject.  If you were standing next to him with your camera (what ever it may be), you would have gotten some really nice footage as well.

He did a lot of post on it with FilmConvert, etc.